Monday, December 31, 2012


Making sure you have enough money to buy a new car when yours was totaled in an accident and you’ll be
          80 years old come March . . .

Making plans to attend a Broadway play lying in your hospital bed . . .

Believing you can walk across the room when you haven’t taken 2 steps in a week . . .

Being sure that Christmas presents are waiting for you to open while lying in that same hospital bed . . .

Believing that 2013 will be better . . .

My mom . . . the eternal optimist . . .

May all her dreams come true. . . and yours too.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 2012 YouTube Favs

They may not have come out in 2012.  But they came to me this year – and gave me humor and every now and then, something more.

So without further ado, my own personal 2012 YouTube Favs list:

1. Anything Monty Python – you have to like that sort of thing, but if you do, no one does it better.

2.  Google Squirrel +Allan – it’s not really a squirrel, but enough googling folk think so that it’s an easy way to get to this, my current fav from the British Walk on the Wild Side.  This is so funny it makes me giddy to watch – I’ve seen it so often it’s become a classic (to my mind, anyhow).

3. Ben Aaron - the holiday sweater craft show, I predict, will become classic – like the logs in the fireplace static television pic so popular in NYC, nothing says Christmas quite like a Christmas sweater (especially one with plastic angels as epulets).

4. Flash mobs - anywhere/anytime, but especially the Food Court performance of the Hallelujah Chorus – taking the Hallelujah Chorus and asking, fries with that? brings it all to the next level – the next level of what I’m not sure of, but it’s definitely the next level.

5. Leonard Cohen’s Anthem – my one and only serious one.  Hat’s off, Mr. Cohen, hat’s off.

Thank you YouTube contributors of the world for sharing your humor, your wisdom, your talent, your sense of fun, with the rest of us.  And keep those holiday sweaters coming!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

When Did I Become That Woman?

When did I become the woman who will be at your bedside when you need her?  When did I become old enough to know what to do in a crisis?  When did I become the one who’ll rub your back aching with the cold that settled right there?  When did I become the Gran throwing the 5-year old into the tub?  When did I become the grown-up in the room?

I really would like to know.  Because inside, I still feel like the baby, the child, the teenager, who wants herself to be taken care of and totally incompetent to take care of others.

So when did it happen that I became the one?

I guess I wasn’t looking when it crept up on me.

Friend Sue always reminds us from her 92-year-old vantage that “Old age is not for sissies.”  I think she meant more than the aches and pains.  And she’s so right.

Turns out I’m not a sissie.

I guess that’s a good thing.

Yes.  It is a good thing.  And yes, I am that woman.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Cliff Nonsense: A Fiscal Farce

Fiscal cliff – really?

A fiscal cliff is a family facing foreclosure and loss of a roof over their heads.

A fiscal cliff is hospital bills more than can ever be paid in a lifetime and worse, the delay of treatment for want of the cash – and yes, it still happens today.

A fiscal cliff is no food and no means to get any – the pictures from sub-Saharan Africa are real-time capture of real-death happening before our eyes.

A fiscal cliff is tent-living in a refugee camp, relying upon the kindness of strangers in UN t-shirts we of the US are no longer interested in funding because of politics.

A fiscal cliff is no treatment for your mental illness because no one cares enough.

A fiscal cliff is telling ourselves the Great Lie that we care too much rather than too little as we turn away from the images on our televisions, convinced we can do nothing, secretly knowing that we can do much, but have not the will to do it.

Congress and the President ‘balancing’ a fictitious budget a fiscal cliff?

Give me a break.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Life is Risky: An Homage to the Holy Innocents

Life is Risky

For the ill, a handshake with the wrong person can be life-threatening.

For the frightened, even eye contact can be too much to dare.

For the lonely, outreach to others is fraught with possibilities of rejection.

For those whose body chemistries are askew, even the next step is uncertain.

Life is risky.

The well become ill.

The brave become frightened.

The social become isolated.

The mentally stable lose their footing.

It happens every second of every minute of every day.

It happens that those
who ground their footing
on the sameness of things
will be surprised and not pleasantly.

You’d think it’d make us more aware –
and more kind.

There but for the grace of God go I
being more about irony than

for surely there we all go –
there into the uncertainty
of future
where the only foothold
we have, as it turns out,
is on the hand of God

who promises nothing certain
in earthly terms we can cling to

no good health
no general welfare
no surefootedness
no bravery
no virtue

only God

that is my takeaway
from Job – not the
restoration – for even
restorations are but
temporary things –
the Lazarus’ of the world
being with us still
only for a time

no – my Job takeaway
is the reminder that
God is both the promise
and the promiser –

the object as well as
the subject

of everything

I am but a footnote

and I am okay with that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas is For Family

It’s Christmas Day.

You’re supposed to be with your family.

Isn’t that what Christmas is about?

It’s what even the preachers say, these days.

But maybe even the preachers got it wrong.

Maybe it’s always been about being
with the one that needs us.

Or maybe it’s just that we forgot
how to define family

Maybe family is
whoever needs you
most at the time

And so it is that God’s Holy Spirit
tapped a few folks on the shoulder today
and whispered in their ears . . .
Check your facebook
Justin has need of you

And while I, the usual
keeper of the FB for our
church, sit with my mother
as she every so slowly
recovers from a car accident –
taking phone calls from
far away family while she
and I keep ICU nurses and docs
occupied on this Christmas Day,

while all that goes on, Justin
sends out a cry for help
and people come running
Jim and Bonnie and Diane
Janine and Vicki and Tabitha
Jeanne Lou and Lisa

the saints gather round
and pray and breathe
and pray and comfort
and pray and share

It is Christmas Day
a day for gift-giving
I pray Justin is getting
the gifts he needs

I know I am
as I read through
tears all this



gathered round

keeping him










from afar

yes – that’s family I’m seeing

And I’m wondering if any
of the reaching out ones
have considered that today,
Justin is God’s gift to us?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Life Rhapsody No. 1

At creation . . . or was it before –
does it matter?  – The question
(implied of course, for angels
never speak in the interrogative)
is posed – and time itself –newly
created infant that it was --
gasps at the audacity –

Angel’s They won’t thank you for it.
– their self-awareness;
the knowledge that they
will some day die.
They won’t thank you for it, You know.

God I know.


Friend Sarah’s ‘this too shall pass’
wisdom is wisdom indeed,
but when did wisdom ever breed gratitude?
Is it the wisdom that grants us the cheek
to hate our creator?
It is
but we hate God for that too, I think, I fear.


I’m an evangelist for sadness.
I do sad really well.
What that says about me,
I do not pretend to know.
But there it is.
Having a bad day?
I’m your gal.


Messing with the birds
I throw open the door and
the cacophony outside comes
full stop
I laugh with the glee of the
child uncaught
and shut the door
do a ten count
song resumes
throw open the door again
Repeat and repeat and repeat
again – comfort & joy in playing
hide & seek with the birds –
who knew what great
playmates they are?


Tis the season 
all bright and wild, 
if Mary had been 
filled with reason, 
there would have been 
no room for the Child.
–Can’t Remember Who (wrote it)


The light in the wrong place
as I try to type the words
from the page
the light is always
in the wrong place
blinding – erasing out
the black on whiteness
of the painful words
why can’t I see them?


I find the Christmas poppers
in the trunk along with the
other gifts and baked treats
and am delighted – here is
the thing Mom (elevated
at that awkward never-seen-
in-the-created-world angle
reserved for hospital beds)
and I can share – we will
have a Christmas tomorrow –
it’s a thin thing, I know –
even before, Ben always
insisting that I am the only
one among us who enjoys
the poppers and they – the
rest – only go along to humor
me – but I know better –
humoring me is not something
this family does – and so I
am pleased beyond all
proportion, wondering if Mom
would want a picture in her
paper party hat tomorrow
or if the imagining will be
better – am betting the latter
– that hospital bed angle
really isn’t flattering to anyone


It is Christmas Eve
My mother lives
Survivor of wars and
family and cancer –
hers and others –
she will not be undone
by a little thing like
a car accident –
and she and I will spend
our Christmas together
at her bedside
and I will know that
I have received my
gift – no baby to me,
she, but a baby
in the created



Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Different Infinity

Driving yesterday, I listened to NPR to pass the miles.  A man spoke of a “different infinity”, where the space between becomes the measure of things.

Infinity presupposes some sort of measure, doesn’t it – this notion of a limitless sequential procession of the numberliness, the orderliness, of things.

I like the notion of a different infinity.  That’s what eternity is in my understanding – limitless, like infinity – but there the similarity ends.

But this side of that equation, I am stuck with infinity, only barely able to imagine eternity – that whole through-a-glass-dimly thing Paul describes so eloquently.

So the different infinity I inhabit just now is the infinity of moments . . .

Learning of my mother’s car accident on her way to visit me for a few days, I spend eons waiting for the phone to ring with the latest news – inhabiting the trough of time passing ever-so-slowly.

Frustrated with my inability to travel to her due to the crazy weather all round me (even as the sun shone above the skies I inhabit), time moves too slowly and too quickly all at once.

Determined, the next day I set out on a course that literally circumnavigates the weather pattern, circling ever closer to my mother in hospital, finally arriving into the arms of waiting family.

The excruciating minute by minute passing of the drive time concerned not with the view or journey, but only the destination in mind.

Rubbing Mom’s ice-cold feet with lotion.

Sitting at bedside, watching the monitors.

Listening to the beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . pronouncing life, but life in trouble . . . seconds stretch into centuries.

Sleeping on the cramped couch then the floor, the night creeps and flies.

And who knew how excruciatingly long the Three Stooges episodes are?  And exactly who is in charge of the television choices in the waiting rooms of the world?  In this one, quite small, there are actually two (competing) televisions – until I stepped out of the infinity-ness of this existence and turned one of the damned things off - who needs infomercials at 2 a.m.?  That’s the thing about infinity – whether it’s the same old one we (think we) know or a different infinity entirely – its just so . . . infinite. . . infinite in its tiredness . . . in its sameness . . . in its troughs . . . in its tick, tick, ticking off . . . one moment inexorably following another . . . until it doesn’t – turns out infinity isn’t infinite at all.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Gift & Curse of Time

Yesterday Celia and I each ordered the same sandwich.

We were hopeful with anticipation.

Alas, disappointment is sometimes a sandwich.

And for me, at least, a wee bit of irritation – you can do better than this.

Today, amusement and pleasure anticipated that Celia and I share the memory of the same bad sandwich.  At some other meal, we will remember and we will laugh at how we both pushed the bad bread (how can bread be bad?  Trust me.  It can.) to the side and settled for mediocre innards, the one time in his waiting career the young man probably never asked how the meal was – fortuitous.

The gift of time is also its curse: so precious, we want more, as anticipated future so quickly moves to remembered past.  Knowing it will all end for each of us some day becomes its own disappointment, pain, anger, and loss.  And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  If time weren’t such a gift, we wouldn’t mind its loss so much.

May your times be filled with precious memories in the making, now and evermore.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Nowhere Bridges & Felled Trees

Friend Liz has a wonderful post (Journalling) – Mary’s yes.

In the wee hours, I am thinking, may Mary’s yes be ours as well.

And I am struck by her visual – a bridge of steps over a fallen tree.

Because, you see, fallen trees must be navigated.

Navigation, depending upon the imagination, does not require destruction.

And so the tree lies and the step-bridge accommodates and all is well.

I love nowhere bridges, don’t you?

So today I vow to navigate the fallen trees along the path

I vow to give the fallen trees their place on my path

even as they yield a place along their path to me

Peace – my yes to the importance of trees felled and paths shared

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Things: Top 7 Blessed Church Moments of 2012

2012 has been a rough year personally and for our nation – a year fraught with violence and conflict, tinged with the red of the rage of others.  How I long to be shed of it.  But in bidding this year farewell, I am trying to remember that there were good things too.  So I am compiling my own personal list of favorite things of 2012 – the things big and small that lifted my spirits.

Top 7 Blessed Church Moments of 2012:

1. Chocolate communion – a time when we get silly with Jesus and it is fabulous.

2. Sitting with – I do a lot of sitting with – and there is always blessing to be found – there in the silences and the whispers and gentle prayers.

3. Bible study – Rosalee gave me such a gift the other day – saying, “You make us delve deeper, you make us think.”  Teaching – never my particular gift – is always a challenge that leaves me feeling wanting – thus to hear that this thing I so struggle with is a blessing is its own blessing to me.

4. Those in the body who take care of me – some may not even know they’re doing it – the ones who call just to say ‘we love you’ . . . the ones who send the special cards of caring . . . the ones who listen when I need someone to listen . . . lunches and shared confidences . . . the entrusting of so much to my care – the confidence that I’m up to the job . . . the wrestling ones who challenge me and my faith as they struggle with their own . . . the ones who always have a smile and a gentle hug . . . the ones who think I know something they might like to know as well . . . the givers of gifts – just because . . . the ones who pray with and for me . . . the ones who make sure I know what I need to know . . . the ones who step up to help when help is needed . . . it’s all of you, really, and I love you all so dearly and am so blessed to be loved by you . . .

5. Singing our joy – loudly, boldly, softly and tentatively . . . and amazingly often in complete harmony – surely God rests there.

6. Walking our woundedness together – for we are surely the walking wounded.

7. Thanksgiving Eve – as we shared our gratitude, many speaking of family, and my own family walking in, grandson Rowen first, my gratitude there before me on two spindly legs, followed by the generations – four, all in one place.  Holy ground indeed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Blanket of Caring

Today my friend Twila spoke of Christianity as a blanket to be shared.  I love this image.  The immediate picture called to mind for me was last week’s funeral for Bill Puffenbarger.

During the committal at the cemetery, it was cold and windy, so the funeral home folk had blankets for the family seated around the casket.  The blankets are wide and can cover 3-4 people easily.  From my vantage on the other side of the casket, I watched as Brian spread the warming of the blanket on the already-numb family.  It was a moving gesture of kindness in the form of practical care.

Kindness is a practical thing, isn’t it?

So I come back to Twila’s vision of us as believers spreading the blanket of our love and caring around a world numbed with its own woundedness.

And I am warmed.

May you be surrounded by a blanket of love and caring this Advent season and evermore.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Streets Aren't Safe

“God lives here.  The streets are safe.”  So says The Message’s version of Psalm 46.

But they aren’t.

The streets aren’t safe.

So how can we proclaim that they are?

It’s an either/or proposition, right?


I’m not so sure.

We need new words for the both-andedness of life.

Words like unsafesafe or safeunsafe or the unness of safeness.

Words to grab hold of reality: that things are safe and unsafe all at once – unsafe for these human bodies, which are so very vulnerable to all sorts of trouble, misfortune and tragedy . . . safe for the true state of things, which never depends on what happens to this body – but does.

Words that recognize that what happens to our bodies matters and that the love that happens in all the small moments of life is as big and bigger than the walls falling down around.

Both are true.  Both are real.

Tragedy happens.

Love happens too.

Even, and perhaps especially, amidst the tragedy.

For God is there.

And wherever God is, there is love.

Caring, regretting, sorrowing, rejoicing, love.

Where was God on the Friday no one would dare call Good?

Right there – taking the bullet too . . . holding the wee tiny hands . . . weeping . . . wrestling . . . screaming.

Why doesn’t God protect us from our worst selves?

I wish I knew.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dear Mr. Huckabee

Dear Mr. Huckabee,

As a fellow pastor, here are my problems with your analysis of the question posed to you by Nick Cavuto:

How could God let this happen?

1. Your response was to a question Mr. Cavuto did not ask.  You answered the question “why is there so much violence in our schools”.  While this may be an interesting and important conversation, it was not the question Mr. Cavuto asked.  And here’s the thing: in the immediate aftermath, his was the question that needed and needs answering.  But you wandered off course, doing real harm because those who were listening for an answer to that question were left with nothing.

2. You’re a pastor.  And you were speaking as a representative (evangelist/ambassador) for Christ yesterday, not as (or not merely as) a television commentator.  You were asked the question because of your presumed expertise on the mind and heart of God.  By failing to meet the hard questions head on, the Christ you (and I) represent on earth appears to be a dodger of the tough stuff as well.

3. Crises are not times for answers, especially pat ones.  Even if you’re right (and I do not believe you are), no one can (nor should) hear logic and analysis in such times.  What they, what we, seek; nay, what we require, is comfort.

4. “I don’t know” is an acceptable and honest answer.  Allowing the demands of prime time to push you into a sound-bite response is dishonorable to the body.

Why you’re wrong in what you said.  Here’s the quote:

We ask why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that,” said Huckabee.  He added, “Maybe we ought to let (God) in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end. Fox News Insider
1. You’re factually wrong in the claimed link between the alleged removal of God from school and this attack.  The shooter was not a school child as in Columbine.  Nor was he an employee or former employee of the school.  He invaded the school as a very unwelcome intruder into its routine and tranquility and presumptive safe haven status.

2. Maybe you have some insider knowledge as a professional journalist, but the information reported yesterday when you were making your remarks included nothing about the young man who did this in terms of his own faith (or lack thereof).  He may have been raised in church.  He may have attended a church school.  At the time of your remarks, that simply was not known.  You made assumptions about him.  They may prove in time to be correct; they may not.

3. Theologically, I am troubled with the premise that the claimed absence of God from any sphere of life creates trouble because we forget the eternal consequences of our actions.  Is this really what we have on offer to the world – a seat in hell if we’re bad?  Isn’t the message of grace in the here and now the gift of changed-ness?  Of being more than we were before?  Of being transformed by God’s grace into someone and something we never before thought possible?  And isn’t the worldly challenge one we have to grapple with – the very real truth that Christians are too often indistinguishable from others in their/our behaviors?  That we too do heinous evil?  That we too fall short?  That our fruit is often rotten?

4. You cannot be the man you are and claim the erasure of faith and faith discussions from the public square, for you are Exhibit A for the case that this simply is not true.  You are a very public figure, paid to offer up just such opinions on the public airwaves.  You are arguing against a straw man.

5. I would say this to all sides: when a tragedy occurs and your first response links the tragedy to your own views of what’s wrong with the world, it probably says more about you than it does the world.  You regret the decision to eliminate verbal prayer from schools; thus this event must be linked to that absence.  Others decry the absence of gun control; thus this event must be linked to that absence (and given that the instrumentality was in fact a gun, they have the better argument – although Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine makes a good case that something else is at work in the national psyche of the US by contrasting our gun behavior to that of Canadians, who have similar access to such weaponry, but nothing near our levels of gun deaths).  For my own part, I do not know what the causes were.  I’m not sure that the young man who apparently did this deed even knew himself; that level of awareness generally requires more clarity of thought and judgment than his acts would indicate he possessed – but I am speculating.  The fact is I really do not know.  None of us do.  And we may never know why.

Finally, to Mr. Cavuto’s question, which deserves honest reflection and response.

How could God let this happen?

I do not know the mind and heart of God sufficiently to claim special insight into divine motivations.  So the best answer I have is I don’t know.

But this is not a question demanding of an answer grounded in reason and logic.  This is the cry of the human heart that will not be comforted.  This is Rachel weeping for her children who are no more.

And the answer I have – indeed, it is the only answer I have – to that question, that keening cry, is God’s comfort and the sure and certain knowledge that God weeps with us and that the temple curtain was rent yet again in God’s own cosmic mourning, for these were God’s children before they were ours.

But if the why question demands more attention, this is all I’ve got.  William Slone Coffin once said (I paraphrase), “when you ask God why he let something happen, have you ever considered that God is asking you the same question?”

The first time I read that, I felt as if I were gut-punched.  The truth of it slammed me against the place there is no running from: God does send help – all the time – God sends us.  And we fail.  We fail each other.  We fail ourselves.  We fail God.

My own anger yesterday was directed not at God but at us – the collective us – humanity.

In terms of God’s own responsibility, when some time has passed, those seeking the answer might read Elie Wiesel’s writings on the rabbinic trial of God in the concentration camp.  Finding God guilty of crimes against humanity, the rabbis adjourned and went for their evening prayers.  These were real people experiencing real suffering of epic proportions.  This seeming paradox was the only answer they had.

The fact is that all people of faith will wrestle with the question of how evil and tragedy can occur in a world created by a God claimed to be loving and protective of the divine creation.  And the fact is that there is no answer grounded in logic and reason that will suffice.  How could it?  What possible answer could there be in human understanding that would satisfy a grieving parent?  For my own part, as a person of faith, every answer I can imagine always leaves me responding, “But you’re God!  You can do better than that!”

And in my own heart, God responds, “But you’re humanity.  So can you.”

We’ve failed each other, it seems.

Where we go from there, who can say?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mourning Connecticut: The Rules for Living in a War Zone*

I cannot
bear it
how will

We are

it is time
we stopped
pretending to
anything else

it is time
we admit
that and act

for if we were
honest about
who we are

we would teach
our children
the things they
need to know
when living in
a war zone --

how to duck
and take cover

how to roll in
a tight ball
with arms
covering to protect
against head shots

what to do when
taken hostage –
don’t look the
shooter in the
eye – just keep
your head down
and try to be as
invisible as you
can – either that
or try to make
him (and what
do we do to our
boys that they
can become this?)
love you – see you,
really see you –
no – better to just
try to be invisible
– if your small
self isn’t enough
for him to love you,
what chance have you?

how to be very
very quiet and still
in the face of real
danger – blending
into the background –
like the prey you are

how, once the shooting
starts, to play dead

how to run –
not in a straight
line, but zigzag
so you’re harder
to get a bead on

why, oh why,
do we not teach
them how to
survive a war

For that is
where they

*It is perhaps foolish or even dangerous to vent one's feelings in the wake of tragedy, for it is only raw emotion that can speak at such times.  While God is not mentioned by name here, this is actually a form of prayer -- lament.  I have no other language now.

Shopping for Jesus

Yesterday I went with Laura and Priscilla to town.  The occasion?  To buy Christmas gifts for three Angel-Tree children on behalf of the church.  Presents may not buy or even bring happiness, but they are tangible evidence of important things – things like: you are loved; the spirit of Santa is real; you matter; life isn’t always about too little; giving is at least as good as getting; time spent with friends is never wasted; knowing each other is crucial to genuine gifting – it’s hard to pick the right jacket for a wee one you’ve never met; and perhaps most of all, how very, very, blessed I am.

I actually get to help a family bring a small measure of Christmas joy to its children.

I just hope Jesus likes the presents we picked; after all, they’re mostly for him.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Running to the Kitchen

I used to hate the kitchen.  And I do mean hate.  My mother swears (although I do not remember it this way) that I broke dishes on purpose to avoid having to wash them.  As a teenager I got so frustrated one day trying to peel potatoes that I threw a potato across the kitchen*, tears streaming, just as my Dad came home.  To say he was not pleased is an understatement.  Even now, bread is not something I will attempt – it’s just too much time to spend only to throw away the leaden lump of inedible wheat-gone-bad I inevitably end up with.

And family gatherings drove me nuts as a teenage girl and young woman – after the meal, all the men sat down to the tv and football while all the women went to the kitchen.  Feminist me railed against the injustice, to no avail, as all in my family, women and men alike, just smiled indulgently at my protests and went back to their assigned roles.

But feeding people, I found, is its own joy.  So slowly I learned to cook.  I am a recipe cook, lacking the palate and imagination to venture off on my own very often; what I can do is follow instructions.

Thus have I found my joy in the kitchen, especially this time of year when I bake and create a whole host of goodies for family and friends.  But what I am really seeking in the kitchen is the company of saints.

Yesterday was the funeral for Bill Puffenbarger.  Bill lived to 88 and died much as he lived: quietly at home.  It was a good funeral: well-attended by family and friends, a sunny, although cold day for the interment of his body at Headwaters cemetery, and a good meal after put on by the ladies of the McDowell Volunteer Fire Department.

After the service at the cemetery, I scurried the 6 miles back over 2 mountains to the Fire Hall and helped as I could with the kitchen crew.  It’s not expected of me as the minister.  And most times I simply stick my head in and say a hearty thank you.  But this day I wanted to be with the kitchen ladies.  It was like I was running to them – my own safe haven now in the kitchen I used to hate so much.

Things have changed a little in the kitchens I frequent  – now you’ll find a few of the fellows helping out.  I am a much better cook than I used to be.  And as a grown woman, I know my limits, so I don’t peel the potatoes (trust me, no one needs that kind of grief).

Funerals cry out for life affirming action.  That’s why, I think, we so often gather to eat after.  Eating a meal is an activity of the living – it is life giving as well as life sustaining.

But for me, the funeral meal is a time and place where I can sneak back into the kitchen and hang with the ladies, carrying out the rhythms of millennia.

When I was young, if someone would say to me that I belonged in the kitchen, I would bristle with insult.  Now I just smile and say, “thank you.”  For truer words, perhaps, have not been spoke: in the kitchen, I belong.

*A leftie with few, if any, motor skills, should really not be left alone with sharp instruments – it really is a right-handed world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dress Rehearsing Jesus

Dress rehearsing in my own mind telling my 5-year-old grandson the Christmas story became our own very small Christmas ‘pageant’ this year.  It’s more humorous than perhaps warranted, with ‘wise guys’ and Mary & Elizabeth pulling babies and teddy bears from their shawls.

In putting it all together in a visual, I realized that there is lots of movement – seems everyone is always going somewhere.  This is not a character-driven story; it’s an event-driven story with the characters virtually pushed along from one happening to the next.  And visually, that can be pretty funny, especially for the angel of the Lord, who flits from one divine-message recipient to the next.

Mary, Joseph & THE STAR
during PW Christmas program
But my favorite ‘character’ in our pageant has to be the North Star.

I got some foam crosses and stick-on stars, which the kids used to decorate the yellow and orange crosses, which were then taped (carpenter’s double-sided tape – the next new wonder in my universe – who knew?) to a cardboard cake circle.  And she is fabulous.

We look to the sky for meaning.  How could we not?  Available to all . . . expansive beyond our imagining . . . ever varied yet ever constant . . . of course we see God inhabiting the vast array.

I only wish I could bring all the ‘actors’ along when I tell my beloved grandson the story of stories, of the time when God came to town and a star led the way.  I only hope he can see what I see, for it is wondrous.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent Reflection: A Big Batch of Ordinary

“A quart of peanut butter?  Are you kidding me?  Are you making peanut butter balls for the whole county?”

Twila’s words come smiling over the telephone lines (or is it waves now?  Who can keep track of these things?)

This morning my hands are still soft from the butter and peanut butter mixing workout they got yesterday.  That part of my Advent observance is done – check.

The satisfaction of the job done and done well is large; the soft hands a bonus.

But how on earth does this relate to Advent and Christmas?  I try to stretch some meaning out of the making of things, but nothing comes.  I try to link chocolate (a great love of mine) to Jesus’ coming, but come up empty.

All I know is that this is part of tradition for me – so deeply ingrained that it’s almost genetic, this gathering of the ingredients and rendering them into the form of edible art.

So maybe the Advent connection is in the creativity, the making of something delightful out of a batch of the ordinary.  Isn’t that what God does with us?  – making something delightful out of a very big batch of ordinary?

Monday, December 10, 2012

2 Clerk Helpers, 1 New Friend & ½ a Bar of Paraffin Wax

The other day I went to town (a big deal where I live) and while there did some shopping for the necessary ingredients for my Christmas baking.

Rendering up Christmas goodies is part of my personal Advent observance – my own waiting and preparing looks an awful lot like cooking and baking.

In years past, I’ve done these rituals in the company of others – family and friends – but now, I am alone in my kitchen – or so it would seem to the outside observer.

But I know I stand in the company of the saints who have gone before (some of whom might be surprised to hear themselves described as saints, but saints to me, nevertheless).  As I made the first batch of fudge the other night (Fudge recipe), it was as if I could hear Dad and his sister Bonnie squabbling over my shoulder about the age-old fight: to beat or not to beat, while Grandma stood behind them just smiling on her brood.  At one point, I actually turned around, half expecting to see them.

But I digress.

In the grocery store the other day, I was looking for the paraffin.  A woman was perusing the pastas with the help of one of the clerks, a young man clearly not knowing what she sought.  Being me, when I heard her asking about whole wheat pasta, I stepped in and pointed the boxes out to her.  We spoke briefly about diabetes (my mom’s and hers).  Then I asked the hapless clerk where I might find the paraffin.

He looked confused.

“Wax,” I offered, trying to be helpful.  At the same time, the woman declared “peanut butter balls”, to which I nodded my yes.

Still confused, he went off for help, guided by the woman’s offer that the paraffin would be with the canning supplies.

He came back with another clerk who had two large boxes of jars in her hands.

I smiled at the confusion, bid the woman good luck and went off with the second clerk to canning supplies.  Sure enough there was the paraffin.

Later at the check-out line, the young man was bagging my groceries and was delighted to see that I had indeed found the paraffin.

Today the supplies are all out and sometime in the evening I will make hundreds of peanut butter balls to the delight of my family past and present.  I know Bonnie and Grandma will be there.  I’m not too sure about Dad – he loved to eat them but never bothered to help in the making.

And from my recipe book with the handwritten note, “verified with Bonnie 12/91" (which I can now do by memory, but always have the recipe on hand just in case), I will proceed.


1 quart peanut butter 2 large packages of chocolate chips
1 pound butter (softened) 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds confectioner’s sugar ½ bar paraffin
3 teaspoons vanilla

Mix together chocolate chips, oil and paraffin and heat in double boiler while mixing remaining ingredients in large bowl.

Mix softened butter and peanut butter.  Stir in sugar (although I’ve never been able to stir this.  I just put my clean hands into the mix and do it the old-fashioned way).  Add vanilla and mix it in.

Make into small balls (about the size of walnuts).  Dip the balls into the melted chocolate (I use a fork rather than a spoon so the excess chocolate will run off easier)  mixture and put on wax paper to cool.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Of a Father's Love Begotten

A READING FROM THE GOSPEL OF LUKE              Luke 1.68-79 (NRSV)
[John’s]  father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.  He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.  Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.  And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.  By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Friends, this is the Word of the Lord . . . thanks be to God.

MEDITATION Of a Father’s Love Begotten

Imagine, as you hear the Song of Zechariah, the scene . . . imagine you are there . . . who are you?  Are you the proud father, lifting his child aloft, crying out with joy?  Are you part of the listening crowd?  As for me, I’m the baby, held securely in my father’s arms.  It’s a lovely picture, but there’s something wrong in it . . . for although I am a child of God, I am no longer a baby – not in years and not in faith.

In his book The Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen points out that most of us picture ourselves in Luke’s parable as the prodigal son (the one who went away into a life of sin later to return repentant into his waiting father’s arms) . . . either that, or we see ourselves as the ‘good son’, the one who stayed faithfully at the father’s side, only to resent the warm welcome his wayward brother receives.

But  as believers, says Nouwen, we are challenged by the story to place ourselves in the position of the father of open and welcoming arms, as the figure in the story who represents God . . . the first time I read that, I was stunned . . . place myself in the position of God?  No!  It is too much!

Yet listen to Nouwen: “A child does not remain a child . . . When the prodigal returns home, he returns not to remain a child, but to claim his sonship and become a father himself.  As a returned child of God . . . the challenge now, yes the call, is to become the Father myself.  I am awed by this call. . . It has taken me much spiritual work to make the elder son as well as the younger son in me turn around and receive the welcoming love of the Father. . . on many levels, I am still returning.  But . . . there is a call beyond the call to return.  It is the call to become the Father who welcomes home. . . Having reclaimed my sonship, I now have to claim fatherhood. . . the hands that forgive, console, heal and offer a festive meal must become my own.” Friends, we are called with John to make God’s way straight, to prepare the road God will travel into the hearts of human beings, one soul at a time.  We are called away from childhood and into parenthood."

In the Exodus, God leads the people out of Egypt and into the promised land.  The image of God going ahead of God’s people, making the way straight and easy for them, is one of great meaning and comfort.
But in Luke, we have the reverse: the people – we –  are to go ahead of God rather than God ahead of the us . . . we are to prepare God’s way, rather than God preparing our way.

The purpose of the calling to go ahead of God, to prepare God’s way, is very clear and very specific: to give to others the knowledge and comfort, as well as challenge, of the saving ways of God, to let them know that God forgives and in God’s forgiveness is God’s saving. . .

And . . . it . . . is . . . coming!

Isn’t that an incredible message?  Isn’t that an amazing word of peace?

How can we be at war with ourselves or with each other in the face of such promise?  How can we be anything but hopeful in the face of these promises already completed?

And so we pray:  Lord, guide our feet all of our days into the ways of Your Peace.  Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Advent Reflection: Waiting for God-ot

Is waiting for God
really like
waiting for Godot –
the one who never
comes or is always
yet to come?  Maybe.
The funny thing is
that the Godot
waiters never seem
to mind very much –
the waiting –
but we?  A different
story – we mind very
much as we sky-cry
Where are You?
What would it be like
to wait without minding
the waiting?  Without
the impatience?  The
sky-crying child anger?
Waiting without demand
or expectation beyond
the waiting itself?
Maybe that’s Advent.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent Reflection: Look out, Cleveland, here we come!

That’s right – Cleveland.

My son & I are lobbying the family to consider spending next Christmas in Cleveland – Cleveland, home of A Christmas Story – there’s actually a museum.

And, Ben points out, we will absolutely have to eat our Christmas dinner in a Chinese restaurant.

Does life imitate art?  You be the judge – if you catch a family of very silly people laughing a lot in a Chinese restaurant somewhere in Cleveland who aren’t Jewish next Christmas, you’ll know it’s us.  Come and join in or just keep walking – either way, we’re good.

Oh, how easy it is to forget the joy of childish things.

Thank you Advent, for reminding me that the joy I await can be silly as well as serious, light-hearted as well as fraught with meaning, and filled to the very brim with the laughter of anticipation.

So look out, Cleveland – we are coming!  Count on it!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent Reflection: Finding Hitler in the Manger

Adolf Hitler is so iconic for evil that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to consider him as a mere human being.  I try but do not, I suspect, get close.  Why would this be an exercise undertaken during Advent?

I am reading an Advent devotional book composed of writings by Dietrich Bonhoeffer entitled God is in the Manger .

Much of the writing is taken from correspondence during his imprisonment, which ended in his execution upon orders from Hitler just weeks before the end of the war, at a time when it was obvious that the end was imminent and that his ‘side’ would lose.

What goes on in the human mind that, upon realizing his own end draws near, insists on taking others with him?  I want to say that I cannot understand it, but the truth is that I can.

Hitler’s legacy is writ large upon the pages of history, but many of us have our own moments of selfish cruelty, don’t we?  The moments when, realizing the loss of our own hopes and dreams, we lash out at others: aiming, consciously or unconsciously, at breaking their dreams, as if our own brokenness insists that everything and everyone else be broken too.  The moments recorded only upon the hearts of those we damage.

It is the revenge impulse of the angry child, deprived of its toy, that breaks Mama’s prized vase.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a neon sign blazed from our foreheads when such moments occur:

Warning!  Danger!  Seeming adult is an angry child today!  Approach at your own risk!

For my own part, I regret the vases I’ve broken over the years.

I never thought I’d look to the manger and find Hitler there.  But Bonhoeffer was right: it is not our Hitler selves who inhabit the manger; it is God.  And this Advent, that’s where I want to be too: helpless, hopeful, and doing no harm.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Most Days It's Just Amazing

In semi-sleep, I dream of Jesus and me.

We’re sitting on a bank.  There’s water (isn’t there always?).

I look at Jesus and sigh.

He, an adult man with a hunter’s beard (short and shaggy), looks back quizzically.

I answer the unspoken question: “I’m sorry.  It must suck to be you.”

He gives a half smile and answers, “Some days.  But most days it’s just amazing.”

Somehow I get that.

But then he goes on, “Must be the same for you.”

Surprise moves into the solidarity of our shared human-ness as I realize he’s right.

Some days it sucks to be me.  But most days, it’s just amazing.

May you be blessed with the amazing-ness of you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent is Like a Winter Cold

Sung to the tune of O Christmas Tree:

O Christmas cold,
O Christmas cold,
how snotty are thy
dribbles . . . 

Here I sit, hoping against hope that the sneezing, aching, runny nose symptoms that make me the perfect advertisement for some over-the-counter cold medicine (Alka-Seltzer Cold Plus is my own personal go-to in such times) are really just something in the air and not a Christmas cold.

But just in case, here I sit with my vitamin C tabs (I’m all out of Emergen-C) and elderberry syrup, ready to trundle back to bed for that plenty-of-rest advice that’s really true (at least in my case).

I don’t mean to blame God (well, maybe just a wee bit), but it seems that the Divine sense of humor always kicks in right about this time of year for me – when the church calendar is full and I’m super-pastor-busy, my body gets zapped – forcing me to slow down into the waiting of Advent.

It’s probably (probably?) bad theology to compare the Advent waiting for the coming of the Christ child to a winter cold, but there you have it – I am nothing if not prosaic.

How is Advent like a winter cold?

1. Both are times of waiting that you’d really (if honest with the self) rather not be doing.  Can’t we just get past this to the next (translate: better) thing?

2. Both can be mildly annoying, but comfort is taken from knowing that they will soon pass.

3. Both inspire a longing to be taken care of, to rest into.

4. The worst case scenario for both is that they won’t last longer than 4 weeks.

5. Both go much better if you’re prepared.

6. No one can define either very well.  You just know it when you see (experience) it.

So that’s me, off to bed, tissues in hand, waiting for baby Jesus to hurry up and get here.


I mean Blessed Advent.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Has Christmas Jumped the Shark*?

I combine Advent with Christmas here, Advent being for many in the United States simply the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy.

Fonzie on water skis, in a scene from the Happy
 episode "Hollywood, Part Three of Three",
after literally jumping over a shark.  Wikipedia
A case can certainly be made that Christmas, at least in the West, jumped the shark a long time ago.  And I admit I’m part of it: yes, I have a Santa Claus Advent calendar - with cute little pockets where I faithfully place hard candies each year for visitors.

Hot dog and marshmallow and rubber duck creches (The 42 Worst Nativity Sets) delight me.

A Christmas Story long-ago replaced It’s a Wonderful Life as my favorite all-time Christmas movie.

I have gazillions of Santas . . . including a Santa jack-in-the-box, a couple of wind-up Santa toys, numerous Santa figurines of various sizes and my all-time favorite, a Santa who wiggles and dances to Jingle Bell Rock.  He sits on my desk.

I have strung popcorn for a 30-foot tree and prayed at the lighting of a Christmas tree in a town center, standing on a stage fit and lit for a rock star, where Santa’s entry overhead on a zip line was the main feature of the evening.

I’ve prayed at Wintertide in my own community, in a place where the nativity still stands on the court house square, but the main story-telling attraction is not of the birth of Christ, but Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Does all of this make it easier to confuse the medium for the message?  Probably.

Yet somehow, I am not troubled in the least by any of it.

I see baby Jesus in plastic Santas and silly movies . . . in creches made of hot dogs and crass commercialization . . . in Hallmark movies and in way too many presents under the tree.

I hope Jesus sees this not as the moneylenders busy at work, but as the joy-filled happy-birthday-party extravaganza the entry of God into real time evokes.  I sure hope so.  After all, this in Advent is the week of hope.

So has Christmas jumped the shark?  Is Jesus past his own sell-by date?  For my own part, I’m not worrying until someone dresses Jesus up in swim trunks and a leather jacket.

*Jump the shark:   is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery. The phrase is also used to refer to a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of "gimmick" in a desperate attempt to keep viewers' interest. . . The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery. Wikipedia

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Norman Rockwell Tableau

Sometimes I live in a Norman Rockwell painting . . .
Wintertide – gathering of a community on the court
house square at dark – prayer beside the nativity,
Christmas carols strummed on guitar and sung by a dad,
his 7-year-old daughter accompanying him on the fiddle,
her high notes keeping pace . . . hand bells rung by the
faithful bell choir of the church next door, ringers in
winter coats with ear muffs . . . Twas the Night Before
Christmas told to the young ones by the local beloved
kindergarten teacher, recently widowed yet ever-present
with the love shining out of her like its own North Star . . .
folks greeting each other in the cold . . . Kane scooting
from place to place to get the good shots – there are so
many – like the kids all dropped down inside the court
house after, plopped into place enjoying their hot chocolate
and cookies . . . friends standing close to keep me warm,
having forgotten the obvious rule that it gets cold when the
sun goes down in these mountains . . . even if only for a
moment, mountain men with pony tails pulled through
their ball caps and city slickers enjoying the picturesque-
ness of it all stand side by side enjoying a bit of peace on earth

Saturday, December 1, 2012


hands chapped from washing
wrinkled hand resting on the
ever-aching hip
walking, moving, never still
worn Bible covered with red
contact paper on the table beside
her chair
stubborn (I come by it honest)
loving to set on her porch and
visit with the old folks of
the family
cinnamon-rolls in the morning
terrified of snakes – funny for
such a country girl –
never learning to drive –
funny for such an independent
girl who swore in later life
that she never needed nobody
thin-lipped when angry
silent in her punishment –
maybe the loudest silence
I’ve ever heard
I hated Grandma in old age –
not her, but what it did to her –
everything started to break
some days she looked like
a robot she had so many
screws and rods sticking out
of her
how she loved to sing
The Grand Old Oprey her
dream – I think Mom’s
right - she’s singing now
for sure – alto clear and strong
I hope she knows now that
existence isn’t all work –
that there’s play for her too,
the wee girl who got switched
the day her older siblings
(I still secretly hold this against
them – dead, every one)
dared her to dance
Well, Grandma, there’s no more
switches and I sure hope you
learned to dance to that music
you’re makin – loving you still,
I am

November 30, 2000 –
Yesterday, just short of her 87th birthday,
Mary Edra Tennant went to be with her Lord
before I could come and say good-bye
in person - she didn’t make it to the
surgery and I was coming, Grandma,
I was coming.  How I wish you could
have waited just a little while longer.

Friday, November 30, 2012

November-Ending Whimsy: Wouldn’t It Be Funny If . . .

Wouldn’t it be funny if . . .

Wouldn’t it be funny if
God, the divine very creator
of music itself, were tone deaf?

Wouldn’t it be funny if leaves
in autumn flew up instead of

Wouldn’t it be funny if wars
were fought with masking tape
instead of guns?  (Of course, in
churches, they sometimes are –
and it isn’t always funny, even
thought it is)

Wouldn’t it be funny if in old
age we got taller, bigger – giants
would roam the land and younger
folk would whisper in something
approaching awe – she must be
really old?

Wouldn’t it be funny if human
beings slept like bats, hanging
collectively from our cave perches?

Wouldn’t it be funny if Santa took
a gift instead of leaving one?  I wonder
what he’d want from my house?

Wouldn’t it be funny if birds gave
up song for Lent?  I wonder if we’d

Wouldn’t it be funny if cease fire
simply meant that spring had come
and extra heat for our bodies were
no longer necessary – until next

Wouldn’t it be funny if Jesus
came back this time as a girl?

Wouldn’t it be funny if the turkey
trucks crossing the mountains were
taking them on a school outing or
to a concert?

Wouldn’t it be funny if hunger always
and only meant a keen desire for

Wouldn’t it be funny if the next war
or skirmish or battle or fight or conflict
or cease fire violation or police action or
drone strike, the one receiving the order said,
“You said ‘bomb’?  Really?  I thought for sure
you said ‘Mom’?  How do I get all those moms

Wouldn’t it be funny if trees talked in a register
too high for human ears?  “Can you believe she’s
wearing those shoes?”  “I know – hard to believe she
even has a mother – who lets someone go outside
on a day like today without a scarf?”  “Shhhh!”
“Oh, for goodness sakes, they can’t hear us!”

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Reveal

I watch the redolent splendor
the luxury of sleep merging
into wakefulness back into
sleep - the gift of the one who
has nowhere to be at no particular
time – and observe as the satellite moves
across the dawning sky like a north
star in a March Hare kind of hurry
exiting stage right beyond the
picture-frame surround of the
double-paned window, a diptych
homage to the beauty of an emerging
daylight against the constancy of the
ridge line of mountains whose features
remain otherwise indistinguishable
in the still mostly-dark shadows of
the dawning and adore the rose-red
thread of color that expands and expands
into the sky like peek behind the curtain
a proud God pulls back, slowly, ever
so slowly, the magician child proclaiming
to the gathered and expectant family,

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Morning Fancies


There he is
visible only from
the corner of my eye
Tiger, Tiger, burning bright
striding across the morning sky
hunched shoulders in pounce mode
sunlight and clouds creating the pattern
the menace of meaning whenever there is
a tiger stalking the sky – I am no Pi (pie?), sir,
and this is not my life – why are tigers always so . . . hungry?


the crackle and creak
and wrangle and break
that is the sound of my body
in the morning
awakens the birds
I’ll be quieter tomorrow,
I whisper them as I arise

I enjoy a warm cup of morning fog
with the start of my day
here in mountain retreat
where mist settles into
mountain’s belly
and offers itself up
with each new-day mantra –
drink me –

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dangerous is the Color of My Anger

Dangerous is the Color of My Anger

here I am again
having to put on the 
body armor 
yet again
before I travel outside myself
lest the slings and arrows catch me
and I become foolish

do not be misled
I am a pacifist not because
I am good
or because I walk 
such a superior path – 
far from it
I am a pacifist 
(more accurately 
an aspiring one 
or better a lapsed one)
because I know oh-so-well
the violence 
that dwells 
within me
and I would not 
do you harm

weapons are bad things 
in the wrong
(are there any
right ones?)

mine are most definitely 
the wrong hands
my weapons are words
and I know how to use them
with the precision of a surgeon
and the detachment of a serial killer

I continue to wrestle
the angry monster
and she is me

thus far does the weaponry
remain safely in the armory
of my mind

sore provoked,
I withdraw
into silence –
the only safe space
I know to protect
you from me –
and ponder
first things –
important things –
God things –
and recall not
who I am
but who I am
called to be

it will have to do

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sermon Cliff Note: NOKK

(Not Our Kind of King)
(Readings: Revelation 1.4b-8 & John 18.33-37)

Christ the King greets us.  Who is this King?  This King loves (note the present tense) us . . . the real us, not his idea of us, not our idea of us, but as-we-are us . . . And just as this king loves us, we are to love others . . . Just as this king freed us, we are to free others . . . Just as this king invited us into his service, so too are we to invite others . . . This king loves us . . .
And he is coming . . . or rather coming back . . . and everybody will see him, even those who pierced (killed) him . . . and everybody will wail . . .
That doesn’t sound much like good-news love, does it?
But the one who wrote Revelation knew his Old Testament.  “The ones who pierced him” is a reference to Zecheriah 12.10, “I (God) will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that when they look on me (God) whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child . . .”
The injustices of the people in Zecheriah are likened to the wounding or murder of God’s very self!  The result?  A judgment of compassion and sorrow . . . the people will be brought to their senses and they will mourn for what they have done to others, and realize that what they have done to others, they have done to God’s very self.
Zecheriah doesn’t stop there: on that very day (the day the people are filled with mourning and regret for their sins) “a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them. . .”
In Zecheriah, the day the people kill God is the day of their redeeming by the very God they ‘killed’!  And so too for us!
This is the kind of King we serve!  A King who dies that we might live . . . who is captured that we might be freed . . . who is destroyed that we might be created anew . . .
This is the King who appears before Pontius Pilate after he has already appeared before the religious rulers of his time and place . . .
Both the religious and the political find this King not only wanting, but also dangerous . . . so dangerous that killing him isn’t enough . . . this is the Roman Empire, remember . . . killing was something they did well. . . but for this King, killing alone wouldn’t do . . . there had to be a show trial and mockery and torture . . .
What kind of threat could this man of peace have possibly been to an empire?  He asks nothing of Rome.  Maybe that’s the problem: he doesn’t need Rome, but insists that Rome needs him.
Over and over and over again, Jesus tells us that his Kingship is of a very different kind . . . when, oh when, he asks time and again, will we understand?
When will those among us who crave God’s judgment (as long as it’s on everybody else) understand that Jesus came to save, not condemn the world?
When will we understand that when we try to make Jesus into our image, he runs and hides (read John 6.15, if you doubt me: immediately after feeding the 5,000, the people tried to grab Jesus and force him to be their earthly king.  Jesus’ response?  To flee to the mountains to be alone).
Why do we insist that Jesus’ second coming will be so very different than the first?
Do we really believe that the God who came as an infant, who fled from earthly visions of power and glory, who served others even unto death, who sits as a lamb upon the throne in heaven is coming back like a roaring, flesh-eating lion?
It is important that we understand who our King is that we may understand who we are.  The King we serve is who we become . . .
If we are lions, it is because we have no understanding of the Lamb.
If we are destroyers, it is because this Jesus is NOKK . . . not our kind of king.
Lucky for us, the King who so easily recognizes that we are not his kind of people has claimed us anyway . . . taking the hardness of our hearts and melting it into compassion . . . turning us into God’s kind of people after all . . .
Behold the Lamb upon his Throne!
Behold and be changed!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sidewalk Chalk Wisdom

Chalk wisdom
true for a time
it washes away
when no longer 
needed it just 
I wonder
where did 
all this
wisdom go?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Time Measured by Prayer

It used to be that time was measured by prayers.  So, writes Bee Wilson in her book Consider the Fork, reviewed in this month’s Smithsonian magazine, “‘. . . time was measured by prayer. . .’ describing how old-time recipes gave cooking periods in prayers (boil a walnut for two Miserere*). . .”

During my work days, I measure time by task: how long it takes me to do certain tasks is so routine that, if I still had a watch, I would set it by them.

But holiday time – that’s something different – and oh, so special.

There’s early-morning time, when I’m first up, alone in the quiet of a house not yet stirred, the time when I wander and prepare for the coming stampede of feet, the quiet before time.

Then there’s Rowen’s-up time, when my grandson, the next to awake, comes down for breakfast, where he and I sit quietly at the table and chat, each keeping company with the other, to our mutual satisfaction.

Next comes Daddy’s-up time, sometimes happening naturally, like the rising of the sun; sometimes prompted by Rowen’s get-up-Daddy prompting.  Somewhere in between, the coffee will have been turned on and breakfast supplies laid out (well, first breakfast, anyway.  Second breakfast, or brunch, comes later).

Depending on how many are here, the getting-up time can stretch almost to noon, with some sleeping in the living room moving into a vacated bed upstairs to lounge just a bit longer.

The quiet of the morning moves to a burst of activity and levity as the gathered come full awake.  Laughter and lounging go together in my family: we do both really well, especially when we can do them at the same time.

Then there’s stand-before-the-refrigerator time as each forages for lunch or mid-afternoon snack.  One hunger breeds another as we all process in a semi-line to find something to eat, proclaiming there’s nothing on hand that suits as we stand in front of a loaded frig and wonder where all the food went.

Late afternoon is for football and napping.

Evening - supper and coming alive again with laughter and games and more laughter and more games, some being drug into the fun others have organized; some hating games but loving their fellow gamesters enough to play along, a child’s voice moving from the edge to the middle and back out again whenever the next diversion catches the young eye.

Nighttime – back to quiet and talk winding down the day, remembering times past, yearning for the moment to last – just a bit longer.  Sleep.  Awake again and repeat until the final day when the detritus of travel home is thrown into cases and bags and flung into cars and SUVs that head back home from home, with me standing out back waving good-bye, running to the front to catch them again, just one more time, standing and smiling through the tears in the rearview mirror.

Ordinary time resumed, I walk back inside, carrying the missing of them . . . until the next time.

Nothing particularly wondrous or amazing happens whenever my family gathers, yet it is still, somehow, holy ground, a prayer, if you will, this time measured in moments and memories.

*Miserere: from the Latin for “have mercy on me, O God”.  The Free Dictionary  I do not know whether it was a short form prayer or a recitation of the entirety of Psalm 51 from which it is taken.

Friday, November 23, 2012

BethRant7: When is Enough Enough? On Begging, Biographies & Black Fridays

On Begging Every year, without fail, I receive a phone call from a student worker at an educational institution I attended, asking for alumni support (translate: money).  And every year, I have the same question: when is enough enough?

When will the school have reached enough money in hand to not ask for more?  When will its substantial (and I do mean substantial) endowments, investments, and assets be enough?  Really what I am asking is why isn’t what you have already enough?

I am usually misunderstood – while owning that the school does have a very handsome portfolio, there is always another project, a new vision, that requires more – always more.

Don’t get me wrong: I treasure my time spent there; I value the education I received; and I earnestly desire that others may have the same experience as I.  But truly, I want to know: is there a goal of money on hand that will suffice?  That will say we do not have to ask for more, because we have enough and more than enough?

On Biographies Reading my current issue of Smithsonian magazine, I run into a book review of yet another biography on General Custer.

Guidon lists 846 books dedicated in whole or in part to Custer, including McMurtry’s latest entry, the book treated in the Smithsonian review.

I am sure Custer is interesting.  But 846 books’ worth?  Really?  Hasn’t everything to be said about Custer and his ignominious place in the history of the United States been given its well-more-than obligatory 15 minutes of fame?

Aren’t 846 books more than enough to satisfy even Custer’s reputed vainglorious desire for even posthumous fame?

Can’t we move on?

Isn’t enough enough?

On Black Friday If you are ever tempted to doubt the efficacy of marketing (translate propaganda), of advertising’s impact on human behavior, behold Black Friday – best done from a distance, I have to say.

Photo from Doug's Foggiest Ideas
Watch on your television screen the melee at your local Wal-Mart.  Observe shopping turned into a competitive, full-body-contact sport.

My blog profile warned you: I am a curmudgeon.  So, in all my curmudgeonliness, here goes:

(1) It’s propaganda to say that you will find great bargains on Black Friday.  Samplings of goods on offer show that often the price is actually higher than at other times.

(2) It is one short step from a crowd to a mob.  People have actually been killed in the crush to buy.  While it would be sad if these were food lines for the hungry, at least it would be understandable.  But not this.  I keep a list in my head of stupid ways to die: ways I do not want to be the final word about me – ways that make people laugh at my idiocy, greed, or just plain foolishness.  Dying in a rush to buy the next new thing has to be in the top 10.

(3) Black Friday brings out the worst rather than the best in us.  It is as if we believe that we’re engaged in a holy battle when all we’re really doing is indulging our basest selves when we find we’re clinging to one end of a toy while another mother or father clings to the opposite end.  I wonder what Solomon would do with this one?

(4) Time is a divine gift.  I waste mine as much as the next person.  But we each must draw a line somewhere.  Here is one of mine: I will not meet my Maker and have to explain that I spent the gift given me wrestling other divine creations over something as insipid as a computer game, especially one whose content makes my Maker weep.

(5) Black Friday in the United States is the commercial kick-off to the Christmas season, what Christians refer to as Advent.  So I really (and I do mean really) want to know why my friends at Fox News, who can be counted on each and every year to claim that Christmas is being stolen by the government, make absolutely no noise at all about Christmas being stolen by capitalism.  Where is your outrage that your fellow entrepreneurs have taken the time set aside in the Christian calendar for the joyful reflection on the coming of Peace itself to earth and substituted that joy with the frenzy of acquisition?  Why aren’t you more frightened by this than by the removal of a creche from the local court house square?  Why don’t you see the X-Box sellers at Christmas as more dangerous than the ACLU?  I know I do.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Thanksgiving

Gathering with family and eating at Grandma’s house . . .
The food . . .
The smells . . .
Drawing names for Christmas . . .
My first ‘Thanksgiving’ dinner - friends and I were going to New York for Thanksgiving in college, so beforehand, I invited them over and made them a feast . . . my first Thanksgiving away from home . . .
Thanksgivings not-so-traditional and/or away . . . Thanksgiving with my seminary colleagues also working overseas in Scotland . . . fabulous . . .Thanksgiving alone after my divorce . . . Thanksgiving in New York City, separated from all my family, walking from 34th Street to the restaurant in the 80's . . . the parade was fabulous, the dinner, not so much . . .
When I started making the Thanksgiving dinner . . . family gathered . . . laughing, the Thanksgiving box Araka made (I still have it) . . . getting out all the best china, setting the table, appreciating the beauty as well as the food, friends coming over later, after their own feasts . . . my step-son’s Thanksgiving of four(!) meals . . . he calls every Thanksgiving . . . Thanksgiving in my apartment with seminary friends . . . the Saturday after Thanksgiving when I learned my colleagues had been kidnaped . . .
There are no food disasters in my memories . . . there are only memories of family and friends, gathered around the table . . .
It is no accident that in celebrating communion, we first say the prayer called The Great Thanksgiving and that communion itself, in the Greek, is called The Eucharisto (The Thanksgiving) . . .
I never serve at a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving or Christmas . . . those are days I always want to be with family and friends, just us, sitting, laughing and talking, even watching football . . . our togetherness our communion and our thanks . . .

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Cigarettes

It is March, 2006.  I am sitting on a bench outside a quonset-hut type structure at the Mortuary Unit offices at Balad AFB near Baladiat, Iraq.  I am waiting to learn whether I will be given permission to accompany the remains of my colleague, Tom Fox, home (I was not).

In the waiting hours that stretch into a few days, I sit and smoke cigarettes and listen and talk with the young soldiers of the Unit.

One fellow (from Kentucky, I think) remembers Thanksgiving, 2005.  He was there at Balad.  Secretary Rumsfeld had come to heavily-fortified BIAP (Baghdad International Airport) and had a Thanksgiving meal – turkey and all the trimmings – with a select group of military personnel there.  The meal was shown on television back home.

The young man sitting beside me in the dark laughs the bitter soldier-laugh of one far too young for such ‘wisdom’ and tell about how his mother was so excited that he had gotten to have such a fine meal.  No matter what he told her, no matter how many times he explained it, she could not or would not believe that he and his compatriots had not been given the same treat – that this was a photo-op and he was not included.

I remember that moment when and if ever I am tempted to discount the impact of propaganda: there is a mother’s son somewhere whose mother will not believe that he did not have a wonderful, peaceful Thanksgiving respite, for she will believe the evidence of her eyes over the claims of her son who was there, living the reality the tv never showed.

CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) gave me many gifts; one I was not looking for was the unique vantage of standing at the margins of things.  Even when my team and I were center stage in tragedy, a place we neither sought nor desired, we still stood at the edges, from where we bore our witness.

You learn many things from the margins.

One of my reminder lessons is that most soldiers around the world today or any day, will not be feasting on turkey with all the fixings.  Most of them will be eating some version of MRE’s when in field.  The ones from the US are well fed.  But they’re not at a party.  And neither are their enemies.

The obvious lesson: that whenever you see old men in suits in war zones, know that what you are seeing represents not reality but stagecraft.

The deeper lessons reside in the dark behind lit ends of cigarettes.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgivings Past

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandma’s house we went.  Life was good with Dad at the wheel, Mom beside him in the front, and me in back watching the world speeding by as we drove the 18 miles to Grandma’s.

In the ways of childhood, the ride seemed much longer, much farther, than a mere 18 miles.  We were crossing mountains and entering under the forest canopy, curving first one way then the other, to make our way back from our city house into my Dad’s childhood, heading “out home”.

As an only child, I could barely contain my excitement at getting to see the cousins again.

The food was the food – plenty and good and hot.  So many years later, I have yet to master my Grandma’s skill at getting everything to the table hot.  I mourn that it’s too late to ask her how she did it.

And in our family, long before the retail merchants caught on, Thanksgiving was always the immediate segue into Christmas.  Our last gathering before the big holiday, on Thanksgiving we would draw names for our gift exchange, some of us secretly making trades: you got your Mom?  Oh no!  Of course, I’ll trade with you!

And I’m pretty sure it was on Thanksgiving when I cooked up the ill-fated scheme to have cousin Doug play Santa Claus for his younger sister Lisa, who still believed.  Ill-fated because Doug chickened out at the last minute (or maybe he planned it that way all along; with Doug, you can never tell).  I was probably about 11 at the time, so my concocted costume required lots of imagination – red tights and pillow-stuffed sweat shirt, black boots and a home-made cotton-ball beard looked much more like Santa in my imagination than in real life.

Because Doug bailed, as the creator of the costume, of course it fell to me to jump in, and jump in I did.  And of course, my loving family would memorialize my humiliation with photographs snapped just at the moment when little Lisa asked in her child’s soprano, Why is Beth dressed up like Santa Claus?

I wish I could tell 11-year-old Beth not to sweat it, we were making memories.