Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Creating a Life: Non-Traditional Trajectories

One of the advantages of this year's Create in Me retreat was meeting so many people who are carving out interesting lives in non-traditional ways.  Let me record some of their choices before I forget and some of the implications for my own life:

--I met a woman who has converted to Judaism.  She's still in college, so she can't keep as kosher a kitchen as she'd like, but she takes care not to mix meat and dairy in her meals.  She's yearning to have her own kitchen.  She's moving into a place off campus, but she'll be sharing it with 3 males, so she's still not sure she'll have as kosher a kitchen as she wants.  But she'll have separate sets of dishes, and she'll be strict about food storage.

She reminded me of my own young self, so yearning for my own kitchen so I could bake bread more regularly.  I need to get back to baking bread more regularly.  And now that my kitchen is functional, I have a chance of doing that.

--My mom and dad told me about a couple that they met who had divested themselves of most possessions.  They can fit everything they own in 4 suitcases, and they're traveling in their car, staying at interesting places.

Let me remember that one might be able to travel to see the country without an RV.  In fact, it might be cheaper.  I love the idea of bringing my home with me (by way of an RV), but a fuel efficient car might make more sense.

--One of my retreat friends regrets not getting the variation of the M.Div. degree that would get her more money.  Her seminary, Luther, is offering the Jubilee scholarship which means that no student will have to pay tuition--so she's going back.

Because of this encounter, I learned about the Jubilee scholarship.  Could I do these classes from a distance?  The only ones that spook me are the ancient languages.  Could I go to seminary while holding down my full-time job?  I am so unsure.

--One of my retreat friends has been running a program with horses for special needs children.  Lutheranch, a sister camp of Lutheridge, has had plans for an equine program, but no job posting.  My friend wrote to the camp with her vision and her qualifications, saying, "I know you don't have a position right now, but please keep me in mind."  At first, the response came back as "Maybe in Fall."  And then, a few weeks later, "Can you have something in place by summer?"  She turned in her notice, packed her things, and now she has a new job.

Let me remember that just because there is no job posting, that doesn't mean there's no job.  Let me start thinking about my own letters to send out.

--One of my retreat friends is expecting the bottom to fall out of the economy.  Her financial adviser has said that she should sell her house because she's going to lose it anyway, even if she's paying the mortgage.  She says she always thought she'd be a woman living in campgrounds, with her car and a tent.  She didn't expect to have a house, and she thought she was settled, but if it turns out not to be the case, she'll be O.K.

I admired her can do spirit, and I was reminded that her spirit is similar to mine.  I've always been able to make lemons out of lemonaid.  Well--what an interesting slip.  Of course I meant to say lemonaid out of lemons.  Hmmm.

My mis-typing leads me to an interesting point--I do sometimes fall into this pit of deep despair.  But I often pull myself up out of that pit, and perhaps more quickly than others would.  I have a toolbox that many don't have, and its foundation is this:  the knowledge that there are many ways to live a satisfying life, ways that the larger culture doesn't always support or even acknowledge.  I've always had an ability to keep trying to discern my own path.

Hopefully I can still continue.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Leaving the Mountain, Resolving to Live in Brightness

It is time to head down the mountain, away from our beloved retreat community, back to regular life.

At the Create in Me retreat yesterday, a friend just happened to capture this amazing effect--no filters, no special additions, just sun streaming through the windows. As we head down the mountain, back from the retreat, let us live in brightness, let us be instruments of illumination!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Midway Through the Retreat

By this time tomorrow, we'll have been on the road a bit of time.  We're hoping to leave by 5, since we both have to be at work on Monday.  I do find myself wishing that we could have gotten here early and that we could stay until after the closing service tomorrow.  Maybe next year.

The first day was wonderful.  A lot of folks expressed concern that I didn't have a chance to do much, that I was always taking pictures.  But I love walking around and taking pictures.  I love seeing what others are doing.

I don't point this out, but I've been going to this retreat for a very long time.  I've had a chance to experiment with many of the techniques we're offering.  And then there's the fact that I'd be left with the thing I created.

But the larger truth is that I love taking the pictures--I would prefer to do that.  If I wanted to sit in on a workshop or a drop in station, I would.

We also have a huge crowd this year.  I don't want to take up a seat that a new person might have wanted.

We had a great first day:  Bible study, worship planning, workshops, drop-in stations, worship service, lots of great chances to talk.  We have had amazing food, including some apple butter that had been cooking in a crock pot all day--on warm biscuits!

My mom and dad are here this year, which is a great treat.  Lots of us bring family members, which I think is a wonderful tribute to how meaningful the retreat can be.

Here's an intriguing nugget of information I got:  Luther Seminary is fully funding all students, including the online students.  Could I do seminary and stay employed?  I know that I could--I really have other questions, which I'll ponder at a later point.  They are the larger questions about what I want to do with the second part of my life.

I've always said that one of the biggest barriers to seminary is the debt I would incur.  If there's no debt, how does that change how I look at seminary?  I will do more thinking about that in the days to come.

I've had so many good conversations here.  I miss having good conversations about larger issues.

This retreat seems like a metaphor for so many things.  I'll leave with this Facebook post I made yesterday:  "Overheard at the Create in Me Retreat: "I thought I was making a pear, but maybe I'm making an apple." I'm willing to bet that this idea sums up many aspects of life for most of us."

Friday, April 26, 2019

First Night at the Retreat: Getting to Know You

I have safely made it to the mountain top!  I am at Lutheridge for the Create in Me retreat, my all time favorite retreat.  I have been attending this retreat since 2003, and I've only missed 2 years.  Each year focuses on a different part of the Triune God (Creator, Jesus, Holy Spirit), and this year is the Holy Spirit year.  We're focusing on the fruits of the spirit.

I am always intrigued by the first night exercises.  We need to have some getting-to-know-you exercises, which many of us dread.  Last night's was not bad.  First, we looked at the list of the fruits of the spirit, a list on the big screen: 

We thought about which fruit we hoped would be rooted in us this week-end.  Then we were invited to choose a picture of the fruit that represented that quality. 

I chose a pineapple for patience, because it takes 2 years for a pineapple to grow.  We moved around the room, introducing ourselves by exchanging pictures and explaining the fruit.  Of course, then we had a different picture in our hand.  It was interesting to think about how each fruit might symbolize patience (peaches require patience to get away from the stone, pomegranates require patience to get the seeds).

We then moved to the Arts Worship, which began with an arts meditation.  We got a picture from the fruit group that spoke to us, and then a picture from the other group:

Our worship leader read the text, Galations 5:  22-23.  Here are the two versions we heard last night.  First from the NIV version:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Then, The Message:

22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

23 Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.
And then we were invited to peel the create:  we had 2 pictures which were actually printed on sticker paper, and we had a sheet of black paper.  We went to work and came up with a variety of approaches.

Here's mine:

We had time to talk about our creations, another great way of getting to know each other.  And then we did the rest of the service, which includes the anointing of hands to do holy work.

I'm looking forward to this time in the mountains, this time to think, this time to play.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

On the Road Again

In an hour I leave for Lutheridge--it's time for the Create in Me retreat.  It likely won't be as cold this year as it was last year, but there is rain in the forecast.  Maybe I'll get the rain I was expecting from the Portland trip.  I'll put my extra pair of sneakers in the car.

I'm driving up with my church friend who went with me last year.  We travel well together, so I'm not worried.  This year my parents are coming to the retreat, which will change the dynamic a bit, but here too, I'm not worried.

I've been going to this retreat long enough that I have retreat friends--we sink into our friendship quickly each year.  I always look forward to seeing who will be there, and I miss the ones who aren't.  I find myself wondering if we can keep doing this into our old age.  I find myself wondering if we could find a place where we could do this every day of our old age.

I'm not looking forward to the long trip.  These days my back gets sore just from sleeping in my bed.  Sigh.  At least we start on a Thursday night.  That makes the long drive more worthwhile. The retreats that go from Friday night to Sunday are almost not enough time--even if I had a shorter drive, it's just not enough time.  There have been moments when I've thought that a Thursday night to Sunday is almost not enough time.

I love the focus of this retreat:  the intersections of creativity and spirituality, one of my favorite topics.  As always with topics that I love, I wonder if there's some way of having a work life that has more of that as part of it.  This has been a very stressful week at work, and I'm aware of how often I've been saying that this year.

My time grows short.  Let me go finish getting ready.  In the words of Bruce Springsteen, "I'll meet your further on up the road."

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 28, 2019:

First Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Psalm: Psalm 118:14-29

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4-8

Gospel: John 20:19-31

This week's Gospel returns us to the familiar story of Thomas, who will always be known as Doubting Thomas, no matter what else he did or accomplished. What I love about the Gospels most is that we get to see humans interacting with the Divine, in all of our human weaknesses. Particularly in the last few weeks, we've seen humans betray and deny and doubt--but God can work with us.

If you were choosing a group of people most unlikely to start and spread a lasting worldwide movement, it might be these disciples. They have very little in the way of prestige, connections, wealth, networking skills, marketing smarts, or anything else you might look for if you were calling modern disciples. And yet, Jesus transformed them.

Perhaps it should not surprise us. The Old Testament, too, is full of stories of lackluster humans unlikely to succeed: mumblers and cheats, bumblers and the unwise. God can use anyone, even murderers.

How does this happen? The story of Thomas gives us a vivid metaphor. When we thrust our hands into the wounds of Jesus, we're transformed. Perhaps that metaphor is too gory for your tastes, and yet, it speaks to the truth of our God. We have a God who wants to know us in all our gooey messiness. We have a God who knows all our strengths and all our weaknesses, and still, this God desires closeness with us. And what's more, this God invites us to a similar intimacy. Jesus doesn't say, "Here I am, look at me and believe." No, Jesus offers his wounds and invites Thomas to touch him.

Jesus will spend the next several weeks eating with the disciples, breathing on them, and being with them physically one last time. Then he sends them out to transform the wounded world.

We, too, are called to lay our holy hands on the wounds of the world and to heal those wounds. It's not enough to just declare the Good News of Easter. We are called to participate in the ongoing redemption of creation. We know creation intimately, and we know which wounds we are most capable of healing. Some of us will work on environmental issues, some of us will make sure that the poor are fed and clothed, some of us will work with criminals and the unjustly accused, and more of us will help children.

In the coming weeks, be alert to the recurring theme of the breath of Jesus and the breath of God. You have the breath of the Divine on you too.  Let it transform you.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Poetry Tuesday: "Lessons from the Cathedral"

My writing time is short today, even though I've been up for awhile.  I needed to get some grading done, and I'll be leaving earlier today than usual to see if Publix has some bread and baked goods (because of Easter and the store being closed, the Monday bread run didn't work).

I wrote this poem last week after Notre Dame burned.  I don't know if it will work once that event fades from our memory, so I decided to post it here.

Lessons from the Cathedral

The cathedral teaches
us that wood burns faster
than metal or stone, and ancient
wood has waited centuries
to show how brightly
it can blaze.

The falling spire pierces
not only the nave, but also our hardened
hearts. How will we now navigate?

The gargoyles keep their own counsel,
as they always have.
The rest of us watch the stained
glass illuminated by the flames
that frame the arches
and the cage of reconstruction.

Napoleon’s site of self-coronation
burns, but the work of daily life must
continue. I revise the accreditation
documents again. Others complete
their taxes, clean, make sure to feed
the children, the pets, all the helpless
creatures. Parisians gather to sing
the hymns we had forgotten
that we needed.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Easter Sunday Wrap Up

Our church was packed yesterday.  We usually have 40-60 people in the pews on a regular Sunday, which leaves lots of room.  Yesterday, we didn't have much space empty.  What a delight to sing in a sanctuary full of voices.

We finished the first Easter hymn and from somewhere near the back, a little voice proclaimed, "Yay!"  Our pastor smiled and said, "Ah, the Easter yay."  The little voice said it several more times.  I was so glad that we didn't hear any shushing.

We had a good church service.  Our pastor's message focused on the women who weren't believed at first, and then our pastor circled back to Jesus' good news for those, like women, who had been marginalized.

At one point, we had thought we might skip Easter service.  My sister and nephew were in town, and they usually don't want to go to church.  But my spouse was integral to the choir, which had a piece that had been composed with his violin skills in mind.  He floated the idea to my sister a few weeks ago, and she said they'd go, especially if they didn't have to dress up.

We do not have a church that requires dressing up.  We're in a vacation place, after all.

We didn't have brunch at church or watch the Easter egg hunt.  My spouse and I had already told our counting team that we couldn't count.  We went home and had a quiet Easter Sunday, soaking in one last day of sunshine and later grilling some lamb chops.

Easter is not my favorite church holiday; Christmas gets that honor.  But it's good for me to remember that Easter has its delights too.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday, 2019

Here we are at Easter Sunday, a surprisingly chilly morning in South Florida, although it does remind me of the Easter Sundays of my youth, in Montgomery or Charlottesville or Knoxville.  Most years the winter hadn't been particularly harsh, but I was always ready for warmer weather.  Easter morning always had that chilly promise of an intense summer that was just around the corner.

We haven't done much in the way of tradition, although my sister and nephew have been here.  I'd have made a bunny cake.  But I know I'd have been the only one to eat it, so I decided not to do it.  We've been eating enough high calorie treats, without adding cake into the mix.

We haven't decorated eggs.  I don't usually do that, so that's not strange.

Some years I might have baked some sort of festive bread over the week-end, particularly hot cross buns.  I did heat up some cinnamon babka that I got from a grocery store, but it's not the same.

I am feeling like I should have thought ahead to have some sort of egg casserole ready to bake this morning, but again, I likely would have been the only one to eat it.  I will likely cook some sort of eggs to go with the bacon that my spouse is about to cook before he goes to church early for choir rehearsal.

We have not totally flunked Easter.  When I look back on this week-end, I want to remember the times of all of us gathered around a table, my Philosopher spouse, theologian me, sister who is the mother to my nephew.  I want to remember that we had conversations about the roots of the holidays of Easter which led to conversations about Passover, which led to conversations about the best ways of dealing with oppressive governments.

At first, I felt tense.  Do we really need to have these conversations (about oppressive governments, not about history) now?  But I saw that my nephew listened intently and intensely.  And I thought, if not now, when?

Unlike a lot of the world's twelve year olds, my nephew can linger in a safe space a bit longer.  He doesn't have government agents coming after him.  He may never need the lessons that we are teaching to save his own skin.

But the oppressed of the world rely on those of us who are safe to leave our safety to make the world better.  Good Friday tells us what might happen if we do.  Easter Sunday gives us the promise that our work will not be in vain.

Death does not have the final word.  Not during the times of the Roman empire, not during our own time of turbulence.  Alleluia!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Waiting with the Bloody Cross

First the meal, then the ordeal.  And now, we wait.

I think of those first disciples, both the ones we know of, and the ones that will forever be unnamed.  I think of them stunned by a variety of grief.  There's the primary grief of death:  our loved one will never return.  We've lost them forever.

There's the grief of unresolved outcomes:  the words we never got around to saying, the emotions we held choked up in our bodies for fear of expressing them.  There must have been the grief of how it might have been.  I think of the disciples, some of whom must have been saying, "I thought he was going to get away with it.  He pulled it off for so long, this speaking the truth that we've been told must be left alone.  I thought they might let him live."

I imagine the disgruntled ones, the ones who could see this outcome coming from miles away, the ones who say, "Well, I knew this wouldn't end well.  I told Jesus . . . "  I think of the ones who might have even argued with Jesus and tried to convince him to try a different approach, to fly under the radar where he could live and continue his incredible work.  What good is a savior who is dead?

I think of the ones who feel betrayed--so many ways to feel betrayed.  I think of the ones who might have said, "Well, he's hanging on a cross of his own making."  I think of the ones who wanted a more violent revolution, the ones who were so disgusted that they were ready to burn it down (it being society or the other disciples or Jesus himself or  . . . well, anything at all).

I think of the ones who must have felt stranded or marooned.  What to do next? 

The women point the way, as they so often do.  Saviors come and go, compelling ideas collapse, communities lie in ruins, but the daily work must be done.  There are mouths to feed and dead bodies to wash, and spice mixtures to create to cover the stench of death all around us.

It's interesting to think about how the Gospel writers handle the resurrection part of this story.  It's the women who return to the tomb because they see the work that is still left to be done.  In doing the drudgery work of dealing with the body, they are the first witnesses to the resurrection.

As we do our own drudge work, cleaning up after those in our communities who leave chaos in their wake, let us remember that the payoff may be that we are the first to witness the miraculous.

For those of us who are grieving for those who are crucified, hanging on crosses of their own devising or being tortured by the government/society, let us remember that the bloody cross doesn't have to be the final answer.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday: Empire and Modern Stations of the Cross

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

When I was a child, Good Friday was my favorite service.  The Lutheran church of my childhood didn't offer much variety in terms of what happened from Sunday to Sunday.  In retrospect, it may be that my childhood self had a different sense of time.

Good Friday offered a sharp difference to what we usually did in church:  lights dimming to darkness, the book closing with a big bang.  I always deliberated whether I loved Christmas Eve best or Good Friday.

Now I see Good Friday as highly problematic.  Unlike many Christians, I don't believe that Jesus had to die for my sins so I could get into heaven.  I don't believe in substitutionary atonement.  I've done some research, and I know that idea is much newer to Christianity than many of us know.  I know that the ancient world would have caught the subtle ways that the original Christian church was trying to undercut the priests and organized religion of the day by suggesting that we didn't need those methods of redemption.

Frankly, I don't understand how anyone could worship a God who would demand that horrific blood sacrifice of crucifixion before loving us.  Moreover, it doesn't square with many of the presentations of God in our scriptures.

But I do know how hard it is to get away from that idea.  Many people are not trained to think critically, and even if they are, there are many topics that feel too scary to apply those critical thinking skills.  I understand that, but I'm still flabbergasted that this idea of Jesus dying for my inability to live a sin-free life has such a powerful hold on us.

So then why did Jesus die?  He was crucified, which was not the way that most people were put to death in the Roman empire.  Ordinary criminals were stoned.  People who posed a threat to the state were crucified--a very public execution that served as a warning and a deterrent.

I'm also uncomfortable with how Good Friday has been used as a reason to oppress/slaughter Jews.  Many Good Friday services have not gotten all the anti-Semitic aspects out of the liturgy.  It's problematic.

Good Friday does give us a great opportunity to think about our systems of empire and how they are still a threat to those who are lower in the power hierarchy of our social structures.  My church bought prints of the Jesus at the Border stations of the cross series by the artist Mary Button, and they now hang around the sanctuary.  My Lenten journaling group spent time with the installation on Wednesday night.  It was a powerful experience.

The artist has used this stations of the cross approach to several social justice issues, like climate change and mass incarceration.  It's an interesting way to move away from the traditional ways that Good Friday is so problematic.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Maundy Thursday Musings, the 2019 Version

--I begin the day as I usually do, thinking about the calendar day, thinking about the liturgical calendar, thinking about the day in past years and deeper history.  Of course, during Holy Week these thoughts take on a particular color.

--Today I am thinking about Christians around the world who will celebrate this day that celebrates the last meal of Jesus, according to tradition.  Some congregations will hear about Jesus and the washing of the feet.  Some will focus on the meal itself.  Some will ponder the betrayals about to come.

--I think about how those disciples were so sure of themselves.  Judas who had become disgusted with Jesus.  Peter who knew that he would remain faithful.  As always, I think of the ones we don't know about.  The one who prepared the meal.  The one who would do the clean up and wished that the meal would be over so that the clean up could begin.  The one who needed to slip away to take care of his sick mother or take a quick smoking break or just get away from the fawning attention of the other affirmation hungry disciples.

--This morning I saw the moon setting as I looked out my kitchen window.  I can see out of my kitchen window now because I took down the wretched scrap of cloth that we used as a curtain for many years.  I washed it, even though I knew I would throw it away.  That detail seems fitting for a Maundy Thursday poem which I have yet to write.

--In past years, I might have made bread, and I'm tempted to do it this year.  But I have cleaning to do--my sister and nephew arrive this afternoon, and at the very least, I must get rid of the grossness in the bathroom.  I've been keeping the toilet clean, but the sink, bathtub, and floors need some attention.  I also hope to clean the hardwood floors throughout the house.  The other types of restoration that I had hoped to do (sorting through some piles of paperwork, unpacking some dishes, on and on I could go) will wait for a day/week-end/retirement when I have more time.

--I think of the washing of the disciples' feet, the grossness of those feet.  My Maundy Thursday cleaning seems appropriate.  My poor house, this past year of renovations and neglect, this long, slow slog.

--Because we have houseguests arriving, I did some grocery shopping yesterday.  I spend a good part of each day trying to obey Christ's mandatum that we love each other.  I am not certain that Jesus would approve of my showing of love by buying my nephew a bag of Doritos in every flavor offered by the smaller Publix near my school.

--We will have a version of the Last Supper, by which I mean my spouse has bought a lot of lamb, my nephew's current favorite meat.  We will also have bread, likely made by us, and perhaps grilled.

--It will be a different Maundy Thursday, but it will satisfy.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Easter Sunday, April 4, 2019:

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43

First Reading (Alt.): Isaiah 65:17-25

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

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

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

Gospel: Luke 24:1-12

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

I've talked to many people who seem a bit amazed at how fast this season of Lent has zoomed by us. I've talked to several people who don't feel ready for Easter at all. Are we ever ready for Easter?

Some years feel more difficult than others. This has been a strange Holy Week, with the fire in the Notre Dame cathedral.  It's been a year of terrorism, but almost every year we seem to say that.  It's been another year of natural disasters too, with raging wildfires and hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful hurricanes to come ashore.

If we're lucky enough to have been spared from natural disaster ourselves, we've likely looked on in horror as other parts of our world have suffered horribly. If we're thinking people at all, we have to realize how precarious is our existence on the surface of our planet, that surface which looks stable, but we know that forces are rumbling underneath.

Maybe you say to yourself that you're still in that Ash Wednesday space. Maybe you ask, "How can we celebrate Easter with the taste of ashes still in our mouths?"

Hear that Easter message again. Know that God is working to redeem creation in ways that we can't always see and don't often understand. But we get glimpses of it.

The earth commits to resurrection this time of year. Green sprouts shoot out from hard earth everywhere. Each spring, we are reminded of the cyclical nature of the world, which can bring us hope in the times in which we suffer. This, too, shall pass.

But maybe we see those examples of resurrection as random and capricious. If we've heard the Easter story (and the Holy Week stories) again and again, we tend to forget the miraculous nature of them. Maybe we're tempted to downplay them even. Maybe we're beaten down and tired:  tired of praying that the insurance company gets its act together before the next hurricane season starts, tired of praying for health and people getting sicker, tired of praying for peace in the world which never seems to come, too beaten down and tired to believe in miracles anymore.

Resist that pull towards despair, which some have called the deadliest sin, even worse than pride. We have seen miracles with our own eyes: Nelson Mandela walks out of jail to claim his place as president, for example; peace in Northern Ireland; peace in some parts of Eastern Europe. We're often too shy or scared to run out of our gardens to tell everyone else what we've seen, what we know.

We may worry that the world is sliding backward, but we've always been worried about that possibility.  We must remember we are a Resurrection People. Commit yourself to new life. Rinse the ashes out of your mouth with the Eucharist bread and wine. Celebrate the miracles.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Ooziness of God

On Sunday, we went to see the Judy Chicago exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami.  I was excited to see the work from The Birth Project again.

When I was home from undergraduate school for summer, some of those works came to the D.C. area.  My folks lived in suburban Virginia, and one Saturday in 1985, my mom and I went into the city to the various galleries to see the work.  I was in awe, inspired, and transformed.

I grew up in conservative Lutheran churches in the conservative part of the U.S. south.  We prayed to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  In my brain, God looked like President Lincoln, if Lincoln had a flowing beard, sitting on a throne, a white marble deity.

The Birth Project changed the way I viewed God forever.  Here were images of a clearly female deity giving birth to the world.  I started researching the history of Divine imagery, and I was amazed by what I hadn't been taught.  I started to think about how history might have been different if we had been worshiping a female god.

Eventually I decided that either side of the gender binary was too limiting a way to see God--and to see humans.  So I was interested to see these works of Judy Chicago again, the works that propelled me down this path.

I rounded a corner and saw one of my favorite tapestries, which you can see here, if you scroll down to the second image, The Creation.  I love its colors and the evolutionary feature of the content.  In most images, you can't tell that it's needlepoint/tapestry.  But Sunday, I saw the varied nature of the threads.  And on the screen/page, you can't really tell how huge it is.

The exhibit had ten of the works, and while I was happy to see them again, I wasn't moved by them the way I was in the past.  In fact, I was deeply unhappy with the ooziness of it all.  Every breast is leaking, every vagina is being ripped apart by what's being born.  Did I not see that as a younger woman?  Or was I so thrilled at the idea of a female God that I didn't think through the implications of the ooziness?

I want an image of a God weaving a world out of disparate threads or fusing metals together with a welding torch.  I think it's dangerous to focus on the womb as our primal image of creation or the penis for that matter.  We have centuries of seeing what that means for women--women are confined to their childbearing duties/responsibilities/privileges, and that's used to constrain their horizons.  I didn't think about that aspect as a younger woman.

I am grateful for those images that stirred my thoughts so long ago.  I'm also grateful that my thoughts didn't stop there.  The works seem a bit dated, and I kept reminding myself that in fact, they are dated.  That doesn't have to be a bad thing.  It can be a window to the past, even if it's no longer a door to the future. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Palm Sunday's Launch into Holy Week

We almost always close our Palm Sunday service this way:

This time there will be no flight to Egypt.
The donkey has too much to carry, too far.
The shadows wait for me.  Around the table at Passover
Among those in high places, in the condemned cell,
On the hill outside.  Fear haunts my waking moments,
and I cannot sleep.  Why has God forsaken me?

     The crowd today is with me.  But not for long.
      They are the powerless ones (the ones who matter).

The ones who count are counting.
Time is running out.  This time, there will be no flight to Egypt.

I think the above is from Cry of the Whole Congregation by Walter Wangerin.  We use the liturgy/chancel drama for Palm Sunday, so that's why I'm guessing at the author's identity.

I find it the most meaningful part of Passion Sunday.  It reminds us that Jesus has been on a collision course with the Roman empire since his birth--or since the Wise Men showed up to let Herod know that he had a rival.

And yes, I understand that these stories are not exactly true, in the way that we define true as factual. 

But in the other way that we define true, this final Palm Sunday passage reminds us about the totality of Christ's life.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday in Pictures

Some days, we are so full of praise that the car flows over with our palm fronds:

Some days the sun blazes as it comes over the horizon, and we feel that all of our hopes and dreams are about to be made manifest:

Some days, we wonder if our sun has set already:

Some days, we make art out of the wreckage:

Some days, it's all too much, our lives dried to twigs and shredded to ribbons:

But we resolve to go on, to rest in the promise that out of brokenness, beauty can come:

We follow the path where others have gone before us:

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Writing Prompts: Justice and Holy Week

I sent this prompt to my Lenten Journaling Group, and I thought it was worth sharing more widely.

As I think of the week past and the week to come, two prompts come to mind. Feel free to use them as you like and/or as the Spirit moves you:

Writing Prompt 1:

We've had a great week of justice action in our church and larger community in South Florida. Last week I scribbled on a bulletin, and yesterday morning, I started to think about a poem. These ideas spurred my creativity:

We have built our house of justice in hurricane country.

We have made a home in the swamp of despair

In this abandoned waste dump, we have claimed a homestead.

If we then create some fill in the blanks, maybe we get some different options:

We have built ________ in hurricane country.

We have built our house of justice in ________.

We have made ______ in the swamp of despair.

In this _______, we have claimed a homestead.

In this abandoned waste dump, we have claimed __________.

If you want to tie your journaling back to Bible reading, return to the Psalms and notice how the Psalmist often uses similar language for striking effect--different metaphors, to be sure, but similar effect. Think of Psalm 137, with it's image of weeping by the rivers of Babylon and hanging harps in the poplars. I am guessing that the writer of that Psalm didn't really go to the river to weep and hang a harp in the tree--it's an image of deep sadness and abandonment, and it works beautifully.

The not-often-read book of Lamentations too. And many of the prophets. And Jesus himself was known for speaking/teaching in odd parables. It's a way to jolt our brains out of complacency.

Writing Option #2

Sunday is Palm Sunday and/or Passion Sunday--the beginning of Holy Week. We will be hearing stories that many of us have heard many times before. How can we hear them with fresh ears.

One year I was startled to realize how much I identified with Pontius Pilate as an administrator. That year, I saw the Good Friday story in a different light. One year I read Mary Oliver's "The Poet Thinks about the Donkey" (you can read it here: https://predmore.blogspot.com/2016/03/poem-poet-thinks-about-donkey-by-mary.html). I hadn't thought much about the donkey that carries Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and my perspective shifted.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking. Tell the story from the perspective of:

--the person who cleans up after the last supper

--the towels used by Jesus to wash the feet of the disciples

--the cross itself

--an indifferent observer on Palm Sunday

--the sibling of Jesus who had always seen this day (Good Friday? Palm Sunday?) coming

--the disciple we don't usually hear about

--the rooster that crows three times

Here's hoping for a creative week-end, in all the ways our creativity can manifest itself!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Peter Did Not Always Preach Like Peter: A Consolation for the Rest of Us

I have spent a chunk of this week thinking about how hard it is to live in community.  We had a justice event on Monday, and while I'm happy to be part of a group that works for justice, I sometimes grow weary that there is still so much justice work left to do.

Aren't we there yet?

My pastor asked me weeks ago if I'd preach the sermon on this past Sunday, and I said yes.  But on Sunday morning, I changed my sermon at the last minute.  I was feeling despair, the kind of despair when I want to get in the car and drive far away.  I was feeling overwhelmed by hurricane repairs (ongoing since 2017, yes still) and work stress.  I felt that others might be feeling that way too.

I talked about Jesus coming to show us how to live in community, and we often glorify that community that Jesus created, along with his ideals.  I talked about the BOLD Justice event and the NPR stories I'd been hearing about the Civil Rights workers, about their struggles and our current struggles.

I talked about how justice work was like living in hurricane country.  We rebuild and we fix and we make things better, even as we realize we might have to do it all again.  I want to believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, and that we can bend it that way--but there are days when I feel despair about that arc being very long.

I talked about Holy Week that will soon be upon us, about how I prefer the resurrection story, when everything has come together and a beautiful beauty is born.

But it's important to stay with the crucifixion a bit longer, to remember that Christian community isn't always perfect--far from it.  The crucifixion shows us a community in ruins:  people run away, people kill themselves because they can't believe that they can be forgiven, people have to witness the horror that happens at a state execution.  If you cannot preach like Peter, remember that Peter did not always preach like Peter.

I encouraged us to remember that God can still work glorious transformations out of ruins like the crucifixion.  Our sacred texts remind us of that promise over and over again.  I ended by reading the second verse of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which was written in a dark time in the nation's history, when the rights of newly freed slaves were being rolled back and taken away.  It was to remind little children that a better day was coming, if we can just hold on to that vision.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Lenten Journaling Group: Collage

We began our evening with prayer, and then we went to a table of magazines I had laid out: gardening magazines, photography magazines, back issues of Oprah's magazine, and some spiritual magazines.

I invited everyone to choose a few magazines, and we returned to our seats.

Then I read Isaiah 43: 18-21:

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

I read it again. Then we looked through magazines, ripping and cutting out anything that appealed to us, words, and/or images.

We turned to our journals/paper. Most of us pasted images to paper in a variety of ways:

I then read the Isaiah passage again, and we discussed what we had put together. Most of us assembled images that we liked. Perhaps they reminded us of our friends. Maybe we thought about places we had traveled. I assembled this image after several weeks of work stress, and it doesn't take a trained psychologist to analyze what it means.

We were intrigued by one approach of one of our group:

She found a solid chunk of text and cut it into strips. Then she wrote the lines from Isaiah in between.

I invited us to return to our images at some point later in the week. Perhaps we want to write more or sketch more deeply. Maybe we want to sit in quiet contemplation. God might use this process to speak to us.

We closed with prayer.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019:

Liturgy of the Palms (April 14, 2019)
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40

Liturgy of the Passion (April 14, 2019)
First reading
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Second reading
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

Those of us who have been going to church for awhile have heard these stories dozens of times.  If we go to many or all of the Holy Week services, we'll hear these stories again and again this week.  As we enter Holy Week, how can we hear them differently?

This year, what would happen if we imagined these stories from the perspective of a variety of characters?  I imagine that many of us hear these stories and imagine ourselves one of the disciples.  But what if we told the story through the view of the palms?  What if we thought about the donkey's perspective?  The poet Mary Oliver did just that in "The Poet Thinks About the Donkey," a poem that you can find here:  https://predmore.blogspot.com/2016/03/poem-poet-thinks-about-donkey-by-mary.html.

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

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

The Palm/Passion Sunday readings remind us that the world has always been this way.  Jesus and the disciples lived in an empire far more brutal than the ones that Northern Hemisphere, western culture Christians inhabit.  We may find comfort in our smaller communities, but we are called to live in ways that will likely bring us into some sort of conflict with the larger culture.

We may not end up hanging on a cross, but we may be among those weeping at the foot of the cross.  We may have seen this ending coming, as we have watched our loved ones headed towards an ending that might have been avoidable.  We may find ourselves asking, weeping, lamenting:  "Is there no other way?"

We know that the story doesn't end on Good Friday.  We know that God will make a way when humans cannot see a way.  We know that God promises resurrection, even when we can only see ruin in the way.

We worship a God who has been working through time and outside of time to transform this human condition. We don't always see it, but Easter assures us that the process is in place and that resurrection will break through, even in the most unlikely circumstances.

Monday, April 8, 2019

BOLD Justice Nehemiah Action Tonight: Join Us

As Christians, we're called not just to do charity work, but also to do the justice work necessary so that our societies no longer need charity work.

In Broward county, in South Florida, BOLD Justice, an ecumenical group has been meeting for ten (!) years to demand justice from our local leaders. Some years we've worked on housing issues, some years dental issues, and so on. We make real changes.

This year, we continue to work on preventing senior abuse in nursing homes and helping keep those with mental illnesses out of the criminal justice system. Tonight's rally is where we have politicians join us, and we ask them to work for change. The more people who come, the more they might agree to working for change. 

It's at 7:30 p.m. at St. David Catholic Church, 3900 S. University Drive, Davie. Registration starts at 7. Our group is Trinity Lutheran Church--inside, you'll see the various signs.

All are welcome!

Sunday, April 7, 2019


We used to call the last two weeks of Lent Passiontide--today, the 5th Sunday in Lent, would mark the beginning of Passiontide, which would last through Holy Saturday.

In these days of compression and short attention spans, many churches celebrate all of Holy Week on what once would be called Palm Sunday.

I yearn for a return to the old ways, when crosses would be draped in black or purple for these last two weeks of Lent.

I want to slow down, to savor this season, the austerity of it, the Lenten practices which give our days a discipline.

I want to take time to ponder this Lenten journey from ash

to resurrection.

I want to take my lesson from the monks and others who call us to the old ways, who remind us that those ways still have much to teach us.

This morning, I'm wondering how our experience of Holy Week might change if we stretched it out, rather than trying to contain it all into one Sunday morning. Two weeks to spend with one of the central events of our faith: how might we change?

Saturday, April 6, 2019

A Look Back at Create in Me 2018: Day 1

A year ago, the Create in Me retreat would be waking up to our first full day at camp.  I never really posted the wide variety of pictures that I took, so let me do so today.

We began our Bible study with Kevin Strickland. 

When I look over my notes, I don't see the specific Bible verse we studied on this day in 2018, but I did find some interesting nuggets:  Luke was written at the same time as Matthew (80-85 CE).  Luke has more women doing ministry than any other gospel, but John has more named women.  More than any other Gospel, Luke looks out for the Other.  It's in Luke where we get the inn and no room for a stranger (the Christmas story).

After Bible study, we had our workshops for the day.  Workshops give us time to learn something in a more focused way than the drop-in stations; workshops have at least one leader for a guide.  On the first day of the retreat, we could learn about decorating eggs

and dying them after the wax application:

baking bread

(which would later be used for communion)

essential oils


and a non-craft presentation on immigration (it fit with the hospitality theme of the retreat):

After lunch, we did some worship preparation.  I am always amazed that a group of people can arrive and put together an amazing worship service with so little time and resources.  Of course, we're a group of creative people, so I shouldn't be surprised.

All afternoon, the drop in stations were open.  I won't try to catalog those here--we usually have 12-15 stations, with a variety of activities for a variety of skill levels. 

We also had a community art project:

Everyone was invited to create a place setting--what a fascinating collection by the end of the week-end!  The tags could be used to give information about what hospitality meant to us.  Many people remembered tables and settings that were most hospitable, but some recounted painful memories of exclusion.

After dinner, we had a wonderful worship service:

We ended with time to go back to drop in stations or head off for some private time.

Yes, it was a great retreat.  If these pictures whet your appetite, you could join us the Thursday to Sunday after Easter.  The retreat will be at Lutheridge, a wonderful camp near Asheville, North Carolina.  Go here for more information about the camp and the retreat.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Stony the Road

Yesterday I listened to this wonderful conversation with Henry Louis Gates on NPR's Fresh Air.  He's just published a book, Stony the Road, which explores the time after Reconstruction and how the newly acquired rights of freed slaves were taken away again--in short, it's about the birth of the white supremacist movement that's with us today.

While the whole interview is wonderful, I bring our collective attention to it because at minute 17:06, Gates sings the 4th verse of "Lift Every Voice and Sing."  It's the verse that gives the title for the book, and Terry Gross asks Gates if he can quote it.  He says, "You want me to sing it?"  It was an unexpected blessing.

I was so moved that I hollered for my spouse so that he could listen too.  I am tempted to listen to it every morning.

It's a moving song, just on its face.  Gates reminded us of how we came to have this song:

"Well, this song was written to inspire young black children at a time when there was nothing on the horizon that was inspirational, nothing that would make black people think that the rights our people had been given by the amended Constitution in the 13th, the 14th, and 15th Amendments would ever come back because starting in 1890, those rights had been chipped away by the Redemption governments in the former Confederacy.

So that - the fact that our people never gave up hope, that we never stopped believing that a better day was coming and that if we worked hard enough and prayed hard enough and believed deeply enough, that one day the glories that we saw in Reconstruction would return. And hope against hope, that's what happened."

What a treasure--both the song itself and the willingness of Gates to sing it for us.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

At a Lenten Journaling Workshop: Midway Through

A week ago, I was out of town, so our church's Lenten Journaling Workshop didn't meet.  Last night, we met again and did some thinking about parables--although we might not have always known we were thinking about parables!

First, I handed out 4 slips of paper in different colors. Each person had all four colors. On the green slip, we wrote a natural object. On the lavender sheet, we wrote an action or a verb. On the ivory sheet, we wrote a tool. On the salmon colored slip, we wrote an arts and crafts supply or medium.

Then we pulled slips of paper out of a box. We ended up with these words:

watercolor painting

We wrote/sketched/pondered for 10 minutes with the prompt to write and to use these words as we thought about what God is like.

Then I read Matthew 13: 24-35, which contains two parables where Jesus tries to explain what the kingdom of God/heaven is like. We talked about how the word "kingdom" might mean something different than "heaven," which is a common translation. What might it mean? Perhaps the world as God conceives it.

We then pulled all the slips out of the box:


pine tree
river reeds


watercolor painting
embroidery thread

We then took another 10 minutes to write/draw/respond to create parables of our own. The last thing we did was to try transforming our ideas into haiku. You may or may not remember that haiku is a 3 line structure. The first line has 5 syllables, the second has 12 syllables, and the 3rd line has 5 syllables. Haiku specialists would want me to tell you that there's much more to haiku than the structure, so now I have.

We took some time at the end to read what we wrote, if we wanted, or to discuss our approach.

We talked about why Jesus would teach in parables. I think it's to shock us out of our complacency--Jesus uses some bizarre comparisons to explain God. For example, yeast would be seen as something that pollutes perfectly good bread dough. It would be as if I said, "The Kingdom of God is like mold that takes over your bathroom when you're away on vacation and the AC stops working."

We talked about haiku and the value of condensing ideas into just a few syllables. And then it was time to go.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 5, 2019:

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

Psalm: Psalm 126

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

Gospel: John 12:1-8

I've always had some amount of trouble with this Gospel; I suspect it's because I would have been that disciple who said, "Just think what we could have done with the money that went to buy that expensive oil. Doesn't Jesus know the electric bill is due? We could have helped the poor. And she went and poured it all over his feet!"

I know that traditionally we use this Gospel lesson to make us think forward a few weeks to Good Friday, when Jesus' dead body will be anointed with funeral oils. But there's still something about this Gospel that makes me restless.

Perhaps it is Jesus saying, "The poor you will always have with you." I'm uneasy with the way so many people through the centuries have used this line to justify their unwillingness to work to eradicate poverty. A shrug of the shoulders, that verse out of context, and poof, we don't have to worry about our riches.

I've been trying to sit with this passage in a different context, in the context of the whole Gospel of John. Jesus says that the poor we'll always have with us, but we won't always have Jesus (at least not in human form). I'm trying to see it as Jesus telling us that we must treasure the moments in life that are sweet. Did Jesus know what was about to happen to him? Different theologians would give you different answers, but even if Jesus didn't know all the particulars of his upcoming execution, he must have known that he was stirring up all sorts of worldly trouble for himself. He must have known that he wouldn't have had many more of these occasions to sit and savor a meal.

I'm sure he's also speaking towards our impulse towards anger and self-righteousness. I can criticize the decisions of others in how they spend their money and what they should be spending their money on ("Imagine. She calls herself a Christian and she goes to get her nails done. She could do them herself at home and send the money she would have spent to Habitat for Humanity"). It's not always easy for me to know how to allocate my resources of time, treasure, and energy.

Truth be told, I find it easier to work on many a spiritual discipline than to sit and savor a meal with those whom I love, the ones, whom, like Jesus, I won't always have with me. I find it frighteningly easy to slide into the behavior of the disciples, that self-righteousness which precludes being able to enjoy a meal together.

In these days that feel increasingly hectic, let us remember to take time to focus on what's truly important. Let us put aside the anger and judgment that can make it so hard to live in community. Let us take the time that it takes to break bread together.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Enhance Your Spiritual Practice with Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, and I've always recommended a poetry practice to enrich one's spiritual practice. Why write poetry?

--Many of our sacred texts are written in a variety of poetic forms. Experimenting with writing poetry of our own can enhance our appreciation of the poetry of these texts.

--Much of the teaching of Jesus comes to us as something ambiguous, like a poem.  Think about various parables that tell us what God is like--a woman searching for a lost coin, a father with two sons who are lost in profound ways.  Writing poetry helps us move away from literal readings and gets our brain into a mode where we might better understand this kind of teaching.

--Writing poetry can enhance our powers of observation, which will enhance our feelings of gratitude and praise for our creator. I could make this case about other art forms too.

--If we're experimenting with poetry, it takes less time than some other art forms, like say, writing a novel or painting a huge mural. But the payoffs can be much greater than the investment of time would lead one to believe.

How to get started? Let's begin at the beginning, with the simple line. I'll give you some prompts, and you fill in the blank.

The creator is like __________________________.

I am a creation, the same as __________________________.

All of my being sings a song of __________________________.

_________________________ best represents my future.

Here's another exercise. Choose a color and then do the following prompt:

--list 5 shades of this color.

--list your 3 favorite things that are this color.

--this color represents what mood?

--what's a song that uses this color?

--what aspect of God does this color represent?

You may have a poem right there, hiding in plain sight in your answers.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Be Your Best Teacher, Not Your Ideal Teacher

At some point, I may go through my AWP notes in hopes of capturing those things which seem worth remembering.  I go back through my blog more often than I go through my travel notebooks, because it's more searchable.  I suppose I could have lugged my laptop everywhere, but it's much easier for me to take notes by hand.

Part of me wonders why I'm taking these notes.  In part, it's a way of paying attention.  In part, because those things I note seem worth it at the time.  I looked through the notes I took at last year's AWP, and I enjoyed the memories as I read through them, but didn't find much of the material speaking to me a year later.  Hmm.

I talked about blogging with a fellow conference attendee on the plane ride back.  She gave me several quizzical looks as we chatted while the plane was descending to the Dallas airport.  I said that I didn't realize Portland was such a big city--that quirked eyebrow was deserved.  But when I said I blogged, she said she had kept a blog once, but didn't write anymore.  She said it seemed like such a chore, that daily writing.

I realized as we chatted that I keep this blog for all sorts of reasons.  It's become a repository of all sorts of things, and it's more searchable than my written notebooks.

Today instead of looking back over my notes, let me capture here the one tidbit that was so memorable that I don't need my notebook to remember.  As I've moved through the conference, one person's advice stuck with me.  At a panel about achieving balance between doing one's own writing and helping student writers, one woman said, "Don't be the teacher you always wished you had.  That's a way to insanity.  Instead, think of a good teacher that you had in real life and try to be that person."

It seemed like a great way of capturing the way that many of us set impossible standards for ourselves, and then beat ourselves up for not ever living up to them.  It seems applicable across many of life's situations:  the way we think we should be more spiritually evolved, our relationships with each other, on and on I could go.

Another note about that panel--they were refreshingly honest about how much of the drudgery work they have outsourced, like the cleaning of the house and the lawn work.

Now it's back to that regular life--so much work I haven't yet outsourced and so much of it that can't be outsourced.  I need to go to spin class and then work.

But before that, let me also capture the wonder of the geography of this country as seen from the air.  Yesterday I saw both Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helen's.  I gasped when I saw Mt. St. Helen's, that snowy peak stuck on a green landscape, and then later Mt. Hood.

And then we were over the mountains, seeing that vast dry landscape, and then more mountains, which I assume must have been New Mexico.  I thought about how amazing it was that people made their way across that landscape, on horses or in covered wagons.  There's so little water visible from the air.  And the land looks treacherous, even from above--or do I think that, just because I know the history of those settlers?

Interesting to see the mountains and rivers from the air, those places I've read so much about, those places that have shaped my imagination--and the larger country too.

And now, back to more mundane things:  spin class and then work, where a new term awaits.  Welcome Spring quarter!