Monday, July 30, 2012

Flirting Thunder

The Thunder flirts,
sending out promises
from the grey sky                                                  
I am coming, love

Photo at FlickrCommons
by D. Sharon Pruitt
and sends raindrops
gentle as soft kisses
on the earth’s dry lips
yearning, eager, for
the caress promise
 – but alas,

Thunder is a fickle fellow
too soon he is off
seeking another love,
another pair of lips
to tease with promises
of rain
and we are left
and yearning
for more

It Was a Very Good Year

Disneyland, Bruce Willis, Iman and I, along with millions of others, all born in 1955, turned 57 this year.

Elvis made his first television appearance in 1955.  The US military involvement in Viet Nam began with the sending of military advisors.  McDonalds was born and Einstein died.  “In God We Trust” was placed on all US coins.  Lawrence Welk premeired on ABC and the first seat-belt legislation was enacted.  The NYSE had its worst decline since 1929 and James Dean died in a car crash.  And Rosa Parks was put in jail for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man.  It was the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.      Things That Happened in 1955  

By this stage of life, I am somebody’s grandmother, whether I think I look like a gran or not.  I should be wise.  Five decades on planet earth don’t measure much in planetary history, but they should do nicely for the development of an individual conscience.  I should know more than I do.  I should be wiser than I am. 

Wise or not, I am a product of my time.  I like, in equal measure, a good dance and a good protest march.  I faithfully wear my seatbelt, but view speed limits as mere suggestions.  I trust in God, but don’t much care for Caesar telling me I should.  I hate war but love a good argument.  And I believe churches and individuals, angry young people and old activists who go the distance, and one woman of color calmly saying ‘no more’, can change the world, because I have seen them do it with my own eyes.

So hats off to 1955.  All in all, it was a very good year.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What Too Shall Pass?

Babies crying in
the middle of the night

Toddlers teething

Ten-year-old girl giggle fests

Teenagers staying out late
making us frantic with fear
world-weary sighing
teen angst

all that too shall pass

Twenty-something smugness
you know the look
the one you just want to
slap right off their face
except you’re too well-bred
and you know it isn’t nice –
especially with the one
who came from your own loins

Thirty-something condescension
explaining the world to you
as if you and the world
are meeting for the very first time

Forty-something assumed patience
telling you yet again
how to live your life
plan for your future
as if you and your life
haven’t been on speaking
terms for a very long time

Fifty-somethings eyeing
your car keys with suspicion
and worry-filled eyes
talking about where you’ll
live when . . .
with voices fading into
discomfort at the thought
neither of you wants
voice given to in the first place

Sixty-somethings looking
back over the shoulder
of time at the baby crying
seen by the thirty-something
as impatience. . . and judgment –
bad parent –can’t you keep
that child quiet?

Seventy-somethings waxing
philosophic, sharing for all
who care to hear and many
who do not all their
gathered wisdom

grousing and kvetching
about all the aches and pains
an eighty-year old body
must endure

Ninety-somethings grinning
like babies, just happy
and a bit surprised to find
themselves still here . . .

Yes, it shall all pass away
more’s the pity . . .

Friday, July 27, 2012


By yielding you may obtain victory.  –Ovid

While I am responsible for changing what I can, I have to let go of the rest if I want peace of mind.  Just for today I will love myself enough to give up a struggle over something that is out of my hands.  Courage to Change
The well-known Serenity Prayer* begins with a plea for serenity, for a calm spirit, as a gift from God, in order that I might then be able to accept the reality of those things over which I have no control.

For a very long time, I got this part of the ‘equation’ dead wrong, striving always for acceptance in order that I might be serene, misunderstanding the heart of the prayer, that acceptance flows from serenity and not the reverse; in other words, God and God’s gift of peace in my life allows me to accept even harsh realities, rather than wasting the valuable gift of time in trying to alter reality itself.

Once I accept the reality of the situation, I am then in a position to decide what my own part, if any, in it is and what, if anything I need to do or can do to bring about change.

It is enormously freeing to realize that I’m not in charge of everything.

Yet acceptance is not the same as tolerance.  Acceptance does not require me to accept the unacceptable, as it were.  Rather, acceptance allows me to simply sit with what is, even when it hurts.

Like all of us, I’ve had to accept lots of hard realities in my life.  But I did not have to tolerate them.  I did not have to remain stuck.  I could make the changes that I could make.  And I could rest in the God-granted serenity that allowed and allows me to own that things are often not as I would wish they were, but even so, I am.

May God’s serenity be yours now and evermore.

*God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sometimes You Are the Answer

Sometimes, someone is praying and you are the answer to the question they didn’t even know they were asking.

Today I was the answer to someone’s prayer she didn’t even know she was praying.  Neither of us expected to meet each other today.  Neither gave the other much thought . . . until, for some reason she can’t exactly name, she stopped by.

And for some reason I can’t exactly name, I was standing in exactly the right place at the right time.

Holy Spirit time . . . always a surprise, often a blessing, and how humbling that God would use us in such gentle ways.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rainfall on the Tin Roof

It rained yesterday – the answered-prayer kind of solid, steady and even gentle rain that crops and children adore in equal measure.

As I listen to the sound of each drop on the tin roof where it resonates the loudest – in the back attic bedroom – I am minded of childhood cozy-under-the-blanket and splashing in the puddles times . . . of sprinting as if I could outrun each drop times . . . of water-filled laughing times . . . of quiet-talk lover times . . .

I love the rain – each has it’s own personality.  I think of  Singin' in the Rain, where the rain is a character in the dance.

But most of all, I thank God for these rains, these life-giving to dry and thirsty land rains.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Peace I Leave with You

“Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.”  Jesus was speaking peace into reality when he spoke these words into his disciples ears.  It was not the peace that nations understand  – the peace of stand-off or mutually assured destruction.  No – Jesus was speaking the God peace of calm and quiet, of acceptance and mutuality, of love as a verb and not a noun, Love as what we do and not what we feel.  Maybe we would better understand if we called this ‘serenity’ rather than ‘peace’:  the calm in any situation that knows its well being resides elsewhere. . . it is the calm of a Peter or a Paul who could face their own death with the assurance of Christ’s own witness from the cross.  To quote the hymn written by Horatio Spafford, this peace, this serenity, can proclaim with assurance, “whatere may befall, thou hast taught me to say, even so, it is well with my soul.”  For those in Aurora, Colorado and all over the world suffering the effects of violence today, may such peace, such serenity, pervade their and our souls.  Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Christmas in July

Retailers apparently started the phenomena of ‘Christmas in July’ as a sales pitch, offering the so-called once-in-a-lifetime great deal.  They have no idea how true their words actually are, for Christmas, the inbreaking of the Incarnate God, Jesus the Christ, into the world is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime great deal.

So for a bit of fun and lighthearted celebration of our Lord, at the church and chapel I pastor, we will celebrate in what I hope is a fitting fashion by enjoying once again Chocolate Communion.

Earlier this week, I entertained the women of the church at my home with an afternoon high tea.  The best china, fine linens, finger sandwiches and cute desserts, along with nice teas, were the order of the day.  My house was dressed better than I was.

As gratifying as the appreciations and thanks of my older gal pals were, it was Kelly’s face lit up, asking if I did this often, that warmed my heart the most.

Putting out our best for others is a task easily forgotten but well worth the effort, the call.

After all, isn’t that what Jesus did for us?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Into the Silence

I spend a lot of each day alone
yet not
in front of a computer screen
hooked up to fb friends
blogosphere commenters
with telephone at the side
ringing in
with this need
that update
those worries
these bits of good news

I spend a lot of each day alone
yet not
and so am convinced
I spend a lot of time each day
in silence
yet as desert mothers and fathers
would have it,
not so

for the sound of the world
is the accompanying score
of each of my days
bouncing back and forth
off the thoughts in my own mind
which is seldom still
almost never silent

I belong to leagues of citizens
who have all but forgotten
the art, the drama, the beauty
of silence

all but forgotten
the still small voice
drowned out in the noise
yet ever seeking a crack
that bit of silent space
in between
the noisiness of our being

Travel abroad and you will know
what I mean
for we are a noisy
me preeminent among us
chattering away
about this and that
verbally thinking my way
through life

but now it is time
well past time
to travel for a bit
into the land of silence
and sit for awhile
as the still small voice
seeks the crack
into the silence
of my being

Won’t You come in?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Praying For Aurora, For Us All

Early this morning in Aurora, Colorado, a young man entered a movie theater, unleashed a gas canister and began shooting at those in the theater.  As of now, 12 of those people are dead.  More than 50 are injured.  Countless more are frightened, traumatized, dazed.  Families who sent loved ones off for an evening’s entertainment are sitting across empty tables too numb to even think about what has happened, let alone understand it.  And somewhere, the family, friends, neighbors, schoolmates and co-workers of the man who did this are in shock - shock that they didn’t see it coming or shock that their own worst fears have been realized.  And in ordinary towns across America, people are holding their children just a little tighter, looking over their shoulders a little more often.

On the blogosphere and around the internet, already people are lining up shouting, “ not enough guns” or “too many guns” . . . calling names at those across their own divides . . . while in the eye of the storm in Aurora, four people gather on the street and hold hands and pray.

It is that image, finally, that moves me to tears . . . tears of hope in the midst of hopelessness and despair . . .

And so today, let us offer up our own prayers . . . for prayer is the first, not the last, the most, not the least, that we of faith have to offer . . .

God of all grace . . . of all things loving . . . of all caring . . . God large enough to encompass a universe and small enough to fit in a baby’s tiny grasp . . . 

Help us to do the hard work of prayer . . . the knee-falling kind of work . . . the praying-for-enemies-even-when-we’re-not-sure-we-mean-it kind of work . . . 

And so we begin not where we want to, with the fallen . . .

No – we begin with the one who felled them . . . 

They say his name is James – James Holmes . . . but we know better . . . we know his name is “Beloved” . . . Beloved by you . . . made by you . . . nurtured into being by You . . .

And we know this is not your image in him which did this ugly thing he can never go back from . . . but we also know that forgiveness is there for him – right there in Your cross – the place we call Calvary – the place where you cried out “Forgive!” – for ‘they know not’ . . . 

The truth is, Father of us all, we don’t want you to forgive him – not really – we know we should, but we also know he has earned his suffering.  So before we even pray for his forgiveness, soften our own hearts that we might bring this prayer to you in a genuine spirit of love for him . . . 

We seek from you, O God, not cheap or easy grace – no, we seek the grace of the cross – the most expensive grace there is – and we seek it for James, whom we call as you call, Beloved.

Melt him, O God.  

Mold him and mold him again until he comes forth restored into your own image.

Walk with him in the days and weeks and years granted him to come.  Especially walk with him in the horror when the enormity of what he has done finally dawns upon his spirit.  Help him to bear it.

Send him ministering angels and human hands of care who see him as Your beloved.  

And as we pray these things, help us to mean it.  Help us to remember and to live out enemy love as your own divine command for the working of your kingdom.

For those who have died, they have no need of our prayers, for they now rest into your care and there is no better, safer place.

But they have left behind loved ones – family and friends, people who will try to make sense of the senseless, who will seek comfort – some from you – and some from anywhere but you.  For those already in your arms, we give you thanks, even as we know they suffer, for we also know their suffering is borne in your arms.

For those who would claim to know you not, please hold even tighter to them.  When they seek out the numbing of a bottle or a pill or a blank screen television . . . if they descend into anger or despair . . . when, having nowhere else to take their pain, they turn on each other, make your healing presence known . . . enter their hearts and lives in ways they cannot ignore . . . answer the prayers they do not even know they are uttering . . .love them as only you can . . .

And we pray for us as a nation . . . help us not to turn on each other in blame and recrimination . . . grant us the space of mourning, for you have told us that there is a time to mourn, and this is such a time . . . remind us of your nearness especially when we doubt and cannot sense your presence . . . lead us into your silence – . . . [SILENCE] help us to hear your  still small voice that whispers “I am here” . . . “You are not alone in this – you never were” . . . 

And now, O Lord, we say together to our own comfort, your 23rd psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


Why I Don't Pledge Allegiance to a Flag

1. It feels like a loyalty oath, which means to me that even though I am a citizen of this particular country, others have deemed that I am obligated to continually establish something that is self-evident: that I am a citizen, or perhaps better, that I am a good citizen. I take good citizenship as a given, even though you and I might define good citizenship very differently. But I would understand the concept of good citizenship as the presumptive norm, which means it does not have to be proven or reproven.

2. I’m an only child.  It’s the only explanation I’ve got for my own instinctive rejection of group think, and collective pledges always put me in mind of group think, especially when the lack of participation becomes a matter of negative judgment or perception.  It may seem incredibly ironic that I would be a pastor and actively participate in the life of a church, given this worldview.  But Presbyterians affirm freedom of the conscience, which is about the only way someone like me could play in their sandbox.

Called a 'patriotic product'
3. Symbols matter hugely.  And I do not like what this particular symbol has become – a sort of litmus test  of acceptability.  Thus virtually every national politician wears a culturally-obligated flag lapel pin and the failure to wear one translates as ‘unAmerican’.  Who decided that?  I must have missed the meeting.

4. It feels like idolatry to me.  I’m not saying it’s idolatrous for others.  I am saying it’s idolatrous for me.  Investing pieces of cloth with the sacred, prescribing how flags are to be venerated, treated while ‘alive’, disposed of when ‘dead’, invests the symbol with a meaning that pushes me away rather than draws me near.  There aren’t that many rules (really, there aren’t any) for the disposition of the sacred texts of my faith.  When a Bible gets worn out, you just throw it away.  I may love where I live.  I may even respond to the many symbols of where I live.  But I do not worship them.

5. Flag-draped coffins.

6. The Pledge of Allegiance is too closely linked in my mind with triumphalism – the implied declaration that we are better than everyone else.  We are not.  Nor, in my view, should we wish to be.  Life is not a contest.

I really can’t recall a specific occasion when I decided to stop pledging allegiance to the flag.  As an adult who rarely attends sporting events (the only professional sporting event I have ever attended was a pro-wrestling event in our town my Dad took me to when I was a kid), does not work in a public school system, and is rarely at public political events, I am not often called upon to choose whether to stand with others and recite the pledge or not.

Thus you could know me for a lifetime and never know this about me.  Whenever the pledge is recited, I stand – as a sign of respect to you, not the flag, so my non-pledging probably goes unnoticed.

And I’ve had to reflect quite a bit to understand my own motivations.  The biggest reason I eschew flag-waving, -wearing, -pledging exercises, I think, is the linkage I observe between the flag and our militarism.  The language in the pledge of ‘indivisibility’ is a direct reference to our own civil war.  Flags cropped up all over the place in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, usually coupled with the language of violent revenge.  A friend who refused to hang a flag from her dorm room window was ostracized.  That she had family in the Pentagon on the day was of no interest to those who would judge her as lacking in some fundamental way.  So perhaps for me it’s a bit of a protest against our tendency to violence as a problem-solving technique in these United States.  If so, until now, it’s never been something I felt the need to announce.  Why now?  I’m truthfully not sure.  Maybe it has to do with spending more time than I care to recently listening to folks tell me how much they disagree with me or find me wanting when they really don’t know that much about me.  Maybe in effect, I’m saying, you want to really disagree with me?  But I don’t think so.  I really think that June and July, the months of celebration for statehood for my home state of West Virginia, and nationhood for the United States, wear me down, especially in election years.  I love being from West Virginia.  But I am ashamed of my native state, and especially the Democrats of that state, for voting in the presidential primary for a man currently incarcerated in the state of Texas over President Obama.  West Virginians declared by their majority vote that they would rather have a man they know nothing about save that he is a felon doing time as their presidential candidate than Mr. Obama.  It’s hard, if not downright impossible, to believe that is anything but overt racism.  And I am ashamed of us as a nation for our use of force as our first instinct around the world whenever problems arise.  I am ashamed that there are never enough guns to satiate our felt need for safety and power.  And I am appalled that we drape all of it in a flag and call it holy.  That’s my inner protestor speaking.  But maybe that’s a little high-minded for the truth when it comes to me and pledges.

Because maybe, just maybe, deep down, I’m more a libertarian than I’d like to admit.  Maybe it’s just that I’m unwilling or unable to do something, anything, simply because someone else expects or demands that I should.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Next Blog

On my blog page at the top are pre-set links for ‘share’, ‘report abuse, and ‘next blog’.  I’d never paid a bit of attention to them until the other day when I decided to click ‘next blog’, which took me to a lovely blog filled with spiritual reflections.  So I hit it again – same kind of blog.  And again – same thing.

Turns out I’m hanging out in the blogosphere with the churchie and otherwise folk - and I’m cool with that.

But it’s interesting to me that the people at Google have read or more likely had a machine sort out my key words, phrases, and ideas and decided that I’m more about God than I am about my politics, my family, the beauty of where I live, my love of all things and people Scottish, or another great recipe, all things I write about from time to time.

Yeah, I’m definitely cool with that.

Way to go, Google.  You got it right this time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tea and Sympathy

Pray for me.

I am about to make the first scones I have ever made.  And dear Scottish friend Margaret, who shared her time-honored recipe with me, is no longer with us, so I’m out of luck when it comes to my usual custom of the panicked last-minute consult call – time and distance are no matter, but heaven is a bit out of reach for my plan.

If I get it right, none of the ladies in attendance will mistake them for biscuits.

If I get them wrong, biscuits will seem like a fond memory and scones will forever be deemed a good thing abandoned in our successful bid for independence this side of the pond.

So for you brave souls, here’s Margaret’s recipe for scones (with the best I could manage for conversion to US measurements):

450 grams (3 + 3/5 cups) self-rising flour
large pinch of salt
10 ml (2 teaspoons) baking powder
50 g (2 ounces or 1/5 - 1/4 cup) caster sugar (granulated sugar)
45 g (3 ounces or 1/5 cup) butter
1 large egg - beaten
2oo ml (6.76 ounces or 3/4 - 7/8 cups) milk (Margaret preferred using one-half buttermilk)
Optional: add 6 ounces sultanas

Sift flour and baking powder
Rub in fat (butter)
Add sugar
Make well in center and add egg, buttermilk and enough milk to form soft dough

Roll out to about 2 cm (3/4 inch) thickness and cut into rounds.  Place on baking tray and cook at 210 degrees C (410 F) for about 10 - 15 minutes, until golden

And Margaret’s own personal add on:
Plus lots of luck!!

Like I said at the outset, pray for me.  I don’t think luck’s going to do it.

BethRant2 - Getting There on Your Own

Click on the link for an introduction to the concept of the BethRant.

President Obama spoke recently in Roanoke, Virginia.  I have not seen the transcript of his speech.  For purposes of this rant, I will presume Mr. Limbaugh’s quote is accurate.  Taking Mr. Limbaugh’s version, the President made the following statement:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  The Blaze

The quote that seems to have bothered Mr. Limbaugh so is the line, “you didn’t get there on your own”.

From this simple statement – that even the wealthy did not spring preternaturally from the forehead of some unsuspecting god – Mr. Limbaugh concludes that Mr. Obama:

hates America
is a radical
is trying to “dismantle the American dream”
is engaging in Marxist classism (whatever that means - didn’t Marx ‘preach’ the elimination of class?)
is demonstrating contempt for the country (interesting - even if true, Obama’s ‘contempt’ was for the wealthy, which Limbaugh conflates with the country itself - wow - I never knew being rich was being American while being poor was being something else - who’s the classist now, Mr. Limbaugh?)
is ruthless
is a despiser of America
is a despiser of the way America was founded
is a despiser of the way America became great (I’m guessing Mr. Limbaugh means we became great because the Carnegies, and not the Debs, made us that way)

Are you kidding me?

Apparently not.

At least not according to my own FB page, wherein a series of RNC (Republican National Committee) ads show a series of photos of entrepreneurs with Mr. Obama laughing superimposed on the picture, with the tag line, “You didn’t build that”, RNC FB page,  a clear link to Mr. Limbaugh’s screed.

The fact is that Mr. Obama did not say “you didn’t build that”, even according to Rush Limbaugh.

The fact is that Mr. Obama did say, “you didn’t do it alone”.

The fact is that no sane person would argue with that.

Christian sane people presumptively say that all that they do, they do with the aid, assistance, and intervention of the divine, hence do they never act alone.

Religious and non-religious sane people universally thank their moms when they finally make it on television in a sporting event – an obvious observation that they would not even be present on the planet but for the actions of at least two other people – their parents.

Business owners routinely tell their employees, “we couldn’t have done it without you”.  I always believed them.  Was I being naive?

Here’s the thing: what on earth is so very threatening about the concept of recognizing that we are an interdependent species?  What do we lose by acknowledging that we need each other?  I really and truly wish I understood that one.

I don’t know if it would make me a better person, but I’m betting if I understood I’d be a way better pastor.

But for the love of whatever you hold dear to, would you – my friends and family and neighbors and fellow citizens – all of you – just stop this nonsense.

Disagree with the guy if you’re of a mind to.

But spare me, you, and the rest of us the ridiculousness of pseudo-analysis that would take one construct and turn it into another.  You betray a lack of persuasiveness when you stoop to saying down is up.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

When You're Five

When you’re five . . .

When you’re five,
a beetle escaping
your intense study
is a tragedy of epic
tear-filled proportions

When you’re five,
sickness and
old age are
puzzling mysteries

When you’re five,
things like going
to the bathroom
are extremely
annoying inconveniences
getting in the way of
so much
to be lived

When you’re five,
everyone your own size
is an immediate friend

When you’re five,
every new lightening bug
is experienced as if for
the first time –
with awe and wonder
and delight

When you’re five,
you’re not too big
to be rocked –
by your Gran

When you’re five,
peach pits are
magic and you
can hardly wait
to see the tree
it will become

When you’re five,
the world is your
oyster –
which is as it
should be
when you’re five

Dedicated to all the five-year-olds discovering their world with eyes that see close to the ground and as far as the stars.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Does a Painter Paint?

why does a painter paint
a sculptor sculpt
an architect build
a musician compose?

Because they must.
Because the music they hear
the colors they see
the shapes they discern
must be given their voice,
their shape, their form

the creator creates
because that’s what
a creator does

Why is there a Kingdom?
Why should it please God
that it should be so?

Maybe because when
The Word opens . . .
a world opens

. . . because the light of God,
like the power of God,
will not be contained.

Because the God who is love
loves like a little girl
with a blue flower in her hair
having no interest in whether
you solved the national debt crisis today --
or not --
wanting only to love you . . .
just as you are . . .
into who you ought to be

because one rainbow . . .
one life . . .
one love . . .
just wouldn’t do . . .
When you’re God,
why do one rainbow . . .
or life . . .
or love . . .
when you can do four . . .
or infinity . . .
all at once?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How to Waste Space

Architecture is the art of how to waste space.
                                                                –Philip Johnson, architect

Fairbanks House, the oldest timber-frame house in the United States, is thought to have been built between 1637 and 1641 by the Fairbanks family: husband, wife and six children, 8 people in all.  The original structure had 1,297 square feet when new and was considered a grand home for its time.     

1,297 square feet for 8 people.  Contrast that with our time.  The average size of new-home constructions in the US in 2010 was 2,392 feet according to Smithsonian, May, 2012.  The average houshold size in the US in 2010 was 2.59 people.  Census

The significant increase in the sizes of houses is a new phenomena in the US: since 1973, the average size of a new home has grown by 49%!  MSN

No doubt, Philip Johnson had something else entirely in mind when he spoke of architecture as the art of wasting space, but in a time when the world’s population explosion and its attendant consumption of world resources is at a heretofore unknown pace, one has to wonder at the wisdom, or lack, in a culture that insists on using more and more for less and less – more and more land and other resources for less and less people.

Given that the cause of such increased consumption is generally attributed to wealth, it seems clear that a lesson to be derived is that wealth does not bring wisdom nor does wealth fall to the wise, for only as fools could we insist on the continued use of more than our fair share without regard to the future.

Here’s my own commitment, for whatever it might be worth: to refuse to buy or occupy any building that is newly constructed.  I know folks make their living off of building new homes.  And I’ve no quarrel with that in general.  Nor am I urging an entirely utilitarian or dystopian worldview.

But as with all things, somewhere there is a line, the crossing of which is recognized only in hindsight as the point of no return.  The continued building of more and more for the less and less will, I suspect, be revealed as such a line for the generations yet to come, who may only know of mahogany and teak, even perhaps of trees themselves, from books.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

This Too Shall Pass

Yesterday I went to the funeral of Sara Richmond, a dear, dear friend, confidant, woman of God.

Sara had a beatific smile, but it was the eye twinkle in those baby blues that gave her away every time, for Sara was no soft saint.  Hers was a strength born of the proverbial ordeal by fire – lots of them, in fact.  Having navigated the challenges of life herself, she was well-positioned to share the benefits of her experience with others, and she did, always with that grin.

Often during my own hard times, I would call Sara, lamenting the latest crisis, with excruciating detail.  She always listened, with more patience than my rants deserved.  And when I would finally draw breath, calmly, she would said, This too shall pass.

I didn’t like Sara much when she told me that.  I knew she was right, but it’s not what I wanted to hear.  It was, however, what I needed to hear – the reminder that nothing is permanent and that even woes will melt away in the tide of time.

But the day I remember best is the good day I was having.  I thought I should call Sara and share the joy with her, having so often shared the sorrows.  After listening to my breathless joys, calmly, serenely even, Sara spoke the dread words This too shall pass.

We both laughed at her gentle reminder that the moments we are given are just that: moments.

I rejoice in the moments that make up the life that was Sara Richmond.

And even as I mourn her absence, I hear her reminding me, This, too, shall pass.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To Russia, with Love

There are apps that track even what towns folks are reading a blog from, but I don’t subscribe to them.  But does tell me the countries readers are from (forgive the dangling prepositions – I’m from West Virginia [it’s an old joke]).

What has been fascinating to me as I track statistics on readership is the increasing number of readers from Russia particularly (shout out to Malaysia, India, France, Germany and Latvia, the other non-English speaking countries also with regular readership).  But since I went to Scotland, Russian readers have become my second largest audience group, following the United States.

I am both puzzled and delighted.  I wonder about you, the Russian reader.  Are you practicing your English skills?  Are you fellow Christians?  Folks interested in nature who enjoy my thoughts on rural life?  Do you enjoy my jabs at the political foibles in my own native land?  Or was it Scotland that drew you as it draws me?

We truly are entangled (in the best possible way, I think) in a world-wide web – of communication and increased understanding, of learning and knowledge, of sharing and caring, of giving and receiving.

Just like any community, the web has its share of the weird, the odd, the ugly and the dangerous.  But for the most part, I have found friendliness and welcome with a world of folks I will most likely never meet in real time.

So to the friends all over the world, but especially to my Russian buddies, a special welcome today.  May you be blessed with all the wonders and joys life has to offer, now and ever more.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tre- e - e - e - e - e!

I recently ran across this picture that I first saw last year on FaceBook.  It filled me then and fills me now with delight.  It’s just so unexpected.  But it also delights me because it reminds me of one of the first times my grandson came and stayed with me when he was a big enough boy to stay by himself without Mommy or Daddy.

When we went outside to play, Rowen ran from tree to tree, pointed and shouted at the top of his lungs, Tre -e - e - e - e - e!, as if greeting a long-lost friend.  And then he began to hug them.  That’s right: my grandson’s a tree hugger, and I’m proud to say it.

But with the Derecho of Friday a week ago, we have been reminded that trees are not eternal, that they too are subject to a force more powerful, the force of wind:  that which can be measured and experienced, but not seen.

I’m one of the lucky ones: no tree took the life of anyone I know nor injured anything I am personally attached to.  If I were, I do not know how I would look at trees now, whether I would still see their beauty and grandeur or whether I would view them with suspicion and fear.

Looking west from my back yard
Mindful of the tremendous losses others have suffered, it is the trees that draw my attention now, ever-present as they are where I live.

I look to the trees and I imagine God not as some old man, but as a little boy in a garden of his own making, a garden where the winds have come through, leaving some of the trees standing while others lie impotently dying on their sides.  And I imagine this boy-child of a God greeting each one with the enthusiasm that only little boys on an adventure can show: enthusiastically joyful for those who live, enthusiastically sorrowful for those who die, each greeted as beloved friend, each fully embraced for the tree that it is.

Winds come and winds go.  Trees thrive and trees die.  God-treasures all.

Sunday, July 8, 2012







Saturday, July 7, 2012

When the Lights Go Out

My cousin Mark Taylor says this looks like a grazing dinosaur

I’ve lived through lots of losses of electricity – the mid-winter ice storm in West Virginia that left us without power for a week . . . intermittent losses of no more than a day throughout a lifetime . . . the more or less scheduled daily absence of electricity interspersed with inexplicable powerless days and weeks that is Iraq . . .and most recently, the storm of last Friday that swept the central eastern United States.

Jumble of home-run wiring in Baghdad
In Iraq, such an existence is a way of life, no more remarkable than that it’s hot in July – really hot.

But in the US, we have grown so accustomed to the ready and consistent availability of electricity to the point that its absence is more than an inconvenience: it’s a threat – or at least perceived as one.

But when the lights go out, some pretty amazing things, things that make even our fears seem small . . .

Outside, the evidence of Mother Nature’s handiwork is an awesome thing, reminding us of our relative smallness in the cosmos, up close and personal.  It’s one thing to stand before the ocean or the night sky and be reminded of the vastness and power of creation . . . it’s quite another to stand beside a hundred-year-old tree, impervious to we humans below, broken or uprooted by the force of wind, while its neighbor tree remains untouched.

Inside, to feel the heat unabated by the modern wonder of air conditioning is to stand with poorer brothers and sisters around the world as well as our ancestors, surviving without the cool comfort we so enjoy and take for granted.

Lights out at dark changes our daily rhythms away from our own artificial ways back to nature’s own harmonies . . . I like that rhythm better and find I don’t need a clock to tell me when it’s daylight.

And, of course, there’s the help of neighbors.  I still don’t know who took away the debris that landed on the church, including a branch that was so big it seemed in the random photo someone took (the only way I even knew it was there) to have been a tree sprawling across the front doors.  For that and so many other acts of overt and stealth kindness, I say thank you.

For Benny for getting and storing my frozen goods in their generator-run freezer during the outage . . . for Bev and Rich for watching my cat while I was gone, when they had so many other and more pressing concerns on their plate . . . for all the neighbors that checked on each other and did what they could to help . . . for the many, many, people who have traveled away from their own homes and families to walk into these woods carrying hundreds of pounds of gear to repair lines and poles and restore power . . . for Betsy, equally at home in the most chic of locales or boiling water from the river for her family . . . for a church that doesn’t need its pastor in town to tell them to take care of each other . . . for all the acts of grace seen and unseen, I am thankful.

Friday, July 6, 2012

BethRant1 - If the Irish Can Do It, So Can You

Facts matter.  And a professor at a respected university ought to know that.  But apparently, when Dr. Walter E. Williams wears the substitute-for-Rush-Limbaugh hat, he takes off his professorial robes.

Dr. Williams subbed for Rush Limbaugh yesterday.  I know because I listened to the show as I drove the mountains between West Virginia and Virginia.

During the time I listened, Dr. Williams touched on health care, gun ownership, social security, and a myriad of other topics of interest to his listeners, including poverty and welfare.

Dr. Williams' views are not mine, but they are his, and as such, I have no quarrel with the man.  But when it comes to facts, well, as my friend Anita is fond of saying, “the facts do not care” if we agree or not.

Hence do I introduce BethRant – a way to alert those reading that this is just that – my own rant against someone I think has gotten ‘it’ wrong and ought to know better.  Be warned: BethRants are political.  Of course, I think everything is political, but hey, that’s just me.

When the poor Irish fled the Potato Famine and arrived in New York with just the clothes on their backs, did they get food stamps? If not, how did they make it? -Dr. Williams

Well, Dr. Williams, they didn’t.  The poorest of the poor could not afford to emigrate in the first place Watertown Daily Times, so they starved to death in Ireland - more than a million of them.  Then they died on the ships coming over – so many died that the ships were referred to as ‘coffin ships’.  Then they died in quarantine once they got here.  One expert estimates that more than a third of those on ships for Canada died en route or in quarantine. Constitutional Rights Foundation

Thus, those left to actually enter the Americas were the healthiest, the most physically fit, and those with the most resources.  It was survival of the fittest at its ugliest.  But even that wasn't enough.

In Boston, cholera was rampant among the new immigrants and sixty per cent of Irish children born in Boston during that time didn’t live to see their sixth birthday.  Adults lived on average just six years after arriving from Ireland.  Infant mortality was equally high in New York City. History Place

If one is to make the case that public welfare is not only not the business of government, but also is not necessary, when pointing to historical precedent, it is self-evident that the precedent must apply.  The fact is that the Irish immigrant experience to the Americas is not a case-in-point for Dr. Williams’ proposition that welfare is not necessary for the survival of the poor.  The Irish immigrant experience actually proves the opposite: absent any coordinated effort at assistance to those without food, they will die.  Some will die quickly of starvation and more will die slowly of malnutrition, disease, and the ground-swell of social ills that prey on those too weak to defend themselves against the onslaught.

But we know this, don’t we?

So why do we keep insisting that it isn’t true?

The only reason I can come up with is self-interest – greedy self-interest that requires a number of things in order to alleviate myself from my human obligation to help:
(1) I see myself as a good and moral person – absent this self-perception, the self-deception would not be necessary: I could simply say what’s mine is mine and too bad for you and be done with it.
(2) I must see my neighbor in dire need as someone who has brought their misfortune upon themselves – for if they did not bring this upon themselves somehow, if they are simply an innocent victim of circumstance, my good and moral heart would be stirred to step in and help.
(3) I must see history as proving my point – precedent, what’s been done before, has great persuasive value.  If it was good enough for the ancestors, so the saying goes . . . Of course, historical facts to the contrary can be awfully inconvenient to such an approach.  

And thus do I say, shame on you, Dr. Williams.  You are an economist by training and experience.  You should know better than most that poverty is a systemic thing much more than it is the narrative of any one individual and that systems gather power and wealth and resources unto themselves, loathe to share, especially with those in no position to bargain.

Does that mean the poor, as individuals or as a class, have no ability or no opportunity to alter their circumstances?  Of course not.  But let us not pretend that they enter the playing field with anything approaching an equal chance to you and I, who ate our fill last night.

So please, make your case against the modern welfare state somewhere other than on the backs of dead Irish immigrants -- they simply aren't strong enough to support your position.


Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dr. Walter E. Williams holds a B.A. in economics from California State University, Los Angeles, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in economics from UCLA. He also holds a Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia Union University and Grove City College, Doctor of Laws from Washington and Jefferson College and Doctor Honoris Causa en Ciencias Sociales from Universidad Francisco Marroquin, in Guatemala, where he is also Professor Honorario. Dr. Williams has served on the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, since 1980; from 1995 to 2001, he served as department chairman. He has also served on the faculties of Los Angeles City College, California State University Los Angeles, and Temple University in Philadelphia, and Grove City College, Grove City, Pa.  George Mason University

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Journey to Pittsburgh: GA

I've journeyed to Pittsburgh to join with thousands of Presbyterians for our bi-annual meeting, the General Assembly, where the life and work of our little corner of the church takes place at the national level.  I went to help 'man' (or in my case, is it 'woman'?) a booth with information for the Iraq Partnership Network, a small group within the church that partners with Presbyterian churches in Iraq.  In snap-shot form, here is my journey:

Two - number of nice restaurants I was able to enjoy.

Seminary friends Tara, Aisha and I clowning for the camera
Six - number of seminary classmates I was able to reconnect with.

Three - number of folks who've given me encouragement along my own journey that I was able to spend a little time with.  Shout out to Mary Lou who always listens, Cathy who set me on this particular path with a few wise words and David who always believes I have something worth while to say.

Six - folks who helped me navigate, especially Maura, Herman, and a young man named Justice.

One - young man I could help just a tiny bit on his own journey.  Blessings, Samuel, in the effort to help Burma educate its young.

One - person with whom I was able to be in step in our own journey of witness.  Thanks, Michelle, for being you, for the smiles, and for the Holy Spirit's whisper of the same message in both our ears at the same time.  How cool is that?

Ten - pounds of swag to bring back as part of the reminder to me and my wee church in the mountains of Virginia of how very connected we each are to our larger world through the wonderful efforts of so many, many people we will never see or meet.  Every pen is a reminder of a mission or a project or a passion for the justice of a better world.

Countless - faithful witnesses to the love of Christ acted out in the world, old and young, skipping along or riding in wheel chairs, people passionate about the mundane as well as the exalted, working for better education, beautification of buildings, insuring our trusts, tending the spiritual health of service men and women, having a heart for people around the world and close to home, striving to reach out to the next generations, naming injustice, demanding a better -- if harder -- way, seeking, always seeking, the love of Christ and the heart of the Gospel message.

I believe the best of you and wish and pray you all the best.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why I Hate to Eat Out Alone

There are lots of reasons I hate to eat out in a restaurant by myself.  But tonight I met my #1 reason once again -- I simply cannot be trusted to behave myself.  It really is that simple.

When you're sitting in a dining room full of strangers by yourself, no matter how hard you try not to, you always tune in to the conversations around you.

Thus tonight at Max's Allegheny Tavern did wash over me . . .

I don't know -- she's in her 30's . . . 

It's funny that we both have brothers who are electrical engineers . . . 

Want anything else, sweetie?

And then the one -- the loud older male regaling the young ones at his table with his opinions on all things political:

I'm just glad they didn't go with the Commerce Clause . . . Roberts was right . . . I don't like it, but he was right . . . 

And on and on and on it went, until the young guys at the next table formerly speculating about the age of some young lass finally broke out in this exchange:

Hey, what about tort reform?  I don't even know what it is, but we should probably talk about it.

Now I could be wrong, but it seemed at the time that they too were responding to the fact that there was no getting away from the loud conversation at the nearby table and in a if-you-can't-beat-'em-might-as-well-join-'em spirit, decided to go political with the only phrase (meaningless to them) of a political nature that came to mind.

It went on through the entire meal, getting louder and louder with each exchange with his table mates, a young couple.  I'm guessing the girl was a relative of his.

He variously referred to the young man and his arguments as naive, stupid and dumb.

Up until this point, I had been romanticizing my time in Pittsburgh and enjoying the experience of the big-city neighborhood -- a place I haven't visited for a long time.  Flower boxes in the windows, a friendly smile from someone sitting at his window, folks strolling around on a hot summer evening, little kids screaming their laughter at the community playground -- it was magic.

And it's true to the experience of the city.  But so is eating a meal close enough to a stranger to be forced to listen to his dinner conversation, whether illuminating or not.

Not my finest hour, I found I couldn't resist joining in.  As I left, I walked over to their table, excused myself and said, If you're calling somebody names, you've already lost the argument, and walked away.

It took him a moment to realize what I had said, at which point he shouted after me, And your mother too.

Really?  I smilingly thought to myself.  That's the best you've got?  Well, honey, you don't know my mother.

I wish it had been satisfying, but it wasn't.

I'm not sorry, nor do I feel guilty.  I just wish I had been more clever in driving the point home.  I wish I'd had the nerve to do what I wanted to do during my dinner -- go sit beside him and join in the debate about health care as if I were a participant, because willing or not, I was.

That's what I wish I had done.

I'll just have to settle for the smarmy riposte.  Too bad.

Monday, July 2, 2012

I Met a Thoughtful Man Today

I met a thoughtful man today.

His name is Earnest.

He suits his name.

In the midst of the hubbub of the exhibitors and the exhibited that is the Exhibit Hall of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), a man sat alone at his particular booth as folks walked by.

Taking a stroll around to collect the swag on offer, I sat down and we talked.

Earnest was thoughtful and reflective and took his time to compose his words and offered wisdom, taking me much more seriously than I deserved and being much kinder to me than I was to him.

I wonder if I’ll ever be old enough or calm enough or thoughtful enough to simply offer my wisdom with such quiet grace.

I doubt it, but I sure hope so.

My life is richer because I met a thoughtful man today.

Blessings on you, Earnest.  May the spirit of repose that emanates from you flow into the crannies and crevices, sweeping away any tides of injustice and indignity which may surround you.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gorilla Glue & Answered Prayers

Gorilla Glue is to Nevada what duct tape is to West Virginia: the cure-all answer to every ill, or at least so says my Nevadan friend Clayton, who absolutely swears by the miraculous powers of Gorilla Glue.

He isn’t wrong.

The other day, noticing that one of my kitchen chairs cross pieces was simply resting on its perch and that the cushion of another was doing the same, Clayton opined that Gorilla Glue would fix them right up.

“Gorilla Glue?” I asked.

“Yes.  Gorilla Glue.  It’s way better than Super Glue,” responded Clayton, in his best stentorian preacher tone – the voice we preacher-types use to convey Great Truths, so he had to be believed.

A few days later, on the strength of Clayton’s recommendation, I made my Gorilla Glue purchase.  Turns out Clayton’s more right than even he could have guessed.  Having attained bonding success among and between the component parts of my kitchen chairs with the miraculous Gorilla Glue, I thought I’d move on to my car.

There’s a coverlet for the stick shift housing that had come loose and I kept dropping stuff where it should not be dropped.  “Ah hah,” I thought to myself.  “I’ll put on some Gorilla Glue and fix that baby right up.”

And so I did.

At the time, I didn’t worry too much about the drop of Gorilla Glue that dripped down into the gear box.  I thought about it, I said “oops,”, I laughingly hoped I hadn’t accidentally glued anything important, but I didn’t worry about it . . . until the next morning, when I tried to shift into reverse to back out of the driveway, only to find that I could only shift into 1st and 2nd gears – an unfortunate development, particularly as the car was faced nose in to the garage door.

“Hmmmm.”  After this thoughtful reflection on my situation, I went and got the Gorilla Glue bottle to read, for the first time, the instructions (in my defense, half the instructions – the important half, were on the reverse side of the tiny sheet affixed to the back of the bottle – it took me 10 minutes to painstakingly peel the sheet off and another ten to separate the tiny sheets so that I could read about how to undo what was already done: “take a knife or scraper or sandpaper and chip the glue off” – not a good sign).

But what did I have to lose?  Armed with the dullest sharp knife I could find, I bravely returned to the car.  But before stabbing my gear mechanism blindly, I thought I’d at least try again.  There was no conscious prayer at this point, but I did mutter a heartfelt, “please”.

And low and behold, the stick shift moved from 1st to 2nd to 3rd to 4th gears.  And, best of all, reverse.  But no go for 5th gear (at this point, I had forgotten that my car actually has six gears).  My conclusion in light of the 150-mile trip I was about to take through the mountains?  Well, if I have to do it without 5th gear, I’ll just drive slow – real slow – but at least I’ll get there.

And off I went.

And just past Miss Pearl’s house, the first spot where I can pick up any speed, I eased up from 1st to 2nd - no problem . . . then to 3rd – all good; then 4th . . . great!  And I hovered there in 4th gear for a few moments, during which I said my first conscious prayer of the day: “Lord, please, please, please, let it go into 5th gear”; and then I slowly depressed the clutch and moved the stick from 4th position into 5th – as smooth as a knife through butter.

I am not ashamed to admit that I laughed and I cried and then laughed some more – how awesomely silly that God would answer this prayer.  Nor am I embarrassed to admit that whenever I slid into 5th gear this trip, I said a little thank you – served up with a smile.

How lucky, how blessed, am I?

I know there are those who choose not to bother God with the “small stuff”, but here’s the thing:  who am I to even know what the small and big stuff are in the eyes of God?  And who says God’s too busy to care about the small stuff?  I don’t know about you, but most of my life is lived in the small stuff of life.  Most days, there are no life and death moments for me.  There’s just the small stuff.  If I don’t include God in my small stuff, I don’t include God in much of my life at all.

So thank you Holy Spirit for that well-placed whisper and thank you God for caring about the small stuff.  Amen.

PS And thank you, Clayton for the heads up on Gorilla Glue – a warning to the inexperienced might be prudent next time.