Sunday, April 30, 2017

After the Accreditation Visit, the Sleeping

This morning, I did something I rarely do:  I slept past the hour of 4.  In fact, I slept until 6:30.  And that's after my 3 hour nap yesterday afternoon.  I was very intentional about keeping this week-end free; I knew that I would be tired.

We had a great day yesterday.  At 7 a.m., I had a walk with a friend who lives in the neighborhood.  We walked to the beach as the sun was rising--lovely!  Later, I walked to the beach again with my spouse.  We had a celebratory beverage--virgin pina colada for me, a mixed drink with several juices for him--and then we walked back.  Two walks in one day! 

We had some work to do as we tried to bring the pool back from its intense green algae state.  But that went well, so it didn't feel onerous.  We ended the day with homemade cheese quesadillas and some wine--and then, to sleep again.

One of the disadvantages of sleeping late is that I have less time for writing.  Now it is time to get ready for church.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Accreditation Prayers

On Sunday, I got to church a bit early, so I went to the prayer loom, as I often do when I'm at church early (for more on the prayer loom itself, see this post).  I wove some pieces of yarn into the loom as I prayed for my school during the week of the accreditation visit.  I also added my name to the prayer list.

Every time I took binders to the room we set aside for accreditation, I offered prayers.  Sometimes they were nebulous.  Some times, they were naked in their yearning:  "Please let us have a successful visit."  As we finished setting up the room on Thursday, the day the accreditors arrived, I offered a final pre-accreditation prayer.  When we met the group as they arrived, I silently prayed benedictions and blessings on them.

I tried to remember to pray throughout the visit.  And before we went to the room for our final meeting with the auditors, I prayed.

We had 3 findings, which were relatively minor, by which I mean we expected them and they're fixable.  We bid them farewell, and then we jumped up and down with joy.

Later, as went to the room alone to move the last of the perishables downstairs, I took one last minute to soak it in.  I thought about the transformations that the room had seen, from a classroom to a room that hosted accreditors.  I thanked the room for its good vibrations.

And then I offered a prayer of thanks--out loud, since I was alone--to God.  Do I think that God intervened in our accrediting process?  Not in the way that many might think.  But I do credit prayer for keeping me grounded during the process.  And that groundedness, that steady focus, helped us move to a successful visit.

I also know that it could have been otherwise.  We could have had a team arrive who was already in a bad mood.  We could have had something dreadful go wrong that would have been held against us.

I know that I am lucky in having the campus come together to work for this result--it could have been otherwise.  I know that we have great faculty and students who are happy to be at our campus--that, too, helped propel us to a good outcome--and it could have been otherwise.

This morning, I offer prayers of gratitude for all that went right.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Accreditation Day 2

Today is our final day with the accreditors.  Yesterday went fairly well, so I don't face today filled with dread, the way I have at the end of some accreditation visits.  And I went home when there was still light in the sky, so I see that as a good sign too.  It was fading light, to be sure, but we didn't have to stay into the night, like we might have, if there had been big issues found on the first day.

Yesterday was anticlimactic in the way that I expected.  I sat at my desk waiting to be interviewed/needed.  I didn't want to start on any project that was too involved, since at any moment I could be interrupted--and my major project of the last months, getting ready for accreditation, was done.

Yesterday the team went to various externship sites, and from various reports, those trips went well.  Today should be a quieter day.  I wish I had the kind of writer's brain that could work on poems while waiting for it to be my turn to be interviewed.  So far, I have not.  I wrote up meeting minutes, but that's about the extent of the writing I could do.

Since I began this job, a major part of my attention has been focused on this visit by the accreditors.  There was an enormous amount of work to do.  Now it's time for me to turn my attention back to the real work that never ends and is always so important:  strengthening the school and changing the lives of students.

Let me offer a prayer for the strength and wisdom to do just that.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Prayer for the Day the Auditors Arrive

We have served as shepherds in this process:



We have spent months at our desks to compile all the reports, on reams and reams of paper:



All is ready for the guests to arrive:



We know that we are surrounded by those who keep us in their thoughts and prayers.  They wish us well:



We have faith that we are in a labyrinth, not a maze:



I offer prayers for all who meet with auditors today.  Let our speech be true and concise.  Let us know the answers to the questions that are asked.  Let our words and actions be pleasing to all who judge us.



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 30, 2017:


First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Psalm: Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17 (Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

Today we read of the sojourners on their way to Emmaus. This story gives us an important window into the lives we are to have as Christians, particularly when it comes to the sharing of a meal, and our basic obligations when it comes to hospitality.

That hospitality is the often overlooked side of the Emmaus story. The travelers have walked seven miles together.  For those of you who are wondering, that might take the modern walker, walking at a fast clip, a bit over two hours; in Biblical times, with unpaved roads with poorly shod feet, I'm estimating it would take half a day. When they get back to their house, they don't say to Jesus, "Well, good luck on your journey."

No--they invite him inside. What remarkable hospitality. They share what they have. They don't say, "Well, I can't let you see my house in its current state--let's go out to dinner." No, they notice that the day is nearly done, and they invite a stranger in to stay the night.  They don't direct the stranger to the nearest inn.

Those of you who have read your Bible will recognize a motif. God often appears as a stranger, and good things come to those who invite a stranger in. For those of you who protest that modern life is so much more dangerous than in Biblical times, and so it was safer for people like Abraham and the Emmaus couple to invite the stranger to stay, I'd have to disagree.

Without that hospitality, those strangers never would have known their fellow traveler. We are called to model the same behavior.

One thing we can do in our individual lives is to adopt a Eucharistic mindset. Never has this been more vital. Most people have ceased cooking for themselves, and many Americans are eating at least one meal a day while they drive.

Rebel against this trait. Look for ways to make meals special. Cook for yourself. Invite your friends and loved ones to dinner. Occasionally, invite a stranger. Each week, go to a different bakery and buy yourself some wonderful bread. Open a bottle of wine and savor a glass.

Bread and wine are relatively cheap and available. When I was a teenager living in Knoxville, Tennessee, my father went to D.C. on business, and brought back sourdough bread. I thought I had never tasted anything so wonderful, and marveled at a city where you could just buy such a creation from a bakery.

Well now, most of us do. Even in small towns, it's possible to get good bread. And it's easy to make it for yourself, if you want to restore even more sanity to your schedule. And while you make that bread, you can marvel at the miracle of yeast, and think again about Jesus' call for us to be the leaven (the yeast) in the loaf.

Jesus calls us to a Eucharistic life, which requires a major readjustment of our mindset around the issues of food, drink, time, and hospitality. Consider the Capitalist/Consumerist model that our culture offers us, and the invitation from Jesus looks even more attractive.

So, before the day gets later, go and buy some bread. Think about the many ways that bread (and other grains) sustain most of us throughout the world. Drink some wine and think about the miracle of fermentation; ponder the reality that in many parts of the world, people drink fermented beverages because the water supply is tainted, but fermentation provides some protection.

You are the leaven in the loaf, the yeast that turns grape juice into the miracle of wine--how can you make that manifest in the world today?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Nouwen at Midlife

I have been reading Gracias, Henri Nouwen's journal of his time in South America.  When I got to the entry where he talks about his 50th birthday, I did some calculations and figured out that he didn't go to Daybreak, the intentional community where he finally felt at home, until he was 54 or so.

That realization gave me such hope.  I love the fact that Nouwen was in a life-long discernment process, and that it didn't bear obvious fruit until the latter part of his life. 

Of course, I feel that way because of my own life.  In this journal of Nouwen's, I'm reading about all sorts of people who seem to be living a life more dedicated to God than the one that I am living.  And yet, with this journal, I read between the lines to see, in ways that I didn't before, that these missionary lives are full of doubt and uncertainty too.

I suspect that none of us can be sure throughout our whole lives that we're doing what we're put on earth to do--if we even believe that we were put on earth to do something specific.  Living a life in sync with our values means we must remain ever alert.

Let us remain ever alert.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rainy Sunday

I had a delightful day yesterday, although it didn't proceed the way that I thought it might.  At one point, I wrote this Facebook post:  "Should I be doing something different to get ready for this week's accreditation visit? On this rainy Sunday afternoon, all I really want to do is read Henri Nouwen's South American journal and Barbara Brown Taylor's "Learning to Walk in the Dark." Perhaps that's the best way to prepare?"

And that, dear readers, is exactly what I did.  I felt fortunate to have a roof over my head that wasn't leaking in yesterday's heavy rains and a front porch deep enough where we could sit and watch the rain.

Early in the day, I thought about not going to church--my spouse and I are both in that end of the term period where we just feel overwhelmed with work left to do--and then he starts a job at a new school, which requires onboarding, and I, of course, have the accreditation visit.

But we did go, and it was good, both in terms of spirituality and in terms of being needed, since some of our members were on retreat and others had trouble getting to church because of the severe weather.  I helped as assistant minister, and my spouse sang a wonderful solo during "Wade in the Water."  We counted money after church.

And then we made our way home through flooding rains.  Luckily, our house was OK, and our other car hadn't been submerged.  We made a pot of chili and ate our linner (lunch/dinner) on the porch.  And although I knew I should be grading, I decided that I'd rather get up early this morning, which I did, and enjoy yesterday afternoon, which I did.

My spouse graded his papers on the porch, but I decided to read.  I finished Nouwen's journal, which was interesting but didn't speak to me the way I thought it might when I dipped in and out of it on Good Friday.  I finished Learning to Walk in the Dark in one fell swoop; I had read it before, and it's relatively short and an easy read.

Both books both did and did not speak to me at this point in my life.  I feel like I am walking in the dark, in a time of great political uncertainty (like Nouwen's time when he wrote the journal in the early 80's).  How would I have wanted the books to be different?

Taylor's book explored darkness in a more literal way, which was interesting, but not the book of coping strategies I might have preferred.  I found Nouwen's various lack of connections from the South American communities to be more fascinating than the political situation, but he doesn't spend as much time exploring that.

Still, it was a great way to spend a rainy Sunday.  And now it's on to the week ahead.  I'm ready to see what happens!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Calm Before the Accreditation Visit

I think of this week-end as the calm before the accreditation visit.  I've spent it by spending time with friends, getting a hair cut, and thinking about what I need this week.

Today I plan to make homemade granola bars (I posted the recipe here).  It may be the kind of week where I can't heat up left over food in the microwave.  These homemade granola bars have almost too many calories for a snack, but as meal replacement, it will be good.  I can grab a bite here and there as I race between duties.

But it may not be that kind of week, so I'll also make a casserole so that I have leftovers for lunch.

I need to get to a store to buy some essentials.  I don't have enough V8 juice to make it through the week.  I plan to drink a huge glass every morning.  When I can't be sure I'll have enough time to eat my vegetables, I'll drink them!

One of my online classes is coming to an end, which means I have papers to grade.  I'd like to get those done today.  That task will be one that I spread out throughout the day.

And while I am beginning to feel like I should sit down and read my school's catalogue and self-evaluation report again (and I might look through parts of the material before the day is over), I will first go to church.  I will hear the Good News and do some sketching and try to keep everything in perspective!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Planting Prayer Flags for Earth Day

How should Christians celebrate Earth Day? You might think that the best way to celebrate Earth Day would be to head to the garden to plant. But what if you don’t have gardening skills?

This year, let’s plant prayer flags.

I don’t mean the traditional Tibetan prayer flags, although those flags inspire this idea. Pastor Naomi Sease Carriker told me about her simple practice at a recent Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge.  

She writes prayers on tulle and ties them to a pieces of lattice fencing in her garden. She takes great joy in seeing them flutter in the breeze. The fluttering reminds her to pray.

I love this idea on so many levels. I love a good purpose for fabric scraps. Although the tulle catches the breezes easily, I imagine most fabrics would work. And what a great way to add color to the garden.

Any practice that reminds us to pray has value, and this prayer flag idea has an added bonus. I need to be reminded that I pray so that I turn over issues to the One who is much more powerful than I am. Prayer flags give us this ongoing symbol: that we release the prayers to go to the Creator who can handle it from there. The visual reminder to let go of some of these issues once I've prayed about them seems especially important in our culture that prizes self-sufficiency and the ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

If we write our prayers, on fabric or on paper, we may find ourselves able to release the anxiety that often comes from our unacknowledged needs or our inability to find solutions. If we tie the fabric prayers in places where we'll see them, we can be reminded that we’ve handed it over to God.

I find many of my spiritual disciplines coming back to fabric. Even the ones that I think are word-based, like the spiritual journal, have some interesting possibilities in fabric. I have a vision of quilting the Psalms. I wonder how many other spiritual disciplines that I think involve other mediums could migrate to fabric.

I also like the idea that I can beautify the garden without having to deal with the dead plants that often come when people like me love the planting but forget the daily work of watering. The fluttering of the fabric scraps reminds me to pray for the mending of the planet.

There are as many ways to celebrate Earth Day as there are humans to celebrate it: we could clean vacant lots or reclaim poisoned plots of earth or buy a bouquet of flowers to remind us of green and growing creations. We could write letters to heads of corporations that need to clean up their acts or protest in a different way. We could run for office or go to schools to raise consciousness.

But we can also pray. Planting prayer flags can remind us to pray long after Earth Day has come and gone. The natural world needs our prayers now more than ever.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Poetry Friday: "Vow of Stability"

This week, I got my contributor copy of Slant.  Last night, I had a chance to read it.  What a wondrous thing, that a journal completely devoted to poetry is still being published.  And what a wondrous thing that it is one of many journals.

This poem came to me at Mepkin Abbey.  My friends and I talked about what it means to take a monastic vow, and we wondered how family members felt about it.  And on the long drive back to South Florida, this poem began to percolate.


Vow of Stability


Their friends wonder why
they’re happy to have their only child
disappear into a monastery.
Their communication will be limited.
Their visits will be rare.

Yet they are pleased, even relieved,
to accept their son’s vocation.
This sense of purpose comforts
them. They know their boy has wrestled
with calls of a different kind.

They know their child will be cared
for, with regular meals and a work schedule
and fatherly oversight from the abbot.
They know their child’s choices
about retirement and old age
have been made.

They have a bit of sadness
for grandchildren he will never give
them, but they know of many fine
children outside the monastery
walls who haven’t formed families
the way their son has done.

They drive back from the cloister
and spend the night in their son’s old
room, the trophies from a an athlete’s
life long over, the books about boy wizards
and detectives, a leftover Lego construction.
They whisper the bedtime prayers
of childhood and hold each other close.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Left Behind Disciple

Every time I read about a specific, named group of disciples who did something with Jesus, I wonder about the others.  Did they feel left out?  Were they off doing other important activities, and thus missed some events, like the Transfiguration?  Did they have family commitments?  Did their jobs keep them away?

I know that we think of the 12 disciples as already having a full-time job:  following Jesus.  But I wonder if we're wrong.  I've read some theologians who speculate that the disciples, far from being poor and rag tag, might have been closer to middle class, with thriving fishing businesses and the like.

We think that the disciples abandoned their families, but I'm not sure that's true.  After all, Simon Peter had a mother-in-law; we know that because Jesus healed her fever.  I wouldn't expect this story if Simon Peter was estranged from them.

I have the left out disciples on the brain because for the next 4 days, I will be feeling left out.  One of my tribes is meeting on the mountain for the Create in Me retreat; I can't go because next week is our accreditation visit.  The retreat is 12 hours away (even if I went by plane, the travel would take at least 8 hours, in terms of getting to airports early, waiting on connecting flights and/or renting a car at the other end); I can't zip up for an afternoon the way some have in the past when they couldn't come for the whole retreat.

I've missed the retreat once before, in 2015 when my whole family went on a vacation to Hawaii.  I didn't feel left out then.  I feel a bit left out this year.

And what's present this year that wasn't in 2015:  the fear that I will never make it back to this retreat.  I'm at a very small campus, and it's hard to get away in a way that it wasn't at my old school. The retreat moves, which makes it even harder to know the future--the retreat is always the week-end after Easter, because the retreat can have the whole camp.  That's great for the retreat, but it means that the retreat will sometimes fall during a week where it's more difficult to get away--the week before Spring quarter begins, for example, which is an all-hands-on-deck time on my small campus.

But I'm trying to stay in this current moment and let the future take care of itself.  A year ago, I wouldn't have forecast my current life.  It's hard to know what next year will truly be like or the year after that.

I have planned some fun stuff for the week-end; I'll be with local friends here.  I'll do some creative stuff on my own.  I'll pray for my tribe on the mountain, and I'll hope that they pray for me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The lessons for Sunday, April 23, 2017:


Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

How good and pleasant it is to live together in unity. (Ps. 133:1)

1 John 1:1—2:2

John 20:19-31


I love the post-Easter encounters with Jesus. It's as if the Gospel writers knew that we'd need to be reminded of the amazing thing that has happened. It's no wonder that Thomas said he wouldn't believe until he'd touched the wounds.

Jesus was dead. He wasn't just passed out or in a deep sleep or let off the cross early. He died and rose again.

Notice that here, as elsewhere, Jesus knows what humans need and meets them on that level. He doesn't get huffy. He doesn't say, "Well, if Thomas isn't glad to see me back from the dead, then I'm not going to talk to him. I'll just hang out with people who believe." No, he lets Thomas put his hands inside of his side wound, if that's what it takes.

He forgives the doubt. He forgives the disciples who ran away. He doesn't show up to berate the disciples for hiding in a dark room when they've got work to do. He forgives all the human ways we can't rise to the vision that God has for our behavior, for our blessed lives.

Notice in these post Easter lessons how Jesus roots his actions in the physicality of life. He cooks people breakfast when they've been off fishing. He breaks bread and blesses wine. He presents his very wounded body. For those of us modern Gnostics who want to deny that Jesus was as human as the rest of us, these lessons seem specially placed to help us work against that belief. Jesus was NOT just a mystical creature with a human form that he could put on and take off, like a special set of clothes.

Perhaps that should be a lesson to the rest of us as well. When we feel despairing, we should look for ways to root ourselves in our physical lives; maybe we should try baking bread or cooking a meal. Maybe when we're almost sick with missing the ones that live far away, maybe instead of moping, we should write a letter to our loved ones, telling them how much we love them. Maybe we should plant some herbs or flowers, get our hands in the dirt, remember our roots in the world that deserves our love and attention.

Perhaps this approach would make a good way to minister to others. Instead of some sort of theoretical approach to evangelism, we should look minister to our neighbors’ physical needs; then we can think about their spiritual lives. We should ask people to dinner instead of asking, “If you died tonight, would you go to Heaven?” We should describe the great potluck dinner that awaits them at church, instead of the Heavenly feast that we have to wait so long to experience.

God came to this world to become physically involved--we are called to do the same.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Octave of Easter

Last year I was at Mepkin Abbey to celebrate the Octave of Easter--actually, I was there for a writing workshop that corresponded with the Octave of Easter.  I had missed Easter Sunday, so it was great to have a chance to celebrate multiple times again through the few days that I was there.

Yesterday, as I moved through my work day with Easter music in my head, I thought about these 8 days that begin with Easter and will end this coming Sunday.  Was it the Easter music in my head that reminded me to be patient with everyone as I looked through files and continued to find mistakes?  Probably not--that schooling started long before Easter and will continue until I retire.

I am surrounded by flowers, the way I was at Mepkin Abbey, but mine are not surviving nearly as well as those did.  I bought tulips in pots the week-end before Easter, and they are mostly done now.  This week-end, I may dig those bulbs into the ground, just to see what will happen in future years.  On Easter Sunday, I brought a pot of hyacinths home from church, and they're on the front porch table.

As I ate some jellybeans yesterday, I thought of all the Easter candy that I used to eat and ration out across the days after I got my Easter basket.  It's been wonderful seeing everyone's Easter posts on Facebook, but it makes me remember past traditions that I forgot to make happen this year.  Once I made hot cross buns from yeast bread made with my own hands.  Once I colored Easter eggs.  Often I was doing this because I was far away from my family, and I needed ways to make my holiday special.  This year, we've had family here, including my mom and dad for the actual holiday.

It's been wonderful having my parents here.  Yesterday we went for breakfast at the beach, and last night we ate in downtown Hollywood.  I love having visitors who remind me of how wonderful it is to be here in this place.  Like those early disciples, I see the world through new lenses.

It is all too easy to leave the high holy days behind.  Ahead of us comes one last festival, Pentecost, and then the long stretch of ordinary time.  Let us linger in this light of Easter.  We have 50 days to celebrate this season until Pentecost.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Day after Easter

One reason why I like Easter less than many of the other Christian festival is the tendency of the substitutionary atonement theology that creeps in.  I call it "The Old Rugged Cross" theology for short--it's the idea that our very creative God could not come up with any other way to unite with humanity than to have Jesus die on the cross as a substitute for the kinds of animals that we might have brought to the Temple to offer in our efforts to get forgiveness for sins.

The idea of animal sacrifice as necessary for atonement is so foreign to so many of us in developed nations.  Why do we accept it as part of our Christian faith?

Many, many books have been written in an effort to answer that question.  I won't try to do it here.  But it is one of the hazards of Easter for me, this idea that we must be washed in the blood of Jesus to be cleansed.

Yesterday I began my Easter Sunday by listening to this episode of On Being which featured Richard Rohr.  He finished the interview with this wonderful quote:  "So that’s why I’m anxious to present the vulnerable God, which, for a Christian, was supposed to have been imaged on the cross. But again, we made it into a transaction. Transaction isn’t vulnerability anymore, really. Vulnerability transforms you. You can’t be in the presence of a truly vulnerable, honestly vulnerable person and not be affected. I think that’s the way we are meant to be in the presence of one another."

Yes, the transactional nature of death on the cross--that's what bothers me.  I would not have put it as eloquently as Rohr, which is why I wanted to preserve it here.

I'm lucky to be at a church that avoids much of this troubling Jesus came to die for my sins in this gruesome way because there was no other way kind of theology on Easter--particularly now that our former choir director has moved on. 

Yesterday, as I was on alert for something new in the Easter story, I was struck by the folded grave clothes.  Imagine:  Jesus comes back from the dead and folds the grave clothes. 

How would our society be different if we had focused on this aspect of Jesus instead of the cross? 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Transformations

After Good Friday service, we transformed the sanctuary.  Some years, our pastor has had to do that all by himself.  Other years, some of us have come back on Easter Saturday.  This year, for a variety of reasons, it made sense to do it on Friday night.

Our sanctuary began with this somber look:


Here's a close up of the altar, with a candle formation we made during our last Wednesday night art project:



After the service, we spent time taking away the rocks, the ones in the bucket that hold up the cross and the ones on the altar.  We brought all the lilies up from the closet.  We played with a variety of fabrics.  And finally, our altar looked like this:


With the cloth on the altar, I was trying to evoke abandoned gravecloths.  I don't know if anyone else will see it.

Here's the longer view of the sanctuary:



And now, for the real work of the day, for those of us who have spent many an Easter hearing the story:  how do we make it new again?  How do we commit to this story of resurrection?  How do we proclaim it?

Wishing a blessed Easter for us all--let us remember how deeply we are loved.  Let us remember that God can make a way out of the most wretched violence, and that the transformation continues.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Cold Tombs

When I was a child, Good Friday was one of my favorite services, with the lights going out throughout the service and the slam of a big book.

As an adult, I have yet to find a satisfying Good Friday service.  The Good Friday service at my current church is interesting, in its way, but it doesn't move me the way I wish it would.  We focus on the 7 last words, and our pastor invites people to offer meditations on the words.  Thus, it is often much too much tied to personal, modern experience, which is valuable--but I'd rather focus on the experience on the cross.

My favorite part of the service was the trio who sung "Beautiful Things," with its key refrain:  "You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of dust.  You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us"--evocative!  Here's the link to the group who created the song originally.

Throughout the night I found myself thinking of that time in the garden.  I had read a piece earlier in the day (on Martha Spong's blog?  I can't find it now) about the kiss that Judas gives Christ, and that both men understand its significance--that both men understand it's the last time they'll see each other alive in this particular physical world.  This year, that pain of separation spoke to me.

I had thought I wouldn't do sketching last night, but I really wanted to.  So, I took out my 2 gray markers and one black.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I had this idea of a tomb.  Earlier, driving home from work, I was thinking about how I had spent much of the time alone on a very quiet hallway, working in the accreditation room. A phrase came to me "the quiet tomb of the classroom," which made me think about tombs and what keeps us entombed. I was thinking about snapping the thin skin between my thumb and forefinger as I closed a binder. That happened on Thursday--I was thinking about Good Friday, and suddenly a poem came to me:  "Good Friday in Binderville" (Binderville has become my shorthand way of referring to all the work that must be done for an accreditation visit).

As I sketched, I was also thinking about the idea of hope, the idea of what brings redemption.  I thought about the Emily Dickinson poem that tells us that hope is a thing with feathers.  Ultimately, I came up with this sketch:



After the service, we stayed to help set up for Easter.  That juxtaposition was also odd.  It was fun to work with people--we started with no preconceived ideas.  Tomorrow, I'll show you what we came up with.

It was strange to be going about our Good Friday activities while various world leaders are making bombastic declarations about who has the biggest weapon and who is not afraid to use it.  We finished our Good Friday by watching the rebroadcast of the News Hour on PBS--how comforting to be watching the commentators Shields and Brooks with my parents.

I have a strange reading plan for the upcoming days.  Before the service I read parts of Henri Nouwen's journals.  I felt a bit of sadness that I hadn't thought to reread Nouwen's Latin America journal during Lent.  So that will be my post-"The Handmaid's Tale" reading--what juxtapositions will I see?  At one point, the problems in Latin America seemed so insurmountable.  I first read this journal in the early years of the post September 11 world, which colored my reading.  What will I see in this reading?

So here we are, at the strange Saturday between Good Friday and Easter.  In many ways, it is so much like the rest of life:  resurrection is on the way, but we're not there yet.  Redemption waits in a cold tomb that will soon be empty.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Work of Good Friday

It has been a long time since I had to work on Good Friday.  But in a few hours, I go to the office.  I will continue with the week's work:  reassembling binders, getting the room ready for the accreditation visit, observing a faculty member who is new--I hope that she remembers that we do not have Good Friday off.

I'm usually travelling on Good Friday or preparing to travel--I often go on a retreat that happens the week-end after Easter, and I leave on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Easter.  Again, this year, I'm staying put.  It's too close to the accreditation visit for me to feel OK about a multi-state trip, and I have no vacation time earned at this point.

Journeys on Good Friday make a sort of sense, as the Good Friday narrative is one of journeying from one world to the next.  Jesus would experience a time out of time that many of us never will--but travel gives us a taste of that.

This morning, I got up early to take my sister and nephew to the airport--lots of people are travelling today.  Now I will do some laundry and go to the grocery store to buy a few items for the week-end.  Later today, I'll go to Good Friday evening service with my spouse and parents. 

I will miss the Good Fridays that I've had in the past:  time with friends or helping with a midday service or a walk in the labyrinth.  But I will try to stay alert through the day for God breaking through into the world.  I am not the only one who has to work today, after all.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Shared Meals and a Poem for a Maundy Thursday

Here we are at Maundy Thursday again. How will churches celebrate this year?  My church will have a traditional noon service, and our evening service will be more experiential, a meal shared with a congregation that meets at our church and with members of a mosque which is a half block away.  We will discuss love across different cultures.

I say "we," but I will not be there.  Tonight is the last night in town for my sister and nephew; my mom and dad will be here until Tuesday.  My almost-11 year old nephew loves chicken wings, and my spouse loves grilling, so our last supper will be chicken wings. 

Will we go to Jaxson's?  Perhaps.  We went there last night, and my mom was sad to not have gotten to go.  I saw a box of a matzo on the counter and thought, ah, yes, Passover.

That reminded me of a time when my in-laws were down during Passover week.  We went out to eat in a seaside resort town, and the family at the table next to us whipped out their box of matzo.

I'm thinking of other Maundy Thursday meals I've made, other meals I've shared.  One Maundy Thursday at a different church, we did a Seder meal of sorts.  The impediment to doing a Seder during the daytime was that the preschool used every bit of space in the building except for the sanctuary.  I came up with a way we could have a meal in the back of the sanctuary.

As I researched the Seder, it became apparent that I had volunteered for more than I could accomplish.  So, I switched to a simpler meal.  I made a big pot of lentils and bought pita bread.  I bought feta cheese and olives.

We sat and ate and talked about how the simple meal was similar to the food that Jesus would have eaten regularly.  We talked about the Seder meal.  We talked about Maundy Thursday, since the people who came to the meal were like me, unable to get back for an evening service.

Did we also have a service?  I honestly cannot remember.  What I remember is the joy of sharing a meal, and everyone's surprise at how good lentils tasted.  I remember being pleased that my experiment worked.  We had just enough room for everyone who came.  If the whole church had attended--well, what a great problem that would have been, not having enough room.

But we had a small, select group, which I was fairly sure would happen, when I made the plans.  It was neat to sit in the sanctuary and enjoy a real meal, not the scrap of bread and sip of wine that we usually got. 

It was very cool to do Word and Sacrament in a completely different way--and wonderful that it seemed to work for people.

This week, with its mix of Spring holidays, Passover, Holy Week, and Easter, also reminds me of a poem I wrote long ago now, while all these images swirled in my brain and my quilt group met.  We wouldn't have had the meal that the poem describes, but everything else is factual. Well, I wasn't exactly the lapsed Lutheran in the sense that I once was, but like the rest of the poem, it's true, if not factual.

It was first published in Ruminate.


Eucharist

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 16, 2017:


First Reading: Acts 10:34-43

First Reading (Alt.): Jeremiah 31:1-6

Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Second Reading (Alt.): Acts 10:34-43

Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10

Gospel (Alt.): John 20:1-18


Finally we move through Holy Week to Easter Sunday. At last, our Lenten pilgrimage draws to a close.

The stories we hear during Holy Week remind us of how to move from lives that have been reduced to ash back to lives full of resurrection. This year, the Maundy Thursday story speaks to me, perhaps because I've been reading theology that talks about the practices of Christianity.

 In An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor observes, as many theologians have, that the teachings of Jesus revolve around the things we do, not the things we believe. The Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed came much later in Christianity. Long before we had creeds, we had Jesus saying, "Do this. Now do this. Now do this." We are to feed the hungry, care for the sick, protect the widows and orphans. Taylor comments on the Last Supper: "With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give something to think about together when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to do--specific ways of being together in their bodies--that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself" (43). We have "embodied sacraments of bread, wine, water, and feet" (44).

I have an atheist friend who says she envies me my belief. I argue that my beliefs come because of my practice, and that she could enter into spiritual practices, and she would be a different person in a year. She proclaims not to believe me, but she also refuses to try my experiment. Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, says "We become what we do" (192). Holy Week reminds us of what we are called to do.

We are called to break bread together, to drink wine together. We are called to invite the outcast to supper with us. We are called to care for each other's bodies--not to sexualize them or mock them or brutalize them, but to wash them tenderly. Thus fortified, we are called to announce that the Kingdom of God is breaking out among us in the world in which we live, and we are called to demand justice for the oppressed.

Of course, Holy Week reminds us of the risk. Jesus was crucified--that was a capital punishment reserved for those who were considered a threat to the state, people who would foment rebellion, for example. The world does not often respond kindly to the call for social justice.

But Easter promises us that our efforts will not be in vain. N. T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, is a great Easter text, and Wright says forcefully, " . . . what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff" (208). We may not understand how God will transform the world. We may not be able to believe that bleakness will be defeated. But Easter shows us God's promise that death is not the final answer.

Spring reminds us that nature commits to resurrection. Easter reminds us of God's promise of resurrection. Now is the time for us to rekindle our resurrection selves.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Confessional of Preparing Taxes

Across the U.S., many are working on taxes, if we haven't already.  I did our taxes a few weeks ago, which came out how I expected.  The software warned me that I'm at a high risk for audit because in my work as a writer, I earned significantly less than last year.  Well, I can't fix that, although it's startling to see it spelled out with specific numbers.  I was pleased with the tax credit we got for purchasing solar panels, and I don't expect that credit to last much longer, so I'm glad we were able to do that.  While we are not off the grid, we are closer to living out our values.

Tax time is a great time for that kind of assessment.  Are we living out our values?

I've thought about our taxes as a snapshot of modern life.  If I had been itemizing these writerly expenses a decade or two ago, I'd have more postage expenses to deduct.  Now I do most of my submitting online--and thus, my office supply tally is less than it would have been in previous decades too.

I've thought about our taxes as milestones in other ways too.  Last year was one of the first years that we didn't have several properties to think about.  That makes me sound wealthy, doesn't it?  No, just one of many who had properties they couldn't unload during the downturn. 

I'm always interested to tally up our charitable giving.  I want to believe that I'm giving away 10% of my income--and we are, as a household.  Some years it's 10% of take home pay, some years it's the gross, and usually, it's more than 10%.

Tax time is a good time to do this kind of assessment.  I go out with writers for a variety of lunches and coffees.  I find it wonderfully supportive.  But when I total all the receipts?  I still think it's worth it, but every year, I'm surprised that I've spent as much as I have.

I think about self-care in all sorts of ways, but I'm not sure I'm protecting future Kristin enough.  I could save more for retirement.  When I'm a little old lady, will I wish that I had spent a bit less on lunches out and wine at the end of the day?

I often talk about what I can and can't afford, and tax time spells it out starkly.  It's good to know how we're spending our money, not just how we think we are.  We can ask ourselves about our priorities.  Maybe it's time for some changes.

I think of the ancient spiritual practice of confession, which most churches practice on a corporate level, if at all.  Tax time is a modern take on that ancient practice.  We can see where we've fallen short.  We can ask for forgiveness--and for the ability to make a change.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Day After Palm Sunday

I need to go back to read the Gospels as narrative, from beginning to end.  This morning, I was thinking about the disciples and Jesus and what they might have talked about the morning after Palm Sunday.  Then I couldn't remember if every Gospel has a triumphant entry into Jerusalem or not.

And do I take the Palm Sunday story literally?  I'm very cautious about taking any part of the Bible literally, as something that actually happened the way that the Bible tells us.  But let me play with this idea.  And when I talk about disciples, I'm not limiting myself to just the named twelve.  I assume that there were plenty of people who tagged along from town to town who were just as worthy.

Would the disciples have understood the triumphant entry?  Had they seen enough by then to understand the response to Jesus?

Surely there would have been at least one disciple who said, "We are now on the radar screen of lots of people who might do us harm.  We've managed to avoid the Pharisees, but it won't be that easy to escape the notice of Rome.  We're headed towards serious consequences."

I am sure that some disciples would have welcomed those serious consequences--they're the ones who would have assumed that Jesus was here to start the political revolution and that the days of Roman oppression were numbered.

Likewise, there must have been a clueless disciple who assumed they were on a path to fame and fortune.  Perhaps that disciple said, "At last!  We'll be able to stop living this nomadic life.  We can make some money and finally have some stability.  Maybe we can even start a family or two."

I suspect the bulk of Christ's followers didn't spend much time on introspection--most humans don't, after all.

But if all the Holy Week events really happened in a literal week, could they really have remained oblivious? 

Probably at least one or two would have stayed completely clueless from beginning to end.  Probably even more.  And I'm sure there were some who thought they were all on a much different trajectory, who considered possibilities that are lost to us now.

Those early disciples aren't that very different from any of the rest of us.  Do we understand the story?

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Calm Before Holy Week Begins

Today, across Christendom, churches will celebrate Palm Sunday; many churches will also celebrate Passion Sunday.  Today, we hurdle into Holy Week--many pastors will be leading as many as 15-20 services between this morning and Easter evening.  Even small churches like mine will add multiple services throughout the week.




Today, many of us will receive palms.  The leftover palms will be burned and mixed with oil and saved for next year's Ash Wednesday service, where they will be smudged on our foreheads and we will be reminded of our existential destination.




Palm Sunday reminds us that the people who will be our friends today may turn on us tomorrow.  The adoring crowds of today may turn accusatory by the end of the week. 



And yet, as we journey through our lives, suffering every sort of betrayal, the Holy Week trajectory reminds us of the joy we will also experience along the way:  good meals with friends, deep conversations, a God who comes to serve.




And the hectic hurry of Holy Week ends in Easter, where we are reminded of the ultimate promise:  no matter how bad it gets, God has a plan.  We may not be able to see it, we may not be able to believe it, but God is hard at the work and play that is the redemption of creation.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Jesus at the Grocery Store

I have always been taught to look for God in the places where the poor and the outcast gather:  witness the presence of Jesus in a distant outpost of the empire instead of showing up in Rome.

If Jesus came back to earth today, I suspect he wouldn't bother with the U.S. at all--there are many places that are far more destitute.  But if he did, I would expect to see him at my neighborhood grocery store that somehow manages to exist in the shadow of the luxury condo high rises that have been built over the last decade.

Yesterday, with my heart still sad about all that has been happening in Syria, I headed to the grocery store to stock up for the upcoming visit with my family.  I always go early, because the parking lot and surrounding streets are a nightmare most of the time.  I am often the only one buying the groceries for the week.  There are usually some construction workers buying lunch for later, along with a school kid or two picking up candy.

There's usually a homeless person pontificating, and the store workers usually react with patience.  There are people with bodies battered by a variety of failures, both of personal willpower and societal options.  Yesterday I saw an elderly couple who fumbled with cards at the check out--was it because they couldn't understand how to insert them into a machine or because they didn't have enough credit on any one card?

Yesterday I also saw an older man in a wheelchair with horribly swollen legs that had sores and bandages, the classic signs of diabetes.  As I was loading my groceries into the car, I noticed that he was stopped in the middle of the parking lot.  I ran over to help him; I pushed the wheelchair up the slight incline that led to the other side of the parking lot.  I felt a deep sorrow for a person so disabled and so lacking in support that he was stranded in a parking lot.  I have no doubt that someone would have helped him at some point, just so that they could drive their cars out of the parking lot.  But still, the larger picture was not lost on me.

I am always prompted to pray when I'm at this grocery store, but yesterday I prayed more than I usually do.  Of course, I was already in a contemplative mood, having spent the morning thinking about Syria.  My prayer list grows ever longer.

As I drove away, the words from a later verse of "Silent Night" circled in my head:  "Bless all the dear children in thy tender care."  It seemed the perfect prayer for my little grocery store.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Just War Theory, Sanctuary, and the Missile Strike on Syria

My sister and nephew arrived last night.  Since their plane didn't get in until 10:03, we took a quick nap at 9.  The alarm went off at 9:30, and we listened to the news about the missiles.  My spouse said, "Great.  We wake up, and we're at war with Russia."  Hopefully it won't come to that.
 
On the way to the airport, we discussed just war theory and the missile strike.  At least if we're all about to go to war, my philosopher spouse has determined that this strike was just, according to just war doctrine.
 
But my spouse is more of a pacifist at heart--the kind who believes that even if a war is just, you can't undertake it if you haven't tried every route to avoid it.
 
I am the person who feels that we should do more, but who doesn't have the first clue about what it should be.  In the meantime, we try to get the civilians out of harm's way, which means we should have been doing more in assisting the people fleeing whatever horror is being rained down on them.
 
And in the case of Syria, we know that those who flee aren't leaving to take our jobs or blow up our buildings or whatever reason we might want to deny access to our country.  We have failed miserably in our refugee policy as it pertains to Syria.
 
So no, I don't know what the right course of action is.  I do know that decisive military actions change the trajectory, and occasionally, the change is towards peace or progress.  In the meantime, we can pray.
 
And if we feel moved to take further action, there are plenty of groups who work to help refugees and those who are trapped and must shelter in place.  My favorite is Lutheran World Relief.  I will make an extra donation this month.
 
And I will pray for peace and calm heads all around.
 
 
 
 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Greeting the Day by Typing Prayers

I woke up early yesterday morning (3 a.m.) and thought, let me make some progress getting these prayers typed into the computer.  They're due to the editor on Friday.  This morning, I finished typing them.

I've been writing the prayers for the past two weeks, but I compose them on paper.  For my assignment, I get the other materials that will be in the book, but the primary piece I need is the chunk of Bible text.  I've been carrying the manuscript with me as I found small pieces of time to read and write a prayer.

Some of the prayers came easily.  I looked at the Bible reading, and the prayer just flowed from me.  Sometimes it flowed too fully, and I had to prune words.  Sometimes, I got about 15 words, and I had to write more.

Through my years of poetry writing, I've experimented with both expansion and compression.  I've had the experience of counting and weighing every word.  Writing prayers was no different.

My experience putting books of poems together also comes into play.  I can see themes in the readings, and as I write prayers, I try to do some echoing:  one prayer uses a phrase from an earlier prayer.  I try to keep it in balance, so it's an echo and not an annoying repetition.

The typing takes more time than you would think, even though each prayer is only 35-40 words long, and I'm writing only a month of prayers.  I will feel better today knowing that I've made progress.  I'll do one last proofreading and polishing, and then I'll send them off into the world.

This morning, I thought about past prayer projects.  One year I wrote the prayers for April.  I no longer have the Bible chunk that inspired it, but here's the prayer that I wrote for April 6, 2015:


Builder God, let us remember that you reject no stone.  Help us to see the larger structures that you form out of human lives.  Let us be a solid foundation for what you are creating in the world.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017:

Liturgy of the Palms    
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
  • Second reading
    • Matthew 21:1-11
Liturgy of the Passion    
  • First reading
    • Isaiah 50:4-9a
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 31:9-16
  • Second reading
    • Philippians 2:5-11
  • Gospel
    • Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

Those of you who have been going to church for awhile may have noticed that Palm Sunday sometimes stretches for a longer time than Easter Sunday. There's so much we cover these days. We start with the Palm Sunday story--some churches actually have their congregants start out seated, then they rise and march around the church, either inside or outside, and then they sit down again. And then, when they get to the readings, they hear the whole story of the Passion. We get Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday all in one Sunday. It's almost a relief to show up on Easter and only have to deal with one part of the story.

Easter is the part of the story upon which our Christian faith is rooted.  It's the place where most of us like to fix our focus.  But Holy Week reminds us of essential truths too.

Palm Sunday, which is now called Passion Sunday, reminds us of life's journey. No one gets to live the triumphal entry into Jerusalem day in and day out. If we're lucky, there will be those high water mark periods; we'll be hailed as heroes and people will appreciate our work. All the transportation and dinner details will work out like we want them to. Our friends will be by our side.

Yet the Passion story reminds us that those same appreciative people can turn on us just as quickly. The cheering crowd today can be the one calling for our blood next week. If we're lucky, we'll have friends who stand by us, but we're also likely to suffer all kinds of betrayals:  from our friends, from our governments, from any number of societal institutions, and ultimately from our bodies, our all too fragile flesh.

What do we do with this knowledge?

The corridor between Palm Sunday and Easter instructs us in what to do.  We can watch out for each other.  We can find like-minded humans and stay together in solidarity.  We can make meals and take time to eat together. 

We can go even deeper into our care for each other, and on Maundy Thursday, we get a glimpse of that kind of care.  Some churches will read the Maundy Thursday text of the woman anointing Christ's feet with oil.  Some churches will read the Maundy Thursday text that shows Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.

Good Friday reminds us that we can do all these things, and still we may have to stand by helplessly as those whom we love are ravaged.  Or we may find that we are ravaged.

The Palm Sunday/Passion Week trajectory reminds us that we worship a God who has experienced this truth of the human condition first hand.

But we also worship a God who has been working through time and outside of time to transform this human condition.  We don't always see it, but Easter assures us that the process is in place and that resurrection will break through, even in the most unlikely circumstances.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Poetry Tuesday: "Penelope in the Office Cubicle"

We are in that stage of the accreditation process when I wonder if we're changing documents back to what they were several revisions ago.  It is a time of endless binders and going back and forth to the printer and hoping that our decisions will make sense in a few weeks when the accreditation team comes for their on-site visit.

I realize that much of life proceeds this way:  we make decisions and revisit them, we rewrite the chunks we thought were finished, we wonder if anything will make a difference.  Last week I wrote to a friend, "Are we curing cancer? No. Are we making student lives better? Maybe in some round-about way, in that the school stays open and students get financial aid."

I tell myself that even cancer researchers have weeks and months of replicating work, migrating data across documents--and many cancer researchers will never discover anything that will vindicate the importance of their work.

Even in the monastery, I imagine, the work can seem repetitive and pointless.  No one is immune.

At least now I have gone through several rounds of past accreditation processes.  The first time was just overwhelming with all the work that needed to be done and redone and never made significantly better.  Now I know that we will do what we can do until the time comes for the visit. 

And eventually this time of endless binders will be over.  In the meantime, let me be grateful that I have a good team, that I am capable of this work, that I have the resources to do the work.

Although if anyone has an extra high-speed copy machine . . .

But because it's been too long since I posted a poem, let me return to one from an earlier accreditation visit, in 2010. 

It's part of my second chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents.


Penelope in the Office Cubicle


She dismantles the chart she created
just last week, moving data
from one computer program
to another, to create
a chart that looks
just like the original.

She fixes coffee
only to be informed
that everyone now requires
decaf. She pours out pots
of coffee, staining the sink.

Part of her team rewrites
all the departmental objectives.
When the missing members return
from vacation and illness, the team changes
the objectives again. As she synthesizes
the various versions, she realizes
that they’ve written and revised
their way back to the original objectives.

Every day, she wakes up wondering
what work she’ll unweave today,
only to reweave tomorrow.
Every night, she dreams of voyages.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Prayer for the First Day of School

Today is the first day of Spring quarter for several schools in the area, including mine.  While I wish we would go to a standard 2 weeks off between every quarter, instead of 3 weeks at Christmas, 1 week in the Spring, and somewhere in between with the other 2 quarters, it's better for students to have less time off.  I'm always surprised by the students who just forget to come back after Christmas breaks, despite our e-mails and phone calls.

Last week was not a week off for me, or even a slow week, like the weeks of Christmas "break" can be.  In addition to a first week of a quarter, we are in the last few weeks before our accreditation visit. 

Last week we met the new students at 2 different New Student Orientations.  I love these days almost as much as I love graduation.  I love this time when students are enthusiastic and hopeful, before the grind of classes and juggling other responsibilities sets in.

Let me say a prayer for all of us:  "God of every wisdom, grant us a good first day of class, and stay with us on our journey towards graduation.  Grant us open minds, ready to be filled with new knowledge."

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Last Week of Lent

We worship a God who can put flesh on dry bones:



We worship a God who breathes life into dirt:



It has been a long season of light that struggles to break through:




And now we come to Passiontide, the two weeks before Easter, the cross still in the distance, but coming ever into focus:



Our altars are still draped in purple:



We still look for hidden spaces:



We tend our Lenten spaces with all the discipline we can muster:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Verb Choices in the Beatitudes

Since we've been reading our way, slowly, oh so slowly, through the Beatitudes this year as a local church, I recently returned to this passage:

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled."

What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? Several weeks ago, we talked about what kind of righteousness--personal righteousness or societal righteousness.  But I can't stop thinking about the verbs, especially in the context of our current political time.

What does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness?  What type of yearning is Jesus discussing here?

Many of us might say we hunger and thirst in this way.  Don't we post our outrage on Facebook as various groups look to be in danger of losing human rights?  Some of us have spent the last few months marching--some of us have spent decades marching.  Maybe we've taken a vow to communicate more regularly with our legislators.

I'm thinking that the key to understanding these verbs, this hungering and thirsting, has to do with our intention.  Notice that we are blessed not if we rage and rail for justice.  Jesus does not say "Blessed are those who are angry about injustice."

Of course our anger may be what moves us to the deeper emotion, the hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  Hungering and thirsting speaks of a yearning that lasts, that even as it is filled, it reoccurs. 

These verb choices suggest that we are never done with the task of hungering and thirsting after righteousness.   After all, even if we've eaten the most filling meal, we'll still be hungry 24 hours later.

In these times when many of us feel like we're fighting for rights that we thought had been secure, that thought is an odd comfort.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Fingerpainting Psalm 63

Last night, after a long week at work even though it was only Wednesday, I headed over to church.  I've been enjoying our Wednesday sessions with soup, Psalms, and creative responses.

Last night while our pastor read Psalm 63, we fingerpainted as a group, both alone and together:



We had the three primary colors, which is really all you need.  Some of us got involved with our whole hands:



Some of us used our fingertip as a paintbrush:



When my spouse needed to moisten the paint, he spit into his hand.  I was reminded of Jesus curing the blind man by mixing dirt and spit and putting it on the man's eyes.  Ah, the physicality of miracles and art!



I was struck by this part of the Psalm: 

"I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water."


At first I worked in reds and yellows, the pigments of parchedness.  Later, I added some waves:




I was intrigued by the work of others.  It's always interesting to see what others see.  My spouse focused on being held in God's right hand, which in his picture is blue:



Even babies got into the fun last night:




As always, it's interesting not only to discover what others heard, but also how we approached the art supplies.  Last night, I heard about the difficulty of creating the right shade of green:




Afterwards, we shared beef and barley soup, and then we headed out into the evening, fortified in all sorts of ways.  I  have found this Lenten practice to be so nourishing, so much return for an hour's investment.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 2, 2017

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 130

Second Reading: Romans 8:6-11

Gospel: John 11:1-45


What a strange picture of Jesus in this Gospel. Remember the Jesus of several miracles ago? The one who instructed people to go and tell no one?

Here we see a Jesus who seems overly aware of the impact of his actions. It's as if we're seeing a man who is aware of his legacy and how he'll be seen--a man who is trying to control the story. And of course, we see foreshadowing in this story, foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Christ, which we'll be celebrating in two weeks.

Notice that Jesus waits until Lazarus is good and dead before he appears to comfort the sisters and perform a miracle. It's as if he wants no dispute about the miracle. Unlike the past few miracles when Jesus raised people who had only been dead for a few hours, here he waits 4 days. There's no doubt about what he's done once he's raised Lazarus from the dead. We can't easily imagine that Lazarus has been faking his death for 4 days. Even if Lazarus wanted to help Jesus fake a miracle and put on a good show, it's hard to imagine that he'd willingly submit to being sealed in a tomb for 4 days.

As we watch the world around us gear up for Easter, we'll see a certain number of Jesus detractors. We'll see people who want to explain away the resurrection. The liturgical calendar gives us this story of Lazarus to return us to one of the main themes of our religion--we believe in (and are called to practice) resurrection.

And why is the idea of resurrection so hard in our fallen world? Do we not know enough people who have turned their lives around? Think of all the people who have risen again out of the ashes of drug addiction, madness, or domestic turmoil. Why are we so hesitant to believe in miracles?

Although writing about a different miracle, Wendell Berry has said expressed my idea more eloquently than I can today. In his essay, "Christianity and the Survival of Creation," he says, "Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine--which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes" (this wonderful essay appears in his wonderful book Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community).

The world has far too many cynics. Christians are called to be different. Choose your favorite metaphor: we're to be leaven in the loaf, the light of the world, the city on a hill, the salt (or other seasoning) that provides flavor, the seed that pushes against the dirt. Each day, practice hope. Each day, practice resurrection.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bold Justice 2017

As Christians, we're called not just to do charity work, but also to do the justice work necessary so that our societies no longer need charity work.

In Broward county, in South Florida, BOLD Justice, an ecumenical group has been meeting for ten (!) years to demand justice from our local leaders.  Some years we've worked on housing issues, some years dental issues, and so on.  We make real changes.

Each year, we gather together for a Nehemiah action, where we meet with political leaders to present our findings and our wish for change--and a suggestion about what that change should look like.  Last night was our 2017 action.  We talked about getting training for first responders so that those with mental health issues would be treated more humanely--this training has been happening, but we'd like to see the scope increased and widened.  So would the officials in charge.  The issue comes down to, as it so often does, money.

We continued our focus on the best way to care for the elderly.  We've done some work in past years in the area of abuse of nursing home residents.  Now we're working on bringing alternatives to those nursing homes to our area.  We've been advocating for the green house approach, which gives residents much more autonomy.

We also continue to work on the issue of civil citations, an approach to nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses committed by minors.  Our county, Broward, has adopted this approach, but we'd like to see it adopted state-wide, so that minors who commit these offenses aren't bogged down with a criminal record, as it is increasingly difficult to escape that legacy.  So, we didn't need to talk to local officials, but we did all get information on whom to call in Tallahassee, our state capitol.

We had roughly 67 of our church members at the event--and I go to a church where we have 75-100 members at worship on any given Sunday.  That sentence tells me that a majority of our members are committed to justice, and that fact makes me happy.  We're not attending church in the hopes that we get into Heaven or because we need a social outing on a Sunday.  We're trying to transform not just souls, but whole societies.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Photographing the Sacraments

Yesterday, we had the kind of baptism that used to drive me crazy:  we had more people taking pictures than standing with the parents to vow support of Christian upbringing.

I say it used to drive me crazy, because when I attended my nephew's first communion, I REALLY wanted to take pictures.  But I also wanted to be free from the distraction of my own picture taking and the obnoxiousness of other photographers to be better able to concentrate on the sacrament taking place.

Can we be present for God if we're angling for the best shot?

The picture taking didn't stop with the baptism.  As the family took communion, the photographer angled around the rail to get a picture or two.

Once, the picture taking made me crazy.  Now, I have a deeper concern.  It's been a long time since we baptized a child who was actually born to a congregation member.  So, when we as a church pledge to help raise the child in the faith, what are we promising?

I had never seen the families yesterday who wanted their children baptized.  I don't expect to ever see them again.  Why was the sacrament of baptism important to them?  And why didn't they go to their own churches?

I suspect that the answer is that the baptism was important to some other family member.  But the question remains:  why our small, Lutheran church?

For the families yesterday, I'm sure that some of them haven't ever been to church.  Our liturgy of baptism has the family reciting the Apostles Creed--they couldn't pronounce the word Pontius, as in Pontius Pilate.  Or maybe I'm wrong in assuming that if one has been to church occasionally one will have heard of one of the main actors in the Easter story.

I am not one of those Christians who says that we must get all children baptized, so that we can be sure that they're going to Heaven if they die.  I look at what we all promise during the sacrament, and I feel that we shouldn't do the baptism, if we're not taking those promises seriously.

Happily I am not a pastor who has to make those decisions.  I suspect the bishop would not be very happy with my decisions.

I will pray for the children we baptized yesterday--sadly, we will not be worshipping together or having VBS time or any of the other ways that I could help mold the faith of the children.

Or perhaps the Holy Spirit will surprise me.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Two Twenty-First Century Women Consider Annunciation

I have never had trouble falling asleep, but I do have problems staying asleep, and some weeks I consider myself lucky if I'm still sleeping past 3 a.m.  This past week was one of those weeks.

I don't spend too much time wondering why I'm awake or trying to force myself to fall back asleep.  I'm lucky in that I can function even with if I wake up extremely early.  Yesterday, I woke up around 1:30, and by 2:00, I got up and did some writing.

At 4:00, I thought I might fall back asleep, so back to bed I went.  It was a windy night, part of why I had trouble sleeping.  I watched the wind whip the palm fronds to and fro, and I thought of angel wings and the feast day of the Annunciation, which was yesterday.  Later in the day, I took a picture of the tree that inspired the poem that came to me:



Look at the two browner fronds at the bottom, closest to the trunk--don't they look like a pair of wings?

A poem came to me, and my hip started to ache, and I knew that sleep would not be coming.  I wrote this poem:

Annunciation
 
In the early hours of this feast
day of the Annunciation, I listen
for God’s invitation, but all I hear
is the roar of a motorcycle speeding
away after last call.  The rustle
of the palm fronds in the wind,
the only angel wings today,
as I lay enfolded in the arms
of my beloved of thirty years.

As I wrote the poem, I thought about Beth Adams and the book on the Annunciation that she put together.  I decided to send her an e-mail with the poem.  My e-mail ended this way:  "I don't like it [the poem] as much as the one I wrote for your collection, but as I wrote it, I thought of you and all the various approaches to the Annunciation, so I thought I'd share it with you.  Wishing you many blessings on this feast day!"

She wrote back to tell me that she was touched by my sending the poem to her, and she wrote a bit about Mary, about the way that the Virgin Mary was more present in Mexico City, from where she had just returned from a yearly sojourn.  She talked about the little shrines to the Virgin that she saw in Mexico and that she had once seen in the countryside of Quebec, but didn't anymore.  I thought about some of the shrines that I've seen here in people's yards, something that I never saw in other parts of the U.S. South where I've lived.

Later in the day, Beth sent me a meditation that she'd sent to the group doing a quiet retreat at the Cathedral where she worships.  She included my poem, which, along with the rest of her writing, moved me deeply.  In both her e-mail to me and her meditation that she sent to the participants, she talks about finding the presence of God in the ordinariness of life.  And she perceived my intention with the use of the word Beloved, that it can mean a human who holds us, but it also means the larger God who always enfolds us in love and grace, freely given.

I spent some time with her meditation and some time thinking about Mary and my relationship with her.  When I was in college in the 80's, the issue of Mary made me angry, like the patriarchal church thought it had done its job by venerating Mary, and now it could go on celebrating the maleness that it wanted to focus upon.  But in my later years, I see so many more nuances, both negative and positive.

It was a wonderful way to spend a feast day:  early morning meditation/writing time, corresponding with a friend, exchanging more ideas, and inspiring each other.  I feel so lucky to live in this time where technology enables all of this to happen in close to real time, so that this nourishment occurs on the actual feast day, not as we exchange letters through the paper mail system.