Saturday, June 30, 2012

Simple Pleasures

I got my grandson Rowen this plastic gizmo that hooks up to the garden hose and spews water in all directions.  As a bonus, a central spout shoots plastic balls by the force of the water up the middle.

Yesterday was the perfect day for running through water in the back yard and that’s exactly what we did.  The shooting balls were, of course, the hit of the day.  The dance of the five-year-old, confident so long as Gran had his back, was a thing of beauty to behold.  Advance and retreat before the side streams of water in an effort to seize the balls mid-air evoked peals of laughter in both of us.

But at one point, he just wasn’t willing to get too close – water in his eyes had cooled his ardor for the game.  When I encouraged him to run in, his response:  “You come too.  Let’s run together.”

And so we did, hand in hand – running in circles through the streams of water reflecting the gold of the sun’s rays in mid-air, we both got soaking wet and laughed and laughed at ourselves.

Summer days in the back yard are full of fond memories and I rejoice that Rowen and I just made another one.

Friday, June 29, 2012

When You're Five

When you’re five,
the world is your oyster.
When you’re five,
you take for granted
that wonders like cotton candy
and chocolate fountains
inhabit your world . . .
that loved ones will shower gifts on you
and sing your praises
When you’re five,
you can greet the tiny bush
among the large ones
as the fellow child it is
expecting smiles instead of odd looks
as you crouch down to speak in
your gentle voice to it
When you’re five,
rain clouds obscuring the moon
from your binocular search
of the night sky
is the biggest crisis of your day
as you cry fitfully to the sky, “bad rain clouds!”
Life is good when you’re five,
or it ought to be.

In honor of a beloved grandson turned five and all the children for whom joy is a too-rare commodity.  May you all be blessed this day and always.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Will the Supreme Court Decide on Health Care?

The answer at this moment is that I have no idea.  I could make some guesses, but that would be a waste of time – mine and yours – for it would make absolutely no difference to their decision, which we will know soon enough.

I recently blogged at Gathering Voices about my view of the harm of opinion-poll governance.  The Supreme Court poised to render an important decision to all Americans, no matter where we stand on the issue, seems to prove the point.

It’s an important decision.  Many of we citizens have opinions on the subject – often passionate opinions, as evidenced by the various town halls leading up to what the Right calls Obama-Care and the Left the health care law or Affordable Care Act.

But isn’t it interesting that not one single public opinion poll has been done (at least that I can find) on how the Court will rule or even how they should rule.

The reason, I suspect, for this dearth of opinion polls in a land where we are asked daily our opinions on all things political, is the realization by pollsters that our opinions matter not one little bit to the outcome.  The Supreme Court will not be swayed by opinion polls, nor should they be.

But not so the public when it comes to presidential and other electoral politics: we are most definitely swayed by the ruling views of the herd, whether we stand within or without it.

For the integrity of our political process, I continue the call for we the people to simply STOP PARTICIPATING IN OPINION POLLS.  They’re destructive; they reveal nothing of import; and they distract us from giving due consideration to important issues.

So when the pollsters call you, as they surely will, just say no.  Decline to answer.  Invoke your own right as a citizen not to participate in the downfall of your own Republic in this one not-so-small way.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Enemy Love

The trick is to see 
my enemy as weak
rather than strong
as vulnerable
rather than invincible
as having the same 
needs as I do
rather than as 
a needless non-person object – 
object of my
and counter-planning.
That’s the trick
How do you do it, God?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Step-Parents' Day

There is no such thing as step-parents’ day.  Maybe there should be.  So today in honor of the day that isn’t, I give honor to a woman who isn’t . . .  (technically) a step-parent at all.

Sisters Beth & Bev with Seth, Anna & Ben
Bev Habeb is my son Ben’s step-mom.  That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

Their relationship gave birth back in the late 1980's, when I married Bev’s ex-husband Bob and became step-mom to two great kids, Seth and Anna.

Ben was thrilled to have a new brother and sister, but in the days before the wedding, he was trying to clarify how this would all work:

So, you’ll be Seth and Anna’s step-mom, right?


So that means Bev’ll be my step-mom too, right?

W - e - e - e - l - l - l . . . not exactly, said I.

But that’s not fair!  I want Bev to be my step-mom!

And so I called Bev and ‘proposed’ on Ben’s behalf – would she be Ben’s step-mom?  And she replied, “Of course.”

And ever since, she has been, being there for Ben when I could not or would not do and in ways too myriad to count.

To Bev, my sister in experience as well as faith: thank you for loving and taking care of our boy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What on Earth is the Kingdom of God? [Sermon Cliff Note]

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,
which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells
all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like
a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value,
he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
–Matthew 13.44-46 (NRSV)

What on earth is the Kingdom of God?  
It is the place where the rich
will never have enough money
to buy their way into
but where the poor don’t need it . . .
It is the upside down place
where youth is wise and old age is foolishness . . .
The nameless place within each of us
yearning to be filled with we know not what . . .
Yet it is the place that is not a place at all . . .
It is a destination already arrived at . . .
A state of grace and acts of love . . .

What is the kingdom of God?
It is the buried treasure that someone 
would find and hide to find again
keeping it all for himself . . .

It is the pearl of great price . . .
beauty and perfection and symmetry
that someone would sell all to have  . . .

It is that worth any price, any risk

But whose price?  Whose risk?
Tradition would suggest that
Jesus’ parables are a challenge to us –
sell all you have and follow me . . .
risk all you have to be with me . . .
gather in all you have and
throw your lot in with me . . .

I am the investment you seek
I am the sure thing –
the treasure you already know is there . . .
the pearl whose value you already have. . .
I am that for which you have waited a lifetime

But it can also be an unpleasant parable
if we assume that we’re the
shoveler, the buyer of land
with insider knowledge
of that which was not ours
 – diggers for our own advantage
taking that which someone else
had laid aside for themselves
keeping it a secret
hoarding the extravagant find

But what if God is the man,
digging not for God’s own sake,
but for ours –
selling all, risking . . . all . . . to find
to have. . . to hold?

if God is the merchant,
maybe we are the treasure
the value-thing God invests
everything for to find

treasure is only treasure
because we think it is
It’s only value lies in our own belief
that it has value
Pearls are pretty, but they’re really only sand
and oyster spit
It is the beholder’s eye that gives the pearl its value –
to an oyster, its nothing but an annoyance to be dealt with
to the merchant, a breathtaking treasure to be cared for . .
its unrealized potential sitting in the palm of his hand

So well we might consider anew –
who is the digger of treasure?
Who is the merchant?
Is it us, seeking after value?
Or might it just be God,
already aware of the value
because the only value has
always and ever rested
in and only in God’s own eyes?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pearls of great price

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls;
on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
                           --Matthew 13.45-46

I own a double strand necklace
of very fine pearls – with matching
earrings – a gift from my mother,
who decided all on her own
that her daughter should have a fine
gift – a gift of beauty and value –
simply and only because I am
her daughter

My mother spent her time
as well as her money
in searching out
just the right pearls,
the right design for the necklace,
the right price, the right jeweler –
they had to be perfect –
these were not pearls for keeping,
but for giving

When I wear the necklace
and the earrings,
I wear not pearls,
or not pearls alone –
I wear my mother’s love
and a mother’s love
is a costly thing indeed

Saturday, June 23, 2012

With is better: an account of my own faith

7 reasons to believe in God

  1. How could I not?  Of course, that doesn’t help you much.  But it really is my own personal bottom line.
  2. Night skies.
  3. Because some really smart people do.
  4. Every project has a chief engineer.
  5. The quest for meaning seems to serve no evolutionary purpose.  In other words, I seem to have been made to believe in God – it’s part of my genetic composition.
  6. Because even, and perhaps especially, in the bad times, God’s presence is palpable.
  7. Because altruism, acting for the good of another without regard to the cost to ourselves, is a real phenomena in the observable world.

7 reasons not to

  1. How could I?  Sometimes I doubt.
  2. Nature is as ugly and brutal as it is beautiful and peaceful.
  3. Because some really smart people don’t.
  4. Because Stephen Hawking, at least, believes that every project does not require an engineer.
  5. Not every evolutionary aspect has a useful purpose – over the long haul, our quest for meaning might be abandoned as unnecessary to our survival.
  6. Because God’s palpable presence might be imagination . . . or wishful thinking . . . or indigestion . . . might be.
  7. Because the world is often a horrible place – terribly at odds with any vision of  God as loving and just.

If belief in God were a debate, at best the result would be a draw: for every point, every argument, there is a counter-point or argument.

God either is or is not, independent of my own belief.  Thus for me, the question is not a matter of proofs.  Rather, the question is how do I make sense of my own life experiences, my own sense of purpose, even my own brief, but oh-so-important-to-me existence?

I choose God.

I have lived my life both with and without God.  With is better.

That’s my testimony.  It’s the best I’ve got: with is better.

Make no mistake: I do not mean to say that my life circumstances are better with God.  In fact, the opposite has more often been true.  For a time, the more I believed in God, the worse my life got.  I don’t mean to say that the two were related (I wasn’t being persecuted for my belief).  I’m merely pointing out that the quality or depth of my faith had absolutely no impact on whether my life was better or worse, safer or more dangerous, happier or sadder.

The distinction is this: my life wasn’t better with God, but I was and I am.

I am a better person.  I am a happier person.  I am a kinder and more loving person.  I am a safer person.  I am a more whole person.

I’m not a preacher who preaches hell much.  Most days I don’t even believe in hell, at least not as envisioned in a good old-timey preacherly kind of way, as some sort of separate maximum-security prison to which God sends us to serve an eternity sentence.

But really I don’t preach hell much because I’ve lived hell.  You don’t have to tell me about it – I’ve been there.  And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that.  What I didn’t know is that there was an alternative.  But now I do.

I’ve lived my life with God and without God.

And with is better.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Let's [not] agree to disagree

When we’ve set a lunch date looking forward to laughter, good conversation and fine repast over the table, the struggle to find common ground for our palates, our preferences, never results in abandon of the plan [of agreeing to disagree], each heading off to our own favorite restaurant because somehow the choice has become more important than the time together.  Or maybe it does.  Urban Dictionary Definition 4

Agreeing to disagree – how I hate the concept:  it reeks to me of surrender, of failure, dismissal, entrenchment, missing the point as well as the boat.

Case closed; conversation over; pronouncement had; you win; I lose; final word seized, snatched from the air between us in mid exchange.  Exhibit A: the origin of the phrase – wouldn’t you know?    Wikipedia  -- John Wesley’s sermon about colleague George Whitefield at Whitefield’s funeral –way to go with that last word about a dead guy, John:  "There are many doctrines of a less essential nature ... In these we may think and let think; we may 'agree to disagree.' But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials..."  Wesley's Eulogy of Whitefield

Let’s just agree to disagree.  Translation:  I’d rather talk to someone else than you about this –  someone who agrees with me.  It’s just easier to talk about rather than to.  Alternate translation:  if you don’t shut up, I’m going to have to hit you.

The nice, the good, the kind, the well-bred*, the appreciaters of the cost of conflict, the oilers of social congress, would cry out at my injustice – sometimes you just can’t agree, but that shouldn’t be the end of the friendship.  True.  But isn’t agreeing to disagree a rather lazy form of friendship, one in which only either my agreement or my silence can assure our continued relationship?

And that’s the heart of it for me: I will never insist on your silence as the price of our friendship.  And I’m not agreeing to anything as the necessary precursor to you in my life, save you in my life.

Isn’t it lazy to say let’s agree to disagree rather than Help me understand?  Or I don't want this to change my opinion of who you are?  Or explain to me why you feel that way – I really want to understand?  Or can we talk about this another time?  Or . . . or . . . or . . . a million other responses that reflect the value of the person by the value placed on what the person thinks, feels and believes, rather than the walk away from the hard work of listening, understanding and resolving?

So let us not agree to disagree.  Rather, let us agree when we can, disagree when we must, surrender even when it's costly, listen rather than speak, hear rather than assume.  Let's do the hard work and be friends.

*Sorry Mom - you tried your best

Thursday, June 21, 2012

When the answer is no

How often do we say
that another has not
answered us
when in fact they have . . .
and the answer is no

No disguised as . . .
silence . . .
non-responsiveness . . .
blame or blame shifting
attack and counter-attack
gossiping about
rather than
talking to . . .

How I have always
envied the inhabitants
of Star Trek
real only in the imagining
of Gene Rodenberry –
with their universal translator

I need a universal translator
that can hear your intent . . .
interpret your silence . . .
navigate your responsive
non-response . . .

I need a universal translator
so that when you tell me no
in a language I do not
I will understand
finally – at last –
that your answer is no
and I will leave you

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Resting into grace

I have been trying so hard this week to be good . . .
mostly failing, but I’ve been trying hard, Lord . . .
but the guy with the “You’re not special”
commencement speech wasn’t wrong . . .
I am not special or different –
I am just like all the other kids at the candy
counter of Your love, pushing and shoving
my way to the front –
for what?
I know there’s plenty of candy
and that I’ll get mine
But I’ve been trying so hard
that I almost forgot –
about resting into Your grace . . .
falling into Your love . . .

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt at Flickr Commons

It’s like the trick questions
on the pop quizzes my teachers
were so very fond of giving
The obvious answer is obvious
because it’s the answer
It’s so easy to fall into you
and so hard to remember
that it is so easy . . .
I’ve been trying so hard
that I almost forgot
to stop trying at all

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Too Blessed

I have been too stressed to be blessed.


It’s supposed to be ‘I am too blessed to be stressed.”

Supposed to be.

But I forgot.

Then someone brought me some lettuce from another friend’s garden – sharing her largesse.

And another friend lent a listening ear.

And other friends brought me gifts of red meat – kinds I love from Whole Foods – some days you just need gifts of red meat and this was one of them.

And then another friend, my own personal pastor, reminded me of important truths and loved me.

Others sent e-mails and phone calls and prayers of love.

Son Ben said the words a mother loves to hear: when I asked him what I needed to do, to bring, to a family gathering, he answered, “Nothing but yourself.”

And I went to a revival tonight where personal testimonies were given by lay people who opened themselves and shared their stories of pain and joy, faith fulfilled and prayers answered in ways big and small.

We were all invited to see the connections – to remember the movement of God in our own lives.  While friend Alex was speaking, I opened the song book to I Surrender All.  The worship leader wasn’t taking requests, but I really needed that song.  And the last song he called out as we were leaving was I Surrender All.

I rode over and back with Peggy and Baptist and Presbyterian giggled in the night like old friends.

Then I got home and found a message of encouragement from Mickie, a former congregant now living in Louisiana.

I have received many kindnesses today.

And I am grateful, Lord.

I am seeing the connections tonight, God.

And I thank you for them.

I am revived.

And I bless you for that.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Confession is good for the soul

The actual quote seems to be An open confession is good for the soul, a 17th century Scottish proverb.  If the quote is in fact from the 1640's, the idea of confession may well have had one of two meanings, or perhaps both: (1) the modern-day common understanding of admitting fault or wrongdoing; and/or (2) confession as public proclamation, as in a confession of faith.  The History of the Church of Scotland  Given that the quote originates in Scotland where the conflict between Protestants and Catholics was on-going well into the 17th century (some would even say into today), “open confession” may well also have meant a repudiation of the Roman Catholic practice of private confession, penitent to priest, in favor of admission of fault before the Kirk, but that meaning is for another time.

It’s raining today in the Virginia highlands and rainy days lend themselves to the admitting-fault kind of confessing; it is most often the sunshine that calls forth the heralding-of-faith kind of confession, the joyful proclamation, “I believe . . .” bursting forth adoration into The Cosmos which seems poised to adore back.

But rainy days also invite faith confessing – without the need for reciprocation.

And so it is in a rainy day meandering way that I confess . . .

I confess that I am a work in progress . . .

I confess that I am filled with pride . . .

I confess that I love God and that I believe that God, for no good reason that I can understand, adores us, adores me . . .

I confess that I can’t take what I dish out . . .

I confess that I lack many of the skills necessary to be good at my job . . .

I confess a desire to be loved . . .

I confess being surrounded by a beautiful creation that ever bids my attentions heavenward toward the Divine Hand which made all things . . .

I confess to having absolutely no idea how to achieve even my own microscopic part of God’s kingdom in the here and now . . .

I confess that birdsong sometimes moves me to tears . . . cello music too . . . and the deaths of strangers as well as friends . . . and sunshine on a fall day . . . and getting my feelings hurt . . . and hugs . . . and a black cat named Sidney . . .

I confess that my sins are both lesser and greater than I own . . .

I confess that though cracked, my walls run high . . .

I confess that Jesus is the Lord of my life, but I don’t often act as if He is . . .

I confess that hard as it may be to get out of bed, there’s no place I’d rather be on Sunday morning than in church . . .

I confess that I do not aspire to mountain-tops and their experiences – I am a woman of the hollows and valleys in between . . .

I confess that I was not the mother I should have been and am only slowly becoming the woman and mother I would like to be . . .

I confess that I want more time but often do not use the time I’ve been given wisely or well . . .

I confess that meetings and groups defeat me . . .

I confess that when I'm angry, there's lots of collateral damage . . .

I confess that I suck the air out of a room (so I’ve been told often enough to believe it to be true) . . .

I confess that I am a woman blessed beyond measure . . . graced with a God who cares as well as saves, loves more than judges, guides more than leads, and forgives before being asked . . .

I confess that God is God and I am not . . .

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Five Weddings and No Funeral

It was an unusual day in the Virginia highlands yesterday.

There were a reported five weddings – and no funerals!

Demographically, we’re a pretty old population, so five weddings and no funerals calls for celebration . . . for street dancing . . . bank closings . . . festooning of public squares . . .

Well, we didn’t go to all that trouble, but there was celebration in the air.

At the one wedding I attended, where Casey Marshall and Justin Siron said their I do’s, the wedding was on the front lawn of Justin’s family’s farm . . . hay bales were lined up for seating, each covered with a quilt - most all of them home-made and hand-stitched and beautiful. . . and the end of each row of bales had mason jars filled with flowers fixed to them . . .

The cows came up as far as the lower fence would allow so they too could join in – shout out to the cows for not mooing and drowning out the service – who knew cows were such considerate guests?

Young people outnumbered us old fogies by a big margin – a good thing . . .

The brides’ maids and the bride all wore cow girl boots, which may be one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen . . .

And two young people who have known each other so long they can’t remember when they first met – had to be kindergarten – began their life together as husband and wife . . .

At the rehearsal, I asked them what Plan B was in the event it . . . (I’m not superstitious, but even I didn’t want to say the ‘R’ word [rain]) . . . Casey was sure it wouldn’t and Justin just shrugged and said we’d move under the large tent they rented for the reception.

I loved that for all they planned, they really didn’t have a Plan B for rain because they didn’t figure they needed one . . . not that it wouldn’t rain, but that it wouldn’t matter much if it did.

I have a good feeling about these two.

Blessings, Casey & Justin and thanks for letting me be a small part of your journey.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I live in a Norman Rockwell painting

There is a pond –
made by human hands
in the lower ground of
the new cabin
that sits in the curve
half-way down Jack Mountain
on the way to Monterey

If you live here, you’ll know
just where I mean

There is a pond –
and in the grass at
the side of that pond
there now lives an
eagle – a bald eagle
young, I’d guess
from her size
but with the coloring
and feathers of an adult

Yesterday there was a man
sitting in the middle of an empty
field in a dilapidated lawn chair
with a dulcimer in his lap

The day before yesterday
Ann Babcock – well, it
looked like Ann --
over the flower beds
on the court house lawn
[note to Garcia fans:
when it’s a verb,
something very different
is happening]
her garden tools
at her side in a stroller

How Norman Rockwell
would have loved us

The only bugs I ever liked

A spark of knowledge in a world of ignorance or darkness.  --The Aztecs

I saw my first lightening bug last night.  Crossing the road in the dark of the night, there she was, right in front of me.  I reached out my hand and we brushed past each other, she and I, each going our own way.

I looked back, but she did not – not being mating material, she had no interest in the likes of me.

Lightening bugs and summer – an inseparable pairing in my mind and heart.

Now I confess – I hate bugs – all kinds of bugs.

They engender an irrational fear in me that is entirely disproportionate to their size.

All bugs, that is, except lightening bugs.  You may know them as fireflies.  Family: Lampyridae   

They don’t have lightening bugs in Scotland.  I don’t know why.  But I have loved the charm that passes the faces of my Scottish friends when they meet these magic creatures of the night.

Check out for tips on how to
increase the fireflies in your own backyard
My own love affair started, as I’m guessing it did for you who have them where you live, when I was a kid and we chased them, caught them, put them in jars and wore them as bracelets (notice that I did not say that lightening bugs have any reason to love me back).

Last summer grandson Rowen had his own chance to explore the dark of a country night chasing lightening bugs.  But the times have changed – instead of a glass mayonnaise jar with holes punched in the lid, Rowen had his own hand-crafted by his own hands at the Library plastic mesh bug house with accompanying pipe cleaner handle.  Sadly for Rowen, but good news for the fireflies, he caught only one that night and her only briefly.  He was so excited as his Dad put her on his hand that he danced.  She, of course, flew away.  He cried his disappointment and then chased the other lights flashing in the night.

I can’t wait til Rowen comes back and we do it again, when I am now the grownup cautioning kindness for the living thing of beauty so desired.

Pure magic.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Communion is like . . . Sundays at Grandmas

As an exercise thinking about communion, we were invited to think about the best dinner party we’ve ever attended and how that experience might be like God’s presence in our lives.

I love to cook and used to entertain a lot – not so much anymore – but of all the fine meals shared with good friends over the years, my own favorite meal experience has to be Sundays at Grandma’s house on a summer day when I was a little girl.

The food was a buffet of everything on hand, so along with ham, there might be pork chops. . . mashed potatoes and home-made noodles in chicken broth might be side by side . . . there was always enough and more besides.

The kids went first, getting through the line so the adults could actually sit down to the table.  Grace was always said first, but I have to admit that I viewed that more as the starting bell for the race than as a spiritual encounter with my Lord.  As soon as the Amen was sounded – only after what always seemed like an interminably long prayer – like horses out of the gate, we kids grabbed our plates and made our way jostling around the table – even though our heads knew there was plenty for all, somehow our bellies never believed it.

Cousin Mike & me begging my Dad for something -
probably ice cream
After we wolfed down our food sitting outside on the porch, we’d start pleading with the adults who had barely had time to get food on their plates to make homemade ice cream.  (Read about my adventures in ice cream at I Know Ice Cream ).

Being shooed away, we’d hurry back outside to play only to come back in and start the begging all over again, a cycle that repeated itself countless times until finally, it was time to make the ice cream.

Already stuffed from dinner, we’d challenge each other to see who could eat the most.  And this after the watermelon had been brought out and joyfully eaten (I prefer mine with salt - this was always the subject of much discussion among the cousins) and seeds spit the farthest and rinds tossed into the hay field – mine never went very far, but the arc they made was always satisfying, as if we had mastered some great mystery of engineering by tossing our dross aside.

After the adults had had a little time to rest and catch up, the younger ones would trudge onto the latest field of battle . . . badminton was a perpetual favorite.  Imaginary lines were drawn in the grass establishing boundaries; rackets were tested and when found wanting, traded to the unsuspecting younger ones (in my family, contests take no prisoners); and somehow, the decision as to who played first and who waited their turn was sorted out.

Chastity, Ben, Chad and Darin
gathering for supper
I don’t remember exactly when I was old enough to take a seat at the grown-up table or when I became one of those first on the field of play rather than last – but I do remember looking back at my younger cousins and feeling delight at leaving them behind.

As the sun started to lower in the evening sky, everyone would be gathered on the porch and sitting in the grass – adults talking about sickness and worries and teasing about when they were young and kids bopping up and down randomly as one then another would have another burst of energy.

Then one or two would announce, “I’m hungry,” and amble off to the kitchen for a supper of leftovers still waiting on the kitchen table.

Supper found us less organized, more mixed – adults and kids – as we determined our own level of hunger and sought help from the nearest relative as parents continued rocking on the porch in contentment that their own were off their hands for a moment or two.

I suspect I’m not alone in feeling different from other people – and that goes for my family as well.  But different as each of us are from the other, we are nevertheless known, connected, cared for, and at that table we gathered around, over and under, welcomed not as guest, but as one whose presence is taken for granted and whose absence would be noticed.

I don’t think I could describe my own connection with God any better: I am known by God and my presence at God’s table is taken for granted and my absence would be noticed.  And like the little kid I was at supper, whether it’s the one I expect or not, someone will always be there to help me navigate the table when I am too small to reach.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Day I Became My Mother

I remember the day I became my mother.

It was in 1981.  I was 26 years old.

MTV had just come into being and I was watching this new phenomena of music videos alone in my living room.

Devo came on with the song Whip It.

I watched the entire video with increasing dismay.

When I could stand it no longer, I stood up and in high dudgeon, announced only to myself, “I cannot listen to someone singing while wearing clay flower pots on their heads!”

Immediately, I gasped and covered my mouth with my hand.

And then, still to myself, I proclaimed, “Dear God, I am my mother!”

Now I’m sure a music afficionado such as my son Ben would haste to reassure that Whip It is not about sado-masochism, as the whipping of the clothes off of a woman in the video suggests, but is actually about something else entirely: something perhaps political, as band members have suggested.

But here’s the thing: I really am my mother.  And I don’t like it.  And I don’t much care what its parodying or satirizing.  Nor do I care whether anyone else takes my opinion on the matter seriously.

I’m 56 now; and knowing that I am my mother is comforting rather than shocking.

A lot can change in 30 years. . . including a girl’s valuation of her mother.

I am my mother.

And that’s a good thing.

Oh, and I still think the clay (plastic, really) flower pots were silly.

And fyi, my mother is the one who turned me on to Cyndi Lauper, right about the time Devo was creeping me out.

Thanks, Mom.


the color of the day lilies 
Don planted along the sidewalk 
leading up to the back door of the church
in full-on bloom since I returned
shouting to all who pass by
welcome, welcome, welcome

the color of rest
in my bedroom
filled with the lighter
shades of its warmth
and set aglow by the
pine-board floors
made golden by the years
of feet scooting across them

the sun-reflecting
fields of wheat
hiding within
school buses of finches

the color of nourishment
and life
and embrace

yellow is
[when red is not]
my favorite color

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Joy of Driving

I was always the last or near to last kid to be picked when it came to sports – even by my own family, even by my own dad.  I just wasn’t that good at any of it.  Now if there had been a team for best Nancy Drew mystery readers, I would have been in the running.  But baseball?  Forget it!

In college, I dropped the swimming class in favor of archery to fulfill the physical education requirement at my college.  I wasn’t great at archery either, but it was much easier for me to participate in a sport that required that I stand still.

Any personal sense of competency that I have ever had has more to do with the mind than the body.  And most of my memories about physical endeavors, highly embarrassing and painful at the time, are, in hindsight, filled with humor. . .like the time I took a baseball to the stomach when my dad was pitching to me because I froze when the ball came at me (now you know why my dad didn’t pick me to be on his team after that – he really felt bad about the bruise) . . . or the time I knocked myself unconscious by trying to imitate a sledding trick of racing towards a parked car only to veer sharply left at the last minute to get past the teasing boys blocking our way – yep, I froze again and ran right into the bumper of the car . . . or the time as a young adult that I got on skis in the slightly slanted driveway of a friend and was so terrified of the incline that I cried and sat down in the snow . . . or the time my cousins and I (well me, really) broke my Aunt Bonnie’s window pitching ball in the house when I missed the ball that sailed past my ducking frame and shattered the glass . . .

I could go on, but what would be the point?  There’s only so much of these laughing memories one woman can take, after all.

Thus it was with perhaps understandable, if inappropriate, pride that I received the left-handed compliment of a local police officer giving me my third speeding ticket from his own hand.

It was Easter Sunday.  And folks around these parts will know how silly it was for me to be speeding . . . right past his house.  My only defense is that my mind was elsewhere (hardly any comfort to my fellow motorists, I know).

Pulling me over at the top of Jack Mountain and going through our by-now usual ritual – “Beth,” he sighs.  “I know,”I respond.  “Didn’t you see me?” he asks.  “No.”  But it’s Easter and so there’s a new wrinkle: “I can’t believe you’re making me do this!  It’s Easter Sunday and you’re a preacher!”  “I know,” I sigh.  “Don’t feel bad.  It’s not your fault.  It’s mine.”  (Who knew pastoral duties extended to comforting the police officer who feels bad for having to give you a ticket?)

After all the ritual of paper exchange and ticket writing and explaining is completed comes the real surprise for me: “Have you had any driving training?”  “Not other than driver’s ed when I was a kid,” I respond.  “Well, I will say this: you take those curves like a pro.”

Like I said before, the pride I feel is inappropriate to the situation.  But it is real.

James-Bond blue BMW Z3 drop top -
the object of my affection
I love to drive a car, especially in the mountains.  And I drive too fast.  Before I left my previous life to go to seminary, I leased a sports car.  It’s the only physical thing that I have ever loved.  And I did love that car.

Sitting atop Jack Mountain on Easter Sunday with my ticket in hand, I pondered this thing about me and was pleased.  When it comes to driving, I am competent, able, deft.

I don’t know why this gives me such pleasure.  Maybe it’s simply the little girl inside who was never picked first for the team knowing that she’s good at something.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Gospel According to Alice in Wonderland

Sunday Sermon Cliff Note

The Kingdom of Heaven is . . .
Near . . . and far . . .
Easy to get into . . . impossible to enter . . .
For the few . . . and for the many . . .
A place of peace and rest . . . under constant violent attack . . .
Small and large . . .
Here and yet there . . .
Found and lost . . .
A secret place known to all . . .
Something you can’t see that’s already here . . .
Within and without . . .
Now and not yet . . .
Concerned with the living and indifferent to the dead . . .
Known and not known . . .
A place to which the signs point for which there are no signs . . .
A great banquet without any food . . .
A place where we’re going that we’ve already come to . . .
A place that is not a place at all . . .

This place that isn’t a place at all is like many things . . .
Mustard and other seeds out among the scattered weeds . . .
Buried hidden treasure . . . a place of leisure . . .
A merchant of the finest pearls . . .
A fisherman’s net . . .
A wedding banquet . . .
A king meeting with his investment advisors . . .
Day laborers . . .
A pay check . . .
Virgins?  Yes, virgins . . .
A grumbling teen-aged son . . .
A banquet feast for the least . . .
Yeast – called leaven . . .
I ask you . . . how is that heaven?

Kingdom-of-Heaven is all about topsy-turvy upside down justice, which is to say no justice – no human scale-weighing, at all.

Photo by whale05 at flickr commons
It is the Gospel according to Alice in Wonderland . . . where big is small . . . where everyone’s a winner after everyone was a loser . . . where tears cause floods and rabbits talk and the power elite are to be mistrusted. . .

Where success is failure and powerlessness is power . . .

Where children frame the picture that adults find impossible to enter . . .

Where it’s more about the net than the fish . . . the banquet than the diners . . .

The Kingdom of God is about . . . God . . . whose ways are not ours . . . whose yardstick is not ours . . . whose justice is not ours . . . whose welcome is not ours . . .

For God’s ways . . . God’s yardstick . . . God’s justice . . . God’s welcome . . .is so much more than we can imagine . . . and God’s kingdom, like many things, is none of those things, but so much, much more . . .

It’s a standing invitation, Alice . . . won’t you come in?

Won’t you step through the looking glass through which you see only dimly and come in?

Won’t you surrender your size in the world and come in?

Won’t you stop worrying about who might get there before you and come in?

Won’t you stop trying to figure it all out and just . . . come . . . in?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Open Letter to Pastor Terry Jones from a Fellow Pastor

I will not put the link to the video on this blog.  To do so seems to me to spread something that I absolutely reject in every possible way.  Suffice it to say that Dr. Terry Jones has posted a YouTube video wherein he claims that President Obama is both a bad president and in effect, a murderer, justifying his approach to hang President Obama in effigy.

Pastor Jones (it is to his identity as a minister and not his educational attainment that I address myself) is my brother in Christ.  Thus do I write him this open letter begging that he reconsider and stop this behavior.

Dear Pastor Jones:

It has to be said:  I am a Christian.

I make my living as a pastor in a small country church in Virginia, so you might even say that I am a professional Christian.

Thus you are my colleague as well as my brother.

It is as one family member to another that I feel compelled to say:

Brother Jones, cut it out.  Stop this.

You can disagree -- vehemently disagree if you feel so led -- with the President, with anyone, for that matter.  And maybe the privileges of the Constitution allow for hung effigies as a form of protest, maybe not.

But the Law of Love, the Person I know as Jesus the Christ, the guidance of his holy Word and God's Holy Spirit, the life-model provided by Jesus during his walk with us on this earth, none of these things, justify the usage of racially-charged symbolism such as the lynching of a black man to make a political point, no matter how heart-felt.

More simply put, cheek turning and Golden Rule engagement were not suggestions from our Lord.  They were and are mandates.  And try as I might, I can find none of that spirit in this.

Please, please, stop this.

The coals of shame Paul refers to are the acts of love in the face of its rejection, not vengeance, anger and malice.  (Romans 12:20).

This is beneath your calling and it is hurting us all.

Yours in Christ, Pastor Beth Pyles

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Walking Plants and Pointing Maidens

Two signs I did not capture on camera during my time in Scotland remain with me and just plain tickle my funny bone to no end.

They were close together and totally unrelated, yet remain fixed in tandem in my mind.

The first was a red warning sign: Heavy Plant Crossing.  There was no factory in sight and I still have no idea what the heavy plants were/are and why they would cross that road in that spot and in such a way that required that I be warned, bearing out my own personal hypothesis about road signage: Road signs are designed for people who already know where they’re going.  

If you’ve ever driven in unfamiliar locales, you’ll know what I mean.  Sign placement is sometimes overhead, sometimes at the side of the road (left or right without much rhyme or reason that I can discern) and sometimes affixed to buildings.  Sometimes signs are large and sometimes they’re so small a magnifying glass wouldn’t help.  And most of the time when exploring a new place, I find myself seeing the sign as I pass my destination by, with finger pointed helplessly at where I was supposed to be.

But I digress.  Who could resist the visual of Dinosaur jr.’s album cover when it comes to plants boldly crossing the street (or in their case, several streets or cities at a time)?  Although I have to confess that my own internal visual when I read ‘Heavy Plant Crossing’ (the meaning of which I still do not know) resembles more a clutch of chubby cacti, peace lilies and African violets tumbling across the road, begging the question, why did the plants cross the road?  

Maybe the plants were crossing the road to get to the maidens, for the next sign, just yards down the road, reads Maidens   2, fixed onto the usual white painted metal sign pointing    thataway.

Maidens is a small village between Girvan and Ayr.  But every time I saw the sign for Maidens, I was reduced to silly giggles, imagining that it must be lean pickings in this part of Scotland for there to be only two maidens and stuck on the idea that some Scottish fellows somewhere are desperately searching for that sign.  I sure hope they find it, for there are two maidens somewhere surely waiting for them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What I saw today . . .

Mr. Rabbit scurrying out from his hiding place 
within the wisteria cave – Rowen long ago 
claimed the cave within as his own, 
but like any soon-to-be 5 year-old,
surely he would welcome this intruder

Sister Squirrel full-bore runs
straight up the maple tree
she calls home – the one shading the picnic 
table with the firepit sitting abandoned 
by the pretend soldiers in civil war garb
who sat round her for warmth just weeks ago,
now cold under the table

A lone deer jogs casually across
the gravel road before me
with no look back

A raccoon runs – ambles, really – 
all roly-poly
first alongside the car
then moving in front –
not so much darting 
as deciding – deciding
that he could make it –
deciding that I would not
kill him with my behemoth 
of steel – not today

Best of all, 
a school bus of finches*
arises as one
from the evening sun-washed
yellow of the wheat field

*A schoolbus of finches borrows from an observation by son Ben Cumberledge, that the color of goldfinches would have them better named as school-bus-yellow finches.  An Idyllic Life  Describing them as a ‘schoolbus of finches’ is in keeping with the whimsical tradition of naming clusters or groups of animals and birds based on some presupposed anthropomorphic attribute, such as a murder of crows.  Fun with Words

I wish

I wish . . .

seeing things differently
didn’t make me feel so different

I wish . . .

everyone’s life were wrapped
up in the petty
because no one was suffering
the big things today –
war, famine, violence in all its
nefarious forms

I wish . . .

my life,
all our lives,
were as big as
our dreams . . .

I wish . . .

we all – not just the musicians
among us,
had ears to hear
in birdsong

I wish . . .

every mother
every father
would grow old
to watch
not just
their children,
but their grandchildren
and greatgrandchildren
grow into the people they
will become

I wish . . .

that just for one day,
one moment, even,
we could all know
kindness and not rejection,
love and not hate,
welcome and not judgment,
knowing we are of use and not
a sense of purposelessness

I wish . . .

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Internet Surfer Girl

Today I went from pinterest 
to Joshua Ritter on YouTube
to Leonard Cohen from YouTube sidebar
to Wikipedia article about the Ten Bulls
to Wikidpedia article on Vietnamese water puppetry
back to YouTube to watch video of Vietnamese water puppetry

with some side trips
into N. T. Wright’s version of Genesis 
(as sung to the tune of ‘Yesterday’)
and a random preacher guy doing 
1-minute movie reviews 
(cool idea/really bad execution 
said the review of the reviewer)

a day in the life of a surfer-girl, internet style


From Flickr Commons by jason.raff
Life is like a day surfing the internet:  

You start out headed in one direction and end up going an entirely different place than you had planned.

Sometimes through virtually no effort on your part, you find something wondrous, amazing, beautiful.

There’s a lot of silliness to filter out along the way.

Other people’s anger can catch you by surprise or it can sweep you along with it.

And every now and then, you learn something new.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Gas & Gratitude

On a random day during my time in Scotland, I pull to the pump to fill the car’s tank with petrol (English speak for gasoline).  The price on this particular day is £1.42 per liter.

Bear with me as I use some of my math skills to get where I’m going.

One US gallon (not to be confused with the UK gallon) contains 3.7854118 liters.

Thus the price for one US gallon of gasoline on this day would be £5.375284756.

On this random day, the exchange rate of British pounds to US dollars (as opposed to Australian or Canadian or Hong Kong or 21 or so other kinds of dollars) is:  £1 = $1.5896.

That means that one US gallon of petrol or gasoline, if you prefer, on this day, cost $8.5445526581376, or rounded off, $8.54.

Whew!  Let me say that again, as living in the United States, it can be hard to wrap our minds around this: in the United Kingdom, to buy gasoline costs roughly $8.54 per gallon.

Cars are generally smaller there and gas efficiency - miles per gallon - for vehicles is generally much better than in the United States (a friend with an SUV actually gets 35 miles to the gallon, although I’m not sure if that’s the US gallon or the UK gallon – you begin to see how tricky this is).

And distances routinely driven are generally much shorter there than here.  And mass transportation (bus and train) is much more readily available in the UK than in the US.

But this was the promise I made to myself while I was standing at that petrol pump a few weeks back:  the next time I get mad/flustered/upset/enraged/disheartened about the cost to fuel my automobile back home, I am going to remember that what I pay is still less than half of what they’re paying in the United Kingdom and I’m going to calm down just a bit . . . well, until, that is, I remember that they have universal health care here and we do not.

Oops - I’m already back on the roller coaster of comparisons before I’ve even gotten my land legs back – here we go again!

From Flickr Commons by DRAMOS 19

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Worshiping Me

what is the purpose of worship?
of my worship?

Is it about me –
what I get out of it
or don’t?

Is it about recentering
the would-be
–about gently shepherding
that me
to the margins
the very edges of things

to the place
the space
the I-ness
of it all
begins to slip
and slide away
just a wee bit
into the quiet
and the sound
the darkness
and the light
the calm
and the raucous
the tender
and the violent




Saturday, June 2, 2012


In one 360◦ turn in Edinburgh, could you see around and into buildings,  you would see statues of philosopher and father of secular humanism David Hume; father of the United States’ brand of capitalism Adam Smith; the Duke of Queensberry, author of the well-known boxing rules of sportsmanship; and John Knox, Reformation preacher and father of modern presbyterianism as practiced in Scotland and the US in particular.  The same land that in many ways birthed Western modernity’s secular humanism also gave it presbyterian Calvinism.

If you stand inside St. Giles Cathedral, you will see the statue of John Knox.  The iconoclast has literally himself become an icon.

Window at rear of St. Giles
Reads "Gifts, Sweets, Souvenirs"
Standing outside St. Giles at the rear, you will see the St. Giles gift shop and above it, in the glass of the windows, painted signage indicating that gifts may be had.

Reformer Martin Luther rejected the sale of Papal indulgences, a fundraising mechanism for the then-Pope to secure the necessary monies for the completion of the Sistine Chapel.  That, among other things, led to a Reformation and split from the Roman Catholic Church that has yet to be fully (some would say even partially) healed.

Flash forward to our own time, and see a central geography of worship for the Presbyterians that sells trinkets to support care of yet another building, a behemoth of ancient architecture preserved for its beauty.

Of course, no one is threatened with the fires of Hell should they not buy a post card of St. Giles (so far as I know).