Thursday, August 31, 2017

Walking the Walk

I've been seeing lots of Facebook posts about the hypocrisy of churches in the recent Hurricane Harvey.  There's the fury directed at Joel Osteen.  And that fury has begun to be directed at other churches.  Let's separate them.

First, let's talk about Joel Osteen.  I've seen lots of criticism, along the lines of "He should walk the walk."  Well, frankly, he is walking the walk--his particular walk.  Have you read the man's books or watched his shows?  He's a prosperity gospel preacher--God will bless you if you behave/believe a certain way, and that blessing is in the form of money.  There's not much in there about taking care of those less fortunate.  After all, if they're less fortunate, they could pray more or change their beliefs so that God would bless them too.

It's not the version of God that speaks to me, but I understand the appeal.

Yesterday I saw the first meme which criticized other Houston churches.  It said that churches get tax free status so that they can take care of the less fortunate and only a very small amount of churches in Houston were taking care of storm victims.  This post was created while the rains were still hammering the city.

I thought about how many churches in the area are flooded.  They will not be opening their doors as a shelter any time soon.  During Hurricane Wilma, I was part of a church that lost some roof tiles, which led to water intrusion.  It was much less than the water inundating Texas churches, and it took weeks just to get the damaged building materials, like carpet, out of the way.  And then it was many months after that before it was all repaired and replaced.  After a huge storm, the pace of repair slows because there aren't lots of workers to hire, and everyone has so much repair to do.

But let's say the building itself is in fine shape.  The roads to get to the building might not be.  And churches don't necessarily have huge staffs to help with sheltering storm refugees. 

I think that most non-church members think of churches, and they think of huge congregations, significant staff, and lots of money.  That has not been my experience.  Many churches can barely pay their pastor and organist.  Many churches have elderly congregations which can't easily help people who need a shelter.  Many churches are meeting in a rented space, which means they can't open the building to refugees.

The most vociferous critics of The Church will not be paying attention to the smaller corners where they might actually see The Church in action.  They will not see the church members who take care of the community in so many ways.  They will not have read the posts from church people who pass on information.  They will not know about church affiliated charities that will give so much help to victims, and who will stay long after the initial impact of the storm.  The vociferous critics will have moved on to judge other institutions by the time The Church in all its local incarnations has time to swing into full action.

If you want to support the Houston storm victims, and you want an organization you can trust, I suggest Lutheran Disaster Response.  The group will use 100% of your donation towards the relief effort and not administration, and they'll help everyone, regardless of belief.  And they'll stay for the long haul.  Go here to donate.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 3, 2017:

First Reading: Jeremiah 15:15-21

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 3:1-15

Psalm: Psalm 26:1-8

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28

This Gospel shows us a picture of Jesus who knows that he's on a path to crucifixion. With clear sight and clear mission, Jesus warns his disciples of what's ahead.

Peter has a typical reaction: "That will never happen." Peter reminds me of the certain type of believers, the ones who deny the ugliness of the world and the difficulties of life. These are the ones who tell us that our problems will vanish if we just pray hard enough.  I'm thinking of an encounter I witnessed once, when one woman said to another who had just gotten a troubling diagnosis to pay no attention to the earthly doctors because she's got a Heavenly doctor.  Just keep praying, the woman was advised.

My inner cynic raged, but I kept quiet.  I've lately wondered if our modern sin is that so many of us are so quickly moved to rage.  I also think of the larger sin of despair, the disbelief that anything can change.  This Gospel passage has moved many of us to talk about the crosses that we have to bear, and this counsel has discouraged too many from even thinking about the possibility of change.
We'll have all kinds of crosses to bear, Jesus warns us, and we'll lose our lives in all kinds of ways. But we'll get wonderful rewards.

It's important to stress that Jesus isn't just talking about Heaven, or whatever your vision is of what happens when you die. If Jesus spoke directly, Jesus might say, "You're thinking too small. Did I give you an imagination so that you let it wither and waste away? Dream big, dream big."

 In Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N.T. Wright stresses that Jesus doesn't just announce a Kingdom in some Heaven that's somewhere else. On the contrary--the appearance of Jesus means that God's plan for redeeming creation has begun. And we're called to help. Wright says, ". . . you must follow in the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus' saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project." (204-205). He points out, "But God ordered his world in such a way that his own work within [our] world takes place not least through one of his creatures, in particular, namely, the human beings who reflect his image" (207). And for those of us who feel inadequate to the task, Wright (and before him, Jesus) reminds us of all the talents that we have at our disposal: "God gloriously honors all kinds of ways of announcing the good news" (226).

For many of us, the most difficult part of Jesus' mission that he gives us will be the willingness to believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King reminded us. The arc of history also bends towards beauty and wisdom and love and mercy. Some of us are so beaten down that we forget. Some of us would have no problem being crucified for our faith, but it's much harder to believe in God's vision of a redeemed world and to work to make that happen. But scripture and thousands of years of theology makes it clear, as Wright says, "We are called to live within the world where these things are possible and to agents of such things insofar as they lie in our calling and sphere" (248).

We'll lose our current lives of bitterness, fear, hopelessness, and rage. But we'll find a better one as we become agents of the Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Post Hurricane Poem: "Exodus"

I've been interested to watch my Facebook feed, to see how many posts are people weighing in about Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey and its floods and to see how many people are talking politics.  As someone who lives in hurricane country, I can't take my eyes off the Texas news.   I tend to worry more about winds and trees falling over.  But this current storm shows us the power of flooding rain.

I remember after Hurricane Katrina hearing about people who stockpiled water and food the way that they were supposed to and then the floods washed them away.  I remember being horrified by people who couldn't get out of the way, like people in hospitals and nursing homes.  We had had a terrible year personally, in terms of my mother-in-law's broken hip and her subsequent death by medical-industrial complex.  And I'm always aware of other apocalypses that wait in the wings.

All of those images came together in this poem, previously unpublished:


The swampland family stockpiles against storms,
supplies that are swept to sea
as the storm overwhelms the earth and the dams
designed to contain it.

In a distant hospital bed, antibiotics
flow into the veins of an older woman with a broken
hip. Microbes laugh at this attempt
to turn the tide as they flood her flesh.

On the opposite side of the planet, officials order
the slaughter of every bird in the country.
Some fly across the border.

Desperate to pack flesh on your frail frame,
she bakes every sweet treat you used to crave.
It’s the week the nausea attacks
you with apocalyptic vigor.

He keeps vigil by his mother’s bed
thinking that the doctors will take greater care.
He pretends to understand the markings
on her chart, the tidal flow of fluids.

I am tempted to try the tricks
of ancient peoples, to paint
the doorposts with blood, to offer
sacrifices, to dress in costumes
to keep my identity hidden from avenging angels.

Instead I keep the candles lit
and read the sacred texts. I make
sandwiches for the ones who deal with damage.
I listen for the call to leave,
ready to flee at a moment’s notice.
I keep my shoes laced, my camel tethered nearby.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Kingdom of God Is a Retreat Center in the Storm

On Sunday as I perused Facebook, I came across this post by Bishop Mike Rinehart, who is a Lutheran Bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, an area which is undergoing historic flooding:

"The Synod Office will be closed tomorrow, and probably most of next week. We'll keep you posted.

Deans will have a conference call at 9 am tomorrow, Monday. The Disaster Response Team will meet at 10 am by conference call. Check your email for call in Info.

For those in the Galveston County Mainland, Zion Retreat Center is open and available. Beds are made. Chili is on the stove."

I deeply love the last sentence--what a vision of hospitality and welcome:  beds made and chili on the stove!

I think of the famous The Kingdom of God is like . . . statements of Jesus.  Here's a great metaphor for Kingdom Life:  The Kingdom of God is like a retreat center that's open in a storm, with beds made and chili on the stove.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hurricane Relief

Hurricane Harvey, while no longer a true hurricane, is still not done with Texas, and likely won't be for days.  The pictures of what the wind ripped apart are dramatic, but because of them, we might not know that water kills more people during storms than wind.  And this storm brings a lot of water with it.

So let us pray for those who are still in the path or swirling in the waters of this storm. Let us pray as the waters rise.  Let us cling to the hope of helicopters and life preservers.  Let us hope that all may float and not be submerged or swept away.

By now we all know that there will only be so much that government agencies can do.  We will all have to pitch in, and some people's lives will be forever altered, as will the earth that they lived on. 

Some of us will feel compelled to send money, and money is a resource that gives the flexibility that communities will need in these difficult days, and the difficult rebuilding time yet to come.  There are many fine organizations, and some of them are faith based.

I recommend Lutheran Disaster Response--most of your donation will go to disaster relief.  Go here to donate:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hurricane Aftermath

I've been up for hours, since we went to bed at 8.  It's been the kind of week/month/season that has left us wiped out and weary.  The sky beyond my window over the writing desk has just begun to lighten.  I wonder what the people of Texas are waking up to?

Right now, the coastal residents of Texas are likely waking up to rain and wind, as Hurricane Harvey is still in the neighborhood.  It will only be later that they can evaluate the damage.

In the last 5 minutes, I've watched the sky go from gray to lavender to pink--very lovely, although it probably means we've got more flooding rains for today.  But it has been a quietly beautiful sight.

What a week this has been in terms of nature:  an eclipse back on Monday when the forecast for Hurricane Harvey said it might be hurricane strength by the time it got to Texas, flooding rains for us, and a category 4 hurricane by the time the week ended.

It's too early to send help to the Texas victims, but soon you can--remember, money to aid groups goes further than anything else you might donate and the group would have to ship. 

In the meantime, we can pray for those who have a lot of work ahead of them to clean up and rebuild.  We can pray for those who will wake up this morning to realize they have lost so much.  We can pray for those who will be in the path of this storm, as this story will be ongoing for days.

And we can look around us and be grateful for all that we have.  Ever since our disastrous hurricane season of 2005, I have rarely taken my morning coffee with hot milk that can be reheated in the microwave for granted.  Let us all have those kinds of creature comforts that make it possible to keep going.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Prayer for Those in the Path of the Storm

I have had trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons.  But the major reason is the major storm that threatens Texas, Hurricane Harvey.

At this point, there's not much that can be done.  But we can pray. 

I found this posted on Facebook, originally posted on the ELCA Worship page:

"We pray for those in the path of Hurricane Harvey:

Merciful God, when the storms rage and threaten to overtake us, awaken our faith to know the power of your peace. Deliver us from our fear and ease our anxiety. Help us to endure the time of uncertainty and give us strength to face the challenges ahead. Give us the assurance of your presence even in this time so that we can cling to your promise of hope and life shown to us through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen."

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Prayers for all the Refugees on the Anniversary of Hurricane Andrew

It is pouring rain here, with more in the forecast.  But we are not facing the kind of heavy weather that South Florida would have faced twenty-five years ago when Hurricane Andrew slammed through the area.  I can't even imagine that fury.  And I really can't imagine the aftermath and the rebuilding--well, I can, but it fills my heart with heavy foreboding.

My brain shifts back to 1992, when we had just moved into a house in Mt. Pleasant, SC.  We had spent some time paying attention to Hurricane Andrew, as one does when one lives by the coast.  I pay attention to every weather system, at least until it's clear that we're not in the storm's path.  Even then, I fear the mercurial nature of massive storms, so I keep a wary eye.

In the days after the storm, we noticed some small children next door.  They lived in Homestead, Florida, and had been sent north to stay with relatives while the grown ups tended to the clean up.  They were there for several months.  I think of a late summer night, all of us playing a version of soccer in the front yard, trying to help these refugees forget their loss and exile.

Those children would be in their 30's now.  I wonder how they are and where they are.  They didn't seem traumatized at the time, but I was a very casual observer.  It took several decades for the city of Homestead, Florida to recover.  I imagine that it takes the psyche even longer.

In some ways, they were the first climate refugees that I had ever seen, although I wouldn't have thought of them in that way back in 1992.  In many ways, many refugee crises can be traced to climate or weather issues, even ones that seem to be rooted in war.  Those wars are often rooted in conflicts that are provoked by drought or some other form of destruction.

This morning, I think of all the populations currently displaced by events outside of their control. I pray for them all.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for August 27, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 51:1-6

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 1:8--2:10

Psalm: Psalm 138

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 124

Second Reading: Romans 12:1-8

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

In this Gospel reading, we find Jesus asking some of the basic questions. “Who do men say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a curious exchange that has Peter proclaiming Jesus as Lord, and Jesus instructing him not to tell anybody about himself.

Hmmm. Is this a basic existential moment? Surely, of all the humans who have walked the earth, Jesus would have the least reason for asking these questions—depending, of course, on your view of Jesus. Many of us believe that Jesus understood his purpose from babyhood, or at least during his childhood, when he disappeared only to be found in the Temple, teaching the priests (that story appears in Luke, not in the other Gospels). On the other hand, some scholars speculate that Jesus didn’t understand the full scope of his mission, that Jesus, like many of us, spent his days asking God, “Am I doing what you want me to do?”

We see in this text Peter getting the kind of affirmation that many of us crave. Jesus tells Peter that he will be the cornerstone, the rock.

I think of Peter and imagine that in times of frustration, he must have looked back at this moment with Christ. What a comfort that memory must be.  Or maybe it's irritating on those days when he feels more like a pebble than a rock.

I spent much of my younger years longing to be sure that I was doing what God put me on earth to do, as if I had only one destiny, and I might be missing it.

My parents, in their wisdom, kept reminding me that God can use me no matter where I am. God is the original collage artist, taking bits and pieces that don’t seem to go together, and creating them into a cohesive whole.

It might be worth thinking in poetic terms about this Gospel. If Peter is the Rock, who are you? Some of us are willow trees that bend with storms but don’t break. Or maybe you’re sand, having been worn down by those storms, but still valuable. Maybe you’re soil made rich by the compost of circumstances. Some of us are grass, that steady groundcover that makes the larger plants possible by holding the soil in place.

I could go on with these metaphors, but you get the idea. The Gospel wants us to wrestle with these questions. Who are you? And who is the triune God in relation to you?

What part does Jesus play in your life? A guy you see once a week in church? A fellow traveler? Comforter? Savior? Someone you don’t know very well because you just don’t have the time? Co-creator of a joy-filled life? Reason for living?

More importantly, can people see who Jesus is to you by the way you live your life? How is your life a testament, like Peter’s? How can your life be more of a testament? What changes can you make today?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

All of God's Glory, not just Eclipses

I spent much of yesterday afternoon with my neck craned, looking up at the sky, struck with wonder at the glory of the eclipse.

I saw many Facebook posts that talked about how the eclipse made people feel awe and wonder in many shades.  Some of those people talked about the experience in terms of God.  The stranger posts seemed to suggest that God did something special yesterday to create an eclipse.

I don't even respond to those posts.  If all the scientists at NASA can't help people understand the way the solar system works, I don't stand a shot either.

At one point, I looked away from the eclipse and saw the very green leaves of a tree and beyond them, the very blue sky.  It was a good reminder that every day we're surrounded by the glories of God's creation--but so often, we forget to stop and look.

Let us use this eclipse as a reminder to stop several times a day and appreciate the wonders that are all around us.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Rare Celestial Show for the Continental U.S.

We have our eclipse glasses--we are ready!

I have handed out moon pies and fliers of information to students.  We have eclipse glasses and liability waivers ready to go.

Will this solar eclipse make us take notice of all the wonders of creation?  I suspect it depends on where we are and what the weather lets us see.

I for one intend to say, "Great show, God!"

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Blessing the Educational Forces

Today my church will be blessing backpacks, blessing school children, and blessing all of us who work in some capacity for a school or an educational setting.  It's interesting to me to realize that most of us who are still in the workforce in my church are working in either an educational setting or a medical setting.

Most of the women in the church who have school age children are working as public school teachers.  One father has just undergone the training to work in the public schools after working in a municipal arena.  I think that fact tells us something about both our church and our workplaces.  Most workplaces aren't very friendly to the needs of families.  But at least if a parent is working for the public schools, the holidays and days off will be the same--that's no small deal, if the alternative is working in a job where one only gets 2 weeks of leave.

On the other hand, I got into college teaching by accident.  I was working my way through grad school with a teaching assistantship--and I LOVED my first class that I taught.  They were enthusiastic and hard working and happy to be in class, and I assumed that every college class would be that way.  Happily, often, they have been.  And the work feels important.

Similarly, I got into full-time administration by accident.  I'd done some part-time oversight of adjuncts, in addition to teaching.  When a position came open in 2007, I was the one who applied who had the most experience.  And I've found that I have some administration skills that many people just don't have:  I can work on multiple projects at once, I'm efficient, and I'm also creative when it comes to solving problems in new ways.

I will not be at church this morning, however.  My sister and nephew are in town, and we don't go to church when they're visiting.  I wish I could get a long distance blessing.  But in some ways, there's no substitute for the laying on of physical hands, the anointing with oil.

I know that my church will be praying for us all--and that will be enough.  And I, in turn, will pray for everyone who returns to schools this week, and those of us who never left our posts.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Meaning of Statues

Do all of our Confederate statues insult our modern sensibilities?

Picture taken by Paula Feldman: SC Statehouse statue saluting the women of the Confederacy

If we will be known by our statues, what do our statues say?

A statue made out of a fallen tree tells the story of our humanity:  all we love will ultimately be lost.

Can a statue made of marble bring us comfort?

Does a statue made of recycled scraps tell us something about our ultimate destiny?

Can a statue call us to something bigger than ourselves?

We continue to make our tributes.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Confederate Statues and Modern Times: Through the Lens of Gender

All this talk of Confederate statues has put me in mind of the only one I really like:

 In March, in honor of International Women's Day, one of my favorite grad school professors posted this picture with this Facebook post:  ""To the Women of the Confederacy' erected 1909-11 on the SC statehouse grounds. "They were steadfast and unafraid," proclaims the pedestal. This century old monument to female strength was inspired, in part, by Jim Crow era myth-making."

I wrote:  "Even though I knew its troubled history, and I knew all the ways that the idea of Southern womanhood had been used to oppress all sorts of people, I still found it a comfort--I would walk to the State House grounds and remind myself that any grad school tribulations I might have had did not compare to life during war time."

Then I remembered a poem that I wrote long ago that was published in an online journal Clapboard House, which is sadly no longer online.  Of course, I still have a copy of the poem:


The statue, a tribute to Confederate
Womanhood, keeps her bronze eyes fixed
on the statehouse, while her metal
children clutch her skirts. Inside,
women throng into the chambers, this once male
bastion of legislative power.
The current law states a husband
cannot be charged with the rape of his wife;
a wife is property, to do with as a man pleases.
Females of all ages bear witness, testify
to the violated sanctity of home and hearth.
Only one senator remains unswayed
by their pleas for a twentieth century view.
He doesn’t approve of racial integration either.

I also wrote it as a sonnet:


Inflamed by laws we deem unfair,
we approach the leaders of our state.
In this chamber, men stop to stare,
and ask if women deserve their fate.

The current law has stated
a husband cannot be charged with rape.
This issue engenders hatred
on both sides of the political tape.

Females of all ages testify
to the harm of violation.
Only one senator remains mystified.
He still does not approve of integration.

The law is changed and we rejoice.
We tell our daughters of the power of the human voice.

And yes, it's based on a true incident. Until 1989 or so, it was legal in South Carolina for a man to rape his wife. I was part of a campaign to change that law. I remember heading over to the State House after my graduate school classes at USC (an easy walk) and watching the proceedings. I didn't testify, since I had no horrifying stories, but I like to think that the fact that so many women jammed the meeting halls led to the change in that law.

And yes, some of the legislators really did look puzzled and/or annoyed that so many women were there, back in the days of very few women legislators anywhere. 

I like to think we've made progress, but when I look at pictures of state houses and federal buildings, I still see a lot of old, white, male faces.  But there are female faces and minority faces and younger faces.  We are making progress--it's just taking longer than my grad school self would have believed.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Children's Community Peace Garden

In these times of hatred spewed out of mouths both expected and unlikely, let me focus on something that might bring peace and gentleness.

This morning, I found this Facebook post on my pastor's page:

"We've been talking for a while now at Trinity about replacing the prayer labyrinth that was destroyed a handful of Holy Weeks ago by vandals (meaning that they crushed to shards some 800 re-purposed red clay barrel roof tiles. )
But what if...what if the focus was a Children's Community Peace Garden ? One that included (likely in stages) mostly interactive things like a prayer labyrinth, a garden peace Bell to ring, a place to make a mandala out of sand and colored stones, prayer flags to hang, a peace path with peace quotes along the way, a butterfly garden, and more. A place where pre schools and other schools and family's could come and learn about and reflect upon and practice forms of peace either on their own or on special days with more activities organized by our congregation and others?"

I love this idea.  We are letting a preschool put a playground on part of our grounds, so this vision dovetails nicely.

In these difficult times, let us remember that we can be peacemakers.  Let us remember all the ways that we can be peacemakers.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 20, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Genesis 45:1-15

Psalm: Psalm 67

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 133

Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Gospel: Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

I don't like this picture of Jesus that today's Gospel represents. He treats the Canaanite woman rudely, with a complete lack of compassion. What do we make of this vision of Christ?

Part of the answer may depend on your view of Jesus/God. Do you see God as completely formed? Do you see God as never making mistakes?  We see Jesus change his mind in today's reading.  It's an interesting idea of the Divine.

I like the idea of God who allows us to disagree--and a God that sometimes agrees that we are right in our disagreement. I like the idea of a God that is being shaped and changed by creation, just as we are being shaped and changed by creation--and by God.

I know it's not as comforting as what many of us were taught in Sunday School. I know we'd rather believe in an absolute God, a God who has all the answers. We don't want to believe in a God who gets tired. We don't want to believe in a God who doesn't have absolute control. We want a God who can point and make magical changes, even though everything we've experienced about the world doesn't suggest that God does that act very often, if at all.

In today's Gospel, we see a tired, irritable Jesus. It's a terrifying idea (I'd prefer a God of infinite patience), but it's the best support to show that God did indeed become human.

The Canaanite woman is much more Godlike than Jesus in this Gospel. Here's a woman who is desperate to help her child. When Jesus rebukes her, she stands up to him and argues her case. And she persuades him. She demands justice, and because she stands her ground, she wins.

She has much to teach us. We are called to emulate her. When we see injustice, we must cry out to God and demand that creation be put right. Many theologians would tell you that if you want God to be active in this free will world that God has created, that you better start making some demands. God can't be involved unless we demand it (for a further discussion of this concept, see the excellent books of Walter Wink). If God just intervened in the world, that would violate the principle of free will which God instilled in creation. But if we invite God to action, then God has grounds to act.

I would argue that some of the most sweeping social changes of the twentieth century were grounded in this principle of crying out to the wider world and to God to demand that justice be done. Think of Gandhi's India, the repressiveness of the Jim Crow era in the USA, the South African situation decried by Archbishop Tutu, the civil wars in Central America, the Soviet occupied Eastern Europe: these situations horrified the larger world and the movements to rectify them were rooted in the Christian tradition. True, there were often external pressures applied, economic embargoes and the like, but each situation prompted prayer movements throughout the world.

We are in a similar time--perhaps humanity is always in a similar time.  The world is full of injustice that should make us cry out, especially since much of the injustice will not easily be fixed by any one of us.  Cry out to God about the plight of refugees, the racism that has such deep roots, the economy which keeps so many so desperate, the warming of the planet, and the list could go on and on.

 Let the Canaanite woman be your guide towards right behavior. Let the actions of Jesus remind you that even if you're snappy and irritable, you can change course and direct yourself towards grace and compassion. Let your faith give you hope for a creation restored to God's original vision of a just and peaceful Kingdom.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Affirming Life

Yesterday was a good day in many ways, despite the sobering events of the week-end in Charlottesville.  We went to church, where we heard a sermon I would have expected to hear, a sermon that reminded us that we are called to be better, both as individuals and as people. 

I often sketch as the service is happening because I'm often at multiple services on a Sunday.  Yesterday I made this sketch:

Years from now will I remember the context?  Or will there have been events so much more extreme that this week-end's events will seem dwarfed?

We came home and relaxed.  We had delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.  We also made tiramisu.  We were invited to a friend's house for halibut, and I volunteered to bring dessert.  I made tiramisu primarily because I like it, but it's also light in a way, and it doesn't require turning on the stove, a plus in these hot, humid days.

We had a wonderful dinner with our neighborhood friends.  Once again, there was a strange moment when we realized we all had once been at the same school but now no longer had those ties, not any of us.  Happily, we didn't spend much time talking about the politics or the future of the old school.  We also didn't talk about national politics much, although we did briefly talk about North Korea.

It was wonderful to catch up, good to remember why we go to the efforts that we do to live where we do. 

And if you need an easy dessert recipe, this tiramisu couldn't be much easier, although it does require dirtying multiple dishes.

It's from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts.


I doubled this recipe because I wanted to be sure we had enough; as is, this recipe serves 5 generously, 6 modestly

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. cocoa
1/2 c. whipping cream
2-4 c. coffee (you can add in some coffee and/or amaretto liqueur)
12 ladyfingers

Whip the cream in one bowl.  In another bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese, sugar, cocoa, and vanilla together.  Fold the whipped cream into the mixture.

Pour the coffee into a shallow bowl or pan.  Soak the ladyfingers for a minute or two on each side.  You can then create individual bowls or one big bowl.  Put the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of the bowl (and the sides, if you like).  Add the whipped cream mixture.  You could keep doing this in layers or not.

Refrigerate for at least an hour and serve cold.  You can top with grated chocolate or cocoa or raspberries--whatever you'd like.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

How Long Must We Sing This Song?

I have not been following the events in Charlottesville in real time.  I knew that there were protests on Friday night, but I didn't know how terribly wrong the week-end was going.  I knew that there were marches and countermarches yesterday, and I knew that the volatility meant that it could all go terribly wrong--but I was shocked to hear about deaths.

I am not one of those white folks who thinks that racism is a thing of the past.  But I also understand that we all feel, most of us at least, that we have a tenuous grasp on safety and on being a valued part of society.  I've talked to so many people in so many walks of life, and that sense of being abandoned by the larger society and the institutions that are supposed to protect us--that sense undergirds so much of what we say and do and feel.  I understand that many acts of hate and repression are rooted in that sense of abandonment. 

And of course, let me hasten to say, I do not excuse those actions regardless of who is doing them.  We are adults, responsible for our actions.  We can demonstrate peacefully.  We can't hit each other, no matter how we feel.  I would urge caution in the words that make up our chants.  Words can be wounding, and those wounds can last much longer than bruises and broken bones.

The events of the week-end in Charlottesville went even further than I would have anticipated that they could go.  Who drives a car into a gathering of people?  It's a rhetorical question.  At this time in our history, we've seen that plenty of people use vehicles as weapons.

I don't blame the current president and his administration, not exactly.  I've been alive long enough, and I've read about other eras, so I know that this kind of hatred bubbles up this way periodically.  I'd like to see more leadership from certain leaders, but at this point, I'm not surprised when it doesn't come.

I will take comfort from the leaders we might not have known previously.  I found the pictures of clergy with linked arms--and the statements from church officials--to be tremendously inspiring.  I am in awe of the UVa faculty and administration members who went to the Quad on Friday to make sure that their students were O.K.

I will hold onto my hope.  I know that these widely televised events sometimes shock us out of our complacency and move us further along the road towards a time of justice.  That is my prayer this morning.

Today I have a different set of songs in my head.  My brain pulls lines from U2's War:  "How long, how long must we sing this song?"  It's a sentiment that weaves its way through much of the album.  And of course, it comes from a much more ancient lament:  Psalm 40.  It's a good text for today with its promise that we can be lifted from our muck and mire and given a firm place to stand.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Speaking Truth to the Mayor of Hollywood

Yesterday, a group of us from school went to a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce breakfast where the focus would be education.  Our speaker was the superintendent of the Broward County school system, which is one of the largest in the country.  Just hearing about all the programs and buildings that he's in charge of made me tired.

Earlier in the morning, when various important people were introduced, I took note of the fact that the mayor of Hollywood was at the table right next to ours.  Afterwards, we decided that we should speak to him.
The head of Admissions and I went over and introduced ourselves and our campus.  I realized that we likely wouldn’t have much time with him, so I came right to the point and told him that we could really use a bus line on Taft Street.
He said that it wasn’t only up to the City of Hollywood, that we would have to talk to others, like the Broward Transit people, but he would see what he could do.
I said, “We would really appreciate that.  I know that a lot of government attention goes to the beach and the downtown area of Hollywood, and I live in the historic district, so I understand that it’s easier to work for the prettier parts of town.  But the citizens who live out west need government help too.”
He said, “I would like to come visit your campus.”
We said, “We’d love to have you come visit.”
We asked if he had a card, and he didn’t.  I gave him one of mine, and we shook hands and assured him that we’d be in touch.
Will we get a busline?  I know it's not that simple.  Will the mayor come to the campus?  I won't be surprised if he doesn't.  Will the poorer residents get some government attention?  Probably not.
Still, I feel good, because I could tell he was in the process of brushing us off, and something I said (I think) made him stop and talk about coming to campus.  He's a new mayor, and fairly young, so maybe I planted a seed.  Maybe he'll remember that people like me are paying attention.
I also like that my brain is now going in different directions.  I'm thinking of looking up the representative on the Commission that represents the school's zip code.  I'm thinking of a variety of political events and discussions that the school could host.  It's good to start thinking of these things before the next election season goes into full swing.
I'm feeling good because I'm remembering that lots could get done at a local level, when it comes to politics.  I can't make Trump quit sending out tweets that bring us to the brink of annihilation, but if I could get a busline to an impoverished area, that would make me feel proud.
After we returned to our table, my colleagues looked at me with a mixture of awe and something else.  One of them said, "I didn't know you had it in you."  I think it was said in admiration.
Truth be told, I didn't know that I was going to say what I did until the words were flowing out of my mouth.  But I feel like I've been trained through decades of social justice work, both in church groups and secular groups.  One must seize the opportunity to speak to politicians who might be able to make a difference.  One must be polite, direct, and forceful--it's a delicate balance, and one I think I achieved yesterday.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Feast Day of Saint Clare

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Peace on Our Borders

Yesterday was one of those surreal days, wanting to check the news to see if anyone has fired any missiles that we can't take back, being swamped in the daily tasks of meetings, and wondering if I should be doing any prep work in advance of a possible nuclear exchange.

But what prep work would that be exactly?  Should we start digging a hole for a fallout shelter?
Oh, wait, we're only 20 inches above sea level--we're doomed if survival means we need to go underground.
This morning I was reading the morning prayers in Phyllis Tickle's prayer book, The Divine Hours.  Part of the prayers for this morning came from Psalm 147, and I was struck by this language:  "He grants peace to your borders."
It's interesting to read this language in the context of our modern geopolitics.  We need peace on everyone's borders, because conflict so easily splashes over to affect everyone.
I felt such a yearning well up when I read that passage.  I said a prayer of my own:  "Yes, come Lord Jesus and grant peace to our borders."
What will today bring?  Will we really go to war over Guam?  I am hoping that we will all do as we have done in the past:  walk back from the brink.  I am not sure that the leader of the U.S. and the leader of North Korea are actually capable of backing down.  This is not a situation that makes me rest easy.

And yet, as I look back over history that has happened during my lifetime, I know that God can use the most unlikely people to bring about peace we never would have believed possible.  Let it be true this time too.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for August 13, 2017:

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
I will listen to what the LORD God is saying. (Ps. 85:8)
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s Gospel reading reinforces the themes we found in last week’s lesson. The disciples are in the boat and Jesus walks across the water to them. They don’t recognize him; indeed, they’re terrified. When they realize who it is, Peter, always enthusiastic, asks Jesus to bid him to come, which he does. Peter walks across the water with no problem, until he realizes what he’s doing and starts to sink.

Now, most of us probably haven’t had experiences where we’ve suspended the laws of nature, but most of us can probably relate to what Peter experiences. When I first learned to type, I got to the point where I could type at a very fast speed—until I thought about what I was doing. If I just let my fingers go and didn’t look at them, if I did what I knew I could do, I’d be fine. I’ve had similar experiences in learning foreign languages and in learning to play the mandolin; if I play the notes without double checking both my fingers and the chord charts and music books, I find out that I really can play—still more haltingly than I would like, alas.

This story is also about God’s presence and our inability to recognize the Divine all around us, as well as our trouble accepting the miraculous. One of the narrative arcs the Bible is God’s desire to be with God’s creation, to know everybody, to be fully present in our day-to-day lives--to the extent of becoming human. And God has to go to great lengths to get our attention—bushes burst into flame, oppressive governments release the captives, loaves and fishes feed thousands, people rise from the dead, God goes so far as to take on human form—miracle after miracle, and still humans don’t understand and don’t want to accept God’s daily presence.

Even when we do let ourselves glimpse the sacred and divine, even when we experience the miraculous, how quickly we forget and let the mundane swamp us. Psychologists would probably tell us that our approach is a coping mechanism, that if we let ourselves be that open to God, we’d go insane, or at least we’d look insane to our fellow humans. I’m not sure I agree. Maybe we’d be better witnesses, better disciples.

Be on the lookout for God in your daily life. Maybe it will just be a wink from the Creator, like a tree full of butterflies. Maybe you’ll be in the presence of the full-blown miraculous, and all doubts will vanish—the tumor shrinks, the passengers escape the burning plane, the hurricane curves out to sea. Watch for God, listen for God, be alert. God is there, by your side, both during the times of the miraculous as well as the mundane.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Begin Again

In some parts of the country, children are already back in school.  I know because I've seen their pictures on Facebook. 

Down here, our K-12 students go back on August 21.  My nephew in Maryland goes back after Labor Day.  Still, it's clear that summer is ending.

On Friday, I made this sketch in my spiritual/visual journal:

I am ready for changes.  While it will be awhile before we get changes in the weather, I can make some other changes now.  My sketch gives you an idea of where I might head.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lazy, Hazy Dog Days of Summer

We have hit the dog days of summer.

The world takes on a haze. 

We long for a crispness in the air that we will not feel for months yet.

We see the light of autumn in the distance, but it is not ours yet.

We feel dried up into little husks.

Let us remember that our rivers run deep.

Let us find a bench where we can be together.

Let us see where these summer steps lead us.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Transfigurations: Atomic and Spiritual

On this day in 1945, the world was about to change in dramatic ways that we likely still don't fully comprehend.  On this day in 1945, the first nuclear bomb was used in war.

The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it.  There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement.  The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim.  And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

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

I find these intersections interesting.

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

Today is a good time to spend with the texts for the day, to carve out some time for quiet contemplation. Go here for readings, complete with links, so that you can read online, if that's easier.

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Prayers, Facebook and Monastic

I've been awake since just before 2:00.  I'm the first person the alarm company calls when the alarm goes off at school.  Just before 2, the company called.  I couldn't fall back asleep, so by 3:00, I was up and at the computer.

I did what I almost always do first thing in the morning:  I checked Facebook.  I was surprised by how many people had been on Facebook between the hours of 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. (EDT) to post about their pain.

As I so often did, I said a small prayer for each person who posted.  I prayed for everybody, whether they had happy news or pain reports.

When I'm up this early, I also think about the monks who are in my same time zone, many of whom report to the chapel for their first set of daily prayers around 3:00 a.m. or so.  They keep watch, while the rest of us sleep.  I have often lulled myself back to sleep with this knowledge.  People may scoff, but I like the idea that at any hour of the day, in a chapel somewhere, monastics pray for the world.

Soon the sun will begin to stain the morning sky, and some monastics will report for Lauds, the service that welcomes the morning.  Down here on the southern tip of the North American continent, we have hazy skies, thanks to the African dust that has travelled across the Atlantic to be with us.  Our sunrise forecast calls for glorious.

As we shift from Vigils to Lauds, let me remember to sing my modern Psalms of joy and concern at every hour.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Good Fruit, Bad Fruit

This week at our church, we continue our off-lectionary journey through the Sermon on the Mount. 
Our time with the Sermon on the Mount is drawing to a close.  This Sunday, we will ponder Matthew 7:  15-23.  What part jumps out at you?

Perhaps it is the warning about false prophets that seems timely, those people who seem sheeplike from the outside but are ferocious wolves inside.  These days, I'm even more worried about the ones who don't bother to disguise themselves.  I know I should be grateful--at least I know my enemies.  But the unguarded ferocity of our times never ceases to worry me.

I am always struck by good fruit and bad fruit, and always, my inner voice of worry pipes up.  What if I'm bad fruit?  What if I'm going to be cut down and thrown in the fire?

I'm not sure that Jesus meant for us to identify with the fruit itself.  A Lutheran minister friend of mine, David Eck, just preached on the seeds that land in a variety of soil, and he has chosen to view the metaphor differently.  He says that we're not the seeds, but the soil.  There are no bad seeds--what good news!

But we're not completely off the hook.  Eck continues, "When we see ourselves as the field, an interesting thing happens: The need to label others stops, and all the finger pointing gets turned in toward ourselves."  (for the complete sermon, go here)

No matter whether or not we see ourselves as good fruit trees, bad fruit trees, or the soil that holds us all, there's still improvement that can be made.  I think of my parched petunias on my porch.  Once they grew so vibrantly, and now the summer is taking its toll.  But I still water them.  I still hope for a revival.

Likewise, we, too can nourish our spiritual lives.  We can make the chance for good fruit more likely.  The ways we do this will be as varied as our human existences.  Some of us will turn off our gadgets and devices.  Some of us will head out to be in natural surroundings more.  Some of us will add some devotional time.  Some of us will paint.  Some of us will invite the neighbors over for dinner.

God is not the harsh gardener who will chop us down and throw us into the fire.  Frankly, God doesn't have to do that.  We marinate in the bad choices that we've made, and that's punishment enough.

But the Good News comes again and again.  Death doesn't have the final word.  Resurrection awaits.  Choose your spiritual manure and get to work bearing good fruit.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for August 6, 2017:

Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22 (Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21 NRSV)
You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. (Ps. 145:17)
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

The story in the Gospel lesson is familiar; indeed, a version appears in each Gospel, which may mean it’s more likely to be a factual reporting, or it may mean that each Gospel writer realized the significance and implications of the story and couldn’t bear to leave it out. Jesus preaches to the multitudes, who grow hungry. Jesus commands the disciples to feed them, and they protest that they only have five loaves and two fish. But miraculously, not only are the thousands of people fed, but the disciples gather basket after basket of leftovers.

Christian approaches to this story are varied, from share your resources to rely on Christ for what you need. But today, I'm interested in the human response to the miraculous.

Look at the behavior of the disciples. Jesus commands them to feed everyone, and they protest that they can’t, that they don’t have enough food. They’ve followed Jesus for some time and they’ve seen him perform many miracles, including making dead people come back to life. But their first response is that they can’t possibly do what Jesus expects.

 This story tells us an important lesson about the human resistance to the miraculous. We limit God, and our fellow humans, by our inability to dream big visions. We assume that we’ll always have hungry people, oppressed nations, and what can we do?  We only have so much and it will only stretch so far. But we forget how much is possible—how much we have already seen with our own eyes.

For example, imagine we could time travel back to the year 1985, not so very long ago. Imagine that we told the people of that time that in a few short years, the Berlin Wall would come down. Not only that, but Nelson Mandela would be released from prison and free elections would follow five years later. Not only that, the Soviet Union would soon be no more.

The people we encountered would not believe us. The people of 1985 would have been convinced that Nelson Mandela would die in his South African prison and that his nation would disintegrate into civil war. The people of 1985 would have been convinced that the Soviet Union would always be a part of the geopolitical landscape, and that there would always be a literal wall that separated east from west.

To talk about how these miracles happened would take a much larger space than I have here, but it’s important to remember that one reason is that ordinary people dreamed of something different. For example, in numerous interviews that I’ve heard, Desmond Tutu, gives credit for the fall of apartheid to the governments, institutions, and individuals who fought for divestment from a corrupt regime. And even when the call for divestment was not successful, those calls started an important conversation.

Desmond Tutu also always gives credit to the believers throughout the world who prayed for a peaceful way out of an insolvable situation. Even if you didn’t own a solid gold, South African Kruggerand, you could participate in the process of mercy and justice.

And don’t let my emphasis on political miracles keep us from remembering the other miracles that surround us: health restored, relationships repaired, the student who suddenly understands an impossible subject, the hungry fed, the homeless who come in from the inhospitable climate.

I know that for every miracle, someone has suffered the pain of loss:the cancer that didn’t go into remission, the job loss that leads to other losses or a weather catastrophe from which we cannot recover.  For every South Africa, there are a dozen Darfurs.

But we are called to keep our eyes towards a different reality. The Kingdom of Heaven is not just after death, Jesus declares. It is among us, here and now. And we can be a part of that glorious creation.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Kingdom of God Is Like the High Point of Summer

On Sunday, we came home to feast on sweet corn.  Our friend had gone to Ohio and was willing to share her stash of sweet corn with us.

I thought of all those teaching moments of Jesus that begin with The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . ., or the Kingdom of God is like . . .  Throughout the summer, the Program Director of Lutheridge, Pastor Mary Canniff-Kuhn has been posting modern updates with a camp theme:

"The kingdom of God is like gingerbread cookies made in KidzCamp. Delight is essential. Judgement is irrelevant."

"The kingdom of God is like snow in July. All things are possible."

The Kingdom of God is like a friend who shares her sweet corn with you who are stranded at the tip of the continent without good sweet corn to call your own.

Let me end with a different kind of quote about summer, that I got from this blog post.  RJ quotes Parker Palmer:

"Summer is the season when all the promissory notes of autumn, winter, and spring come due, and each year the debts are repaid with compound interest. In summer, it is hard to remember that we had ever doubted the natural process, had ever ceded death the last word, had ever lost faith in the powers of new life. Summer is a reminder that our faith is not nearly as strong as the things we profess to have faith in - a reminder that for this sing season, at least, we might cease our anxious machinations and give ourselves to the abiding and abundant grace of our common life."

As always, Palmer's words leave me in awe of the power of language and the power of seasons.