Friday, August 31, 2018

Poetry Friday: "The Journals of Jesus"

Greetings from insomnia land! If I had enough publishing opportunities to waste a title, that might be one I would use for a memoir.

 I did get 5 hours of sleep, but still, it's strange to wake up at 1 a.m. while much of the rest of the Eastern seaboard is either just going to bed or hasn't been asleep long.  It's strange to go to bed at 8, and even stranger to admit that I often struggle to stay awake until 8.

There are advantages to having an extended morning--that sounds so much more lovely than "insomnia" or "wrecked sleep schedule."  I've gotten some writing done!  I even wrote a poem.  I'd been fretting about my lack of poetry writing, even though I've written 2 poems in August.  I wrote a bit more of the short story I've been working on.  I saw that Rattle is asking for persona poems (go here to know more about that call for submissions), so I went through my unpublished poetry folder to find my persona poems.  I realized that I've written fewer of them than I thought, so I briefly played with the idea of transforming some past poems that I wrote in 3rd person to first.

While I wouldn't want to have this sleep schedule permanently, I'm happy for the occasional sleeplessness.

I'm realizing I haven't left myself much time for blogging, so let me post one of those persona poems.   I'm writing in the voice of an unknown follower:

The Journals of Jesus

Atheists will say that Jesus never wrote,
but they would be wrong.
I was there to keep the notebooks.

Jesus loved to write haiku.
He’d leave them scattered about Galilee.
Some lines found their way into the Gospels.
“You are the light of the world.”
“Who do you say that I am?”
Count the syllables.

Jesus kept a journal,
but the scraps of writing blew away.
He shrugged and talked about the wind
blowing where it wished, and his words
moving with the breath.

Jesus wanted to write a longer piece,
but you’d be disappointed
in what he wrote. You come to Jesus
for answers, while Christ
concentrates on questions.

I knew the human brain couldn’t comprehend
Christ’s writing, so I cast it into the sea.
Every so often, I catch a glimpse of the scraps,
moving with the tides, just below the surface.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Possessions and Echos

I am getting used to the echos that come from a house that has a lot of furniture gone.  We got rid of the dining room table about a month ago.  We had tried to sell it for years, and then we tried to give it away, and finally we donated it to a thrift store.  I was worried that it was so scarred that they might not take it, but they did.

While the first half of the Great Flooring Project was underway, we slept where the dining room table had been.  Now that the first half of the flooring is complete, we've moved the bed back to the back bedroom.  We're keeping the front bedroom empty for the furniture and the kitchen appliances that it will hold during the second half of the Great Flooring Project.

The other night, I packed up much of the china cabinet.  We have so much china--and now, no dining room table.  But we'll keep it for now, even though I prefer eating on our stoneware.  The stoneware can go in the dishwasher--of course, for many years of my adult life, we've not had a dishwasher, so I could have been using the "good china," since I'd be washing by hand anyway.  But I haven't.

I've been thinking about how we accumulate stuff and how we get rid of it.  Part of it comes with marriage.  I'd get rid of a chunk of our stuff, but my spouse wants to keep it.  He'd get rid of a different chunk, but I want to hang on a bit longer. 

Some of that stuff has been moved to the cottage.  I have a few boxes of childhood/teenage memorabilia that I'm not ready to get rid of yet.  I have several boxes of writing that I'm likely never going to need--and yet, it's hard for me to toss.  We'll keep the photo albums because digitizing them would take too long.  I've put them in plastic bins, all the better to weather the weather.

We're keeping a very long sofa.  My spouse loves it; I do not.  But that's O.K.  I tend to sit in my one favorite chair.  I still miss the favorite chairs of yesteryear.  We're hoping to find and buy some incliners in the shape of a wing chair.

For now, we will keep the books.  I've gotten rid of lots of them.  Will I really reread any of these books?  Perhaps.  I have a vision of a long retirement where I've outlived everyone and need my books and memorabilia for company. 

I think about what various religious traditions say about our accumulations.  I think about the emptiness and how much I'm liking it, even though I know that the emptiness comes because the cottage is stuffed with our stuff.  I'm thinking about how it is hard to find people who need our overflow stuff.  I'm thinking about the china we have, the stoneware set in the house, and a different stoneware set in the cottage--and now we have no table.

Zen Kristin wants to keep the emptiness.  Ancestor honoring Kristin wants to keep her grandmother's stuff.  Christian Kristin wants to share with the less fortunate.  Capitalist Kristin realizes she's been collecting the wrong things.

And so we limp on.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 3, 2018:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Psalm: Psalm 15

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 45:1-2, 6-10 (Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 NRSV)

Second Reading: James 1:17-27

Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

You don't need me to tell you that humans are a rule-bound people. I've often wondered why this would be. I suspect people get to Heaven and try to create new rules. Many of us are committed to rules that make us unhappy. I have a friend who irons rather obsessively, for example. She complains bitterly about her family's ironing expectations. Why doesn't she just buy clothes that don't need such care? Why doesn't she pull clothes out of the dryer after about 10 minutes and hang them up? Why doesn't she accept wrinkles?

My favorite science fiction writer, Octavia Butler, had a theory that humans are both excessively intelligent and excessively hierarchical, and these two traits are often in opposition. It is our tendency towards hierarchy that so often gets us into trouble. We divide the world into the pressed and the wrinkled, between the vegetarians and the meat eaters, the drinkers and the A.A. folks: essentially between the people who live right (which means according to the rules we accept) and those who don't.

We often think that the Pharisees in Jesus' time were rule-bound people who couldn't see that God walked among them, even as Jesus was right there before them. While that is true, it's also important to realize that the Pharisees thought that following the rules to the letter was the trait that would save the Jews. We must not forget that the Jews of Jesus' time were under threat from many sides. We forget that Rome was a brutal dictatorship in so many ways, and that the peace that the Jews had found could have been (and eventually was) easily overturned.

We fail to realize how similar we are to the Pharisees. How much time do we consume wondering why people live the lives they do? I'm driven to mad frustration by the actions (and inactions) of some of my colleagues. What I'm really saying is "Why won't they act right? If they'd just act the way we all should act, life would be so much easier!" Of course, they probably say the same thing about me.

We look back to past periods of humanity, and we shake our heads over the things with which they were obsessed. We can't imagine the ritual purity laws that were in place in Jesus' time. We can't imagine the rigidly stratified societies that most humans have created. We can't imagine a time when women couldn't get credit in their own name or a time when blacks and whites had separate bathrooms, but those days aren't that far away from our own.

Jesus reminds us that so many of our rules come from humans, not from God. We think that God ordained the rules that we embrace, rules which so often tell us what not to do, but Jesus reminds us that there's one essential rule: love each other. God will judge us on the quality of our relationships. I've seen all sorts of relationships. I suspect that God would prefer the lesbian couple who still genuinely loves each other to the heterosexual relationship where the couple is cold and condescending to each other.

But more to the point, I suspect God is baffled by our constant desire to rank these things. God probably wonders why we can't just get it together and help each other to become more loving people. God probably wonders why we are so judgmental, even as we engage in all sorts of harmful behaviors.

Jesus reminds us again and again that love is our highest nature and that the actions that move us towards being loving humans are the ones that we should take. We can operate from a place of love or we can act from a place of fear. As we act out of love, we will find ourselves in company with God.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Day Old Bread and Pastry Day

At my campus, we are always looking for ways to make life better for our students, and not just in academics and future jobs.  Many of our students have a variety of issues that make it difficult for them to complete their programs.  I can't solve all of them, but I'm always on the lookout for ways to help.

I know that Publix, our local, large grocery store chain, gives away bakery goods that are at their pull date.  Once, long ago, I did the bakery run for our church's food pantry.  I was amazed at the amount of bakery goods given to our food pantry.

A few weeks ago, I was in the Publix by my school to buy cookies for an event, and the bakery manager was shelving some products.  I asked if she had people picking up the day old baked goods every day, and she said once they had, but now, they had very little interest because they all went to the bigger Publix.  She told me the simple procedure to follow to be allowed to get the baked goods before they were thrown away.

I wrote the letter and had the campus director sign it.  I took it to the Publix, and I was told that I could show up any time either after the store closes at 11 or before it opens at 7.  Last Thursday, I showed up, but there was nothing set aside.  The manager suggested I call next time.

On Sunday, I called to see if they would have anything Monday morning.  The person on the other end of the phone said, "Oh sure."  I half expected to arrive to find nothing again.

I was wrong--two carts of food were set aside for me, enough to fill up the back of my Prius hatchback.  It all had a pull date of yesterday.  I set out a lot of it in our student break room:  lots of donuts, various types of bear claws, some rings with pecans, 6 kinds of muffins, 5 boxes of croissants, and a bag of bagels.  I put the loaves of bread in the freezer, with a sign that invited people to take a loaf, if that would be helpful.  I put aside some cookies for an event today.  I put other pastries in the freezer of the fridge in the other break room.

Most people were enthusiastic to arrive at school to find a variety of treats.  Some groaned about the weight they might gain.  But I know that some of our students have food and financial instability.  It's not the most nutritious food that we offered yesterday, but it's food.

I had thought I might go back again tomorrow, just to see if a Wednesday haul is different from Monday.  Did we have so many treats yesterday because the bakery manager planned for more sales on a week-end?  Is that what they throw away every day?  Surely not--it's a small Publix.

I think I'll just go once a week, unless I perceive that people would benefit from more bread.  I had hoped for more bread to give away, as it's more nutritious than pastries and it can last several days.

It's a shame that there's no shelter that needs the food.  It's a lot of food, and I know there's lots of hungry people out there.  There are days we won't be picking up the food.  There's enough to share.

Through the morning, as I threw away the packaging once the food was eaten, I reflected on the waste not only of the food that might be thrown away, but the packaging--so much packaging.  In my quest to feed a hungry campus, we filled up one big garbage bag with cardboard, plastic, and foil.

I can't solve these problems.  We live in a society where for most of us, it's cheaper and takes less time to buy baked goods at the grocery store, which means that we'll have a surplus of bakery items and the packaging that makes it possible to sell bakery items.  We live in a society where many people experience food scarcity, even as enormous amounts of edible food are discarded.  I cannot redistribute all that food by myself.

So I will do what I can do.  I will pick up a load or two of bakery items each week.  I will hope that it makes the campus a more cheerful place to be (which hopefully will help our retention numbers).  I will hope that some of the food gets to our students who genuinely need the calories.  I will hope that those of us who shouldn't eat those calories are able to resist them.  I will hope that the good outweighs the problems.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Decorating Power of Ribbons

Yesterday, we finished our transitioning of the chancel from Pentecost to the long, green season of Ordinary Time.  During our Pentecost Project, we made streamers which I then draped over the white material that's draped over the back pulpit/lectern, which we no longer use for that purpose:

Yesterday, we took away the ribbons, which I'll save for the possibility of using them when we go to Synod Assembly.  I brought out several bags of ribbons that people have been leaving in the arts and crafts closet.  We chose what we thought we'd be using, and then we went to the sanctuary to go to work:

I used a sarong for the area under the altar.  We'll be leaving the weaving in place for awhile:

I liked this little bit of ribbon:

I wasn't sure that this part worked--but my pastor liked it and talked about how we're creating a horizon of sorts and how we might add to it (an empty tomb for Easter, for example).  As the morning progressed, I had an idea of star that started off small, maybe in late September, and by Advent was very large.

In some ways, we did more with gold than we did with greens and a bit of blue:

I didn't get any good shots of the larger area.  Maybe that will come next time.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Hard Times and Honor

Like much of the country, I was saddened this morning to hear of the death of John McCain.  Even though he was 81, I hoped he would have many more years with us because he seemed so vital.  Even though his brain cancer diagnosis seemed grim, I hoped he would be one of the rare survivors.

I wouldn't feel this way about everyone, of course--part of the reason that I hoped he'd stick around longer is because he was such a model of how to behave.  He didn't behave perfectly because nobody does.  But his ability to apologize impressed me.  His ability to work with those who didn't share his beliefs impressed me even more, and because that ability is in short supply these days, I wanted him to remain in the Senate.

I admired his ability to take a stand, and if he believed it was right, to stick with it, even if it was a lonely position.  Happily, the stands that he took were often rooted in a position of solidly good morals and ethics.

What makes a politician who can do what McCain did?  Why do so few of us seem able to do what he did?

Part of his character can be found in his upbringing as son of a Navy admiral.  But plenty of military kids don't share his success story.

Part of his character was formed in his time in a POW prison, a brutal, breaking time.  I would not wish that on my worst enemy--not that I really have any enemies.  But it is worth noting that with the two passings we've had recently, Aretha Franklin and John McCain, hard times helped form them into the impressive people they became.

It's worth remembering, especially when we go through hard times of our own.  Most of us would prefer to avoid those hard times, of course.  But if we approach our hard times with an open mind, perhaps those hard times will become a crucible which will form us into better humans.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Hurricane Prayers and Poetry

I have hurricanes on the brain.  Part of the reason is Hurricane Lane, still on some sort of hard-to-predict path to Hawaii.  Part of the reason is that we're at important anniversary dates.  Yesterday in 2005, Hurricane Katrina formed.  Today in 1992, Hurricane Andrew formed.  We're approaching the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.

It's the time of year when I'm often praying for those in the path of a storm.  This year is no different.

My writing time is short--but I am back to my writing space in the front bedroom.  Not much else is in the room but my desk.  There's an echoing quality in my typing.  I'm listening to NPR on headphones because the bed is just outside the open door--we're sleeping in the dining room for one more night.

I like the empty quality to this room--the way the floor is visible.  Part of me wants to give away everything that was once in this room so that we could keep it this empty--the guest room bed, the books, the shelves that held the books.  But that would be silly.  Wouldn't it?

I will refrain from writing about the fence repair.  I have hopes that even though the work crew thinks they're done, the fencing company will be here today to make things right:  the post that still needs concrete, the 1 3/4 inch gap in the front gate, the back gate with no way to lock it.

No, let me not think about hurricane repairs this morning.  Let me think about those in the path of Hurricane Lane.  Let me pray for the best for them.

And let me offer a poem. Paper Nautilus published my poem "What They Don't Tell You About Hurricanes," but I'm fairly sure that this title is not my original creation. I'm almost sure there's an essay with the same title in the wonderful book Writing Creative Nonfiction. The essay stays with me even now, the writer who bought his dream boat, only to see it destroyed by Hurricane Fran. I'd look it up, except that I don't own it.

So, here's the poem, all of it true, except for the reference to an industrial wasteland. I wouldn't have written it at all, except for the strange incident of weeping in the parking garage some 4 or 5 years after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. The industrial wasteland is actually a water treatment plant, but I changed it for some dramatic impact.

What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes

You expected the ache in your lazy
muscles, as you hauled debris
to the curb, day after day.

You expected your insurance
agent to treat
you like a lover spurned.

You expected to curse
your bad luck,
but then feel grateful
when you met someone suffering
an even more devastating loss.

You did not expect
that months, even years afterwards,
you would find yourself inexplicably
weeping in your car, parked
in a garage that overlooks
an industrial wasteland.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for August 26, 2018:

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Psalm 34:15-22

The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous. (Ps. 34:15)

Ephesians 6:10-20

John 6:56-69

In some ways, the Gospel readings get more difficult with each passing Sunday this August. They're difficult in part because they seem so repetitive: another week, another set of verses on flesh and bread and feasting on what actually nourishes us. You might find yourself protesting, "O.K., O.K., I get it."

We've spent the last month hearing about the importance of both physical and spiritual nourishment. As school starts, as the political campaign season picks up steam, as we start to think about the hustle and bustle of holidays that will soon be here, it’s good to be reminded of the importance of nourishing both ourselves and others.

Maybe it’s time to recommit to the good nourishment patterns that we know will keep us healthier. There's still time to enjoy summer's pleasures when it comes to the produce stand: have melons for breakfast and corn on the cob for dinner. Bake a batch of bread or muffins. Watch the bread rise and remind yourself of the larger Christian task of being leaven in the loaf of society.

Think of ways that you can nourish yourself spiritually so that you can be that leaven. Can you add some additional reading to your day? How about some extra prayer time?

You say you have no time? Stop watching the news: a spiritual practice that will benefit in all sorts of ways. Spend as much time in prayer as you do on Facebook. Listen to your favorite spiritual music as you go through the day’s tasks.

Once we've nourished ourselves, maybe we'll be better able to nourish each other.

The world groans more and more each day. We must fortify ourselves and each other to face the task of repairing the world. Our month of bread readings reminds us of the ways to do that. As delicious as our home-baked loaves of bread are, Jesus reminds us of the source of our true nourishment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Discipleship, Arts, Worship, Communication

My pastor forwarded this message to me:

Hi Pr. Keith,
I continue to be impressed by what your congregation does in terms of worship and art/s.  I’m wondering if one of your folk would be willing to set up the chapel space at the Assembly in 2019, and specifically include some sort of interactive prayer station?  I can probably find ways to cover the cost of supplies.  I don’t know who you send as voting members to the assembly, but if one of those people would be willing to set up and oversee some (or at least one) prayer/art stations in the chapel space, that would be phenomenal.  And maybe we could find a way to incorporate the created art into closing worship?
Lots of time to finalize details, but wanted to send out the question/idea while it was on my mind.
Michelle Collins, ELCA Deacon
Director of Discipleship and Communications
Florida-Bahamas Synod


That message alone would have made me very happy. But my pastor's reply made me even happier:

Dear Sr. Michelle, 
It is so kind of you !
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is our arts guru - let me check with her and we can go from there. 
Ever in Christ 


Happily, I have been in my new job long enough that I have vacation time--and so, I can go to Synod Assembly in 2019. I'm happy that our efforts are being noticed and that we're being asked to bring these experiences to a wider group.

I'm really happy that my pastor called me the arts guru--it's a job title that I love.  I'm also intrigued by the title of the writer of the e-mail:  Director of Discipleship and Communications.

But what makes me happiest of all is that I'm in a church that is willing to experiment with all sorts of uses of various art forms and creativity: from using creative expression in worship (sometimes for decoration, sometimes for deepening the experience, sometimes for expanding the worship elements, sometimes for transforming the act of worship), to using experiences to bring us closer to each other and God, and using creativity as a way to interpret the Bible and as a way to explore what God might be saying to us.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Pentecost Transformations: Glass Block

Almost 4 months ago, in preparation for Pentecost, we created made these:

We used glass blocks from Home Depot and mosaic pieces in Pentecost colors:

Then we put them on the altar, along with other Pentecost creations:

My pastor was in no hurry for us to take them down, but I had begun to feel we should do something different for the season of late summer to August (I call it the long, green season of Ordinary Time, but not everyone does).  So, last Sunday, we took the Pentecost blocks and put different tiles on the other side:

They're not quite as vibrant as I'd have liked, but I was limited to the limited supply in our local Michael's.

With some of them, we can still see the Pentecost colors peeking through.  But I don't think that's a problem:

Next week, we'll do something different with fabric and ribbons.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

An Illuminated Prayer for the Start of the School Year

If your county's children haven't yet reported to school, they will soon. They will learn to stand in neat lines:

They will have reading to do. Will they have stacks of books to read--or is all reading done on electronic devices now?

They might have new art forms to learn:

Perhaps there will be time to play outside:

But the desk will rule the schedule:

May teachers remember the precious lives they hold in their hands:

May students be able to make sense of it all and to see the illumination lying underneath:

May baskets of angels protect us all:

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Smart Phones and Friends

This has been a week of many things: new paint for the walls and ceilings in the two bedrooms with the floors done, a lunch and learn, various meetings (some with yummy goodies, some not), finding out that no other group is picking up Publix bakery items that are at their pull date, friends from church who invited us to their house for a home-cooked meal in the midst of our home reconstruction, arranging for a yard care service, waiting for the fence company, and making travel arrangements.

I began the week by making hotel decisions for the 2019 AWP convention in Portland and at the end of the week, I had bought airline tickets to go to Asheville for the retreat to plan the Create in Me retreat in September.

I used to travel back and forth to South Carolina to see my grandmother, and it wasn't uncommon to find cheaper airline tickets to Europe than to regional southern airports. This week, I found round trip tickets on Allegiant direct to Asheville for $159.00. Of course, I had to add some expenses: I decided that I wanted to choose my seats, and paid $19 each way for an exit row seat (it would have been $12 a seat for the economy seat), and $18 each way for a carry-on bag. It still seems like a heck of a deal.

The retreat to plan the retreat is a short time away, usually less than 24 hours, over part of a week-end. I used to drive, staying with friends along the way. Some years it's been easier to get away than other years. One year I tried to participate by Skype, but neither end had the right equipment, so I was frustrated. Last year, I hadn't accumulated much vacation time in my new job, so I decided to try Skype again, but that ended up being the week-end of hurricane Irma.

Being able to take a direct flight instead of driving 12 hours makes this feel more do-able.

Pastor Mary, one of the camp directors, told me that she had marked my flight details on her calendar so that she could pick me up from the airport--that makes me feel so nurtured and cared for. I wrote back, "Thanks for the offer of picking me up on Friday--I'll happily take you up on it. Sunday's departure is very early--I'm willing to call a cab or figure out some alternative. I don't have a phone smart enough to Uber."

She wrote back a response that contains my favorite sentence of the week or perhaps the month/year: "Sunday's not too early- and the airport is so close. You don't need a smart phone when you have kind friends."

You don't need a smart phone when you have kind friends--so much wisdom contained in that sentence!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Who Teaches Us to Sing?

I don't have anything new to say about the music of Aretha Franklin that others haven't already said, and usually in a much better way than I would have done.  Her music always seemed to be on the radio when I was a child in the 70's.  I loved "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" of course.  Once I would have said that was my favorite song, but as the tributes have rolled across the airwaves, I've realized how many Aretha Franklin songs might be in the running for favorite.

As I've listened to stories about her life, stories that always start with her singing in the church, I've wondered how people learn to sing these days if they don't go to church.  There's singing along with music in the car, of course, but that's not real training.  And I do realize that plenty of people don't get that training in the church choir either.

I know lots of horror stories of how singing in the church choir can turn one off of singing forever.  But I know far more people who got basic musical training in the church.  I'm guessing that the opportunity to get that training exists less and less in public schools these days.  The church fills in the gaps, as it always has done.

It would be interesting to look at the history of all sorts of music, especially popular music, to see how many of those artists come to us out of a church tradition, even if they've moved away from that church tradition.  I suspect it's more than we might think.

In a hundred years, as we look back, will people even know how to sing anymore?  As we have more and more technology that can change the way we sound, who will bother to learn?

When I learned some ukulele basics a few summers ago, I was startled to realize how little music theory I know.  I can't take a song written in one key and transpose it to another, the way a true musician can. It's a skill that fewer and fewer people have.

This week-end, I'll go to church and rejoice in the opportunity to sing together.  I'll say a prayer of thanks to church choirs which have nurtured such a range of talent.  I'll also take comfort in the music of Aretha Franklin, which I expect to hear swirling around me.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Predator Priests

I will not be reading the full report on the abuses committed by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania during the last 70 years.  The details I've already heard on the news sicken me--the scope of the depravity is shocking.  Part of me is glad that I retain my capacity to be shocked at the evidence of evil working in the world.  Part of me is angry that there's still so much evil in the world waiting to shock me.

While hearing about abuses by individual priests would be bad enough, but not exactly newsworthy anymore, sadly, the reports of the networks created for the purpose of abuse is horrifying.  At one point during the news cycle where the story broke, I thought, if you read this as a plot in a work of fiction, you would say, no, that can't happen in the real world.  And yet, it did.

The larger story is the abuse of power and the networks of power that kept the abusers in positions where they could prey on children.  I try to think of the larger good that can come out of this:  in many settings where adults work with children, there are much more rigorous regulations to try to ensure that this kind of abuse can't happen to a new generation of children.  We are a society that no longer gives certain types of people--church workers, teachers, doctors--the benefit of the doubt, the assumption that they could never hurt someone.

But oh, how this story breaks my heart, over and over again.  I think of the huge swath of damage left in the wake of those priests--all of those victims!  And not just the victims, but the families of the victims.  I think of all the good church workers who are now seen through this ugly lens, all the good in the world that won't be done, because trust has been broken.

As my heart breaks, I offer several prayers.  One, of course, is a prayer for all the victims.  But I also pray for the priests, for the broken, damaged people who could do these things.  I pray for all the victims we haven't heard from yet, both those who were victimized in the past and for those who are still being hurt.  I pray for all of us who work with children--let our actions never hurt.  I pray for everyone who hears these stories and assumes that all church folk are like those predator priests.  I pray for the courage to keep being a light in the world where evil often seems to be in control.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 19, 2018:

Proverbs 9:1-6

Psalm 34:9-14

Those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good. (Ps. 34:10)

Ephesians 5:15-20

John 6:51-58

In this Sunday's Gospel, we see Jesus confounding his listeners; the more he talks, the more confused they become (and a bit revulsed by the idea of eating human flesh and drinking human blood; let's not underestimate the strangeness of Jesus' message).

We shouldn't fault the people of Jesus' time. After all, Communion can be a divisive issue even in our own time. Churches differ in how often they celebrate Communion, and denominations differ widely in what they think the Eucharist means.

Jesus didn't intend for the sacrament to become divisive. On the contrary, Communion is designed to unite us--that's why most churches offer the sacrament as a communal practice. Unlike prayer, which is easily done in private and often silently, the Eucharist should solidify us and nourish us as a group, much the way that family meals together nourish us not only as individuals, but also as a family.

Of course, we can't leave it there. Communion should also transform us to do the work of God on earth. The surrounding lessons tell us of virtues we should strive to manifest in our lives. Our goal is to be leaven to this loaf of a world, to be the light of Christ in the world.

Again and again Jesus reminds us of the necessity of nourishing ourselves with him.  We can feast on the food that will bring us eternal life.

God calls us to do serious work. We must live as if the Kingdom of God has already taken over our world. To keep ourselves strong for that work we need to keep ourselves fed with good food: homemade bread and good wine, grilled fish, the words of the Bible, the words of writers who inspire us to transform both ourselves and the world, the images of people who inspire us to visions of a better world, music that can wind its way through our days, prayers that keep us connected to God, relationships that remind us that we are loved and cherished and worthy, and the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mosaics: From Pentecost to Ordinary Time

Our 9:45 interactive service members have been transforming the sanctuary from the warm colors of Pentecost to the greens of Ordinary Time leading to the blues of Advent.  This past Sunday, we revisited our glass blocks, which once looked like this:

One Sunday a few weeks ago, I wondered if we could use the other side.  So I decided to find out.  If we ruined them, well, we've enjoyed them for several months, and I'm still not sure what happens to these projects in the long run.  So I bought some glass mosaic pieces in colors of blues and greens. 

On Sunday, I laid out the glass blocks and let people go to work. 

The first time we did mosaics in May, people seemed much more hesitant.  They laid out patterns before choosing one.  This time, people started gluing right away.

I like this block for Advent:

Will we be able to see the Pentecost tiles through the blocks?  And if so, will it be distracting or just intriguing?  I tried to see by propping a glass block up, but I still can't really tell.

More will be revealed when we set them up on the altar on Sunday.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Thirty Years Married

Today we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary--30 years! It feels like just a blip.

Thirty years ago, we'd have been in Greenwood, South Carolina. I'd have slept in the house that used to be a parsonage where my grandfather served a congregation for many years. Thirty years ago in that house, my grandmother ironed my wedding dress. Below you'll see my grandmother, with my aunt Joyce helping.

Yes, I had a long, white dress. We got married in the same church in Greenwood, South Carolina where my parents had gotten married in 1962, the same church where my grandfather had been the pastor. We had the ceremony at 11:00 in the morning, so that our out of town guests with long travels home would have plenty of time.  We tried to keep the ceremony and the reception relatively simple. For example, we chose daisies for our bouquet. Our reception included sandwiches, so that our out-of-town guests wouldn't have to buy lunch on their way out of town. We had the best wedding cake I've ever had.

In many ways, we're still that same couple: we try to keep life simple, while at the same time, keeping a commitment to hospitality. We are hyper-aware of our blessings, and the fact that much of the world will never taste the extravagance of a wedding cake. But we don't deprive ourselves--we stop to admire the daisies.

Here you see a picture of us on this day in 1988, and the two of us at our 25th anniversary dinner:

Here's my final thought for an anniversary morning. I'd expand the thought to include not just our spouses but also our friends and colleagues and family members.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Feast Day of St. Clare

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 10, 2018

Castaways and Craft

Yesterday, instead of slipping away from the office to meet someone for lunch or coffee, I went to Michael's to get some art supplies for church.  This week, we'll be creating mosaics on glass tiles--the same glass tiles that we used for our Pentecost project.

We'll be using primarily greens and blues, to keep with the liturgical seasonal color of green heading towards Advent.  We'll see how it looks.  It's an experiment, and the nice thing about this experiment is that if it doesn't work, it's not a big deal.

Last Sunday, as I walked around the sanctuary, I reflected on how lucky I am that I'm part of this current church--not only do I have fellow church members who are willing to do creative projects, but I have a pastor who's willing to let us put those projects into the worship space.

Part of my luck has to do with the lack of anyone else competing for the space.  There's no committee jealously guarding the sanctuary.  I've only heard from one elderly woman who misses the old paraments.  She thinks our current approach to the worship space is messy.  But most of the people who talk to me are appreciative.

As I removed the Pentecost banners that we made and stashed them on a high shelf in the office where I'll be likely to find them again next year, I wondered if I'm on the road to becoming the elder who doesn't want to change the worship space.  I thought about a scenario 20 years from now, when I'm still clinging to these banners, remembering the members who helped me make them, remembering the Create in Me retreat community who left the materials on the table for others to take home with them.  And then I laughed--should that scenario happen, I'll be the one wishing we used archival quality materials so that the banners had survived in better shape.

It's an interesting metaphor, these banners made of castaway scraps of material, glued onto long panels of fabric that were also castaway.  It reminds me of many churches that are like mine, ragtag groups of castaways, gathering together each week to create something new.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Poetry Thursday: "The Great Unleashing"

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.  It was a devastating weapon, but many historians think that the traditional war was likely to kill just as many people if it had continued to drag on.

I think of all the ways we've envisioned the apocalypse, from pale riders on pale horses to a mushroom cloud.  What will the twenty-first century choose as its apocalyptic icon? 

The Great Unleashing

J. Robert Oppenheimer appears in my dreams.
He stands in the dark background, a slight
scowl on his face, his lips pressed
together tight.

John of Patmos tries to convince
him that what he birthed
was not so bad—in fact it showed
great imagination: “The best I could muster
was death delivered on horseback.
But you—splitting atoms, that great unleashing.”
A ghost of a smile haunts Oppenheimer’s visage.

Ronald Reagan dodders by—his muddy memory
restored to him upon death.
He counts up all the times he chose
not to use the weapons at his disposal
and wonders how history would have changed
if he had made different decisions.
A Greek chorus of dead
leaders nods. Oppenheimer turns away.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 12, 2018:

1 Kings 19:4-8

Psalm 34:1-8

Taste and see that the LORD is good. (Ps. 34:8)

Ephesians 4:25—5:2

John 6:35, 41-51

We are in the dog days of summer, when it seems so long until we feel Fall's coolness. We may be in a bit of a spiritual funk, as well. I often find August a slow slog, spiritually. We're deep into that long, green season, but so far away from Advent. And now we hit week after week of bread Gospels.  

Many of us may be feeling like we're in the dog days of life, whether it be in our jobs, our home lives, or the larger communities in which we live.  We feel like once we had a larger vision, a purpose to our being.  Now we can't even decide what we want for dinner--it's too hot to cook, eat, and wash up.

The best church communities remind us of our purpose each and every Sunday. There are weeks that I wish our church offered daily services. Some weeks, it seems like a small eternity until Sunday. Some weeks, I have a vision of a church with a drive-through window, where I could get an emergency Eucharist, some strength for the journey, and maybe a blessing.

Henri Nouwen spent much of his writing talking about Communion, trying to impress upon his readers how important it is. In Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, he says, "The Eucharist is the sacrament by which we become one body. . . . It is becoming the living Lord, visibly present in the world" (reading for Oct. 13). In the reading for the next day, he says, "We who receive the Body of Christ become the living Christ." Nouwen argues for a mystical--yet very real--transformation: the wine and bread transform themselves into blood and body which then transforms us from ordinary sinful human into Christ.

We are hungry for that transformation, but like those people who followed Christ from shore to shore, hoping for a free meal, we often don't know what we hunger for. We want to do God's work in the world, but there's so much work to do, and we're so tired before we even get started.

Our Scriptures remind us in both the Old and New Testaments that God provides. God gives us both physical food and spiritual food. But we must be receptive. We must open our mouths. God won't chew for us.

It’s good to return to the metaphor of bread. It’s good to think about small granules of yeast and to remember that without their activation, our dough would not be worth baking. It’s good to know that small acts can lead to great transformation further on.

It’s essential to remember that we are the leaven in this loaf that is the world. In the words of N. T. Wright: "But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: 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. Your are not restoring a great painting that's shortly going to be thrown on the fire" (Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, page 208).

We return to church to participate in the sacrament.  Then, fortified, we can do the work of the week before returning again to the sacraments of Sunday.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Gratitude Amidst the Detritus

The Great Flooring Project is coming along nicely--that said, we are far from done.  The hardwood flooring is completely installed in the two bedrooms that comprise half the house.  Next up, the sanding, staining, and sealing.

Then we move everything to the other half of the house and the flooring folks take care of the half that we're living in right now.

We are lucky in so many ways.  We have a cottage in the back where we have stored extra stuff that we won't need during this process:  the guest room bed, the cedar chest, the bookcases, the books, the kitchen stuff that we don't use each day.  We have money for the project--of course, we got the money because of hurricane damage, and we have to make these improvements because of the damage, and I do wonder if this price is worth it.  But I am aware of people who have damage who haven't gotten any financial help in dealing with the mess.

Each morning I listen to the news of terrible fires out west, and I'm aware of my luck.  Our natural disaster could have been so much worse--and of course, the fear is that the next natural disaster might be the one that does us in.  But we go forward through the fear.

We are living in a space that's smaller than many New York City apartments--or than the space that many assisted living facilities offer.   In some ways, it's plenty of space.  In other ways, it's still strange to have everything just steps away, to be living in one big room.

I've also been listening to the NPR series on housing in America.  It won't come as news to many people that we don't have enough housing in much of the country:  not for poor people, not for the middle class, and increasingly, even rich folks find the choices sparse.  We are lucky to have a house that needs our care.

But we are in the life of the house where I just marvel at the amount of care it needs right now:  the pool is a mess, the weeds are about to take over the whole yard, not just the river rock areas where it shouldn't have intruded in the first place, and the inside of the house is an incredible collection of dusts from all sorts of detritus.

Let me take a minute before the day shifts into high gear to say a prayer of gratitude:  to have a house, to have a job that pays for the house, to be living in a beautiful part of the world.  Let me pray for groundedness.  Let me also pray for those of us in the world who need housing.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Transformations: Atomic and Spiritual

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

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

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

I find these intersections interesting.

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

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

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

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Blessing Those of Us Who Work in Schools

Many churches now have some sort of back to school ritual; will your church be blessing backpacks? We will do that next week, the Sunday before classes start.

Today we will bless teachers, administrators, and staff. From what I can tell, many churches now have a backpack blessing service or part of a service. Some churches bless backpacks of supplies that they're donating to less fortunate children, while others bless the backpacks of children going back to school. Some bless the children, not the backpack.

Our church blesses children and backpacks, which I've always thought was great. We also bless teachers, usually on the Sunday before we bless the children, since teachers return to school first. Lately, we've been including staff--anyone who works with a school in any capacity is welcome to come to the altar for a blessing.

As an administrator, I go up for the blessing. At first, back when I was doing more teaching, I hesitated to go up with the other teachers, but my pastor was clear: all teachers, from pre-K to college. So, up I went, even though I thought I had the easier job.

Now I'm an administrator, and some weeks I feel I have the easier job. Other weeks, I feel like teachers have the easier job, college teachers at least.  As I've been teaching online, I also ponder which delivery system is easier on me, the teacher.  It depends.  The more I work in school settings, the more I realize that we all have a role to play, and we each have weeks where the brunt of the burden falls on us.  

I'm glad that our approach has expanded to include all teachers and all staff--anyone who will be working with students throughout the year.

So yes, I will be happy to be blessed today. Anoint my hands with oil! My hands metaphorically touch many other lives in a standard work week, both students and faculty and my fellow administrators.

Let me be blessed to be a blessing!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

In Praise of Church Camps

Now we enter the end of summer, the time when church camps will be having their last week or two of campers. Soon, the dining areas will go back to being empty, just waiting for the next time of fun and fellowship.

Let us take a minute to say a prayer of thanks for church camps, for all the ways they nourish both us and the next generations.

They've offered us challenges that we never thought we could master.

They've taught us many a new craft (below, fun with fiber!).

We've had a chance to explore our performing passions.

Church camps let us make friends of all sorts.

But most important, church camps foster a love of both God and the community of believers that will stay with a camper long into adulthood.

In fact, one of the variables that separates grown ups who go to church regularly from those who don't is an experience at church camp.

And so, today, let us say a prayer of thanks for all those camps. Let us praise the counselors and the camp directors. Let us continue to pray for the campers, and for all of us who must come down from the mountain, back to real life.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Transitioning from Pentecost

Soon it will be time to change the sanctuary.  One of my interactive worship friends said, "It's a shame.  I think those banners are the best work we've ever done."

That comment made me so happy.  When we began the project, I wasn't sure it would work or that the banners would last.  For much of the work, we used glue sticks to attach fabric or tissue paper to the banner.

We've been creating something new for the sanctuary, which I'm hoping people will like just as well.  We got four big canvases and painted the background two weeks ago.  I suggested shades of green, since that's the color of our current liturgical season and will be until Advent.

Last Sunday, I read the Bible passages from each Sunday of the summer and asked people to listen for words or phrases that leapt out at them.  Our project was to paint those words on the canvases.  It was a different kind of lectio divina, one that worked well for our creative group.

We will hang the canvases on the large wall behind the altar.  I envision push pins that will hold the canvases.   I'm also thinking of doing something with the glass block mosaics that we created.  Of course, pictures will be posted in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 5, 2018:

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

Psalm 78:23-29

The LORD rained down manna upon them to eat. (Ps. 78:24)

Ephesians 4:1-16

John 6:24-35

In this Gospel, we continue to see Jesus hounded by the crowds. They understand what Jesus offers: the miracle of food in an uncertain time. Jesus knows what they're up to. Jesus understands what they seek. But Jesus also knows that they need more than just a meal's worth of food.

At one point, the crowds ask him for a sign. I have a vision of Jesus sighing and wondering what more he can do. He’s multiplied food. He’s offered them parables and teachings. He’s healed the sick. What more do they want?

He also understands their deep hunger and yearning. They mention Moses, which leads me to believe that some of them miss the deep connection their ancestors had with God. Perhaps they thought it was easier in the desert, where they just went where God led them and ate the food God gave them. Perhaps they grow weary of the distractions of modern life, the diversions offered by Greek and Roman culture. They want to know where they can get some modern-day manna.

We might feel the same way.

Some of us might be willing to do rigorous tasks to get this spiritual nourishment, but Jesus reminds us that we simply need to turn to the bread that sustains us, rather than chasing after bread that cannot nourish. He says, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal" (John 6:27).

We might sigh heavily, thinking of our ever-multiplying to-do lists, the increasing tasks we must do simply to keep body and soul together. We might wonder how we can find time for one more obligation.

Again and again in the Bible, we see God, who simply wants to be with us. We don’t have to transform ourselves into spiritual superheroes. God will be content to watch T.V. with us, to have fun with whatever creative play dates we’ve arranged with our children or our friends, to eat watermelon at picnics with us.

The Bible reminds us that God even wants to be with us during the not-so-fun times. When we’re stuck at work, eating microwave popcorn instead of dinner again, God wants to be there. When we’re trapped in traffic, God doesn’t mind commuting with us. When we’re so immersed in child rearing that we wonder if we’ll ever get to talk about adult topics again, God wants that experience too. When we’re feeling lost and lonely, God is willing to endure that too. When we don’t know how we’re going to put food on the table, God will help us sort that out.

The sustaining bread of life is right there, always ready, always fragrant and nourishing. The enduring food is ready to be shared, ready to be multiplied. The table is ready; come and eat.