Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Hope For You

This Advent, my hope for you is . . .

clear skies

smooth sailing

hip-hop-poetry-slam-joy moments

new friends

nothing extra

knowing you’re necessary because the earth, like a machine, doesn’t come with any unnecessary parts

enough challenge to keep it all interesting

enough ease to find your rest

a replenishing well

a winning team to root for

lots of wow moments

a life well-lived

love well given

Nod to movie Hugo for the unnecessary parts line & a shout out to Judy & Rich for the late-night inspiration.  Go, Rehobeth!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Infinite Hope

We must accept finite disappointment,
but never lose infinite hope.
                                                  –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

My grandson clutches the latest Christmas catalogue to his body and when asked, identifies each and every item in it as something he wants, needs, fervently desires . . . even the things for girls . . . yes, I want that too . . . only for boys, is his stock response to his challengers.

The temptation during this time of year can be to chastize, to bemoan the crass materialism that makes even little children’s reach exceed their grasp, but I’m changing my tune on this one.

It is the job of children to have  reaches that exceed their grasp, for their desires to be bigger than their own abilities to achieve those desires.

And yes, it is often the job of the grown-ups in the room to act as the wise corrective, bringing back, reining in, that childish desire to something reasonable.

But it is also the job of the grown-ups in the room to accede to those desires . . . to give as well as to give in . . . to recognize and respond to the infinite hope that resides in every child.

Hope is a funny thing . . . mostly, those who need it the most have it the most. . . or so it seems to me.

But there are those who didn’t get their hope quotient. . . those whose catalogues of dreams got lost in the mail . . . those for whom the infinity of hope has been obscured by the finitude of disappointment.

For those you know who are in need of some infinite hope today . . . may your prayers for them be converted by God’s own Spirit into whispers of hope into their hearts.

May they, may you, be reminded of the possibilities of an infinite hope.

Advent: A Time of Hope, Not Wishes

“Advent is the time of hope, not wishes. Christians truly believe that Jesus is working through our work to bring about liberation and allow us to live in dignity and peace. And we do not wait idly, we wait expectantly, and we continue the struggle in the meantime.”
–“The Holy Margins” by Julie Myers, CPT

Advent is a time of hope, not wishes.  Julie writes her reflection from Christian Peacemaker Team’s (CPT) Colombia home, recalling the continuing work of the people of Colombia to reclaim their land and their dignity, at great personal risk.

I cannot imagine a better understanding of this thing we call hope: keen desire mixed with fervent effort.

Hope is not fatalism, simply awaiting what will come.  Nor is hope, as Julie points out, merely wish or desire, for blended in with the desire of hope is the expectation of it.

Hope is reality working against the odds.

So today, during this week of hope during the Advent season, I ask myself:  for what do I hope?

I live in such plenty that it is often difficult to experience any sense of lack or desire.  It is often as if all my desires have been met.

But this is the lure and the lie of material comfort: the mirage that all is well and nothing is left to be desired.

For what do I hope?

Big things like world peace . . . plenty of food on every table . . . reconciliation among and between us all . . . shelter for every head . . . creation cherished . . . children safe and loved . . .

But those things are more like wishes than hopes.

I hope, I desire fervently, I work for, I expect . . .

that someone’s Thanksgiving was a little brighter, a little less lonely, a little more fed, because my community gave of itself food for the table . . .

that a few children will have a happier Christmas and will find hope for themselves because someone brought them some toys and tokens to show that they matter and there are people who care . . .

that mine will be a reconciling voice at the table of family and friends . . .

that the generations in my family will flourish, knowing they rest upon a foundation of love and care from the generations before them . . .

These are my hopes . . . my desires . . . the things I work for and fervently desire . . .

I wonder . . . what are your hopes?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cliff Notes: Advent 1 Sermon

Keep Watch

“Mark 13 speaks to those who expect too much and to those who expect too little. [But most of all, it speaks to] those who have forgotten to expect anything at all”, says author Lamar Williamson.

We worship the God of the impossible, who can will the unimaginable.  How can we expect too much from such a God as this?

Maybe it’s not that we expect too much from God, but that we expect too much from others and from ourselves.

We expect too much when we demand perfection and refuse to accept or forgive anything less.

And sometimes, we expect too much from our world, allowing disappointments and setbacks to turn us from hope towards bitterness.

We expect too much from human understanding when we read our Bibles and think we know all the questions and already have all the answers.  When we hear Jesus’ words and think that ‘end times’ are at hand, we claim too much, for in God’s word, there is no such thing as end times.  God’s Word is of beginnings, not endings.

When we claim God’s judgment and not God’s love as the final word,  we claim at the same time, too much and too little, for our God.  We claim too much in our certainty that we know, when even Jesus reminds us that such knowledge is reserved to God and God alone.  And we claim too little when we think the devastating picture Jesus paints is the final word.

We claim too little if we stop there, overlooking Jesus’ promise that such times are a beginning – a promised birth.  His pronouncement, will all its fearsome imagery, is a promise of wonderful things to come:  just as a mother struggles in agony to bring forth a child, so will all creation struggle in pain to bring forth God’s new creation.

We expect too much and too little if we understand this passage as anything less than a promise of the redeeming transformation of all creation.  This is a word of Good News indeed, for we are in great need of such change.

But this text speaks most of all to those among us who have forgotten to expect anything at all.  Jesus encourages the unexpectant, in the words of Ignatian Brother Larry Gillick, to live towards our eternal existence, to know that the ‘when’ is now:  “The fall of the leaves is not the beginning of the end, but the beginning of the beginning. . . God is always coming to make more of us than we can make of ourselves.”
To the unexpectant, to we who have so much we can think of nothing we lack, to those of us who stopped waiting for anything a long time ago, Jesus is issuing a wake up call to the spiritual and earthly reality of his transforming presence in our lives and in our world.

Live as if I were coming back right now! says Jesus, because I am.  In every moment of every day, I am coming back to you. Can’t you see me?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent Reflection: Only God Can Make a Pie

Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent and we will celebrate with carols, candles and communion.

And the waiting will begin. . . waiting for Messiah to come again . . . waiting for Baby Jesus in the manger . . . waiting for the spark within each of us to be reignited into the very Spirit of God in our midst . . .

And in the meantime, we will go about our lives . . . busy with the day-to-day of existence with even the cracks of time and space filled with the joy or burden of "the holidays" . . .

Can't recommend the book
as I haven't read it,
but it's a great picture!
My own symbol this year of the waiting space is the perfect pie crust.

Pie making requires first and foremost a good crust.  I've been making pies since I was about 12 and only recently did I stumble on the great tip for the perfect flaky crust:  do not stir or over-work the dough -- rather, lightly fluff the water into the flour/lard mixture only until it is moistened:  crust does not like to be overworked.  The more gentle we are with it, the more flaky and wonderful-melting-in-the-mouth goodness it will yield.  As with so many things in life, less really is more.

That's a great lesson for Advent:  less is more.  Not only the less of consumer consumption, but also the less of trying so hard.  Advent is a time, if ever there were, to relax into God and God's good grace, to do our part gently and with patience and then step back to allow The Divine work to simply happen.

We might mix together some ingredients, but to borrow from poet Joyce Kilmer, only God can make a pie.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Thank You to My Family

After all the food was eaten, the dishes washed and put away, football watching wound down, and the family game (Taboo this year) played to satisfactory conclusion, after all that, came my favorite time of Thanksgiving . . . gathered in comfortable pauses and quiet conversation, family all around, young and old, happily in each other's presence, too tired to care about any remaining mess and simply glad to share snippets of thoughts, moments of our lives.

Thanksgiving has always been a favorite, blessed, gathering in my family.  In that space, wherever we gather, we don't so much express our thanks as live it out in time spent with each other.

And in the aftermath, with the turkey gone, the pies all eaten save the secret piece stashed in the back of the frig, the family scattered back to the winds from whence we all came, I find I am thankful . . . thankful these people are family to me and I to them . . . thankful that we can gather together and share and laugh like fools and cry like babies . . . thankful for the memories that will carry me forward to the next Thanksgiving.

Blessings to all now and evermore.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful Hands

In my own mind, giving thanks brings to mind grace at meal time, the obligatory thank you to the holy host before impatiently digging in.  If you’ve ever been at a family Thanksgiving where the one praying seemed to go on and on and on, you’ll know what I mean.  It’s interesting to note that in the Jewish tradition, thanks are offered after the meal, not before.  Maybe if we followed that tradition, we’d be more patient with the thanks.  Maybe.

But maybe our temptation to impatience is more about not truly appreciating the cost of the meal, even in  earthly terms.  Maybe the farmers among us, whose hands have mixed with the soil that brings forth our food are more patient, more aware, more thankful.  For the farmer knows, really knows, in-his-very-cellular-structure-knows what I as a former city-dweller can only understand with my mind: bringing forth the bounty of the earth is no easy task.

At this time of year, to remind us of the debt of thanks we owe, we consider the Pilgrims and their difficult winter, saved only by the hospitality of the Natives who shared their food with them.  The Pilgrims’  thanks were heart-felt, because the food they received came as they were on the brink of starvation.  This was not just another meal in a long line of generally satisfying dinners.  No – this . . . was . . . salvation.

Jesus reminds us that he did not come for the healthy, for they have no need of him.  Rather, Jesus came for the sick.  It’s common sense, isn’t it?  Only the sick need a doctor.  Only the dying know the joy of restored life.  Only the starving know the saving grace of a meal.  Perhaps only those whose hands have been empty can really give thanks when those hands are filled.

Conversely, only the satisfied could say with poet Robert Frost, “Of apple-picking . . . . .  I am overtired of the great harvest I myself desired.”

It is all too easy in our place and time to grow weary of the burden of our plenty and in our weariness, to miss entirely our lack.  Thankfulness comes from the deep place within, the place where, in our smallest child-like selves, we know that what we have, who we are, is the result of grace, not merit.

It is the nature of thankfulness to recognize the gifts of others in our lives.   Thankfulness is not gladness, nor is it self-satisfaction; rather, thankfulness is full appreciation for the reality of our condition and its cause.    Maybe the real trick about thankfulness is to understand that our hands are really empty even when they seem quite full.

Paul calls the Thessalonians and us to a life of continual thanks, for God wishes us to be a thankful people.  Perhaps when it comes to thanks, the question for us is whether we can know ourselves to be starving pilgrims and desperate farmers, even when we feel like weary over-satisfied apple pickers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

There Will Be Pie!

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Mindful of the many pies I’ve yet to bake for the coming Thanksgiving festivities, I penned the title for today, There will be pie!, thinking literally of the pies, the smells, the savory tastes, that evoke so many Thanksgiving memories.

Googling the phrase, however, has taken me in a totally different direction, far away from the pies that will, in a few short hours, rest in my oven.

At first, I was excited to see that Johnny Cash had penned a song There'll be pie in the sky but fan that I am, I have to admit There’ll be pie in the sky, by and by when I die are hardly his best lyrics.

Where, I then asked of my magic Google machine, did the phrase pie in the sky originate?

Turns out it’s a phrase coined by labor leader Joe Hill in the song The Preacher and the Slave, lampooning the Salvation Army for its perceived lack of care for the needs of the poor in the early 1900's, as a parody of the hymn In the Sweet Bye and Bye.

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;
But when asked how 'bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

It goes on from there in similar vein.  As I read, I feel the ouch of it: as a preacher, I must ask myself whether I, too, promise a vague heavenly release while ignoring the real pain standing right in front of me?  I hope not, but the question is an important one for people of faith.

Was Joe Hill right?  Do we meet real pain with bromides and vague promises?  Do we dismiss present suffering as of no account or cost because of the prospect of heavenly ‘reward’ (a word I loathe in the context of life with God, whether here or hereafter)?  Do we, blinded by promises of glory, miss seeing the real human being with real need standing right in front of us?

Or do we offer our own real presence to the real pain of others?  Do we attend as well as tend them?  

May it be so, O Lord, may it ever and always be so, especially in these holiday times when joy and plenty stand in sharp contrast to suffering and want, making it all the worse for the comparison.

May we be mindful of the needs of others: the need for companionship as well as for provision, the need for a smile and a warm touch as well as a plate of food, the need for caring as well as for sharing.


Really, really, really, I wasn’t thinking at all about politics, religion or even Jesus when I sat down to the computer this morning.  It was really just going to be about pie.  Really.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Newt Gingrich's "Let Them Eat Cake" Moment

At the Iowa Family Values forum on Saturday, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich commented on Occupy Wall Street activists, saying, “Go get a job right after you take a bath.”  It’s likely not a coincidence that his remarks came on the heels of Gingrich having been heckled by Occupy folk while giving a speech at Harvard.

Whether Occupy Wall Street folk are clean or unwashed is pretty much beside the point as I see it.

Gingrich sought to tie his remark to the challenge of Captain John Smith to aristocrats in the early American settlement to either work or starve, “If you don’t work, you won’t eat.”

Unfortunately, Gingrich’s remarks are more consonant not with Smith, but with the remark, “Let them eat cake,” apocryphally attributed to Marie Antoinette during a time of famine in France.

There are no studies of those participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests and communities across the nation, but among those on the streets are those who do have jobs as well as those who do not; those who have worked for a lifetime and those who are waiting to enter a job market that has no place for them; those who have protested wars at home and those who have fought them.

The unemployment rate (which measures those who do not have jobs who are looking for jobs) for young adults has topped 19% during this economic crisis and hovers consistently at above 16%.  The Wall Street Journal, "Generation Jobless"

The young are being hit the hardest in these times.  And this is while corporate profits have hit all time highs.

Given that joblessness is so high for young people who are looking for work but not finding it, Mr. Gingrich, might I suggest that telling those who are looking for work to get a job hardly qualifies as either helpful advice or meaningful challenge.  Rather, it smacks of an utter lack of awareness of lived realities for so many in this country.

Admittedly, we continue to be much better off as a nation than many other countries.

But I stand with the 16th-century Reformers on this one: human beings were made for work, for vocation.  Our work is our divine calling.  We serve not only ourselves and our community with our work; we also serve our God.  Being denied work is tantamount to being denied the opportunity to serve God.

Unfortunately, from this presumption, work is equated, wrongfully, with worth in our society.  No work; no worth.

And, Mr. Gingrich, your remarks smack of that same assessment.

But the folks on the streets are not worthless.  They are human beings.  And they are working.  They simply aren’t being paid for their work.

We can disagree with each other.  We can challenge the foundations of the opinions of others.  We can call into question the reasoning of someone whose opinion differs from ours.  But we cannot dismiss or denigrate the very existence of others.

There’s a word for that: dehumanization, the effort to make a person or persons something other than a fellow human being, so as not to have to take them into account.

It is beneath you, Mr. Gingrich.  It is beneath you as their fellow human being.  It is beneath you as someone who would seek to hold the highest office in our land.  And most especially, it is beneath you as a Roman Catholic Christian follower of Jesus the Risen Christ, who took us all into account.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lost in Translation

The well-meaning laughs of Iraqis I met when, unknowingly, instead of asking “Do you speak English?”, I was instead asking in my halting guide-book style Arabic, “Do I speak English?”

The howling laughter of a team mate in the Kurdish north when, rehearsing what I would say to a rude gentleman, in my best Kurdish, I demanded to know, “What is my name?”

My confusion when my Google translation for the Spanish “Toi Feliz” read “Happy toi”, confusion colored with laughter as all I could think was “Happy toys” [the translation is “I’m happy”, toi being short for “estoi” or “I am”].

Pronouns in other languages defeat me.  They’re mostly so much more logical and sensible and economical than English, with a different word for the plural ‘you’ and word endings to indicate the proper pronoun.

But sensible, logical and economical just do not translate in my brain into anything I can make sense of.  When it comes to language, I am the proverbial wanderer in the desert and the only thing that saves me from utter humiliation is my cheerful recognition before I even begin that I’m likely to get it wrong and that my listeners are likely to be very forgiving of my limitations.

And that is a wonderful space in which to be, desert or no desert: the space of forgiving acceptance of limitation.  Knowing that I rest safely in such hands, being lost in translation isn’t such a bad thing.  It teaches me compassion for others by the compassion shown me.  It redirects me away from judging and towards grace by the grace extended to me.  It creates patience in me by being on the receiving end of so very much patience from others.

And perhaps most important of all, it teaches me humility: the humility of the guest in a foreign land, relying, ever and always, upon the kindness of strangers.  After all, aren’t we all strangers in one way or another in this pilgrim land?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cliff Notes: Christ the King

God Wants You in the Wow Not the Woe
(Sermon Reprise - First given in Nov. 2008)

Addressing God directly, poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes:

We must not portray you in king’s robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

Once again from the old paintboxes
we take the same gold for scepter and crown
that has disguised you through the ages.

Piously we produce our images of you
till they stand around you like a thousand walls.
And when our hearts would simply open,
our fervent hands hide you.

In Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus is giving us a vision of God-as-King.  This story is first and foremost God’s story.  If we look to earthly kings to understand our God-King, we look in vain.
A king is someone who has the power to force others to bend to his will. . . someone who orders rather than asks. . . At least an earthly king does.
Our heavenly God-King seeks, asks, knocks . . . the very thing he told us to do with him, he does first with us . . . persists in knocking at the door of our goat selves, begging for entry.
We humans have been very busy trying to reinvent our God-King into our own image: as Rilke says, we have covered him up with the trappings of earth-bound majesty . . .
We’ve painted him with beauty who became our ugliness that we might be freed from its cost . . .
We’ve crowned him with splendor who came and comes quietly, like a thief . . . in the night . . .to take away that which belongs always and only to us . . . our judgment . . .
We’ve burdened him with gold who burdened himself with the weight of our sins . . .
Christ our King, our God, wants for us the wow of God, not the woe.
The joy, not the sorrow . . .
The awe, not the indifference . . .
The service of love, not the debt of guilt . . .
The wow, not the woe . . .
Meeting Jesus face to face is risky business.  Barbara Brown Taylor in The Preaching Life, says, “. . . to tell if they are really Jesus’ eyes . . . look into them, to risk that moment of recognition that may break your heart, or change your mind, or make you mad, or make you amend your life.  Whatever effect it has on you, that seems to be one thing the sheep know how to do that the goats have never tried:  to look, to see, to seek Christ in the last, the lost, the least. . .”
The ‘least of these’ are giving as well as receiving, teaching us even as we are giving to them. . .the hard brokenness of the goat misses the chance to learn grace from those who have nothing to give but grace . . .
The soft compassion of sheep is mistaken all too often in our world for weakness . . . for a lack of standards, for a lack of clear moral principles . . . but Jesus embraces as strength what the world holds to be weakness . . . and therein lies Jesus’ strength.
We are all, each and every one of us, the least of these . . .
The bad news is that we’re all goats . . . sometimes . . .
The good news is that we’re all sheep . . . sometimes. . .
The Great Good News is that God our shepherd is a sheep . . . all the time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Exceptionalism is Not Hope

The Church Without Christ, where “the deaf don't hear, 
the blind don't see, the lame don't walk, 
the dumb don't talk, and the dead stay that way. . .”
                      -- From Flannery O’Connor’s first novel, Wise Blood.

This summer, I heard it reported that a congressperson on a junket (the purpose of these always escapes me) to Iraq demanded of an Iraqi governmental official that Iraq repay (in cold hard cash) the American people for their financial outlay for the war against Iraq.  I cringed at the rudeness: a guest in their ‘house’, this representative of me betrayed the fundamentals of being a good guest while in the land of hospitality.  Think about it this way:  Why would you, as a guest in someone else’s home, demand that they repay you for tearing down their old house, when they didn’t ask you to?  Even if, in your opinion, it needed tearing down?

A few weeks ago on NPR, I heard so-called Middle Eastern experts opining that the hypocrisy (named as such by them all) of U. S. policies on nuclear weaponry and treaty violations is justifiable because that hypocrisy serves our national self-interest.  Again, I cringed.  Are we really so vacuous that self-interest is deemed by definition to be the justifying motivation for any and all bad acts?  Can we really so neatly parse out our personal from our collective morality?  Apparently we do.

Finally, I listen to candidates for the highest office in the land, from all sides, speak about American exceptionalism, express or implied [Fn].  And again, I cringe.  Am I really living in a perpetual football stadium environment, where I must chant we’re number one over and over again in order to verify my worth?

I suspect that many of those offering up their feel-better-while-doing-bad-things bromides are people of faith of one sort or another, many of them Christian.  But such cavalier sentiments that our power position in the world is its own moral compass is indeed the profane Church Without Christ, and as envisioned by Flannery O’Conner, is guaranteed to be the place where the deaf will not hear, the blind will not see and the lame will not walk.

How can they do otherwise when we continue to insist on an Alice-in-Wonderland defining of reality where we claim moral high ground while sinking to any level deemed necessary for our self-defined self-interest.

I am tired of cringing.  I am no self-hating American; but I am an American who looks in the mirror with eyes wide open.  And whenever I do peer into that glass, Jesus is always standing there, looking back, asking me if I have made the world a better place today, if I have loved neighbor today.

So here’s my answer to exceptionalism today: I do not have to be the best in order to do my best.  And the only exceptional, truly unique, stand-alone in greatness, being I have ever met, the Lamb on the Throne, claimed not the first place as his rightful spot, but the last.  In Him, and in Him alone, is my hope.  For Him, and for Him alone, I will do my best.  With Him, and with Him alone, I will find the greatness of being, whether I am first place, or last, or somewhere in between.  It matters not to me, because it matters not to Him.

Would that it mattered not to us.

[Fn]  Exceptionalism is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is exceptional (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles. Wikipedia: Exceptionalism

In Tribute to the Teachers of the Wee Ones Among Us

My grandson Rowen is with me this week and it is a joy.  He is on loan to me, away from his usual pre-school days and friends.  I wonder what he is missing this week and I think of all the teachers around the world, greeting the wee ones as they leave homes and family to begin their entry into the larger world.

And I remember my own kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Story.

 For all the Mrs. Storys in the world . . .

Mrs. Story.  How I loved her name.  My first teacher – it was kindergarten, filled with paste and noise and other children and being lost, the one among so many.  How did she manage to see us all?  Her figure was neat and trim in a navy blue A-line dress, belted smartly at the waist.  Her hair light brown, was styled in tight permed waves.  Her smile was sunshine itself.  I can’t remember the color of her eyes, but I know they were kind.  And her attention  made me know I belonged.  Her voice wasn’t soft, but somehow it, too, was kind.  She made her voice, her presence, small enough for us.  How does a person do that?  Make themselves small without being small?  I wish I could ask her.

From a 56 year old woman, dear, dear, teachers, never doubt you make a difference.  I know you have to me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bound by Geography

As with us all, I am a creature of my raising and that raising includes my geography.  My personal topography is the ridge line of the high mountain, the hills and hollows sanded and smoothed by time, the forest-filled, fog-laden vistas, the dark-shadowed surrounding bowl emerging against the night sky.

Not a country girl, I am a mountain woman.  I can visit the flat lands of others, but until I return to the surrounding mountains, I never truly relax.  Not just any mountains will do; it is from the forested Appalachians, the old woman of the world’s mountains, that my soul draws its sustenance.

When I was 7, my parents gave me a globe for Christmas and I thought it was magic, not because of the many countries in different colors, or even the magnitude of water bodies covering the earth, but because of the raises and bumps and ridges representing the mountains of the world.  I could see all the rest, but I could feel the mountains.

That’s how it is in my life: I can and want to see the world, but I feel the mountains.  They are with me always, in their absence as well as their presence.

The mountains define my geography as well as their own.

Many experience vastness of God surveying the ocean and I have as well.  But standing before the ocean fills me with the dread of God; surveying the seemingly unending ocean of mountain tops fills me with God’s providing and God’s comfort.

Before both oceans and mountains, I stand small.  But before mountains, I stand assured, assured that my smallness is blessing rather than curse, providing rather than depriving, fullness rather than want.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Young Friend's Wisdom

God gives wisdom to the young as well as the old.

Alex Haney with blue wig
along with Kathleen & Marcus

A young friend reminded me of some important truths today . . . the value of acceptance and submission as well as of struggle and holding fast.

Acceptance of others . . . submission to decisions we do not like from those who have the right to decide . . . struggle to understand . . . holding fast to what is true of our own faith while engaging other traditions, other faiths with their own truth claims.

God sends us messengers all the time, if we but have ears to hear, and today is a messenger day for me.

Being passionate about the truths I hold so dear, I can easily forget that others share the same passion, if not the same vision.

Working together in a community like church is challenging.  There are and will always be differing voices, differing concerns.

Discerning when it is time to keep quiet and when it is time to speak out, when it is time to persist and when it is time to submit are on-going struggles for me, particularly when it comes to church.

Granting others the value of their voice, hearing their concerns and even their fears not as stumbling blocks but as opportunities, wisdom begins, as always, with love. . . concrete rather than abstract . . . down-in-the-trenches with each other love . . . knowing-each-other-just-as-we-are love . . .

These are the percolating thoughts as I read Alex’s e-mail and wonder at his wisdom.  His challenge takes me to the place of renewal . . . renewal of commitment . . . renewal of love . . . love for those with whom I am in community. . . and for that, I am so very, very grateful.

Thank you, Alex, for reminding an old pastor how important it is to honor others.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupying Our Voices

How might our view of ‘them’ be different if we at home viewed the Occupy happenings not as a ‘movement’ but as a society being built before our very eyes?

Societies are made up of various components, the first of which is an actual gathering of people living and working in the same geographic area, in other words, a community located in time and space.

The stage-setting for various children’s stories about magical places often begins with a description of the place: what it’s like and how it’s different from where children usually live.

And maybe that’s a good lens through which to ponder Occupy Wall Street, especially for those of us on the outside.

The communication practices in Occupy Wall Street, such as General Assemblies, are designed to allow each community member and visitor to have a voice and for that voice to be heard, both literally and figuratively.

What might it mean for the central ethos of a society to be just that: assuring that the members of the society can each and all be heard?  What lies at the heart of such an ethos?

Some well-known givens in the United States come to mind: the free expression of thought; the protected rights of protest and the seeking of redress; respect for the individual.

But there are other aspects to the idea of being heard as playing out in the Occupy society-building enterprise as well: acceptance of all; valuing voices out of the mainstream of the society; responding to even unpopular voices with, at a minimum, a listening ear; connectedness, by virtue of a process which welcomes and embraces all; peacefulness with neighbor as Occupy’s truths are communicated firmly and persistently, but generally with respect.

Take a look at their signs and you’ll get a better sense of what’s happening here. . . You know things are messed up when librarians start marching . . . If only the war on poverty was a real war, then we would actually be putting money into it . . . When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace [my favorite, not least of which because the woman holding the sign stands beside a policeman making the peace sign] . . . I love humanity.  Let’s figure this s---- out together . . . I am a human being, not a commodity . . . You can’t arrest an idea . . . Due to recent budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off . . . The experience we live is of our making . . . Education in personal finance should be required like math, science and history . . . The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. . . A better world is possible . . . It’s easier to buy a gun than my education . . . I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one . . . You have the right to remain silent, but I don’t recommend it. . . [held by a baby] If I can learn to share, you can too. . . 

There are, of course, other signs, other voices, not so humorous, clever, or even kind.  But, it strikes, me, the revolutionary thematic of Occupy Wall Street is not the demand that things change, but the real, genuine, enacted belief that they can, one voice at a time.

So as new societies emerge in tent cities across the United States and the world, society-building is happening right alongside . . . free health care clinics are springing up, food is shared, alternative energy sources to power their needs are explored and used, problem-solving is happening in collaborative ways, resistance to external pressures to disband, to ‘create’ a cohesive message (translate: give us a 60-second sound bite for the evening news) is firm, consensus building is happening, and those on the ‘other side’ are viewed not as enemies but as allies-in-waiting.

And it all began with one radical idea: lifted voices don’t create change . . . lifted voices actually are change.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Wish We Could Be Friends

I wish we could be friends . . .

I wish I knew you
this side of

I wish we could sit
over a cup of tea
and catch up
on our day

I wish we could
share our thoughts
our fears
our visions
our lives

I wish we could be friends . . .

But wait!
We already are . . .
We are friends . . .
sharing our humor
our fears
our thoughts
and desires

For Marilyn and Keri and so many others, near and far, that I know best of all in the cyber world of connection, where time and distance are shrunk into manageable size and friends come in ways bidden and unbidden that I never expected.

Blessings on you all.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Real Tense

A random thought
          there are not three tenses but four

as in


Real tense
          The place
                    the space
          where we
get real

with ourselves
          with God
with each other

moving from being

(The Very)

to the Real Tense

A friend writes in response to another blog, “I need to have more courage to bring all of myself to the table . . . and to reach out to the scary differences instead of staying safely the same.”

It is scary to meet each other, masks off, I think.

But it is also oh, so much better, to know and to be known in the real tense.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Want My Own Personal Celebrity

Belonging to Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), I have been trained in the art of accompaniment, literally walking with someone from one place to another in a way designed to assure our mutual safety and well-being.

Yesterday, the news reported that the environmental protestors had scored a success, in that the White House delayed any possibility for granting permission to a Canadian company to transport shale oil through a large portion of the United States, for at least a year.

But the report concluded with almost an after thought: a couple of named celebrities attended the protests.  When I hear their names, I laughed to myself, for the unbidden thought that somehow, the celebrities were being credited for ‘saving the day’ for the environmental movement.

I have mixed feelings about the environmental issues (for another time, perhaps), but I am quite taken with the idea of each of us having our own personal accompanying celebrities.

After all, why should they get all the glitter and attention?  And since most of us can’t command that kind of focus just by being ourselves, wouldn’t it be nice to have our own celebrities to go with us to events important to us?

Clever - all 3 morphed into 1!
What George/Brad/Johnny
would look like
I’m pretty sure George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp are already booked well into the future, but there might come a day when even such ‘A list’ stars might actually enjoy going with me about my days.

And think how much easier it’ll be to raise funds for medical expenses for those in our community without health insurance.  Surely a call from George or Brad or Johnny would bring the bucks flowing in.  No more pot luck suppers; no more raising the money $5 and $10 and $20 at a time!  Now there’s a thought!

But come to think of it, I actually like those pot lucks.  I like hanging in the kitchen with Flo and Pearl and the other ladies.  I like coming together with my neighbors to do something both nice and helpful for one of us in need, knowing that they’ll do the same for me when I’m in need.  And I like the food too.

Come to think of it, I already have my own personal celebrities.  You may not know their names, but that’s ok.  I’m betting you already have your own celebrities too.

Friday, November 11, 2011

McQueary and Mobs

There is nothing more foolish, nothing more given to outrage than a useless mob.  --Herodotus

Students learn of the firing of former coach Joe Paterno and what is described on the news as a “small riot” breaks out.  I hear and wonder exactly what is a “small” riot?

 The footage showed what looked like a telephone booth (or was it a van?) overturned, a student atop a light pole and a group of students shouting and perhaps chanting.  It was nighttime.

The reported chants were “We want Joe back” and “One more game!”

And now it is reported that Assistant Coach Mike McQueary will not be on the field on Saturday for Penn State’s game, due to threats against McQueary, who was reportedly an eye-witness to one of the sodomy episodes at the center of the scandal at the school.

So here’s my question for the day, with a few givens:

1. GIVEN that Mike Mcqueary’s response of not intervening to save the child he saw being brutalized with his own eyes would not have been your response

2. GIVEN that you would have definitely intervened then and there

3. GIVEN that real people, children at that, were really hurt in real and lasting ways, at least some in a place (a college campus locker room) where they should have been safe and protected, but were not

Given all these things, and any other suppositions we care to make, how are the death threats against McQueary different than the behavior of the students rioting in the night with their foolish chant, One more game?

Aren’t both the reaction of the mob?

The punditry have given us the correct level of moral outrage, but did we really need that?  Do we really need anyone to tell us that this was wrong?  We know it was wrong, all of it.

But what we, the collective expression of opinion and will of the nation, do with this knowledge is the challenge.

We can, as we usually do and seem to be doing now, simply express our outrage, as if the mere expression of offense is taking action.

Or again, we can look to our own mirrors.  There are some hard and bitter truths to be found there:

1. Children in every neighborhood in every village, town and city in this country and around the world are exploited by adults while other adults look on and do nothing.

2. For every one of us who really would have stepped in in that locker room, there are probably ten who would have turned and walked away.  It happens every day.

3. Being disconnected from each other in any genuine sense of community (what philosophers call post-modernism [fn]) means that we have no sense of duty to the other, because we have no sense of the humanity of the other.  It is not surprising that we walk away.  It is sad, heartbreaking even, but not surprising.

If all we have to give the children who were exploited and abused is our outrage, it is little enough.  And they need so much more from us.  Perhaps a good starting place would be to stay off the streets and simply sit for a time with the enormity of it all.  For it is in the still small voice that Truth comes.

And Truth would remind us that all of us have walked away from somebody who needed us . . . all of us have let people down . . . and all of us can become better than we have been. . . better people, better family members, better citizens.

Threatening to kill Mike McQueary is no virtue.  It does not undo what was done.  And contrary to what we may tell ourselves, our outrage does not establish us as morally superior.

There is a place for outrage . . . it is and can be the impetus for change, individual and societal.

But remaining stuck in a perpetual state of outrage is unhealthy and ultimately is worse than doing nothing, because it gives us the illusion that we are acting for change when in fact we are doing nothing at all.

Moreover, our outrage, when given vent in the form of violence (and threats are themselves a form of violence) merely demonstrates than we are really no different at all.

If all we have to offer the children are our threats and our anger, we have failed.  We have failed them.  We have failed ourselves. And we have failed our God.

God’s call is to justice, not spleen venting.

And worst of all, perhaps, by giving vent, what we are actually doing is making this about us rather than about the true victims.

Where are the prayer vigils?

Where are the calls to friends who have suffered similarly asking if they’re all right?  For surely, any such news is a shock to those who have walked that horrible walk themselves.

Where are our tears?

And for outrage, where is our shock and dismay at the self-inflicted organization of our own destruction in the form of established power systems that cannot help but do what they did by virtue of their very nature?

More simply said, how dare we be surprised?

How dare we, who create demi-gods of our sports figures and give them immense power and wealth and acclaim and protection from lesser sins, be surprised that they took us at our word when it came to the greater ones that we did not want to know?

For let us remember, rules and laws were in place telling each one of those involved within the educational system what they were to do in such an event.  The problem is that they didn’t follow the rules.  But they seldom do.  And most days, we could care less.

Child sexual exploitation is not so much about sex as it is about power.  When we finally grasp that truth, it becomes clear how we are all complicit

And this isn’t touchy-feely do-gooder liberal gibberish.  This is hard truth.

When we set up systems with rules but then tell those within the system that they are exempt from the rules, we can’t be surprised that they believe us.

When we get angry with rule enforcers for consequences to the car-buying, money-lavishing behaviors in amateur sports; when we propose to ‘solve’ this problem not by stopping the practice but by legalizing it; when we value those of the institution or system not for their learning (the supposed purpose of colleges, after all) but for their money-making ability; when we wink and nod at grade fixing and criminal behavior by our sports ‘warriors’, we cannot, with any integrity, be surprised.

We have had our time of outrage.  It’s time to move on to the hard work, the hard work of being accountable to each other, the hard work of rethinking systems of power, the hard work of caring enough about each other to hold each other accountable before the horrors rather than after, the hard work of being citizens, people who live not alone but in community.

Fn.  With the denial of an objective reality and an objective Truth, postmoderns have been denied a sense of self and have developed a fascination with power.  Postmodernism and You.  The loss of self and the concomitant increased focus on power makes the mob a likely outcome in a time of crisis.  That, of course, is not new (although it can be seen as evidence of a society devolving rather than evolving).  What might be new, is our tendency to give meaning to the trivial, as in rioting to give Joe Paterno one more coaching opportunity.  It would be hard to imagine anything less important given the disclosures of the day.

The View from the Dentist's Chair

Sitting in the dentist’s chair today, even anticipating the pain that was sure to come, I found myself relaxed, smiling even (and no, there were no happy drugs).

What occurred to me is that when it comes to the painful things in life, wouldn’t we all rather be sitting in the dentist’s chair?

Come on, wouldn’t we?

Wouldn’t it be nice to get all our bad news while lying back comfortably in a soft chair?

To know what’s going to happen before it does so we can steel ourselves . . . having a calm and reassuring voice keep us apprised and tell us we’re doing great even when we know we’re not . . . receiving the tender ministrations usually reserved for a child . . . now that’s how to go through a painful experience.

Too bad life doesn’t come with a dentist’s chair!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Joe, Joe, What Did You Know?

I’m not much of a sports fan, but even I know Joe Paterno, the grandfather of college football, whose very name evokes his long-standing image of being the kind of coach you’d like your kids to have.

You know . . . paterno, sounding so much of paternal, or fatherly. But it turns out Paterno is a place name for a town with ancient roots in Sicily and that the name paterno comes from the Greek paeter, meaning fortress.

Given recent events, it is the image of the fortress rather than the protecting father that comes to mind.

The repeat of Mr. Paterno’s name in the title above is the cadence of the biblical lament . . . the signal of pain so deep that the words seeking to express the pain must be repeated. And it is pain that the nation is experiencing. . . the pain of disappointment and shock and disbelief . . . the pain of betrayal . . . the pain of looking in the mirror and not liking what we see.

Reflecting on the depth of pain expressed on the national stage, I am struck by the fortress image.

What causes otherwise good, kind, and even noble human beings to run and hide from ugly truths, particularly about people we like or revere?

Why is it so easy for some of us to believe the worst and for others so virtually impossible to believe anything but?

Why can we not take people as they are, sometimes noble and sometimes incredibly stupid, ignorant, frightened, and just plain wrong?

In June of this year, David McRaney posted an article on his blog You Are Not So Smart, a piece titled The Backfire Effect, the thesis of which is: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

In other words, contrary facts make us believe what we believe more rather than less.

Or stated even more simply, don’t bother me with the facts.

McRaney makes a strong case. I hope he’s wrong, which may simply be evidence of my own backfiring effect.

I hope McRaney is wrong, but his theory is the only explanation I have for the response of some to give Herman Cain more money and support in the face of not only allegations, but also two legal settlements of sexual harassment claims against him and for students marching in support of Joe Paterno in the face of his concealment, passive or active, of allegations of child sexual abuse by a colleague and subordinate.  Whether we like Mr. Paterno or not, under the circumstances, an honoring parade hardly seems appropriate.

Avoiding a rush to judgment is one thing; insisting that these things simply could not be true and attacking those making the allegations is quite another.

The truth the Backfire Effect seems to be getting at is this: it is easier to simply hold to our beliefs rather than to reexamine them. It is more comfortable to continue to believe that we are right rather than accept that our judgment might have been wrong. It feels more honorable to claim honor for those who do not deserve it rather than acknowledge that they and we are broken and sometimes simply cannot be trusted.

In 12-Step programs, the word for the phenomena is denial, the refusal to believe or accept that something is true because the believing and accepting would require some unwanted action on our parts.

In spiritual terms, the same word might apply. Denial protects us from having to do the hard work of being human together, of having to look at ourselves and each other with the divine love that would hold us accountable, knowing that that very accountability is itself an expression of great love.

By hiding in our national tendency to denial, it seems to me that we do ourselves, as well as others, a great disservice. And we get the questions that need asking wrong. The question to ask ourselves about Herman Cain is not, I submit, whether he did or did not sexually harass female colleagues. The question is whether someone who has settled two claims of sexual harassment (because that is the fact) is someone I want to be my president. Sexual harassment is the term we use for behavior that, when it moves from the verbal to the physical, is criminal. We can dress it up any way we like, but that’s what it is. 

In the situation of Joe Paterno, the question is not whether he is a good football coach or even a generally good and likeable man. The answer to both seems to be yes. But that is beside the point. The question is whether an employee of a college can continue to remain in his position after failing to notify legal authorities of allegations of child sexual abuse on the part of another employee of the institution. That answer is equally clear: no.

Isn’t it time we took seriously our duty to Truth to name things as they are? Isn’t it time we come out of the false paeter fortress of our own construction and into the arms of wisdom, knowledge, truth-telling, and courage that we might deal with the destruction we do singly and together?

Isn’t it well past time that we ask ourselves how it is that we have built a society together in which people believe themselves to be good and honorable while concealing the exploitation of children and settling claims that they sexually exploit those who work for them? 

Neither of these episodes represent good and honorable behavior.

Isn’t now the time to simply sit with the enormity of those realities and come to some answers about who we are and who we wish to be?

Isn’t it time?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I Don't Know How, but I Can Try

I am learning to play the cello.        

Or maybe it’s better to say the cello is learning to play me.

It is the instrument that is my body that is the ‘problem’.

Just when I get this thing lined up to my ear and my back straight and my thumb and fingers on the left hand positioned correctly, and my knees holding the cello just so, my right hand forgets entirely what it’s doing and the bow goes up and down instead of sideways, which, trust me, ain’t pretty!  Or the right hand gets the bow going just right and the left hand slides down the neck and the screech sound is like nothing you’ve ever heard on the planet and never want to.

Whoever said a 56 year old has any business learning to play the cello anyway?

I did.

And I am loving it.

Loving the rare moments when sound turns to music . . . loving that it is my body and not my mind that must do the ‘work’ . . . loving learning . . . loving with new ears the classical music stations on the radio . . . loving the ritual of the care of the instrument . . . loving being a student, knowing that I have much to learn . . . loving the graceful humility of I don’t know how but I can try . . . 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

There is No Tenderness Behind Your Honesty

How are we to be true to our own sense of integrity while still valuing the integrity in others? How are we to meet the true, self to self? How do we know when what feels like an issue of honesty or integrity or truth to us is really an issue of having our own way? How do we yield the floor without yielding ourselves? How do we hold the floor without blocking the way for others? How can we be to our own 'thine selves' true without damaging the self of others? Is yielding, surrender, the only path of kindness in conflict? 

For me these are still questions without answers . . . 

For I am still a work in progress . . . 

And so I still wonder . . . wrestle . . . and pray . . . 

Lord, help me be kind.

And to borrow from Art Garfunkel, whenever I get too high on my high horse, thinking, well, it's true, I remember Mr. Garfunkel's words of indictment on truth . . . 

There is no tenderness behind your honesty.

Lord, help me be tender.


Monday, November 7, 2011

How Can We Believe That?

How can we believe that?!?    
The question 4-year-old Rowen asks his mother continues to make me smile.

Viewing a spider close up, Rowen noticed it only had two eyes.  Pointing out what was to hm an obvious flaw, he pronounced in what I’m guessing was his best imitation of a grown-up, This spider only has two eyes!  How can we believe that?

Turns out spiders are supposed to have four pairs of eyes!  Spider Eyes

I am now in the enviable position of learning from, as well as being amused by, my grandson.  If I ever knew about spider eyes, I’ve long since forgotten.  Thus Rowen’s discovery sends me traipsing Wikipedia and learning about spider eyes.

It’s always a good day when you can spend time contemplating the mysteries of spider eyes and such.

And when you’re 4, it’s always an interesting day when you discover the exceptions to things.  Most spiders have eight eyes, but this spider only has two.

Knowing the rule, the child doubts the spider.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Context Matters

Context matters.

It’s obvious, isn’t it?

But why do we, why do I, forget it so easily?

I made a friend cry today.

It wasn’t my intention, but I did.

Being the carrier of news less than positive, and delivering it at a time when she is mourning her mother dying before her very eyes, I made her cry.

Of course she cried.

But why did I carry anything but love and gentleness to her today, of all days?

My only defense is that I forgot.  I knew, but I forgot . . . forgot how very vulnerable she is right now . . . forgot her needs in the felt needs of others . . . forgot that her context matters too.

Of late, I find myself explaining people to each other . . . not their motives – their context.  And somehow, the learning of the context of shared human suffering makes detente, if not full out reconciliation, possible when it seemed impossible before.

Context matters.

When I am frustrated with someone almost beyond words, I am reminded of their struggles, of the pain they carry.  That pain may have nothing at all to do with my frustrations, but knowing that they struggle too somehow makes the frustrations of the moment seem like what they are . . . trivialities in the face of the enormity of life.

I hate that I forgot my friend’s context of pain.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How to Be. . .

How to be peace rather than preach it to others?

How to be joyful rather than proclaim it at others?

How to be kind rather than describe it for others?

How to be giving rather than demand it from others?

These are my challenges of the day.

In the questions lie the answers.

Isn’t it often thus?

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Day When Nothing Happened

Vito Aiuto, the pastor of the congregation in skinny jeans in Brooklyn, recently described in the NYT his own conversion process, “during exam time.  'I felt like I was going to die. . . I felt like I was plunging into this black hole, and I said:  Dear God, if you’re real, please make this stop. I guess I’ll change my life, and I don’t know what it’ll mean, but you have to help me.  Nothing happened, and he left his exams and retreated home. 'I had perceived my life as an amusement park ride: I’m going to do the most drugs and be with the most people and do the most extravagant things and pretending I’m Jack Kerouac, and nobody’s experienced this like I have. . . I kept thinking, You got to a place where you were so desperate you knew that if there’s a God, only God could help you, and the dominoes fell pretty quickly after that.”

Did you catch it?  What he said about what happened?


That’s right: Vito Aiuto came to God because nothing happened!

A wise Independent Fundamental Baptist preacher once told me that God comes to each of us in the way we need.  Some of us need fireworks, Beth is specifically what he said to me at a time when I was searching for belief but failing to have some dramatic conversion moment or experience.

I might have thought that I needed fireworks, but it turns out I didn’t.  Neither did Vito Aiuto.

Some of us need a sense of emptiness. . . some a dramatic encounter . . . some need the still small voice and some need a shout . . . some need a strong clap on the back while others would run in the opposite direction of such an introduction . . . some need answers and others need to know that their questions are heard . . .

What we who come to faith seem to have in common is that we need . . . and nothing fills that need within for us save God.

Sometimes, when nothing happens, it is very good.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

McDonalds Edits the World

This morning I checked into CNN's Belief Blog - just one Christian in the sea of "internets" hoping to find something of interest.  And I did, but not what I was looking for . . .

I clicked on the link for 'editors' to see who was administering the blog, which took me to the same page, but with a side box on the right about the editors of the page.

As I began to read, an ad for McDonalds popped into the box!

Who knew McDonald's had become the world's editor-in-chief?

Now CNN is a corporately-sponsored ad-supported organization; it's not church.  I know that.  But somehow, I found myself surprised and more than a little appalled when trying to enter my day with thoughtful reflections on faith to find instead the encouragement to eat a hamburger.

The golden arches might seem like heavenly haloes to some 4-year-olds I know, but they are not the parentheses I would hope for on any day, with all due respect to the fast-food giant.

But not to worry - if McDonald's bothers you, wait long enough and you'll get to see another ad, this time, from American Airlines.

Maybe the Belief Blog is trying to tell me that if I have but faith, I can fly!

That's me today, looking for faith in all the wrong places.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Being Not Judgmental

Continuing with Joy Mead’s Making Peace, the Tea Time group pondered peace last week, trying to leap from abstraction to concrete realities of peace and its lack in our lives, our world.

We took paper pebbles and wrote words of peace on them and made together a rock garden, a path, a wall, and a chaos (the chaos was mine).

Then, drawing random paper pebbles, we write our own peace poems.  I drew “being not judgmental”.

From kathy's photostream on Flickr
Being not                                               

How do I be not?

Whose skull shall I hold
aloft in my palm
I ask the
being not question?

What judgment shall
I not levy
in the court of my mind

What tragedy shall I not write
with my judging eyes

Whom shall I not hang
on the gallows
of my condemnation

To be the judge
or not . . .

It is hardly a question
of course I shall judge you

It is my job
isn’t it?