Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday Centering Meditation

Once the Friday after Thanksgiving launched the Christmas shopping season; now we see Black Friday leaking into other parts of November.  Today, before/as we launch ourselves fully into the holiday season, let's take a minute to remember why we're celebrating Christmas, if we're Christians.




It's not about the gifts under the tree, it's about the baby in the manger.




But if we stay stuck in the story with the cute baby in the manger, we've lost the important point of the story.




Let's remember the true meaning of that baby in the manger, if we're Christians.







And if we leave Christ on the cross, we've lost the even larger story.



And the empty tomb with empty grave cloths is not even the end of the story.  We have a mission--and it's not to get the best bargains.  Could we transform our holiday season so that we're doing something to heal the world?  It could be something as simple as adding socks for the homeless to our shopping list or adding compost to our gardens.




Or maybe it will be something that transforms the world!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Gratitudes

This past season has been a tough one; I have begun to wonder if I will ever recover from Hurricane Irma.  But for today, let me remember to be grateful.

I love the holiday of Thanksgiving.  It's a clear cut holiday, although I know we are headed for the time when it becomes part of the Black Friday shopping frenzy.

 For many of us, Thanksgiving is about a day off, a day to eat a good meal, a day to spend some time with the people we love.  It's not loaded with emotional traps, like Christmas can be.  It's not loaded with such potential for disappointment, like Valentine's Day can be.  It's fairly straightforward.

It's a good day to remember to be grateful.  It's a spiritual discipline that most of us would do well to incorporate into our lives more frequently than just once a year.

So, let me begin today.  I'm grateful that the hurricane wasn't worse.  I'm grateful we have resources to deal with the aftermath.

I am happy with my job, a year later.  In fact I like it even better now than I did when I first started.

I'm grateful that my health is still fairly good, even with my diagnosis of arthritis in my feet.  My spouse, too, is holding on.  Would I change anything in terms of health?  Oh yes.  Most people who make it into their 50's have health stuff that they'd like to change.  But I'm grateful for what's not in our lives:  no cancer diagnosis, no diseases so severe that we consider suicide.

But mostly, I'm grateful for friends and family.  I'm grateful for the good things they're experiencing.  I'm grateful for all the good times we've had together.  I'm grateful that we continue down life's road together.

I'm hopeful that the coming year will be better than the past one.  I'm grateful for my optimism that may flag, but always undergirds my outlook.

Let me not get so lost in my luckiness that I forget to pray for those who can't be so grateful.  Let me offer a prayer for this Thanksgiving holiday: 

God of abundance, thank you for all the gifts that you have given us.  Forgive us for the times we complain and forget to notice how much we have.  Teach us to share.  Kindle in us the fierce desire for a world where we will all have enough.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Feast Day of Saint Cecilia

Today is the feast day of St. Cecilia, patron saint of church musicians. She is often shown playing the organ, as in this painting by Claude Vignon:




So, if you're a church-going sort, celebrate this feast day by thanking your church musicians. Many of them are working for small salaries (or for free), and they probably don't hear many words of thanks.

St. Cecilia is also the patron saint of music and musicians of all kinds.  It seems appropriate to celebrate this feast day by listening to music.

Here's a picture by Botticini; are they playing instruments?


I love the idea of Saint Cecilia inspiring all sorts of music festivals throughout the ages; she continues to inspire musicians today.  Her Wikipedia article's largest section covers the many ways that artists in the last half of the 20th century wrote music inspired by her.

I am less comfortable with the idea of her fierce dedication to her virginity.  As a feminist scholar and theologian, I’ve grown a bit uncomfortable with virgin saints, like Cecilia.  She's more interesting than many, as she was married, and convinced her husband to accept her virginity.  She's one of the virgin saints not martyred because of her virginity.

The lives of these virgin saints show us how difficult life is in a patriarchal regime. It’s worth remembering that many women in many countries don’t have any more control over their bodies or their destinies than these long-ago virgin saints did.

Perhaps instead of celebrating this feast day with music, we might want to support a social justice organization that helps modern women in patriarchal countries where they have few rights.

But of course, we don't have to choose:  we can support women in less-developed countries, and we can support our local musicians.  Let's do both on this feast day of Saint Cecilia!
 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017:

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Psalm: Psalm 95:1-7a

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 100

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46

This week, the liturgical year comes to a close with Christ the King Sunday. In some churches, this will be a high festival day that celebrates the power of Christ. But the Gospel reading makes it clear that Kingdom power is not the same as worldly power.

We might expect a Gospel reading that reminds us that Jesus transcended death. We might get a Gospel reading that tries to scare us with a vision of Christ at the next Coming, descending in glory to judge us. Well, in a way, we do.

But the vision we get is not the one that we might expect. We might expect to be judged and found wanting because of what we've been told are sins: our drinking, our gambling, our bad sexual choices. We might expect to be judged for all the Sundays we decided we'd prefer sleep to church. We might expect to be judged because we've been lazy, and we didn't go for that promotion at work.

This Gospel reminds us of how God will judge us. Did we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned? If so, then we have been attending to our royal tasks.

And why do we do this? The Bible is full of stories of the Divine showing up in circumstances where we wouldn't expect to find God. The Bible tells us that God prefers to hang out with the poor and the marginalized. If we want to find God, we need to go there. We have a history of thousands of years of Christians whose lives support what the Bible tells us--we will find God in the meekest of places. Next week, we celebrate Advent, where we remember one of our central Christian stories: God comes to be with us two thousand years ago, but not in the power center of Rome. No, God comes to us in one of the outposts of Roman civilizations, and God lives with one of the groups of people that the worldly, dominant power structure of the time despised.

This Gospel also reminds us that we are to see God in everyone. It's easy for me to see God in the eyes of my husband as he looks at me lovingly. It's harder for me to see my difficult coworker as Jesus incarnate. In any given day, we are besieged by people who aggravate us, from our family members to our colleagues to strangers who drive the road with us or shop in the same stores or send their children to the same schools. By forcing myself to treat everyone as Jesus-in-Disguise, I will transform myself into the Christian that I want to be.

Jesus was the model, after all. Jesus had dinner with the outcast. Jesus treated everyone with love and respect, even people who were out to sabotage him. I could let myself off the hook by saying, "Well, yeah, he was God incarnate. I could do that too, if I was God incarnate."

No, you can do it, because Jesus did it. Jesus came to show us the full potential of a human life. Jesus came to dwell among us and to show us a better way to live. It's not the way the world tells us to live. The world would scoff at a king who sought out the poor and dispossessed, who sold his possessions so that he would have more money for the poor.

But Christians know that our power lies in our compassion. We don't achieve compassion by sitting in our homes, working on being more compassionate. We become more compassionate in the same way that God did, by getting involved in the world.

And we're not doing this for some after-death reward, although many preachers will use this Gospel to lecture on that. We do this because God has invited us to be part of the redemption of creation--not in some far away time, but in our very own. We don't have to wait for Jesus to come again. When we model Jesus in our everyday behavior, Christ re-enters the world.

We're not here to make money, to have a good retirement, to accumulate stuff. God has a greater purpose for us, one that will leave us infinitely more satisfied.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Cults of Personality and the Power to Resist

I clicked on this story just out of idle curiosity about how Charles Manson died.  The story didn't really specify, so I'm assuming it was old age; Manson was 83 years old, after all.

I read the story, which told us about his life, and I was briefly plunged into memories of youth group days in the late 1970's and early 80's, where we did consciousness raising about how we could recognize a cult before we got caught in the clutches of one.  We all assumed that we'd head off to college where cults would try to lure us in and hold us captive.

That did not happen to me; the closest I got to cults was when a sorority asked me to rush in my Senior year, and I came to an event, just out of curiosity.  I was shocked by how much money I'd have had to pay, so that was it for me.

As I read the article, I thought about how many people are still vulnerable, either to charismatic people like Manson, or to the lies that advertising/pop still try to sell us.  Sociologists and psychologists have tried to explain the reason why bright young people would follow Manson, and many of them have focused on the free-love era of the late 1960's, when social norms have been overthrown, leaving a vacuum.

In so many ways, so many of us are still vulnerable in this way.  We have a sense that the old rules are no longer in force, but we don't have a new set of rules to guide us.

I am grateful for my church for many reasons, but one of the main ones is because of the roots the church has given me with a set of ancient rules that still seem valid to me:  love each other, love God, look out for the poor and oppressed in your societies.  Trust in the power of grace; there's no need to castigate ourselves or each other.  But we don't get a free pass to just behave any way that we'd like.  God calls us to our best version of ourselves--and in this way, we create a better world.  If we go back to the roots of loving each other and looking out for the poor and oppressed, we will be on our way to solving some of the thorniest social issues.

And hopefully, we'll build immunity to the evil, like Charles Manson, that occasionally walks among us.  Our light will overcome it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Planning for Thanksgiving Sanity

I've written many posts about planning for the Christmas season, so that we have a saner season.  I always thought of Thanksgiving as an easy holiday, one that doesn't really need a plan.  But lately, I've wondered if I'm wrong.

So today, let me think about Thanksgiving in similar terms.  Let me think about a plan, now, while there is still time.

--How will we talk with people who have such different beliefs than we do?  For many of us, Thanksgiving will bring us together with people who have very different beliefs--and for many of us, they're our relatives.  How will we handle that?  Can we think about some conversation topics that won't lead us to painful topics?  I want to know about the kind of world that people want to create for the next generation--this approach might not let us avoid painful topics, but it may lead to understanding.  I'm also always happy to hear about what makes people grateful.  What's the best thing that happened in the past year?

--Some of us won't have the luxury of having our loved ones with us.  How will we handle that sadness?  Can we make phone calls?  Can we write letters to those who aren't with us?  Can we write letters back in their voices?  What did we want to hear?  Can we gather with those local folks who do love us?

--Do we want to do any social justice projects?  We could serve food on Thanksgiving or pick up some socks for the homeless while we're doing our shopping.

--How will we handle the food?  What foods are most important?  Are they worth the effort?  I was watching a Thanksgiving cooking show and even before the dish was done, I counted 15 dirty dishes.  Few foods are worth that clean up task to me.

--There are pop culture events that we may want to make sure we see--or avoid.  For some of us, it's a parade, while for others, it's the relentless football coverage.  And let us not forget the Black Friday madness.   Plan now, so that you don't wake up in a week, sad about the opportunities that you missed.

--Some of us will be doing lots of travelling.  Some of us may be dreading that.  How can we make it more tolerable?

--Let us not neglect our spiritual needs.  Will we all go to church at some point?  Will we honor our ancestors?  Will we accompany others on their spiritual path, even if it doesn't speak to us?

Before we slide down the Thanksgiving tunnel, let us plan to include more of what brings us joy and less of what triggers our pain.  It's good advice for every day--but especially important around holidays.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Poetry Saturday: Family Farm Heritage

Perhaps I should post a more spiritual poem.  This blog is my theology blog after all.  I should write a poem about gratitude and God and great feasts.

But Thanksgiving suggests a different kind of spiritual heritage to me.  For many years, we went back to my grandfather's homeplace, where his relatives were still farming on a small scale.  We ate a turkey that had been scratching in the yard very recently.  We ate vegetables grown in the fields outside the door.  We talked about our ancestors.

I learned about my great grandmother (or was she an aunt?) who was picking beans when she had a heart attack.  She made the men wait to take her to the hospital until she could change into clean underwear.

Of course, I learned more than just funny stories.  I learned about how people survived hard times and how they celebrated bounty.  I learned about a quiet spirituality (of a Lutheran variety) that formed the backbone of my family.  I learned about tables that were full of enough food to share with the family members who didn't have as much to contribute--for many starving student years, my husband and I would go to the feast with a meager loaf of pumpkin bread, and we'd leave with enough food for a week--and a Christmas tree cut from the fields!

So, here's a poem that celebrates that heritage.  It was first published a year ago in Big Muddy.

Thanks Giving


Finally, I am with my own kinsfolk.
I do not feel a freak of nature anymore.
Here beneath this hook
where my great grandfather butchered hogs and deer,
I stare into faces familiar to me.
My future face.

I have the strong, solid body
which doesn’t belong to this age
of computers and office politics.
I was meant to be up at half a crack of dawn,
fixing a huge breakfast
before I plowed a field and put an addition on the house.
All in a day’s work.

The strength of my people lies
buried in my bones and brain,
a genetic code impossible
to diet or exercise away.
My hips would balance a baby
while I shaped bread dough and slaughtered chickens,
if only I would comply.

But I’ll submit to my genetic destiny on some level.
I will always awaken before sunrise,
always keep an eye to the sky,
track the weather like a second religion.
I’ll cook enough food for a small third world country
and share my good fortune with others.
I’ll tell the family stories
about strong women
with indomitable wills.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Black Friday and Beyond (and a Return to the Parable of the Talents)

A week from today will be Black Friday--which now starts much earlier.  Some of us will barely finish our Thanksgiving dinners when it will be time to shop.

Some of us will do our best to avoid the holiday crowds and the madness that descends on people when they want a good deal.  It might be wise to do some strategizing now.

I've felt a tinge of that madness.  I've looked at sales circulars and heard/saw the ads and worried about missing out.  I want to save money now so that I'll have money later.

Of course, the best way to save money is not to spend it. 

I also have the parable for Sunday in my head.  What do we do with our resources?  Do we bury them in the yard?  Do we try to make more of what we have?

This post reminds us of a political meaning to the story that has been lost through the ages: 

"This master is not God, he is a wealthy elite—therefore an oppressor–and the first two slaves are his henchmen.

If we take a step back from the hyper-capitalism of our culture, we can see that they are right. I mean really, how does one earn 100% interest? If our church treasurer announced that our investments had doubled this year, we should have a lot of questions. Like which horses did we bet on? Or what kind of drugs are we selling? Or how old are the children working the off-shore factory? Because there is really no secure and ethical way to make that kind of a profit.

Likewise in the first century. The peasants listening to Jesus knew how those first two servants made such impressive returns. They loaned money to subsistence farmers at exorbitant interest rates. This practice was the mechanism that made the rich richer and the poor poorer."

Many of us assume that in the economic spectrum, we're either poor or on the side of the poor.  Let's keep that always in mind as we make our economic decisions.  If I go out to get a good deal on Thanksgiving, am I complicit in an economic system that gives no worker time off?  If I buy cheap junk from China, who is enslaved because of my appetite?

On an on we can go.  I do realize how hard/almost impossible it is to live a life that is truly in sync with our values, particularly when it comes to economic decisions.  Let this be the year that we give these questions some attention.  Let us think about how we are spending/using our talents.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Advent, Art, and Creativity on a Wednesday Night

Last night, as we ate dinner, we watched the last half hour of an episode of Craft in America, a WONDERFUL PBS series that has been airing on the CreateTV channel.  Last night was episode #102 on landscape--but it was about how landscape influenced the artists, not landscape art.

Near the end, one of the artists said that they create art to show the beauty in the Divine.  My spouse said, "What are we waiting for?  Let's create art!"

We pulled out the art supplies and the paper.  The episode had left me wishing we did more with clay or metalwork, but we don't have those kinds of materials on hand.  He chose colored pencils, and I chose watercolors.

I like the way his sketch looks so luminous.  I'm not sure the photo captures that quality:



I decided to let the themes of Advent swirl in my head when I saw that I had chosen 2 shades of blue and 1 of red watercolor to squeeze on the palette.  Can you see the candles?



I am the first to admit that I treat watercolors more like acrylics.  Last night I tried a different technique, wetting the paper.  But I didn't really see or feel a difference.

This morning I woke up thinking about the last time I painted with watercolors, back in August when my nephew and sister visited.  I remembered using the same colors and wondered if I had painted the same picture.  Here it is:



I was relieved to see that they are somewhat different--clearly there are similar elements, but that's fine with me.  I remember feeling dissatisfied with it, but this morning, I like it better.

It was wonderful to turn off the TV, listen to Holst's The Planets, and lose ourselves in creative play.  Ahhhhhh.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 19, 2017:

First Reading: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Judges 4:1-7

Psalm: Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 123

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

This week's Gospel gives us the parable of the talents. One servant turns his 5 talents into 10, one turns his 2 talents into 4, and the servant who buries his one talent in the yard doesn't create any new capital. It's easy when reading this Gospel to focus on the word "talent." It's natural to think of our own talents, to wonder how we're investing them, and how we're wasting them by burying them in the yard.

The parable makes it clear what will happen to people who bury their talents. Now, I know that many of us are blessed with a multitude of talents. We do have to make judicious choices about which talents are worth cultivating. I hope that we won't be the servant cast into worthless darkness because we pay attention to one set of skills over another.

But let's look at that parable again. Let's look at that word, "talent," again--in the time of Jesus, it was an economic term, not a personal development term. Read the parable substituting the word gold blocks for talent.

It's worth noting that a quantity of 5 talents, according to my Bible footnote (and my Bible is published by Oxford University Press, so I trust the footnote), is worth 15 years of wages of this laborer. In an article from The Christian Century, James Howell, a Methodist minister, points out that the servant who got just one talent would be receiving more money than most of us get in a lifetime of work: "This amount would stagger any recipient and send him into utterly uncharted territory. A Mediterranean laborer wouldn't have any more of a clue about how to invest five talent than the guy who bags my groceries would about $74 million (even if I and all my friends tried to advise him)."

As I read this week's Gospel again, I forced myself to think about the fact that this parable really is about money. It's not instructing me to return to the piano keyboard at the expense of the computer keyboard. And it's an unusually Capitalist message from Christ. I'm used to the Jesus who tells us to give our money away. I'm not used to the savior who encourages us to make wise investments of our money.

I'm not used to thinking of money management as a talent. But this parable makes clear that it is. Jesus makes clear that money is one of the gifts we're given, and the verses that follow (31-46, ones that aren't part of this week's Gospel) show that Christ is not straying from his essential message. The verses that follow talk about treating the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner as if those people are Christ incarnate. God has a vision for how we'll use that gift of money.

The servant who was cast into out darkness was cast out because the talent went to waste buried in the ground. How would he have been treated if he had given the money away to the poor, the sick, the stranger? I suspect he would NOT have been cast into outer darkness.

Our collapsing Capitalist paradigm often doesn't take community into account. Not making enough money in America, where workers have unreasonable demands like a living wage and safe working conditions? Just move your industry to a country that has less oversight. Sure, you rip apart the social fabric, but at least you're making money.

God calls us to a different vision. Our God is always obsessed with the poor and dispossessed. And we're called to be part of that obsession.

Unfortunately, the times we're living in mean that we'll find many opportunities for this aspect of Kingdom Living. With the holidays approaching, we might think about our customs. Maybe, instead of giving people who have lots of stuff even more stuff, we could donate to a charity in their name. In my family, the adults decided that instead of exchanging presents with each other, we would choose a different charity each year and donate to that charity. Maybe, instead of an endless whirl of parties, we might give some time to our local food pantries or soup kitchens. As we buy a book or two for our favorite children, we could buy a book or two for local reading programs or donate to RIF (Reading is Fundamental, the nation's largest child literacy organization).

The ways to help heal the world are endless, and God invites us to join in this creation project. We can donate money, time, skills, prayers, optimism, hope. Doing so is one of our most basic Christian tasks.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Streaking through the Holiday Season

Yesterday I went to the podiatrist, and I left with a diagnosis of arthritis in my big toe joints (more in this blog post).  It really wasn't a surprise.  And yet, there's not much that can be done.

I was glad to hear about this idea of adopting a daily practice to take us through the holidays.  In this blog post, MaryAnn McKibben Dana writes about taking the idea of a streak from her running practice and applying it more broadly:  "To 'streak' in running means to run at least a mile a day, every day.  Many runners choose to streak as a way of staying accountable to moving at least a little bit each day. This holiday season, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, we’re creating our own twist on the streak. We’d love to have you join us." 

She offers a variety of practices that we might adopt through the holidays, from moving more to making sure we get enough sleep to drinking more water.  In light of my recent arthritis diagnosis, I plan to move every day, and then ice my feet at the end of the day.

I immediately thought of the many things that might disrupt my plans.  The end of the blog post has important advice for us all:  "Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Life happens, and sometimes the exercise just doesn’t happen, or that second (or third) cookie is just too tantalizing to ignore. Don’t stress about it. Melissa and MaryAnn believe that health and wellness come in the midst of baby steps, setbacks, recommitment, accountability, and grace. Let your goals and intentions be a North Star that guides you, not a destination you either succeed or fail to reach."

I do tend to let my inner perfectionist derail honest efforts.  Let me remember the idea of a North Star and the daily practice that can help me towards it.

Soon the holiday season starts in earnest.  I do a pretty good job at keeping a sense of balance and not double or triple booking myself with big events.  But I haven't been doing a great job of making a daily commitment to movement.  Now is a good time to start.

The blog post makes an offer of a daily e-mail of encouragement.  I signed up--it's free, so what do I have to lose?  I can use the daily reminder to stay alert and awake.  It's a great Advent message, but also one that's relevant throughout the year.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Lessons of the Bridesmaids

Usually, when I'm in charge at church, I dress up a little bit more.  Never with hose or high heels--we do live in Florida, after all.  But usually a skirt and jewelry and a bit more make up--it's as if I can hear my grandmother clucking her disapproval, and I hope that the correct, modest clothing will appease her.

Once when I visited her, at some point during the early 1990's, she was very upset over a woman who wore blue jeans up to the altar rail to take communion.  Until I heard her, it never would have occurred to me that anyone would take offense with blue jeans, unless they were dirty from gardening.

Yesterday I knew that I would be the only one there opening up the church, unlike usual, when there's at least 2 of us.  I decided to wear pants and running shoes.  I would be keeping the church locked until parishioners showed up, but I still wanted an extra layer of safety.

I try to always keep one eye towards my personal safety, but recent events have left me feeling frazzled:  so many mass shootings, so many stories of sexual abuse and harassment.  And so, I dressed for safety and comfort (my feet and back have been aching).

I tied our current events and my sartorial choices into the Gospel of Matthew.  I reminded parishioners that Matthew was writing for times very similar to ours.  In 80 or 90 AD, the Roman empire had begun crack downs, and in 70, the temple had been destroyed.  People were having to figure out how to live in a present time period which was very different from what they had been expecting.

Who among us cannot relate?

We looked at the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids--the wise ones brought extra oil for their lamps, while the foolish ones did not.  The ending of that parable seems relevant for our time (and for most times throughout human history):  stay alert.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Crocks

Friday is often a day when I can leave work earlier than usual.  On this past Friday, I knew that we could use a change of scenery, so I suggested we go on a quest for new wine glasses.   I wanted to leave the house for something more than chores, which is why I thought about Crate and Barrel for wine glasses, not Target.  Plus, I've tried the 2 types of glasses that Target has.  The expensive ones break easily, and the inexpensive ones have an annoying lip around the glass rim.

I suggested that we go to Crate and Barrel.  I had been missing trips to the Crate and Barrel outlet, where my mom and I used to go when they lived in northern Virginia.  That store, both the outlet and the regular version, is so lovely.  I want a life that looks like Crate and Barrel, but I know it's an illusion that they're selling.  I love those Le Creuset pans, but I hardly find time to cook hunks of meat in my grandmother's roasting pan, so why do I think it would be different with yet another pan?
 
We wandered around the furniture, which looks so cool--both trendy and classic.  We sat on some of the chairs, but they're not comfortable.  Whew--just saved $800!
 
My reading for this week-end:  Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year, about how she coped after Gourmet magazine abruptly shut down.  It has recipes and lovely photos too.
 
Yes, I am sensing a theme.  Part of me longs for a major change, but I'm not sure what I want that major change to be.  It's so different from when I was younger, when I knew exactly what I'd like my life to look like, if only I had a magic wand.  So, while I'm waiting for those kinds of issues to clarify for me, I'll think about smaller changes:  some better quality wine glasses, some delicious cooking, some trips to stores where I'm not willing to afford the stuff which hopes to tempt me to think that all I need is a better sofa and my life would change.
 
Though those tablescapes that they had set up in Crate and Barrel were mighty tempting--lovely displays along long dining room tables to evoke autumn, Thanksgiving, and Christmas--just lovely.
 
While I was there, I was reminded of "Crocks," a poem I wrote that's inspired by the store, a poem which explores similar themes.  It's just been published in Innisfree Poetry Journal, and you can read it here.
 
And now it's time to get ready for church, a truly countercultural activity these days--not just in the fact that so few people go to church, but more so in the message that I get there.  Church reminds me that what Crate and Barrel offers me is an illusion of the good life.  The good life will be found in other ways, not in the buying of stuff.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day in a Time of War Threats

Dawn of another Veteran's Day, both sun and clouds and a wind that sounds threatening.  Before today was Veteran's Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that celebrated the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. In some ways, it's not a hard holiday to celebrate. Any event that restores peace in our time is worth some sober meditation.

However, those of us who know our history may be chastened by the knowledge of what was to come. The end of World War I planted the seeds that would blossom into World War II. World War I brought carnage on a level never before seen--but World War II would be even worse.

Why is it so hard for humans to remain at peace? There are whole series of books that address this question, so I won't attempt it here. Still, today is a good day to offer extra prayers for sustained peace in our time. World War I and all the other wars of the 20th century offer us vivid examples of the horrible consequences of the lack of peace.

Veteran's Day is also a good day to offer prayers of thanks for the military people who have been willing to fight. I want desperately to be a pacifist, but I will admit that sometimes tyrants must be dealt with forcefully. My pessimistic side believes that violence is the only language that tyrants understand, but the 20th century has given us many examples of the peaceful overturning of despots, so I don't fully believe my pessimistic side. Still, we often don't use the forces of non-violence in enough time, and so, force may be our only option (witness the example of Hitler).

We're at a point in history where many of us feel the darkness of war whispering in some corners of the planet, while raging in other parts of the world.  It's hard not to sink into despair.

For today, let's think about the nations that work hard to suppress the urge to go to war.  Let us celebrate a world that can move toward peace.  Let us pray for a time when war will come no more.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Veteran's Day:


God of Peace, on this Veteran's Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this day, we pray for all who are damaged by wars big and small. We offer a prayer of thanks for our veterans, and we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Comfort in the Wreckage

The other night I dreamed that I wrecked the car--it doesn't take someone with an advanced degree in Psychology to interpret that dream.  I have spent some time wondering about the symbolism.  Does my subconscious think I'm self-destructing?  But the car wreck wasn't my fault--I didn't realize I was supposed to merge into the lane; I thought it would be my lane.

Maybe it does take someone with an advanced degree in Psychology after all.  But my degree is in English--maybe I'm thinking about the symbolism too much.

In any case, that's how many of us in South Florida feel:  we're living in the wreckage.  And yes, I feel guilty about feeling that way because it could be so much worse.  We're not in the lower Keys or Puerto Rico, after all.

Last night I found comfort in Krista Tippett's latest book:  Becoming Wise.  It's a wonderful compilation of segments of her past shows and her meditations on what it all means.  I may have a more extensive review later, but it's one of those books that I will return to again and again, especially in the middle of the night when I need something that stops my hamster mind from going round and round on a wheel of worry.

My spouse needs a different approach.  I said, "I prescribe you some time in the sun." 

He said, "O.K. Doc."

Yes, with my Ph.D. in English, I can prescribe sunshine.  Even in the wreckage, we can find comfort in time in the sun and a good book.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 12, 2017:

  • First reading and Psalm
    • Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
    • Psalm 78:1-7
  • Alternate First reading and Psalm
    • Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24
    • Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70
  • Second reading
    • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
  • Gospel
    • Matthew 25:1-13

  • How mystifying, this parable of the wise bridesmaids with more than enough oil and the foolish, unprepared bridesmaids!  I would have expected Jesus to make a different point, one about those with abundant resources sharing with those who have a lack.

    But once again, Jesus is full of surprises.  It's not a parable about sharing.  And if you reread it again, you may realize, as I did this morning, that it's not a parable about staying awake either--all of the bridesmaids get drowsy and sleep.

    Through his parables and more importantly, through his life, Jesus shows us that we're allowed to have down time.  We're allowed to sleep.  Jesus retreated periodically to recharge, and we should do.

    But those foolish maidens aren't going on a women's retreat at a nearby church camp.  No, they have come to their task unprepared.  It's not like the task was unknown.  I assume that one of the basic job requirements of being a bridesmaid is to have oil for the lamps.

    Or maybe it's not one of the basic tasks.  Note that the bridegroom is delayed.  Maybe the foolish bridesmaids assumed the wedding party would come by the time it was dark.  Maybe their fault lies in not anticipating the unforeseen.

    So, what does this parable tell us for modern life?  For those of us who are waiting and watching, what does it mean?

    I love this quote from this post by Matthew L. Skinner: "Faithful readiness must be active readiness. It means saying that even though the wedding banquet hasn’t yet begun, together we will act as if it has. To live otherwise is to be exposed as unaware, perhaps revealing our estrangement from the bridegroom, from Jesus himself."

    Too many people will read this text and see the wedding party as a metaphor for Heaven.  Perhaps it is, although I imagine Jesus would have had a very different idea of Heaven than that of 21st century folks.  Too many people will focus on the possibility of a second coming in our lifetime, and that's why they keep the lamps ready.

    But God did not create this planet just to wreck it out of displeasure.  Absolutely not.  The Good News that Jesus gives us again and again is that the redemption of creation breaks through into our daily lives.

    If we wait for a distant Heaven, we've missed the point.  The Good News is that we don't have to wait.  It's happening right now, in all sorts of ways.

    But many of us will miss it, because we're not looking or we're not used to seeing God in our daily lives.  Perhaps instead of keeping a gratitude journal or instead of asking how our days have been, perhaps a better question would be, "Where have you seen God today?"

    In this way we'll keep our oil replenished and our lamps ready.  We will know the bridegroom, because we will have gotten in the habit of seeing him.

    Tuesday, November 7, 2017

    Last Thoughts on All Saints Sunday 2017

    I had been feeling growly about All Saints Sunday. You might protest.  You might say, "It's not that offensive a Sunday, is it?"  You might sigh and wonder why I can't just relax and let people find comfort where they can.
     
    I have been increasingly growly about the ways that we view Heaven, especially when that translates to viewing this life as a holding pattern, a waiting room for Heaven.  All Saints Sunday can feed that dynamic, if we're not careful.
     
    As I've lost people, particularly people my own age, our platitudes around death are not working for me.  I don't find it a comfort to think about how we'll all be reunited in Heaven--not when lives have been ripped apart now.  I also know how our visions of the afterlife have changed through the centuries, and that our view of Heaven may not be right.  It may be billions of years before we're reunited in Heaven.  It may not happen that big family reunion way.  Maybe we'll be reunited as planets in some distant galaxy. 
     
    My Create in Me friend, Mitzie Spencer Schafer, has written a wonderful blog post that reminds me of the importance of this Sunday, of what an impact it can have if done well.  She also connects All Saints Sunday with essential questions for artists: "I guess it is only natural, but I couldn’t help thinking, 'What if I could learn from this? How might I apply this slowing down and intentionality to my own art and creativity?' What would I be making? What would I be designing? How much time would I really want to spend on it? What would it do for my emotional health?
    Would it even matter?"
    Read the whole post here

    Monday, November 6, 2017

    All Saints Sunday Afternoon

    There are advantages to being offline for a day.  Yesterday, I turned off my computer when we went to church, and I didn't turn it back on--thus, I missed the news about the mass shooting in the Baptist church in Texas.  It was such a small community!  I went to college in Newberry, South Carolina which was a slightly larger town, so I understand the impact this crime will have on the even smaller town. 

    Instead of spending the afternoon bogged down in horrifying details, we had my husband's brother and his wife over for lunch after church.  I woke up very early because of the time change, so I got some chicken breasts into a lemon-garlic marinade.  It was delicious.  We had roast potatoes and broccoli to go along with the meal, and apple crisp and vanilla ice cream for dessert.  It was a perfect Sunday meal.

    We exchanged hurricane stories.  After lunch, they looked at the cottage, while I did the dishes.  My sister-in-law said that the damage wasn't as bad as she expected, which was oddly comforting.  We pried up a floorboard in the main house--the standing water that was under the house has receded, which was very comforting.

    After they headed home, we took our wine onto the front porch.  It was good to finish the week-end this way.

    I'm glad that I didn't know about this shooting along the way.  It was good to celebrate All Saints Sunday in a more general way--to go to church to be reminded of the kind of community God calls us to be, and spending time together in community while we're on this side of the grave.

    Sunday, November 5, 2017

    Poetry Sunday: "All Saints Songs"

    This morning, many Christian churches will celebrate the saints.  For some of us, we'll celebrate everyone who has died.  Some Christian traditions have a stricter definition of what defines a saint.

    I find myself growing increasingly uncomfortable with this Sunday, and I'm not sure why.  So, today, I'll ponder that question.

    In the meantime, here's a poem for today.  It first appeared here, on Dave Bonta's wonderful Via Negativa website.


    All Saints Songs
    "with all the evening music
    great as a prayer" 
            Dave Bonta, “Red-Lined
    I awake early on the Feast
    of All Saints and take
    my coffee to the porch.
    Once I would have stayed
    awake until this hour, wringing
    all the celebration possible
    out of our All Hallows Eve.
    I say a prayer for all those departed,
    the ones gone much too early from the party.

    Once I would have lit the candles
    and declared my love
    of thin spaces. Now I fear the hunger
    of ghosts who are not ready
    to leave and the hooligans
    who take advantage of the dark.

    I touch the pumpkin’s crumpled face
    collapsed from the candle’s heat.
    I put the gourd on the pile
    of tree limbs ripped from the body
    of the tree canopy during September’s storm.

     I hear one lone bird singing
    either a prayer to greet
    the morning or a lullaby before sleep.
    I look to the sky, still dark,
    no message in the stars.

    Saturday, November 4, 2017

    Solace and Self Care with Apple Crisp

    Long ago, when both my spouse and I had more flexible schedules, he served on the Board of Trustees of Novus Way.  Novus Way is the organization that oversees 4 Lutheran camps.  I always went along to the Board meetings.

    This week-end, I'm seeing Facebook posts from the current Board members, and I feel a bit sad.  I know that our current life won't support either one of us being an effective Board member--that fact makes me sad.

    I'm trying to feel happy with the memories that I have of times that we had an autumn trip to the mountains.  I have an apple crisp in the oven, both for solace and because I'm taking it to my quilt group.  I will feel happy to still have friends here who will meet to sew and to have yummies together.

    My apple crisp recipe is easy and adaptable and fairly quick, as recipes go.  In case you are needing solace too, I'll post it below.  It's great at all hours of the day, and it can function as dessert, snack, or breakfast/lunch.  It's fairly healthy. 

    If you need some self care, this is the recipe for you--in these later years, I make it solely with apples, but there are ways to make it even more healthy, which I list below.

    Apple Crisp (based on a recipe from Jane Brody's Good Food Book Cookbook)

    Fruit
    2 or more apples* cut in bite size chunks
    carrot shreds to taste or not at all
    cranberries, fresh or dried, chopped or not--or not at all:  1/2 C. to 1 C.
    blueberries, fresh or frozen, would probably work nicely too

    At this point, you can toss the fruit with a few T. of white or brown sugar, but it works well without it.

    Put the fruit in your pan:  a greased pie plate or a square dish or a casserole pan or a 9 x 13 pan.  In the same bowl mix the following:

    Topping (can be varied, depending on whether you like a lot of crispy topping or little)
    1-2 C. whole oats (quick cooking works too)
    a few T. brown sugar - 1/2 Cup --1 C. if you're making a big pan or want a very sweet crisp
    1-2 T. cinnamon
    nuts:  anything from a handful of chopped nuts to 1 C. or more.  I prefer pecans, but walnuts work too.  I imagine that hazlenuts or almonds would be nice.  And of course, you could leave the nuts out.
    You could also include some ground flax seeds or wheat germ.
     a few T. of flour--or not

    Spread the fruit on the bottom of the pan and the topping on top.  Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until nicely brownish on top or less brown, if you prefer.  Enjoy for dessert (goes great with vanilla ice cream!), breakfast, or a healthy snack.


    *If you're filling a pie pan, 2 will probably do.  If you like more topping and less fruit, 2 will do.  If you're filling a 9 x 13 pan, you'll probably need 4-6, again, depending on your preference of fruit to topping--and the size of your apples.

    Friday, November 3, 2017

    Reformation: Be Set Free

    It's been an interesting week with lots of juxtapositions:  the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Halloween, All Saints Day.

    I was looking through my spiritual journal sketchbook yesterday, and I took a few pictures without the flash.  The light from the floor lamp gives the sketches a yellowish tone, but I found it appealing.  Here's one I made on Reformation Sunday:



    I am longing for the truth--but am I really?  Do I really want to be set free?

    I think of the recent hurricane, and I'm willing to admit that it wasn't bad, not for us in Broward county.  And yet, as I saw the damage from what was a minimal hurricane for us, I had one of those moments of epiphany.  I knew that we are living on borrowed time down here, but the epiphany told me that we may not have as much time as I once thought.

    Of course, once we know the truth and are set free, what happens next?  Do we take a journey, like the wise men did?  Do we take a different path?  Do we stay put, with knowledge freeing us to act differently?

    Our spiritual stories could point us to a multitude of directions--our secular stories often have an epiphany followed by people upending their lives and heading a different way towards a happily ever after ending.  But as we head towards Advent, I think of Mary, who stayed put to give birth to what was coming next.  I think of people who do not go on pilgrimage or head out to wilderness, but instead they wait as they move towards discernment.

    The truth can set us free, but it may be important not to take leave of our senses.  The truth can set us free to stay calm and face the future.

    Thursday, November 2, 2017

    Autumn Triduum and the Feast of All Souls

    Today is the last day of our autumn triduum.  "Triduum" is a Latin word for 3 days, and it's most commonly used for the time between Good Friday and Easter.  But the days of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls are deeply linked, and in similar ways.

    Halloween is the shortening of an earlier name for the holiday:  All Hallows Eve.  In some cultures, it would simply be the night before the Feast of All Saints, a rather benign feast.  Other cultures see this time as one of the thinnest spaces, when it's easiest for souls to slip between worlds--and thus, we see the variety of holidays designed to ward off evil spirits, appease the ancestors, and protect the living--in various combinations.

    Most of us understand at least some of the symbolism that comes with Halloween.  Those of us who are church going folks have probably celebrated our dearly departed in early November.  But what about the overlooked Feast of All Souls?

    The Feast of All Saints was originally designed to honor the saints, those who had been beatified. Official saints, canonized by the Pope.  Some scholars point out that in many countries it was a feast day that honored those who had been martyred for the faith, and that some of those worship services might have been somewhat jarring, with disturbing stories and perhaps an artifact or relic on display.

    All Souls Day, celebrated the day after All Saints, was designed to honor everyone else who had died.  I've also heard it described as the day that honors those who had died in the past year.  In the medieval Catholic theology, those souls would still be in Purgatory, and special prayers would be offered for them on the Feast of All Souls.

    Those of you with excellent memories of your English major days may remember that Sir Gawain left for his adventure with the Green Knight on All Souls Day. Medieval audiences would have read a lot into that date of departure.  They would be expecting that next year, Gawain would be one of the souls prayed for on this feast day.

    In most of the U.S. and Europe, we live in a culture that tries every way possible to deny death and the fact that we are all here for a very short time.  But this triduum reminds us not only to honor our dead loved ones and spiritual heroes, but also to take advantage of every minute that we have because we don't have very many of them.

    Many of us won't have a chance to worship today, but we can take some time to think about the mystery enfolded in this triduum.  We could remember our loved ones and the stories they would have told us.  We can think of what we'd like to accomplish in our remaining years.

    We are already skating down the corridor which takes us to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It's a time of breathless pace for many of us.  Let us take another day to remember the souls of those gone before us.  Let us think of our own mortal souls which will not be on this earth for a very long time.  Let us resolve to strengthen our spiritual lives, so that we serve as saints for those coming after us.


    Here's a prayer I wrote for today:


    Comforter God, you know that we miss our recently dead. We do take comfort from your promise that death will not have the final word, but there are stages of our grief where it is difficult to believe. Please forgive us our unbelief and doubt. Please keep reminding us of your love and care. Please strengthen us to be able to provide the same quality of love and care to those around us who are grieving loss. Please keep our creative imaginations focused on the redemption of Creation, where you have promised we will not have any reason to cry anymore.

    Wednesday, November 1, 2017

    Meditation on the Feast of All Saints

    I am writing this meditation on this Sunday's Gospel on Nov. 1, which is the actual Feast of All Saints.  Many churches will celebrate some aspect of this festival on Sunday, Nov. 6, with these readings:


    First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

    First Reading (Alt.): Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

    Psalm: Psalm 24

    Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6a

    Gospel: John 11:32-44


    For many of us, it's been a difficult autumn.  We've had severe storms, and for some of us, those storms have reminded us that everything we build is more precarious than we thought.  We've had another horrifying terrorist event yesterday.  And then there are all of our individual losses.

     Even in years when we aren’t surrounded by constant examples of how short our time here can be, All Saints Day comes around to remind us. We don’t have long on this side of the grave. It’s a good festival to take some time to think about what we’d like to get done while we’re still here.

    The Feast of All Saints is a high festival day that celebrates the saints that have come before us. Alas, in many Lutheran churches, we don't celebrate the long line of saints that Catholics do; most Protestants who observe All Saints Day mark the lives of those gone in the past year. Perhaps as we continue to reform the church, we should move back to a broader understanding of saints as the entire community of Christians.

    It’s a good time to think about those who have gone before us. You might spend some time on this feast day thinking about the great saints who have helped to form Christianity through the centuries. How can we be more like them? For what would we like to be remembered in future centuries?

    If you have relatives and friends who have served as models of a life well lived, this would be a good time to write a note. We won’t be here forever. Write to them now, while they’re still here and you still remember. On a future All Saints Sunday, you might light a candle in their memory. But in the meantime, you can tell them how much they have meant to you.

    In many cultures, this feast day becomes a family time. Think of the Mexican tradition of taking picnics to the graveyard. Now would be a good time to record your family memories. Write them down while you still remember. Make a video. Assemble those records.

    But we should also use this All Saints Day to look forward. For many people, this day is bittersweet. We’re reminded of our losses. It’s hard to think of transformation.

    But dream a little on this All Saints Sunday. If you could create a new life out of the threads that you have, what would you weave? Or would you start again, with different yarns and textures? What is your dream of a renewed life?

    Jesus invites us to be part of a Resurrection Culture. We may not always understand how that will work. Some years the taste of ash and salt water seem so pervasive that we may despair of ever tending fruitful gardens of our lives again. But Jesus promises that death will not have the final word.

    Tuesday, October 31, 2017

    Halloween Opportunities and Benedictions

    ----Today is the actual day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his theses to the Wittenberg door.  But for far longer, it's been Halloween, a holiday that both delights and bedevils the modern believer.

    --I am a believer who has concerns about Halloween, but they're not the kinds of concerns that some Christians have.  I'm not worried about opening a portal through which evil will enter the world--that portal has been wide open for a long time.  I'm not worried about demon possession.  I am worried about how much we spend and whether or not that's the best use of our money.

    --But I'm past the age of legislating all of that.  I'm happy to let grown people make their own decisions.  But I will exhort us all to at least think about these decisions.

    --I wonder if I have underestimated this holiday as a way of letting us be creative in a way that most of us aren't sure we can be creative in our every day lives.  Yesterday was our pumpkin decorating day at school; I went with decorating rather than carving because I thought it would be less messy and less risk of knife wounds.  I was interested to see how warily people approached the table with art supplies.  But many of them really got into the spirit of creating.

    --I will likely see a similar dynamic today, when I help judge the costume contest.  Most adults don't have much opportunity to don a costume throughout the rest of the year.

    --One of the students yesterday thanked me for bringing all the supplies and organizing the opportunity to decorate a pumpkin.  She said, "It's like being a kid again."  I resolved right there to look for other similar opportunities throughout the year.  Homemade Valentines, anyone?

    --As I watched people creating pumpkins, I thought of those parables of Jesus that begin:  "The Kingdom of God is like . . ."  Jesus often used family metaphors or agricultural worker metaphors.  I thought, "The Kingdom of God is like pumpkin decorating day."  We have a variety of pumpkins, a variety of supplies, and a variety of brains creating wonderful things.  No two pumpkins are the same, and they all have a beauty.  They don't have to prove themselves.  They are already worthy.

    --As we light our Halloween candles tonight, let us think about the ways we can be light to the world.  Let us concentrate on the ways we can chase away the gathering gloom.

    --As we give out candy, let us give a silent benediction to each trick-or-treater:  "May your days be sweet and your life be sweeter."

    Monday, October 30, 2017

    Confirmation and Reformation

    Yesterday we had Confirmation rites along with our Reformation service.  It felt right. 

    In the past, we've had Confirmation rites on Pentecost, which also feels right.  I know churches who have the Confirmation service on Mother's Day, which seems like a non-starter to me.  I know the tradition of welcoming confirmands on Easter, which also seems like too much competing for the same service.

    We've now been at this church long enough that I have often known at least one confirmand since childhood.  Yesterday, one of the young women getting confirmed used to be the acolyte, and we'd play Hangman during Pastor's sermons--but we had to use words that Pastor used during the sermon.

    After the rite of Confirmation, I watched the congregation file up for Communion.  I watched the littlest ones and thought, it will feel like a quick zip of time before we see these toddlers getting confirmed.

    I have not been at one church long enough to see Confirmation rites of the children of anyone who has been confirmed during my tenure there.  I can only imagine how odd that would feel.  But it would also feel wonderful--that knowledge that faith formation has flowered.

    Sunday, October 29, 2017

    Celebrate Reformation!

    I will be celebrating Reformation Sunday by going to a Lutheran church--but I'd be doing that most every Sunday.  Let me list some reasons why Reformation Sunday--and the whole of the Protestant Reformation--is special to me:

    --I give the Protestant Reformation credit for the increase in literacy.  No longer were people satisfied with hearing the Bible in Latin in church.  Martin Luther is famous for translating the Bible into the language of the German people, but he's just one of several people who not only advocated for the spiritual life being conducted in the language that people actually used.

    --Martin Luther knew the power of the pamphlet:  short enough to be read out loud to people who can't read for themselves, cheap enough to be mass produced.  We still see the power of a short piece of writing today.

    --The Protestant Reformation was a time of great music.  Today it sounds plodding and heavy, but it must have been invigorating to congregations used to hearing nothing but chant and plainsong.

    --I love the idea of reform:  we are not perfect, and neither are our churches--or other institutions.  Today is a great day to think about how and where we need to reform.

    --I'm a Lutheran, so I'll also advocate for the idea of grace.  I love the idea of God who loves us in spite of our faults, of God who can see the good in us, even when we're feeling worthless.

    --Even as I long for unity, I love the diversity that the Protestant Reformation ushered in.  I think of all of my friends and all the interesting ways they worship, from a monastery to a Quaker gathering to a Unitarian church.  I know a variety of Catholics--that variety might have happened in different ways, had there been no Protestant Reformation.

    So today, let us celebrate the gains for humanity that the Protestant Reformation made possible.  Let us also not lose sight of the terrible human cost of this division, in the variety of wars and purges that would sweep across Europe and beyond.  Let us continue to count on grace and reform as we move onward.

    Saturday, October 28, 2017

    Halloween at the Abbey: the Photo Essay

    When I first went to Mepkin Abbey, I arrived on Friday.  Halloween came on a Sunday.  On Saturday night we took a walk by the banks of the Cooper River.



    We could see the housing development in the distance. We saw flickering candles and children trick or treating, as they do in communities that want to keep Halloween separate from Sunday.



    On Sunday night, we took an evening walk along the wide drive that connects the Abbey to the main road.




    It's lined with huge trees draped with Spanish moss.



    We saw a pair of monks in the distance, and they, too, looked ghostly. I told my friend that if she vanished, I wouldn't be surprised. It all seemed so otherworldly that I wouldn't have been surprised by something truly supernatural.



    I rarely feel the "thin space" that so many feel on Halloween, that time when the separation between worlds is thinnest. That night, I caught a glimpse, there on those very historic grounds.




    I would not have been surprised to see the ghost of a runaway slave or a Native American.


    The above is a detail from a Jonathan Green painting, "Seeking," that hangs in a private space in the Abbey.   I got to see it as part of a retreat in 2016. 

    Friday, October 27, 2017

    The Ides of October

    On this day 55 years ago, the world came very close to nuclear war--I've heard more than one historian say that Oct. 27, 1963 was the day that the world was closest except for the two previous days when bombs were actually dropped.

    It was the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and my parents had set their wedding for this day.  In the weeks leading up to their wedding, they fully expected that my dad, who was in the Air Force, would be called back to his base.  He wasn't, and they wed.

    It's strange to think about those days during these days, when the world seems to be tottering backwards to those scary standoffs.  It's strange to think about the days of the Kennedy administration, even as some of the last documents about Kennedy's assassination are being declassified and released.

    I try not to think about Kennedy's vast knowledge of history and how that knowledge helped him avert war.  Kennedy didn't want to telegraph the wrong messages.  I'm so grateful that he was successful.  That crisis could have so easily ended in a nuclear exchange.

    I try not to think about how those in charge now are not similarly educated.  Yesterday, when I went to Publix to get a variety of supplies for upcoming school event, the bagger cautioned me against getting a flu shot. She said, "There's a flu shot out there that can alter your DNA, you know. It can change your behavior." I thought about explaining how a flu shot really can't alter your DNA, and even with altered DNA, your behavior isn't likely to change radically, and then I decided to let this opportunity for science education pass.

    I wish I thought it was just undereducated hourly workers at Publix who have these odd beliefs, but I know it's not.  Still, like my parents, I will embrace hope, not despair.  They could have decided not to marry when the world was about to go up in flames.

    The world is still about to go up in flames--or underwater.  But we can't assume that we'll die.  In fact, we're likely to live.

    So let us buy our pumpkins and get ready for Halloween--or whatever other activities bring us joy.  Let us recommit ourselves to love and hope.  And let us also say a prayer for those in charge of massive weapons systems.  Let them not telegraph the wrong messages.

    Thursday, October 26, 2017

    Shoddy Theology

    We spend our days surrounded by shoddy theology, although we may not realize it as shoddy.  Just after Hurricane Irma, I was amazed by all the Facebook posts I saw that were so self-congratulatory, so proud of all the sincere prayers we offered up that our coast be spared--and see, prayer works!

    So, does that theology mean that the people in Big Pine Key just didn't know how to pray?  Did God hear those prayers and laugh cruelly and bam--that island was wiped out?

    We spend our days surrounded by shoddy theology, although we may not realize it as theology.  A few days ago, a coworker said something along the lines of, "You can't always stay comfortable.  You won't grow that way." 

    I said, "But what if that kind of growth is overrated?  What if we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and we end up mangled and broken?"

    We spent some time talking about personal growth and development, and I posited that maybe our highest good didn't come from improving ourselves.  I got a blank look and then this comment:  "Maybe improving our finances?"

    I said, "Maybe we should be thinking in terms of how we serve others.  Maybe that's how true self-improvement happens, when we focus on what others need."

    I understand the danger of this theology--that way martyrdom lies, or the dangers of being abused by sociopaths and perverts.  But I am also worried about how many people in this country don't seem to be thinking of the greater good.

    I try not to chime in too often.  I don't want to be that colleague/Facebook friend that people avoid because she's always undermining our aphorisms and mottos that make the world easier to understand.  But some days, I can't take the shoddy thinking one more minute.  Some days, I want us all to engage each other--and life--with more depth.

    Wednesday, October 25, 2017

    Meditation for Reformation Sunday

    The readings for Sunday, October 29, 2017:


     First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
    Psalm: Psalm 46
    Second Reading: Romans 3:19-28
    Gospel: John 8:31-36

    Here we are, back at Reformation Sunday.  Each year, as this Sunday of celebration approaches, I find myself thinking about what needs to be reformed and what should be preserved.

    It's been a tumultuous year for many of us, a year of natural disasters, a year of discovering how far apart we are politically, a world where we might feel like history is in rewind mode, and we're afraid of what year our time machine might land.

    Some of us might have been able to find comfort in our churches.  Some of us may be worried that just as the globe seems to be hovering on the edge of schism, so are our churches.

    We should take heart that the Church has always been in the process of Reformation. There are great Reformations, like the one we'll celebrate this Sunday, or the Pentecostal revolution that's only 100 years old, but has transformed the developing world in ways that Capitalism never could. There are smaller ones throughout the ages as well. Movements which seemed earth-shattering at the time (monastic movements of all kinds, liberation theology, ordination of women, lay leadership) may in time come to be seen as something that enriches the larger church. Even gross theological missteps, like the Inquisition, can be survived. The Church learns from past mistakes as it moves forward.

    Times of Reformation can enrich us all. Even those of us who reject reform can find our spiritual lives enriched as we take stock and measure what's important to us, what compromises we can make and what we can't. It's good to have these times where we return to the Scriptures as we try to hear what God calls us to do. It may be painful, but any of these processes may lead us to soil where we can bloom more fruitfully.

    We may think of that metaphor and feel despair, as if we will never be truly rooted, flowering plants. But rootlessness can be its own spiritual gift. The spiritual wanderers have often been those who most revitalized the Church, or on a smaller level, their spiritual communities. The spiritual wanderers are often the ones who keep all of us true to God's purpose.

    If you have been feeling despair, take heart. Jesus promises that we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. You might not be feeling like you know what the truth is at this current point; you may feel tossed around by the tempests of our current times. But Jesus promises that we will know the truth. We will be set free. We don't have a specific date at which we'll know the truth. But we will.

    We proclaim the Good News throughout the church year:  we are already redeemed.  God has already claimed us.  God's vision of a new creation breaks through our daily scrim each and every day if we would but open our eyes.

    Tuesday, October 24, 2017

    The Messages in the Destructions

    Yesterday I came across a meditation on Noah and the Ark in Rabbi Rachel Barenblat's blog post

    "And God tells Noah: make yourself an ark out of gopher wood, and cover it over with pitch: "וְכָֽפַרְתָּ֥ אֹתָ֛הּ מִבַּ֥יִת וּמִח֖וּץ בַּכֹּֽפֶר / v'kafarta otah mibeit u-michutz bakofer." Interesting thing about the words "cover" and "pitch:" they share a root with כפרה / kapparah, atonement. (As in Yom Kippur.) It doesn't come through in translation, but the Hebrew reveals that this instruction to build a boat seems to be also implicitly saying something about atonement.

    Rashi seizes on that. Why, he asks, did God choose to save Noah by asking him to build an ark? And he answers: because over the 120 years it would take to build the ark, people would stop and say, "What are you doing and why are you doing it?" And Noah would be in a position to tell them that God intended to wipe out humanity for our wickedness. Then the people would make teshuvah, and then the Flood wouldn't have to happen. God wanted humanity to make teshuvah, and once again, we missed the message."

    Later in the day, I had wine, cheese, artichoke-spinach dip, and crackers with friends in the neighborhood.  We're still talking about Hurricane Irma and the implications for the future.  Should we stay put and fortify our houses against future floods that are surely coming?  Should we move inland and/or upland?

    This morning, after seeing some Facebook posts, I spent far more time this morning exploring artist Aurora Robson's website than writing poems or repairing storm damage, two activities I have not been paying as much attention to as I should.  She makes breathtaking sculptures out of trash, mainly plastic trash from what I can tell--and much of it is making a point about where that trash winds up.  She makes sculptures that look like exotic sea creations, and it's hard not to be aware that plastics and oceans are on a collision course, with oceans coming out on the losing end.

    Last night I dreamed I was at our church's pumpkin patch to get some little pumpkins for school.  Most of the little pumpkins were gone, and the ones that remain had started to rot.  Not hard to interpret that dream.

    Today is the anniversary of the day that Hurricane Wilma swept across the state.  That day seems like a demarcating point, a time of before and after, just the way that Hurricane Irma's landfall seems to us in South Florida.  That day seems a demarcating point between our carefree late summer visits with family and the autumn of our discontent.  We are luckier than many--our decisions about what to trash, what to keep, and how to repair can all be delayed.  Our leaking roof was fixed by pulling wads of leaves out of the gutter system.

    I feel a bit like I've fallen out of time.  I wonder how many others feel similarly.  On the surface, all looks normal.  Underneath, we're making our calculations:  what to save, how much to spend, and further out, where it makes sense to live.

    Right now, many of us don't have the information that we need.  We haven't heard from our insurers, so we don't know how much repair money we'll have.  We don't know how much or how quickly our rates will rise in the future.  Will we face powerful hurricanes every year or just once a decade?

    I remind myself that most of us are living this reality--many who don't live in ravaged areas don't realize that they are living this reality, but those of us who are younger than 65 will have lots of decisions to make because of our changing planet, decisions that weren't part of our calculus of younger years.

    But for today, those decisions will wait--again.  Today we must get back to work.  Tomorrow--or some later day--we'll think about those larger decisions. 

    Monday, October 23, 2017

    Six Week Storm Anniversary

    Six weeks ago, we'd have been waking up in the dark--both the literal dark of pre-sunrise, and the dark that comes after a hurricane wipes out the power.  A few hours after waking up, we'd have made our way to our house through streets increasingly flooded as we got closer to our home.

    That day seems a demarcating point between our carefree late summer visits with family and the autumn of our discontent.  We are luckier than many--our decisions about what to trash, what to keep, and how to repair can all be delayed.  Our leaking roof was fixed by pulling wads of leaves out of the gutter system.

    I feel a bit like I've fallen out of time.  I wonder how many others feel similarly.  On the surface, all looks normal.  Underneath, we're making our calculations:  what to save, how much to spend, and further out, where it makes sense to live.

    Right now, many of us don't have the information that we need.  We haven't heard from our insurers, so we don't know how much repair money we'll have.  We don't know how much or how quickly our rates will rise in the future.  Will we face powerful hurricanes every year or just once a decade?

    I remind myself that most of us are living this reality--many who don't live in ravaged areas don't realize that they are living this reality, but those of us who are younger than 65 will have lots of decisions to make because of our changing planet, decisions that weren't part of our calculus of younger years.

    But for today, those decisions will wait--again.  Today we must get back to work.  Tomorrow--or some later day--we'll think about those larger decisions. 

    Let us pray that as we have time, we make decisions that make sense years from now.  Let us pray that we look up to realize that we've gradually made our way to a better place.

    Sunday, October 22, 2017

    Halloween at Mepkin Abbey

    I thought I had a Halloween themed poem that used elements from Mepkin Abbey.  This morning, I finally looked up the poem, and I was surprised that the Halloween elements weren't really there.  Let me see if I can add something.

    Here's the original poem:

    Autumn at the Abbey

    I drove seven hundred miles from the tip
    of Spanish speaking Florida to the Gullah drenched
    lowcountry marsh.

    I arose in the wee small hours of the morning
    to drive up the spine of the state
    with truckers and other insomniacs.

    I saw the flaming
    orange fields, the flickers
    of light across the river.

    I have eaten eggs from the chickens
    raised by monks and been sprinkled
    with holy water before bed.

    I saw the baby Jesus
    created from a
    cornucopia of materials.

    I harmonized with monks
    and chanted my way through a quarter
    of the Psalms.

    I watched the monks at sunset
    walking under Spanish moss draped
    trees, ghosts from a different century.


    Let me play with it.  Let me add some of my memories from my first visit, when we looked across the river and saw children trick-or-treating.  When we walked back to the Abbey, we saw monks in their white robes looking like ghosts.


    All Hallows at the Abbey

    I awoke very early to sing
    lauds with the monks,
    and then I set out for the river.

    In the pre-sunrise mists that rose off the currents,
    I would not have been surprised
    to see a runaway slave.

    In the afternoon, the fields flamed
    orange and light winked
    across the water.

    I returned to the chapel to harmonize
    with monks and chant
    the Psalms that still speak to us.

    As the sun sank, across the river, candles flickered
    in carved pumpkins and costumed children participated
    in a different ancient ritual.

    As we walked to compline service, monks in white robes
    walked under trees dripping with Spanish moss,
    ghosts from a different century.

    Saturday, October 21, 2017

    The Kingdom of God Is Not Like a Business

    I remember past church council meetings where we've gotten bogged down in discussions about whether or not we should run a church like a business.  I've felt similarly about discussions that arise with regularity in the education world--can we run colleges like a business?

    As this past week progressed, I've had to deal with the unpleasant parts of a business:  the employee who isn't behaving correctly.  By the end of the week, I was dealing with a personnel situation that I've never really had:  a worker who just stopped coming to work with no communication.  I don't feel comfortable saying too much about this situation, but I'm stating here what anyone on our campus could have observed. 

    In a way, this personnel situation is the easiest to deal with.  Clearly, when an employee stops coming to work and stops communicating, that worker doesn't want to keep the job.  The way forward is clear--unlike many other negative situations that an administrator might experience.

    I've also had the parables of Jesus on my brain, and how he uses them to try to let us get a view of God and the world that God envisions for us.  I am glad that God is not like a modern boss.

    Unlike a modern boss, God will give us many chances--God does not want to terminate us so that a better worker can be found.  God understands how the most unlikely of humans can be part of great things.

    In our modern business world, we don't have the time that God has to try to correct personnel issues that impacting the organization negatively.  Once again, I'm reminded of the difference between chronos time and kairos time.  I can only do so much to make the modern business/education setting more like the Kingdom of God.

    I'm glad that the Kingdom of God is not like a business.  I'm glad that God's time frame is so different from the type of time we experience in regular life.

    Friday, October 20, 2017

    Monastic Hospitality

    The monks remind us of the many ways to embody hospitality.  An umbrella is never far away--visitors will be protected from sudden changes in the weather.




    A basket of bug spray and sunscreen to protect guests from daily hazards that they may not have a chance to encounter at home:



    At meals, guests have a choice of breads:



    With our bodily needs met, we are ready for the other types of hospitality that the monks offer:  time for study:



    time for worship:





    and time for rambling walks in nature:




    And thus renewed, we can return to the world to do the work of hospitality that heals.