Friday, March 30, 2012

The Beauty of the Painted Toe

I love having a pedicure.  My only regret is that I came to such pleasure so late in life, having only had my first professional pedicure within the last ten years or so.  And I don’t go that often – maybe once or twice a year.

Mine is the oldest foot in the photo
On the surface of things, it’s pure silliness – having someone paint your toe nails some outrageous color seldom, if ever, seen in nature.  That’s actually part of the draw for me – there are far too few ways to be silly when you’re in your 50's – trust me on this.

But whenever I slide into the welcoming chair and place my feet, one at a time, into the warmth of the waiting water, my whole being immediately relaxes into the experience.  And I am always reminded of Jesus’ very simple lesson of hospitality: if you really want to welcome another into your life, wash their feet. . . get down on your knees and embrace and caress the part of them seldom seen . . .

And as Peter attests, as hard as it is to be the one doing the serving-welcoming, it’s not easy being served either, for we, both the server and the served, are reminded in a most intimate way of the mutuality of vulnerability.

I seriously doubt if Jesus was about to give Peter a choice between pink shock and cocoa motion (yes, real nail polish colors), but the gift given and received was even more beautiful, more sensual, more intimate – the giving and receiving of time spent caring for and being cared for by another.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Holy Week Weeds*

From NW Farms & Food blog

Sara Miles writes of the busyness of Holy Week, the chaos, the time demands larger than time, as presently constituted, can allow.  She speaks of the feeling of being overwhelmed, describing the feeling as being in the "Holy Week weeds".    
To whelm is to flow or heap up abundantly.  Google Dictionary

Advent and Christmas leave me feeling overwhelmed, swamped, in danger of disappearing into the demands, real and felt, of the season.

But Holy Week, blessed Holy Week, is a different matter entirely.

In Holy Week, I feel whelmed . . .

I feel the flow, the abundance heaping all round . . .

And it is marvelous . . .

Why it should be so, this difference, I do not know, I cannot say . . .

But down here in the weeds, in the tenacious tenacity of things, I live and love and have my being . . .

Down here in the weeds of Holy Week, the usual course of things is changed . . .

Worship happens at the odd times . . . the off-the-schedule times . . . the times when friends gathered for one last dinner together . . . when a man walked, crawled and crept to his death . . . when the sun broke the horizon and the light transformed into The Light . . . when naked men gathered around a friend thought lost for a feast of fish on the fire . . . when children surely laughed and hunted lost or hidden things . . . when praise and song were the order of the day . . .

Holy Week – the one week of the year when God’s schedule, the Divine time frame, becomes my own . . .

Sara Miles is right – Holy Week is a weedy place, filled as it is with the demands of the busy schedule, but oh, what whelming weeds they are . . .

*Title inspired by a comment in Sara Miles’ essay The Edge of the World in Daniel Clendenin’s Journey with Jesus

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I have seen fields filled with ferns, the sight of which prompted me to offer up grateful praise to God, for the beauty of this earth.

I have seen heather in the highlands . . . bluebells on the island . . . rape, a yellow flower, filling fields as far as the eye could see . . . fuchsia as large as dinner plates . . .

Seals sunning on the rocks of Loch Cosuitt . . .

awakening to the screaming song of the sea gulls and mistaking them for a child in trouble . . .

rhododendron so profuse they’re considered an invasion . . .

Standing on an outcrop of land at the ruin of Fast Castle and feeling the wind off the North Sea on my face

More double rainbows than are seemly for any one woman to have stood under . . .

the sunrise as an act of God’s love. . .

 the absence of things . . . things like lightening bugs and crickets.

Whenever I think of Scotland, I think of spring. . . and new life . . . and beauty . . . and friends.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sermon Cliff Note: "Now there were some Greeks . . ."

Now there were some Greeks . . .
You know – the not-from-here folks. . . 

maybe they heard about Lazarus
or maybe
they saw the donkey parade

However they heard, new in town,
they went to seek out the newest thing – 
the wonder-working parable speaker
In those days, everybody wanted to see Jesus

Someone wants to see him
and Jesus talks about. . .
seeds falling to the ground
and glorified things 
and serving 
and following . . . 

Son-of-Man-Jesus was about to die –
and he was speaking in riddles
and we were scratching our heads . . .

Taking pity on us, he gave us the parable about the seeds –
as if that helped!
Sure, I get it – seeds ‘die’ for the plant to live
and produce even more seeds –
But what does that have to do with a couple of Greeks
dropping by for a visit?!?  

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it!
We didn’t then, but we do now . . . 
Jesus’ dying brought more followers
somehow, in his dying,
We and he became more than we had ever been
And the usual blah, blah, blah . . . 
Serve me, follow me . . . 
Follow me, serve me . . . 
Serve and follow me =’s honor from God
Okay, already, we get it!

But did we?
Do we?
Probably not . . .

When Jesus died . . . 
When he died, it all changed . . . 
Without him, I would have just gone home . . . 
and every now and then, 
when someone from the old days
showed up, I’d have remembered
We’d have laughed and cried
and then gone back to our lives

But with what happened after, 
there was no going back
not for any of us . . . 

It hurts to admit how impatient He made me back in the day . . .
But it’s true . . . 
I just kept wanting him
Just once . . . 
To get – to – the – point
But he never did
how could he?
He was the point!
Loving, maddening, parable-telling, weird . . . Him!

And he knew it would be hard . . . 
It troubled him – what he, what we, would have to go through . . . 
But he showed us how to do it . . .
Not complaining . . . 
Not trying to get out of it . . .not then, anyway –
No – he took a deep breath, said “This is why I came”
and threw himself upon FatherGod . . .
And God heard him –
I have and I will . . . 
That’s what God’s voice said that day . . . 
I have heard you . . .
I will live up to myself in You, Son!

Now, said God . . .
Now you will know . . . 
Now is judging time . . . 
Now is Satan-kicking-out time . . . 
Now is Jesus lifting up time . . . 
Now is earth-reconciling to Me time . . . 

No wonder people thought the Voice of Heaven
was thunder . . . 
That kind of message
and echoes
around the world
and down the corridors of time . . . 
making human tuning forks
of us all . . . 

Still we did not understand . . . 
The questions were endless . . . 
Who are you to say these things?
How can Messiah ever die?
Why do you say these things?

He was pleading with us – 
Believe . . . please believe . . . 
Believe and become . . . 

There was darkness in the land . . . 
He wasn’t wrong about that . . . 
how he yearned for us
to step out of that darkness
and into his light . . . 

What happened to the Greeks?
I think they were the point . . . 
or their question was – 
Sir, we want to see Jesus.

In answer, Jesus 
offered up himself

Now the circle is complete -- 
for once,
somebody actually got the question right . . . 

Dancing into Morning

With morning
comes the lightness
the diffuse
creeping dawn
gently announcing a new day

Happy knees will still bend
arms still raise
I bound from the bed
and dance into its embrace

for a moment

and then I surrender
back to gravity
falling into the warmth
that cocooned me
in the night


Friday, March 23, 2012

Where Bald Eagles Fly

Yesterday late afternoon I sat in the car with Laura in my driveway, chatting away about this and that.  We had just come from serving communion to a lovely woman in our congregation who is now very sick.

In mid-sentence, Laura exclaimed, Is that an eagle?


Over there, she pointed.

And there she was.

In this land of a trillion birds we call home, there was a lone bald eagle, brown-bodied with the telltale white tail feathers and white head, languorously flying up and down the path below made by Crab Run just before it empties into Bullpasture River.

For a few moments that stretched into eternity, Laura and I sat transfixed, trying to spot her among the trees behind which she sought her prey.

Finally she flew past the church and beyond our sightline.

Still we sat in quiet, each marveling at the great good gift we had just received.

Even when our silence was broken, she left her stamp as we spoke of eagles and other birds we had seen before, along with the usual tales of the rapscallion squirrels and racoons who would destroy the many bird feeders put out to lure our flying friends into our orbit, if only for a while.

To anthropomorphize just a bit, squirrels and racoons are the humans of the natural world in these parts, taking what isn’t intended for them, hogging more than their share, and destroying what doesn’t satisfy them in fits of pique, as when they find the bird larders empty, apparently forgetting that they themselves had eaten the last lot of seeds placed for another.

Above it all, at a remove from such mundanities, flies the lone eagle, looking for what only she can see, seeking the prey peculiarly suited to her, so ungainly in posture when land-bound but so amazing when in flight, balancing nature in such purposeful glory.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


The fog sits gently upon the land
birds sing their morning
cars and trucks scurry by
fast to greet the day

Green jumps
onto the page of this day

Bidden or unbidden
spring is here

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sermon Cliff Note: Nicodemus in the Night

Now there was a man named Nicodemus . . . 
Nicodemus is just the foil . . .
the unwitting guy picked from the audience
who ends up barking like a chicken 
at the magic show. . . 
our uneasy laughter
the reveal – 
for we too
when called to the stage
become as barking chickens

Jesus has had a full day what with cleansing the temple and all . . . 
As a Pharisee, Nicodemus is one of the guys
One of the guys . . . 
The guys who let money changers
and sheep and cattle and doves
and the coin of the realm
take up residence
in God’s house

Yeah - Nicodemus is one of those guys . . . 
But there must have been something about him coming
as he did in the night
Maybe it was just curiosity – 
the thirst to learn
that drove Nicodemus to Jesus
as surely as Jesus drove the money changers
away from him . . . 

And maybe Nicodemus is a representative
an ambassador of sorts
coming to Jesus
on behalf of the very Pharisees
who will one day kill him . . . 
but not yet . . . 
for now they are curious . . . 
alarm will come later . . . 

Oh, how it must have stung Nicodemus . . . 
Man of learning 
and stature
respected position in the community
Visitor of the nighttime . . . 
To hear Jesus’ last words to him . . . 
The words about light and darkness . . . 
Judgment words . . . 
Final verdict, sentencing words . . . 
And what a surprise . . . 
The final verdict is not a word of punishment 
but a word of pronouncement . . . 
This is who you are . . . 
God’s knowing is God’s judgment with Jesus –
I came to you in the light of day, Nicodemus . . . 
But you sneak to me in the nighttime . . . 
What is it that you fear, Nicodemus?
Or is it ‘who’ you fear?
Who are you so afraid will see
You with me?
Ah, Nicodemus . . . 
Can’t you live into the light?
Can’t you let yourself be seen plainly?
When, Nicodemus, will you stop looking for signs in the dark?
When, Nicodemus, will you stop feeling around like a child
in the night for its lost teddy bear?
When, Nicodemus, will you just open your eyes
and see what is right before you?

God has set all you need before you . . .
God’s Spirit is blowing across the land . . . 
All you need do is believe . . . 
Believe in possibilities . . .
Believe that the old can be made new . . . 
Believe in your own rescue . . . 
Believe that God is the only tether you have
to heavenly things . . . 

Not teaching . . . 
Not right practice . . . 
Not paying your dues . . . 
Not your purity . . . 
Not your rules or your laws . . . 

God . . . 
The God who so loves . . . 
Not Nicodemus . . . or not only you
Not Pharisees . . . or not only you
Not Israel . . . or not only you
But the world . . . 

Leave out
kick out
push out
Any of it
And you leave, kick and push out
Me . . . 

How can . . . you keep asking
Do you seek an instruction manual?
Ah, Nicodemus, do you not hear?
Can you not see?
Do you not know the gift when
it stands before you?

For God so loves the world
that God gave –
wait for it – 
Gave what?
Not what Nicodemus, but who . . . 
God so loves the world
that God gave . . . 
that God gives . . . 
Me . . . 

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Behold, Nicodemus . . . 
I am . . . 

I am . . . 
The eternal mid-wife bringing you into new life . . . 
I am . . . 
The labor pains of birthing you . . . 
I am . . . 
The protecting placenta
You . . . 

I am . . .
The Spirit-wind
that blows. . . breathes . . .  life
into you

Ah Nicodemus . . . 
Stop clinging to the womb
as if it were the only safe place you know
allow yourself
to come into the world
as the baby you are


Stop judging, Nicodemus . . . 
Stop judging and start living . . . 
For here begins your eternity . . . 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Grandma* Gone Bad

Three maple donuts
Half a bag of cotton candy

Two hot dogs – with bun – and ketchup

One Mountain Dew

Two pancakes - with maple syrup

One brownie

One capri-sun
This beautiful woman is who Rowen
should have had for a grandmother -
she looks kind, but I can just tell that
she knows how to say ‘no’ to cotton
candy . . . and maple donuts . . .
and pop tarts (especially pop
tarts) . . . well, you get the picture.

Creative Commons:  by Jane Rahman

Countless glasses of juice - mango/peach

Two pop tarts

One Pepsi

Popcorn - with lots of butter & salt to offset all the sugar

And did I mention the maple ice cream?

In 38 hours, I managed to avoid pretty much all the major food groups when feeding my grandson.  In my defense, it was Maple Festival weekend and fair food was pretty much the order of the day.  And who can say no to a charming 4-year-old who has never before experienced cotton candy?  Not me!

So if you want to know how to get what you want out of me - state secrets and all – skip the waterboarding and splinters under the fingernails and just send in the grandson.  I’m putty in his hands.

*Actually, in my case, the name is ‘Gran’

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I Know Ice Cream

I know ice cream.  I know ice cream the way a lover knows (the body of) the beloved.  I know its texture -- how it will feel on my tongue as the first spoon approaches my mouth.  I know its tastes, its flavors, even the sound of its making -- ice moving round and round in rhythm to the grunts of the turner.

It is a summer-time Sunday at Grandma's house.  The cousins and I clamor for ice cream.  The grown-ups pretend reluctance, but eventually everybody moves -- each to their part.

The taller ones get the ice from Grandma's deep freeze.  Dad gets the ice cream freezer and metal tub from the outside pantry.  I go with him and bring the salt.  Dad throws the ice bag on the ground and then takes the side of the hammer to it until all the chunks are mashed.  The violence of it is somehow satisfying.

Then Dad pours the ice around the metal canister - a little at a time, followed by a scoop of dirty rock salt - my job.  Not so much.  Make it even, my Dad's usually harsh correctives tempered by the joy of our enterprise.

Ice and salt, ice and salt -- father and daughter bent over the mechanical wonder.

Then, about half way up, Get me a cup of water.  I run to the kitchen for the water and watch Grandma stirring the junket into the boiling milk, until my Dad's voice, Elizabeth Ann! jerks me back, water in hand.

He pours and adjusts and starts to crank, just to the get the old freezer in the mood, then more ice, more salt, more water.  The back and forth of it fills me with importance -- I am a girl on a mission.

Finally it's ready - cold enough to receive the hot mixture.  Somewhere in the process, we kids have decided what flavor it'll be -- peanut butter?  No -- pineapple.  Or just plain vanilla (never our vote).

Mom, it's ready, my Dad calls out.  Grandma brings the boiling stew out and pours it into the canister with the care of a scientist with his newest lab experiment, as we kids crowd around in wonder -- every time amazed that this soup will actually become ice cream.  The other men have since gathered too -- each of us will have our turn at the crank, each sure we can go the distance, until we each fall away, and it is only my Dad turning and turning and turning -- beads of sweat pop out on his brow.  She's turnin' hard today, Sonny, someone will offer up, my Dad's only response an upward glance, a half smile and an agreeing heh.

And every now and then, giving in to my constant begging for another turn, my Dad would move his feet back to make room for me underneath him as he held the machine in place, another chance to take the handle and try to turn it, and at my defeat, with an unusually tender voice, he would remind me that he had told me it was too stiff for me to turn.

All those summer Sundays meld into one -- my Dad's hair goes from brown to grey and Grandma goes from fat to thin as I go from 5 to 12 to college and proudly present my Dad with an electric freezer, No more cranking, Dad!  

What was I thinking?

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Blessing . . . 
the act of speaking
the desired
into reality

on hands
large and small
rough and smooth
lined and fresh
spotted and clear

that all hands
may be filled
with God’s plenty
of love and providing

that all hands
may be occupied
with good work
the work of bringing forth
The Creator


Friday, March 16, 2012

Donate 25¢ to UNESCO

When people realize you don't share all their habits, 
they suspect you don't share their values either.  -John H. Richardson

And that’s a problem.  –Me

UNESCO has a problem and we can help.

The Congress of the United States passed a law back in the 1990's to the effect that any organization recognizing Palestine would receive no funding from the US.

Turns out that UNESCO (an organization of the UN) members voted last year to allow Palestine to be a UNESCO member, which means that funding from the United States, to the tune of more than $60 million per year, will cease.

UNESCO, which stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, promotes education worldwide, funding teachers in areas that otherwise could not afford them . . . preserving world heritage sites . . . developed the Tsunami warning system so that those in danger from the devastating effects of tsunamis could have the benefit of an early warning . . . has helped educate roughly 1.5 billion people . . . promotes freedom of expression around the world, giving voice to the voiceless . . . alleviates poverty . . . is establishing a World Digital Library in association with the Library of Congress. . . trains professionals in the safeguarding of water resources . . . the Global Ocean Observing System monitors the oceans in real time. . . works for social inclusion of marginalized groups around the world . . . establishes community learning centers focusing on literacy and continuing education for the marginalized and the poor . . . works toward gender equality around the world . . . reduces the impact of natural disasters with early warning technology and retrofitting of buildings to make them more resistant to the effects of disasters . . . supports programs which work toward peace and understanding across national, cultural and other divides . . . and more besides . . .

Regardless of how we feel individually or collectively about the Israel-Palestine conflict, regardless of whether or not it is appropriate for a nation to withhold funding from a UN organization to express its political will, regardless of whether we like the United Nations or not, the fact remains that UNESCO does important work from which every nation of the world benefits, directly and indirectly, and they need funding in order to continue that work.  Without that funding, real people living in real time right now will lose access to education, to clean water, to early warnings about impending disasters, will die.

Thus I offer a solution to the conundrum: while the government of the United States remains free to express its political concern and displeasure over the allowing of Palestine at the table of UNESCO, in order to continue its work, the people of the United States can all simply donate 25 cents towards their efforts.  It’s a win-win: the United States preserves the integrity of its position and UNESCO continues its life-saving and -preserving work.

There are over 300 million people in the US.  If we alone, let alone others around the world, would chip in a quarter each, more than $75 million would be added to UNESCO coffers.

So how about it?  Got any change you can spare?

If so, go to UNESCO donation and make your donation.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Less-Than-Great Expectations*

In a wonderful turn of the phrase borrowed from Dickens, Maureen Corrigan deftly puts her finger to the pulse not only of the landscape of the book she’s reviewing, but also, I think, of the western ‘disease’ of our time:  malaise.

From Wikimedia Commons
Malaise, “an indefinite feeling of debility or lack of health . . . a vague sense of mental or moral ill- being . . .”  Merriam-Webster online dictionary  The malaise trap (interestingly named for the last name of the man who invented it rather than the condition) illustrates the state quite well if a degree of anthropomorphism is allowed: insects are drawn into a trap that funnels them into the direction of their certain death.  Wikipedia That’s how it is with malaise: it tricks us into the deceptively attractive idea of inevitability – a fatalism of mood – which in its cruel irony, creates the very inevitability which would otherwise have not existed.  Because we believe we are done for, we march resolutely in the direction of surrender – surrender to boredom, to unease, to being less than we were created to be, to expecting less of ourselves because life has disappointed, let us down, somehow.

As my own life and work are dedicated to God and focused on the church, I tend to hone in on those opining on the life or lack thereof in communities of faith.  But the overall sense of something missing, that vague sense of ill-being, applies, I think, to our society as a whole in these United States in particular.

Frankly, it puzzles me – this sense of something not-quite-right.  Perhaps more accurately, I am puzzled by the various cause claims bandied about.

One bromide has it that in the past, each generation could look forward to having it (however ‘it’ may be defined) better than the preceding ages, but there is a sea change in the land and continued eternal prosperity is no longer on the horizon.  It is the descriptor of unmet expectations.

I feel as if I didn’t get the memo.

Of course I know that my parents hoped that my life would be easier than theirs, shaped as they were by the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, and the riots on the streets of the 1960's that so transfixed me and alarmed them.

And truthfully, my life has been easier than theirs.  But I never felt as if it should be.  That my circumstances thus far have been less challenging than my parents’ is a matter for gratitude, but not entitlement.   It was never a promise that they or anyone else made to me that it should be so.

Maybe it’s a product of geographic culture: being a West Virginian means, among other things, that you’re seldom surprised by the cruel vagaries of life.  And perhaps that simple recognition forms my faith as well: the prosperity Gospel never held any appeal for me.  It just rings false – false to experience as well as to scriptural witness.

And maybe it’s about the focus as well as the source of our expectations: if God, rather than a great job or an easy life is my focus, everything else shifts into a very different perspective.

With God, my expectations are very great.  But that has little, if anything, to do with my life circumstances.  Job is the rule rather than the exception.

That being said, I am truly a woman of great expectations: the expectation that my life matters . . . that wonder and beauty are gifts to be treasured and also enjoyed . . . that no one takes anything from me as it was never mine nor theirs in the first place . . . that work is often its own reward . . . that the fact that my footprints will someday disappear from this world is a triumph of life, not a tragedy . . . that maybe, just maybe, my greatest gift to the generations is not to insist on being remembered in perpetuity, but to make room for them by getting out of the way . . . thus I can enjoy what is before me now – right now – because I know it will not last . . . and maybe that is as it should be.

*Title ‘Less-than-great expectations’ is a phrase from Maureen Corrigan’s review of Peter Cameron’s book Coral Glynn yesterday on Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How Does a Mother Do That?

Mary, the Throne of God, stands, 
holding the Jesus babe
to thrust him forward
into his future

Perfectly aligned
in front of the pair of them –
the crucifix
the cross from which Jesus hangs
in perpetuity

How does a mother
thrust her son
into a future of certain
and painful

But isn’t that the lot
of all of us?
pushing their children
into the future
ejecting them
into a rejecting

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pandemonium* -- Sermon Cliff Note/ Jesus & the Moneychangers

What if it was all about Jesus?
What he was seeing and hearing
smelling and tasting
What if the Temple was the bad taste in Jesus’ own mouth?
The smell of disappointment . . . 
The sight of disgust . . . 
The sound of expectations, hopes and dreams unmet?

Here was Jesus shouting
there was Jesus whipping
Everywhere, it seemed, was Jesus chasing

It was Pan . . . demonium . . . 
Pan . . . all . . .
Daemonium . . .evil . . . 
Pandemonium . . . 
and chaos
a place of wildness
and wild things

Pandemonium . . . 
The place where all evil resides . . . 
Satan’s temple right in the center of hell . . . 
Maybe that’s what Jesus was seeing that day . . . 
In the temple . . . 
The place of order
and calm . . .
peace and tranquility . . . 
safe haven and sanctuary 
The very place where God resides . . .

There was pandemonium . . . 
Wild things
trampling everything
in their wildness . . . 
Going back to the primordial . . .
the chaos of before God . . . 
the darkness and void
before the beginning . . . 

Jesus must have wondered
in that split-second moment
before the anger
why we would go back
to all that
why we would settle for so little
when God offers so much
why the cacophony of the market
would seduce us into thinking
that this was God?

How it must have torn his heart . . . 
Each cha-ching of the proverbial cash register
a gut punch
He told us so clearly
why could we not hear?
He showed us so plainly
How could we not see?

The Temple was him . . . 
and we were making him for sale . . . 
putting a price on what he gave so freely
Holding praise and worship hostage
to the currency of the realm
Brick by brick
we dismantled him
we annihilated God
invaded God’s own house
set up our own booths
made our own rules
and called them good

Who says God’s heart can’t be broken?

*Pandemonium was coined by John Milton in Paradise Lost, as a word meaning the Temple of Satan in the center of Hell.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Changing Landscapes

When you’re a visitor to a place, you see changing landscapes.

When you’re from the place, you see the same landscape changing.

That’s what it was like at the Maple Festival here in Highland County today.  The sun shone warmly on each face taking its turn through the kaliedescope of my narrow vision and I was blessed by each one . . . town and country coming together in the joy of the stroll through the countryside in springtime. . . sidewalk chalk provided to entertain two girls as their dads worked the hot dog grill drawing child visitors to them and the magic a little splash of color on warm cement invariably creates . . . women tired from working the yard sale taking a moment to stand on the stoop outside the kitchen door and enjoy the warmth of the sun on their faces replaced as if in a well-choreographed dance by young adult women happy to find a squat to simply sit and visit . . . the well-oiled machine that is the women’s fundraiser inside the church moving in tandem with the seeming chaos of the men’s event outside, both working together for the best of all . . .the people circling the tiny church fellowship hall resembling not so much yard-sale bargain hunters as the gentrified promenaders of ages past . . .

Oh how I love this life.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Maple Festival Time in Highland County, Virginia

Highland County Chamber of Commerce

It’s maple syrup time in these mountains I call home.  The sap is running and taps capture the maple fluid to boil it and boil it and boil it down into something that eventually becomes maple syrup.

People around here speak about maple syrup the way folks in France and Napa speak of wines:  Now 2009, that was a good year!  Just look at that color!  Smell this!

For two weekends, we engage in a maple frenzy of flavor – tea bags, popcorn, sausage, donuts, assorted nuts, not to mention pancakes and buckwheat cakes (my own favorite) – you name it, we put maple syrup on it and proclaim it good.

Maple Festival time (the 2nd & 3rd weekends of March) here in the Virginia Highlands is what community looks like to me.

Teachers and students at the school get their assignments early – there’s no asking for volunteers; the assumption is that if you’re at the school, you’ll be working to help raise monies for on-going school projects by putting in your time at Maple Festival, with school closed for students both Mondays after, as much, I suspect to give students and teachers a day of rest as to allow for in-service.

Folks near and far take time off from work to come and help.

People who don’t belong to the service clubs like the Ruritans and Lions sign up to work to help in the massive fundraising efforts of making thousands of pancakes and sausage patties for the hungry hordes.

And then there’s the insider stuff, which I love (who doesn’t love the feeling of being an insider?): calling in your donut order so you don’t have to stand in line for hours, or even better, getting the first donuts Friday night, hot and fresh, calling around to neighbors to see who wants you to pick up a dozen for them too . . . coming early to shop the yard sale because you’ll be working when it’s officially open for business . . . going in the back door to the kitchens to say hello to fellow workers and maybe sneak a bite of some tasty offering . . . getting to know your neighbors better while standing side-by-side up to your elbows in dishwater . . . sighing in collective satisfaction with feet up when it’s all over but the counting . . .

It’s kind of quiet in Highland County just now . . . the calm before the storm of tens of thousands of people descending on a place that usually boasts 2,400 inhabitants.

Come Sunday, I’ll be exhausted, but for now, I’m just looking forward to seeing my neighbors.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lady Moon Laughing

Rising full over the mountain
she smiles
Night is lit into day
and all is well
as I walk home
by moon- and starlight


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What's So Super About Tuesday?

Yesterday while Republican presidential candidates engaged in all the usual campaign activities and voters in Tennessee, Georgia, Vermont, Ohio, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Alaska, Massachusetts, Virginia and Idaho turned out to choose their primary favorites, the day wound through its usual course for the rest of us.

I have to confess that I am so disconnected from it all, so out of touch with any sense that what’s on the airwaves has anything to do with me, that I actually wondered throughout the day what all the cars were doing in the Volunteer Fire Department parking lot behind my house.  Only this morning as I write this does it occur to me that the VFD is our local polling place and that people were voting.

I suspect I’m not alone in this disconnect: in this place where voter turnout is usually high, especially for presidential elections, no one I saw yesterday sported the usual sticker showing that they had voted; no one I spoke with even mentioned the primary happening in our midst.

Thus it was not electoral politics, but ‘life on the ground’ that occupied my attention and focus yesterday.

I talked with family and got a report from my son about his first day on the new job and when he and my grandson will be coming for a visit.

Bible study in the morning with the gals was a time of learning and thoughtful discussion and reflection.

Prayer needs were exchanged and prayers offered throughout the day.

Time was spent with a friend in need.

Like every other day of the week, Tuesday was its own gift, for which I am grateful.

My prayer for all those who would be president this day is not only the usual for their increased wisdom, goodness and kindness, but also that they too, even in the midst of the pressure cooker that is electoral politics in these United States, had a Tuesday that was its own gift, filled with family and friends and opportunities to serve others.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fateful Economics

12-Step Wisdom:
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.

I’m not expert on economics; but like us all, I am my own mini-economy.  And from the lived economy that is me, here’s what I know:

1. Capitalism, to be effective (let alone morally good) presumes that I act out of reasonable self-interest.  That is often not the case, either for me individually (would any sane individual motivated by her own highest self-interest really consume that much Sprite or chocolate?) or us collectively (as in the great Tulip Mania of the 17th & 18th centuries).

2. Unreasonableness or mania is as much, if not more, a collective as an individual impulse (see tulip mania link above).  The theory that collectively, we (the market) will correct each other, is not even theory; it is myth.  Time and again, we humans demonstrate a herd mentality which in hindsight, often defies even our own belief.

3. My own personal ‘success’ has been most actively realized not when I acted out of a motive of profit or gain in material or even emotional or spiritual terms.  The seeming paradox is actually true: she who has/seeks/desires the least has the most.  When I share what I have out of concern not for self but for other, it turns out that I experience the abundance of enough.

4. Ron Paul’s assumption that market correctives are the best way to ‘regulate’ a market or an economy is simply not borne out by the facts.  The better axiom seems to be that left to our own devices, we sink to the lowest, rather than rise to the highest, common denominator.  Markets create a false sense of time and the concomitant perceived time pressure disallows time for reflection and study, thought and thoughtfulness.  Our investing days literally now begin with a bell, as if it were a race.  And the race goes not to the studious, but to the swift, or so the thinking goes.

5. History actually does repeat itself.  We seem to believe, however, that the repetitions of history are somehow because of something inherent to history itself, rather than to the far simpler explanation that we keep doing the same things, making the same mistakes (see Insanity axiom above).  Thus when economic collapse looms, rather than believing that there is something proactive we could have done differently to arrive at a different destination, we seem to believe that it was somehow preordained by history that we would be where we are.  This is a great comfort when it comes to examining the self to see what role we may have played in our own demise; but it is of little value in assessing our reality.

6. Private property is a construct, not a reality.  The reality for all creation is that natural resources exist for the benefit of all.  Water flows freely; the wind blows where it will.  And in my own life, the more I cry ‘mine!’, the less freedom I have, because the thing becomes the thing.  And when the thing becomes the thing, it turns out that the thing owns me, and not the other way around.  That which I hold the most loosely is that which I enjoy the most and ‘profit from’ the most.  The concept of property as mine is a construct of fear, the fear that if I do not ‘own’ the thing, you will take away my ability to enjoy or live from what the thing has to offer.  Fear is no basis upon which to build an economy, let alone a life.

Our economies are not fates simply handed down upon our heads from on high.  Economy is the way we choose to live our lives.  In my time and place, the choice offered seems to be no choice at all: get yours however you can without regard to what it costs others in your doing.  That’s the other thing about capitalism: it has taught me the Great Lie that the consequences of my acquisition and consumption are simply not my problem, because those consequences are presumed to be not within my control.

Jesus saw things a bit differently: what you do to the least of these, you do unto me.  –Matthew 25.36ff.

I don’t have all (or perhaps even any) of the answers; but this I know: I, we, can do better.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Snow Day! Snow Day!

                            I love snow days!                            
The chance they offer
to be
snuggled inside
or bundled outside

I love the risk of snow days:
Will I venture out?
It’ll be cold!

And the choices of snow days:
build a snow man?
Walk to the store?
Make snow angels?
Curl up with a good book?
Look for a good sled-riding hill?

The unexpected gift of time
expanding before me
bidding . . . 
Come – do with me as you will

And the birds in the snow-laden bushes
If I am very lucky
maybe I will see
a cardinal
I’ve got plenty of time to watch
for him

The only thing I lack
is a playmate

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Crosses We Carry

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
He doesn’t say, “Take up my cross”; rather he says, “take up your cross.”
The fact is we all have crosses to bear – hard things about our lives, our circumstances.  Some of our crosses are just our own bad habits – the things we do that we know are wrong but just can’t seem to shake.
Some of our crosses are other people or situations that make our lives harder.
Some of our crosses are a heart for the pain and suffering of others.
Some of our crosses are just life . . . the aching bones of old age . . . the frustration of being young and having everyone telling you what to do all the time.
Whatever our crosses are, they are ours.
Most of us have crosses we carry or wear, symbols of our faith, but also reminders – of the ones who gave them to us, of times past, place and people memories we carry with us as surely as we do the crosses we wear.  And if we have more than one, usually there’s that special one – the cross we just can’t let go of.
What does your special cross mean to you?  Who or what do you think of when you see it?  Who gave it to you?
I have lots of crosses to choose from, a side effect of being a pastor, for whom the cross is often the default gift of choice.
But the one that draws me today was given to me by my friend Wes on the occasion when his wife Pam joined the church.
The cross has a chain of white abalone beads and comes from Bethlehem.
I treasure the irony of this cross that could travel so freely in a way the people of Bethlehem cannot.
And I treasure the friendship and kindness of a husband who would honor the day his wife joined the church with such a lovely gesture.
But most of all, when I wear or hold this cross, I think of Pam.
It is my cross to bear:  the cross of friendship lost.  Pam died two years ago this month, just a year the same month after she joined the church, having hesitated for many months, afraid she wouldn’t be able to contribute because of the cancer that was ravaging her body even then.
But this cross is also the reminder of how very much Pam and so many others have meant to my life and how grateful I am, even with the sorrow, to have been a part of their lives, if only for a little while.
That’s my cross to carry today.  What’s yours?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Affirming My Faith

I believe in a Father who so loves his children to wait in silence for their return in order to give them the best robe, kill the fatted calf and celebrate the feast of reconciliation.  Parent to child – is this how I see God?  Mostly yes.  Mostly I image God as a lap, comforting, welcoming, waiting to be climbed into, lifting up to, lap.  And God-silence is one of my favorite things . . . it is the silence of new-fallen snow in the nighttime. . . silence that is full, not empty – full of promise and possibility, safe haven and love – the silence where nothing need be said because all is understood – the comfortable silence of the life-long known to one another.  I yearn into that God silence.  The feast is just a bonus.

I believe in a Spirit whose power is not revealed in the thunder of the gale nor in the dread of the earthquake but in the still, small voice.  I do believe in the Spirit and the silence, but I revel in and cherish the thunder of the gale and need the dread of earthquakes in my life.  The gale and thunder reverberate down the very molecules of me, ever reminding that safe is not predictable . . . that love is not definable . . . that sometimes God is the storm and that, too, is good.  And earthquakes – how they show me that any ground that I stand on that is not God is uneven at best and perilous dangerous at worst.

From Holy Cliparts
I believe in a Son who broke the power of Silence with the piercing cry "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"   This I understand best of all . . . who, this side of heaven, does not?  Anguish is as much of God as joy – how could it not be when so much begs to be cried out against?  How can our hearts not be pierced when God’s own is so wounded?

Dying on the cross he transformed the silence of death into the death of every silence.  Capital ‘S’ silence . . . the fear that there is nothing after all . . . nothing to believe in . . . to rely on . . . to commit to . . . that is the Silence that dies . . . falling into the loving noise of God’s own home welcoming.  And that is very good.

Affirmation of Faith is from  Massimo Aprile, Italy. In: Rete di Liturgia, 1996, No. 2 © Rete di Liturgia.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Hound Dogs Can't Dance

“I’ll tell you one thing, Beth: hound dogs can’t dance,” said Eddie.  “They’ll try, but they just can’t.”

If I recount Eddie’s observation to town friends, they’ll simply look confused.  But when I share it with country friends, they’ll roar with laughter . . . or claim that they personally know a dog that disproves the hypothesis, as in “maybe Eddie’s hound can’t dance, but my pooch can do a two-step like nobody’s business.”

But I’m with Eddie: I don’t care what anybody says and maybe poodles can, but hound dogs definitely cannot dance – they just don’t have the rhythm for it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Raising My Arms in Praise

Praise has many postures.  My favorite is arms upraised.  It makes me feel like I’m a little girl again, lifting my arms that I might be lifted, imagining that it is God, bending over to pick me up and cradle me in the embrace of love.

Ben in his Grandpa's arms
My arms upraised remind me of safety and of being small – just the right size in relation to God.

Hands in the air call to mind Uncle Bob, the tallest man I knew in our family of short fellows, hauling me up on his shoulders where I could see everything.  Upraised arms remind me of being tall – just the right size with God.

Arms upraised remind me of lifting my own son up, up, up, ever higher, his laughter a visible expression of joy – just the right emotion when meeting God.

Arms held up through his tears as he cries his sickness and yearns for comfort, my grandson sleeping the fitful rest of the sick child with breaths measured by the rhythm of his father’s chest – just the right spot when needing God.