Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Poetry Tuesday: "History's Chalkboards"

I awoke this morning to read that Trump has fired the attorney general--as we play the "What president does Trump resemble today?" game, Nixon comes to mind.

I wondered what poem I might have in my archives for the morning after the firing of the attorney general, but I was very young during Nixon's time.  I have other poems for other grim situations, which no doubt I'll get to use eventually.

I wrote the following poem in August as the campaign season ramped into high gear. I couldn't get the Sylvia Plath quote out of my head. Did I read Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" before I wrote it?  I think I was writing it, and the title came to me, and I looked it up and proceeded to read it.

This morning, I find the reference to the violence and societal upheaval of the 60's (the fire next time) to be both alarming and comforting.  We have been here before, and a better society emerged out of those ashes.  Perhaps we will be that fortunate again.  Perhaps we will survive the societal winnowing again.

History’s Chalkboards

“Every woman adores a Fascist,  
The boot in the face, the brute  
Brute heart of a brute like you.”
                            “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

Every woman adores a Fascist.
Turns out men do too.
But we imagine the boot
on someone else’s face,
a face that doesn’t look
like ours, the face that arrives
to take our jobs and steal
our factories, while laughing
at us in a foreign language.

No God but capitalism,
the new religion, fascism disguised
as businessman, always male,
always taking what is not his.

Brute heart, not enough stakes
to keep you dead. 
We thought we had vanquished
your kind permanently last century
or was it the hundred years before?

As our attics crash into our basements,
what soft rains will come now?
The fire next time,
the ashes of incinerated bodies,
the seas rising on a tide
of melted glaciers.

And so we return to history’s chalkboard,
the dust of other lessons in our hair.
We make our calculations.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sanctuary, Resistance, and Psalm 10

There was a minute in church yesterday, just before worship got started, when I got a strong premonition which said, "Much will be required of you."

I thought, I wish I had taken better notes during the Sanctuary movement of the 80's.

I assumed the you was my church.  When I told my spouse of my premonition and my thinking of the Sanctuary Movement, my spouse said, "Well, we do have a cottage."

I love my spouse for many reasons, but our shared sense of social justice is a strong one.

While we were offline on Saturday, various lawyers, judges, and activists responded to actions made by the Trump administration against various groups of refugees and immigrants this week.  My pastor quickly changed the service and asked me to take part.

We read Psalm 10, my pastor and I:

The words of the Psalms often seem tailor-made to modern times, and I realize many have felt this way across thousands of years since they've been written.  But listen again to the words of the Psalmist:


Psalm 10

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
    who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
    he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
    in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
    your laws are rejected by[b] him;
    he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
    He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”
His mouth is full of lies and threats;
    trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
    from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
    like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
    he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
    they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
    he covers his face and never sees.”
12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
    Why does he say to himself,
    “He won’t call me to account”?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
    call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
    that would not otherwise be found out.
16 The Lord is King for ever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.
17 You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that mere earthly mortals
    will never again strike terror.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Activism By the Side of the Road and Elsewhere

Yesterday on our drive back, I saw a solitary protestor on the side of the road (Highway 1, the only major road) in Key Largo.  He had a huge sign that said, "Resist Trump's actions on Muslims."

A multitude of thoughts went through my head.  I wondered if there had been new actions during the day when we were away.  I admired the solitary protest.  I wondered why he chose that particular street side.  How long will he stand there?

I thought about a recent post that Beth wrote about how to balance one's activism life with self-care.  It's an excellent post, especially for people who are new to this necessity of protest.  And for those of us who are weary at still having to mount these protests, there are good reminders:  "Part of the struggle against fascism, extreme negativity, fear and violence is to maintain our true selves, and a belief in all that is good in the world and in our lives. So don't stop creating, don't stop loving, and don't stop living. The formless and pervasive sense of "I should be doing something" will be alleviated by your discernment, your focus, and your commitment to do something concrete each day or each week. So do that, and then get on with your life, wholeheartedly."

Her post has a great list of ideas for how to be active.  And if you need smaller actions, some of which are less political, see this post of mine from a few days ago.

We don't have to stand by the side of the road with our signs--unless we want to do that.  There are a multitude of ways to transform the world.  The important task is to pick one or several and do them.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Let Us Now Praise Lutheran Colleges

On Wednesday, I wrote this Facebook post:

"Let us now praise Lutheran colleges: my college roommate, Heatherlynn is visiting, and tonight she will go to choir practice with my college boyfriend, now spouse, Carl. She will sing with my church's choir on Sunday. Thanks, Newberry College, for making this possible!"

In the interest of honesty, I should say that neither of them sang in college, at least not in a formal group.  It would be a better story if they sang in the Madrigalians (Newberry College's most highly regarded and selective choral group) and had gone on to sing in local choirs.  But would it be a sad story?  Not in real life, but in the hands of a fiction writer, perhaps.  If I was writing the story, I'd do what I could to have readers expect a sad story or a midlife crisis story, but the ending would have the characters realize how lucky they are that they can still sing in a group.  Not everyone gets to continue following a passion this way, especially not a passion that needs a group.

I think of all the ways that being at a small, Lutheran school in the 1980's shaped us.  My college friend came to see us on her way back from last Saturday's women's march.  We came to college with a strong thirst for social justice, and the school encouraged that. 

The school at that time had very minimalist dorms, and only one or two people had their own televisions--those appliances were too expensive back in those days.  So we had plenty of time to talk and dream.  We took long walks through the picturesque town that surrounded the college.  I remember one late night walk where the only person who bothered us was the police officer who slowed down his car to make sure we were O.K.

We're still doing that.  It's been a good week of home-cooked meals, long walks, and discussions of social justice.  It's as if no time has passed at all.

We see a lot of discussions about how church shapes children into better adults, how camp does the same thing, and how other groups compare.  It's interesting to think about the same issues when it comes to Lutheran schools (or other church supported schools) and seminaries do much the same thing.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Small, Good Actions for Change

I am seeing lots of Facebook posts about people who are determined to take one action, big or small, for change or resistance to the current administration.  Many of these actions involve calling or e-mailing legislators.

I don't dispute that communicating with legislators is important, and I anticipate months of issues emerging which will necessitate expressing our dismay to those whom we have elected to govern. 

I am lucky in that I have a Representative who is likely to vote the way that I want her to vote.  I always feel kind of silly when I call and ask her to vote for a bill that I know she'll support already.

I also know that this kind of action can leave some of us feeling hopeless.  We may have legislators who will do whatever they want, regardless of their constituents.  We may feel that we call and call and call, and nothing happens.

Maybe we need something more immediate.  I thought of this when my college roommate saved the Campbell's soup labels on cans that I was going to recycle.  She told me that I could take them to my public library, and they could get free books that way.  I had never thought of that.

I don't use canned soup often, but I do occasionally use them when I need chicken or beef stock.  What a great idea to save the labels.

We could do the same with box tops, which come on many products and local schools can trade for stuff.  I mail mine to my sister, who collects them for my nephew's elementary school.  But at the time that she no longer collects them, I could still donate them to a local school.

What are some other actions that we can do that will take a small amount of time but bring some good into the world?  Let me list some:

--When we go grocery shopping, we could pick up some items for the food pantry.  Don't know where your local food pantry is?  Call a local church or two or three--you'll find someone who can tell you.

--When we go to a big box store, like Target or Wal-Mart, we could buy a package of socks for the local homeless shelter.

--Don't forget about the power of money.  We can write a check to national or local groups that are working for the changes we want to see in the world.  Even small checks are better than no checks.

--Does your employer match your charitable giving?

--Bring some treats to the local office of your favorite non-profit or charity.  Raise the spirits of the people who are usually working long hours for low pay.

--Read to children.  At first this action might not seem simple as many groups now require a background check.  But once you're done with that, you might find joy in sharing stories with children.

--Buy children's books and give them to elementary schools and libraries.  Support programs that support summer reading.

--Don't forget about the importance of self-care and care of your compatriots.  You cannot keep giving and giving and not replenish yourself.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Theology of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"

I was saddened to hear of the death of Mary Tyler Moore.  I was most familiar with her as the character of Mary Richards, and all through the afternoon after hearing of her death, I thought of her as a character and the show as a shaper of my expectations of what grown up life would be like.

This morning, as I was casting about for blog topics, I thought about the theology of the show.  Now I am the first to admit that the show was not overtly Christian--nor was it religious in any kind of subtle way.  The characters don't seem to have any spiritual practices, beyond something that might be yoga-like, but would probably be called calisthenics.

And yet, the show has spiritual lessons, along the lines of how to live a good life and be a good person spiritual lessons--and those kinds of lessons seem to be a major part of most theologies.

Let us consider the theology of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show":

--You must be kind to your coworkers, no matter how much they exasperate you.  Even Ted or Mr. Grant may be enduring a great challenge about which you know nothing.  Even insufferable Sue Ann may be suffering.  Treat everyone gently.

--Your life may not have turned out as you planned.  But if you keep going, you may find your unplanned life is better than the one that you thought you wanted.

--Your behavior changes those around you.  In the beginning years, the other newsroom characters were much more extreme:  Mr. Grant was crusty and irritable, and Murray was acerbic without stop.  Through Mary's behavior, her coworkers become more gentle.  They are able to open up and feel more in the way of emotions, and thus make truer connections.

--I think of the theme song of the show, about turning the world on with your smile, taking a nothing date and making it seem worthwhile.  It's not overtly Christian, but it seems to synch with the verses that tell us we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.  Christ gave us models for how to do that, and so did Mary Richards.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 29, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]

Psalm: Psalm 112:1-9 [10]

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]

Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20

With the Gospel for this Sunday, we get our mission statement from Jesus. We are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. It’s an interesting time of the year to contemplate light. If we're perceptive, we can see that we're getting a bit more light each day.  The sun is already further away from the horizon, arcing higher as it makes its passage through the sky each day.  But for many of us, we're not getting enough light; we're ready for summer and the 12 hours of light that grace that season.

Maybe you read the Gospel for Sunday, and you despair.  Maybe you've felt much more like a flickering candle lately. Maybe you yearn for verses about dimly burning wicks and the assurance that God will not extinguish you for your lackluster burning.

Jesus tells us that we are to let our light shine, but he doesn't tell us how hard it will be some days. As a child, I always thought that once the light was lit, the hard part was over. I would just shine and shine and not hide my light under a bushel and not let Satan pfff it out (as that old song goes).

I did not anticipate the days and months I would feel like I had no light at all, no wick to light, no oil left in the lamp.  I did not anticipate the days that I would wish I had a flicker, a guttering flame.

How do we keep our light from going out? I suspect it's in the various disciplines that we adopt to strengthen our spiritual lives: praying, reading the Bible, reading other spiritual literature, fasting, tithing, charitable giving, working for social justice, practicing gratitude, noticing the wonders of the world.

It's important to realize that we can't keep our lights lit if we see this activity as a once-a-week duty. I suspect that even a once-a-day duty isn't enough. We need to develop disciplines that reorient us throughout the day. We need to build in breaks throughout the day to attend to our wicks and lights.

Maybe we could tie these spiritual disciplines to other breaks we must take during our days.  You've probably done this practice at one point in your life:  we could say a prayer of gratitude before we eat.  We could listen to spiritually uplifting books or music during our commutes or workouts.  Many charitable activities force us to keep to a schedule.

It’s important to remember that we are often the only light of Jesus that many people will see throughout the week. How would our attitude and behavior change if we saw our lives through this prism? We are the instruments and tools that God uses to deliver God’s light into the world. How can we make ourselves better at the task?

Some of us think that we need to lead people to Jesus by talking to them about our faith. But our lives and our actions have already done all the talking before we ever open our mouths. Keep that in mind as you interact with people. Let your life do the shining. Be the salt that adds savor to everyone’s surroundings. Glorify God in this way.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Poetry Tuesday: "Zen Lessons at the Airport"

My college roommate will soon enter the airport-industrial complex; hopefully by dinner time, we'll be eating beef stroganoff together.

I once flew every 4-6 weeks; I once knew the Delta schedule by heart, which planes could get me home if one flight was delayed.  Now I try to avoid flying.

I don't have as much time to write this morning, so let me post a poem.  Here's hoping for a day of safe travels, wherever our journeys take us.

Zen Lessons at the Airport

The tarmac longs to lift itself skyward,
to fling itself free of the earth’s clinging
embrace, to shake off the cloak of asphalt
depression, to float in the fantastic
realms that stretch above.

The planes tell tales of improbable
kingdoms, castles of clouds and endless
vistas. The planes delight
in tormenting the tarmac with visions
of lands it can never visit.

The planes torture the tarmac, jealous
of its stability. They tire
of fleeing across continents, always rushing
to stay ahead of the harsh
taskmaster of the schedule. Breathless,
the planes race
from day to day, never having a chance
to enjoy the views, never knowing
for sure where they’ll be on any given day.

The tarmac stays anchored and mopes
about, frustrated by the familiar scenery.
The planes see the world, but yearn
for a friendly face and a rooted
future. The flowers bloom their riotous
profusion of flowers, even though the planes
overlook them and the tarmac wishes
for different colored blooms.

Monday, January 23, 2017

After the Pomp, the Circumstance

Now is the time to begin the work.

Which path will we take towards the future?

The gnarled tree holds its secrets, but we must move forward.

Perhaps the smooth surface tells the truth, or perhaps we should be wary of alligators.

The view is half hidden, but we can see blue skies beyond.

Let us put stone on stone, striving for balance.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Broken Spirits

This Sunday in our off-lectionary congregation, we continue our study of last week's Gospel reading:

Matthew 5:  1-3

One of the things I learned last Sunday was how to more correctly interpret the idea of being poor in spirit.  The word "poor"--the exact word in Greek--doesn't mean poor the way that modern readers might assume.  In fact, last week I made this very mistake:  poor as lacking something, like money.

Last week, Pastor Keith told us that this particular word, "poor," evoked a bent-over poor.  We have seen this kind of poor in our own cities:  the homeless person begging at the intersection, so disabled from this life that standing up straight is not an option.

What does it mean to be that kind of emptied out spiritually?  The verse, after all, is "Blessed are the poor in spirit."  Some weeks, I know exactly what that kind of spirit must be.

I'm not talking about spirituality, the way that many might when reading that verse.  I'm thinking about my general human spirit, that spark that makes a person unique.

Some weeks, I feel like a dimly burning candle on a windy night.  The wind buffets my tiny flame, and it's in constant danger of going out for good.  What use am I to anyone?

This passage reminds us that there's room for us too, even when we're bent over with our broken spirits.  We don't have to be spiritual superstars.  Jesus includes us, even when we're spiritually impoverished.

And when we're hollowed out this way, maybe we'll have more room for Jesus.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is Marching Still Effective?

Today I have friends all over the country who are marching--including my college roommate who has come all the way from Montana to march on Washington.  There have been moments this week where I've thought that I should get myself on a plane--that this march may be one that I will really regret missing.

I've been to marches before based on that premise.  I went to a march in 1992 with the focus being the preservation of Roe v. Wade.  I felt I was there for a historic time, but it also left me feeling a bit blah.  It was during the waning years of Republican rule, although I didn't know that at the time, and I wondered if my 10 years of marching had made any difference at all.

I marched for nuclear disarmament.  I marched for a variety of women's rights.  I went to gay pride rallies--or were they picnics?  I marched against apartheid; I went to prayer vigils that I suspect might have been more effective, although I wouldn't have told you that at the time.  I went to national marches and local marches.  I'd like to say that I marched holes in the soles of my boots, but they were thick-soled boots, so that wouldn't be true.

I grew up in the shadow of the 60's and older Civil Rights Movements.  I believed in the power of marches--although later, I came to realize how important the visuals were.  Those Civil Rights marchers in their Sunday clothes being assaulted with fire hoses and dogs--those folks were more sympathetic than some of the 60's marchers who had such a different visual message (dirty draft dodgers?  entitled students?  drugged out kids?).

Do I still believe in the power of marches?  Yes.  I think today's marches will speak volumes.  Will anyone pay attention?  Will those marches even register in the minds of those in power?  Surely so, if the numbers of marchers across the nation are as high as I expect.

Will it change behavior?  I do not know.

I am marching in spirit. I am also praying.  Which approach will yield results?  What results do I want? 

I pray for safety for us all, both on this day of many marches and in the coming years.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Don't Mourn, Organize

I stashed this Doris Lessing piece for a day just like this; I saw it on Facebook and have no idea who should get credit, but thank you, whoever you are:

I will not be watching the Inauguration.  No, I will be at work, doing what I can do to make life better for students and faculty and the people who will eventually employ our students.

I am worried, but I am always worried.  The older I get, the more I realize that the people in charge are not magical in any way; they are ordinary people with gifts and talents and character flaws which may or may not undo them completely.

I came of age during the Reagan years, so I'm used to feeling like the people in the cabinet are a strange mix of the one person who knows lots about governing, the one in charge who worries more about image than substance, a collection of inept people who know nothing about the departments bequeathed to them, and the others who have some potential and may work out. 

The Trump reign seems to be very similar to Reagan's (if you want to read an interesting article that compares Trump to LBJ, go here).  I fully expect attempts to gut all the departments that I hold dear.  But frankly, many groups like NPR and PBS have already been made much less dependent on public funds than they were decades ago--and it's worked out.

Maybe this will all be O.K.  But it's more realistic to know that much of the next 4 years won't be O.K. with me, and to look for ways to protect what and who I cherish and to try to help those who don't have the advantages that I do when it comes time to resist.

Image from Two Sylvias Press

Maybe we will create great art in the face of great uncertainty.  It's happened before. 

I am holding onto the idea that once people have their rights, it's hard to strip them away.  I tell myself that it's rare for civilizations to backslide significantly--but I am aware of all the times that it's happened.

I am aware that times of great societal darkness often lead to times of great enlightenment.  I'm thinking about the time that the plague swept through Europe, which left the countries decimated, but gave the peasant survivors more leverage to build better lives--steps towards the end of serfdom and eventually the Renaissance.

I'm also aware that the people who lived through the plague would not be alive to enjoy the best years of the Renaissance.

You can see how my brain goes back and forth:  "It will be O.K.  It takes a lot to change the direction of the ship of state"; "Maybe it's time to stash some assets offshore."  On and on my brain goes.

I am not yet sewing my jewels into my hemlines, but it's crossed my mind--not that I have any jewels, and knowing me, I'd grab the wrong garments as I fled.

I grabbed a Bob Dylan CD as I headed out the door yesterday morning, and during my travels across the day, I kept returning to the first track of Bringing It All Back Home, "Subterranean Homesick Blues."  I was surprised by how much this song, written before I was born, still seems relevant, just as it did when I first heard it during the Reagan administration.  Here are some words of wisdom:

"Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters."

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

And for my friends who will be demonstrating:

"Better stay away from those / That carry 'round a firehouse"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 22, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4

Psalm: Psalm 27:1, 5-13 (Psalm 27:1, 4-9 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

Here we are this week, still in the early days of Jesus' ministry. We see him call the disciples with that famous offer to make them fishers of people. He goes out to preach and teach.

But notice that early on, he's also ministering to the physical needs of people. He's not here to talk to them about their spiritual ailments. He tells them that the kingdom of heaven has come near, but he doesn't go around haranguing people about their selfish natures and the need to pray more.

Notice that his fame spreads, and it's probably not because of his brilliant teaching or a glimpse of heaven on earth. People will come from far and near if one of their physical ailments can be lessened.

Jesus also addresses, at least indirectly, their emotional ailments. As he heals and teaches, he's creating a community. It's exhausting work. But again, he knows that people aren't going to overthrow their established way of doing things unless they get something substantial in return.

Notice that Jesus doesn't talk in terms of eternal salvation, at least not in this part of the Gospel. He doesn't promise a place in Heaven if people will just endure their ailments during this life. He doesn't tell people that they'll be popular in Heaven to make up for being outcast on earth.

No. He creates a community and includes all of these people.

His ministry addressed the very real, the very physical, the very present needs of the people around him. It's an example we should keep in mind, as we order our own lives, and as we think about the future of our individual church and the larger Church.

As we think about outreach, we should keep the example of Jesus in our mind. We should ask ourselves what our lives show others about Christian life. As we think about our individual lives and about what God has called us to do, we should keep God's example in mind. What is our larger purpose? How can we effectively minister to a broken and hurting world?

Many of us aren't comfortable talking about our faith, and perhaps that's for the best. Nothing turns of an unbeliever more than someone who inserts faith into the conversation too early ("Hi, I'm Cindy, and I'm saved. If you died tonight, could you be sure you'd be going to Heaven?"). Instead, we can help out our coworkers who need it. We can invite lonely people over for dinner. We can be the person who always has a smile ready. We can be the person who's willing to listen. We can be the light of the world that God needs us to be.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

St. Peter's Confession and Ours

On January 18, we celebrate the confession of Peter, a lesser feast day in many traditions. Peter also plays a part in several other feast days, but here we celebrate one act. If you want to refresh your memory, turn to Matthew 16:13-19. We so rarely have a feast day that celebrates one event in a life that it’s worth considering why it’s so important.

Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter is the one who replies, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Peter recognizes Jesus as the one for whom they’ve been waiting. 

But why, of all of the moments in Peter’s life, is this one so important that it gets its own feast day?

The standard answer might be that the Church gets its start here. We might throw in some discussion of apostolic succession that is so firmly rooted in this confession. And indeed, these facts might be why the early church decided to devote a feast day to this event. These facts alone might make the church historians happy. But it may puzzle the rest of us.

What does Peter’s confessions mean for us, the believers living so many centuries after the event?

I’m keenly aware that this confessing Simon Peter is the same one who will deny Jesus not many chapters later in Matthew. This feast day is a good one to do some self-assessment. In what ways do we let the world know that Christ is the Messiah? In what ways do we deny Christ?

How could Peter be so sure that Jesus was the Messiah? By the way Christ behaves. How do we travel through the world? Do our travels bear witness to God’s Good News or does our life in the world undercut the Good News?

On this day that celebrates Peter’s confession, let’s look at our attitudes. Are we gloomy people? Or do we bring brightness into the world? Do we focus on the bad news that comes our way? Or do we trust in God’s goodness? Do we live in a fear-based economy or a world drenched in love and generosity?

How do we treat others? Or think of it this way. You may be the only Christian that many people ever meet. What assumptions about Christians will people make based on the way that you behave? Obviously, a mean-spirited Christian isn’t going to make people want to know more about this Savior we call Jesus.

We might look at our finances. What are our priorities? We can tell, and the world can tell, by the way we spend our money. Are we giving enough to the poor and the dispossessed? Do we help fund social justice to the same extent that we fund our retirement accounts?

Many good Lutherans I know would recoil at this idea that our actions are important. They might remind us that we’re completely unable to save ourselves and that God’s grace is the only way to redemption.

True, but we need to consider our post-redemption lives. God saves us, but not so that we can sit on the sofa and feel satisfied. God saves us so that we can help with the ongoing resurrection of creation.

We might think of confession in an old-fashioned way, that we go around witnessing to people about how much we love Jesus. But a much more compelling confession is the way we live our lives. We don’t want stranger to say, “Ugh. One of those Christian types. I can’t stand those people precisely because of that way that behavior.” We want bystanders to say, “What’s her secret?” 

It’s no secret; it’s simply Good News that’s several centuries old. Let our very lives sing out in praise of the Messiah. Let our path be a living confession of which the Church will be proud for the next two thousand years.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Poetry Tuesday: "Eschatology"

I am dreaming of mushroom clouds again.  I really did have a nuclear war dream, a looming threat and time to get indoors kind of dream.  We were in a wintry landscape, not snowy, but dead.  My college roommate was there, along with younger versions of my parents, and some little children travelling with my college roommate.  We were trying to get the children inside before the nuclear strike happened.  We were filling up the water bottles while we still had water.

No mystery about where that dream comes from.  The update of North Korea's progress on making a nuclear weapon seemed more dire last week.  The new administration seems like one that might blunder into nuclear trouble before it can pull back.

Well we've been here before--perhaps in a worse space, in past decades.  And here we are, no apocalypse come to solve the problem of choosing a major.  I remember telling a class of students about my college era nuclear fears, and they looked at me as if I was deranged.  I said, "Never count on the apocalypse"--and later, while they worked on their essays, I worked on a poem, which later was published in The Powhatan Review.

And before I leave us with the poem, can I just remember how much I once loved this word?  I still do, but it's like a college roommate, with whom I once had daily tea and conversation, but we've now moved to different parts of the continent (which is true of the college roommate who is coming to visit on her way back from the women's march on Washington).

I loved it in its modern, dystopian connotation and its more ancient, Greek connotation.  I love those passages of the Bible that warn us of the end, although Revelation is my least favorite book.

But it's been awhile since I used that word.  I fear it may be coming back to live with me now.


Do not fear the apocalypse.
There are worse things than to be consumed
by the conflagration that claims
a generation. At least you know your part in history.

Do not count on the apocalypse.
You may be one of the lucky ones,
escaping genocide, only to face the oblivion
of old age, the greatest war criminal of all.

Do not embrace the apocalypse.
Cling stubbornly to the promise of resurrection.
Believe that even after nuclear winter,
Spring will thaw the ground.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Steps on the Staircase

What a strange week this is likely to be, bookended by this MLK day and the inauguration of Donald Trump.  It's a good week to remind myself of my favorite quote by King:

"The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." 

I want to remember times when it seemed like no progress could ever be made, and then, voila, history changed in what seemed like a flash:  the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, for example, or Nelson Mandela being set free.

I want to believe that even if an administration makes changes I don't always agree with (like the changes to the welfare system in the 90's), it may work out in ways I don't expect.  And even disastrous policies aren't forever.  They may point us in a way we'd rather go.

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  MLK

Over the week-end, we had a lovely Sunday lunch--we compared notes on when and where we were born.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because the hometown didn't have a local hospital.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because their hometown hospitals didn't have the capacity to deliver "colored babies."

We have seen enormous changes happen during our lifetimes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  MLK

Four of us had seen the movie Hidden Figures, but two had not, so we couldn't discuss it thoroughly.  Still, we agreed that what we liked best about the movie was how uplifting it was.  No one was blown up.  The racist southerners were capable of change--maybe not huge changes, but change enough to open the door to more.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”  MLK

Today is a day to dream big and bold visions. We could change our society. We could make it better. What would that society look like?

We have to dream that dream before we can achieve it. We have to find the courage to hold tightly to our visions. We have to face down all the fire hoses, both those of our minds which inform us of the impossibility of our dreams and those of our society, that tells us to move more slowly.

But first we have to dream. Dream boldly, today of all days.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Hidden Figures" and the Aspects of Religion

Yesterday we went to see Hidden Figures--what a great movie!

I know that some people might see this kind of movie as homework--but it's not, despite its rootedness in history, in recovering a history that's been lost.  I've heard it referred to as a movie made the way that movies used to be made, and that's a compliment:  there are fully formed characters (more than one!), attention to detail, a narrative arc, and oddly, a lot of suspense, even though I knew how it all turned out.

For a traditional movie review, see this blog post on my creativity blog.  Here I want to think about the religious aspects of the movie.  Let me specify that the religious aspects are quiet--but they're there.

Early in the movie, we see a scene set in church.  A different viewer might see this scene as one that explains a romance that we see played out in the movie.  How many viewers have lost or never knew the idea that religious practices were a major part of people's lives not too long ago?

Because the characters are religious, we don't see them wrestle with sexual issues--or maybe it's because it's the early 60's.  Or maybe because there are children.  I found it refreshing.  There's an idea that the kisses that come early in a relationship are a big deal--not something done on the first date.

We see characters say grace--I found this as refreshing a change as seeing women do math and make the computers work.

Like I said, it's a quiet aspect of the movie--not quite hidden, but quiet.  But it's there, and if I had more time, I might explore how the religious aspects help keep the characters rooted--and civilized--and ready to stand up for themselves--if, indeed, we can give religion the credit.  Maybe it's the friendship of the women.  It's not an aspect we see in the movie, that idea that religion keeps us ready for fights for social justice, or at least it's not there openly, the way it is in Selma, for example.

Perhaps the quiet aspect is more realistic, in the way that so much of the movie is realistic--and refreshing.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Self Care and Other Types of Care

I have spent the past week eating some of the soups that I stashed in the freezer just after Christmas.  The week before Christmas, my spouse made a wonderful soup out of the ham bone (with lots of ham too!) that we brought home with us over Thanksgiving, and on the morning of Christmas Eve, I made a veggie soup.  I thought that people might want soup on Christmas Eve, so I took them to church. 

We had lots of leftovers, and we already had a full fridge.  So I put them away for later.  It's wonderful to have food in the freezer for later.

I was not always this way.  Once we had a full-size, standing freezer.  I would routinely make casseroles in double and triple amounts and freeze the extra, only to find that I never wanted them again.  I wanted to cook something new.

Those days are these days--these days, I love being able to pull something out of the freezer during these weeks when I'm not home much.  I love having soup for lunch--a soup that reminds me of both Thanksgiving and Christmas, no less.

It's important self-care.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I heard a story on "The World" (can't find a link, though) about the British journalist who released a dossier on Trump and the Russians.  He's gone underground, but before leaving, he made arrangements for someone to take care of his cats.  There was some chuckling about a James Bond type spy making arrangements for his cat, but I found it touching.

Today, my spouse and I will do some marriage self-care.  We are going to see Hidden Figures.  He was the first to hear about it, and he said, "I'd really like to see that movie."  He only feels this way about once every three years, so I made note of it.  I'd like to see it too, for many reasons, but mainly because I want these kinds of movies to be made, and thus, I feel like I should support them.

Awhile ago, my spouse and I realized that we too seldom get out and do anything out of the ordinary, unless we have out of town visitors.  We wanted to show ourselves the same kind of care and attention that we do our out of town guests.  We're not always good at that, but we try to be aware.

Is it sad that going to a movie qualifies?  I don't think so.  We very seldom go to movies.  Today's outing feels more like a special occasion than Thursday's outing to the Irish pub, although that felt special too.

It's certainly more special than the alternative:  house care, although that needs to be done too.  For weeks, we had more food in the house than I could figure out how we would eat--but we've eaten most of it.  We need to do some grocery shopping.  The pool doesn't get our attention as much during January as it does in the summer--thus, it's got more leaves in it than I like to see.  We've got weeds coming up in our decorative areas that have river rock.

But today we will go see a movie.  We will celebrate people of vision.  It's a good way to start our MLK week-end.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Blooming Seasonally

In the dead of winter, let us think of the azaleas of spring:

Let us remember the first daffodils of February:

We could force the flowers open, the way our female relatives used to do with Christmas cactus and amaryllis:

But for those of us with eyes to see, let us appreciate the spare beauty of winter, with its stripped branches and bare flower beds:

Even in a winter landscape, there are bursts of color:

And we can rest assured that Spring will come again, with its riotous explosion of flowers:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Poor in Spirit

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The Gospel reading for Sunday, January 15, 2017:

Matthew 5:  1-3

This Sunday my pastor begins a multi-week study of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes.  Some have said that if you were choosing the most important passages of the Gospels, we'd do well to choose this text.  Some have called it a guidebook to the proper behavior of Christians.  Is this text an updating of the Ten Commandments or the replacing?  Or something else altogether?

This morning, I've been thinking about what it means to be poor in spirit.  I've been trying to see the text with new eyes, to listen to these passages as the weeks go on with ears that haven't ever heard these nuggets of wisdom.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Let me list some possibilities that come to mind:


--prone to depression

--a poverty of the pocketbook

--non-believer, someone who can't believe

--a person who is toxic to others

--someone who doesn't tell us how they really feel

--angry mindset


On and on I could go--what does Jesus really mean when he talks about people who are poor in spirit?  Many interpreters come to the idea that poor in spirit means someone who realizes how lacking they are in a spiritual outlook, and thus need God even more.  But as we sit and ponder all the possibilities, we see that this small passage could mean many things.

For those of us assuming that the Sermon on the Mount isn't about us, perhaps Jesus begins with this calling of the poor in spirit blessed, because who amongst us can't relate?  We've all had moments when we're impoverished that way.  Jesus calls us blessed, which may not be what we'd expect.

For those of us who see the Bible as a guidebook for moral behavior, we might see ourselves challenged to approach the text in a new way.  For those who see moral behavior as our ticket to Heaven, we might also be challenged to think differently.

Christ came to announce that God's plan for redeeming the world had begun. That plan involves our pre-death world, which is not just a place where we wait around until it's our turn to go to Heaven. No, this world is the one that God wants to redeem. Christ comes to invite us to be part of the redemptive plan.

The Sermon on the Mount might be the essential teachings of Jesus, distilled into several pages.  In this early part of the text, we see an inclusive message.  We may not be spiritually gifted, but we are blessed too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 15, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm: Psalm 40:1-12 (Psalm 40:1-11 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Gospel: John 1:29-42

Today's Gospel continues the story of Jesus' baptism, and it has lessons for each of us. Notice that Jesus doesn't get baptized and go home to sit on the sofa. He doesn't say, "Well, I'm glad I got that spiritual landmark over with. Now I don't have to do anything else until I die and get to go to Heaven."

No. Jesus goes out and tackles his mission. What is his mission? The same as ours: to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is revealing itself right here, right now, that God is breaking through our mundane daily life to transform us into better people in a better world.

But notice that Jesus doesn't go around yakking about this all the time. He's not the type of guy that drives most of us crazy, all talk and no follow through. When people ask about his mission, he says, "Come and see."

And what will people see? They will see a man healing the sick, comforting the poor in spirit, feeding the poor in wealth, eating with the outcast, and supporting the lowest people in society's social stratum:  women, children, demon possessed, tax collectors, the diseased, and the like. They will see a man who sacrifices his social life and prospects for a long life so that other lives will have improvement. They will see a man of constant movement.

What do people see when they look at our lives? I've said it before, but it bears repeating: people pay attention to our actions. If our actions don't match our words, people don't accept our words. But it's worse: people see us as hypocrites, one of those Christian types they hate so much. But wait, it's even worse: if our actions habitually don't match our words, people begin to assume that ALL Christians are hypocrites.

It's tough, this mission of being God's hands in a world that needs so much.  So, let's start with a simple approach.  Each morning, ask God to help you be the light of the world today. Remember that the world watches you, waiting for your light. Remember that when your light shines, other people feel better about being people of the sun. Forgive yourself for days when you're a dimly burning wick (to use the words of Isaiah's, in last week's readings) and remember that God does not extinguish a dimly burning wick.  Even a dimly burning wick is better than no light at all.

Martin Luther said that faith should move your feet. We are called to be Movement People. And even the smallest movements can lead to great changes down the road.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mepkin Abbey in June

I have been meeting 2 monastic minded friends at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina on a regular basis since 2004.  We began our monastic exploration as we fell in love with Kathleen Norris.  One friend had already been going out to Mepkin Abbey just to spend an afternoon, and she suggested we go there for a retreat.

Back then, the Abbey rarely had formal retreats that explored topics.  But in the past year or 2, with the new retreat center, the emphasis has shifted.  Now it's harder to find a week-end where one could do an unstructured retreat with friends.

Yesterday, one of those friends wrote to ask if we'd gotten the newsletter and considered the retreat in June that will explore the power of story.  I'd been looking for week-ends with nothing scheduled, but her e-mail made me think again.

Long story short, during the course of an afternoon, we decided to do it.  I checked with my boss who said I could take those days off.  I can't take it as professional development, but I don't care.  And by then, I'll need something to help with renewal.

I haven't been to Mepkin Abbey in the summer.  I'm intrigued by how the monastery moves through the calendar year and the liturgical year, so I'm excited to try a new season.

I had been feeling a bit of despair without realizing it.  I can't go to the Create in Me retreat this year.  It will be the week-end before the accreditors arrive, so there's just no way.  I had been worried, without even realizing it, that I might never make it back to Mepkin Abbey, with so many week-ends unavailable.  I've been worried--but realizing it--that my new job will make it harder to get away, harder to see friends, harder to have a work-life balance.

I do think I will have to be aware, as we all need to be, and to remain on the look-out for ways to get these kinds of opportunities into my life.  I am happy to have a reunion with my monastic minded friends.  I am happy to return to Mepkin Abbey.  I am happy for a chance to experience a retreat that explores a topic dear to my heart (narrative!  story! intersections with spirituality!)--and it's led by a father-son team; I'm always interested in how my mom and I might lead retreats.

But mostly, I am happy that my monastic minded friend offered an invitation, and I worked my way to saying yes more quickly than I usually do.  My Epiphany star leads the way:

Monday, January 9, 2017

Poetry Monday: "Heresies"

Many of us head back to our offices today for our first 5 day work week in almost a month.  When I was looking for an appropriate poem, this one came to mind.  It was first published in Poetry East.

I'm not thrilled with the way that it ends, but I decided to leave it.  Not every poem of mine ends on a happy, uplifting note, after all.  And the title of the poem may mean that the ending needs to stand.

On this first full work week of 2017, I wish for us all that our Monday is not a day designed by Pharisees, but by people full of grace and light.


I am having a day designed by Pharisees:
tangled in doctrine and hierarchy and that desperate
hope that order can be constructed
out of chaos—and it could,
if we would just all follow the rules.

This orderly world, rigid to the point of strangulation,
keeps me safe. He says it’s an illusion,
but it’s one I like. Unready
for one crying in the wilderness, I try
to turn away, and yet he lures
me with promises of new life.

I want to be open to the mysteries,
to see the Light beyond these dramas
on the wall of my cave. But when I glimpse
it, I curse and beg to be left to my hibernation.
I do not know how to burn that celestial flame.

I want to be ready for resurrection,
to feel my edges blur, to eat that one heavenly
food. I want new life. But on this day,
I cannot leave my old patterns behind. I succumb
to the temptations of fretfulness and depression.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Missing Church

Today I will miss church to go to quilt group.  I try not to schedule anything on Sunday mornings, but some months, it's the only day that works for my whole quilt group.  It's not Word and Sacrament, as my fellow Lutherans would understand it, but it has some similarities.

That sentence takes me back to a conversation my spouse and I had long ago with the woman who was then my department chair.  She had found an AA group that had some spiritual aspects; for example, they started each meeting by asking where the members had seen God working in the world.  She said that the AA group felt nourishing, the way that church used to feel for her back when she went to a Charismatic Catholic church.  She wondered if it was enough.

My spouse said, "It's not Word and Sacrament."  I was surprised when she agreed.

I've thought about that conversation periodically throughout the years, usually when people are trying to convince me that there's no need to go to church, that other groups can fill that gap.  I want to believe in the power of human groups to call us to our best selves, to remind us of God's vision for creation, even if the group doesn't use those terms.  I want to believe in the power of the church to do that too.  I know full well how risky my belief is--I know all the ways that groups of all sorts have failed.

Much as I love my quilt group, it can't take the place of church.  And even one church, one religious community is not enough.  My memories of being at Mepkin Abbey or at Lutheridge often sustain me--it's those places that my mind goes, not my local church, when I'm reminiscing.

But my local church sustains me in other ways, ways which are just as important, perhaps more so, as I find myself rooted because of them.  We need mountain top experiences, but we need a community at the bottom of the mountain too.  Peter wants to stay on that transfiguration peak, but he can't, and neither can we.

So, today I'll be missing church--in more ways than one.  It will be good to be with friends, friends whom it is harder to see because we work at different schools and campuses now.  But it makes me aware how each choice, even those as mundane as where to spend a Sunday morning, mean doors close to other choices.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Epiphany Highs and Lows

I was expecting the pace of my work day yesterday to be a bit exhausting, but it wasn't too bad.  I got to the office and did some set up for the day--food, mainly.  Our Faculty Library Orientation at 9 went well; it's always interesting for me to see what our libraries offer.  New Student Orientation was a joy.  We had a good Faculty Development session where we exchanged ideas for keeping students engaged.  The 5 campus meeting about what needs to be done for the accreditation visit didn't leave me overwhelmed.  I did the clean up required after a meeting that involves food.

I thought the day was going well, better than expected, even.

But then, a colleague mentioned a shooting at the airport.  A few of us gathered around a computer to watch gruesome cell phone footage.  I slipped away to call my spouse.  I knew that he had no plans to go to the airport, but freakish things can happen.  Happily, my spouse had not left the house.  Others will not have the same good fortune.

I sent e-mail messages and Facebook posts/messages to let my various family members know we're OK.  My step-mom-in-law had some anxious hours, since I didn't learn of the shooting until hours after it happened, and she knew immediately.

When I returned home, I resisted the urge to turn on the TV.  Instead, we took our hamburgers to the porch and enjoyed a quieter dinner.  My spouse played his violin, and I made a sketch.  It was a good way to end a day that was both satisfying and disconcerting.

As the afternoon and evening progressed, by way of Facebook, I watched my friends across the Southeast talk about the impending snow--a fairly serious amount of snow for areas that don't usually get more than a dusting.  Later in the day, by way of Facebook, I found out that my South Florida friends are OK.

This morning, I'm baking orange-cranberry bread, both because I've got 2 brunch events this week-end and because I have some Tropical Carrot Juice to use up.  It has helped me feel like I'm righting the world a bit.

And writing the world:  I wrote a poem this morning about my spouse playing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" with the Christmas lights staring their icy stares, while Epiphany comes to a close.  I thought about having one administration leaving and one waiting in the wings (tweeting, tweeting, tweeting)--but then I decided to make references to ancient texts and far-away stars. 

The poem just sort of arrived this morning, although I thought about the elements of it as my spouse was playing.  What a delightful way to start the day:  writing and baking!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Questions for Epiphany

Today we celebrate the arrival of the wise men.  How can we be wise?

They come bearing gifts.  What gifts do we yearn for today?

They come because they've studied the skies and thus, they recognize a new star when they see it.  What do we need to study?

An aspect of Epiphany that is less celebrated:  travel, both the intended travel and the fleeing in fear.  What travel plans do we need to make to gain our epiphanies?

Let us take one more Christmas moment, before we bid the season goodbye.  Let us ponder the greatest gift of all, the baby in the manger.

Let us pray for the wisdom to follow our stars, though they may lead us in unexpected directions.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Epiphany Eve

Tomorrow is the feast day of the Epiphany, the day that celebrates the arrival of the wise men who come to meet the young Jesus.

Of course, in literary terms, epiphany means something different, although related.

If you want to spend today thinking about epiphanies in literature, we might take a moment and read some of the masters of epiphany, like Flannery O'Connor or James Joyce. Here's what Garrison Keillor says about Joyce and epiphany on The Writer's Almanac:

"Around the time that Irish writer James Joyce was defecting from the Roman Catholic Church, he was investing secular meaning into the word "epiphany." In his early 20s, he drew up little sketches, sort of like "prose poems," in which he illustrated epiphanies. He explained to his brother Stanislaus that epiphanies were sort of 'inadvertent revelations' and said they were 'little errors and gestures — mere straws in the wind — by which people betrayed the very things they were most careful to conceal.' He also wrote that the epiphany was the sudden 'revelation of the whatness of a thing,' the moment when 'the soul of the commonest object ... seems to us radiant.'

It was a literary device that James Joyce would use in every story in his collection Dubliners (1914), a technique that he would become known for and that many modern writers would emulate. Joyce's Dubliners ends with a story set at a party for the Feast of the Epiphany, 'The Dead,' and the story ends: 'His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.'"

I tend to think of the use of epiphany as limited to fiction or essay writers, but I'm sure I'm wrong.  In fact, lately I've been thinking of epiphany in a spiritual context--but I suspect that our spiritual epiphanies might be less dramatic.  Or maybe more so.

 Perhaps these literary approaches to epiphany are too intellectual.  Maybe it's time for some bread dough!

Many cultures celebrate Three Kings Day with a special bread.  Many families have charms that are baked into the bread that signify what will come in the new year.  Even if you don't have special charms, you could use things you do have:  a nut, a foil wrapped coin, a dried cranberry, a piece of frozen fruit.

This blog post gives you a recipe, with photos, for a simple, no-knead 3 Kings Bread.  Why not bake it for tomorrow?

As you bake the bread, you might ponder the word "epiphany" and all its variants.  What epiphanies do you need/knead for the coming year?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 8, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9

Psalm: Psalm 29

Second Reading: Acts 10:34-43

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

This week's Gospel finds Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, a ministry that shows what a difference to world history a year or two can make. Notice that Jesus begins with baptism.  I love the fact that the Revised Common Lectionary returns us to the baptism of Jesus to start every year.  What a difference from the secular ways we start the year.  In today's Gospel, instead of harsh resolutions, we get the words of God: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

We tend to see Jesus as special. We can't imagine God saying the same thing about us. But in fact, from everything we can tell, God does feel that way about us. God takes on human form in its most vulnerable, as a little baby.  How much more of a demonstration of love do we need?

For those of us who are big believers in affirmations, we should print out those words and paste them on our bathroom mirrors. What does it mean, if we believe God is well pleased with us?

Many of us dwell in the land of self-loathing this time of year. Maybe we've spent too much money on our Christmas festivities. Maybe we've eaten too much in that time between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Maybe we've already broken our New Year's resolutions. We look in our mirrors and see multiple reasons to hate ourselves.

We look in the mirror and see ourselves as we imagine that the world sees us. The world looks at us and feeds us criticism: too fat, too plain, too wrinkled, too odd, too tall, too short. A diet of that commentary quickly leaves us malnourished. The world looks at us and judges us in terms of all the things we haven't accomplished yet: no child or children who don't measure up, lack of business success, a house that's too small or in the wrong neighborhood, no publication credits, no worthy creative products, the wrong kind of degree or no degree at all. Seeing ourselves through the eyes of the world means we compare ourselves to others and hold ourselves to impossible standards.

No one wins this game.

Try a different practice for a week or two or 52. Look in the mirror and see yourself not as the world sees you. Look in the mirror and know that God loves you. God chose you. God delights in you.

Our spiritual forebears might have worried that this kind of practice would lead to too much pride. But frankly, our culture has changed. In a world where more people are seeking help for the diseases of depression and anxiety disorders than ever before in human history, and many of the rest of us are trying to self-medicate, perhaps we shouldn't worry too much about big-headedness.

God chose you. God delights in you. God loves you.

No matter how much you improve yourself, God will still love you. No matter how many times you lose sight of your goals and move further away from the best self that you could be, God will still love you. Of course God sees your full potential and probably hopes that you'll move in that direction. But even if you don't, God will love you anyway. No matter how miserably you've failed, God will always welcome you.

We've lived in the land of self-loathing long enough. Why cripple ourselves with this kind of thinking? There's work to be done, and the world cannot afford for you to waste time feeling bad for all the ways you've failed. Every day, remember your baptism (perhaps as you bathe, as Martin Luther recommended) and the larger meaning of your baptism.

God loves you.  Love yourself as deeply as God loves you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Prayer for a Return to Non-Holiday Life

Today many of us return to our "regular lives."  Some of us will return to a day jam-packed with meetings.  Some of us will sit quietly and stare at all the e-mails that have been waiting for us.  Some of us will care for the loved ones of others who need to get back to regular life and regular work.

Some of us will be happy--having a regular schedule keeps our moods more regular and makes it easier to eat in a more healthy way and to get some exercise.  Some of us will be sad--some of us won't have much in the way of time off for the next few months.

Some of us are grateful to have jobs, and some of us wish we had other jobs.  Let us not forget those wishing that they had any kind of work at all.

Before the morning gets any later, let us pause and pray:

Creator God, be with us on this day when so many of us leave our holidays behind and return to our regular lives.  Give us extra measures of patience.  Give us creative solutions that we might never have seen without our time away.  Be with those looking for work.  Be with those of us who are frustrated with the work we have.  And help us all to realize that the important work may not be in our workplaces at all.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Epiphany Stars: A Success!

I'm calling our Epiphany Stars a success.  I'm glad that I cut out more than I thought I would need.  I thought we'd have about 20 worshipers yesterday, but we had more like 40.

I enjoyed many parts of the process.  First was the cutting of the stars and the writing of a word, along with some decorations:

My spouse and I experimented on Saturday.  I pulled out this star:

On Sunday, because we had so many people, the distribution of the stars took longer than I expected.  But people seemed patient.  And more important, people seemed open to the idea.  I thought there might be some refusal.  But everyone seemed happy to get a star.  I pulled out a different star:

That star is now on the window sill above my writing desk.  This morning, when I took a picture of it, I got this glowing effect:

Will these stars make any difference to any of us?  I have no idea.  Several people after the service told me how much it meant to them. 

I liked how the process combined the best ideas of Epiphany (God speaking to us by way of a star) and of New Year's (changes and intentions).  I like that it was different--my original Epiphany sermon was dark, dark, dark, full of Herod and refugees and fleeing evil.  I like that it was a bit more interactive than the traditional service tends to be.

But most of all, I like that I took what felt like a tiny risk, introducing something like this at church, and it worked on at least one level.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

So Many Feasts: One Week from Christmas

Today is one of those days where various calendars collide--how will your church be celebrating?

I realize that some of us as individuals won't be celebrating at all.  My experience last week of getting home after midnight after all the Christmas Eve services and then returning bleary-eyed to church in the morning does give me a measure of understanding for those who decide to sleep late.

Our church will celebrate Epiphany, and we will do the Epiphany star exercise.  I spent yesterday cutting out stars and writing words on them, a meditative way to spend some time on a Saturday.  We will talk about the ways that God speaks to us, whether it be by way of our dreams, stars in a distant sky, or stars in a paper bag from Mepkin Abbey.

Others may focus on the darker elements of epiphany, Herod's response to the wise men and the weeping of mothers for their slain boys.  Sadly, this story never ceases to feel relevant.

Other churches may celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name, which commemorates the circumcision and naming of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospel of Luke in the second chapter.  I've never been part of a church that celebrates this feast day.

Some of us may do something with the fact that it's New Year's Day.  Will we talk about our resolutions?  Will we encourage each other to make spiritual resolutions?  Will we spend the year checking on each other?

I wouldn't mind spending more time with Christmas.  I never tire of these lessons and carols.

I am glad that I will begin the new year in church.  It sets an intention of how I want to order and focus my 2017.