Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Manger and the Tomb

I've been thinking about the tomb, mainly because I plan to write a poem in the voice of the tomb.  I feel like I know that tombs in the time of Jesus would have been more like caves, and not caves that were carved out for the sake of being a tomb, but structures that already existed.

I'm also thinking about the stable and the manger--here too, we've been told that it wouldn't have been a stable like the kind we might find on farms in the U.S., the kind of stable with haylofts and feed troughs.  The stable, too, was more likely to be more like a cave than the wooden structures that many of us associate with the Christmas story.

Yesterday at the noon Tenebrae service, I thought about coming full circle--the baby in the manger in the cave of a stable is laid to rest in a cave of a tomb.  I thought about all the life-in-death and death-in-life situations in which so many of us wait.

Today on this Saturday, the day before Easter, we wait.  We are lucky, some of us.  We wait for the end of the Easter story that we already know.  We have heard the Good News that He is risen.

Some of us will go to Easter vigils.  Some of us will bake bunny cakes or create unicorn frappucino drinks.  Some of us will go to choir rehearsal, while others are preparing the property for Easter.  Some of us wish we had a new Easter outfit.

Some of us are marked by cinders and can't imagine how new life can rise out of the ashes.  Maybe we go through the movements anyway.  Maybe we transform our sorrow into some sort of quest:  for justice, for change, for a better vision of the world.

It's been interesting to participate in Holy Week with the news stories of shootings--the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings and the police shootings--always in my mind.  I am haunted by the juxtaposition of the women weeping at the cross with the news stories of immigrant families ripped apart both in the U.S. and elsewhere.  I cannot see how we move forward, but it feels so important to both move forward and move carefully.  We seem just steps away from complete self-immolation as a society.

Christ's passage from the cross to Easter morning is a promise to us all, even if we're unsure of the process.  God can take the most profound ugliness and transform it into a thing of beauty.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday Services

Today, much of Christendom will celebrate Good Friday, the day that remembers the Crucifixion of Christ. This is the day that no bread can be consecrated. Many Christians will fast today. Some will fast until Easter morning.

Today I plan to go to the noon Tenebrae service.  It's always strange to go to that service at high noon.  Our church doesn't have many glass windows, but it's still too light in the sanctuary.

I say I plan to go.  I'll be at work, so it's always hard to know if I can be sure I can get away.  Fridays are usually easy days for a noon appointment, but this is the week before a new quarter starts on Monday, so it's hard to know.

It's interesting to think about the Holy Week journeys of past years.  Some years I can get away from work at noon, but other years, no.  Some years I can get to church at night, but other years we've been travelling or had family in town.

I grew up in the kind of family that went to church even when we were on vacation, so even when I haven't attended church regularly, I've always known where we were in the liturgical year. 

Good Friday reminds us of all the ways our hopes can be dashed, of all the ways that we can be betrayed and abandoned, of all the ways that it can all go so terribly wrong. N. T. Wright says, "The greatest religion the world had ever known and the finest system of justice the world had ever known came together to put Jesus on the cross" (How God Became King, page 208).

Good Friday shimmers with meaning. There are some Christians out there who would tell us that if we just pray hard enough, we can avoid the sadness that's out there: our illnesses will go away, wealth will fall into our laps, prosperity of all kinds await us if we just trust in God enough.

The Good Friday story tells a different tale. Even God must suffer in the most horrible ways. God comes to earth to show us a better way of living our human lives, and in return, the most powerful earthly empire crucifies him.

It's good to remember on Good Friday, and during all of our Good Friday times, that God can make beauty out of the most profound ugliness, wholeness out of the most shattered brokenness.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday Love

This morning, I read the Maundy Thursday text about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and his mandate to love each other--thus setting into motion thousands of years of debate about what it means to love each other and how we demonstrate that love with our actions.

It's been a Holy Week of love and service for me.  When I think back about this week, I will likely remember all the furniture moving that I did--not in my house, but at school.  We decided that we wanted a different kind of New Student Orientation, one that involved sharing a meal together after dividing the new students by program of study.  We have 2 classrooms connected with a folding wall, so we have the space.  But it involved moving all the tables that were configured for classes into tables configured for meal sharing.

We don't have a team of custodians who can be instructed to do that work.  The Admissions team needed to be making phone calls to prospective students.  We don't have many full-time faculty at all, so most of the faculty are elsewhere in this week between classes.  In short, I did it, and I did it with some amount of joy--although occasionally I made a joke about having gone to school for many years to be trained to move tables.

I also did a lot of shopping:  for tablecloths, for other paper products, for food.  Let me just say a prayer of apology to all of the church women in my past who insisted that we wash the cheap, plastic throw-away tablecloths, which used to exasperate me, but now I have some understanding.  It would be expensive to buy new tablecloths for every event.

Today I will do the work of restoring the room to two classrooms.  I will say Maundy Thursday prayers for all the new students who came for New Student Orientation.  I will say Maundy Thursday prayers for all who will study in the rooms and the rest of campus.  I will look out the windows with their lovely view of the surrounding neighborhood and the larger county, and I will pray for us all.  I will see the planes coming and going from the airport, and I'll pray for travelers--and then I'll pray for us all.

Some might tell me that these actions are not what Jesus had in mind when he commanded us to love each other.  I would argue that's exactly what he meant.  These aren't the only actions that show love, of course.  But that's the beautiful thing about this mandatum:  we have a whole universe of ways to show our love.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Meditation on Holy Week and Easter

The readings for Sunday, April 1, 2018:

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43

First Reading (Alt.): Isaiah 25:6-9

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

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

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

Gospel: Mark 16:1-8

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

Finally we move through Holy Week to Easter Sunday. At last, our Lenten pilgrimage draws to a close.  It's strange to write about Easter when we have yet to move through all of Holy Week.  But the Christian life invites us to live in this strangeness, the coming of God existing in various planes of time:  the past, the present, and the not yet.

Perhaps that state explains the disjointedness in which many of us find ourselves as the liturgical year rumbles on.  Perhaps you still linger back at As  h Wednesday. Perhaps you find the Good Friday texts more evocative than the Easter texts. Maybe you're in a state of joy, back with the shepherds hearing the angel choir.  Maybe, like Mary, you prefer silence and pondering the mystery.It's interesting how our emotional lives aren't always in sync with the liturgical seasons or the Lectionary.

 Maybe this year we can approach the Holy Week stories differently.   Maundy Thursday gives us a view of how to love each other.  Notice that it's about what we do:  we eat together, we wash each other's feet, we anoint with oil.  It's not about an emotion--it's about an action.  It's not a theory of love, but a concrete way of being loving.

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

Perhaps we find ourselves more like the disciples who would transform the loving act of anointing with oil into a way to help the poor by selling that oil and giving the money to the poor.  It seems a good way to show love.  Jesus rebukes this way of thinking.  We will always have the poor; we won't always have the ones we love.  This year, a year when so many mourn such severe losses, those words speak to me.

Good Friday gives us a way to think about betrayal and how we can respond.  The Good Friday message is that we will all betray God.  But some of us will try again, while others will give up in abject despair.  Some of us will apologize and try to do better, while others will choose death.

I also find myself thinking about the tree that must wish for a great destiny, but is transformed into the cross,  an instrument of torture.  Likewise, Jesus, who has been in some amount of control of his own actions, but finds himself handed over to others.  In these past years when I've watched so many friends and colleagues battle cancer--handed over to the medical-industrial complex--the idea of the Passion takes on an excruciating hue.

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

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Poem for Holy Week

I am about to run out of writing time this morning--but in a way, that's good.  This morning, it means that I was able to sleep through the night, what I call the night, from 8:30 to 4:30.  Last night, we had a lovely evening on the front porch, eating our dinner of delicious dribs and drabs of leftovers from a week-end of cooking for our mostly blind college friend who was making a South Florida tour.  We enjoyed wine and occasionally neighbors walked by and we chatted.

One of them said, "We haven't seen you in awhile."  It's true--we seem to have gotten out of the front porch habit.  Why have we been choosing TV instead of porch time?  Part of the answer lies in the weather--if it's chilly, I'm not as interested in being outside--and I have a South Florida body thermostat by now, so it's been chilly.

Happily, we still have some time to enjoy the front porch before it becomes unbearably hot.  A resolution!

Since my writing time is so small, let me post a poem for Holy Week.  I wrote it many years ago, when I'd been teaching the American Lit survey class at the University of Miami.  Can you see the influence of Allen Ginsburg's "A Supermarket in California"?

Good Friday at the Grocery Store

Salmonella lurks in the spinach,
more vicious beasties in the beef and chicken.
Corpses wrapped in cellophane
under fluorescent lights that cast green shadows.

Homeless people haunt the night,
hungry for bread and beyond,
trundling belongings in rickety shopping carts.
The lights glow in empty
buildings that aren’t for them.

City of unclean feet and dirtier hands,
all night grocery stores and home improvement centers,
the music of militaristic bass beats
and muted churches.
People hungry to fill they know not what,
buzzing on fatigue and caffeine
and always, that ravenous fear
that chews their bones to dust.

Small groups gather in a catacomb of marble and wood,
lit by candles, sheltered
from the Capitalist world that threatens
to consume every last hope.

They know the rituals that fed
their grandparents although they have not practiced
them with faith. They read the sacred
texts; they pour the wine and break
the bread. The veil lifts,
the earth shakes, the kingdom
enters, slipping in through the broken scrim.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Contemplative Palm Sunday

Yesterday morning, I loaded up the car with palms and headed to the church as the sun rose (about 7:20 here).  I had volunteered to decorate the sanctuary for Palm Sunday.

I had a car full of palms, and my pastor had also cut palms--what a treat to live in Florida where we can decorate with abandon.

I spent a meditative half hour, thinking about where to put the palms and thinking about Palm Sundays past.  I remembered at our old church, after Hurricane Wilma destroyed the carpets, when the floors were concrete since it takes time after a hurricane to get the insurance money and then the building supply materials.  My spouse laid palms down the entire center aisle, which made it look thatched.  It was striking, but people were hesitant to walk on it.

I, too, put palms in the center aisle, but I left plenty of room for people to walk.  If they wanted to avoid the palms, there were pews without palms blocking the entry.  And of course, there are aisles up the side of the sanctuary.

I was delighted to see a 5 year old at the 11:00 service make a point to walk on each palm.  Did he make the connections between the day's readings and the palms?

I waved the palms as I walked them to places around the sanctuary and church grounds.  I thought about the fickleness of crowds who will sing "Hosanna" one day and "Crucify" a few days later.

I placed the palms along pathways.  I wondered if people would see the palms as pointing them towards the sanctuary, and once in the sanctuary, towards the altar.

In the end, the palms will go to various places around the grounds, left to decompose and return to the earth.  We don't let them dry and turn them into ashes for Ash Wednesday.  They don't burn evenly, and they leave a chunky ash behind--not really suitable for smudging.

I participated in the life of the church in all sorts of ways yesterday:  reading, anointing with oil, handchime practice, helping count the money, and clean up.  But my half hour of contemplation during the laying down of the palms (sounds better than decorating) was my favorite part of the day--totally unanticipated and restorative.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Marching to Palm Sunday

I am surprised--but why should I be?--at how many of my Facebook friends went to marches yesterday in cities large and small.  Well done!

We have a college friend visiting this week-end.  We thought about going to the march in our area, but as I wrote about yesterday, the challenges involved made us change our minds.  I baked bread, which gets me further ahead for the coming weeks in terms of nourishing things to eat at work.  We needed to run some errands in Ft. Lauderdale, so I suggested we do that sooner rather than later.  We finished the day by my spouse and our friend playing music:

Throughout the day, I had the marches on the brain.  But I also found my thoughts returning to the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, which was yesterday.  And it's Palm Sunday week-end, which added a different patina to my thoughts than we might expect.

I've been thinking about social progress--what it takes to make progress, and how we lose traction.  Sadly, violence often spurs us to make demands we wouldn't have made otherwise.  And violence can also show us how serious the stakes are and how long the odds--witness Oscar Romero and Jesus Christ.

Romero knew that he was in danger from various political forces in the country, but he refused to cower in fear and back down. Likewise, Jesus must have known what wrath he was bringing down upon himself, but he did not back down. Until the end of his life, he called upon us to reform our earthly systems, systems that enrich a few on the backs of the many. Romero and Christ both show us that the forces of empire do not take kindly to being criticized.

Jesus warns us that to follow him will mean taking up a cross, and it may be the literal cross of death. The story of Passion Sunday reminds us that we are not here to seek the world's approval: the world may love us one day and crucify us next week. Passion Sunday offers us some serious reminders. If we put our faith in the world, we're doomed. If we get our glory from the acclaim of the secular world, we'll find ourselves rejected sooner, rather than later.

It's important for us to remember the basic lesson of the Scriptures: God is not fickle; it's humans and the societies that humans create that are fickle. You can be acclaimed in one season and denounced in the next.

The Passion story and the story of Oscar Romero remind us that dreadful things may happen to us. God took on human form, and even God couldn't avoid horrific pain and suffering. But the Passion story also reminds us that we are not alone. God is there in the midst of our human dramas. If we believe in free will and free choices, then God may not be able to protect us from the consequences of our decisions. But God will be there to be our comfort and our strength.

We live in a time where we might feel overwhelmed by how much evil we see, and how determined those forces of evil seem to be.  A more important lesson comes with Easter. God can take horrific suffering and death and transform it into resurrection. We know what happened to Jesus and those early Christians after the death of Jesus. Likewise, in death, Oscar Romero became a larger force for justice than in life. His death, and the martyrdom of other Church leaders and lay workers (not to mention the deaths of 75,000 civilians) galvanized worldwide public opinion against the forces of death in El Salvador. God is there with us in our suffering and with God's help, suffering can be transformed into a more loving world.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March for Our Lives

Today many people will be marching, both in D.C. and in marches across the country.  Once again, I will not be marching, and once again, I feel oddly guilty about that.

Once I marched.  I marched and I went to prayer vigils both with and without candles, and I was part of rallies.  I've gone to gatherings that were part protest, part art happening; I'm thinking about a Hiroshima anniversary that had prayers for peace and paper cranes and anti-nuke activists.  I've marched for and against more causes than I can remember, but my overall reason for marching was the same:  I had a vision of a better world, and I hoped that my marching might convince others.  Plus it was good to be with like-minded activists and other types of supporters.

I had planned to go to the Parkland rally today, even though it was scheduled for 10 to 2--that's a long time to march or even just to stand on our feet.  Then I started hearing about distance parking and shuttlebuses, which wouldn't be running through the whole event so we'd be stuck there for hours. And this week, the arthritis in my feet and the pain in my left hip made me think I couldn't do it physically. But it's really about the distance parking which likely adds additional hours waiting for the shuttlebus and to get out of the parking lot.

And I tell myself that if it had looked like attendance would be sparse, I'd go, because having my body there would be important.  If millions of people are marching today, it's not as important that I go.  
Nineteen year old Kristin would not approve of this line of thinking. She's a harsh one, my inner 19 year old Kristin.

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

Will it change behavior? I do not know.
So, I have bread dough rising--it's not much in the way of social justice or changing gun laws, but it helps me stay healthy and grounded.

I am saying prayers this morning, and I'll continue to pray periodically throughout the day.  I'll pray for the safety of all, those who march, those who support from the sidelines, those who listen, and those who ignore it all.  I'll pray that my vision of a better world, that vision that God offers us, comes a step or two closer to incarnation with this latest round of marches.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Preparing for Pentecost

On Sunday, we had a worship planning session at the parsonage.  At our more interactive service, we've been exploring the poetry of Mary Oliver for Lent, which I've loved.  But we agreed that it's time for something a bit more hands-on, as we make our journey from Easter to Pentecost.  I volunteered to lead us, as I have lots of Pentecost craft ideas.

I have a vision of making something each week which we'll add to the sanctuary to announce that Pentecost is coming.  I feel fortunate to have a wealth of ideas from Create in Me retreats. 

We'll start with something simple.  We'll make banners with tissue paper glued to banners:

We'll make stained glass windows of sorts, with wax paper and crayons.

This mosaic on glass blocks will be our most complicated project. 

I'd like to have these to put on the altar to reflect the candles in interesting ways.

I'm glad that I've kept records through the years.  I wish that I had done a bit better at keeping process notes.  I plan to make more detailed process notes this year as my church does these projects, which I'll post here.

And before I start the project, I get to go to another Create in Me retreat.  If I have questions, people there will be able to help.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Movie Drenched in Grace

I have finally been to see the movie, A Wrinkle in Time.  I say finally, even though the movie hasn't been out very long.  But it's felt like a struggle to find time to see it, even though I've been looking forward to it--albeit with a certain amount of dread--since plans for it were first announced.

Yesterday I wrote a general review of my experience in this blog post.  But I've also been thinking of the movie in theological terms.  I'd been hearing reviews from people who were disappointed that L'Engle's Christian theology was taken from the story.

I contend that it's there, but you have to be alert.  The most obvious way that the Christian message is still there comes from the plot:  the idea of love as a saving force is very Christian.

Yesterday I wrote this Facebook message:  "I thought that my belief in the saving power of love came from sappy pop songs. Upon further reflection, I am now sure that it came from Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time." Or perhaps my solid Lutheran upbringing. Probably both."

But the more powerful message in the movie is one of grace, even if it's not discussed in that specific theological term.  I found myself weeping at the idea that there's only one Meg Murray--and by extension, only one of any of us.  But more than that, I was weeping at the improbability that any of us would be born exactly the way we are--but it happened.

And then what do most of us do?  We spend much of our lives resisting what makes us wonderful.  We try to change what we perceive as weakness.  We go through our days judging ourselves and everyone around us and we all come up as wanting.

But think of how the world would change if we saw ourselves as perfect, exactly the way we are.  Or to take that idea further--what if what we think of as our imperfections are actually our gifts?

The plot shows Meg again and again that she is more powerful than she knows, that she has strengths that she has yet to perceive, that she is a gift to the world, and that it is her ability to love that is the greatest gift of all.

If that's not a Christian message, then I don't know what is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel: Palm Sunday

The readings for Sunday, March 25, 2018:

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Gospel: Mark 14:1--15:47

Gospel (Alt.): Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

Palm Sunday has become a busy Sunday. Somewhere in the past twenty years, we've gone from hearing just the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem to hearing the whole Passion story--on Palm Sunday many Christians leave the church with Jesus dead and buried. If we return to church for the rest of Holy Week, we hear the same stories on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It makes for a long, Sunday Gospel reading--and reinforces one of the paradoxes of the Passion story: how can people shout acclaim for Jesus in one day, and within the week demand his Crucifixion? Maybe it's good to hear the whole sad story in one long sitting, good to be reminded of the fickleness of the crowd.

It's one of the central questions of Christian life: how can we celebrate Palm Sunday, knowing the goriness of Good Friday to come? How can we celebrate Easter with the taste of ashes still in our mouth?

Palm Sunday reminds us of the cyclical nature of the world we live in. The palms we wave this morning traditionally would be burned to make the ashes that will be smudged on our foreheads in 10 months for Ash Wednesday. The baby that brings joy at Christmas will suffer the most horrible death--and then rise from the dead. The sadnesses we suffer will be mitigated by tomorrow's joy. Tomorrow's joy will lead to future sadness. That's the truth of the broken world we live in. Depending on where we are in the cycle, we may find that knowledge either a comfort or fear inducing.

Palm Sunday offers us some serious reminders. If we put our faith in the world, we're doomed. If we get our glory from the acclaim of the secular world, we'll find ourselves rejected sooner, rather than later.

Right now, we live in a larger culture that prefers crucifixion to redemption.  For some of us, we see a brutal world that embraces crucifixion:  no second chances, perhaps no first chances.

It's at times like these where the scriptures offer comforts that the world cannot. Look at the message from Isaiah: "The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. . . . For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near" (Isaiah 50, first part of verse 4, verse 7, and first part of verse 8).

God promises resurrection. We don't just hope for resurrection. God promises resurrection.

God calls us to live like the redeemed people that we are. Set your sights on resurrection.  We are already redeemed--it's up to us to fold the grave clothes of our lives and leave the tomb.   Turn away from the cultures of evil and death that surround us.

Now more than ever, it's important that people of faith commit to redemption and new life. From the ashes, let us build the community that God wants for us.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lenten Discipline: Tulips and Pumpkins

I've gotten away from my Lenten discipline of mixing holidays and seasons and taking pictures.  Last night, I tried to return.  I had a tulip from my office who was spending time with us, and pumpkins which have been on the porch since October:

Later, I moved the rotting pumpkin to the part of the yard where I've been leaving them.  Here the pumpkin is on top of other pumpkin corpses, but they blend into the earth:

I thought about other mixes:  the tulip and the basil (spring and summer)--not as interesting.

I couldn't quite capture the tulip and the rosemary cut into a Christmas tree shape--but it's interesting how I changed the color of the tulip:

On this first day of Spring, I see this mixing of metaphors that shows where so many of us are, both seasonally (first day of spring, as yet another blizzard-making storm prepares to travel through the northeast) and in our lives (still young, yet seeing our mortality on the horizon).

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Feast Day of St. Joseph

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph, Mary's husband, the earthly father of Jesus.  Here are the readings for today:

2 Samuel 7:4, 8-16

Psalm 89:1-29 (2)
Romans 4:13-18
Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a

I have done some thinking of Joseph, as many of us do, in the Advent season, when occasionally, we get to hear about Joseph.  He thinks of quietly unweaving himself from Mary, who is pregnant.  This behavior is our first indication of his character.  Under ancient law, he could have had Mary stoned to death, but he takes a gentler path.

And then, he follows the instructions of the angel who tells him of God's plan.  He could have turned away.  He could have said, "I did not sign up for this!"  He could have said, "No thanks.  I want a normal wife and a regular life."

Instead, he turned towards Mary and accepted God's vision.  He's there when the family needs to flee to Egypt.  He's there when the older Jesus is lost and found in the temple.  We assume that he has died by the time Christ is crucified, since he's not at the cross.

Some of us today will spend the day celebrating fathers, which is a great way to celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph.  Lately, I've been thinking of his feast day and what it means for administrators and others who are not the stars, but who make it possible for stars to step into the spotlight.

Let us today praise the support teams, the people in the background, the people who step back to allow others to shine. Let us praise the people who do the drudgery work which makes it possible for others to succeed.

For example, I am not the kind of person who immediately decides what to do with each piece of e-mail.  Consequently, once every few weeks, or more often, I need to go hunting for a particular e-mail.  I am amazed at how many e-mails I send and receive in any given day.  And yes, much of it is not that important.

But occasionally, an e-mail exchange can quickly settle a problem.  Some times, it's good to have an e-mail chain for reference. 

Many of us grow up internalizing the message that if we're not changing the world in some sort of spectacular way, we're failures.  Those of us who are Christians may have those early disciples as our role models, those hard-core believers who brought the Good News to the ancient world by going out in pairs. 

But Joseph shows us a different reality.  It's quite enough to be a good parent.  It's quite enough to have an ordinary job.  It's quite enough to show up, day after day, dealing with both the crises and the opportunities.

Joseph reminds us that even the ones born into the spotlight need people in the background who are tending to the details.  When we think about those early disciples and apostles, we often forget that they stayed in people's houses, people who fed them and arranged speaking opportunities for them, people who gave them encouragement when their task seemed too huge.

I imagine Joseph doing much the same thing, as he helped Jesus become a man.  I imagine the life lessons that Joseph administered as he gave Jesus carpentry lessons.  I imagine that he helped Jesus understand human nature, in all the ways that parents have helped their offspring understand human nature throughout history.

Let us not be so quick to discount this kind of work.  Let us praise the support teams that make the way possible for the people who will change the world.

Here is a prayer that I wrote for today:

Creator God, thank you for your servant Joseph.  Help us to remember his lessons for us.  Help us look for ways to shepherd your Good News into the world in ways that only we can.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mepkin Moving Forward

This morning, because of my Facebook friendship with Pastor Andy of my parents' church in Williamsburg (St. Stephen's Lutheran), I read this great piece in The New York Times about Mepkin Abbey.  It includes beautiful pictures of the Abbey in its present incarnation, along with historical pictures from the 1950's.

The essay explores the issues that this monastery faces, as their members grow ever older; a newer monk who is in his 60's is one of the younger ones.  It's not a problem that only Mepkin Abbey faces:  "Across all orders, the number of Catholic brothers in the United States has declined by more than two-thirds since 1965, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. But Trappist communities may be particularly vulnerable, since their traditions are more isolating and, in many ways, more resistant to modernization."

The story discusses the direction that Mepkin Abbey will move:  "Many young people of the Roman Catholic tradition, Father Guerric added, will simply not be attracted to forms of monasticism that require celibacy and a lifetime commitment. But there’s a growing belief among Mepkin’s brothers that certain elements of the Trappist tradition — its cultivation of mindfulness, stillness and inward exploration — are increasingly relevant to today’s youth. And the abbey, they say, is a repository of wisdom about the benefits of contemplative living."

They will offer new programs, along with the retreats they've already been offering:  "The abbey’s new affiliate program will offer two new short-term monastic options for people of any, or no, faith traditions: a monthlong monastic institute, open to men and women, and a yearlong residency. And in a departure from its otherwise passive approach, Mepkin created an ad campaign — albeit a small and highly targeted one — to publicize the program. (It featured copy that read: “BE A MONK. FOR A MONTH. FOR A YEAR.”)."

In the past year or two, I've been noticing that the Abbey offers more retreats that are more organized and cost a pre-set amount.  I wonder if that move is tied to the Abbey's efforts to offer more so that they can keep going.

Every time I go to Mepkin Abbey, I wonder how they sustain themselves--and the answer that this article gives us shows us the precariousness of their situation.  They sustain themselves through mushroom sales, through retreatents, through donations of both money and time (they have volunteers that help keep the Abbey running) along with some paid labor.

I'm impressed that they are able to face their uncertain future, to pray, and to plan.  I love the idea of reaching out to spiritual searchers, even if they're not Catholic or Christian.  But I also love that they're not abandoning their core monasticism.  I look forward to seeing where they head--and hopefully being part of that journey.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Colcannon as Metaphor for the Spiritual Life

Thinking about St. Patrick's Day often takes me back to my early days as a budding vegetarian back in high school. I got one of those vegetarian magazines and decided to fix my family a special St. Patrick's Day meal. I would make Colcannon. Yes, Colcannon! It would be spectacular! They would never forget how fabulous it tasted!

I've now been cooking long enough that I would have skipped right over that recipe, a dish made primarily of mashed potatoes and cabbage. Blhhhhhh.

But no, I made Irish soda bread and Colcannon and served the family dinner with a flourish. Oh, my poor, long-suffering, generous family. What meals they endured as I experimented with vegetarian cooking. Looking back, I realize I was lucky to have such a family, who didn't complain too much about my cooking. My working mom was grateful to have anyone else cook, and she'd buy the ingredients. My dad, a long-distance runner both then and now, was interested in health. My sister, left to her own devices, would have had tacos every night.

We ate all the Irish soda bread that night, and each one of us finished our portion of Colcannon. It wasn't that bad--it just didn't taste like what I was expecting.

I see that experience as a metaphor for so much of life. Let's think about Colcannon as a metaphor for the spiritual life.

Many of us navigated towards a spiritual life with certain expectations. Maybe we remembered the churches of our childhoods: packed sanctuaries on Sundays and bountiful potluck dinners and vibrant youth groups. Or maybe we hoped to find inspiration to lead us to our better selves. Perhaps we wanted to learn to pray better or to be less judgmental. Maybe we yearned for grand choirs with brass ensembles that come in for special occasions.

In the meantime, we've had to learn to live with what we actually have on our plates for dinner. We don’t attend the churches that our grandparents had. We may sit in pews that are mostly empty. We may wonder where all the youth went. Maybe we have a decent choir, but we wish we had a good Sunday School for adults. Or maybe no aspect of the church is as glorious as we wanted it to be.

 We may have hoped for spiritual transformation, only to find ourselves still wrestling with how to be the best humans we can be. We go to church—so why are we still so irritated with the difficult people in our lives? We may wonder if we’ve been sold a bill of goods, much like I wondered whether or not that vegetarian magazine was going to lead me astray with every recipe.

Yet our current Colcannon spiritual lives are perfectly satisfying, perfectly nourishing, if we could only bring ourselves to feel happy about them. We may not be able to find anyone who wants to start a homeless shelter, but we have fun working on Vacation Bible School each year. We may not be able to find the extra time each week to attend a group, like WELCA or a Bible study, at the church, the way our parents did, but we find ourselves making deep connections during coffee hour. 

And though we still find ourselves not as spiritually evolved as we hoped we would be, maybe we think the hurtful things instead of saying them to the difficult people. Maybe we find that we’re better able to pray for the difficult people. Maybe we evolve enough to feel compassion for everyone, ourselves included.

So, wherever you are, enjoy the Colcannon that's on your plate, even if you wish you had shepherd's pie or lamb chops. Some day, you'll likely have the lamb chops that you see others enjoying--but for now, treasure the taste of cabbage and potatoes. The lamb chops will taste that much better later for having had to wait. Or maybe you’ll decide that your colcannon of a spiritual life is what you yearned for long before you realized what you had.


Friday, March 16, 2018

When Bridges Crumble and Crash

Yesterday, one of our EMS instructors asked me if we had a TV on campus.  I knew that something must be wrong--people don't ask for a TV so they can catch up on their viewing of cartoons.  I thought about 2001, when we gathered around the TV at the University of Miami where I taught; we were desperate for more information in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

We have no TVs on campus--I was a bit startled to realize that.  Once, I arrived at a campus where every classroom had a TV/VCR combo, and I thought I had landed at a place that had big budgets.  Now we expect a computer in every classroom and office.  That's how we caught up with news yesterday, with the larger computers and the small ones that we call our cell phones.

Yesterday's news:  a bridge collapse at Florida International University.  FIU was on Spring Break, so that's good--it could have been worse. The bridge wasn't yet open to pedestrian traffic, so it could have been worse. It didn't happen at rush hour--it could have been worse.

Still, it's pretty bad. And it's the second time in two months where I've written to my family to let them know that I wouldn't have been at a area school where a tragedy occurred, and my spouse wouldn't have been either. 

We were having a Spring into Health event at my school yesterday.  Once a quarter we have this event that serves several purposes:  it's a fun event for students, it's a pre-Orientation event for students who will join us next quarter, and it's an open house for potential students and the community.  The bloodmobile was parked in the front parking lot.

I confess that I don't give blood as often as I should.  I hate needles, and I hate that the pre-giving process takes so long.  Part of me understands why they need to ask so many questions, but part of me says, "You're going to test my blood, so let's just get this underway."  No, I've never had sex for money or injected myself with anything with a needle or . . . .

I lead a very boring life, in terms of infectious disease, which makes me a perfect candidate for giving blood.  I no longer have the low blood pressure of my long distance running youth, but I'm still healthy.  But I hate needles.

Yesterday, as the news trickled in about the bridge collapse, I thought about donating blood.  I finally decided to do it during the end of the bloodmobile's stay.  If anything went wrong, I'd soon be heading home.

Nothing went wrong, of course.  The only thing that's ever gone wrong was when I donated during a very low blood pressure day, and the bag just didn't fill.  As possibilities go, that's not too bad.  One of my colleagues fainted yesterday.

My experience last night was perfect.  I headed to the bloodmobile bus at 6:10, and I was done just before 7--the actual taking of the blood took about 12 minutes.  The phlebotomist was gentle and kind--the qualities I need in someone who approaches me with a needle.

As I sat in the chair, squeezing the rubber ball, I offered prayers for those who needed our blood.  I said several prayers of thanks for my boring life which has resulted in my clean and healthy blood.  I offered prayers for all the people I know who cannot donate blood. 

And then I prayed for us all, in this larger, crumbling world.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Good Friday Thoughts

Last night, instead of writing a meditation on Good Friday for my church, I went out to dinner with a friend.  We had planned to go see A Wrinkle in Time, then it looked like she had to cancel completely because of home inspectors coming, then she suggested dinner.  We hadn't seen each other since summer, so we had lots to catch up on, and much of it was tinged with sadness:  hurricane repairs, the school shooting a month ago, the state of the larger world.

In times like these, the Good Friday part of Holy Week shimmers with additional meaning.  There are some Christians out there who would tell us that if we just pray hard enough, we can avoid the sadness that's out there:  our illnesses will go away, wealth will fall into our laps, prosperity of all kinds await us if we just trust in God enough.

The Good Friday story tells a different tale.  Even God must suffer in the most horrible ways.  God comes to earth to show us a better way of living our human lives, and in return, the most powerful earthly empire crucifies him.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Jesus suffers several betrayals by his closest friends.  Good Friday gives us a way to think about betrayal and how we can respond.  The Good Friday message is that we will all betray God.  But some of us will try again, while others will give up in abject despair.

I also find myself thinking about the tree that must wish for a great destiny, but is transformed into an instrument of torture.  Likewise, Jesus, who has been in some amount of control of his own actions, but finds himself handed over to others.  In this past several years when I've watched so many friends and colleagues battle cancer--handed over to the medical-industrial complex--the idea of the Passion takes on an excruciating hue.

Easter promises us that our efforts will not be in vain. In Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N. T. Wright says forcefully, " . . . what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff" (208).

We may not understand how God will transform the world. We may not be able to believe that bleakness will be defeated. But Easter shows us God's promise that death is not the final answer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 18, 2018:

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm: Psalm 51:1-13 (Psalm 51:1-12 NRSV)

Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 119:9-16

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10

Gospel: John 12:20-33

Another reading about light and darkness. I love the last verse, the one that mentions becoming children of the light. How much I want to be a child of the light. How hard it is to keep from slipping into dimness.

My standard response to a Gospel reading that reminds us to be light to the world is to give myself more duties and obligations. I'll pray fixed hour prayers throughout the day. I'll tithe 20% instead of 10%. I'll find an hour a day to read the Bible. I'll create spiritual art. I'll go on 4 retreats this year, instead of one or two.

But what if my approach is wrong? What if God would like me to calm down, to be still, to rest and get to know the presence of the divine?

Years ago, I did a labyrinth walk.  I held a candle in a tall, skinny glass jar, which I thought would protect the flame. I noticed that the faster I walked, the more my flame flickered. When I walked with a slow, deliberative pace, the flame burned brighter. Instantly, I made some connections.

I spend much of my weeks racing from this commitment to that commitment. Few of them are burdensome, yet my pace often leaves me exhausted. Perhaps that's the reason that lately I've been drawn to the contemplative side of religious traditions.

Don't give me more books to read. Give me a Bible passage and let me walk the labyrinth--give my body something to do so that my mind can ruminate. Don't ask me to give more money--but do give me information so that I can be sure that my money is well spent. Don't give me more tasks to do--but do give me more time, so that I can do the tasks I've been called to do with a degree of completion that will please us all.

Our modern lives make it difficult for us to find our way to God. And if we don't find our way to God on a regular basis, it will be hard to be filled with light so that we can radiate God's love to the world.

So, perhaps instead of adding more to our spiritual lives, we should begin to hollow out some spaces. Then we'll have room to invite God in.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fish Skeleton Palm Fronds and a Return to the Multiseasonal Desk

I have decided to embrace my unusual Lenten discipline:  creating multiseasonal pictures on my desk, porch, and other places.  I was on the lookout for opportunities while in Tampa, but found none.

I did see this palm frond on the edge of a dock.  At first, it looked like a fish skeleton to me.

I do think there's a Lenten vibe in these pictures.  Here's the longer view:

Yesterday I bought some small pots of flowers for our Thursday Spring into Health Meet and Greet Open House.  Before I put them on desks around campus, I couldn't resist playing a bit.

I bought shamrocks, tulips (yet to bloom), and daffodils. 

My little pumpkin is still holding on. 

But let's not forget the fun we can have with a late-blooming poinsettia.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Toothless God Sightings

Yesterday, I went early to the Publix grocery store. I wanted to get in and out, since I needed to get ready for church.  But I didn't want to get back from church with no food in the house and have to face Sunday crowds at the grocery store.

At the deli section I saw a the toothless older man using his wheelchair for both a walker and a shopping cart. I assumed that he was one of the homeless population that frequents that Publix, the ones who are mentally unbalanced from life on the streets.  He caught up with me in the produce department.  He gestured to a display and said, "Isn't it all beautiful?"  I said yes and hurried on.

I was behind him in the checkout line. He said, "I'm going to see 'A Wrinkle in Time.' I can't wait to see that movie."

I asked if he had read the book. He said, "Oprah!  She was just glowing in that movie.  I wish she would run for president."

The cashier asked if he wanted to make a donation to the hunger organization, and he handed her a dollar.  We talked about the Saint Patrick's Day parade scheduled for the afternoon, which he was thinking of skipping because of the threat of rain. 

I no longer saw him as mentally ill, although I think he wants to see "A Wrinkle in Time" because of his love of Oprah, not because of his love of L'Engle.

It was only later that I thought of him as something more holy.  My pastor always asks for our God sightings, and my fellow congregants usually talk about money coming just in time to pay a bill or help when their car broke down.  What would they have said if I mentioned this toothless man as proof of God?

I wouldn't have had time to explain it the way that I wanted.  I'd have wanted to explain how my encounters with the man reminded me of my judgmental tendencies.  I'd have wanted to explain how seeing the man give a dollar reminded me of grace and generosity and served as admonishment.

But I've also been thinking of our view of God and Jesus.  If God came back to us in a physical form, most of us expect some opening in the sky, with angels and light and things that would both terrify us and lift us up.  The examples that we have in our Judeo-Christian sacred texts tell us that God will often appear in forms where we won't recognize the Divine among us.

Like a toothless, probably homeless, older man in the grocery store.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Writing as Hospitality

As I noticed before the AWP conference, there were only 2 sessions that dealt overtly with faith and writing.  One session sounded like it would be about writers who grew up in faith communities and were struggling with having to get those voices out of their heads.  I skipped that one.

I finished my time at AWP by going to a panel entitled "The Ganesh in the Room:  Speaking of Faith in the Literary Community."  They began by noting the potential offense and insensitivity contained in the title, especially for a panel that contained no Hindu participants.

The panel was moderated by a Jewish man, and one of the participants was a Jewish woman.  The other participants were a Muslim woman from Pakistan and a Christian woman.  It was fascinating.

Here are my two favorite take-aways, both from Amy Frykholm, the Christian woman participant.  She talked about her Christian belief as being less of an identity than as a location and a territory.  I loved that metaphor.  It explains the wrestling to leave as well as the longing to return.  It takes our faith away from the issue of what we believe (and can or cannot prove) and the creeds.

When we had 5 minutes until the end, the moderator asked how many people still had questions.  Five people raised their hands.  The moderator asked each person to ask their question and then the panel would see if they could somehow address them all.  The questions ranged from how to deal with readers who may not understand all the references to publishers (who also may not understand all the references). 

Amy Frykholm said that what she noticed as a common thread both in the questions and in the way she would answer:  the need for hospitality.  Who is receptive already?  What do people need to know to understand the work and to feel welcome in the world?

In the end, the panel encouraged us to be in awe of the mystery and to say the unsayable.  In some ways, that's good advice for us all, regardless of our faith, regardless of whether or not we write.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Labyrinths in Unlikely Places.

I am in Tampa for the AWP convention, which is one of the biggest annual gatherings of writers in this country.  On the first night, a friend and I walked the Riverwalk.  Even in the dark, I realized that we walked by a labyrinth.

Yesterday morning, I had some time, so I walked back to see it in the early morning light.  I took my camera.  Along the way, one of the burly men working at the Convention Center asked if I was a photographer.  I said, "No, just a tourist."

As I walked, I wondered if I'd get to where I thought I saw a labyrinth only to find that it was just a decorative brick layout.  Nope--it's really a labyrinth.

Of course, you have to walk on the correct part.  At first, I wound up in a dead end, and I thought nope, that's not the message of the labyrinth.  I went back and walked on the darker part:

Success!  I walked the rest.

Did I feel meditative?  Did I have any breakthroughs?  No, nothing obvious--but it was good to pause and say thanks--for safe travels, for the conference, for the planners of the Tampa Riverwalk who thought to put a labyrinth along the way.

It would have been even better if there had been some sort of informative plaque about labyrinths, but instead, there were plaques about the wildlife we might see.  

I wonder how many people run and walk by the labyrinth every day not realizing what they're seeing.  I had a vision of labyrinths tucked away in all sorts of unlikely places, offering a meditative space in the middle of all sorts of regular lives.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Progress of Lent

We are three quarters through this Lenten season.  Soon, we will put away the purple paraments.

But for now, we still dwell in the land of ash.

Soon we will display different flowers, the lilies, the daffodils, the tulips.

For now, we sit with our bruised and broken petals.

We long to see new blooms poking through the mulch of our hearts.

For now, we sit in our prisons.

We have heard the good news.  We wait for deliverance.

We wait.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day

March is the month designated to celebrate women's history; March 8 is International Women's Day.  We might ask ourselves why we still need to set time apart to pay attention to women.  Haven't we enacted laws so that women are equal and now we can just go on with our lives?

Sadly, no, that is not the case.  If we look at basic statistics, like how much women earn compared to men in the very same jobs, we see that the U.S. has still not achieved equality.  Although the Lutheran church has been ordaining women since the 70's, although we have a female bishop in the top position, our local churches are still likely to be led by white men.  If we look at violent crime rates, we discover that most violent crime rates have fallen--except for rape.  If we look at representation in local, state, and federal levels, we see that members of government are still mostly white and male.

And that's in a first world country.  The picture for women in developing nations is bleak.

Most of us understand why a world where more women have access to equal resources would be a better world for all of us.  Many of us have spent years and decades working to make that world a reality.  Some of us are lucky enough to have a church that supports the vision of equality that God offers to us as what the Kingdom of God looks like.

Not everyone has that experience.  And sadly, many people have experienced discrimination against women coming at them through their churches.  That damage may have happened years ago, in churches that no longer resemble the ones we have now--but the damage is done, for those people.

We know that the world can change very quickly, and God calls us to be part of the movement to change the world in ways that are better for all--and particularly for the vulnerable and powerless.  We have made great progress on that front.  But there is still more to do.

So, today, let us get started.  And let us pray for all who are with us on the journey:

Creator God, today we pause to celebrate women and to envision a world that is better for women.  Give us the courage to act on our visions.  Help us to remember those who do not enjoy equal rights and protections, and give us the wisdom to know what to do.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 11, 2018:

First Reading: Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm: Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Second Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10

Gospel: John 3:14-21

There are some Bible texts that are so prominent that it's hard to imagine that we could find something new to say about them. This week's Gospel includes one of them, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

I spent my childhood and adolescent years in a variety of small, Southern towns, and this text was often used as one to exclude people. Most responses to the text that I've seen zero in on the idea that we must believe in Jesus to have eternal life, and I'm certain that I don't want to wander into that theological muck. I used to be able to spend many hours deliberating whether or not a Hindu could go to Heaven, or an atheist or your beloved pet.

Now I'm much more interested in how we live our lives here--not so that we get into Heaven, but so that we participate in God's visions for us and for the larger world.

Today, let us focus on the text that reminds us that God doesn't enter the world to condemn us--many pop culture preachers forget that. But almost every verse of this week's Gospel reminds us that God comes to us out of love, not judgment. God comes, not to cast us into shadows. Most of us spend many hours dwelling in murkiness. God comes to lead us into the light.

Many of us have come from Christian traditions which would find this theology strange. Many of us have been scarred by a theology of a divine judge who finds us wanting. Many of us fear hell.

Think about the lives we're leading--maybe that's the punishment. God has come, not to punish us further, but to save us from our punishment, which is our current lifestyle.

As we move through our days, we could use our own internal judgment to ask ourselves if we're moving towards light or towards murk. Which activities lead us towards the life we'd like to live? Which ones take us further away?

Each person might answer that question differently. Coffee with friends might be a life-affirming break that helps us survive a tough work day or it might devolve into gossip and pettiness. We might be so available to help others that our family members feel neglected.

That's why it's important to keep asking the question, to keep making sure that our lives are on a trajectory towards light. We are like airplanes, which are notoriously difficult to pilot, given that humans aren't meant to fly. That's why airplanes are equipped with a variety of monitors, so that if one system fails, another can keep the plane from tragedy.

We need a similar set of systems. We need an internal compass, one that steers us towards a good, well-lived life. We need to continuously ask questions of our activities, to make sure our compass stays calibrated. We need to surround ourselves with like-minded people who will partner with us, instead of sabotaging us. Inasmuch as we can, we need to align ourselves with institutions that have values of good rather than values of evil.

If we take a self-inventory and realize that we've gone off track, the Gospel gives us the good news that it's not too late. And little changes can lead to quite a different destination.

Our world is desperately in need of the light that Christians can provide. We live in a world of rampant Capitalism, which is doing a wide range of harm. The world needs our message of something that is more vital, something that is more important than making money and buying more stuff.

We can be the lighthouses that lead people to safer shores.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Lenten Discipline: Mingled Seasons on the Porch

Last night after dinner, I decided to do some more creative play.  I had brought some of the plastic Easter eggs from my office, and I started with the pumpkin that's still in decent shape, just a spot of rot on the side:

In artistic terms, I like this one with the rotting pumpkin better.  I see life out of death:

I also used a candle that I got at a candlelight vigils for the teenagers shot at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on Ash Wednesday:

In terms of cheerful colors, I love this one:

An interesting angle:

And to end, why not bring in the autumnal mums that have mostly died, another life in the midst of death image:

Monday, March 5, 2018

Must Our Lenten Disciplines Be Dour?

I've been joking about my Lenten photography discipline, the mixing of seasons in pictures that you can see in this post and this one.  At first I didn't really see it as a Lenten discipline, and I'm still not sure that I do.  But in writing about this practice, I have come to realize that I seem to believe that a Lenten discipline should be austere and dour and dusted with ash.

Do I really think that?  Do I have that opinion of all spiritual disciplines?

No, I don't.  In fact, I often adopt other spiritual disciplines hoping for joy--or if not joy, then at least attitudes that are joy adjacent:  gratitude, appreciation, focus, awareness of miracles.

But Lent has always been different.  I've always thought that Lent should remind us of our mortality--that we don't have much time left.  For me, that's not a message filled with joy.  I'm not one of those Christians who can't wait to go back to my heavenly home.  There's so much left to do here.

And in the past 15 years, Lent has often been a time of watching someone else suffer with mortal frailty:  my mother-in-law's slow death in 2005, my best friend's esophageal cancer diagnosis in 2014--and those are two of the ones that loom large.  For me, Lent is often a time of grim reminders of the many ways our flesh can fail us.

I'm still pondering the idea that a Lenten discipline can be whimsical--could that approach really fit with the season?

I'm used to feeling that I'm still in an Ash Wednesday place during parts of the liturgical year that are more filled with the expectation of joy, like Easter.  I'm not used to feeling whimsical joy during Lent.

What on earth is the Holy Spirit up to?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Different Kind of Lenten Photography Project

So, it's a strange Lenten discipline, this mingling of different seasons and taking pictures.

 It doesn't seem quite dour enough.

I should be photographing dry bones and ashes for Lent.

But my surprise photography project is bringing me joy.

 Is it OK that a Lenten discipline brings me joy?

The picture that started this project