Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bucket Lists of Joy

I've been having a low energy week, which is unusual for me.  I'm used to a low energy day here and there, but a whole week?  Of course, it's only Thursday, but I'm willing to call the whole week a low energy week, even if I perk back up again tomorrow.

This morning, I woke up with a scratchy throat, and I thought, hmm, maybe that's why I've been tired--maybe I've been fighting off something.  Or maybe it's that last week required lots of energy, and I'm just depleted.  Or maybe both.

Last night I went to dinner with the church friend that went to the Create in Me retreat with me.  She reached out with the suggestion, and I was so pleased that we could find a time to meet.

We checked in with each other:  how have our creative lives progressed after the retreat?  Several times, my friend has baked the bread that she learned to make at the retreat.  She has just completed a very successful writing month, writing every day, and being surprised and happy at how much inspiration she finds each day.

Until I thought about it this morning, I would have said that I had been struggling.  And I do always feel a sense of not having enough time--I don't expect that to change, unless I lose my job.  But I've been assembling a file of poems for a new collection; it doesn't sound like a project that would take a lot of time, but it has taken several afternoons.  I've typed some poems for that project.  I've written new poems for it.

I've also channeled some of my creative life energy into the Pentecost project that my church did:  we completed 3 different projects, which I wrote about in Tuesday's post.

So let me change the story I've been telling myself.  I've been having a pretty good creative time.  It's no wonder I'm feeling a bit drained this week.

Let me also record something my friend talked about last night that I want to try sooner rather than later.  She talked about creating a bucket list for the year.  But it's a different kind of bucket list.  It's comprised of things that she has always wanted to do, things that would bring her joy.  So, the Create in Me retreat was on the list.  Having a spa day with her sister was on the list.

I asked her how many things were on the list.  She said, "Oh, about 10."

I'm a woman of lists and goals, as readers of this blog know.  But lately, my lists have been sheer drudgery:  scrub the walls of the cottage and see if the mold returns.  Call a variety of contractors who will probably never get back to me. 

My heart leapt up at the idea of a list of activities that will bring me joy.  I also felt a bit of sorrow, since my first thought was one of having nothing to add to the list.  But I know how to defeat that inner voice of doom.  I'll make a huge list of lots of possibilities, I'll write fast, I'll write whatever bubbles up.  And then, I'll choose 10.

My birthday is July 14.  I'll have that list by my birthday.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 27, 2018:

First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm: Psalm 29

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-17

Gospel: John 3:1-17

Ah, Holy Trinity Sunday. It's interesting to look at various denominations to see how each one handles the idea of the Trinity. Some Christians are certainly more Trinitarian than others. I know that the idea of a Triune God is a huge stumbling block for many people.

As a child, this concept didn't bother me much. It seemed obvious that humans had many different sides, so why shouldn't God? As I got older, the idea of God being able to split those selves into various incarnations seemed a cool trick, but why shouldn't God be able to do that? I'd like to do that, but I don't want those other responsibilities that come with divinity. I'm working to be happy to let God be God, to let the mystery of the Trinity not even enter my consciousness.

Lately, as I've been thinking about community, I return to the idea of the Trinity--we worship a communal God who desires to be in community with us. I've always liked the symbolism of a braid, and Trinity Sunday seems a good time to return to that symbol. In a braid, each strand can stand alone--but what a more intriguing shape they make when woven together.

We might look again at the story of Nicodemus, a man who was a serious scholar. Jesus tells him, and us, that we must be born anew. We might look at our place in the braid of the Kingdom and wonder how we might be born anew. We are not that far from Pentecost. We should be listening for the Spirit.

I love verse 8, which says, "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." My rational mind rebels. My rational brain demands that we make a plan, a plan for each day, a 5 year plan, a 10 year plan. My rational brain makes lists and wakes me up at 3:00 in the morning with worries.

I like the mystical promise of the Spirit. We do not have to know what we are doing; we do not need a plan--we just need to be open to the movement of the Spirit, a task which is not as easy as it might sound. God invites us to be part of the work of creating the Kingdom, right here and right now. But Christ tells us that we need to be born anew.

The evangelical movements have done a lot with John 3:16, which may be one of the most famous Bible verses. Many evangelicals can tell you the exact day and time that they were born again. However, many of us find this model lacking. Being born again is not a one-step process, when we invite Jesus into our hearts and we're done. Most of us need to be born again each day, day after day.

Now is the time for a different approach to this effort of being born again. We could greet each day, asking our Triune God to help us be born anew to be braided into community and Kingdom building. We could end each day by thanking our creator for the ways that we've been shaped that day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pentecost Art Projects

Once, we had piles of fabric and tissue paper.

On Pentecost, we had banners.

Once we had ribbons and strips of fabric.

On Pentecost, we decorated pews and then moved them to an area draped in white behind the altar.

Once, we had glass blocks and small tiles.

On Pentecost, we had more visual interest on the altar.

Because of flooding in my neighborhood, I barely made it for the service; happily, others were there to decorate.  There are a few other elements to add, like the red candles that I have.  Maybe over the next weeks, we'll make changes here and there, just to keep people paying attention.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Pentecost Report

Yesterday the early morning rains continued and intensified.  At 6:30, I waded through calf-deep water to move the car to higher ground from the street.  I thought, hmm, I wonder if I'll be able to get to church to lead the 8:30 service.  Our pastor was out of town yesterday, and I was supposed to lead all the services.

By 8, the street was flooded, as were the sidewalks.  Luckily, I was able to send a Facebook message to one of the women who had keys, and she was already there with the church open.  Hurrah!  They ended up leading themselves, and I kept an eye on the river outside my house.

By 9:15, it was clear I wouldn't make it to the 9:45 service, at least not for the start.  Once again, Facebook came to the rescue.  I messaged a different woman, and she was able to lead the group.  I had planned to get to church early yesterday to decorate with the Pentecost art projects; now, the 9:45 group got to do it.

At 10, we could see that the center of the road was dry, so I decided that at 10:30, I'd give it a try.  And I was successful!

It was a small group at church--just 35 people gathered to celebrate one of our high holy days.  But I wasn't surprised.  If I had no preaching responsibilities, I'd have stayed home too.  I was pleased with my sermon.  I began by talking about the other great festivals of the church and where we find ourselves in them.  I talked about the book of Acts making me feel inadequate.  I don't want to go out into all the world with just the shoes on my feet.  I mentioned much of what I wrote about in this post yesterday.  And then I thought, am I throwing out the book of Acts?  I talked about visions, about needing new visions.

I talked about the royal wedding, and how nice it was to see my Facebook feed fill up with people who were rapturous about the wedding.  I talked about how we need visions like the one of the royal wedding, visions of love and happiness.  I talked about the invitation of God to a world that's more like the royal wedding than like the usual anger and sadness that fill up our days.

I'm happy to say that it was much more eloquent as I was saying it.  Two people told me that I helped them understand what Pentecost was all about.  I think that's good, although I was giving a somewhat alternate approach, what with my wondering what the Church would be like if we hadn't had a book of Acts, if we had no Paul.

I was glad I made the effort to get to church.  It was good to declare that God has a grand dream for all of us, a vision much richer than any of us can imagine.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Soggy Pentecost

We've had some great, rushing winds, but they brought in waves of rain, not the Holy Spirit--more reminiscent of Noah and the ark, not a day of Pentecost.  I'm in charge at church today, so I'm a bit fretful about flooded streets, but I'll trust that it will all work out.

Many churches approach Pentecost warily or not at all.  Much like the unsettled weather we've been having in the past few years and decades, this holiday makes us unsettled.  We say we invite the power of God into our world, but are we serious?  If we look at the stories of what happens when God moves in the world, it's usually a time of upheaval, not comfort.

We often hear the stories of the early church--those believers going out in small groups, often pairs, taking very little with them, trusting in God and the communities they will find.  If we resist the idea of Pentecost, perhaps it's because we don't want this outcome for ourselves.  I think of Paul in prison, but I don't always remember the rescue.  I focus on the part that scares me.

This year, at the Create in Me retreat, our Bible study leader Kevin Strickland had us look at the end of the book of John.  He pointed out that the disciples have gone back to doing what they were doing before Jesus came to town:  fishing.  And they're unsuccessful.  Jesus tells them to move the nets to the other side of the boat.  They don't have to move to a new lake.  They just have to do what they're already doing, but a bit differently.

If this was the Pentecost story, if we didn't have the book of Acts, would more of us invite God into our daily lives?  Most churches focus on the stories of young men, Jesus and the disciples, all men in their 30's, men who forsake their families and throw away all their responsibilities to go follow Jesus.  Simon Peter has a mother-in-law; we know of her existence when Jesus heals her.  What happened to his family while he traipsed around with Jesus?

Pentecost stories are similar:  lives overturned which is great for the history of the church, but perhaps not so great for the individuals involved.  What if we had stories that told us that our dreams for ourselves can mesh with God's greatest dreams for humanity?

That story might comfort those of us who still have visions, but what if we feel hollowed out?  What if we've forgotten how to dream?

Pentecost reassures us with the mystical promise of the Spirit. We do not have to know what we are doing; we just need to be open to the movement of the Spirit. Pentecost promises daring visions; we don’t have to know how we’re going to accomplish them. God will take care of that.

God became incarnate to prepare humans to carry on the work of Kingdom creation. And Pentecost reminds us of our job description, to let the Holy Spirit blow into our hollowed out spaces and to fill us with the fire to dream and the resources to bring our visions to life.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Doors of Create in Me

The Create in Me retreat feels so far away today.
The tide of regular life has rushed back in to swamp my little boat. Let me post some pictures of doors that I took during the retreat. 
Let me remember that doors that might appear locked may well swing open if I knock.
When I first saw the workshop offering fairy doors, like the one in the picture above and below, I wondered why we'd want to do that.
After seeing some of the doors, I regretted not making one of my own.
But I can still take joy in these pictures.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Poetry Friday: When Jesus Comes to Your High School

Being around high school students this week took me back to one of my Jesus in the world poems, my series that attempts to answer that old Sunday School question of how the world would react if Jesus returned again and what would Jesus do and how would we recognize him?

I wrote this poem after reading a biography of Kurt Cobain, of Nirvana fame.  Hard to believe how long it's been since Cobain died, so long since that music which seemed to split the world open.  I remember a few details from that book, chief amongst them that Cobain often played a guitar that was out of tune, a guitar that didn't have enough strings.  Did he not know how to tune the guitar?  Did the missing string habit come from his poverty days and he'd gotten used to playing the guitar that way?  The book didn't have the answer.

I've been on a streak with these kinds of poems--but I do worry that they all cover the same territory after awhile.  It's good to revisit them to see that my poem about Jesus getting a dog is very different from this one.

Chiron Review published it years ago.  I think it still holds up.

New KidIf Jesus came to your high school,
he'd be that boy with the untuned guitar,
which most days was missing a string.
Could he not afford a packet of guitar strings?
Did he not know how to tune the thing?
Hadn't he heard of an electronic tuner?
Jesus would smile that half smile and keep playing,
but offer no answers.

If Jesus came to your high school,
he'd hang out with the strange and demented.
He'd sneak smokes with the drug addled.
He'd join Chorus, where the otherworldly
quality of his voice wouldn’t quite blend.
He'd play flute in Band.
He'd spend his lunch hour in the library, reading and reshelving.

You would hear his songs echoing
in your head, down the hallways, across the years.
They'd shimmer at you and just when you thought you grasped
their meaning, your analytical processes would collapse.
Instead, you write strange poems
to delight your children who draw mystical
pictures to illustrate your poems inspired
by Jesus, who sang the songs of angels,
that year he came to your high school.