Monday, August 29, 2011

Going to School Blessing

May the steps of your shoes create rainbows wherever you walk . . .
May the friends of a lifetime be standing at your side . . .
May laughter fill the hallways of your journey . . .
May each new thing you learn be a treasure stored in the box of your memory . . .
May you love and be loved -- the you that you are . . .

For all the ones going to school, especially for the first time.  Written for my grandson, whose own adventure begins tomorrow.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

On Loving the Young --or-- What’s Wrong With Old People Today?

It’s official.  I’m old.  If you need a definition, being older than the president is old!  He’s 50 and I’m 56.  I’m thrilled that he’s finally old enough to join AARP!  It was certainly a red-letter day for me.

I belong to the Baby Boomer generation.  It is said that we made being young a cult.  And we’ve certainly taken our share of licks over the years.  Comic George Carlin sums up the collective take on Boomers pretty well, “The Baby Boomers: whiny, narcissistic, self-indulgent people with a simple philosophy: ‘Gimme that! It's mine!’”

But even as we Boomers bemoan the absence of young adults from our pews, many kvetch relentlessly about ‘them’ as if the young are a plague.

A simple test to get at what I mean:  Google “What’s wrong with young people today?” and you’ll get 6,790 results.  Google the opposite: “What’s right with young people today?” and you’ll get a mere 235 hits.

Maybe we should be asking instead:  what’s wrong with old people asking so much about what’s wrong with young people?

Comments I’ve heard recently include:  They’re rude, referring to young folks on their cell phones.  They’re socially incompetent, referring to the changes in social interaction wrought by the reality of instantaneous communication with those not physically present.  They’re dumbing down everything.   And technology is to blame.  Usually a list of supposed things young folk ‘can’t’ do follows.  Yet my own experience has introduced me to a generation of people who handle massive amounts of information in wonderful ways, synthesizing what they know virtually with what they experience in real time.  I learn from them.

So to those of my own generation, my list of things young people have taught me:

1. Don’t’ be afraid to try.  So what if you hit the wrong button?  You’re not going to start a nuclear war by experimenting with your computer, cell phone or remote control.  Mistakes are not the end of the world.
2. Sometimes you just have to lay down in the grass and stare at the sky.
3. Hard work to no good purpose is no virtue.
4. Rest is no vice.
5. Friends matter - nurture them, spend time with them, love them.
6. “Everything happens for a reason” isn’t an excuse; it’s a world view.
7. Everything is connected and so is everyone.
8. Knowledge cannot be owned and people shouldn’t try to hog it to themselves.  Shakespeare could not have survived in a world where knowledge is considered property to be owned.
9. All the gadgets make the world and your place within it larger, not smaller.
10. It matters to what and to whom you give your loyalty.  Cling to what lasts and hold loosely that which does not.

Maybe we boomers could be a wee bit more humble about our own generation and a lot more generous about others.

Just a suggestion.

Source for Carlin quote
Site promoting social action for the young

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I admit it.

I am unsettled.

Around 1.52 EST, sitting in my office in the house at the computer, I felt the house move in a way I hadn’t experienced before.  My son and I met each other in the hallway and went outside into the beauty of a very early fall sort of day and stood there just looking at the house.  Nothing seemed amiss and about the same time, we looked at each other and said with questioning voices, “Earthquake?”

Back into the house we went.  Ben beat me to FB from his newer computer and shouted out that it was an earthquake, a big one somewhere between Richmond and Charlottesville, which suddenly seem much closer to us in these western mountains of Virginia.

I went to the church FB and checked that folks were ok and then turned on the news to hear reports, see pictures of evacuations and digest this latest evidence that my security simply cannot rest on the assumption that today will always be much as yesterday was.

Without working cell phones in these hills, I’m so glad for the technology that lets us reach out to those we love near and far so quickly.

But it is television that reminds me more than any other medium of communication both how very connected and how very disconnected we are from each other.  All thoughts of Libya and Syria fled from the national consciousness in the U. S. as reports came in about the quake, while in Libya and Syria, undoubtedly nobody was giving much thought to what was happening beneath the earth’s crust an ocean away.

And reports continue to come in about how far away tremors were felt – as far as Detroit, roughly 400 miles from the center of the quake in Virginia.

We are literally connected, each to the other.  The very earth itself is connected and thus are we.  How often do I need to relearn this lesson?  What happens in Virginia affects people living in Detroit and beyond.  Provincial, concerned only with my immediate environ, is a luxury adjective I cannot afford.

It is my job, as a human being, to be mindful of others, even, and perhaps especially, when they shake me up.

As I said, I am unsettled.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Imagining That We Can Fly

I sit on the porch and watch my grandson build a ramp for his Matchbox race cars.

I start to sit forward and open my mouth to correct his ramp design – there is no way cars can go down what he has so very thoughtfully constructed.

But (thankfully) before I can open my mouth, Rowen takes his car and lifts it into the air and flies it up and down over his beautiful ramp, twisting and turning in whatever direction his little hands direct before coming to a safe landing on the other side.

My visions of an adult engineer grandson, pocket protector proudly placed evaporate before my eyes.  This is no engineer.  This is a dreamer of flying things.

But maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe engineers dream of cars that fly elegantly over buttresses fixed firmly to the walls of our minds.

Maybe it’s my imagination, my vision, that’s limited.

And maybe, just maybe, God has planted us here, fixed as we are so firmly to the ground, with just a whisper of how far we can fly if we will but open our minds to the possibility.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thank a Bureaucrat Day

I doubt if there is such a thing as “Thank a Bureaucrat Day”, but there ought to be, especially in these times when it is popular on all sides to castigate, denigrate, and demonize those whose life work is spent in the public sector, as if they were the collective author of all the evils that befall us individually and collectively.

There isn't such a day, I fear, but if there were, for possibly the Best Bureaucrat Ever, I would like to nominate Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey and the FDA.

There isn't such a day, but if there were, this would be my nominating speech:

If you were born in the United States and you are a Baby Boomer, thank the Food & Drug Administration of the federal government and especially thank Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey.

Because you were born in the United States and because of Dr. Kelsey’s actions, you were saved from the horrors of Thalidomide.  

Thalidomide was a drug prescribed to pregnant women in the late 1950's and early 1960's in Europe, Canada and other places in the world to combat morning sickness.

Thalidomide resulted in horrific birth defects in the children born to these women, including children born with no arms or legs, even in cases where the pregnant mother took only one dose of the drug.

As a reviewer for the FDA, Dr. Kelsey refused to approve Thalidomide for sale in the United States, having concerns about the drug’s safety.  

Because of the simple heroism of doing her job well, Dr. Kelsey saved countless Baby Boomers and their families from the tragedy wreaked on the less fortunate babies born elsewhere.

Dr. Kelsey is a naturalized citizen, so perhaps this should also be ‘Thank an Immigrant Day’.

I was born just a few short years before the efforts to have Thalidomide sold in the U. S. came to fruition before the FDA.  And I, for one, am glad that people like Dr. Kelsey serve their country from behind a desk somewhere largely unknown to me, looking out for my best interests.

And by the way, if you’re a Christian, it doesn’t hurt to remember that we are called to dwell in a spirit not of condemnation, but of gratitude.  So let us be thankful for all the many Dr. Kelseys among us.  After all, they are our neighbors.  And even when we don't know it, they're often busy at the business of saving our lives.

SOURCES: Wikipedia on Dr. Kelsey Wikipedia on Thalidomide Toxipedia on Thalidomide Toxipedia on Dr. Kelsey  Romans 6.14

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"God Isn't Just Love, Beth"

“God isn’t just love, Beth.”

If it were the first time I heard this from my fellow minister, I might have been stunned into silence. But it wasn’t.

 And I was not silent.

 Maybe I should have been.

Context matters. But before the context, it seems important to simply sit with the claim and its emphasis: God isn’t just love, Beth. That’s how it was spoken, the ‘just’ emerging ahead of the love.

The speaker intended to say (and did), that God is more than love or perhaps better, something else besides love, specifically: wrath.

But the ‘just’, standing alone, somehow diminishes the love, as if ‘just’ love is something not very important or descriptive of the essence of God, especially if the wrath God is forgotten or put aside.

Not quite knowing what to do with that, I posted on the church’s FB the question, “If someone said to you, ‘God is not just love’, what would you say back?” The responses thus far are insightful:

From Candasu, a Presbyterian minister: “Just” love? I think we need to have a talk.

From Alice, a government employee and musician living in the mountains: I would say you are right!!! He is UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.

From Mary Beth, a cancer survivor: The giver and keeper of life.

From LaDonna, postmistress of a small country post office, which means she is the bearer of the burdens of others (in the country, the postmistress serves the function of priest or bartender, depending on your point of view): God is just Love, peace, joy and everything else I need.

From Twila, a dear friend from way back:  Do you know the love that you feel for your children, family or friends? Magnify that love infinitely. . .

I love them all, the women who sent these words and the words they sent. I appreciate the pastor in Candasu, but I think LaDonna spoke most to my own heart: yes, God is ‘just’ love, as God is ‘just’ everything I need. There is no need for anything else, for God and God’s love (if the two can be separated, which I do not think they can) are all sufficient.

As I said above, context matters. The speaker was making the point that young folks have bad theology, in that they seem to use the claim that “God is love” or loving, as an excuse for bad behavior or sin, without any idea that there is a reckoning with God for what we do.

My own reaction, then as now, is that even God’s wrath, however we understand that, is connected to God’s love. God is a unity, thus it is not that God is sometimes loving and sometimes wrathful. Rather, God’s wrath is best understood as just or righteous anger, and always carries with it God’s mercy and forgiveness, which are simply aspects of God’s love.

Love is not only something God does, but is fundamentally what God is: caring, interacting with creation for the good of creation and all within it is somehow intrinsic to the very nature of God.

It is always presumptuous to speak of God and God’s nature.

But how we see and understand God dramatically affects our view of the world and all within it.

If there are people somehow beyond redemption, we are freed to, at the least, dismiss them and at worst, to annihilate them.

If God’s wrath is somehow the opposite of or to the exclusion of God’s love, then I too am free to indulge my wrath without thought to the obligations of love.

If God’s love is not defining of God, them I am truly lost.
DISCLAIMER: I am reporting part of a very long conversation here. I hope I report faithfully this much, but there was much more said. It’s not my intention to mislead or argue a point. Rather, these are the words that have sparked my own reflections today. I hope I have done justice to both sides.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mebbie You Can Tell a Little Something About This

“What are you doing?”

My aunt Bonnie could hear sounds over the phone, but couldn’t figure out what on earth I was up to during our annual “Help me!” call I always initiated during the holidays . . . I would inevitably forget some important ingredient for one of the many Christmas goodies I love to make and since Grandma died, Bonnie was my go-to gal for such crises.

“I’m beating the fudge,” I say.

“Is that the recipe that uses marshmellow cream?” she asks.

“I’m pretty sure.  It’s the fudge Dad always made.”

“Honey,” she laughed, “you don’t have to beat that fudge.  Dad (referring to my Grandpa) brought that recipe home from duPont.  The whole point of the marshmellow cream is that you don’t have to beat the fudge anymore.”

“That can’t be right,” I say.  “Dad always beat the fudge.”

Bonnie laughed some more as she explained to me that the old fudge recipe required beating, but not this ‘new’ one.

I hesitated for only a moment, remembering my dad and I, his faithful sidekick, standing over the stove, Dad beating the fudge until he broke a sweat, me waiting impatiently for the chance to lick the pan.  Dad even taught his brother Richard how to make that fudge just months before Dad died.

There was no way I was going to change this procedure.  You might not need to beat the fudge for it to set up, but I absolutely have to.  I’m churning memories into each batch with each stir of the spoon.

Bonnie and I laughed as we said our good-byes, both of us knowing that I would go to my grave beating the fudge and teaching the generations that you absolutely have to give it strong-arm treatment for it to turn out right.

That was years ago and in September, it’ll be two years since Aunt Bonnie met her Lord.

They’re all gone.  And I miss them terribly.

So it was a wonderful treat to get an envelope from my mother, tucked inside my birthday card, containing all of the recipes my dad’s mom had given my mother over the years, so that she could be sure to make dishes “just like Mom did”, per my dad’s instructions.

Some are in my mother’s handwriting, some even in my Aunt Bonnie’s, and some, rare treasures, in my Grandma’s own hand.  And there, the very last one of all, is the peanut butter fudge recipe.  Grandma wrote this one herself.  Oh, what a treasure!  Will she say to beat the fudge, I wonder?  You decide.

Peanut Butter Marshmellow Fudge

Cook: 2 cups sugar
2/3 cup undiluted canned milk until it forms a soft ball.  Remove from fire add:
1 cup marshmellow creme
1 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Stir good and pour into buttered plate.

“Mebbie you can tell a little something about this.”

Notes to the cooks: (1) We always use a 1-pound box of brown sugar and a small can of carnation evaporated milk.  (2) If you’re not a candy maker, you form the soft ball by taking a bit on a spoon and putting it into a cup of very cold water and seeing if it holds its shape.  (3) Stir constantly while it’s cooking.  I don’t even test it until the sugar/milk mixture has come to a rolling boil.  (4) This is one of the few recipes from my Grandma with exact measures and that’s not how we make it.  I use two big (and I mean big) spoonfuls of marshmellow cream and 2 of peanut butter.  (5) Peanut butter varies in taste - don’t skimp on the cheap stuff.  (6) I love this fudge with black walnuts - if you like them too, just add a cup of broken walnut pieces at the very end.  (7) I don’t know the author of this recipe.  If you do, let me know so I can give credit where it is due.  If my Grandpa brought it home from work, I’m guessing it came from a friend or that it was a pass-around recipe from some professional kitchen.  (8) Finally, I stand by my Dad’s teachings.  When Grandma says to “stir good”, that means to beat the fudge until your arm drops off.  Trust me, it’ll be better if you do.

In the words of my Grandma, Mary Edra Tennant Pyles, “Mebbie you can tell a little something about this.”