Monday, October 31, 2011

Mein bester Feind (My Best Enemy): Part 2

When I first observed the film’s title, I was struck by the German word feind, similar as it is to fiend in English.                          
Searching out meanings and connections, I cam across two linguistic concepts: false friends and false enemies.  I have trouble distinguishing them, which is more than a little ironic.

False Friends (French: faux amis) are pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects. . .    that look or sound similar, but differ in meaning.”

False Enemies, on the other hand, are “unrelated words spelled alike in two languages . . .”

Whether linguistically it is a false friend or enemy, the word feind in German translates into English as predator, enemy, or foe.

Given the friendship that had existed between the two protagonists in the film, “enemy” seems the best translation into English, especially as the original meaning of fiend (English spelling), retained in the German, was understood as the opposite of friend.  Entymology  To play on an old aphorism, we might say He who is not my friend is my fiend, my Satan.

Thus, perhaps, the German feind and the English fiend are neither false friends nor false enemies.  Maybe, like the two former friends and now enemies in the film, the two words are actually exactly what they seem: true friends and true enemies.

The metaphor is probably strained, but as in a comedy of manners, the two former friends, even during their friendship, are often saying something very different than what the other and those who surround them understand or perceive.

Yet even more than a comedy of manners, this is a comedy of menace, a narrative where humor is found in the darkest of places and circumstances.

It’s surprising to find in a film set within the context of the Holocaust a tragedy writ larger than the Holocaust itself; but in My Best Enemy, the tragedy is about betrayal and is one shadowed by language.

In word and in deed, one friend says to another, I love you like a brother and I treasure our friendship more than I can express.  You are my brother, but the other friend hears I pity you for your poverty and lack of station and I am always looking down on you from above.  The differences between us are an inseparable barrier and I will always have more, be more, than you.

Such misunderstandings and barriers are the stuff of everyday life; it is, perhaps, only the enormity of history that raises the divisions between these friends to the level of the murderous.

But whether they happen in the midst of historical massacres or in everyday life, divisions and misunderstandings between us and our susceptibility to their influence remain, at their core, a tragedy.

 “The picture of the little girl is an example of false friends in a Dutch advertisement actually meaning ‘Mummy, that one, that one, that one ...’  ‘Please.’, In English this could easily sound as though the child is telling her mother to die, although the word is not pronounced the same way in the two languages.”   Wikipedia

Sunday, October 30, 2011

To Be a Good Leader, You Have to be a Good Follower (We’re All Following Somebody!)

Sermon Archive Cliff Notes from the eve of national elections of November 2008 
Readings from Matthew 23.1-12 & 1 Thessalonians 2.1-13
          Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites.  The word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the Greek word hupokrisis, meaning the ‘acting of a theatrical part’.  In other words, a hypocrite, someone we understand to pretend to have higher standards or beliefs than they really do, is an actor, someone who is pretending, someone who is wearing a mask.
          Now we’ve talked before about the masks we wear – but then we were thinking about the masks we put on to hide our sorrows from the world . . . now that is pretending, but it’s a different kind of pretending than we’re hearing about today.
          When I put on my mask to pretend I’m okay, I’m not humbling myself enough to believe that you might really care about me.  But the mask Jesus refers to is the one I put on to hide that I really don’t care about you.  The first is the mask of the follower; the second, the mask of the leader.  It is to the leader in all of us that these texts speak.
               This week, all over the country, candidates of one side will pack their bags and go home when the other side steps into the victor’s seat.  The keys to the earthly ‘kingdom’ will be passed along.  And life will go on.
          But if we follow our usual pattern, the ink won’t be dry on the page before we’re crying foul or criticizing the new leaders, before they’ve even gotten the chair warm.
          Before we get too righteous in our indignation, let us remember that we too are leaders, that we too are setting an example, that we too are called to be in the burden sharing as well as the burden bearing business of life . . .
          Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, grandchildren, family and friends, younger sisters and brothers, neighbors and strangers,  all are led by you . . .
          What Paul understood, what is central to his message to the Thessalonians, is that how you lead is determined by whom you follow . . . and we all follow someone or something . . .
          So like Paul, remember always that God is your leader . . .
          The word ‘cynical’ is defined as believing the worst about human beings and their nature.  There is no room for the cynical in the kingdom . . . and cynicism, like a disease, is contagious . . .
          So here’s a challenge particularly suited to this time in our nation . . . drop the cynicism . . . try believing the best rather than the worst about the candidates . . . all of them . . .
          Pray the best for all of them . . .
          And who knows, maybe, just maybe, they will become the leaders we need.
          But the real miracle is that maybe, just maybe, we will become the leaders we’ve been  looking for . .

                 On this eve of elections, I charge you in the words of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist tradition, "Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences”.  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mein bester Feind (My Best Enemy)

Part 1    

My Best Enemy represents the first movie I’ve ever seen at a film festival because the October Chicago Film Festival is the first such event I have ever attended.  I love movies, so as I sit in the dark in anticipation, I wonder why I have never done this before and realize that but for my friend Anita’s connection to film and film folk, I probably never would have.  Check one for friends who bring us amazing experiences.

The movie is in German with subtitles.  As I said above, I love movies; films, not so much.  And for me, subtitles equal film . . . something more than the mere escapism that is my usual fare. . . something I’ll have to think on.

There are a plethora of themes and ideas that grab in My Best Enemy.  One is the care we humans must take in not becoming the thing we abhor, that in being freed from oppression, we do not become oppressors ourselves.

Doing to is very satisfying when the one done to richly deserves what is meted out, especially in film, where we sit collectively while still alone somehow in the dark, our participation the passive receipt of what the mama bird has already chewed for us.  Simply put, in our theater seats, we tend to go where we are led.

So it is no surprise to me, one striving towards pacifism, that I join with the audience’s sighs and laughter as one character receives what he had just meted out to another, even as a small (too small) part of my brain registers the horror of what has been brought to them both.  I do not know or understand why the turned table is too tempting to resist, in film as in life, but I know that it often is.

Perhaps the lesson is this: take care not to define comeuppance as justice, deception as wisdom, the cruelty of reprisal as morally superior to the cruelty which begot it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

It is Snowing

Tiffany Armstrong's place
Saturday morning
It is snowing.  

It’s  Friday, October 28, 54 days before winter officially begins, and it is snowing in the mountains.

The brief explosion of fall colors is almost past and it is snowing and I just brought in the last of the tomatoes from the three plants outside my back door.

Some may yet ripen, but the stubborn green ones will fulfill their fried-green-tomato destiny, reminding me of summer days, star-filled nights, and the sound of laughter and children running barefoot across the grass.

It is snowing.  Winter comes, like God, bidden or not bidden.

The smell of fallen leaves gives way to the smell of wet earth and cold.

It is snowing.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On Wall Street, Occupations and Such: When is Enough Enough?

Last week in Chicago for Christian Peacemaker Teams’ (CPT) 25th anniversary Peace Congress, some friends and I joined the Occupy Chicago protest outside Bank of America and in front of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Drums, not bullets or rocks, were the medium of expression for anger and determination.

Community building happened before our eyes as a general assembly convened for business sublime and ordinary.

What might have been street kids mingled with college grads, grandmas and grandpas and everyone in between.

And the signs were a crash course in economics, with quotes from such folk as Adam Smith blazoning messages of the need for change.

It was peaceful, convivial, respectful of passers by, cheerful and focused.

The political structures of the day seem at a loss as to what to ‘do’ with the Occupy movement.  Politics and politicians are largely irrelevant in what I saw.

I can’t express the credo for this movement; but the question I come away with is this: When is enough enough?

When we arrived, my friends and I, we milled around a bit, observing, listening.  We had come without signs, but noticed a pile of them, available to all.  Looking through them, I found the perfect one for me: Stop telling the truth.  I am trying to be normal.

I don’t know what the author intended, but what I took away was this:

(1) as a follower of Jesus, speaking Truth and truth is my obligation as well as my privilege.  It often isn’t comfortable or welcome, the business of speaking Truth and truth.  What it is is a calling; the calling of every Christian.  Living truth, following The Truth, we may not, we cannot, remain silent in the face of lies, especially the great ones; and

(2) When we live our lives trying to pretend that everything and everyone is okay when it and they are clearly not, the Truth and the truth are very uncomfortable.  Not thinking about, not acting upon, the call to and for justice is a luxury Americans in general and Christians in particular do not have.

So when is enough enough?  It is a personal question and all I can offer is my own personal answer in all its particularities.

In material terms, when do I have enough?  Enough stuff?  Enough wealth?  The answer is a very long time ago I accumulated all I would ever need and more besides.  I give my 10% to my church and still have more than I need.  In a lifetime of 56 years thus far, I have already expended far more than my personal share of the world’s resources.

This is my confession and my challenge.  I cannot undo what has already been done.  But I can change. . . change patterns of consumption . . . the desire for things . . . the enculturated feeling within that enough is never enough . . . I can use less and share more . . . I can stop pretending that all is normal . . . I can listen and learn . . . I can stop supporting structures that oppress the generations. . . and I can lend my voice, my presence.

I can.  The question is will I?                    

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Creative Resistance

A small group meets regularly in my living room on Wednesdays when we can.  It began as a conversation about joining the church, but has long since morphed into Tea-Time with friends.  

We talk, we laugh, we share, we pray. . . and sometimes we even study.

Just now, we are diving, all with trepidation, into Joy Mead's Making Peace in Practice and Poetry . . . trepidation because this small book challenges us to make, to be peace, through poetry . . . our own poetry . . . and none of us are poets, or at least so we think.

We begin reading Joy Mead’s own poem, Personal Peacemaking.  One line strikes me: “I shall resist violence and destruction creatively by . . .”, which is followed by Mead’s personal list, which takes me by surprise.

I shall resist violence and destruction creatively by:
dancing and laughing,
planting trees and sowing seeds,
making and sharing bread
. . . and ice cream!

As her poetic peace credo continues, I am challenged.  How shall I resist violence and destruction in my own life?  How shall I take the ideals and principles that take me to Iraq and convert them into an every-day way of being?  What is my own peace credo?

With pen to paper, I begin . . . and this is all that it is and all that it is . . . a beginning . . .

I shall resist violence and destruction creatively by:
playing the cello
making a casserole
sharing my chocolate
laughing with my friends
jumping hopscotch
blowing bubbles
sitting underneath every rainbow I see
listening more
talking less

What will be your peace credo?  Won’t you share it with the world today?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Where I Live . . . Part 2

Where I live . . .
a neighbor brings by a couple of garbage bags full of black walnuts
just because he picked them up
and knows I love them
even though I was too lazy to join him in picking
them up from the ground the other day
Hulled, they lay on newspaper
in the garage
drying out a bit
waiting to be shelled

Where I live, if I get too frustrated or too lazy to shell them myself,
I can always call Lucy
down the street
busy shelling her own nuts
oxygen tank at her side
hammer and the skill of generations
in her hands

Where I live, Keri is busy making applebutter
and when I FB to ask if I can come over just to inhale
she laughs and messages me back
to go stand outside
the window’s open
so I should be able to smell all the
applebutter I want
all I have to do
is stand in the cool night air
and breathe in

Where I live
when tragedy strikes
as it did this week
with Levi's death in a car accident
Everyone pitches in to help
food comes unbidden
and even out here in the country
FB messages of love and comfort fly
across the cyber lines of connection
even as we all reel from the news
the loss
three young men in a year
Anyplace the loss is writ large on the hearts of those close
in a small place, the loss is writ on the hearts and faces
of everyone . . . because everyone is close

Where I live. . .
black walnut cracking time
and applebutter making time
and crying-for-the-ones-who-died-too-young-time
are all coming in at once this year . . .
Pray for us, won’t you . . .
as we pray for you . . .

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I-man-yoo-el . . . I-man-yoo-us . . God with us . . . us with each other . . .

A Sermon Cliff-Note

On Shelter . . .

The shelter of the church is not for the worthy; it’s for the needy.  This is grace.  So it is that we can proclaim:

I stood outside of doors just like these for a very long time, waiting until I was ‘good enough’ to come in, until one day, it finally occurred to me that if I waited until I was good enough to join you, I never would.  The God-whisper Holy Spirit moment came when I realized that I didn’t have to be.
There is always room for more. . . more hypocrites . . . more broken folk . . . more liars and cheats and thieves . . . more of the sick and more of the proud . . . more just like us.
Here you can find your shelter, your rest.

On Nurture . . .

The Bible is uplifting and troubling, challenging and confusing, God’s word made clear and sometimes made very obscure.
There are people around the world who are starving for what we have so easily available to us: the Bible, books about the Bible and people of faith, books about important stories, of how we humans struggle to be better than we are: how we succeed and how we fail.
Our presbytery is in a wonderful partnership with churches in Ethiopia and one of the vital new ministries there is filling library shelves with books for children.  Mettu Library Book Drive
You can help bring reading to children who otherwise might never have that opportunity, that they might be nurtured as you have already been.
On Spiritual Fellowship. . . 

Religion is for people afraid of going to hell.
Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

Our experiences of ‘hell on earth’, whether self-inflicted or not, often take us beyond the surface of things, into the space of deeper connection to our fellow human beings and to our God.
In the middle of hell, right smack dab in the middle of all that life can throw at you, there is heaven. . . I see it in your faces and in your hearts.

On Resting Into It . . . 

It’s hard work, this business of being in spiritual fellowship, of providing nurture and shelter.  How much easier it is when we remember that it’s not up to us.
To quote priest Oscar Romero, “We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete. . . We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. . . We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.  It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

A Credo Making Sense of It All. . . 


1. This is an excerpt from the second sermon in a series on the Great Ends of the Church.  This sermon is addressed to:  The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.
2. The first two slides came from a self-described atheist’s slide show.  Let me know if credits are due, as I can’t recall the site.  The quote, “Religion is for. . .” is variously attributed to Bonnie Raitt and Alcoholics Anonymous.  I was turned on to the last slide, In this house . . . in a FB entry by friend Chris Scott.  Thanks Chris for the credo!
3. Shout-out to Rev. Liz Crumlish of the Church of Scotland for the Oscar Romero quote.  (I borrowed it shamelessly!)  Check out Liz’s great blog at Liz-Vicar of Dibley

Friday, October 21, 2011

How the Light Gets In

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 
                                          Chorus from Anthem by Leonard Cohen

I sit in a workshop at CPT’s Peace Congress in Chicago.  I’m not sure what it’s about, but clay will be involved.  And I am more than ready for a bit of play in my spiritual life.

Photo by Tim Nafziger courtesy of CPT
The facilitator hands us each a ball of clay, inviting us to shape it however we like.  As we press and mold and shape, she speaks. . . gently . . . quietly . . . she speaks of loss, for there is much loss in the room . . .

And she speaks of allowing the cracks into our creations . . . quoting Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, she reminds us of letting the light in . . . of seeking and finding the spaces and gullies and gulches in our faith . . . of looking there . . . in the broken places . . . for God’s shining . . .

I glance around . . . all have created small pots of beauty and symmetry . . . all save me . . . my creation is a broken thing . . . finger gouges mark it within and without . . . cracks and holes where my hands have punched through, at first unaware, mark this misshapen thing that I begin to see as me . . . broken and bent, chock full of holes, uneven, barely standing . . . and yet somehow letting in the light . . .

I start to press the clay back into a ball and begin again, aiming for beauty this time, when something stays my hands . . . no . . . this is true . . . and so I keep it . . . and a couple of Sundays from now, I will stand at the communion table and pour the wine into the misshapen clay . . . and the wine will pour out . . . like Jesus, poured not in, but out, for us . . . and the light will come in.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Violence Was Jesus' Problem, Not His Solution

Jesus is not a terrorist, but we make him out to be one
we insist that the cross was foreordained by God
that Jesus/God decreed that not only would God die, but that God’s followers would too
die violently
on a cross
a torturers rack
in an explosion of violence

Because, we say, nothing else would do
human sin is so great
that only this death will suffice

we say that Jesus had to die this way

as if Jesus/God dying wasn’t sufficient to ‘atone’ for the sins of humanity
as if death itself wasn’t at the heart of the matter
after all, what original sin gave the world was death
what the cross took away was death

did the manner of Jesus’ death have to be violent?
it was, but it didn’t have to be

others have said that it wouldn’t have been ‘enough’ for
Jesus to have died an old man in his bed

why not?
Death, after all, is the ‘it’ Jesus came to free us from
by taking on death, Jesus frees us from death

wouldn’t any death have done?
Violent death captures our imaginations

but is that not simply evidence that our imaginations are as corrupt as our bodies?  As our world?

Death, you see, is our bogey man
most won’t die on the torturer’s rack
but all will die

and that is our existential crisis
our collective holocaust reality -
we will all cease

even earth itself will cease
with the death of our sun
will come the winter of no existence

every old man dying in bed is just as pain-filled
just as afraid
as the man dying on the cross

and at the end, one is not more dead than the other

so why do we insist that Jesus had to die by the torturers’ hands?

Why do we glorify torture?
Why do we find such ghastly beauty in the dance of the macabre?

I am not scholar or theologian enough to even ponder these things
let alone speak them well

all I can say is that

Jesus was no terrorist
leading his followers to intentional suicide
in the cause for God

Jesus led his followers in the cause for God
knowing that the reactions of others
might well lead to their untimely deaths by violence

but violence was Jesus’ problem,
not his solution

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Drawing Our Lives

Photo by Tim Nafziger, CPT
Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana steps to the podium to bring the message on the second day of CPT's 25th Anniversary Peace Congress in Chicago.  As the worship had begun earlier in the morning, Pastor Shawna Bowman entered the empty space before the podium, knelt before the blank black page taped to the floor and began to draw.

By the time Dr. Shanta came forward, a border had been largely filled by Shawna and my eyes left her for a time, engaged in Dr. Shanta's words.

Theology, he reminded us, is not an abstraction.  It cannot be.  And we help determine the context in which each of our theologies will develop by the simple act of choosing:  who will be at table with you today?

Dr. Shanta was reminding us that the people of the margins are seldom invited to the tables of folks like me.  Perhaps it was the sting of that truth; I don't know.  But it was at that moment that my eyes reverted to Shawna's drawing.  It seemed somehow safer.

My line of sight is drawn by Shawna's actions to the far right side of her work.  There are figures running up the page, perpendicular to the floor.  I'm looking at her creation sideways.  As I look at Shawna's hands, I am captivated . . . she is literally drawing on the margins Dr. Shanta is describing. . . while he invites us to notice who is absent from the table, Shawna is drawing . . . curling, whorling, swirling black on black strokes . . . there, on the margins . . . on the margins of the page as in the margins of our lives . . . there, God is still speaking.

As Dr. Shanta continues to speak of the margin space, Shawna adds . . . more whorls and swirls, but now in vivid color . . . suddenly, the margins are alive . . . the place where movement is happening . . .

It's been there all along . . .

And the age-old invitation comes back . . . Let them with eyes to see see . . .

I am so grateful for the eyes of Shawna and Dr. Shanta and so many, many, others, living out there, at the margins, living and dancing and bringing life-giving color to those like me in the comfortable middle of things. . . that space where colors fade into complacency.

Blessings on us all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

O Canada!

flag of CanadaI'm on the road to Chicago, heading for CPT's bi-annual Peace Congress.  This year, we celebrate 25 years of peacemaking and peacebeing around the globe, hearing from working partners, hearing voices of celebration and voices of challenge.

All that is ahead of me.  But what I'm thinking on just now are all the Canadian friends I've made through CPT.  We're so close and so similar, and yet so very different, Canada and the United States. 

So to the non-Canadians out there, if you've never been, you should go.  Canada has the better view of Niagra Falls and Dan Akroyd, Jim Carrey, and Raymond Burr (hey, laugh if you want to, but Perry Mason is one of the big reasons I became a lawyer!). 

Two Canadians  were the inventors of the first electric light bulb, not, as we're led to believe in the US, Thomas Edison.

On a more personal note, Gregg introduced me to the music of Ben Harper and taught me that a smile is as good as, if not better than, a speech.

Doug taught me to listen better.

Allen taught me that farmers may just save the world, if we'll let them.

Harmeet taught me that caring is a lifetime vocation.

Jim taught me that grace is a verb.

To them all, I am so very grateful.

And call me unpatriotic, but if you're going to have a flag, isn't a symbol of nature and beauty so much better than a symbol of yourself?

Ah Canada! 

Monday, October 10, 2011


William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Limbo is not a concept in Protestantism; yet often do we live there, at least this side of heaven.

As a Christian, the notion of ‘call’, of God leading and directing us to a particular path, of waiting to hear God clearly, of discerning that it is God’s voice and not my own or the voice of others, is steeped deep in my bones.

I have been called before to work in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and have been to Iraq with CPT for roughly two-month stints from 2005-2010.  I did not go this year, mostly because I have been ambivalent about whether I am still called.

How do we know when God calls?  Even more, how do we know when God stops calling?  I wish I knew.

What follows is a random part of my own thought-process when I met an Iraqi woman this summer at the PC(USA) Big Tent event in Indianapolis.

Fi kelbee, anni Iraqiya.

It’s a phrase I haven’t said in a long time . . .

“In my heart, I am an Iraqi.”

As I meet Martha at the Big Tent gathering, she is introduced for her work with refugees in California.  The man who introduced us surprisingly says to Martha (about me), “She’s Iraqi.”

Martha, a Middle Eastern woman, looks at me with frank surprise.  I grin and say, “Anni Iraqiya, fi kelbee." [“I am an Iraqi, in my heart.”]

We both laugh, exchange pleasantries and basic information, and move on.

Yet the phrase hangs with me.

Am I?

Is it still true that I feel this affinity for the people of Iraq?  I think so.  But what am I going to do about it?

I haven’t been since the winter of 2010.

“What have you done for me lately” isn’t just asked by sports figures looking for the better deal (watch the movie Jerry MacGuire if you don’t get the reference).

It is a fair question for people caught in all sorts of webs to ask of those who would help them or walk alongside them as they endeavor to help themselves.

Kurdish Iraqis not allowed to vote in 2009
“What have you done for me lately?”

No one is asking me this question, at least not in person, face to face.

But I still hear the question ringing in my ears.

Will I go back?  I do not know.

What am I waiting for?  I do not know.

Do I feel the pull?  I do.

Am I exhausted by the implied rejection of the work I do in Iraq from family, friends and congregants?  I am.

Is it their ‘fault’ I haven’t gone back?  No.

What am I waiting for?

I do not know.


God’s voice has never boomed from the sky for me, but I have never before had such a sense of unknowing.

Limbo.  It’s a place I don’t like living in much.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cut It Out!

Just because you disagree with me does not make you stupid or heard-hearted or uninformed, or even wrong.

Just because I disagree with you does not make me stupid or heard-hearted or uninformed or wrong either.

Because you are across the aisle from me doesn't make you bad.

Please remember the same is true for me when you see my face on the 'other side'.

I don't know if, in the United States, we have ever known how to disagree.  But if we did, we have forgotten what we knew. 

We in these United States could stand to learn some things from other cultures:

(1)  If we're going to be insulting, we could be more creative, like the British.  Or maybe we just need better accents (we Americans are quite smitten with all the speech patterns of the UK - I know - the Irish aren't British and the Scots don't want to be, but you take my light-hearted point, I hope).

(2)  Eastern cultures could teach us to have greater respect for the other simply because they are the other.

(3)  Iraqi culture could teach us that the freedom of speech is not the same as the freedom to insult, denigrate, and dismiss.

(4)  And we could learn from many cultures about the importance of social compact.  And how to argue.  And that arguing is not the end of anything, it's simply part of the on-going conversation; the world will not end simply because we disagree.  And how to listen to others, especially others whose views are different than our own, on the off chance that we might actually learn something.

In the Christian tradition, Paul writes in Galatians that followers of Christ are no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.  He is, of course, not speaking literally.  He is making the point that previous differences that divided no longer apply, as we are all one within the body of Christ.  

Yet within that one-ness, there is a great range of humanity and possibility.  And so an American gal like me can learn from a Taiwanese friend that negotiation can look like friendship and does not have to be a competitive sport; from Iraqi friends that even violently heated political arguments can end in laughter and the sharing of a meal; from Scots friends that teetotallers and those who enjoy a wee dram can dance together, each without judging the other.  

These are but a few of my own lessons; I wonder, what lessons have you learned from those so different than you that you can scarce understand them?

If only we would stop talking at each other, we might be able to actually listen to each other.  

What a wonderful thing that would be.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Show an Affirming Flame

Democracy Now! shows a speech by journalist Chris Hedges.  My own view is that Chris Hedges is a prophet; others disagree, and in another time, another place, boo him from the stage.  But what I am struck by in the most recent speech is a concluding line, "Show an affirming light", a quote from the poem September 1, 1939 by W. H. Auden.  It is a benedictory line in a poem marking the birth of yet another war, a wishful plea to the self, "May I . . . [like the others swamped by despair] show an affirming light."

The poem also contains the famous line, "We must love one another or die."  Auden is reported to have later loathed the poem and its sentiment, calling it "trash which he is ashamed to have written."  Wikipedia

Demonstrating the depths of his loathing, Auden refused to allow the popular poem to be republished and on one occasion, only acquiesced with a change to the love line thus, "We must love one another and die."

I am no Auden scholar and do not know why he rejected his own words, his own sentiment.  I can guess:  the poem became quite popular, and as with much that becomes popular, I suspect the poem was appropriated in ways Auden never intended, given meaning he did not mean, as with Lyndon Johnson's cruelly ironic use of the love line in his famous 'Daisy' ad in his presidential election campaign.  Or maybe Auden simply changed his mind.  It happens.

Nevertheless, I remain drawn to the benedictory impulse, the desire to show, to be an affirming light.  Maybe that claims too much for the self.  Maybe the Wendell Berry approach is better (I paraphrase freely):  protest not out of any hope, realistic or otherwise, to change the world; rather, protest because you must; protest because to remain silent will corrupt the you that is singularly you.  As Berry says, it is the more modest hope. Wikiquote "A Poem of Difficult Hope"

 In my older age, I find I am less and less interested in the modest, the realistic.  I was much more cautious as a youngster.

Others will have to define the light I cast, if any be cast at all.

For now, all I have and all that I have is benediction:  May I, may you, may we all, cast an affirming light. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Made for Beauty

We weren't just made beautiful.  We were made to appreciate beauty when we find it in others.  

My cousin Daniel is a pastry chef and an amazing chocolatier.  I recently posted one of his creations on FB and the feedback has been quick and appreciative.  "Wow", "Amazing", "Beautiful presentation", "Impressive", "Form AND function, what a deal!" and perhaps my favorite, from the Scotland friends, "We want Daniel on our next visit!"

We can all only imagine what the images might actually taste like, but the beauty of form, color, and composition are breathtaking.  Literally, it stopped my eyes.

I am remembering my mother's trip to NYC some years ago.  She went to the Met.  At the end of the day, dog-tired from all the walking, she almost missed it.  Then she turned and saw one of van Gogh's sunflower studies.  "Beth, I've never seen anything like it.  It literally took my breath away.  All I could do was stare at it.  Now I understand what people mean . . ."  My mother's voice trailed off as the words to describe the effect of such beauty on her spirit simply evaporated into the ether.

We are creatures made for beauty.  

May you be blessed by beauty within and without now and evermore.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jubilee - Cliff Notes of World Communion Sunday Sermon

The Bible is full of cycles of seven -- seven days to a week, six of work and one of rest or Sabbath; seven years – six of working, both land and labor and a seventh of rest and freedom or manumission; and seven sets of seven years for the Jubilee (on the 50th year) – return to the land, returning purchased land (which is more like our leasing or renting of land) and freedom from the bondage of servitude to another . . . all are cycles of creation.

Creation in the biblical view, is an on-going thing.  And somehow, some way, mysteriously, human beings are part of the creating as well as being the created. 

And one of our acts of co-creation with God, one of the hardest, is the act of restraint . . . of refraining from . . . of stopping . .

In the stopping, in the restraint, creation itself emerges as part of the divine creative process . . . the painting emerges from the canvas . . . the form from the sculpture . . . the character takes shape in the drama . . . and as every artist knows, sometimes, it’s the job of the artist to get out of the way . . . to take hands off . . . and simply allow the creation to speak for itself . . .to take on its own shape and form . . . to grant it the freedom to emerge . . .
We confess before coming to the Communion Table in order that we might ourselves be freed . . . freed from all that binds us up into the worries and hurries and scurries of this world into the waiting . . . wondering . . . resting . . . rescusitating pace of the divine . . .

We are assured of our own pardon that we might freely pardon others . . . that they too may be freed of the worries and hurries and scurries . . .

Jubilee reminds us that even as we are loved, so too is the other . . . as God loves each and all of us, so too God loves other people . . . the animals . . . the land . . . it’s immensely practical, this jubilee business, but so too is is wonderfully, divinely, inspired . . . Jubilee . . . rest and rescusitation . . .freedom and space for the emergence of . . . God’s own masterpiece!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Every Casserole Dish The Body of Christ

Tomorrow is World Communion Sunday, when Christians around the world intentionally celebrate communion together, mindful of what Paul described as the great cloud of witnesses, all believers across time and space, gathered around the communion table.

Here in McDowell and Headwaters, we're celebrating communion family-style.   Family groups will bring a cup from home for the wine (well, grape juice) and will gather to take communion together. 

Imagining the gathered, I couldn't help but chuckle.  The visual reminds me so much of the joke (substitute your own favorite denomination at will) - at the pearly gates, St. Peter quizzes three women about why they should be allowed entrance.  The Roman Catholic woman shows St. Peter her rosary and is immediately welcomed.  The Baptist woman proudly displays her Bible and she too gains entrance.  The Presbyterian woman, a bit sheepishly, brings from behind her back her casserole dish.

I don't know if there'll be casserole dishes in heaven, but I sure hope so!  The Word of God is not only read and prayed, it is also lived.  And there's a lot of life in some of those casserole dishes.  They travel to the homes of the bereaved, bringing comfort and practical care in the form of macaroni and cheese.  They show up at every church activity, saying "I'm here to help."  Sometimes they travel to the home of a friend or stranger who just seems to need a little something.

Tomorrow Christians around the world will partake of the symbolic meal and enter into the real presence of the Risen Christ.  Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the casserole dishes will wait, ever ready to offer themselves as living sacrifices, symbolic of the real hands that prepared them, of the real love that created them, a practical testament to the Body of Christ in your neighborhood and mine. 

The next time you meet a casserole dish, in addition to 'thank you', you might say 'amen'.