Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Feast Day of the Visitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a prayer that I wrote for today:

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Post Ascension: The Times When We Wait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Meanderings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

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

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Between Ascension and Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Buyer's Remorse of God

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

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

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

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

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

It's still Eastertide, after all.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Feast Day of the Ascension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for the Feast of the Ascension:

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The lessons for Sunday, May 28, 2017:

First Reading: Acts 1:6-14

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

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

Gospel: John 17:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Poem for a Morning after a Bombing

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

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

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

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

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

Heading for the Hills

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Brunch Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Feast Day of St. Helena

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Elegy for Us All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hospice Chaplain Work Days Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Festival of Homiletics Envy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 21, 2017:

First Reading: Acts 17:22-31

Psalm: Psalm 66:7-18 (Psalm 66:8-20 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22

Gospel: John 14:15-21

In today's Gospel, we get a hint of Pentecost. Jesus tells his followers that he will never leave them orphaned or desolate, to use words from several different translations.

Every year as Ascension Day approaches, I think of those poor disciples. They have such a short time with their resurrected Lord, before he goes away again. How on earth do they cope with this?

I also see this situation as a metaphor for our own modern one. You may be feeling a bit whipsawed by grief and loss yourself. You may recover from one crisis, only to find yourself staring down the maw of the next. As I've gotten older, I've noticed that these crises seem to be increasing in frequency and severity. I look back to the dramas of my high school and college years, and I understand why so many elders chuckle dismissively at the troubles of youth. We forget, however, that trouble feels like crisis, no matter what our age.

But Jesus offers this comfort: we will never be alone.

Notice what Jesus does NOT offer: our God is not Santa Claus. Our God is not a fix everything quickly God (at least not all the time).

I have some acquaintances who claim to have lost their faith on September 11, 2001. They had been faithful in their church attendance, but once that disaster happened, they declared they couldn't believe in a God that would let such terrible things happen. No talk of free will would deter them in their determination to let go of their faith.

Earlier generations had a similar difficulty with Auschwitz (perhaps you do too). How can God let such awful things happen?

Well, that's the disadvantage of gifting humans with free will. We will sometimes get things spectacularly wrong. I think of it as being a parent of an adolescent. We want the best for our teenagers. We know the dangers are acute; so many mistakes that are made at this age are mistakes for life and can't be easily undone. So many choices made at this age will impact the rest of adulthood.

Yet as parents, we can't prevent every tragedy. All we can do is to be there for our children when they go off the rails.

Likewise as friends, as spouses and significant others, as children: we can't keep our loved ones safe. We can try to help them avoid the pitfalls that we see, but even that won't always be successful. We can only be with those we love as they suffer, in the hopes that our presence will alleviate some of the pain.

Evil has real power in the world, and we forget that at our peril. As Christians, we are called to take a longer view, and we are called to believe that God will eventually emerge victorious--but that doesn't mean that this victory will happen in our lifetimes. We are part of a larger story, and we all have our part to play. But we must be aware that we might be like Moses or the early apostles: we may not see the fruits of our labors; we may not get to the promised land (at least not in this life). The Good News that Jesus delivers should give us comfort: all of creation will be redeemed eventually, and that redemption has begun.

Return to that promise of Jesus: we are not orphaned. We are not abandoned. Even in our darkest days, when we feel at our most unlovable, God sees our value. God remembers our better selves. God knows what we could accomplish. If God can use deeply flawed people like Saul who becomes Paul, God will also weave us into the great fabric of Kingdom life.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Labyrinth Beneath the Playground

Yesterday my church voted to lease part of the 2 acres of our land behind the church to a preschool center.  Zoning rules in the city of Pembroke Pines dictate that preschool centers must have some green space, and the preschool will be in the shopping center to our east.  I guess that part of the design will be cutting a gate into the fence.

We used to have a playground and that fenced area still exists, without the equipment.  But the land the preschool will be leasing will be further south--right over the space where the labyrinth used to be.

We haven't had a labyrinth in years, but I can still see where it used to be--although it's getting fainter with each passing year.  I always loved having it, although I didn't walk it as often as I would have thought.  It was a target for vandals, and we talked about what we could do to make it more permanent, like planting shrubs as labyrinth lane separator.  In the end, we let the land take the labyrinth back.

The church created the labyrinth after our pastor did his dissertation on the sacredness of outdoor spaces.  I was part of his focus group, and in this way, I met some church members and became intrigued by such a church.  I was part of the group that laid out the original labyrinth.  I always thought it might come back.  I feel a bit of sadness at its loss.

I think of the labyrinth that will be beneath the surface of the playground--I wonder if the playground will have a sacredness that it wouldn't have otherwise.   Will the children look back and feel that the playground was different than all their other play spaces?

I love the symbolism of the labyrinth.  Could I make a poem out of these elements?  I'm sure that I can.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Nurturing the World

This morning, I'm thinking about mothers.  I'm thinking about my wonderful mother.  My mom is/was a great mom in so many ways: in the way that she always encouraged me to read, in the way that she encouraged creativity, and in the ways she showed me how to care for my physical body.  She taught me how to be a female in a world that can be very difficult to navigate, especially for those of us in female bodies.

I'm thinking about my sister, who is a mom too--in fact, my family will be spending Mother's Day by watchin my nephew play soccer.  That's what moms do, delight in their offspring.  I was lucky enough to have a mom who did that--and still does.

I'm also thinking of our nation and how we support mothers.  We don't do a very good job.  Sure, there's this one day--which is mostly designed to make us spend money.  But we don't spend money in places where it might really matter, places like child care that's open at odd hours.

I am not the first person to note that we can tell a lot about a society, or an organization or a person, by looking at where it spends its money.  In the U.S., we are not a culture that celebrates mothers much at all.

I'm also thinking about how we mother each other, and how many of us need to do a better job of that.  I'm lucky to have my mom still,  an example of a healthy, happy woman--one of the best gifts she gave me is showing me that one can be a woman and find fulfillment in all sorts of ways. But for those of us who never had that experience, what can we do?

Regardless of our gender, I'd urge us all to be mothers to all of creation.  We live in a broken world, a world in desperate need of nurturing.  Some of us are good at caring for children.  Some of us are better at caring for animals.  Others of us are mourning the larger picture, as we see our planet in perils of every sort.

So on this mother's day, as we think of all the people who have nurtured us, let us resolve to return that gift, in whatever way best fits our skills, talents, and gifts.  It is what God calls us to do--and what the world so desperately needs.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

We Are Not Fired

It has been a week where we are reminded of the weaknesses of earthly bosses:  the President of the U.S. fires the director of the FBI, which seems stony-hearted.

Is it a metaphor for us all?  Do we only work if we don't invoke the displeasure of the boss?  Are we required to be sheep?

It is good to remind ourselves that we serve a greater boss, the creator with a larger vision than any earthly boss could have.

We have work to do.  God invites us to take part in the redemption of creation.

We will not be fired.  God will not let go of us that easily.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Preparing for Mother's Day

Much as I love my mother, and the idea of motherhood, I find the inclusion of Mother's Day into our churches problematic for all the reasons I've articulated many times.  What does that imagery say to those who can't relate?  What about those who had problematic parents?  What if we are the problematic parents and thus understand far too deeply the problems with this metaphor?  How do these holidays and their inclusion into our church services cause pain for those who struggle with infertility?

I would be fine with discussing the idea of God as Mother, something which might make many of us uncomfortable.

Why are we O.K. with God as Father but not Mother?  I've discussed many reasons why I'm uncomfortable with the idea of God as Parent of Either Gender.  It infantilizes us, and I think God is more interested in a different kind of relationship with us.

How would our theology be different if our denominations stressed this view of God?  How would our Church be different?

The passages of God as fierce mother, or any kind of mother, aren't often proclaimed from our pulpits, so you may be having trouble remembering any of them.  Me too.  And so I did a quick search and found this blog post, which gives this list:

Hosea 11:3-4
God described as a mother

I myself taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him. I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him.
Hosea 13:8
God described as a mother bear

Like a bear whose cubs have been taken away, I will tear out your heart. I will devour you like a hungry lioness and mangle you like a wild animal.
Deuteronomy 32:11-12
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God described as a mother eagle

Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions.
Deuteronomy 32:18
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God who gives birth

You neglected the Rock who had fathered you; you forgot the God who had given you birth.
Isaiah 66:13
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God as a comforting mother

I will comfort you there in Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child.”
Isaiah 49:15
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God compared to a nursing mother

Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!
Isaiah 42:14
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God as a woman in labor

He will say, “I have long been silent; yes, I have restrained myself. But now, like a woman in labor, I will cry and groan and pant.
Psalm 131:2
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God as a Mother

Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Resisting Culture, Resisting Smartphones

Yesterday, I started the day by listening to this episode of On Point which explored The Benedict Option, a book which calls for modern Christians to resist elements of modern life, like consumerist culture.  I ended the day by having a conversation about how available the modern workplace expects us to be.

One friend said that it's part of being management that one must be available each and every day, 24 hours a day.  Another friend said that every job expects that availability now.  I said, "But why must it be this way?  We're not managing emergency medicine here.  These aren't life or death issues." 

When I was young, I thought that one of the most countercultural ways to behave revolved around who we loved and who we lived with.  The world seemed set up for husband-wife pairs and their children.  I still think that if one wants to live in a multi-adult household where the adults are joined by simple friendship, not blood relations or sex, that it's fairly countercultural.

One of the most radical countercultural things I do these day is my refusal to get a smartphone and my refusal to be tethered to my cell phone--or any phone.  I don't want a smartphone for many reasons:  the cost, the way the phone monopolizes everyone's time, the way that everyone becomes a slave to their smartphone.

In this episode of On Being, Marie Howe says that the robot revolution has happened, and the robots are our phones--not what we were expecting, certainly, but a robot takeover nonetheless:  "And one of my teachers at Columbia was Joseph Brodsky, who’s a Russian poet, wonderful, amazing poet, who was exiled from the Soviet Union for being a poet. And he said look, he said, 'You Americans, you are so na├»ve. You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.' And I was thinking the machines — what face do you look into more than any other face in your life? The face of my iPhone."

I understand all the reasons why a smartphone can be good.  If I had family members going in multiple directions, I might want us all connected in that way.  But I don't.  I do spend a lot of my day staring at a computer screen.  I don't want my remaining free time controlled by an even smaller screen.

Eventually I'll read The Benedict Option, in an old-fashioned format.  I'll be interested to see if it has anything to say about this ubiquitous piece of technology.  It seems much more invasive than the television is these days.  If we're resisting modern, consumerist culture, the smartphone might be the place to start (and yes, I know I've already lost this battle).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 14, 2017:

First Reading: Acts 7:55-60

Psalm: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:2-10

Gospel: John 14:1-14

The Gospel text for this Sunday has much to say to modern people.  I come back again and again to the beginning:  "Let not your hearts be troubled."  We are in a time period where so many of us have troubled hearts.

I worry about our hearts becoming hard as stones once we all decide that we're tired of being troubled.  History shows us this trajectory.  Right now many of us are steadfast in our resistance to becoming a country that doesn't seem true to our values.  But what happens when we grow tired?

I look at the way part of this passage has been misused, verse 6:  "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"  I think of all the ways that passage has been used to persecute those who believe differently.  Are we ultimately on that path?

I worry about the ways that so many of us are engaged in binary thinking, the either-or, in or out thinking that can get us into so much trouble.  We spend much time with ideas exactly identical to ours.  We can go for weeks/months/years without meeting someone with different political ideas than ours.  We live in a different kind of segregated world than that of half a century ago, but it's no less dangerous a segregation.

On Sunday, morning, in my Internet ramblings, I came across a quote from Thomas Merton, in this post from the ever-wonderful Parker Palmer:

"This is of course the ultimate temptation of Christianity! To say that Christ has locked all the doors, has given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is seriousness and damnation, inside of which there is the intolerable flippancy of the saved — while nowhere is there any place left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy which alone is truly serious, and worthy of being taken seriously.”

In this quote, we see a way forward.  Even as so many of us are in despair about so many things, God is making creation whole again, in ways that we don't always perceive.

The Gospel text for this week includes an implicit invitation.  Jesus invites us to be part of this redemption of creation when he says, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."

Where and how will you respond to this call?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Stewardship for the Birds

This morning as I took my small walk to the marina, I kept reminding myself of what many smart folks advise:  even a half hour walk can help in all sorts of ways.  It doesn't have to be an extra pounds burning up walk.  Just getting the body moving is a good thing.

It's also good in other sorts of ways.  I've been delighting in the bird sounds that I only hear in the morning.  Do I only hear them because they only sing in the morning?  Or is early morning the only time the traffic/construction noises are silent enough to let other sounds slip through?

The other day I walked under a piercing bird sound.  I looked up and said, "Is that big noise coming out of you?"  Such a tiny bird with such a robust song!

I had a similar moment last week when I heard bird noises--but I was in my office, which I think of as hermetically sealed.  I'm lucky, in that I have windows and palm trees that wave to me outside them.  But I rarely hear much of the noise from outside of those windows.

But sure enough, there were some tiny birds perched on the tiny bit of window sill, and they chirped loudly enough for me to hear. 

I often hear the screech of parrots, but they rarely come close enough to be seen.  The other day I had to come back home in the morning to have my spouse notarize a document.  As I left the house, I noticed a parrot in one of the gumbo limbo trees out front.  I managed to get my husband's attention without scaring the parrot away.  And then, another parrot joined the first!

On our first night in Ft. Lauderdale, before we decided to move down here, when we were here for my spouse's job interview, we saw parrots on the electric lines overhead on Las Olas.  Seeing parrots seemed magical then, and it still seems magical, 20 years later.

When I saw the parrots in our gumbo limbo tree on Friday, I had been feeling exhausted and depleted.  But that moment was a turning point in my day.  My day might have improved in some other way, had I not seen them, however, I was surprised by how much they elevated my mood, and how long that elevation lasted.

Over the past decades, I've read many articles that worry about the fate of the birds, and I've read works that envision a life without birdsong.  Happily, that world is not our world yet.  I'll continue to cultivate my patch of the world to support the birds and other animal life and to stave off a birdless apocalypse for as long as possible.

It's an aspect of stewardship that we don't always talk about as spiritual folks.  But imagine the world that we might help create if we did more in this area of stewardship.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Julian of Norwich and Our Modern Cells

May 8 is the feast day of Julian of Norwich in the Anglican and the Lutheran church; in the Catholic church, it's May 13.

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

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

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

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

I find myself thinking of her more and more frequently these days. In my 20’s, I saw her as bizarre and strange. Who would willingly shut herself away in a small cell?

Now I find the idea attractive: a small room in complete stillness with meals slid through a slot in the door, very little in the way of human interaction. My yearning probably speaks to the chaotic nature of life in my own cell.

My office is likely not much bigger than Julian’s cell, but it’s much more chaotic, people coming and going with a wide variety of problems, humans reacting to stress in a variety of agonizing ways. My office is certainly not connected to a cathedral, which would lend a sense of peace, especially these days when cathedrals aren’t community centers, the way they would have been in medieval times.

I also comfort myself by reminding myself that Julian of Norwich would be astonished if she came back today and saw the importance that people like me have accorded her. She likely had no idea that her writings would survive. She was certainly not writing and saying, "I will be one of the earliest female writers in English history. I will depict a feminine face of God. I will create a theology that will still be important centuries after I'm dead."

That's the frustration for people like me: we cannot know which work is going to be most important. That e-mail that seems unimportant today . . . will likely be unimportant hundreds of years from now, but who knows. The poem that seems strange and bizarre and something that must be hidden from one's grandmother may turn out to be the poem that touches the most readers. Being kind to one's coworkers who cluck and fuss and flutter about matters that seem so terribly unimportant is no small accomplishment either.

I think of Julian of Norwich’s most famous quote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Would Julian of Norwich be pleased that so many of us derive comfort by repeating those words? Or would she shake her head and be annoyed that we have missed what she considered to be the most important ideas?

I remind myself that she would have such a different outlook than I do. She was a medieval woman who served God; she likely would not even view her ideas as her own, but as visitations from the Divine. If I could adopt more of that kind of attitude, it could serve me well on some of my more stressful days at work when divesting situations of my ego could be the most helpful thing that I could do.

And maybe I could do that by adopting more of the habits of the anchoress in my own modern cell. I can’t keep people from coming to my office, but when I don’t have people there, I could pray. Even when I do have people in my office, I could pray.

I don’t have cathedral bells nearby, but I could use the tools of the modern office to remind me to pray. I could use my calendar dings to remind me. I could even insert reminders into my electronic calendars to call me back to prayer and my better self.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hidden Wholenesses

This has been yet another week where my Facebook feed has exploded with the rage and disappointment of those who feel that their government is not working for them and not working for us all and perhaps not working at all.

I understand the rage, but I still find it exhausting.

This week, too, I've been exchanging writing with my Sociology friend, and we've had an e-mail conversation about all the ways that education has changed.  She feels rage about the ways that the educational structure has been given to the administrators, especially the HR folks and the Compliance people and all the ones in charge of Institutional Effectiveness.  This sadness and rage, too, I understand.  Life in Higher Ed is not what most of us expected when we were in grad school.  I feel a bit less betrayed, since when I was in grad school, it was beginning to be clear that we were being prepared for academic lives that were disappearing out from under us all.

This morning, in my Internet ramblings, I came across a quote from Thomas Merton, in this post from the ever-wonderful Parker Palmer:

“…we can no longer rely on being supported by structures that may be destroyed at any moment by a political power or a political force. You cannot rely on structures. They are good and they should help us, and we should do the best we can with them. But they may be taken away, and if everything is taken away, what do you do next?”

This quote is from a speech that he gave to a conference of monks in Bangkok a few hours before he died in 1968. Quoting a Tibetan lama who was forced to flee his monastery and his homeland, Merton advised the monks, “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own feet.”

I find it an odd comfort that a spiritual giant like Thomas Merton wrestled with many of these same feelings that so many of the rest of us face these days. 

Parker Palmer has written eloquently about the idea that Merton expresses, that there is a hidden wholeness beneath it all, if we just open our eyes to see.  Palmer reminds us that we will be judged differently than how the world tells us we will be judged:

"As long as we are wedded to 'effectiveness' we will take on smaller and smaller tasks, for they are the only ones with which we can get results. If we want to witness to important but impossible values like love, truth and justice, there must be a standard that trumps effectiveness. The name of that standard is 'faithfulness.' At the end of the road, I will not be asking about outcomes. I’ll be asking if I was faithful to my gifts, to the needs I saw around me, to the ways in which my gifts might meet those needs, to 'the truth of the work itself.'”

May we find the strength to be true to our gifts and faithful to the true work.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Creativity and the Drudgery

Surely God, too, yearns for more time to create.

There are tree trunks to be twisted into new shapes:

There are new flowers to create:

God sees new colors that could be brought into being:

But like the rest of us, God has housekeeping tasks:

The undergrowth always threatens to overtake us all:

The surfaces must be swept:

The drudgery can be overwhelming:

God lets the chaos take over, so as to seize time for the creative work:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Poem for a Week of Tiredness: "My Habit, My Hairshirt"

I've been feeling tired this week.  In a way, I expected that tiredness.  In a way, I'm surprised.  It seems the pace of administrator life never really slows down, but other priorities come to the front, demanding attention.

It could be worse.  I still prefer this life to the life I had when I was an adjunct, which meant driving across three counties, keeping my office in my car.

Still, there are times when I wish I had more time for contemplation.  And not a day goes by when I don't wish for more joy.  I'm good at injecting joy into my days--I just wish there was time for more.

This morning I was wondering if I had missed the feast day that celebrates Julian of Norwich.  Nope!  I've got until May 8.

That pondering made me think of the following poem.  I wrote it during my adjunct years, when I drove across three counties, filling my gas tank several times a week, teaching Composition here (and there and everywhere!), Literature survey classes there, Victorian and Romantic Lit classes in yet a different location.

I had just taught Julian of Norwich, and I was thinking of her days as an anchoress, when this poem came to me. It was published in my chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.

Even though it doesn't describe my literal life, it does describe an aspect of my mental life, especially if I'm not careful.  I might change the bit about the Daytimer--do people use those anymore?  I might make reference to Microsoft Outlook if I wrote it these days--or maybe there's a smartphone app?

In any case, may we all have some time for contemplation and a relaxed pace, if not every day, at least once a day.  And if not, may we get poems out of our pace, poems that we still like more than a decade after we wrote them!

My Habit, My Hairshirt

A modern day anchoress, I commit
myself to my car. In my moving cell,
I sing constantly and pray without ceasing.

I dedicate myself to our modern religion
of hectic pace. I rush from one location to another,
showing my devotion in twelve hour increments.

No time for contemplation, the anathema
to the modern ascetic. I flog
myself with my cell phone and briefcase.

Occasionally, a heretical urge lures
me, a siren song urging me to slow down,
tempting me to tame my frantic schedule.

But no Gnostic visions for me. I race
through another week in the grip of my Daytimer,
my habit, my hairshirt.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer, a day I've always found a bit puzzling--and more so this year, when we have a president who has the least amount of religious training of any president we've ever had.

In past years, I've heard all kinds of huffing and puffing about separation of church and state and the like.  I don't think we need to worry about that this year.  I'm not seeing any religious elements seeping into this White House.

But I realize the National Day of Prayer not about the president, exactly.  I still can't quite figure out why we have it.

I could argue that every day should be a day of prayer--for the nation, for our regions, for our communities.  We don't need to dedicate a day to that--we need to believe that religious communities are doing this already.

Of course, some of us may need to actually start praying.

I'm also surprised, although I shouldn't be by now, at the costs involved with a National Day of Prayer.  There's merchandise we can buy.  Many events have an admission fee.


My church will let you come and pray with us for free.  You never need to make a donation.  No merchandise purchase required.  No admission fee.

Of course, we don't even need a church.    We don't need prayer leaders. The Bible is very clear about all these things.

So sure, let us all pray for our nation and our leaders today.  But also let us pray for our nation and our leaders tomorrow--and all the days after that.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 7, 2017:

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47

Psalm: Psalm 23

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25

Gospel: John 10:1-10

In this week's Gospel, Christ mixes metaphors a bit, talking about sheep and calling himself a doorway for the sheep to find pasture. He also warns of thieves and robbers, and we might ask ourselves who are modern day thieves and robbers? Who are the ones who would lead us astray?

Well, there are lots of contenders, aren't there? But the ones I'm finding most insidious these days are all the electronic activities which steal so much of our time away from us.  I see more and more people bent over their phones, oblivious to the world around them.

You don’t believe me? Try an Internet fast and see what happens. Could you go for a day without logging on? Could you go for a week?

We might tell ourselves that we use our online time to stay connected to family and friends, and I will admit that it’s easier to stay in touch with some people via Facebook than it was with e-mail or old-fashioned paper letters. But most of us don’t post very deep thoughts on our Facebook accounts. A brief status update is better than nothing. But often, I find myself wondering how my friends are REALLY doing.

But do I take the time to write a Facebook message to ask? No. I’m too busy racing off to the next Internet diversion.

You might protest that the Internet has allowed you to meet new people. I’ve been part of poetry communities that wouldn’t have been possible without this easy way to connect. But can those kind of Internet friendships give us what we yearn for?

We might tell ourselves that the Internet allows us to stay current with what’s happening in the world, and in some ways, it’s a wonderful thing. I can read newspapers from all over the world, often for the price of my Internet connection. Not only that, I can read the opinions of others about those articles. In some forums, I can trade ideas with people. But all of that staying current comes with a price: it takes time away from other activities. Some of those displaced activities might be trading ideas with real people at a real supper table.

Very few of us will find real community via the Internet. We often think we don't have time because we're all very busy these days. But what is really sucking away our time? For some of us, it is, indeed, our jobs. For many of us, it’s our Internet lives: we’ve got a lot of stuff to read, videos to watch, plus games to play, and virtual farms to keep up, plus status updates, and all the information we can Google now, and so we do (whereas before, if it required a trip to the library, many of us would have stayed ignorant). And if you’re like me, once you’ve spent so much of your day staring at screens, you may find it hard to reconnect to humans at the end of the day. You may feel your brain gone fuzzy. You may find yourself irritable at these humans who demand that you respond. You may withdraw before you ever have/take/make time to reconnect.

The Internet also takes time away from our relationship with God. I’ve found useful websites that allow me to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, but for the most part, I’m not noodling around the Internet looking for ways to enhance my relationship with God—or with anyone else, for that matter. I suspect that if I’m brutally honest, even my relationship with myself suffers when I spend too much time on the Internet.

Now the Internet is not the only tool and resource that allows us to sidestep the hard work of relationship. Some of us narcotize ourselves with television or with spending more hours at work than the work requires or with the relentless pace of the activities that our children do (and need us to drive them to) or any of the other countless activities that humans use in ways that aren’t healthy.

These activities can not only keep us from relationship with humans but can deafen our ears to the voice of that shepherd that goes out looking for us. Our Bible tells us over and over that God yearns to be in relationship with us. But if we’re too busy for our families and friends, we’re likely not making time for God either.

So, try an Internet sabbath, even if it’s just for a few hours a week. Try doing it every week. Invite real people over for dinner (or go serve a meal to the less fortunate). Read a book. Play an old-fashioned board game. Listen for the voice of God who calls to you across space and time. Answer.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Distant Neighbors and Close Friends

Last week, I grabbed a book off the shelf that I've been meaning to read since I bought it shortly after it was released in 2014:  Distant Neighbors:  The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder.  Reading some of those letters just after reading a few pages of Lila was quite the contrast:  2 men quite serious about their patch of land and the work that the land requires and the work that their artistic vision requires--what a treat!

It was also interesting to read about academic life of a different time, when people still had visiting writer kind of positions--and tenured jobs, often without advanced degrees.  Now we understand the artistry of the two men--and these letters are written in the 70's, when both men have an impressive body of work.

Still, I felt a bit of the bile of jealousy.  There's a letter where Berry is deciding to give up his academic position because it's just too draining and the university is solely interested in the good publicity that he gives the school.  I know so many academic folks with solid credentials who can only find part-time work and would be thrilled to find a school that would give them full-time work and benefits in exchange for publicity.

In part because of my spouse's adjunct life, we have been having that kind of time period where we feel like we don't really have time to mow the small patch of grass or get the pool chemicals back in sync.  Still, these letters that describe life on the land have such pull on me.  It's interesting to watch these two men discussing ideas of ecology that will shape their work in their later years.

It's also interesting to watch them forge a connection despite living so far away and having very little time to visit in person.  And their letters often apologize for long silence--and yet, they still have a bond.  These days it feels hard to forge a connection with people who live in the same county.  Maybe I should go back to writing letters.

I bought the book because I expected and wanted to hear about their artistic journey and their interactions with their land and their place on the planet.  I didn't expect the book to have so many interesting religious and spiritual aspects.  Snyder is a Buddhist, and Berry is a Christian, and their work deals openly with spiritual beliefs, so I'm not sure why this came as a surprise.

But what a wonderful surprise.  I find the ideas themselves interesting, but what I find even more heartening is that their religious ideas are so very different, and yet, they still can have civilized conversations.  And the depth of those conversations!

While I have friends with whom I share visions of the future and drafts of our writing, I don't have friends with whom I can have religious conversations of this kind of depth.  I'm glad I can listen in on the discussions Snyder and Berry are having.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Feast Day of Philip and James

If we celebrate feast days, at some point between May 1 and May 3, we would celebrate the feast day of Philip and James.  They are two lesser-known disciples.

In John's account of the feeding of the multitudes, Philip is the disciple who talks about the cost of feeding everyone.  Later in John (chapter 12), Philip is also the disciple approached by some Greeks in a crowd who ask to be introduced to Jesus.  Philip tries, but Jesus gives a mystical answer (so typical for John's Gospel) that later readers see as Jesus talking about his upcoming death and withdraws.  And then he goes off and hides.

Clearly, Jesus doesn't understand the value of ecumenism the way that later cultures will.  Clearly Jesus isn't interested in networking, the way that modern business would have us all do.

If Philip lived today, Philip would be the one who went to business school.  Philip would write books about the irrefutable laws of leadership.  Philip would be the cautious one reminding us of what the true costs of our discipleship would be--and he wouldn't be talking about it in Bonhoeffer terms.  He'd have some sort of mathematical formula to show us what we should spend time doing, what would pay off.  He'd talk about opportunity costs.

I feel a bit of fondness for Philip.  Each of us probably has our own inner Philip.

Still, I recognize some of my behavior when I read these limited accounts of Philip.  I often feel like the one who doesn't quite get it.  I often feel like the one who comes up with a solution, only to be brushed off.  I feel like the one voicing perfectly reasonable objections while not understanding the miracle that's right there in front of me.

We all feel that way, like there's a group of cool kids, and we linger at the periphery never excluded, but not really included either.  I joke about expecting to be able to graduate from high school some day.

I wonder if bosses understand this dynamic and use it to control workers.  I expect that some nefarious bosses do.

As someone who supervises people now, I wonder how I could turn this dynamic around.  How can I make sure everyone feels included?

Marx would probably tell me that it can't be done.  He'd talk about the alienation of the workers.  Today is May 1, after all, a holiday that celebrates work and workers and solidarity forever.

It's also May Day, where we might have celebrated in earlier cultures by leaving flowers on doorsteps.  Maybe my elementary school teachers had the answer:  construct a Maypole!

In some ways, it's the same answer Jesus gives us.  Jesus sees an aching need and wants to feed a crowd.  Philip gives the answer that many of us would give:  too costly, can't be done.  Jesus creates such a miracle of abundance that there are 12 baskets of leftovers.  It's a Maypole of a miracle.