Monday, January 16, 2017

Steps on the Staircase

What a strange week this is likely to be, bookended by this MLK day and the inauguration of Donald Trump.  It's a good week to remind myself of my favorite quote by King:

"The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." 

I want to remember times when it seemed like no progress could ever be made, and then, voila, history changed in what seemed like a flash:  the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, for example, or Nelson Mandela being set free.

I want to believe that even if an administration makes changes I don't always agree with (like the changes to the welfare system in the 90's), it may work out in ways I don't expect.  And even disastrous policies aren't forever.  They may point us in a way we'd rather go.

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  MLK

Over the week-end, we had a lovely Sunday lunch--we compared notes on when and where we were born.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because the hometown didn't have a local hospital.  Two of them were born in different places than their hometowns because their hometown hospitals didn't have the capacity to deliver "colored babies."

We have seen enormous changes happen during our lifetimes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  MLK

Four of us had seen the movie Hidden Figures, but two had not, so we couldn't discuss it thoroughly.  Still, we agreed that what we liked best about the movie was how uplifting it was.  No one was blown up.  The racist southerners were capable of change--maybe not huge changes, but change enough to open the door to more.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”  MLK

Today is a day to dream big and bold visions. We could change our society. We could make it better. What would that society look like?

We have to dream that dream before we can achieve it. We have to find the courage to hold tightly to our visions. We have to face down all the fire hoses, both those of our minds which inform us of the impossibility of our dreams and those of our society, that tells us to move more slowly.

But first we have to dream. Dream boldly, today of all days.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Hidden Figures" and the Aspects of Religion

Yesterday we went to see Hidden Figures--what a great movie!

I know that some people might see this kind of movie as homework--but it's not, despite its rootedness in history, in recovering a history that's been lost.  I've heard it referred to as a movie made the way that movies used to be made, and that's a compliment:  there are fully formed characters (more than one!), attention to detail, a narrative arc, and oddly, a lot of suspense, even though I knew how it all turned out.

For a traditional movie review, see this blog post on my creativity blog.  Here I want to think about the religious aspects of the movie.  Let me specify that the religious aspects are quiet--but they're there.

Early in the movie, we see a scene set in church.  A different viewer might see this scene as one that explains a romance that we see played out in the movie.  How many viewers have lost or never knew the idea that religious practices were a major part of people's lives not too long ago?

Because the characters are religious, we don't see them wrestle with sexual issues--or maybe it's because it's the early 60's.  Or maybe because there are children.  I found it refreshing.  There's an idea that the kisses that come early in a relationship are a big deal--not something done on the first date.

We see characters say grace--I found this as refreshing a change as seeing women do math and make the computers work.

Like I said, it's a quiet aspect of the movie--not quite hidden, but quiet.  But it's there, and if I had more time, I might explore how the religious aspects help keep the characters rooted--and civilized--and ready to stand up for themselves--if, indeed, we can give religion the credit.  Maybe it's the friendship of the women.  It's not an aspect we see in the movie, that idea that religion keeps us ready for fights for social justice, or at least it's not there openly, the way it is in Selma, for example.

Perhaps the quiet aspect is more realistic, in the way that so much of the movie is realistic--and refreshing.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Self Care and Other Types of Care

I have spent the past week eating some of the soups that I stashed in the freezer just after Christmas.  The week before Christmas, my spouse made a wonderful soup out of the ham bone (with lots of ham too!) that we brought home with us over Thanksgiving, and on the morning of Christmas Eve, I made a veggie soup.  I thought that people might want soup on Christmas Eve, so I took them to church. 

We had lots of leftovers, and we already had a full fridge.  So I put them away for later.  It's wonderful to have food in the freezer for later.

I was not always this way.  Once we had a full-size, standing freezer.  I would routinely make casseroles in double and triple amounts and freeze the extra, only to find that I never wanted them again.  I wanted to cook something new.

Those days are these days--these days, I love being able to pull something out of the freezer during these weeks when I'm not home much.  I love having soup for lunch--a soup that reminds me of both Thanksgiving and Christmas, no less.

It's important self-care.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I heard a story on "The World" (can't find a link, though) about the British journalist who released a dossier on Trump and the Russians.  He's gone underground, but before leaving, he made arrangements for someone to take care of his cats.  There was some chuckling about a James Bond type spy making arrangements for his cat, but I found it touching.

Today, my spouse and I will do some marriage self-care.  We are going to see Hidden Figures.  He was the first to hear about it, and he said, "I'd really like to see that movie."  He only feels this way about once every three years, so I made note of it.  I'd like to see it too, for many reasons, but mainly because I want these kinds of movies to be made, and thus, I feel like I should support them.

Awhile ago, my spouse and I realized that we too seldom get out and do anything out of the ordinary, unless we have out of town visitors.  We wanted to show ourselves the same kind of care and attention that we do our out of town guests.  We're not always good at that, but we try to be aware.

Is it sad that going to a movie qualifies?  I don't think so.  We very seldom go to movies.  Today's outing feels more like a special occasion than Thursday's outing to the Irish pub, although that felt special too.

It's certainly more special than the alternative:  house care, although that needs to be done too.  For weeks, we had more food in the house than I could figure out how we would eat--but we've eaten most of it.  We need to do some grocery shopping.  The pool doesn't get our attention as much during January as it does in the summer--thus, it's got more leaves in it than I like to see.  We've got weeds coming up in our decorative areas that have river rock.

But today we will go see a movie.  We will celebrate people of vision.  It's a good way to start our MLK week-end.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Blooming Seasonally

In the dead of winter, let us think of the azaleas of spring:

Let us remember the first daffodils of February:

We could force the flowers open, the way our female relatives used to do with Christmas cactus and amaryllis:

But for those of us with eyes to see, let us appreciate the spare beauty of winter, with its stripped branches and bare flower beds:

Even in a winter landscape, there are bursts of color:

And we can rest assured that Spring will come again, with its riotous explosion of flowers:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Poor in Spirit

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The Gospel reading for Sunday, January 15, 2017:

Matthew 5:  1-3

This Sunday my pastor begins a multi-week study of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes.  Some have said that if you were choosing the most important passages of the Gospels, we'd do well to choose this text.  Some have called it a guidebook to the proper behavior of Christians.  Is this text an updating of the Ten Commandments or the replacing?  Or something else altogether?

This morning, I've been thinking about what it means to be poor in spirit.  I've been trying to see the text with new eyes, to listen to these passages as the weeks go on with ears that haven't ever heard these nuggets of wisdom.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  Let me list some possibilities that come to mind:


--prone to depression

--a poverty of the pocketbook

--non-believer, someone who can't believe

--a person who is toxic to others

--someone who doesn't tell us how they really feel

--angry mindset


On and on I could go--what does Jesus really mean when he talks about people who are poor in spirit?  Many interpreters come to the idea that poor in spirit means someone who realizes how lacking they are in a spiritual outlook, and thus need God even more.  But as we sit and ponder all the possibilities, we see that this small passage could mean many things.

For those of us assuming that the Sermon on the Mount isn't about us, perhaps Jesus begins with this calling of the poor in spirit blessed, because who amongst us can't relate?  We've all had moments when we're impoverished that way.  Jesus calls us blessed, which may not be what we'd expect.

For those of us who see the Bible as a guidebook for moral behavior, we might see ourselves challenged to approach the text in a new way.  For those who see moral behavior as our ticket to Heaven, we might also be challenged to think differently.

Christ came to announce that God's plan for redeeming the world had begun. That plan involves our pre-death world, which is not just a place where we wait around until it's our turn to go to Heaven. No, this world is the one that God wants to redeem. Christ comes to invite us to be part of the redemptive plan.

The Sermon on the Mount might be the essential teachings of Jesus, distilled into several pages.  In this early part of the text, we see an inclusive message.  We may not be spiritually gifted, but we are blessed too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 15, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm: Psalm 40:1-12 (Psalm 40:1-11 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Gospel: John 1:29-42

Today's Gospel continues the story of Jesus' baptism, and it has lessons for each of us. Notice that Jesus doesn't get baptized and go home to sit on the sofa. He doesn't say, "Well, I'm glad I got that spiritual landmark over with. Now I don't have to do anything else until I die and get to go to Heaven."

No. Jesus goes out and tackles his mission. What is his mission? The same as ours: to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is revealing itself right here, right now, that God is breaking through our mundane daily life to transform us into better people in a better world.

But notice that Jesus doesn't go around yakking about this all the time. He's not the type of guy that drives most of us crazy, all talk and no follow through. When people ask about his mission, he says, "Come and see."

And what will people see? They will see a man healing the sick, comforting the poor in spirit, feeding the poor in wealth, eating with the outcast, and supporting the lowest people in society's social stratum:  women, children, demon possessed, tax collectors, the diseased, and the like. They will see a man who sacrifices his social life and prospects for a long life so that other lives will have improvement. They will see a man of constant movement.

What do people see when they look at our lives? I've said it before, but it bears repeating: people pay attention to our actions. If our actions don't match our words, people don't accept our words. But it's worse: people see us as hypocrites, one of those Christian types they hate so much. But wait, it's even worse: if our actions habitually don't match our words, people begin to assume that ALL Christians are hypocrites.

It's tough, this mission of being God's hands in a world that needs so much.  So, let's start with a simple approach.  Each morning, ask God to help you be the light of the world today. Remember that the world watches you, waiting for your light. Remember that when your light shines, other people feel better about being people of the sun. Forgive yourself for days when you're a dimly burning wick (to use the words of Isaiah's, in last week's readings) and remember that God does not extinguish a dimly burning wick.  Even a dimly burning wick is better than no light at all.

Martin Luther said that faith should move your feet. We are called to be Movement People. And even the smallest movements can lead to great changes down the road.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mepkin Abbey in June

I have been meeting 2 monastic minded friends at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina on a regular basis since 2004.  We began our monastic exploration as we fell in love with Kathleen Norris.  One friend had already been going out to Mepkin Abbey just to spend an afternoon, and she suggested we go there for a retreat.

Back then, the Abbey rarely had formal retreats that explored topics.  But in the past year or 2, with the new retreat center, the emphasis has shifted.  Now it's harder to find a week-end where one could do an unstructured retreat with friends.

Yesterday, one of those friends wrote to ask if we'd gotten the newsletter and considered the retreat in June that will explore the power of story.  I'd been looking for week-ends with nothing scheduled, but her e-mail made me think again.

Long story short, during the course of an afternoon, we decided to do it.  I checked with my boss who said I could take those days off.  I can't take it as professional development, but I don't care.  And by then, I'll need something to help with renewal.

I haven't been to Mepkin Abbey in the summer.  I'm intrigued by how the monastery moves through the calendar year and the liturgical year, so I'm excited to try a new season.

I had been feeling a bit of despair without realizing it.  I can't go to the Create in Me retreat this year.  It will be the week-end before the accreditors arrive, so there's just no way.  I had been worried, without even realizing it, that I might never make it back to Mepkin Abbey, with so many week-ends unavailable.  I've been worried--but realizing it--that my new job will make it harder to get away, harder to see friends, harder to have a work-life balance.

I do think I will have to be aware, as we all need to be, and to remain on the look-out for ways to get these kinds of opportunities into my life.  I am happy to have a reunion with my monastic minded friends.  I am happy to return to Mepkin Abbey.  I am happy for a chance to experience a retreat that explores a topic dear to my heart (narrative!  story! intersections with spirituality!)--and it's led by a father-son team; I'm always interested in how my mom and I might lead retreats.

But mostly, I am happy that my monastic minded friend offered an invitation, and I worked my way to saying yes more quickly than I usually do.  My Epiphany star leads the way: