Monday, April 30, 2018

Inspirations: Jesus, Fitbits, and Larger Collections

--Last week, I arrived to spin class after having spent time writing about Jesus and menopause.  I thought about Jesus having a Fitbit.  So much to say about the incarnation, so many ways to write a poem.

--I plan to revisit my collection of Jesus poems, along with my poems that write about feast days and their intersections with modern life.  I plan to have a new collection ready to submit to the Two Sylvias Press Wilder Prize in the fall.

--Of course, there's the question about my old collection.  I've been submitting it for years now, and I'm still convinced that it's a strong collection.  I've had at least one editor give me encouragement along with rejection. 

--I'm also thinking of how many books I might have published in my life.  If it could only be one collection of poems, which would I want to leave as my legacy?

--Can't I have 2 collections?  Is that so much to ask?

--And part of me thinks about how my vision has shrunk.  Well, not my vision, but the realities of publishing--traditional publishing.

--Part of me also knows that the reality I see in front of me might not last.  I might put a manuscript away, and in later years, there might be interest.  Maybe it's time to move on.

--I've also resisted the idea of my new collection because it's so overtly religious.  I've worried about all the readers I might not have because of that theme.

--And I know that my religious poems will be strange and perhaps offensive to people who like religious themes.  What if I end up with no readers?

--I certainly won't have readers if I publish nothing.  Maybe I should focus on the work itself, and not who will read it.  I should create collections that delight me and trust that there will be communities that embrace that work.

--Let me go out for a vigorous spin class and ponder these things.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Liberation Theology Loses a Great Theologian

A great liberation theologian has died--James H. Cone was 79, so it wasn't an unexpected or tragic death.  But his was a voice that seems essential for our time.  We can't say that about every theologian who dies at an older age.

I'm sure that I read one or two of his books at a younger age.  Perhaps it was Black Theology & Black Power or A Black Theology of Liberation.  But I confess that I didn't read his work regularly.  Frankly, these days, there's no theologian whose work I read regularly, which says more about my time than it does about the work of theologians.

I've added a more recent work of his to my Amazon cart.  I am resolved to read The Cross and the Lynching Tree sooner rather than later.

Here's an early Twitter announcement.  I have a vision of liberation theology tweets taking over the online universe.  It's not likely to happen, but a girl can dream.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Poems Pointing to the Divine

At the beginning of April, I knew that we would do something on our campus to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day.  I knew I would greet arriving students with a poem in the morning.  But so many poems in the world--how to choose?

I looked at several of the booklets put together for the day, both the 2018 day and the past Poem in Your Pocket Days.  Nothing leapt out at me:  too historical, too male, too white.  I thought about passing out the poems that would prompt our food treats, but I had the same trouble.  Hmmm. 

Then I thought back to our church's Lenten experience of reading Mary Oliver's poems, and using the study guide from SALT.  I thought about the ways those poems are profoundly moving--and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.  I thought of my dad who attended with me on a Sunday and weeks later called to be reminded of Mary Oliver's name, because he couldn't get the poem out of his head.

I think that the most famous lines that Mary Oliver ever penned come from "The Summer Day":

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

It's an important question, phrased in an evocative way, and so important for college students--and for all of us.  So I decided that would be one of the poems in our pockets on Thursday.  I remembered loving the first lines of "Wild Geese":

"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting."

I decided to hand out this poem too.  As I was planning, I thought it was good to have two poems to hand out.  In retrospect, I wish I had printed both on one sheet, double-sided perhaps.

I love the theology of these poems.  It's a theology of love and respect.  It's a theology that tells us that we are worthy.  It's a theology that tells us we don't have forever, so quit wasting our precious days.  It's a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature.  It's a theology so understated that many readers likely don't even recognize it as a theology.

I love that the poems are short--easy to read in a single sitting.  I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.  I noticed that students glanced at the sheet I handed them and then kept reading.  I didn't find those poems discarded in trash cans.

I did something similar close to the 4th of July.  I handed out copies of the Declaration of Independence, a document that didn't have the same effect on students as the poetry of Mary Oliver.

I want to write these kinds of poems, poems that point towards the Divine, rather than shoving readers in that direction.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Blackout Poetry, Blackout Scripture

Yesterday was Poem in Your Pocket Day.  I knew that I would hand out poems on campus.  I knew that we would have poetry themed food.  I wanted to do something to encourage the actual writing of poems, but I wasn't sure exactly what.

As I was looking at Facebook one last time, I came across Karen Weyant's  posting of a Blackout Poetry Workshop at her school, Jamestown Community College.  I thought it looked like something we could do.

So, I grabbed some art supplies and headed to school.  I had photocopied pages from 3 books:  Natalie Angier's The Canon, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Craig Child's Apocalyptic Planet. I knew that those books had evocative language and interesting words.  I didn't overthink the choosing--I just opened up the books and copied what was there.

I was intrigued by people's approaches to blackout poetry.  Some people read the text.  Some, like me, just chose words that sounded interesting and circled them.  Some of us blocked the other words with color:

I was surprised by the poems that emerged.  Here's mine, in picture (process note:  I chose the words, drew blocks around them, and then did the swirling color; as I did the swirling color, the words started to get lost, so I came back and did more blocking):

and written out:

own plots
archeological rubble
time in the ground
live in a cash economy
bone scraping
hillocks of bones
disappeared among the ruins

I should go back to the original text to see how the two interact.

This morning, as I was writing up the process, I wondered about other texts that might be an interesting experiment.  I thought about the Bible.

At some point, I'll try this approach with scripture.  My group at church would be receptive.  It will be interesting to see if this kind of project has us interact with sacred texts in a different way.  I'll try it and report back.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Divinities Along the Gender Spectrum

Yesterday, I wrote this blog post about divinity and gender and Jesus.  I have been reading Luisa A. Igloria's latest book, The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-life Crisis which imagines the Buddha in a variety of modern situations. It's a great book of powerful poems.

As I read these poems, I realized that the Buddha is not always the same gender.  I thought of my own religious traditions.  I'm comfortable with the idea of a gender fluid God, the Creator aspect of the Trinity.  But what would happen if I played with the idea of a gender fluid Jesus?

First of all, I predict some intriguing poems will come.  I started thinking this way as I went to bed the other night and had a fleeting idea about Jesus and night sweats and menopause.  My first thought was dismissive:  Jesus can't experience menopause--he's male!

My Hindu friends will probably laugh at my experience of realizing this gender binary brain when it comes to Jesus.  I'm thinking of all the theology I've read that posits that Jesus comes to earth to be in solidarity with us in our full humanity.  But if humanity is gendered, can a divinity that comes in only one expression of that gender spectrum/binary be truly incarnate?

I think of quantum physics that tells us that how we experience time, as a linear progression, is actually a giant illusion.  I wonder if later generations will see gender in a similar way.  We think of gender as a binary choice because for most of us, that's how we've experienced it, as either-or.  What if that experience blinds us to reality?

Some theologians would tell us that our stories of the Divine coming to earth in human form is an expression of the Divine yearning to find out what it means to be fully human.  In my Christian tradition, I would ask if God can find out, without the experience of journeying on the earth as female.

Maybe God has done that, and we haven't recorded it, because the recorders don't value female experience and thus would not have registered God among us in a female incarnation.  Or maybe my blinders have gotten in the way too.

I plan to write my Jesus and menopause poem.  I'll write about the lost eggs of Jesus.  I'll turn some Easter imagery on its head.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 29, 2018:

First Reading: Acts 8:26-40

Psalm: Psalm 22:24-30 (Psalm 22:25-31 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-21

Gospel: John 15:1-8

The Gospel of John includes several "I am" stories, like the one we find in the Gospel for this week. Unlike the idea of Jesus as shepherd, which might be unfamiliar to those of us who live so far away from farms, the idea of Jesus as the vine, and believers as the branches isn't that hard for most of us to grasp. Most of us have watched plants grow, and we understand that one branch of the plant won't do well if we separate it from the main stalk.

We know what happens when we forget to water plants regularly or when the rains stop, and the yards grow crispy.

Jesus is the one who delivers water and nutrients to the rest of the plant. We won't do well when we're disconnected from the life source. In fact, Jesus makes clear what happens to those of us who separate from Christ: we wither.

What if we're feeling withered?   We might assume that Christ has left us to parch, but maybe we need to meet Jesus in a new place.   Maybe it's time to return to our gratitude journals.  Maybe we need to plan a retreat.  Maybe we need to try an artistic practice.  Maybe we need a physical discipline to shape our spiritual discipline:  yoga or fasting or walking a labyrinth.

And then it's time to bear fruit.  It's in this area that I find this week's Gospel unsettling.

Notice how in just 8 verses, Jesus repeats several things. More than once, we're reminded that branches that don't bear fruit are cut away from the true vine. Look at the verbs that Jesus uses for these non-bearing branches: wither, gathered, thrown, burned.

My brain wants to know what kind of timeline we're working with here. How long do I have to prove I can bear fruit? Is it too late? Have I been cast into the fire already, and I just don't know it yet?

I suspect I'm missing the point. God, the true vine and vinedresser, seems to give humanity chance after chance after chance. In these verses, though, Jesus reminds us that much is expected from us. Where are we bearing good fruit?

 Every action that we take helps to create a world that is either more good or more evil. We want to make sure we're creating the Kingdom that God has called us to help create. We're to be creating it here, now--not in some distant time and place when we're dead.

We're in a world where the Good News of the Gospel is that the Kingdom of God is both here now (thus a cause for joy) and not yet (as evidenced by evil in the world). How can we be the vine bearing good fruit that doesn't allow room for the bad?

We don't have time to waste withering on the vine. God has many joyous tasks for us, and the world urgently needs for us to do them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Doing Justice in Broward County

Last night, we went to our annual BOLD Justice Nehemiah Action.  Each year, across our county, religious people meet to discuss which justice issues are most important to work on.  Each year, the group chooses 2-3 to focus upon, which culminates in a Nehemiah Action, where elected officials meet with the large group.

Those of us who have worked with politicians know that numbers are important to them--not just statistics, but the voters who are paying attention.  So each year, we go to the Action; we know the optics are important.

We go because we want to contribute to the optics of a packed church, but we also go because it's good to be together as a larger people of faith across a wide spectrum of Christian traditions.  I have been to large gatherings of Lutherans, or smaller gatherings of one to three types of faith traditions, but rarely a large group of a mixture.

Each year, my spouse gets a bit grouchy about going.  He grumbles about how the officials are only agreeing to what they planned to do anyway.  But we go.

And on the ride back, we remember that even if we all agree to a policy, it's good to be part of the group who will be watching.  It's good to be part of the group who asks questions, like, "Why is this population at risk?  Why can't we make these simple changes?"  It takes time, but change can come.

Each year, we get to hear news of our successes.  For example, we've been working on making civil citations the first choice when dealing with youthful offenders who have committed non-violent crimes.  Many people don't realize how often a juvenile might be arrested for something like trespassing when they go into a neighbor's yard to retrieve a ball.  Then children end up with a criminal record, which for many of them, makes life harder than it needs to be.

We've been successful with getting many of our local law officials to adopt civil citations over criminal convictions, but we've also been working for state-wide legislation.  Last night we learned that a bill had been passed and that the governor signed it into law on Good Friday.


In many ways, it's a small move towards a more just society.  But our actions will impact thousands of Florida children each year.  With no criminal record, they'll have a better chance to scholarships and other ways to have a better life.  They'll have the kind of second chance that many of us just took for granted--decades ago, before the schools and juvenile justice system became so much more punitive.

It's a small move, but it's an important one.  Once we might have said that having everyone welcome at a lunch counter was a small move too.  Small moves can help the arc of history bend towards justice, to use the words of Martin Luther King.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Pentecost Project Week 2

As we drove to church yesterday, dark clouds roiled in the south.  At one point, I urged my spouse to drive faster--I wanted to beat the rain that was surely on its way.

We just made it.  But because of the heavy rain, we didn't have many attendees at our interactive service.  So I set up the banners fabric while the ukulele band practiced. 

I continued to glue fabric flames on the banners while they practiced.

Eventually, we had a few more people.  We did some gluing together and talked about the week.  We did communion.  We didn't do the singing together that we usually do or the Bible reading.  But that's O.K.  Most of us also attend the 11:00 traditional service.

We are done with the banners.  Next week we'll move on to a different project.  I did want to note that for fabric banners that aren't going into the wash, glue works well.  Even the lowly glue stick worked.

Yesterday's service wasn't what I had planned, when I was planning for a larger group.  But that's O.K.  We needed the rain, and it was good to have a chance to finish the banners.  And it's good to know that at this rate, I'm unlikely to run out of Pentecost projects for us to do.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day in a Time of Trump

Today is Earth Day.  While I am old enough to remember the first Earth Day, I must confess that I don't.  But I do remember some of the spectacularly polluted aspects of the 1970's, and I'm not talking about the Nixon administration.

When I was younger, rivers were so polluted that we wouldn't swim in them or eat fish out of them--and memorably, occasionally, rivers would burst into flames.  Now, in the U.S., most waterways are relatively clean.  Because of the changes sparked by that first Earth Day, now you can swim without too much fear. When I was a child, in major metropolitan areas in the U.S., you could see the air you were breathing. Now, you can't.

I worry that we're rolling back regulations and that we'll head back to those days.  But I take great comfort in knowing that the planet can heal itself.

I wish I could stay that I spent this Earth Day week-end planting trees, but I didn't.  We did spend part of yesterday morning plotting out the next phases of home repair.  We're wrestling with the question of how much money to put into a house we no longer expect to live in for the rest of our lives.  My spouse wants to live in a house that's closer to his idea of perfection than we've ever managed before--but should it be this house?

So, we wrestle with questions of whether or not we want to put in the finest wood floors or would something better than what we have now, but not as fabulous as what we could buy would suffice.

And this morning, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal with this sobering observation:  "Another new paper, from researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University, shows that the trend in Miami is playing out across the country, with homes that are vulnerable to rising sea levels now selling at a 7% discount compared with similar but less-exposed properties. The paper, which is under peer review, shows that the size of the coastal discount has grown over time."

At times yesterday morning, I was struck by this snapshot of our current life:  on our lovely front porch on our beautiful street discussing at what point rising waters will make it all untenable.  I know that people who live inland and upland would think we're being overly dramatic, and oh, how I wish it could be true.

I told my spouse that I watch myself thinking about these issues.  I know that psychologists tell us that humans are spectacularly bad at calculating risk and reward, particularly if it's not an immediate issue.  I find myself engaging in wishful thinking:  maybe the recent increase in the timeline of sea level rise will reverse itself.  But my rational brain knows that the rate is likely to increase, not decrease.

But for today, let me delight in the flowers on my porch that look on as we plot possible futures.  Let me trust that even as regulations are rolled back, we have time to save the planet, at least parts of it.  Let me remember that first Earth Day that no one thought would accomplish anything--and let me remember the forces it set into motion.

Let me remember all the forces that commit to resurrection.  Let me remember to pray for that.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something

Our Admissions team at school has a radio that they tune to different stations.  Yesterday as I walked by, I said, "Is this the song I think it is?"

It was!  One of the Admissions reps said, "Oh, I love this movie!"  It was "Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something."  I said, "I love this song!"  And at the skeptical looks, I sang along.

Because it's a classic call and response kind of song, soon we were all singing--and a few of us danced a bit.  I did wonder a bit at the strangeness of singing and dancing to a gospel song with such a clear religious message, but the Spirit was clearly moving us, and so I went along.

Because so many of my colleagues hadn't seen the movie, and because I wanted to hear the song again, I went back to my office and pulled up this clip.  I sent my colleagues a link, along with this message, "In case you want to see the original of the song “God Is Trying to Tell You Something”—the ending of this clip will make you cry, but in a good way—or maybe only if you know the preacher and his daughter in yellow have been estranged for much of her adult life."

I thought about the ways this song has woven its way through my adult life.  I loved Alice Walker in undergraduate school, so of course, I went to see the movie of The Color Purple, and I loved it too.  I bought the soundtrack, and this song was my favorite.  For at least a decade, it found its way onto the inspirational mix tapes that I made for the car.  And even now, when I wonder if God is trying to get my attention, this song springs up from my brain.

I last played this song at work at the job I had before this one.  I was told that I had reached the upper end of the salary scale for my position, and therefore, I wouldn't be getting the raise I had been told I would get.  I didn't point out that I'd been above the upper end for several years and gotten raises.  I didn't point out that I did far more than my job title would indicate.  I simply said, "I understand," went to my office, shut the door, and played the song several times.

A year later, I accepted the job offer for my current job.  And now, here I am in a place where many of my colleagues feel free to sing and dance when a spiritual comes on the radio.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Comparing Translations

This morning, as I read the morning office as Phyllis Tickle presents the liturgy in The Divine Hours, I was struck by this passage:

Why should I be afraid in evil days, when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,
The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, and boast of their good riches?

It's from Psalm 49.  I started trying to find the verse so that I wouldn't have to type it, and I was struck by the difference in translations.  For example, here's the New International Version:

Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me—
6 those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches?
And here's the Revised Standard Version:

Why should I fear in times of trouble,
   when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth
   and boast of the abundance of their riches?

And since the King James version is the version of my childhood, here's that one:

Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;

I am often amazed by how Eugene Peterson's The Message makes me take notice in ways that I haven't always before:

So why should I fear in bad times,
    hemmed in by enemy malice,
Shoved around by bullies,
    demeaned by the arrogant rich?

I like the second part of this version, but I prefer evil days to bad times.  I do like the idea of enemy malice.

I find the use of evil days to be much more powerful than times of trouble.  Times of trouble could be any number of random events:  a hurricane, a spell of depression, an illness.  Evil days implies a will that is behind the trouble.  If we would all behave in better ways, we might always avoid evil days.  We can't avoid times of trouble.

We are at the time of various anniversaries:  today is the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings.  I often feel uneasy during these days in April.  It's good to be reminded that I have nothing to fear.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Pentecost Project: Sunday #1

A month from now, it will be the Saturday before Pentecost.  If you need an arts project for your church, here's one that's good for a group of varying skills.  You can make banners.  All you need is fabric, glue, and tissue paper.  Here's what we did on Sunday as part of our Easter to Pentecost time of arts projects at our interactive service.

I picked up some long strips of cloth at the Create in Me retreat.  I laid them out on our tables. 

I also sorted through the scraps that people brought to the retreat.  I collected fabric swatches and scraps in orange, red, and yellow.

I also collected tissue paper.  At a Create in Me retreat in 2013, we made banners with pieces of tissue paper glued on top of each other.

It ends up looking like this:

I put out the supplies and let people do what they wanted on the long strips. 

One group set about making flame shapes out of cloth. 

One woman glued tissue paper flat.

I decided to see what happened when I tried doing something more 3 dimensional with the tissue paper.

We didn't finish the banners.  I look forward to seeing where we go with this project.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 22, 2018:

First Reading: Acts 4:5-12

Psalm: Psalm 23

Second Reading: 1 John 3:16-24

Gospel: John 10:11-18

In this week's Gospel, we see one of the most persistent metaphors for Jesus: Jesus as shepherd. Even in these non-agricultural days, we understand this image, probably because it has been so widely used during 2000 years of Christianity.

It's interesting to think about the other side of this metaphor. If Jesus is the shepherd, who are the sheep? We are, of course. Those of us who haven't grown up around sheep probably think of them as delightful, fuzzy creatures. But they're not. They're big and smelly and not especially bright--that's why they need a shepherd. On my bleak days, calling humans sheep seems like an apt metaphor. We tend not to act in our self-interest. We tend to stand in place with a blank look on our faces. If no one comes along to guide us, we'll just stand there, blinking. If we get knocked over, we need someone to pick us up. I could go on and on like this, but I'll let you Google the word sheep and consider all the poetic possibilities.

What I found most interesting about this passage which is so familiar is verse 16: "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

I'm of two minds about this passage. I read it with the knowledge of all that has happened in the last two thousand years, and all the ways that this kind of Biblical language has been used coercively and hurtfully to imply that only Christians are the ones with the Truth. I'm aware of the disastrous actions that can follow that kind of belief.

But this larger vision of Jesus does interest me. It interests me because it's in the Gospel of John, which was the last Gospel written. Earlier Gospels don't have this same kind of expansive vision, this vision of Jesus as the shepherd of all people. Is it there because of the spread of Christianity that the writer who composed the Gospel of John had seen? I'm fascinated by the differences in the Gospels.

As a poet, I'm also interested in the power of this metaphor. Here we are in a world where few of us have seen a sheep, and yet, this metaphor still speaks to us. Most of us are likely moved by the idea of a shepherd who would sacrifice all to save one sheep. You find a similar narrative in many romantic love stories--how desperately we want to believe that someone can love us that completely.

That's the Good News of the Gospels: we are loved that completely. Someone believes that we're worthy of that effort. We will not be sacrificed for the good of the flock. The Good Shepherd will sacrifice all for the individual sheep. We can rest secure in that knowledge.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The FEMA Interview and the Prayers

Last night, FEMA called me for a follow up interview on my experience applying for aid.  I said, "I applied for aid?  I remember the application with the Small Business Administration, but not FEMA."

She assured me that I had applied--and later I realized that I must have applied, because otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to apply for a loan with the SBA--one is eligible for a loan when FEMA determines that one isn't eligible for money/support in any other way from FEMA.  I was fairly sure we wouldn't be eligible, since we have insurance, and I was right.

My experience with FEMA wasn't very memorable, clearly, but the interview went on.

When we got to the question about the factor that has been most important in our inability to fully recover from the storm, tears prickled in my eyes.  I chose the best option from the list:  lack of contractor availability or lack of supplies.  There weren't any questions about inability to make a phone call for weeks on end--and I don't mean that the equipment wasn't working. There weren't any answers that talked about the exhaustion of it all.  

There wasn't an answer that said, "Realization that my retirement plans are completely untenable, and therefore, I didn't want to invest any more time and money in this house that was the cornerstone of my retirement plan.  But if we don't invest the money, we can't sell the house, and then we won't be able to develop any other retirement plan."

I finished the interview without completely breaking down, although perhaps the very nice FEMA lady sensed my quivering voice.  As she read the questions, I thought about all the people who have already left South Florida--just yesterday morning, a friend of mine wrote to say she was moving and would be gone by May 31, but she'd love to have one last dinner together.  I thought about how a storm changes the landscape:  trees destroyed, houses bulldozed, shorelines reshaped, and people who pack up and move to a place where they hope they will be safer.

As we concluded, I asked the interviewer where she was calling from tonight.  She said, "Texas."  I complimented her on her lovely accent which sounded like home to me.  I'm not from Texas, of course, but I do love regional accents from the U.S. South.

I hung up the phone and wept.

But it was a good kind a cry, the kind that reminds me that I'm carrying around a lot of pain that I don't often take time to recognize, the kind that's good to get out of my body by way of tears. 

As I finished sniffling, I said a round of prayers for those who will never recover from this storm, from this past season of tough storms.  I offered prayers of gratitude for all the ways our recovery is progressing.  I asked for guidance as we navigate this post-storm world.  And I prayed for the planet.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Lessons and Inpirations from a Month of Groups

From early March to early April, I spent a lot of time in groups:  workshops, presentations, and all sorts of sessions.  Let me record a few times when I said, "What a great technique!  Let me remember this":

--At the AWP, I went to a session where it became clear that more of the audience had questions than the panel would be able to get to.  So close to the end, the moderator had each person state their question and then each of the panel presenters gave one closing remark.  I was surprised by how the questions all got answered.

This technique might be a good one even if time wasn't running out.  I noticed that it got rid of the tendency to bloviate.  We've all heard the person who stands up to ask a question, only they don't really want to ask a question, but to go on and on about their own opinions.  Having everyone state a succinct question got rid of that phenomena.

--At the Create in Me retreat, we had a group session along with times for small group discussion or silence for contemplation.  To call us back, our leader sang the simple song that he taught us at the beginning of each session. He sang it softly at first, to signal that we were at the end of time.  As each group/person came back to the group, the singing increased.  This technique allowed conversation/contemplation to come to an end without the crashing halt that can come with other ways.

--At the Create in Me retreat, we had a small worship service each morning.  There was a Bible reading, some liturgy, and some songs.  Each day, the liturgy remained the same.  I liked the repetition.  I thought about how often I've spent significant time creating a new experience for each day of a gathering.  But repetition has rewards too.

As I looked back through the notes I took during this month of meetings, I came across a writing prompt that seems perfect for our halfway point in National Poetry Month.  It comes from Amy Fryckholm during the AWP session, The Ganesh in the Room:

Open the Bible at random, and then do the same with another piece of literature, Shakespeare or Whitman.  See what emerges.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Hands of Create in Me

When I first became a coordinator of the Create in Me retreat, one of my jobs was to take pictures, a job I discovered that I love.  I also discovered that many people are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having their picture taken.  But most of those folks didn't mind if I took pictures of their hands.

Most of us don't spend much time thinking about our hands the way we do about the rest of our bodies.  We don't diet to change the shape of our hands.  Unless we play an instrument, most of us don't think about the strength of our hands.  The aches and pains in our hands aren't as debilitating for most of us as other pain.  Most of us don't consider plastic surgery to make our hands look younger.

I love these pictures of hands as they interact with art supplies.

I love hands that have been stained by the process.

The candle was needed to melt the wax to decorate the egg, but it made me want to create art by the light of candles.

I find this intersection of metal, dough, and flesh to speak to our condition.

Can we determine gender by our hands?

Can we determine age?

What else do our hands say?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Hospitality Questions

The theme of this year's Create in Me retreat was Holy Hospitality.  The retreat focuses on a different aspect of the Trinity each year; this year was the Jesus year. We looked at all the ways Jesus provided hospitality, and it will probably come as no surprise that many of those ways involved food.  The second day of our Bible study looked at that last chapter of John, where Jesus calls from the shore and tells the unsuccessfully fishing disciples to try again, to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.  Then they have grilled fish and bread for breakfast on the beach.

During that Bible study, we had a smidge of quiet time to reflect on this question:  "What do we love that gets in the way of loving others with agape love?"  It doesn't seem like a profound question, but when I started writing, it only took  me 3 sentences to get to a crying point.

Here's what I wrote as an answer:  "my control freak self.  The one who wants assurance that I'm on the right path, the path where I won't make mistakes.  The Kristin who needs financial security.  The Kristin who is afraid that no one really loves her or that she'll be abandoned or left all alone, the only one on a porch of rocking chairs."

As I write this, I see that I took the question in a slightly different direction.  What I love that keeps me from offering true hospitality and love is the feeling that I have when things are going well, when I can predict the outcome.  What keeps me from offering/creating that love and hospitality is my fear that no one really likes me.  And then there's that fear of the death of love that I can't seem to shake these days.  In my younger years, I feared the death of love that comes when the beloved decides to love another.  These days, it's literal death that I fear--not the death itself, but the being left behind.

We talked about all sorts of hospitality, the kind we offer one-on-one, the kind that we create as institutions.  I was less interested in the question of how our churches can be more welcoming to the stranger, and more interested in how we can create deeper communities with those already there.

Both of those questions are important.  And in many ways, they are rooted in the question that made me cry--what's going on inside us that gets in the way of hospitality?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hospitality Prayers

I spent some time this morning looking at pictures from the Create in Me retreat.  Each morning, we began with worship and Bible study.  The Bible study was led by Kevin Strickland, who has gone on to a position in the national church, but once upon a time, he was a Lutheridge camp counselor.

He began each Bible study with a prayer.  I was impressed with how all the elements worked together to support/explore the hospitality theme of the retreat:  the opening prayer, the Bible passage, the exploration, the music.  It's how a Bible study in a retreat should work, but so much can go wrong.  These sessions were pretty close to perfect.

Usually, if I hear an inspiring prayer, I can only write down what I can recollect.  But with modern technology, I could take a picture of the screen.  I'll post them here, knowing that you will probably need to click on the picture to be able to actually read the prayer.

Here's the prayer from Friday:

I love the language:  "Be with those who have never known a table."

And here's the prayer for Saturday:

Perhaps I like the second prayer even better, with the image of the shuttered hearts and boarded up spirits.  I love this petition:  "When we are cast out and wandering, may we find welcome and compassion that calls us back to accountable relationship."

I don't always like our reliance on PowerPoint.  But when it's used well, I appreciate it.  It's good to remember its value as a way to document our creativity too.  I was glad to encounter these prayers again this morning.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 15, 2018:

First Reading: Acts 3:12-19

Psalm: Psalm 4

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-7

Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48

In this week's Gospel, we have another appearance story, and what an odd story it is. In the post-Resurrection stories, Jesus has taken on supernatural capacities that, with the exception of some of his accomplishments with his miracles, he didn't really demonstrate before his crucifixion. Here, he suddenly appears; a few verses earlier, he has vanished after eating.

The disciples, rooted in the rational world, can't make sense of what they're seeing and hearing. Those of us who spend our secular lives surrounded by people who are disdainful of the mystical might find ourselves more sympathetic to their plight.

I find myself coming back to verse 41, the disciples who “disbelieved for joy.” In Eugene Peterson’s words, it seems too good to be true (The Message version of the Bible).

So many things get in our way of believing in good news: despair, fear of hurt, joy, our commitment to what our senses tell us. Even as the disciples see Jesus standing in front of them, even as they touch him, even as they share a meal together, they can’t believe how lucky they are. They literally will not believe.

How much we are like the disciples, buffeted by bad news, unable to see the Divine standing right there in front of us. How nice it would be to have Jesus there to help us understand all these mysteries: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24: 45). So many weeks we have minds that have snapped shut. I find myself envious of these disciples who are there at the beginning, with open minds and joyful hearts and a soul that finally understands.

I remind myself that I have an advantage that these disciples didn’t have. I know that this Good News will be spread far and wide. I know how the world has received it at various times. I have seen regular humans who are able to transform their corners of the world with an ability that seems almost superhuman—but it is a power that comes from Christ.

I want to be part of that community. I want to be a resurrection human, one of those lights who doesn’t let the drumbeat of bad news drown out the Good News of Jesus.

Jesus is still here, reminding us of his scars and of the capacity to overcome those things that scar us. Jesus is still here, waiting to share a meal with us. Jesus is still here, reminding us that we are witnesses and co-creators of the Kingdom, that we are called to a far greater destiny than our tiny imaginations can envision.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

After the Retreat, the Memories

I've really been enjoying the pictures of our retreat that others have been posting on Facebook.  As I watch, I'm realizing how many of the activities I didn't do.

When my spouse asked me my favorite activity, I said, "Honestly, I most loved walking around taking pictures of other people making art."  I felt a stab of weirdness about that, as if I've been on social media too long, and I don't remember how to relate face to face.  Is taking pictures about art the same thing as making art? 

Perhaps.  Some of the pictures I took solely for documentary purposes.  But some I took for artistic effect.  I love taking pictures of people's hands as they make art, for example.

I also didn't do much making of art, at least not the kind that the workshops and drop in stations were set up to promote, because I don't need more stuff around the house.  While I thought it was wonderful to see the birdfeeders that people created out of cans and bottles, I didn't want one.  Likewise the fairy doors:  if I lived by myself, perhaps, but in my current life, they don't fit.

I also didn't particularly want to try any of the activities that were new to me.  Some years I'm excited to try something like pottery or weaving.  But this year, I kept thinking that I already have more interests than I have time for--why pick up another?

Some might say, "Why go, then?"  There are so many reasons:

--I was inspired by seeing all the art being made.  I continue to be inspired by it.

--I often use the ideas of Create in Me retreats later in church or other retreats.  That's another reason I take lots of pictures.

--I've had the music of the retreat in my head.  Our Bible study leader taught us a song, a simple melody, at the beginning of each study session.  When he'd give us time to think on our own or discuss in groups, he called us back to the bigger group by singing that song.  Very cool.

--I was struck by how my Create in Me friends are keeping up with me.  Some of my friends from other settings don't seem to remember such huge events in my life, like the hurricane damage from the fall or my arthritis diagnosis.  Many of my Create in Me friends asked specific questions which made me realize that they're paying attention.  I spend much of my life wondering if people would notice if I vanished.  The Create in Me retreat makes me feel that yes, some people would notice.

--But mostly, I go away because it's good to go away.  It's good to be reminded that there's a much larger world out there.  It's good to be reminded that art is important.  It's good to be reminded that God envisions so much more for each and every one of us.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Down from the Mountain

Next year, I plan to take the Monday off after the Create in Me retreat.  This year, it wasn't possible.  The retreat always falls on the Thursday-Sunday after Easter, and this year, the retreat happened during week 1 of classes, a week when administrators at my school usually are expected to be present on the campus for long hours.  I got special permission to take leave, and my boss said, "You'll be back on that Monday, right?"

Next year, Easter is later, so the retreat will be later.  I'll have a day to process and unpack.  Today, I'll head to work soon.

Before I go, let me capture a few last retreat thoughts and travel details:

Yesterday's Travel:

--We left at 5 a.m. yesterday--it was very dark.  I hadn't realized how many of the lights around Lutheridge turn off at a certain hour.  We felt our way carefully down the stairs and across the parking lot to the car.

--The doors were frozen shut.  It didn't take much effort to open them, since we had only had drizzle all night.  Still, it was strange to have icy doors in April.

--I made my way carefully down the mountain.  I didn't think the roads would have had time to freeze, but I didn't want to discover my error as I was sailing into a guardrail.  Sleet hit the window here and there, which made me even more vigilant.

--We stopped at a Starbucks in Spartanburg.  They still had some peppermint syrup on hand, so I decided to splurge on a peppermint mocha.  They made it right in my Yeti cup, so it stayed warm for hours. 

--Of course, it was so delicious that I didn't need hours to drink it.  I spent the whole day wishing I had more.

--It was a long day of traveling, but nothing too maddening, until the very slow traffic during the last 60 miles on the Turnpike.  We used my friend's cell phone to find a wonderful restaurant that's off the beaten track.  If you're ever in Brunswick, Georgia, look up A Moveable Feast.  Delicious food--and they, too, were willing to pour coffee directly into our travel mugs.

A few retreat memories for a Monday:

--Lots of people were wearing Fitbits--I may go ahead and get one.  I heard a story about a woman's husband who's having a friendly competition with his family.  One night, he took the trash out and didn't come back for 45 minutes.  The woman said, "Where did you take the trash?"  He looked at his family's Fitbit stats and realized he could move to first place if he got a few more steps in.

--I am always amazed at what people can accomplish in very short amounts of time.  At some point I'll post some pictures, but I also want to note that most of us spent an hour on worship creation, and we had eloquent prayers and other parts of liturgy, and a WONDERFUL adaptation of "Welcome Table"--complete with 4 part harmony(you can buy the sheet music by Mark Hayes here).  Granted, the people gathered at the retreat were more likely to have musical experience than your average population--still, the sound they accomplished with just one hour to learn the music was amazing.

--It's interesting to have in-depth conversations with people whom I usually only know through their Facebook pages.  It's worth repeating that our curated lives only give a small picture of our existence.

--As always, we had interesting conversations about spirituality and the life of the church.  It's interesting to many of us that our official church body (the ELCA expression of Lutheranism) allows lay leadership to lead the Word part of the liturgy (think sermon), but not to consecrate the bread and wine for sacrament--but it's much easier to mangle the word than it is to do the sacrament wrong.

--We talked a lot about hospitality:  how to be more hospitable, how to show more hospitality through churches.  As is often the case, my brain was headed in another direction, a monastic direction.  Could we create communities where we could more fully live out our faith every day, not just on Sundays and the occasional Wednesday?  Could we create a community that's more like our retreat community?

I realize that most of us view retreats as a mountaintop experience:  we can go to the mountain, but we can't stay there.  But what if we're wrong?

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Heading Home

My church friend and I have decided not to stay for closing worship; we want to be on the road by 5:00 a.m. so that we're not too late getting home.  Closing worship doesn't start until 9:30, and since we have a 12 hour car trip, that would put us home very late.

It's been a very good retreat, and as always, I'm both sad to leave it behind, but happy and grateful to have been a part.  And with each year, there's amazement on my part that I've been coming here for so many years, since 2003.  

Back when I first came, I was full-time faculty, and my department chair said that I could miss class to go to this retreat.  I used personal days the first time, and when I described it to her when I returned, she decided that she could use it as professional development.  So, while there was no travel money, I didn't have to use leave.

Since that first retreat, I've moved into administration, and then I changed jobs, moving to an even higher position in administration.  It becomes harder to get away, and yet, it's worth it to me.

During this retreat, I'm also aware of my body more than usual.  My arthritic feet have not been happy, especially this year, when it's been cold and damp.  I'm not to the point of driving from place to place, but I have an understanding now, in a way I didn't before, of why someone might make that choice.  I am heavier this year than I have been in some years, not as heavy as some years.  As I look around, though, I realize that I am not the only one carrying some extra pounds this year.

I am also thinking of all the people I've met through this retreat who are no longer here.  Some of them just had to miss a year.  Some have died.  Some just came for a season in their lives, and have moved on--perhaps further away, perhaps to another stage of life (like the stage with 2 small children).  

As I walk around camp, I'm surrounded by reminders of those people, as well as reminders of all the times I've been here through the years.  I first started coming here as a camper in the summer during my elementary school years.  My family has been coming here once a year for a holiday reunion since 1992.  And then there's this retreat.  Being here feels like coming home.

But now I must get ready to go back to my other home, the one in South Florida where I pay a mortgage and have a job, the one where my spouse waits patiently.  It's time to head further on down the road.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Create in Me Report: Day 1

This year is the first year that I've ever blogged from the Create in Me retreat.  In the past, the Internet connection has been more trouble than it's been worth to me, and most years I didn't have/bring a laptop.  I'm also posting more to Facebook this year, which is appropriate, since I'm the social media coordinator for this retreat.

Later, I'll reflect on whether or not this connectivity is something I want to continue.  I have been good at not staying online any longer than necessary to post to the retreat's Facebook pages.  I don't want to drive 12 hours just to stare at a computer screen.

I'd miss a good retreat if I did that.  My friend who came with me for the first time is having a good time too, and that's important to me.  Let me write a few comments about the first day.

We have a great Bible study leader in Kevin Strickland.  He's younger than I am, but we went to the same undergraduate school, Newberry College, and he was a counselor at Lutheridge, where the retreat is happening.  He's gone on the be one of the Bishop's assistants, at the office for the whole Lutheran church (of the ELCA variety).

We're enjoying a wide variety of creative activities, from the traditional (decorating eggs with wax and dye) to the non-traditional (making ornaments out of magnolia pods and beads and ribbons).  I often find it almost too overwhelming on the first day, and this year is no exception.  But others have jumped right in, and I'm happy to see the Faith Center buzzing with activity.

I feel some ownership of this retreat, even though I didn't help plan it much.  Some years, I've driven to the planning retreat in the fall.  One year I tried to Skype in.  Last year, I couldn't do a thing, because the group was meeting just as Hurricane Irma came ashore.  This year, I might try to make it in person.

But I digress.  Back to yesterday.  We finished the day by having a great worship service.  We usually hold it in the chapel, but I'm glad that we didn't yesterday.  It's cold and wet here, and the chapel is very open to the elements.  Yesterday, we held the service in the dining hall, which had its advantages and disadvantages.

I liked most of it, but it was strange to commune each other around the table, instead of coming to the altar as we usually do.  But it worked.  Kevin Strickland delivered a sermon that made me miss my grandmother, who, like Kevin's grandmother, had a magical fridge that was always full of great food, like something out of Narnia, as he put it (the metaphor doesn't work if you think about the wardrobe from Narnia strictly, but it works as an imaginative symbol).

We finished the service, and some folks turned in for the night, while others went to the Faith Center for one last chance to eat and work on craft projects.

It's been a great retreat so far, and we've got a full day ahead.  I am looking forward to it!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Before the Retreat, the Journey

It feels strange to be at Lutheridge with my laptop, to be connected to the Internet, to be writing instead of reading—although I did write a poem this morning.  I finally wrote my poem about Jesus having a midlife crisis. It took me to interesting places that I didn't expect.  I can't really ask for more from a rough draft.

In the frazzle-dazzle days leading up to yesterday's long drive, I thought about going to the library to get some books for this trip.  But I knew I'd be taking the laptop, and I guessed that I'd have less time to read.

We had a long drive yesterday, as I knew we would.  I left the house at 4:45, and picked up my church friend at 5:02, and then we were on our way!  I was surprised by how many vehicles were already on the road, but we didn't hit any rush hour traffic.

We did, however, have several places of traffic coming to a severe slow down or complete stop on the Interstate--including for the last six miles before our exit to Lutheridge.  Luckily, I remembered an alternate way to the camp, so we took the exit for Fletcher.

During yesterday's journey, we had great conversation, hours and hours of it, and lunch at a Cracker Barrel.  I had forgotten one of the joys of a long car trip--having a chance to get to know another person in a way that's rarely available--when else would we sit side by side for 12 hours if not during a car trip?

Last night, the retreat got off to a great start.  Our theme is Holy Hospitality.  I'll say more later about how the Faith Center is decorated with lots of cozy corners.  I want to remember that someone had started a bread machine, so the scent of baking bread filled the air.  I immediately felt at ease.

Yesterday, I was dreading the getting to know each other time.  I understand why we need to do these exercises, but I tend to find them draining, and I was worn out from the road.  Instead of some of the one-on-one games we sometimes play (3 lies and a truth), we played a sort of bingo.  We had cards with interesting details that might make up a person's life:  "I can say hello in 3 languages."  "I own more than five cookbooks."  Here's what it looks like:

I liked that it provided some discussion points, if we wanted, while the true introverts could keep moving in the effort to win a Bingo prize.

We moved on to have the opening worship, where we had our hands anointed with oil.  And then we had our opening night refreshments.

I love the water bottle approach to hospitality. 

We're encouraged to take a water bottle and to keep using it again and again.  We even have labels for the bottles. 

What a cool idea!

That's what I love about this retreat--I always come home inspired and full of great ideas.  Now it's time to get ready for the day.  My church friend and I will start the day with a walk.  It will be much chillier than either of us are used to--it's unseasonably cool here, but that's Spring in the mountains.