Friday, April 28, 2017

Accreditation Day 2

Today is our final day with the accreditors.  Yesterday went fairly well, so I don't face today filled with dread, the way I have at the end of some accreditation visits.  And I went home when there was still light in the sky, so I see that as a good sign too.  It was fading light, to be sure, but we didn't have to stay into the night, like we might have, if there had been big issues found on the first day.

Yesterday was anticlimactic in the way that I expected.  I sat at my desk waiting to be interviewed/needed.  I didn't want to start on any project that was too involved, since at any moment I could be interrupted--and my major project of the last months, getting ready for accreditation, was done.

Yesterday the team went to various externship sites, and from various reports, those trips went well.  Today should be a quieter day.  I wish I had the kind of writer's brain that could work on poems while waiting for it to be my turn to be interviewed.  So far, I have not.  I wrote up meeting minutes, but that's about the extent of the writing I could do.

Since I began this job, a major part of my attention has been focused on this visit by the accreditors.  There was an enormous amount of work to do.  Now it's time for me to turn my attention back to the real work that never ends and is always so important:  strengthening the school and changing the lives of students.

Let me offer a prayer for the strength and wisdom to do just that.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Prayer for the Day the Auditors Arrive

We have served as shepherds in this process:



We have spent months at our desks to compile all the reports, on reams and reams of paper:



All is ready for the guests to arrive:



We know that we are surrounded by those who keep us in their thoughts and prayers.  They wish us well:



We have faith that we are in a labyrinth, not a maze:



I offer prayers for all who meet with auditors today.  Let our speech be true and concise.  Let us know the answers to the questions that are asked.  Let our words and actions be pleasing to all who judge us.



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 30, 2017:


First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Psalm: Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17 (Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

Today we read of the sojourners on their way to Emmaus. This story gives us an important window into the lives we are to have as Christians, particularly when it comes to the sharing of a meal, and our basic obligations when it comes to hospitality.

That hospitality is the often overlooked side of the Emmaus story. The travelers have walked seven miles together.  For those of you who are wondering, that might take the modern walker, walking at a fast clip, a bit over two hours; in Biblical times, with unpaved roads with poorly shod feet, I'm estimating it would take half a day. When they get back to their house, they don't say to Jesus, "Well, good luck on your journey."

No--they invite him inside. What remarkable hospitality. They share what they have. They don't say, "Well, I can't let you see my house in its current state--let's go out to dinner." No, they notice that the day is nearly done, and they invite a stranger in to stay the night.  They don't direct the stranger to the nearest inn.

Those of you who have read your Bible will recognize a motif. God often appears as a stranger, and good things come to those who invite a stranger in. For those of you who protest that modern life is so much more dangerous than in Biblical times, and so it was safer for people like Abraham and the Emmaus couple to invite the stranger to stay, I'd have to disagree.

Without that hospitality, those strangers never would have known their fellow traveler. We are called to model the same behavior.

One thing we can do in our individual lives is to adopt a Eucharistic mindset. Never has this been more vital. Most people have ceased cooking for themselves, and many Americans are eating at least one meal a day while they drive.

Rebel against this trait. Look for ways to make meals special. Cook for yourself. Invite your friends and loved ones to dinner. Occasionally, invite a stranger. Each week, go to a different bakery and buy yourself some wonderful bread. Open a bottle of wine and savor a glass.

Bread and wine are relatively cheap and available. When I was a teenager living in Knoxville, Tennessee, my father went to D.C. on business, and brought back sourdough bread. I thought I had never tasted anything so wonderful, and marveled at a city where you could just buy such a creation from a bakery.

Well now, most of us do. Even in small towns, it's possible to get good bread. And it's easy to make it for yourself, if you want to restore even more sanity to your schedule. And while you make that bread, you can marvel at the miracle of yeast, and think again about Jesus' call for us to be the leaven (the yeast) in the loaf.

Jesus calls us to a Eucharistic life, which requires a major readjustment of our mindset around the issues of food, drink, time, and hospitality. Consider the Capitalist/Consumerist model that our culture offers us, and the invitation from Jesus looks even more attractive.

So, before the day gets later, go and buy some bread. Think about the many ways that bread (and other grains) sustain most of us throughout the world. Drink some wine and think about the miracle of fermentation; ponder the reality that in many parts of the world, people drink fermented beverages because the water supply is tainted, but fermentation provides some protection.

You are the leaven in the loaf, the yeast that turns grape juice into the miracle of wine--how can you make that manifest in the world today?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Nouwen at Midlife

I have been reading Gracias, Henri Nouwen's journal of his time in South America.  When I got to the entry where he talks about his 50th birthday, I did some calculations and figured out that he didn't go to Daybreak, the intentional community where he finally felt at home, until he was 54 or so.

That realization gave me such hope.  I love the fact that Nouwen was in a life-long discernment process, and that it didn't bear obvious fruit until the latter part of his life. 

Of course, I feel that way because of my own life.  In this journal of Nouwen's, I'm reading about all sorts of people who seem to be living a life more dedicated to God than the one that I am living.  And yet, with this journal, I read between the lines to see, in ways that I didn't before, that these missionary lives are full of doubt and uncertainty too.

I suspect that none of us can be sure throughout our whole lives that we're doing what we're put on earth to do--if we even believe that we were put on earth to do something specific.  Living a life in sync with our values means we must remain ever alert.

Let us remain ever alert.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rainy Sunday

I had a delightful day yesterday, although it didn't proceed the way that I thought it might.  At one point, I wrote this Facebook post:  "Should I be doing something different to get ready for this week's accreditation visit? On this rainy Sunday afternoon, all I really want to do is read Henri Nouwen's South American journal and Barbara Brown Taylor's "Learning to Walk in the Dark." Perhaps that's the best way to prepare?"

And that, dear readers, is exactly what I did.  I felt fortunate to have a roof over my head that wasn't leaking in yesterday's heavy rains and a front porch deep enough where we could sit and watch the rain.

Early in the day, I thought about not going to church--my spouse and I are both in that end of the term period where we just feel overwhelmed with work left to do--and then he starts a job at a new school, which requires onboarding, and I, of course, have the accreditation visit.

But we did go, and it was good, both in terms of spirituality and in terms of being needed, since some of our members were on retreat and others had trouble getting to church because of the severe weather.  I helped as assistant minister, and my spouse sang a wonderful solo during "Wade in the Water."  We counted money after church.

And then we made our way home through flooding rains.  Luckily, our house was OK, and our other car hadn't been submerged.  We made a pot of chili and ate our linner (lunch/dinner) on the porch.  And although I knew I should be grading, I decided that I'd rather get up early this morning, which I did, and enjoy yesterday afternoon, which I did.

My spouse graded his papers on the porch, but I decided to read.  I finished Nouwen's journal, which was interesting but didn't speak to me the way I thought it might when I dipped in and out of it on Good Friday.  I finished Learning to Walk in the Dark in one fell swoop; I had read it before, and it's relatively short and an easy read.

Both books both did and did not speak to me at this point in my life.  I feel like I am walking in the dark, in a time of great political uncertainty (like Nouwen's time when he wrote the journal in the early 80's).  How would I have wanted the books to be different?

Taylor's book explored darkness in a more literal way, which was interesting, but not the book of coping strategies I might have preferred.  I found Nouwen's various lack of connections from the South American communities to be more fascinating than the political situation, but he doesn't spend as much time exploring that.

Still, it was a great way to spend a rainy Sunday.  And now it's on to the week ahead.  I'm ready to see what happens!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Calm Before the Accreditation Visit

I think of this week-end as the calm before the accreditation visit.  I've spent it by spending time with friends, getting a hair cut, and thinking about what I need this week.

Today I plan to make homemade granola bars (I posted the recipe here).  It may be the kind of week where I can't heat up left over food in the microwave.  These homemade granola bars have almost too many calories for a snack, but as meal replacement, it will be good.  I can grab a bite here and there as I race between duties.

But it may not be that kind of week, so I'll also make a casserole so that I have leftovers for lunch.

I need to get to a store to buy some essentials.  I don't have enough V8 juice to make it through the week.  I plan to drink a huge glass every morning.  When I can't be sure I'll have enough time to eat my vegetables, I'll drink them!

One of my online classes is coming to an end, which means I have papers to grade.  I'd like to get those done today.  That task will be one that I spread out throughout the day.

And while I am beginning to feel like I should sit down and read my school's catalogue and self-evaluation report again (and I might look through parts of the material before the day is over), I will first go to church.  I will hear the Good News and do some sketching and try to keep everything in perspective!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Planting Prayer Flags for Earth Day

How should Christians celebrate Earth Day? You might think that the best way to celebrate Earth Day would be to head to the garden to plant. But what if you don’t have gardening skills?

This year, let’s plant prayer flags.

I don’t mean the traditional Tibetan prayer flags, although those flags inspire this idea. Pastor Naomi Sease Carriker told me about her simple practice at a recent Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge.  

She writes prayers on tulle and ties them to a pieces of lattice fencing in her garden. She takes great joy in seeing them flutter in the breeze. The fluttering reminds her to pray.

I love this idea on so many levels. I love a good purpose for fabric scraps. Although the tulle catches the breezes easily, I imagine most fabrics would work. And what a great way to add color to the garden.

Any practice that reminds us to pray has value, and this prayer flag idea has an added bonus. I need to be reminded that I pray so that I turn over issues to the One who is much more powerful than I am. Prayer flags give us this ongoing symbol: that we release the prayers to go to the Creator who can handle it from there. The visual reminder to let go of some of these issues once I've prayed about them seems especially important in our culture that prizes self-sufficiency and the ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

If we write our prayers, on fabric or on paper, we may find ourselves able to release the anxiety that often comes from our unacknowledged needs or our inability to find solutions. If we tie the fabric prayers in places where we'll see them, we can be reminded that we’ve handed it over to God.

I find many of my spiritual disciplines coming back to fabric. Even the ones that I think are word-based, like the spiritual journal, have some interesting possibilities in fabric. I have a vision of quilting the Psalms. I wonder how many other spiritual disciplines that I think involve other mediums could migrate to fabric.

I also like the idea that I can beautify the garden without having to deal with the dead plants that often come when people like me love the planting but forget the daily work of watering. The fluttering of the fabric scraps reminds me to pray for the mending of the planet.

There are as many ways to celebrate Earth Day as there are humans to celebrate it: we could clean vacant lots or reclaim poisoned plots of earth or buy a bouquet of flowers to remind us of green and growing creations. We could write letters to heads of corporations that need to clean up their acts or protest in a different way. We could run for office or go to schools to raise consciousness.

But we can also pray. Planting prayer flags can remind us to pray long after Earth Day has come and gone. The natural world needs our prayers now more than ever.