Thursday, June 22, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 25, 2017:

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17           
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39
I wonder what the Family Values crowd makes of this Jesus, who in this week's Gospel warns us that he'll be turning family members against each other.  This is not the meek, do-goody Jesus who reads us a nice bedtime story and tucks us into bed.
No, this is one of the texts where Jesus warns us what we'll be sacrificing when we follow him.  Or seen alternately, this is one of those texts where Jesus reminds us that God wants to be the central focus of our lives.  Teaching after teaching, Jesus shows that God knows what competes.  In this text, it's our family that competes with God for central focus.  In other texts, it's money. 
As we look at the teachings of Christ, a central theme emerges.  Fear is at the root of all that keeps us from God.
Again and again, Jesus yokes his teachings of what will be required with the admonition to have no fear.  Here, Jesus tells us that God knows about the least little sparrow--and we're worth more than sparrows.  The wisdom of the Holy Spirit invites us to new life, not to paralyzing fear.  Jesus tells us that even sparrows are nurtured in God's economy.  Our religious texts remind us over and over again to be careful of where we store our treasures.
I love this vision of God who knows me from the individual hairs of my head to the rough soles of my feet.  I like this vision of God who helps me travel through the dangerous parts of the world.  I want to believe that I am worth more than sparrows, and I want to believe that in God's economy, sparrows are worth more than two pennies.
But again, Jesus warns us that we can't stop with that vision.  This is a God who keeps watch so that we can do the transformational work that must be done.  It is work that is likely to take us to threatening places where we may have to oppose the dominant power structure.  We may find ourselves crucified, in every sense of that word.
As I write this meditation, I'm thinking back to the events of Freedom Summer, that crucible moment in history which changed the progress of the Civil Rights workers forever.  I'm thinking of the youthful exuberance of those college students who headed south to register voters and to teach kids to read.
I'm thinking of how so many of them paid for those acts with bruises and broken bones.  I'm thinking of the ones who died terrible deaths.  I'm saying a prayer of thanks for the transformations that they brought.
Again and again, Jesus asks if we're willing to pay the price.  Again and again, Jesus offers the promise that we find at the end of this Sunday's Gospel:  if we quit our obsessive clinging to those elements that we think give us life, we may indeed find true life.  
We will find God. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Christians and the Summer Solstice

Here we are in the season after Pentecost, a long, green season that needs some holidays.  Perhaps the summer solstice would fit that bill.

I am partially kidding, of course.  For one thing, many of us won't notice much change, once the summer solstice has come and gone.  Many of us live in places where we've been slogging through hot weather for over a month.  Many of us won't notice that the longest day of light has come and gone.  It sneaks up on us, this gift of light that's been added in small increments to our days since the winter solstice.

And yes, I understand the pagan roots of this day.  If we refused to celebrate every holiday with pagan roots, we'd have very little left to celebrate.

Let us think of some ways to celebrate the summer solstice--and to strengthen our faith:

--We have longer days now than we'll have at any other point in the year.  Let's use this increased light.  Let's get out and exercise.  Let's notice the glories of God's creation. 

--Let's enjoy the fruits of the season.  Sure, we can eat melon year round now, but it's more refreshing during the hot months--and a good way to stay hydrated.

--When the heat is just too much, let's escape in an old-fashioned way:  by seeing a movie.  Whether in the movie theatre or in the comfort of our own homes, seeing a movie is a great way to beat the heat.  If we feel our brains turning to mush, let's look to the movies to see if we see any overarching themes or characters that remind us of our own spiritual stories or the larger spiritual stories of our faith.  Even escapist fluff might remind us of the overarching importance of love in our lives or that the battle between good and evil will not be escaped.

--The shifting of the seasons is a good time to do some sorting.  As we pull out our summer clothes, let's get rid of the ones we never wore last year.  As we think about our summer activities, let's get rid of the sports equipment we will never use.  Let's sort through our picnic supplies.  Have we been hoarding craft supplies that need to go to a better purpose?

--These days of longer light might make us feel like we have more time--and many of our workplaces expect a bit less in the summer.   Maybe this summer we could donate a bit of time.  Often our churches could use some assistance, as people take long summer vacations.

--Let's think about the qualities of light and think about all the Bible passages that mention light.  If we are the light of the world, are we June light or February light?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Monastery Dog and Other Poetry Inspirations

This morning, I finally wrote a poem.  I looked back through my poetry notebook, and it's been almost a month.  It has been a humdinger of a month, between my online ENC1102 class with its intense pace of a piece of work due 4-6 days of the week, work which must be graded, and my trip to Mepkin Abbey.

Yet I also feel like I've been telling myself this story every month:  Last month was a humdinger, but the pace of my life should be calming down soon, and I'll get some writing done. 

Let me sit with this idea for a bit, before I come up with plan A, B, C and a back up plan for each.  This morning let me be happy that I wrote a poem.

I came back from Mepkin with a new poem in my head, a poem inspired by a time during our retreat when I watched the monastery dog sleeping in the sun, and I thought of a previous retreat where we talked about needing to find time to write.  I thought about the monastery dog who knows how to prioritize her time.  I liked the contrast.

Over the past week, I've thought of different contrasts.  I thought of a retreatent who brought her own organic food and didn't eat the food prepared by the monks.  I thought of us all at the Sunday Eucharist service, even though we all came from a variety of practices.

I'm still wrestling with the poem, but I'm happy to have work on paper to revise.

I thought I had written about the monastery dog before.  In a blog post, from 2015, I had written this:

"At first I felt sorry for the monastery dog.  She seemed so eager for attention.  I thought about all the children who would never be part of her world.

Yet as my week-end at the monastery proceeded, I decided that the monastery dog was lucky.  She had a never-ending supply of visitors who would likely pet her.  The monks would take care of her.  Not every community has taken a vow of hospitality, after all. She could have been abandoned to a much worse fate.

And she had vast fields at her disposal.  No cooped up back yards for her.  Her joy at racing across the grounds made me happy too."

I thought I had written that poem, but I looked through older poetry notebooks this morning, and now I'm thinking that I planned to write it, but it's one of many poems that I never actually wrote.

The eternal question:  how many of these poem ideas should I return to? 

That's a question for another day.  Today it's time to return to the main campus for my week of trainings.  Today it's the student tracking system--another computer system that will be able to do far more than I will ever dream of asking it to do.

Yet another metaphor waiting for a poem . . .

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mepkin Mind

It is 5:17 a.m. as I write.  A week ago, I'd be about to leave Mepkin Abbey.  The drive back to Florida was uneventful and felt speedier than it sometimes feels.  I was grateful.

This past week-end has been one of finally getting caught up--I did the last load of laundry on Saturday, and did some required IT security training yesterday which will mean I can keep teaching my online classes at the community college.  I got a haircut on Saturday, which wasn't overdue, but my shaggy hair was driving me nuts.  In between, we spent lovely time on the front porch watching the rain showers come and go.

This will be a week of heavy duty training at the Ft. Lauderdale campus, where I have no office, so I'm taking my own mug, my own snack, and trying to remember what else I might need when I don't have an office.

Let me create my own Mepkin retreat in my head, a Mepkin Mind, where I can return when I need the soothing of chanted psalms:

Let me remember my delight at seeing a hydrangea bush in full bloom:

Let me remember the river that has seen so much, even if it is never the same river twice:

Let me adopt the attitude of Abbey, the monastery dog, who is always happy to be near us:

If she's ever stressed, I never see it:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day and God as Father

It's Father's Day, and I have parenting, metaphors, and God on the brain.  I come from a religious tradition that emphasizes God as Father more than any other metaphor I've encountered, although that situation has been changing during the last 40 years.  I've often found it irritating, even though my own experiences with fathers have been overwhelmingly positive.

I know how lucky I am to have emerged from an intact family, to have a mom and a dad who continue to love each other, and continue to love my sister and me. I grew up in the 1970's and saw plenty of wrecked families. I've always wondered how people who come out of those wrecked families, especially those with absent or abusive fathers, react to the idea of God as a Father.

I would argue that much of the damaged theology that we see comes from this idea of God as Father, in all the negative ways that metaphor can include.  God as the Judge Father, God as the Punishing Father, God as the Distant Father--I am lucky to have found a church that doesn't talk about God as a withholding father who always evaluates us and always finds us wanting, but that theology is never very far from many of us.  It's what keeps many people away from church, I suspect.

Even though I have a good relationship with both of my parents, I'm not crazy about the idea of God as Parent of either gender. I think that God as Parent is an infantilizing metaphor. If God is a Dad--or so much more rarely, a Mom--then it follows that we're children, and too often, we see that as a reason for inactivity. But God needs us to be active in the world. I'd go further and say that God is counting on us. I much prefer the idea of God as partner. God can be the Senior partner; I'm cool with that.

Having just come back from Mepkin Abbey and having spent time with my friend who comes from a tradition that talks about our elders, who are so often wise, I have that metaphor on the brain.  How would our relationship with God change if we saw God not as a parent, but as a wise elder?  I know that even at my current age of almost 52, I need more people in my life who can keep sight of the larger perspective.  I need a God of a grander vision, a God who can remind me of what's important, a God who directs my eyes to the larger horizon.

Today I shall pray for that God to come to us.  We live in a landscape more increasingly wrecked by poisonous models of caretaking; I'm thinking primarily of the fractured political world we inhabit, whether we want to or not.  On this day, at the end of a week where we saw a man shoot congressional male leaders on a baseball field during an early morning practice, it's clear to me that we need a different model of how to be male in the world.

Happily, most fathers I know these days are different.  They're much more involved in their children's lives, regardless of the age.  They change diapers, they braid hair, they fix lunches, they teach children the skills they will need, and they help older children find their way in the world.  God, too, cares for us that way.  And we are called to care for each other similarly too.

Let us do so today--and every day.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mepkin Photo Walk

A week ago, at 5:30 a.m., I'd have been walking back from my breakfast at Mepkin Abbey.  I have often thought about the fact that I so often keep monk's hours, although I worship less throughout the day than monks do.  At Mepkin last week-end, I woke up between 4 and 4:30 a.m., but that's not unusual for me.

If my camera takes good pictures at night, I can't figure out how to give it those commands.  I spent some time in the early morning as I walked to breakfast trying to capture the full moon:

A week ago, I would miss the Eucharist service on Saturday morning.  I was waiting for my friend to knock on my door for a walk, and somehow we missed each other.  I looked at my watch, realized it was 7:25, and not only was I going to miss my walk with my friend, but also the Eucharist service.

So I decided to take a walk by myself.  It was a different kind of communion service.

I have been walking the Mepkin grounds for over 10 years--sobering to realize.  I've been taking pictures since 2009.  I brought a camera to the retreat with me; I was determined to figure out how to make it work.

Let me hasten to say that these are not super sophisticated cameras that I have.  I don't change lenses.  I keep the auto function on, even though I could be the one making the artistic decisions--there are only about 9 choices on the slightly more sophisticated camera that I inherited from my sister when she decided that she would mainly take pictures on her iPhone.  In fact, one reason I would get a smartphone is to have an easy camera feature on a device that would fit in a pocket.

Since I have been taking pictures at Mepkin for 6 years now, I challenge myself to find new angles.  For example, here's a picture of a statue that I took in 2009:

Last Saturday, I noticed that some of the tree branches and twigs behind the statue have a thorny appearance.  I tried to capture that aspect.

Of course, the advantage of taking many pictures is that you get the occasional surprise.  My spouse delighted in this one, with Spanish moss not thorns, which I didn't even remember taking:

I feel like I see the world differently when I'm walking with the camera.  I notice angles and colors and the way the light changes a shot.  I can't always control what the camera sees, however.  Here was another shot that my spouse liked.  The cross didn't have this glow when I saw it with my eyes, but the camera caught it:

One of my friends asked me how I learned to take such good pictures.  I said that I take a lot of bad pictures, and every so often, one of them stands out.  It's one of the blessings of a digital camera:  one can take lots and lots of pictures.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Many Ways of Looking at Exile

A week ago, I'd have already been on the road for 2 hours.  This morning, similarly, I've been awake for awhile, but I've been grading.  However, my mind wanders back to my time away at Mepkin Abbey.

We gathered to talk about the power of story.  We talked about the types of stories we might tell, and we focused on these four:  Hope, Exile, Repentance, and Home.  Our leader pointed out that almost any story can be framed as a story of one of these elements.  And since it was a retreat at a monastery, we focused on how religious traditions, particularly Christians, have seen these elements in telling our stories of the larger faith.

I thought we'd be writing our stories, but we told our stories--one of our retreat leaders modeled the process by telling by telling his story as we moved through each module.  We discussed, and then we broke into groups:  first pairs, then a group of 3, then 5, and then for our final gathering, we stayed as a large group and each person took a turn.  It was a great way to help us get to know each other.

During the retreat, the topic of exile was the element that most moved me to take notes.  I have always had this sense of exile--that I'm displaced somehow, never really home, never finding my larger tribe.  I've always seen this feeling/condition as one that needed fixing--and as soon as possible.  As we discussed exile, I had a moment of insight:  what if this feeling of exile is the norm?  Or what if it's actually a preferable state?  After all, when we're in a state of exile, we remember our true home (God or Heaven or something better, if you're not inclined to use religious terms).

We are to live our lives fully while holding onto them lightly.  Think about what this means:

--If we're in exile, we don't need to hoard anything.  We might as well use it.

--Exile re-orients us away from our things and illusions about our lives and towards what really matters.

--If we didn't end up in exile, we might forget we need God.

--When we're displaced, we're more in tune with the moment.

We talked about this idea in spiritual terms, that our true community (church, God, social justice co-workers, etc.) may not be the larger community (the U.S., the world).  But I also see this dynamic in places where we might not expect it to be at work; for example, how do we deal with the fact that we may feel in exile at places where we'd expect to feel at home, say, at church?

I wrote an e-mail to a friend upon my return.  She responded:  "I know, however, that I would have been abjectly unhappy if I had stayed in the village where my cousin still lives today.  So, what to do:  follow your dream of the big world, or then regret having lost your home for the rest of your life."

She's hit on an essential question:  how do we remain faithful as we live our lives as resident aliens?  The answer to that question is as varied as humanity itself.  More to come!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

God's Plans

At the Power of Story retreat at Mepkin Abbey, we had lots of opportunities for discussion.  I was interested in how many people talked about how their lives turned around after they gave up on their own plans, only to discover that God had a more interesting/wonderful/perfect plan.

I thought about this vision of God who patiently waits for us to abandon what we want and give in to what He wants--and it was always a male-gendered God with a plan for us (let me also point out how grateful I was that our retreat leader carefully avoided gendered pronouns when referring to God).

I said that I didn't really believe in an omniscient, omnipotent God who had the one perfect plan for us.  I said that I wasn't even sure that I believed in a God that had complete control, because then how do we account for evil in the world--I said that I knew that statement opened up a theological road we probably didn't want to travel this week-end.  I said that I thought our lives were more like a choose-your-own-adventure book where no matter what we chose, God would nod and say, "Yes, I can use your talents here."  God is like a weaver, where if we're a bunch of blue thread, God can work us into the tapestry, or if we're gold strands, God would figure out a different design.

It's what I truly do believe, and I understand why my view of God isn't as comforting as the idea of God who has a divine plan and all we have to do is submit.  I also worry a bit that I'm succumbing to heresy, with my belief in a not-all-powerful God.

But the monk who is in charge of the retreat center stopped me after that discussion to tell me how glad he was that me and my friends were there, and how we offered a different dimension to the retreat. 

As I've thought about it, I've realized what an unusual assembly of folks we were.  One of my friends was the only African-American woman there, and my other friend has a daughter who has severe mental disabilities, which gives her a very different outlook than most of us.  I enjoyed meeting some of the women in their late 70's who have lived wonderful lives and continue to do so.  I could tell that some of us had very conservative religious beliefs; one woman covered her head with a lace scarf whenever we were in the chapel.  A fairly large group of us are at midlife, later midlife likely, thinking about roads we didn't take, wondering about what to do next.

I doubt that any of us changed each other's minds about our views of God and God's plans.  But that's fine.  I am at a point where I no longer think about right or wrong viewpoints.  I envision God listening to us all and saying, "Well, you understand a piece of how I'm operating.  But I have such a larger vision--if only you could take it all in."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 18, 2017:

First reading and Psalm
  • Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
  • Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Second reading
  • Romans 5:1-8

  • Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

In many modern churches, especially in the time around Pentecost, we spend a lot of time talking about mission, even if we're not realizing we're talking about it.  Does the church exist to serve the members?  Does the church exist to serve the community?  And what do we mean when we talk about the church anyway?

In this Sunday's Gospel, we get a very different vision of the early church than we'll get in parts of Acts.  In Acts, we often see the early believers arguing about doctrine, like who gets to belong and who doesn't--and once we've decided who gets to participate, there are debates about how to participate.

In this Sunday's Gospel, we see a vision of the early church in the way that Paul will practice it; to use a word that I see slung around frequently, we see a missional field.  Jesus gives instructions to his disciples to go out taking very little with them:  no food, no money, not even a change of clothes.  Their mission:  "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons."

And what will they get for their troubles?  They will be flogged in the synagogues and drug before rulers, where we assume a gruesome death will follow.  Their message will divide families, but they are to persevere, to endure.

It's not a grow-the-church kind of message.  Who would sign up for this mission?  I'd much rather plan for Vacation Bible School or figure out how to pay for a new roof for the building.

I think about those early disciples, what they must have seen and heard as they followed Jesus--and how his message did not fall on deaf ears.  They went out and followed his instructions and I would argue they formed one of the largest social institutions in the history of the world (but I am also biased, I admit).

Are we to do the same thing?  Or should we see these words of Jesus as metaphor?

I would argue that the answer to both questions is "Yes."  There are many ways to announce that the vision of God for our world is at hand.  And there are many ways that we will be rebuked for that message.

This passage leapt out at me this morning:  "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10: 16).  I have spent much of the past nine months feeling like a hopeful, optimistic lamb, making predictions about the world that prove to be terribly wrong, misreading many of the people in my various communities.  It wouldn't surprise me if many of us feel the same, even if the triggering situations are different.

Let us all be wise as serpents and innocent as doves--that mission is as important now as it ever was.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mepkin Overview

I am back from my quick trip to Mepkin Abbey--before I head back to work, let me write down some impressions.  I expect to do some deeper pondering in the coming weeks.  But for now, here's an overview of what might come later.

--The drive up was grueling.  I left at 3 a.m., and all was going well, until I came to a stretch of highway at Jacksonville that had not one but two accidents.  It took me almost half an hour to go two miles, and I know it could have been much worse.  And at the end of my trip, Highway 17 was very congested.  We took a back route to Mepkin, and I got lost--made a left onto the road I thought was the correct one, since the sign said "Junction with 402" with an arrow.  But that road was Cainhoy Road, whereas the correct one was just ahead.  Luckily one of my friends had a GPS and came to get me.

--What's really strange about the drive up--I hardly recognized the Charleston/Mt. Pleasant area anymore, despite having lived there and making periodic returns.

--For the first part of the trip, I listened to commentators on the BBC dissect the British election of the day before, where Theresa May lost seats in the election that she called 3 years before she had to do so.  On the way back I heard some NPR pieces on the one year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

--The weather was fairly beautiful, although it was June, so it was hotter than I'd like--but not as hot as it often is in June.

--The moon was beautiful too--I expected the full moon to keep me company on the drive, but it was mostly behind me as I drove north.  I kept trying to catch it rising, but I only got a glimpse on Friday night--a gorgeous, orange full moon.  The clouds and trees kept it obscured.

--It was strange to have the light of the full moon having just reread Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, visiting a monastery that's a former slave plantation.  I thought about slaves making their escape, how scary the landscape seems even with the benefit of electric light.

--One morning, I heard the sinister call of the alligators, but I never actually saw one.  I thought of the T. S. Eliot line about the mermaids singing, and wondered how I might transform it with alligators making the song.  And then there's the plainsong of the monks . . .

--This year at Sunday Eucharist, we had a harpist--how cool!

--I knew that this retreat would be structured, but it was even more structured than I thought it would be.  Luckily, the subject matter (the power of story) continued to interest me, and I liked all of the people on the retreat.

--The most important idea that I took away:  I tend to see a time of exile, a feeling of displacement, as a situation that must be fixed as quickly as possible--but what if those times are the norm?

--The two friends I regularly meet at Mepkin were there too.  We carved out time to reconnect.  That's always wonderful.

--I didn't do much of my own writing, but I did get an idea for a poem that I will write this week.

--I didn't get to every service, the way I sometimes do.  There were times I sacrificed a service so that I would have time to walk with my camera.  That experience, too, was a worshipful one.

--I took a lot of pictures--over 500.  I brought a set of fresh batteries, but to be on the safe side, I should have brought 2 sets.  This trip is the first one where I brought the more sophisticated camera that I inherited from my sister.

--Back in January, when we decided to come, I thought, oh, good, summer, a time I haven't experienced at Mepkin--I'll see what the liturgical season is like.  But it was Trinity Sunday, a high festival, which was interesting too.

--I brought books, and I scanned Wired for Joy, a book I found on the Mepkin shelves, while I was there.  Wired for Joy irritated me, so I put it aside; it seemed fairly self-evident to me about being aware of moods, although the writer would call them wires, not simply moods, and wires get fried and can be rebuilt and such.  I read Rob Bell's How to Be Here, which also seemed a bit simplistic, albeit with good nuggets here and there--along with lots of white space.  It was not the kind of retreat with lots of reading time.

--The drive back was much easier, which is not always the case.  There is that feeling that I'm hurling myself across the southeast.  And I'm somewhat haunted by all the other trips I've made, both with others and all by myself.

--I got home by mid-afternoon, and it was good to have time to reconnect with my spouse and with my life here.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Trinity Sunday Meditation with Photos

This blog will be quiet for a few days while I go up to Mepkin Abbey (don't come burgle my house--my spouse will be holding down the South Florida fort).  Let me post some reflections and photos as Holy Trinity Sunday approaches.

In many writing classes and workshops, I taught about the power of three--three main points can make a solid essay, while just one or two might mean you have an incomplete idea.

In Geometry, we learn about the stability of the triangle.

In community organizing, we learn the truth of the Margaret Mead quote:  "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

We see this same dynamic in our triune God.  I know that many Christians think of the Trinity as the central mystery of our faith, but it's never seemed as difficult to me as other aspects of theology. 

Triune God in 2 plants and wind chime

Some of us might think about changing the traditional language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  What words would make more sense?  I prefer Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There are so many elements that we could stress.

Perhaps the words of Walt Whitman make sense to invoke here, that line about containing multitudes.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 11, 2017:

First Reading: Genesis 1:1--2:4a

Psalm: Psalm 8

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

This Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday, one of those festival Sundays that seem a bit baffling, at first (like Christ the King Sunday, which comes at the end of the liturgical year). We understand the significance of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. But what exactly do we celebrate on Holy Trinity Sunday?

At first reading, the Gospel doesn't seem to help. And Jesus certainly didn't spend any time indoctrinating his disciples on these matters which would later split the church. He alludes to the Triune God: we see him pray to God and he tells the disciples that he will send a Comforter. But he spends far more time instructing the disciples on how they should treat the poor and destitute, about their relationship to the larger culture, about their role in creating the Kingdom in the here and now.

You get a much better understanding of the Trinity by reading all the lessons together (thanks to my campus pastor from days of old, Jan Setzler, who pointed this out in his church's newsletter over a decade ago). These aren't unfamiliar aspects: God as creator of the world, God as lover of humans, Christ who came to create community, the Holy Spirit who moves and breathes within us and enables us to create community.

Notice that we have a God who lives in community, both with the various aspects of God (Creator, Savior, Spirit) and with us. It's an image that baffles our rational minds. It's akin to contemplating the infinity of space. Our brains aren't large enough or we don't know how to use them in that way.

My atheist and agnostic friends will sometimes pull up these issues of a triune God when they ask me to defend the faith. I tell them that I can't do it and that I'm content to be living as part of this great mystery. Baffled, they look at me. They say, "You're an educated woman. Certainly you can't accept something you can't explain!!!"

Well, frankly, there are many things I can't explain: electricity, computers, internal combustion engines, arcane French literary theory. Does that mean that I'm going to live in the dark or not use my car? Of course not.

The message that Jesus brings us is refreshingly simple, in that it's easy to understand: "Go and make disciples."

Obviously, it's not that simple, and here, too, interpretations of this text have split the church. Does our commitment stop once we've baptized people? What does it mean to make disciples? There's an infinite supply of answers.

The God that we see in our Scriptures is a God of action. We see God creating in any number of arenas. We are called to do the same. This is not a God who saves us so that we can flip through TV channels. Our God is a God who became incarnate to show us how to be people of action: Go. Make disciples. Teach. Baptize. Keep the commandments. We do this by loving each other and God. We love not just by experiencing an emotion. Love moves us to action.

Our job is not done once we’ve baptized. Our job is not done with the Rite of Confirmation. Jesus, as always, points the way. Why not share a meal together? Why not do some work (fishing perhaps? Building housing for the poor? Weeding the gardens?) together? Why not read the same book?  Why not pray together? Why not create a beautiful work of art together?

Or perhaps we should just be together--keep each other company in life's journey.

Our Triune God calls us to go and make disciples, but two thousand years of Church history shows us a delightful diversity of ways to do that. Theologian Frederick Buechner reminds us in his book Wishful Thinking: "The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Jesus promises to meet us there.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Pentecostal Rain

The rainy season has returned.  I hesitate to use that term, "rainy season."  When we moved down here in 1998, we had a clear rainy season and then a dry season.  There was some blurring around the edges, but never torrential rains in the dry season, like we've seen in recent years.

Still, there's a comfort to thinking that the rain reappears on a schedule.  Yesterday, out of the corner of my eye, through the window I saw a flock of white sea birds against a gray, stormy sky. Oddly, my first thought was that it was snowing. If it ever snows in South Florida in June, we will know that the planet has crossed some sort of Rubicon.

Last night, as we enjoyed wine and cheese with our friends in their back yard, we heard storms rumbling towards us.  Happily, we live in the same neighborhood, so it didn't take us long to get home.  We may have left prematurely--it took awhile for the storms to settle in.

There was some talk of tornadoes and power outages, but our corner of the county was spared.  We didn't even get much thunder--or street flooding.  These days, with any rain, we keep a wary eye on the water levels on the streets.

I do miss the gentle rains, the pitter patter that lasts all night and soothes us to sleep.  We don't have much of that rain these days.

This morning, before dawn, I walked outside to watch the storms approach.  The sky pulsed with lightning from the east, but we have avoided thunderstorms so far.

I still have Pentecost on the brain.  This morning's light show reminds me that the Holy Spirit has all sorts of tongues of flame, all sorts of ways to get our attention.

Come, Holy Spirit.  Talk to us in the language of rain and thunder. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

If the Holy Spirit Tweeted

Yesterday, in our interactive service, talk turned to Twitter.  Our pastor printed out a Twitter primer.  One of our members pointed that people who already know about Twitter don't need the primer, and the rest of us are not likely to use it at all.

I am in the middle.  I know about Twitter, but I'm not on Twitter.  Those of you who read my work, whether blogging or otherwise, know that my writing tends to go on (and on and on) for more than 140 characters.

But more than that, there's only so much time in a day, and while I understand the advantages of being active in every language of technology that comes along, I'm drawing some boundaries.  I don't want to be a person who is so busy tweeting my life that I forget to live it.

I figured out early on that Twitter is more ideal for people who have their smartphones with them at all times--that's not me.  And I'm not sure how tweeting would help my professional life.  One person yesterday said, "You could get more people to read your blog!"  But the amount of time it would take to develop a following leaves me tired.

We also talked about the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit communicates.  Maybe today the Pentecost rushing wind and the tongues of flame would come in the form of a tweet.  Would we even notice?

People who are on Twitter talked about how to find material again with bookmarks and likes and such.  I asked about who controls the data--"it's in the cloud!" I was told by an enthusiast.  We so often forget that the cloud is a big network of servers and data storage--and someone owns those elements.  We forget that the Defense Department was the original creator of the Internet, and while now we are welcome to use the network for our tweeting and our purchasing of more stuff than is good for us, that may not always be the case.

I'm not a Luddite, although I realize I may sound like one.  I just want us all to think about the larger pictures, the ones that hover in the background, off center, so that we don't notice them.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost PreDawn

Here we are at the beginning of a great festival Sunday, second only to Easter.

Will we hear about great rushing wind today?  Will we think about flames that appear on people's heads?  And what about all those languages?

I feel tired at the thought of it all.  I yearn for transformation, but on my own terms.

We all make this mistake:  wanting to harness the Holy Spirit for our own purposes. 

But over and over again God reminds us that the tissue thin parts of our lives are where transformation often happens.

Pentecost promises daring visions; we don’t have to know how we’re going to accomplish them. God will take care of that.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Mepkin Approaches

A week from now, I will be waking up at Mepkin Abbey.  It will be both familiar and different.

What will be familiar:  the Abbey itself, the friends that I meet there, the long drive.

What will be new:  visiting during summer and being there for an organized retreat, The Power of Story.

I've been there at the end of the liturgical season that will begin after Sunday, Trinity, the long, green time after Pentecost, the season of ordinary time.  But I haven't been there during the summer months.  Will we still take long, rambling walks when the temperature soars?

Luckily there are indoor spaces at the new retreat center where we can talk.  I am anxious to catch up with these old friends, who began life as work colleagues long ago when we all worked at a local community college.  In those days, I was not interested in monasticism and couldn't have even told you that there was a monastery nearby.

Will the gardens be beautiful?  I've found something to treasure in each season that I've visited.

I'll bring a pile of books, real books printed on paper, because that's the way I travel.  I'll bring my laptop with vague ideas of the creative work I want to do.  I'll bring the camera.  I'll bring extra batteries.  What will I actually do while there?

I know that I will take pictures.  I know that I will walk, even if I sweat through my clothes.  I know that I will attend many services in one day.  I know that I will write something, although I'm not sure what (the long drive usually leaves me with lots of ideas).  I know that I will read, although it might be a book that I pick up at the monastery.

My hope is that I recalibrate myself in ways that are important.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Stewardship: the Planet Edition

Compassionate people have no shortage of outrage provoking events this week.  I feel sorrow at Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, even though I felt that, as with most climate agreements, it was too little, too late.  Still, as my German friend points out, it was a treaty with 200 nations agreeing to specific actions, and that was no small thing.

So, for those of us feeling despair, let's remind ourselves of actions that we can take that will help the planet.  We know what to do, right?  Reduce, reuse, recycle.  Here are some ways to do that:

--If we're feeling despair because we know the power of large groups, let's remember that an international treaty is not the only way to harness that power.  We can join a local group that works on these issues.  We can give money to groups that work to save the planet.  The poet Matthea Harvey asked her ecologist sister for her recommendations for some of the most effective groups:
      --Union for Concerned Scientists (which does a lot of policy work and tries to get the government to take scientific information on board) 
      --Environmental Defense Fund (which does a lot of climate change work)
      --World Resources Institute (which does a lot of forest conservation and climate change work)
      --Conservation International (where she works)

--It's amazing how many plastic bottles end up in the trash, and then in waterways and washing up on beaches.  Buy a reusable bottle, and fill it with water from your tap.  Most of us have perfectly acceptable tap water, and the water that comes in those small bottles is likely from a tap from a far away state.  If you don't like the taste of the water that comes from your tap, let it sit in a pitcher overnight, or figure out a way to filter it, if necessary.

--Similarly, lots of plastic bags end up in the trash.  You could bring your own bags to the grocery store.  Even if you like those plastic bags, which I understand, you could bring those and get several shopping trips out of them.

--Buy items that come with less packaging if possible.

--Before you buy, ask yourself if you really need the item.  I try to check out more books from the library, for example.

--Every item that goes into your trash can is likely going to sit in the earth for a long time.  Most of us know that landfills don't let items decompose.  Try to put less stuff in the trash can.

--My grandmother buried her food scraps, which led to the most rich soil I've ever seen.  Even when she no longer needed it for the garden she could no longer create, she did that.  We can compost in any number of ways.  For example, I often put my cut flower arrangements out in the yard to finish decomposing--no digging necessary.

--If we don't want to get our hands in the dirt that way, we could plant.  I find it very healing to plant things, especially if they're fairly independent plants who won't need me after the first few weeks.

--Think about the ways that we use electricity and water--can we use less?  Let's start with basics:  turn off the lights, turn off TVs that no one is watching, turn off computers when we're not using them.  Don't let the water run when you brush your teeth.  Take shorter showers.  The hardcore among us already do this:  no need to flush the toilet after every use (if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down).  If no one's going to be home for hours, do you need to cool/heat the house as if people are there?

--If we own our houses, we could think of ways to make them more energy efficient.  Now might be the time to invest in solar panels.  We could install water saving shower heads and toilets.  If we need to replace our water heaters or appliances, we can get the most energy efficient, instead of the cheapest, if we are blessed with enough money.

--In everything we do, we should be aware of our carbon footprint.  Can we combine car trips?  Most of us drive alone in cars that pollute, even if they're hybrid vehicles.  Use them less.  Can we eat less meat?  Cattle production leads to more methane in the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.  The next time you're on a packed airplane, rejoice:  your carbon footprint is lighter.

--Add the planet to your prayer list.  I pray for friends in failing health.  Our planet needs prayers too.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 4, 2017:

First Reading: Acts 2:1-21

First Reading (Alt.): Numbers 11:24-30

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

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

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

Gospel: John 20:19-23

Gospel (Alt.): John 7:37-39

Ah, Pentecost, day of fire and wind and foreign languages.

Contemplate how much of Scripture circles around the breath of God. Reread Genesis--creation comes into being because God breathes it into life. Something similar happens in the Gospel of John. Jesus breathes on his disciples and transforms them. Likewise in Acts--that great rushing wind. For those of you in love with words and older translations, we often find the same word in these passages: Pneuma (yes, that root that creates our modern word of pneumonia).

The twenty-first century church, at least some branches of it, is in serious need of the breath of God. Perhaps you are too.

I often think of those first followers, who went out with the breath of God in them, and transformed the world. In the history of social movements, few have been as broadly successful as Christianity.  My atheist friends would chime in that few have been as destructive--we both may be right. What an unlikely story: a small band of weirdly talented or distinctly ungifted men and women head out in pairs, carrying very little with them, and they survive enormous obstacles. In the process, they change the culture--and often, then, they move on. Think of the distances that they travelled--often on foot. Think of how hostile the culture was. You wouldn't be able to suspend your disbelief if you read it in a book.

The breath of God should transform us in the same way. Jesus transfers his powers to his disciples; we're given the power to do what he does. Now, if only we could believe it.

Maybe the key is to act as if you do believe it. You can do remarkable things, even if you don't feel like you can.

We start on a small scale. We go to church. Maybe we remember the weekly lessons on Monday. As years go by, we're better at being Christians throughout the week. We bolster our efforts with spiritual reading and prayer. As we find ourselves transformed, we transform those around us. Many of us stop at this stage or we run out of time--but some of us will go on to transform society: maybe we'll start a food pantry or create legislation that takes care of foster children. Maybe we'll challenge our home countries to look out for the civil rights of all. Maybe we'll issue the same challenge to other cultures. Hopefully, whether it be on a small scale or an international scale, no Christian can be immune to the call to care for the dispossessed, whether on a small, interpersonal scale, or a large, international scale.

It's also important to talk about the cyclical nature of the spiritual life and work. Even Jesus needed to retreat to solitude at times. Even Jesus had to practice self-care. If you feel that you've had the very marrow sucked out of your bones as you've cared for the world, maybe it's time to retreat. Even if you can't physically leave, you can let the machine pick up the phone and turn off the electronics. If you can't do much else, claim some time for the occasional nap. No one can go at an insane pace for very long and stay sane.

Pentecost is an overlooked church holiday. No church holiday gets as much time as Christmas, not even Easter. But Pentecost is such an important reminder of why Christmas happened. God became incarnate to prepare humans to carry on the work of Kingdom creation. And Pentecost reminds us of our job description.

So, receive the breath of God. For a powerful meditative exercise, you might imagine that as you inhale, God breathes into you. Breathe deeply.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Feast Day of the Visitation

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, the day when Mary goes to her cousin Elizabeth. Both are miraculously pregnant. As they approach each other, they recognize each other, as mothers, as miracles--even the babies in their wombs understand what's happening.

I'm a good Lutheran girl, so growing up, we never celebrated these feast days. As I've gotten older and explored monasticism, and to be honest, as I've blogged more and needed more to write about, I've been doing all sorts of research into feast days.

Some feast days leave me shaking my head and wondering what modern folks are to do with them. Some feast days, like today's, make me wish I'd known about them earlier. I think about my younger self who was enraged that so much femaleness seemed to be erased from Christianity. What would my raging feminist self have done with this festival?

I'm not sure she'd have been appeased. I was also in the process of trying to assert that biology isn't destiny, while also acknowledging that I was one of the first generations to be able to assert that idea.

My middle-aged self is willing to admit that biology is often destiny, although not in the womb-centric way that the phrase is often bandied about. I'm seeing too many people at the mercy of bodies that they have increasingly less control over.

 Now that I am at midlife, I love this story of two women from two generations coming together to support each other. I love this story of new life being held in unlikely wombs. I am fondly remembering female members of my own extended family and offering thanks for their support. I remember the family stories they told and the ways they included me in family gatherings. I remember the rides to the airport, and memorably, one time that my cousin Barbara (my mom's first cousin) came to Augusta, 60 miles away, at night, to help me out of a jam caused by the breakdown of a car. I remember that she treated it as a grand adventure. No castigating, no lecturing.

So on this day when we remember two women of two generations supporting each other, let's say a special prayer of thanks for all who have nurtured us when the larger society could not or would not.  Let's make a special effort to support those coming after us.

Today is a good day to spend some time in discernment.  God called Mary, and she said yes.  God called Elizabeth, and she said yes.  God had a larger vision for them than they could have imagined for themselves.  Imagine that the angel Gabriel appears to you with a special request from God.  What is that request?

Remember that you are blessed in so many ways.  Remember that the world desperately needs what only you can offer.  Remember that God calls you to be that blessing to the world, and that God can find a way where humans would declare there is no way.

Here's a prayer that I wrote for today:

Creator God, today we offer thanks for Elizabeth and Mary, women who were willing to follow your invitation into adventures that must have seemed impossible.  Open our hearts so that we hear the invitations you offer to us.  Give us the courage to say yes to you.  Plant in us the gifts that the world needs.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Post Ascension: The Times When We Wait

We hear a lot about those early believers who changed the world by going out two by two.  In this way, the Christian church was birthed.

We members of the institutional church are told to go out to our communities, to find our mission field.  We should not wait for them to come to us.

I think of the monastic communities who do not fling themselves upon the world.  And some decades the world does come to them.

Let us study the smaller stories in the New Testament--the times between the big times.

The disciples have been told that they will be clothed with power from on high.  But they don't wear those clothes yet.

So if we're in a time of waiting--or if we're in a time of contraction--let us take heart.  Other disciples have had similar experiences. 

Let us trust the One who has the larger vision, the One who has the longer view.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Meanderings

I never got Memorial Day off as an adult, until we moved down here. In South Carolina, Memorial Day was often not celebrated because it started out life as a holiday to honor the Union dead.

I realize that some of you will be saying, "Union dead? The Civil War? That war that happened over 100 years ago?"

Oh, yes. For some folks, that war isn't really over. They celebrate Confederate Memorial Day.

And in terms of state and federal holidays, my community college employers were a bit stingy. We didn't get Presidents' Day off either.

So, it was a joy to move down here and to have the day off. But soon, enough, it felt a bit empty.

I've spent all of my life before moving down here living in places that had a military base in the community--sometimes two or three. Memorial Day has a different flavor in places with a military presence.

And part of me will always be a D.C. area girl. It's hard to move around that area without being aware of the sacrifice that past citizens have given so that I can enjoy my good and happy life. Most people are familiar with the Vietnam Memorial or Arlington National Cemetery, but there are so many other places: memorial sites, statues, plaques.

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

Today, I'd like to be at a national monument, listening to one of the service bands perform. Or maybe I'd rather be in a contemplative spot, saying a thank you.

So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue, let us pause to reflect and remember.  If we're safe right now, let us say a prayer of gratitude.  Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places. 

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

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.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Between Ascension and Pentecost

Many of us move through (live in?) religious communities where the discussion turns to the decline of Church in the Western world.  I realize that I'm framing the discussion in very simple terms. We could define the Western world (industrialized nations?  Northern hemisphere?  Europe, which is very different than the U.S.), and we could argue about the definition of Church.

But I don't want to get bogged down in those discussions.  This morning I want to think about the passage from Easter to Ascension to Pentecost.  Today I'm especially interested in the time between Ascension and Pentecost.

We hear a lot about those early believers who changed the world by going out and being in the world.  In small groups, they took their message outward and formed more small groups--those groups formed more groups, and on and on.  Many of us have had that example flung at us as people ask why we stay in our church buildings and expect people to come to us--a good question, but again, not the one that interests me this morning.

This morning, I'm feeling tired, and I'm beginning to wonder when I'll stop feeling tired--but again, not the item that interests me.

For several years, I've been interested in the smaller stories in the New Testament--the times between the big times.  What do the disciples do between Ascension and Pentecost?  I assume that they wait.  They've been told that they will be clothed with power from on high.  But they don't wear those clothes yet.

A few years ago, my church did an extended study of Paul, and again, I was struck by how Paul's story was one of success--followed by times of waiting--and the occasional outright failure.

So if we're in a time of waiting, not dynamic church expansion--or if we're in a time of contraction--let us take heart.  Other disciples have had similar experiences.  Let us trust the One who has the larger vision, the One who has the longer view.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Buyer's Remorse of God

We are at the 4 year anniversary of buying our house; we are at the one year anniversary of finding out that our cottage resident would be moving to Utah.

I do not feel buyer's remorse, but every year, as insurance bills start arriving in the mail, I do wonder how long we can afford to live here.  This morning, I wondered if God ever has buyer's remorse.  I thought about our planet as a house in need of constant repair.  I wrote a poem.

I envision God as having irritation at being able to see the potential in a place, but not being able to quite pull off the transformations that should be possible.  I look at my temporary kitchen and think about ways that the permanent kitchen might be better.  We have the money set aside.  All I need is the time to get some estimates--and to move into the cottage for the reconstruction period.  And before that can happen, we'll need to get the space ready . . . and the floors fixed . . .  .  And then the largeness of the task overwhelms me.  I imagine God feeling the same way.

If I carry this metaphor onward, does that mean that humans are God's contractors?  I could make that work.  Some contractors know what they are doing.  Others will take the money and vanish.

But as I am committed to my house, so is God committed to this resurrection project.  My poem ends at the end of the day with God having a glass of wine on the front porch as the sun sets.

It's still Eastertide, after all.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Feast Day of the Ascension

Today is the Feast Day of the Ascension,  40 days after Easter, 10 days before Pentecost.  This feast day commemorates Jesus being taken up into Heaven.

Imagine it from the eyes of those who have followed Christ from traipsing around Galilee, Crucifixion, and then Resurrection.  You have just gotten your beloved Messiah returned to you, and then, poof, he's gone again.  What a whipsawed feeling they must have had.

How do we celebrate this day, so many thousands of years later?  Many churches have chosen to simply ignore it.  We march on to Pentecost.

But let us take a minute to acknowledge the wonder of the Ascension.  It's a fate reserved for very few in the Bible.  And let us take a minute to think about Jesus, who has already suffered death, the fate which an ascension spared for the few others who experienced it.

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

And how do we do that? The possible answers to that question are as varied as humanity. Some of us will pray without ceasing. Some of us will fight for social justice. Some of us will create works that point others to God. Some of us will visit the lonely and the sick. Some of us will give away our money so that others have the resources to do the creation redeeming work that needs to be done.

Whatever we choose, it’s important that we get to work. We don’t want to get to the end of our time here, only to be asked, “Why did you stand there gaping, when there was so much work to do?”

For those of us who feel like we can't do much, consider this language from today's Gospel,  the latter part of Luke 24:9: "so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

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

Pentecost will be here soon, the holiday that commemorates the first clothing with fire.  But we've all been clothed in that way.  We have all been clothed with power.  Believe in that force--and then get to work in the claiming of creation.

Prayer for the Feast of the Ascension:

Ascending God, you understand our desire to escape our earthly bonds, to hover above it all, to head to Heaven now instead of later.  Remind us of our earthly purpose.  Reassure us that we have gifts and talents that are equal to the tasks that you need us to do.  Help us close our gaping mouths and get to work.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The lessons for Sunday, May 28, 2017:

First Reading: Acts 1:6-14

Psalm: Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36 (Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

Gospel: John 17:1-11

In this week's Gospel, we see Jesus at the end of his mission. We see Jesus praying, telling God all the things he (Jesus) has done. We also see Jesus handing over his ministry to his disciples.

What a strange thought, that these humans are ready for such a large mission. And yet, even my devout atheist friends have to admit the success of these early followers. And those of us several thousand years out might be wondering what Jesus did to foster this success. After all, if you set out to choose a group of people to bring the Good News to the far corners of the planet, you would likely pass those early disciples right on by.

That's the wonderful news that winds its way through the Bible. God can use all sorts of misfits and scraps of humanity to accomplish wonderful things. In her wonderful book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott says, "You've got to love this in a God--consistently assembling the motleyest people to bring, into the lonely and frightening world, a commitment to caring and community."

Notice that all of Jesus' followers were given responsibilities. They didn't just show up at church and wait to be entertained. They didn't march off in a huff when Jesus didn't do things the way the last savior did. I'm sure that Jesus lost some people along the way--after all, he made some stringent demands. But he also gave people ownership and expectations.

Jesus taught his followers to live in the moment, to not worry so much about 5 year projections or the future of the faith. He taught people to focus on the needs of the community and not on power structures that they hoped to maintain.

Jesus commanded his followers to be dependent on each other and to trust that God would provide for them. Think about one of the Gospel's versions of the last supper. Jesus sends them into town to procure things and when they're asked what they're doing, they're to say that the Lord has need of these things. And it works! When they're sent out, they're sent out two by two, with only what they can carry (and it's a light load). This ensures that they'll make connections in the new community, not just trust in each other and the people that they already know.

I'll admit that it's simplistic to look at Jesus' ministry in this way. We can't just set out into the world in pairs (we can't, can we?). We can't decide to start over in thinking about the way we do ministry.

But maybe we can refocus a bit. The church does best when it focuses on the needs of the community and looks to fulfill those needs. Many of us might think in terms of a soup kitchen or a day care, but there are other needs too. Maybe our frazzled community needs a contemplative service, where people can come into a candlelit sanctuary and sit and hear the lessons, without a sermon and communion and all the other stuff we cram into a service. Maybe people need a noon concert series. Maybe people need to come to paint and to listen to the voice of God in the paint. Maybe people need a book group to keep their minds from turning to mush.

If you don't know where to begin (the needs of our communities can seem overwhelming), start by emulating Jesus as we see him in this lesson. We can start by praying for each other. We can pray for all our colleagues, not just the ones that are out sick. We can pray for all our church members, not just the ones who don't come to church anymore. We can pray for our leaders: our pastor, our President, our boss, Congress, the mayors and city managers. We can pray for our friends and family. Jesus told us to pray without ceasing, and these days, it seems we have no shortage of those who need our prayers.

So, start with some simple approaches. Say a prayer of thanks before you eat, and as you say grace, remember those who are hungry. Pray for the end of hunger in our world. Say a prayer of thanks at the end of the day and the beginning of the day, and thank God for the people in your life who mean so much to you. When your boss yells at you, when your clients are frustrated, when your students curse, pray for them. Be the mirror that reflects God's light into a world that needs it so desperately.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Poem for a Morning after a Bombing

What to say on a morning after a bombing in Manchester that seemed to target children and teens attending a concert? 

I could talk about the first news story I heard, about cab drivers who took children home, even though they had no money.  I could talk about hearing of hotels who sheltered unaccompanied children.  I am always heartened by the ways that humans come together in a crisis.

I thought about posting a poem that had something specific to say about terrorism.  But I don't have many of them, and the ones that I do have are not quite right this morning.  I clicked on a poem in my files called "Safe"; it's about what happens when Jesus joins the baseball team.  It pleased me, but again, I'm not sure it's quite right this morning.

Instead, let me offer this poem.  Maybe it will cheer us as we remember our own days of eating GORP.  Maybe the thought of falling safely asleep under a wide open sky will remind us that terrorist events really are few and far between. 

Let us remember how the natural world can heal us.  Let us pray for all who need healing.

Heading for the Hills

I recognized the menace in the murky waters.
I never felt my family’s fellow joy
in the ocean. I refused
to wade deeper than my ankles.

I saw how the sea seduced
people, luring them with lapping
waves, then sucking them out into the depths.

I did not even collect shells. If the ocean thought
I would be enticed that easily,
it could think again. I knew of its creepy
creatures that crawled across the dark bottom,
the currents that swirled at cross
purposes. I wanted no part.

I preferred our mountain escapes. Content
to hike the tallest parts of the state, I filled
my pack full of water and trail mix, home made
Gorp, that magical mix of cereal and peanuts,
raisins and candy. I loved to sleep
in a mummy bag that hugged my shape
and kept me safe. We ate dinners
made out of reconstituted powders and got along
in ways we never did in the flat plains
of every day life. My sister and I gathered
firewood and played cards, collected leaves
and tried to whistle like the birds.

In the mountains, I knew the contours
of possible catastrophe, and it didn’t frighten
me. I knew how to work the snakebite
kit (which I shouldn’t ever have to use, if I made sure
to walk with heavy footsteps). I knew the bears
were far more interested in my candy than in munching
me. I knew the force of gravity would not suck
me off the mountainside, that we would safely sleep
beneath the stars after we counted all the constellations.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Brunch Thoughts

--Months ago, I bought a Groupon for a 2 for one brunch.  The expiration date was fast approaching, so yesterday, we met a group of friends in downtown Hollywood.  We walked to the restaurant, which meant the all-you-can-drink mimosas really was a good deal.  We stayed there for 3 hours enjoying good food, great conversation, and mimosas.

--How would our experience of worship change if we could have all-you-can-drink mimosas during church service? 

--I've thought many times before about how it would be nice if communion could be a real meal, not just a shred of bread and a thimble of wine.  I've been lucky to have a few worship experiences that were built around meals, and as I have always thought, they were more meaningful.  But were they more meaningful because they were new and carefully planned or because they were truly more meaningful?

--I realize that a real meal and ever-flowing mimosas would work better in small churches than large ones, and in different worship spaces, of course.

--As I was getting ready for our walk to brunch, I was listening to reports from Trump's trip to the Mideast.  What to make of one of the least spiritual U.S. presidents heading to the world's holy sites?  Is it a Nixon in China moment?  And what would that mean in this context?

--What will Pope Francis say to Donald Trump?  Of all the places where I'd like to be an unseen observer, that's the one I'd choose.  At least, this month.

--My New Year's goal was to have more brunch.  I'm not sure I've been very successful.  But there is time yet.

--We're almost at the half-way point of the year.  It's good to think about the trajectory of the year.  But I won't be doing that thinking this morning.  It's time to shift my focus back to work.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Feast Day of St. Helena

Today is the feast day of St. Helena, the mother of Constantine.  You may or may not remember that Constantine was the Roman ruler from 306-337.  Yes, that's a long time ago, and you may wonder why a theological blog would be interested in him, or his mother, at all.  Constantine gets credit for being the first Christian Roman ruler (although some historians would point out that he was not solely Christian) and for making the spread of Christianity possible.

Even if he was not personally responsible for the spread of Christianity (we'll let historians debate that, while we move on towards our discussion of Helena), he helped foster the spread of the faith by bringing an end to religious persecution.  The Edict of Milan, which set Christians free to worship as they chose, also gave freedom from persecution to other religions too; everyone was set free to worship whichever god(s) they wished.

Today we celebrate his mother, St. Helena (although if you're Catholic, you'll have to wait until August 18).  Did she bring up Constantine in the faith?  We simply do not know.

St. Helena has come to be associated with holy relics, and perhaps we might find the roots of the Reformation with her.  If she had not so vigorously asserted the power of these relics (if indeed, she did; I realize that we're talking about legend here, not history that's been written down), would their power have continued into the medieval time period?  If there had been no relics, no selling of indulgences, would Martin Luther have felt strongly enough to write his 95 theses and post them on the Wittenberg door?

If this stretch is too much for you, let's just celebrate St. Helena as the mother of Constantine, and one of his influences.  Under Constantine's rule, Christianity came to many of our ancestors, and for that, we can be grateful.

It's important to remember how much influence we may have on future generations as parents, as relatives, as concerned adults.  You may have days where you despair, where you wonder what your life means as you endure useless meetings, bullying colleagues, pointless work.  But God can use it all.  In the life of someone like Helena, we see that we don't all have to be a Constantine.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Elegy for Us All

This past week, as my spouse was sick, I had extra time to read.  I read Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance.  It's the kind of book that makes me wonder about the implications offered for those of us who are people of faith.

Would I have read this book if it hadn't been so much a part of the political campaign?  Likely--I do come from east Tennessee hillbilly stock myself.   But the conversations that swirled around this book during the political campaign did lead me to expect a different book.  It's not really a work of sociology.  No, it's a memoir.

As memoirs go, it's mildly interesting.  There are memoirs that explore the issue of white poverty much more lyrically, with more beautiful language--the Rick Bragg book All Over but the Shouting is my all-time favorite in this genre.  I would say the same thing if I was talking about dysfunctional family depictions.  Dorothy Allison's work is much more brutal--tough to read, but I couldn't put it down.  I didn't have a similar compulsion to return to Hillbilly Elegy.

It's interesting to think of these 2 issues in generational terms.  Bragg's work, and Allison's too, are about an older generation of white folks.  The drug of choice, and destroyer of families, in their work is alcohol.  In Vance's view, it's pain pills.

Hillbilly Elegy does a good job of describing the crisis in which so many communities find themselves.  It doesn't give any sense of what can be done about any of this--in fact, I came away with a bleakness about the prospect of lifting people out of poverty.

It is a memoir, after all.  Memoirs aren't required to create policy recommendations.  But it left me wishing for more.

I also wondered about the complete lack of a discussion of religion or faith in the book.  My hillbilly relatives have a deep faith and a connection to the community through their Lutheran church.  I can't help but think that faith gives them a very different framework than the one Vance describes.

As I said, it's a memoir, and I'm sure I expected too much.  But after hearing about what an important book it was, I did expect a deeper discussion.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hospice Chaplain Work Days Again

This has been a tough week for many of my colleagues at work.  It's not the same kind of tough week endured at my old job:  no mass lay offs.  But it's been a week of bad news about family members, the death and ICU kinds of bad news.

I go into efficient administrator mode during these days mainly by finding teachers to cover the classes or by teaching them myself.  But I also take a minute to pray--and I work hard to remember to pray in the days and weeks after the bad news.

I am also picking up on various tensions at work.  They are more of the high school/middle school tensions:  who has been mean to who, who feels excluded, who has the best/most/worst in the currency of gossip.  Recently I walked by a group of colleagues and heard one say, "A certain someone talked to me in a way that I don't quite appreciate."  I kept walking.  Life is very short, and I'm not getting tangled up in all of that drama anymore.

When I'm in an expansive mood, I'll pray for those folks too.  I remember those days of drama and when it all felt so very important, back in those days before disease and death afflicted so many who are close to me.

There are also the quieter conversations, where I hear about the fears we all share:  what is the future of higher ed these days?  And where do our various schools fit in?  After these conversations, I remind myself to pray.

I'm reminded of the work of many a hospice chaplain I've known or read about, the ones who cannot heal our physical issues, but who can be with us while we face what must be done.  There are times when I feel like administration jobs are similar.  As an administrator, I can't fix everything (some weeks, I cannot fix most things), but I can be present.  I can slow down and listen and offer a cup of tea.  And then I can pray a silent prayer.

Some weeks, I say, it's not much, it's not enough, I wish I could do more.  Other weeks, I wonder what would happen if more of us prayed silently for guidance and hope and healing throughout our days at work.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Festival of Homiletics Envy

Some of my pastor friends are at the Festival of Homiletics; one of them is an official photographer.  I've been seeing their Facebook posts, and I must confess, I'm envious.  All that great preaching!  All those wonderful speakers!  And I've heard so many good things about San Antonio.

It occurs to me that I, too, could go to this festival.  So many festivals/conferences--so little time.  And then, there's the money--not just for the festival, but for the hotel, the food, the airfare.  Sigh.

I do not work in a setting where I'd get money to go--the best I could hope for in this current higher ed environment would be to be able to go without using my vacation days.

But the past year has shown me that my current situation is not my forever situation.  And the past half decade reminds me that I am not going to live forever on this earth.

I tend to think of my bucket list as places I'd like to visit before I die.  While that's well and good, let me expand it a bit.  Let me remember my wistfulness as I've looked at pictures from the Festival of Homiletics.  Let me think about festivals and conferences like this one, and let me go sooner rather than later.

And in the meantime, let me rejoice in our current technology, which means that I can hear some of these people preach online.  I can read their books.  I can read or hear interviews.  There are many ways to be nourished, even from a distance.