Monday, December 30, 2013

So What If I'm Not

Looking for a jump-started feeling of inspiration, I (being a woman of this 21st century), of course, go to Google and type in inspiration for today and find, of course, a series of images that promise to do just that.

Above is my pick from among the over 500 million choices I might have made: The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty.

It’s a catchy little thing, isn’t it?  And don’t you love the visual of the dirty hands?  I do.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t pick this one because it inspired me.  Quite the opposite, in fact: I picked it because it doesn’t inspire me.

What it does is make me stop and wonder why I would believe even for an instant that I am “one of the few” and why that would matter either way.

When it comes to this notion of changing our future, I fear I am not one of the few.

I’m not even sure there are a few.

There might be many or there might be none at all.

Either way, I doubt I’m among them.

So what?

So what if I am or if I am not?

Really – so what?

And does not the present require more of me than the future?

Can I really be in a position, dwelling as I do in the present, to dictate anything, including change, to the future?  And even if I can, should I?

Could things be better?

(of course)

Should they be better?


Will they be better?

(I am not in a position to know)

The present tense is all I can inhabit.  It is where I dwell.  To ponder the future as if I were in a position to shape it . . . well, even to think on that makes me tremble.

The present tense is my domain.

I am struggling every second of every minute of it to inhabit it well.

From that struggle, perhaps the future will be better.

I know not.

So, seriously, I doubt I am or ever will be one of the few.

My own non-resolving New Year’s resolution: to inhabit my own peculiar lack of specialness with the comfort of old shoes and holey blue jeans and call that good and good enough . . . that’s me for today . . . tomorrow?  Who knows.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lully, Lullay, Innocents of Holiness

It’s the 5th day of Christmas, the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents on the Orthodox calendar, the day observed of Matthew’s account of Herod’s murder of children in his efforts to seek and destroy the Messiah.

It is, as you might imagine, in these United States, a day most observed in the breach.  It just doesn’t fit in with Santa and happy wishes and family dinners, this normative reality of killing fields.

And so do the scholars argue, as if the killing of children has not been the blood sport of kings for a very long time now.

Isn’t that the funny part?

That it, this killing, should seem so incredible that it would be doubted.

I understand the doubting of Jesus as Messiah, as The Risen One, as The Christ.  That doubt makes sense.

But doubt the slaughter?  That’s like doubting the air we breathe.

It’s even funnier – in a macabre sort of way – when considered that it is not any slaughter they doubt, but merely this one.



‘They’ say Matthew (of gospel-writing fame) was out to prove Jesus by linking him to the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures.

They then say that Matthew’s proof-texting meant he made up stories to fit prophecies.

Where’s the logic in that?

Isn’t it equally logical that Matthew did what we all do – look at the events actually happening and seek to ascribe meaning to them?

It’s not the events that are suspect . . . it’s the meaning.

So isn’t the more important question not whether there was a slaughter of children . . . but how do we equate the Prince of Peace and the God who sent him with such a slaughter?


There’s a horror in the land 
in Jesus’ time and in ours too
the slaughter of our own young
(never, never, never forget 
Herod slaughtered his own)
The Slaughter of the Innocents
is the murder of our own innocence
who can walk away from that?
Of course Rachel weeps!
How could she not?
But fear not her tears . . . 
fear the day her grief moves
from tears to anger
that will be a dangerous day
for the killing ones
the day Rachel’s lack of comfort
comes for us


Friday, December 27, 2013

You Can Touch the Magic

You can touch the magic . . . it’s right here.

So the grandson tells me as he runs his finger down the spine of his stuffed reindeer, whom he has named Rudolph.

In the year 2013, all the baby Jesus’ are driven to Egypt when Dads awaken them gently from their dreaming and drive them home or on to the next stop in the journey.

In 2013, Magi Grans make their treks bearing gifts.

In 2013, young mothers settle in, one tentative step at a time, seeking their own new-found place of honor at the table.

It is 2013 and just for an instant, it seems we can touch the magic of it with our hands. . . 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day

Smoke from my neighbors’ chimney sweeps horizontally across my window view, barely visible through the naked forsythia branches that all seasons filter my view of the world.  Here, then gone as perfidious wind changes direction merely because it can (I know there’s science and wind does not will, but grant me the imagining), and all I am left with are bare branches, bereft of the little birds that people their limbs most days in this time of winter.

It is Christmas.  Blessed Christmas.

So what if we do not know the exact birthday date?  So what if it’s a made up day?  So what if pagans had the day first?  It is a remembering . . . living . . . breathing . . . laughing . . . loving . . . contemplative . . . peering-through-branches kind of day worth keeping.

Why do I, born to modernity living into post-everything, cling to these old ways and observe these old days?

Because even my atheist father found joy in Christmas. . . because every Christmas carries with it the remembrance of people and places and times past as well as the promise of times yet to be, whether I inhabit them or not – no matter.

Because every baby carries promise and possibility.

Because I have caught around-the-corner glimpses of the peaceable kingdom and it is glorious.

Because that’s what I was made for.

That’s why I hold fast to Christmas.

How about you?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cantos Musing Muse ’Mused

Life is my canto
this but a pause
in a moment
of a life as lived
too short to count
as canto, I find
I can’t surrender
the cant and it
doth make me smile


It is the moment-upon us
Christmas coming Advent
waiting almost over now
time, this Eve of Christ’s
Mass – body brought
of course it will be broken
it is the way of bodies
this deconstruction of the
certain thing, the finite thing –
it will not – for it cannot – last


Mary moves
          from girlhood to womanhood
          from naivete to wisdom
          from mother of a boy to mother of the world

Where, oh where, are the paintings of dancing Mary?


Image for depression – the sink hole –
we fill and fill and fill and is never,
because it cannot be, enough to fill
the hole, for the hole is endless . . .
what to do with that?  Is it really endless
or does it just seem so?  Does it matter
when we’re feeling, living in, the hole?
I suspect not.  But what to do?
I wish I knew
for there are many – too many –
so filled with sadness there seems
no room – like Motel 6 already
booked to the brim – for anything
else and the sadness of the sad
breaks my heart if not me


The depression of not having enough is one thing
of (the fear of) not being enough is quite another


Those living in the time of fulfillment
have no need of hope,
they are living the thing hoped for
Hope is for the needful
we think here on earthscape
it good to be full
but full of need?
Aren’t we breathing all
all in need of a next breath?
Who will provide that?


It is not cowardly to die,
but it is incredibly brave to live


Messiahs do not come in good times
for we have no need of saving
when things go well


Children are our greatest joy and our greatest sorrow . . .
and so it is the fervent prayer, spoken or unspoken . . .
known or unknown . . . of every parent of every child . . .
please, please, please, let my child outlive me . . .
born to die, please do not make me bear witness . . .


These, then, are the thoughts of an old woman
on a particular day of advent on a particular year
on a particular planet . . . oh, how lucky,
how blessed, are we, to bear witness to their birth,
these children of the world we abuse so easily . . .
how cursed are we that they too will die. . .
and in the meantime, blessed or cursed . . .
therein is the pilgrimage sometimes of our own making. . .
sometimes not . . . and its name is joy.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pilgrimaging Towards Joy

SCRIPTURE READING:  Matthew 11.2-6 (NRSV)  When John heard in prison what the Messiah  was doing, he sent word by his disciples  and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Pilgrimaging Towards Joy

The thing about pilgrimaging towards joy is that in the journey itself, we often cannot even imagine the joy that awaits us at our destination . . . and thus do we all too often lose our joy in the journeying.

So it was with John the Baptist. . . sitting in jail awaiting his sentence of execution by beheading at the hands of those who have power but no scruples . . . the ability to carry out the sentence with no understanding why they even would. . . John is on death row and death row is no place for joy.

John asks of Jesus . . . are we still awaiting our Messiah or are you the one?  Jesus’ answer isn’t much comfort for John . . . the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 

John already knows all that.  What John’s question is saying, in effect, is this: But what about me!?!  They are going to kill me!  What are you going to do about that!?!

Jesus’ literal answer is nothing.  Jesus does nothing about John’s execution.  There is no last minute reprieve.  John must travel, as must we all one way or another, through his own death to find his paradise.

And at some level, that just seems so very unfair.

The pilgrimage that our Messiah takes and invites us to join is, like old age, most definitely not for sissies.  If we have an expectation that our prayers are like ransom demands God must meet in order to have our allegiance, we expect in vain.  If we condition our faith on certain outcomes, we believe in vain.

Yet it is joy towards which we journey . . . always . . . whether we know it or not . . . believe it or not . . . live it . . . or not.

It’s not the joy we expected, this present gift-wrapped in a baby’s skin only to be opened to find there lying a cross.

But it is joy.

It is the joy of Job standing speechless before the Lord.

The joy of Adam and Eve no longer in a garden but God walking alongside nonetheless.

The joy of Thomas seeing his risen Lord still bearing the wounds.

It’s the hard-scrabble joy of eking out a crop from unwilling ground. . . the joy of hoping against all hope that this journey we call life actually has a destination . . .

In the movie Empire of the Sun, a Welsh lullaby, Suo Gan is sung three times by a boy tenor . . . at the beginning, at the climax of the war and at the end.

At the beginning, life is good for this little boy of wealthy parents.  At the end, there is reunion, but we don’t know what will happen after.  In the middle is the crucible of life in the midst of great upheaval and death, when everything of before is overturned and rewritten.

In the beginning, the lullaby is merely a performance piece sung by boys of great privilege who happen to have lovely singing voices.  There is joy there in the doing of the thing well.  But this is not the joy that is our purpose, our journey.

In the end, the lullaby is the reassurance that there remains the possibility of hopes realized even after the greatest of sufferings imaginable.  And this too, is joy – great joy – the joy of a child reunited with parents thought lost forever.  Yet, even as great as is this joy, this is not the joy of our pilgrimaging.

In the middle is where the song finds its most poignant, most expansive, most damning, most condemning, most heart-breaking meaning . . . with no loving parent to hold, guide or protect any of them, a group of boys meet across a barbed-wire fence: Jim, the English boy in the camp stands on one side and on the other are a group of Japanese boys in uniform about to depart on kamakaze missions . . . these boys are the only ones left to send . . . in the midst of their warrior ritual sending comes the lullaby song of one lone English boy on the other side of the fence . . . singing his heart to these boys of the nation which holds him captive, he sings the song of the young everywhere . . . the lullabies once sung to them by their mothers, the only song they’ve got left . . .

It is the distant memory that things can be other than how they are, for they once were . . . there, in the singing, lies the joy of our journeying . . . the joy of walking alongside no matter how hard the journey . . . the joy of recognition as eyes meet across so many divides . . . the joy of the pilgrim, whether he flies or dies.

This is the joy of our journeying and it is holy ground.

Boys are sent flying away into a sky that will not save nor hold them.

The end, of course, gives us a hint of hope at the full circle of things as the little boy now not a little boy, rests in the arms of the mother who lost him in the crowd.

But life is the in-the-meantime part . . . the part sandwiched between all the beginnings and endings of every movie ever watched, every book ever read, ever life ever lived.

And in life, moving life, the full-circledness of it is scarcely hinted at, let alone seen or experienced.  Each joy is its own.  So too each loss, each arrow of pain or slight or fear or anguish.  All of them must be lived.

So it is.  That it is so with God as with us is beyond words remarkable, that out of this grand love affair with our kind, the God of All would empty God’s very self in order to become sufficiently small to be not just a human being, but a human baby. . .it is an act of self-sacrifice beyond my reckoning . . . this pilgrim journey Jesus took from deity to humanity and back again.

And lest we forget, in his very humanity rests the best exemplar of divinity . . . the giving over of self that all may have life and have it abundantly . . . and so it is in every house in every moment on every street . . . there stands . . . lays . . . walks . . . loves . . . lives . . . and dies . . . Jesus . . .

In the arms of a mother loving or indifferent . . . in the fields of the farmer industrious or lazy . . . in the schoolyard bully or bullied . . . in the hospital and the gymnasium . . . at the tables of peace and upon the fields of battle . . . in the dying of a child and the living of a man . . . all wrapped up into one, like the world-weary inspired salute of a child to fellow children gone off to a war not of their own making they can scarce understand . . . carrying with them the whispered memory of a mother’s lullaby . . . and there, at the crest of the sun, to die.

In the longing for Eden in this fallen garden of an earth . . . there remains an echo of a song once heard . . . almost forgotten . . . ours for the claiming . . . even when enemies stand across the barbed wire of their differences . . . even when children are sent to war . . . for even when we no longer know the words . . . the melody of a distant song calling our hearts to home remains.

Oh yes, John . . . he is most definitely the one.

*English translation of the verses sung in the clip above of the lullaby Suo Geer

Sleep child on my bosom
Cozy and warm is this;
Mother's arms are tight around you,
Mother's love is under my breast;
Nothing may affect your napping,
No man will cross you;
Sleep quietly, dear child,
Sleep sweetly on your mother's breast.

Do not fear, nothing but a leaf
Knocks, knocks on the door;
Do not fear, a small lonely wave
Murmurs, murmurs on the seashore;
Sleep child, there's nothing here
Nothing to give you a fright;
Smile quietly in my bosom,

On the angels white yonder.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holding My Breath

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until they got  here all safe and sound, but I was.

It’s one year ago this evening my mother was in a serious and life-threatening car accident.

Last night my son and friend Laura pulled in with Mom safely ensconced in the back seat – over an hour later than I thought they’d be, even though Ben had called to say they got a late start and even though I could figure they would have stopped a couple of times and even though the roads were clear and dry this year, unlike the ice-covered slick the mountain roads presented my Mom last year.

The ringing of the phone turned out to be a friend calling to wish Merry Christmas early, but the sound of the ringing filled me with dread and even after the call, my heart beat too fast for comfort – even though my head knew the call was a good news rather than bad thing, my heart took a bit longer to catch up.

Even though all these things were true, it is also true that my imaginings get held captive, especially with such an anniversary reminder.

There are no guarantees beyond the immediate moment we inhabit and yet we (or at least I) continue to live into the expectancy that the next moment and the next will be as it should be, even though I know better.

I know to inhabit this moment fully, with all it brings.

I know not to worry about that which I cannot control.

I know that life is a fraught thing.

And still I get gobbled up in expectancy every now and then.

Sometimes my unmet expectations fill me with sadness or frustration or anger.

But sometimes my unmet expectations fill me with joy – like a day when I worry that those I love have been harmed and I wait cringing at every sound of the telephone.

This was that kind of a day – a day when the failure to meet my expectations was a good thing.

For that, I am grateful.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Drop-In Days

Yesterday was a drop-in day . . . I stayed in pj’s and cooked all day while Kathy came to clean, Johnny to check out the tree . . . Melissa to visit (and check out the tree – she didn’t know that’s why she was here, but there was definitely tree-checking) . . . Eddie to drop off a card and speak of a friend who died . . . Dorothy to call . . . Lauren and Kane to drop off some pictures . . . Priscilla to bring a present of cookies and home-made hot chocolate mix (how cool is that?) . . . Ben to check in on travel plans and gift ideas and let me have speaks with grandson Rowen as father and son did some of their own shopping . . .

In my job, I spend a fair amount of time visiting others, but I confess I love drop-in days the best, when I’m at home busy with whatever I’m doing but not so busy that I can’t just sit with a friend and pass the time and hear the news . . . it’s an early Christmas present, this simply being with others . . . and yesterday was my turn.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Where I Live (continues)

I dither and dither . . . do I want a tree or not?  Yes, I do, I decide, but then rescind the thought just as quickly thinking about the steps involved, defeated before I’ve begun . . . until yesterday, when I decide definitely I do want a Christmas tree.

I check the one place where I live that sells them and they’re out and not planning to order more.  But now I am determined. . . and short on time . . . so I call a few folk who might be able to help – no one home . . . and then I think to call Kathy and Johnny and it goes like this . . .

Me Hey, do you know where I can get a Christmas tree?

Kathy [conferring with Johnny] Johnny can run up the holler and get you one.

Me Really?  That’d be great!

Kathy We’ll bring it over in a little bit.

There was a bit more conversation than that, but the short version is that these friends just went up the woods and got me a tree and delivered it and set it up for me as well.

I hope I’m as good a friend to someone as Kathy and Johnny are to me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

10 Things I'd Like to Tell My Kids

1. Time flies faster – faster than words . . . faster than time itself – hold onto all of it, this life, real tight.

2. Don’t run from your own tears.  Revel in them, for they, too, are life.

3. You are loved.  More than you may ever know, you are loved.

4. It all matters.  There is no small stuff.  Every single bit of it matters.

5. You make me laugh – all of you – and that’s a rare gift.

6. I am blessed among women for each and all of you in my life.

7. I am so jealous that I will most likely not know you in your old age – there’s that time thing again.

8. Wisdom is the pay-off for age and I love that each of you love and value the old.

9. The world is a different place because you are in it.  Different and better.  You matter.

10. There really is nothing to be afraid of.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Road Food: Sometimes Tradition Ain’t All That

From 100 things NOT to do for Christmas, this had to be my favorite . . .

DO NOT make "old family recipes" for christmas dinner
The key word there is "family." As in only family, and no one else. Old family recipes tend to be dishes that the immediate family has been exposed to for generations, and as a result, they have developed a taste for something that no human should enjoy.  I have seen people serve foods anywhere from pickled carrots dipped in raspberry sauce to mashed potatoes mixed with spinach and spam. These foods are not natural! Nobody likes them (although they are likely to pretend to), so just stick to the regular turkey dinner.

When I shared this yesterday at church, one little girl actually said yum about the idea of pickled carrots with raspberry sauce (which I can scarcely say out loud without wincing) – turns out she absolutely loves anything pickled.  And there were a few who thought spam in the potatoes might not be that bad.

But we were all pretty much agreed that fruit cake has to be the worst.*

What are the worst family recipes at your table?

For me, it has to be candied sweet potatoes or yams – that ooey-gooey mess of a concoction that has sweet potatoes covered with brown sugar and butter and marshmellows . . . makes me shiver in disgust just to think about it.  But that’s just me.

When it comes to traditional holiday food, I keep wondering where the traditions come from, especially for Christmas.  There really isn’t any theological significance to candied sweet potatoes.  I could make some up, but what would be the point?

That got me to wondering what Jesus’ family ate for Jesus’ birthday?  Did they base it on what they ate along the way to Bethlehem?  After all, traditions have to start somewhere and they’re often a reenactment of something from a meaningful time in the history of our tribe.

So I wonder what Jesus’ family had to eat during that trek?

They were on the road and had to stay in a barn.  They probably ate their version of McDonald’s (if they stopped along the way to eat) or snacks (what we bring with us – in my case, a candy bar and some cheetohs or bbq potato chips).

I wonder whether Jesus’ family served him their version of road food for his birthday ever after.  I don’t know about Jesus, but I’d hate to be stuck with a cheetohs and Hershey bar birthday just because my mom happened to be eating them when I was born.

Sometimes traditions make sense.  Sometimes they don’t.

Which leaves me wondering which ones in my own life to keep and which to let go of.

In some parts of the
world, this is
considered to be food.
For sure, you can spare me the fruit cake and definitely take the leftover candied yams with you if you don’t want them to go to waste.  Throwing away those left overs is part of my tradition too.

*I started to say ‘we Americans’, but turns out fruitcake isn’t restricted to Great Britain – Canadians like them some fruitcake too and there’s even one site that offers fifteen different ways to make fruitcake.  Canadian Living  Why anyone would come up with even one way to make this atrocious brick of a thing, we simply cannot understand.  Maybe that’s the difference when you get down to it between breaking free from the motherland by revolution or staying a commonwealth – and here, we thought it was all about the tea.  (To my Scots friends – you know I’m kidding, right?  Well, maybe not totally.  And those candied chewy bits are not fruit!  Admit it – that’s where the idea for gummy bears came, isn’t it?)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pilgrimaging Towards Love

Joseph moves
away from seeing the world one way
towards seeing it – the world – and
himself in it – in a different way

Joseph moves
from being a good man to becoming a great one
from being kind to being loving
from being a man of his time to being a man for all time

Joseph moves
from Nazareth to Bethlehem
from Bethlehem to Egypt
and back again to Nazareth

God moves
from heaven to earth
from earth to heaven
from life to death to life again
from old-man wisdom to baby vulnerability
from eternal life to life eternal
from birth to death
from fullness to emptiness
wherein is found fullness

Between the two, there stands a bridge
God’s Holy Spirit comes
not only to Mary, but to
Joseph too – in dreams
and from the mouths of
angels, comes God’s Spirit
into the mind and heart and
feet of Joseph, who will walk
a nation, live as a refugee,
stand-in as a father, bear the
ridicule, work tirelessly, search
with his mother for the boy who
seems lost, who . . . will . . . love

Pilgrimaging towards love
does Joseph enter
into history a man
yet more than a man
a dream of what love
may do when called
forth to show its marks
to a world starving for
a word, an example
an answer to the unasked
question . . . how . . . how
are we to love?  Like a man,
all our Hamlets pursuing
our just vengeance
as evidence of our caring,
our love? . . . or like God
suffering all things, bearing
all things, hoping . . . all things?

Known to our Lord, we will not even know a single
word spoken by this man named ‘God-will-increase’
whose very name moves him to the sidelines that
God may occupy the rightful place of the divine –
at the center stage of . . . everything . . .

Pilgrimaging Joseph . . .
moves out of the way
and in his moving,
makes way for history

This friends, is the face of love,
and it is the movement of
the yield . . . the giving in . . .
the surrender . . . the falling
to the knees posture of one
who loves the God who made
him for such a time as this

Saturday, December 14, 2013

My Top 4 Christmas Movies of All Time

1. A Christmas Story.  Absolutely best favorite Christmas movie ever.  Some day my family (at least some of us) hope to spend Christmas in Cleveland so we can visit the Christmas Story museum (yes, there’s a museum) and sup in a Chinese restaurant to commemorate the event.

2. Love Actually.  Most who admit to liking this one call it a ‘guilty pleasure’, as if it is somehow wrong to admit to enjoying it.  Not me.  I love Love Actually (pun intended).  It strikes just the right chord of pathos and joy within me that quintessentially is Christmas.  And the scene at the airport at the end, of the thousands and thousands of folks coming off the planes into waiting arms or purposeful walking away from no one to greet is one I’ve seen and been a bit player in myself many times over and it never fails to move.

3. Empire of the Sun, perhaps my favorite of all movies for all times (To Kill a Mockingbird is right up there with it, but each to its own time).  I first put it on the list not because I connect it with the Christmas holiday so much as with watching it with my family.  (Interesting side note: the film was released on Christmas day in 1987.)  But reading about the movie again, I learned that the moving song of the boy that frames the movie is a Welsh lullaby Suo Gan that has, as one of its many permutations, been adapted into a Christmas carol.  The scene of one boy singing on one side of a fence as other boys on the other side fly off to their certain deaths stands as the emblem of war for me: the old intentionally and deliberately sacrificing their young with a passive resignation to an inevitability they created, which is not inevitable at all.  The enormity of child sacrifice that is war I cannot watch without weeping.  Christmas is about joy, but it is also about sorrow.

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas.  What’s not to love?  And then, there’s the fact that my family routinely accuse me of always picking out the Charlie Brown tree for our home.

Some honorable mentions

5. (not) Little Women.  Little Women is probably my favorite book, which makes it difficult for any movie rendition to be a favorite movie.  I re-read this book virtually every Christmas and the characters are well-defined in my mind’s eye.  No one else’s visualization will do for people I already know so well.  (My mother nicknamed me Beth for one of the girls.  I always secretly wished she’d named me Jo.  To my delight, I met another Beth in Iraq once – from England – with the same story – her mother nicknamed her for the character and she too always wanted to be Jo.)

6. White Christmas.  I don’t watch it every year, but I do love that formula of the time (think Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor in the Andy Hardy series, where Andy always seems to be calling on the gang, “let’s . . .” something.  Here, it’s “let’s save our friend’s inn”.  Good stuff.

7. About a Boy.  Another good movie with a transformational theme, as a man moves from herculean self-absorption to caring for others (he first has to literally learn the ability to even see them).  A pretty good message for Christmas.

8. It’s a Wonderful Life.  I used to watch this classic faithfully every Christmas, but I just can’t anymore.  I’ve foundered on it.  I still like it, in theory.  But overexposure has killed it for me.  Word to the wise: if you want to keep this one as a fav, only watch it once during the season and then only every 3-4 years.  Just sayin.

Friday, December 13, 2013

It Just Won’t Do: Rewriting Jesus’ Story to Make It Nice

Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is a favorite of mine.  So it is with some joy that I listen to Cloverton’s Hallelujah (Christmas Version), its words telling the story, in brief, of the coming and leaving of Jesus, whom my kind call The Christ.

I say ‘some joy’ because, while Cohen’s music and Christ’s story never fail to move and their combination is powerful, there’s something missing.

I noticed right from my first listening – there’s no edge.  Even with the brief lyrical account at the end of the crucifixion, there’s no edge.  And in Leonard Cohen’s original – in the playing of the music, in the lyrics, in Cohen’s voice itself, there is definitely edge.

So too in the Christmas story.

The need we seem to have in our time and place for everything to be nice (or the extreme opposite coming
from the same impulse – that all be nasty beyond belief) leads to a perpetual erasing from the story as it appears in biblical texts of such things as the slaughter of the boy children and Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s time living as refugees in Egypt . . . or the oppressive policies inherent in forcing an occupied people into displacement merely to be counted for taxation purposes . . . or the scandal of having a child in questionable circumstances (let alone bearing the child of God) . . . or the giving of symbolic gifts which predict the coming demise of one who is now but a babe . . .

The story is not only beautiful and wondrous . . . it is also portentous and frightening.

The point of Jesus’ life and hence his story is that he enters the human condition unconditionally, with all its fraughts and frailties, risks and redemptions.

It is a story with edge.

There is no baby in a manger to lullaby without also allowing our mortal flesh to fall silent in the face of such a literal earth-shattering entry.

No coming of the faithful, no telling on the mountain, without the bleak midwinter.

The sacrifice of the cross only comes after the sacrifice of The Holy Innocents for The Holy Innocent.

Singing the beauty without also singing the horror and cruel ironies is to rewrite the story into meaninglessness.

It just won’t do.

*It must be remembered that I write from my own context as a Protestant living and working in the United States.  The Catholic and Orthodox traditions are much better at remembering and observing the harrowing realities of the story of Jesus' birth, including their observance of The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wholly Holey Holy

It’s time and well past time to retire my favorite blue jeans, wholly holey holy as they are.  It’s not easy, this letting go, silly as it sounds, of some denim bits that have shrugged themselves around me as I stride though these moments of a life.

Today I will laugh with the ladies at the annual Christmas lunch, with a bittersweet remembering of Gloria, now gone from us, laughing herself silly over her bragging rights to having her  minister visit wearing her wholly holey holy jeans.

When I retire these jeans to the trash bin, I’ll recall other jeans, similar in texture, my mother tried to sneak and throw away when I was a teen, only to have me retrieve them and show up gleefully wearing them the next day to her long-suffering sighs.

Like a lot of things in life, it takes time to get the perfect jeans – the ones that just collapse onto your body, softened by our time together, worn in just the right ways for comfort, getting to the place where we just fit together.

Like love, being past their sell-by date is of no matter.

Like laughter, they invite unbidden a certain joy merely by their presence.

Is it silly for a grown woman to mourn the passing of an article of clothing?  Most likely.

But if you’ve ever had your own wholly holey holy jeans, you’ll understand.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Logic of a Woman Leading the Church

A man in my church championed me (without my knowledge) the other day.

He was at a Bible study (I don’t know where: he didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask).  The person leading the study (on 1 Corinthians) read the relevant passage and declared (or so my friend heard – I think his hearing is pretty good) that women cannot be preachers.

My buddy was so offended that he stood up to say how wrong that was.  He didn’t name me, but said that his pastor is a woman and that shouldn’t a pastor be one who is called and who can and does teach the word of God?

I so appreciate his defense and his calling to tell me, but here’s the thing that’s stayed with me the most – the teacher’s reply: well, that’s my opinion.



The gentleman in question had just been teaching and proclaiming from the word of God, couching his statements in biblical authority – until – until someone disagreed.

Then he retreated into what I fear is the disease of discourse in these United States: the belief that my opinion is the last and best bastion of defense to anything and everything we think and say.  We have, I fear, confused the 1st Amendment’s protection against governmental interference in our expression of our views with an imprimatur that those views have some inherent worth merely because they are ours.

It makes us stupid, as in not sensible or logical.  Merriam-Webster


So it is with interest that I read today’s blog post from Dr. Marc Cortez on Complementarianism versus Gender Essentialism, essentially arguing that one can dispose of ‘Gender Essentialism’ (the argument that there are fundamental or essential differences between the genders) as the basis for God’s [claimed] requirement that certain role(s) in the church be peopled only by men (Complementarianism).

Dr. Cortez’s point is that Complementarianism (that idea that only men can be elders and hence preachers) neither rises nor falls logically on Gender Essentialism; that is to say, there are many possibilities as to why God may have required only men to serve in such ways that might have nothing at all to do with gender differences.

I beg to differ with Dr. Cortez's logic.  Here’s why: as articulated and lived (and we live our scripture much more than we read it), Complementarianism inherently holds that there is a gender difference in the very rule itself.

To be more clear, the very fact that there’s a (claimed) rule that men can lead the church and women cannot, is, in and of itself, a gender difference that is innate to the genders.  God’s motive in announcing the difference, as complementarianists claim, is beside the point: the rule establishes the difference and it is understood to be innate simply because gender itself is innate.

Putting it into another context may be helpful: an African American friend and fellow seminary student at the time pointed out something to me that had never occurred (but should have): a church cannot claim diversity simply by having folks of color in the pews.  If there is no diversity in the leadership of the church, there is no diversity; there’s simply some folk of color who go to that white church.

If logic is to be the sole repose for our conversation (I’m not saying it should be; that’s simply how Dr. Cortez has framed his post on this particular point), we have to begin not with the process of logic (the drawing of inferences and conclusions from a set of statements or propositions), but with the statements or propositions themselves.

It’s always most telling when it comes to logic what statements or propositions we choose as our entry point in the discussion.  Dr. Cortez references Genesis, but a particular passage in Genesis, as a straw man (that which one puts up to tear down), but even in the straw man exercise, the choice is telling: that Adam was made first.

This overlooks the very clear texts, which give two narratives.  In one, Adam is said to have been created ‘first’.  In the other, it is said man and woman were created in the image of God – an indication of simultaneous creation.

For his argument to continue, Dr. Cortez asserts that folks of my point of view (whom he calls egalitarians) must concede that there is exegetical warrant for the proposition that women may not serve in the leadership of the church.

No, Dr. Cortez, we do not.

As you yourself point out, that something has been historically so makes it neither logical nor biblically warranted.

But perhaps I digress.

Here’s my main problem with the logic of the exercise, and that is what this is – an exercise – in seeking to separate the view that women are ‘different’ than (which at least implicitly Dr. Cortez recognizes to mean ‘less than’) men from the position that women may not serve in the leadership of the church, Dr. Cortez overlooks the fact that even in logic, thoughts, feelings and actions are not linear.  They are, as best I can describe just now, interdependent.  Thus the proposition that women may not lead in the church inevitably leads (witness that it has led) at least some to the conclusion that women are less than, not only in church, but in every sphere of life.  Complementarianism may not need Gender Essentialism to survive, but we must not overlook the fact that complementarianism has led to, if not caused, the very idea of gender essentialism in the first place.

Human dynamics seldom, if ever, flow all in one direction.  Whether logical or not, it is observable phenomena and thus, whether it has to be true or not, it is true (which is where we come to the limits of logic).

In terms of statements or propositions, the most telling are usually the unspoken ones – the givens.  In even addressing this article, for example, are unspoken assumptions that those being communicated to can (a) read and (b) read English.  That’s a pretty simple one.  More complex are the set of worldviews brought to the table that are so ingrained in the individual bringing them that not only are they not named, but often cannot be named, because so ingrained are they that they're taken to be as self evident as air.

Among these (unspoken assumptions) in this case are (1) the assumption that the reader shares a common belief with the author (implied) that Complementarianism is a valid point of view in enacting the realities of excluding women from serving in the leadership of the church (this is not the same as deciding ‘what the Bible says’ – this is about what we, as living, breathing, acting human beings actually do with what we understand the Bible to say); (2) that it is appropriate for a member of one group (men) to decide what is or is not appropriate for members of another group (women) to do or not do; (3) that the Bible is a singularity – that it is one book rather than many and has one coherent voice, at least on this subject; (4) that Complementarianism is worth ‘fighting’ for or adhering to; and (5) that scripture may be approached without a particular hermeneutic, so that universal understanding is possible and even desirable.

(1) doctrine is not what we say we believe so much as what we enact in our day-to-day lives.  Thus have I heard a preacher proclaim with utter good faith that women should not work outside the home while I, his lawyer at the time and a woman – married with children and working outside the home – sat in the congregation one Mother’s Day.  It would be easy to dismiss him as a hypocrite.  But it’s more complex than that: what he said he believed was X while what he lived as his belief was Y and they are opposites.  The problem isn’t with what we do so much as with what we think we should do.  For the simple fact is that when it came to choosing a lawyer, this man decided based on who would do a good job for him that was someone he could trust.  That that person was someone who should not be doing this, according to his worldview, mattered not at all.  Nor should it have.  Because I work outside the home, I’m probably not a good candidate to be married to this man, but that has nothing to do with whether I was a good lawyer for his needs at the time.  All of this is to say that when we begin a discussion founded on ‘logic’ when it comes to things of faith and living out that faith, what is of more import is not what we say we believe but what we do.  Good concrete example: were I a complementarianist, I would hold that women cannot lead in the church.  I would base that on biblical passages that say just that while also saying such things as (I paraphrase) women should remain silent in church and if women have questions, they should wait until they get home and ask their husbands.  While adopting the no-leadership rule, in every church with which I am familiar in the United States, I cannot name one that prohibits women from singing in worship and trust me when I tell you, singing is not a silent activity.  And while there might be some pastors that tell the women of the congregation to ask their husbands their questions when they get home, there aren’t many (they wouldn’t last long in our time, would they)?  Dr. Cortez may believe he does a service to the ‘cause’ of complementarianism, but I’m wondering why it’s a cause worth serving.  And logic is not the foundation upon which to rest: (1) we follow a scandal to logic – just ask St. Paul; and (2) there is no logic where there’s no exploration of underlying assumptions.

(2) It is not flip to wonder about men telling women what to do and calling it biblical.  When regulations about Wall Street are considered by the government, Wall Street representatives are actually included in the conversation, for the simple reason that they’re the ones to be most directly affected (I picked an unpopular example deliberately).  Whenever I speak about what a people group not my own should be doing or not doing, a great deal of humility is called for (in logical parlance, we’d call that, drawing upon the legal paradigm, a statement of self-interest, hearsay, meaning inherently unreliable, not trustworthy to be considered as evidence of anything).  The reasons should be obvious: (1) whenever I’m telling you that I get to do something and you don’t, the bias in my favor immediately renders my judgment on the matter suspect (and it should); (2) there are thousands of preaching examples of people learning an entirely new way to see, read and understand a biblical passage merely by listening to someone not of their own people group.  Slavery is an easy example.  Poverty another (particularly apropos today as St. Francis’ words on capitalism are responded to with violent verbiage even by practicing Catholics in the United States who are people of wealth and means).  A silly, perhaps, example from my own life experience: I always heard Jesus’ admonition about leaving certain folk behind like shaking the dust from our shoes as just that – leave them behind and get on with the real work, the good work, with people who will listen.  Maybe that is what he meant, but I no longer know for sure, for the simple reason that I’ve now spent time in the Middle East, walking the kinds of terrain Jesus probably walked and I learned quickly that it is impossible to shake the dust off your shoes, which is why folk in the Middle East never wear their shoes in the house – the stuff just will not come off.  So now I’m thinking that maybe Jesus meant something entirely different than what I had been taught – maybe he meant that whether we leave them or not, we will always carry these folk and our concerns for them with us wherever we go.  The point simply is this: I must recognize the fact that I am not a man and that makes a difference to my understanding whenever I interpret anything the Bible has to say about men.  As a woman, I would ask the same of men.  It’s only logical to acknowledge the limits of our abilities and understandings and presumptions.

(3) the Bible is not a singularity.  It’s a library composed of over 60 books written over thousands of years.  It has different voices speaking to different people in differing circumstances at different times.  Women should not lead, yet Deborah was a judge (a leader by definition).  Hagar is the first person to name God.  Huldah was a prophetess.  So too Miriam and Anna and Mary and unnamed women referred to by Paul.  Junia was an apostle.  Lydia was the leader of the house church in her home.  Priscilla was a leader of a church.  Esther was the savior of her people.  Mary Magdalene was the first proclaimer of the risen Lord.  There are more.  Some were in the church.  Some were in the temple.  Some were leading from home and some from the battle field.  Sometimes biblical witnesses feared foreign women and ordered the men to divorce them or proclaimed that God killed those married to them.  Other times the biblical witness honors foreign wives, including them in the genealogy of Jesus himself.  Some rules in the Bible are for all time and others are merely for a particular time.  The inherent danger of doctrine is that it makes an idol of one understanding of a myriad of witnesses.  Failure to at least acknowledge the provisional nature of any doctrine, including complementarianism, is to abandon logic before even beginning.

(4) it may seem obvious, but it’s important to acknowledge from the outset that Dr. Cortez’s piece presupposes that complementarianism is a view or doctrine worth defending and worthy to stand on its own.  Stating ones givens is the first step in any exercise of logic.  I have to recognize that I am probably not the intended audience for the piece.  It is, however, cold comfort to me to recognize that Dr. Cortez is probably trying to persuade its adherents that they don’t have to argue the difference (read inferiority) of women in order to adhere to their belief that only men may lead.  In spite of what may be coming from a good place, I think they’re more right than Dr. Cortez: to say that women may not lead in the church is to say that we are inferior.

(5) Our hermeneutics matter.  I have a sufficiently logical mind to strive for universality as much as Dr. Cortez.  But I have lived long enough to, most days, surrender my logical mind’s efforts at cohesion and recognize that universality of understanding ain’t always all it’s cracked up to be.  Line dancing, the waltz, or mosh pits – it’s all dancing.  So I’ll grant you the freedom to conclude that my kind may not serve in your churches.  I won’t try to convert you.  For good or for ill, I’ll just exist and let that be my witness.

Why this matters: a personal account: I don’t talk much about what it’s like to be a woman who has spent her entire adult life serving in traditionally men’s work, as a lawyer then a preacher.  But maybe now’s a time to share just a little bit to give you an idea of the cost of the ideals and doctrines about what women can and cannot do.

As a pastor, I have been told that I was not some folks' choice because I am a woman.  That one didn’t hurt too much because I’d already heard it a lot when a lawyer.  But it is a reminder that in the eyes of at least some, I’ve got something to prove that my brethren do not.

On one side of my family, although a pastor, I am first and foremost a woman, and so may not say grace at family gatherings.  5-year-old boys may say grace, but I cannot.  And in an ironic twist, sometimes those closest to me get mad at me because I will not make an issue of it with my family.

In one multi-church gathering, I alone among my colleagues was not allowed to offer prayer or read scripture, let alone proclaim the word.  I thought I was strong enough to simply be present and offer my own silent witness.  I was wrong.  It was one of the most wounding experiences of my life, all the worse for the lack of recognition of the wounding by people I know to be kind and loving and godly.


Doctrine matters not because it matters whether we get ‘it’ right, but because what we believe to be true affects how we behave towards others, towards ourselves, towards God.

Our presuppositions, our givens, matter, because they, more than anything else, including the Bible, shape our doctrine.

The Word we’ll be judged by will be the Word we proclaimed with our lives.

May it be always and ever be a worthy Word.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Life Going On

I awaken at 6.00 a.m. and listen
to our President’s address 
memorializing Nelson Mandela 
and lay crying in the darkness
of a 6.00 a.m. time difference
between there and here, the dancing
swaying music of the background 
behind the podium a fitting 
accompaniment as one man – 
the first of his kind to lead a nation
in this hemisphere pays homage
to another one-of-a-kind man in 
his own place and time 

with my tears and ears, I too
paid homage and then went
and made Christmas candy
and watched the snow fall

life going on

Monday, December 9, 2013


From water to ice
sleet in between
to melt to vapor
the H20 of it all
does nothing in
and of itself –
the molecules
do not decide
to become one
thing then another

they are acted upon
and in the acting
become something
that is both self
and other than self

science and magic
all in one (or actually
in three – this trinity
of molecules that in
their threeness are
one who can be three)

today it’s the twoness
of the three that holds
sway in my world
the vacillation between
water and ice to water
again as temperatures
rise and fall and rise
again – the freezing a 
stop clock kind of thing
for we inhabitants of 
their larger world where
the multitude of molecules
look a complete whole 
in our regard – a sheet
of ice, we say – 

their communion into a
one from their many a
thing of wonder for we
are seldom so united
that our simple being
changes a world – ask
any tree what it is to
bear the weight of them –
those many molecules –
there is no separation,
no distinction – there is
merely weight and burden

I wonder whether the tree
ever considers the beauty
I doubt it – it’s hard to see
beauty when you’re bent
down from the weight

and I wonder if the ice
that is water in another
life ever considers the
cost to the tree of its
very existence – I doubt
that too – it is simply
being and in simply 
being, there’s not much
introspection – or so 
I suspect – who can know
the mind of a molecule
of water turned ice?

Not I

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Virtual Advent – Week 2

A NOTE TO THE GENTLE READER:  We didn’t have church today because of predicted ice storms.  So rather than posting a short summary as usual, I’m putting up the entire scripture texts and sermon, which would have been given in different sections throughout the service, so feel free to take a break, get a soda, and settle in – it’s a long one.

The 1st Reading 

Isaiah 11.1-9 (The Message):   A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch.  The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.  Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.  He won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay.  He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.  His words will bring everyone to awed attention.  A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.  Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid.  Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend* them.  Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.  Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.  The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

*tend is usually translated as ‘lead’, but I like tend – how about you?


The Sermon:  A Little Child Shall Lead Them

A woman preaching to some folks in a nursing home was startled by the interruption of one of the residents, who shouted out in the middle of the sermon, “I HAVE A LOT OF QUESTIONS!!!”

Don’t we all.

In our passage today, mine begin with what will this guy that will have the Spirit of God hovering over him be like?  And more importantly, how will the particular gifts of the Spirit he has be helpful?  Isaiah tells us the Spirit will bring him: “wisdom and understanding”, “counsel and might” and “knowledge and fear of the Lord”.  Okay, so he’ll be really smart, able to do things with his hands and he’ll be a godly person.

But so what?  And so what if he comes from David’s family, which is what we’re meant to know with all the talk about shoots and stumps . . . that Jesse, David’s dad, will be this guy’s great . . . great . . . great . . . grandfather.  But again, so what?

Maybe poetess J. Janda gets it a little better for me when she writes . . .

the Father
in the Spirit
with Christ—
he began the
Compañia de Jesús

knowing wood
cut will grow

green again and
wood hath hope 

Wood hath hope.  I like that.  It helps me to remember that even when things seem darkest, even when suffering abounds, there is hope, for even tree stumps can show us signs of new life.

But I’ve still got questions.

I’m a peacenik and the next thing I read from brother Isaiah, who is, after all, a prophet of God, is that this guy who’s coming who knows when, who knows where, will be a righteous judge and the bad guys are really gonna get it, so look out . . . his very breath will kill them.  Sounds more like a video game than a king or president or savior to me.  And he doesn’t sound very peaceable either.

But wait . . . this king, this judge, will be fair to the meek and just to the poor . . . judgment isn’t all bad news after all . . . and that’s easy for me to forget . . . God does judge . . . and God’s judgment is good news for lots and lots of people . . . for there are many people in our world, far too many, who suffer injustice at the hands of their fellow human beings . . . Isaiah promises them that their unjust suffering will end and fairness will return to them. . . and there’s fair warning for the wickedness in us . . . it’s a pretty simple message, really . . . just . . . don’t . . . be . . . wicked . . . cut it out!  Stop it!  Such behavior is not acceptable. . . God could not be more clear . . .

So okay . . . I get it . . . the guy who’s coming has an important family tree and he’ll show us signs of new life just by his coming . . . and he’ll be fair, which is a warning as well as a promise . . .

But I’ve still got questions . . .

Because now we come to Isaiah’s promise of The Peaceable Kingdom . . . the place where lions and tigers and bears . . . o my!  hang out with little kids and babies and everybody gets along just fine . . .

Yeah . . . right . . .

This has got to be heaven, right?  For it sure isn’t earth, is it?  Jesus already came a long time ago . . . And so far, I don’t know too many parents letting their kids hang out in the rattlesnake den . . . and if they do, well look out, it’s time to call Social Services.

Yeah . . . it’s got to be heaven . . . because it sure isn’t here and it sure isn’t now . . . or is it?

Maybe the key to the whole thing is right there, smack dab in the middle of the passage, just waiting for us to notice . . . and a little child shall lead (tend) them . . .

Well, what do you know?  I’m betting that’s Jesus . . .

But I’ve still got questions . . .

The shoot from the stump of the family tree reassures us that Jesus has the street cred he needs and gives us a word of hope . . . Jesus coming as a judge is good news because there are lots of people crying out that it just ain’t fair and he is the king of fair . . . and Jesus promises me a heaven of peace, where I will always be safe . . .

But to get there, I’m going to be led by a child?  Even if we see this passage as telling us about Jesus, we understand Jesus’ leadership to heaven to come when Jesus is a man, a man hanging from a cross . . . so what’s this about a child leading us?

In the Hebrew Lexicon, the word for ‘lead’ has the sense of driving, as in a flock of sheep . . . Isaiah is telling us that a little child will be our shepherd, which is not as far-fetched as it sounds . . . in the Middle East even today, shepherds are often young boys . . .

So I can understand that a child might lead the sheep . . . but if I am to be considered a sheep, I’d better have some better understanding before I follow some kid . . .

Well, what are the attributes of a child?  What is a child like?

Always hoping for more . . .

Live in a world of wonder and surprise . . .

Live in the moment

Keeps it simple

Knows to stay together

Trusts . . . everybody, whether they deserve it or not

Loves . . .  foolishly, joyously, freely

Doesn’t know to be afraid of animals

And a child banishes fear

A child banishes fear?  Really?  Well, think about it . . . 13th century theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart said this about a child’s ability to banish fear from the heart of an adult . . .
If I were alone in a desert and feeling afraid, I would want a child to be with me.  For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong. . .
In a child’s weakness is my strength . . .

And when it comes to joy, journalist Ellen Ratner says this about children:
I have traveled the world over to know this one truth: There is no force of nature as powerful as the joy of a child. Children have the gift of being able to laugh and play through war, economic despair, natural disaster, disease and hunger. Their magical power to transform their environment has been recorded for thousands of years. As Isaiah 11:6 prophesied, "... and a little child shall lead them."
One of my own most precious memories is of a time when I had not seen a friend for a while and when she let her 5-year-old daughter out of the car, Ali came running up, calling my name, and jumped into my arms, in sheer delight just to see me . . . that, my friends, is what the welcome of God into the Peaceable Kingdom of God’s love is like . . . God is so happy to see us . . . that God jumps into our waiting arms, if we will but open them . . .

And a little child shall lead them . . .

The tending of a little child comes with a spirit filled with wonder and openness and love and joy, but perhaps it also comes with a reminder of the responsibility for the little children as well.

The Hopi Nation has a custom when it comes to any action contemplated by a member of the tribe that will affect the others.  It is called the Medicine Wheel.

The whole community sits around a circle called a Medicine Wheel.  Around that wheel are representatives of all the different aspects of the community. . .  the fool. . . the hunter. . . the creator. . . the shaman, the politician, etc.  And in the center of the circle is the children’s fire.  Next to the children’s fire sit the grandfather and grandmother.
. . . you have to enter the Medicine Wheel [asking permission for a proposed action in the form of a question, which the fool reshapes into a different question about the impact of the action on the community].  You then have to take the fool’s question . . . to everyone around the Medicine Wheel.  Each will respond . . . according to their position in the community.
The last people you must ask the question to are the grandmother and grandfather who guard the children’s fire.  If these two decide that the request is not good for the children’s fire, then the answer is ‘no’.  They are the only ones in the circle who have veto power.
The concept of the ultimate question is simple.  Does it hurt or help the children’s fire?*
Should not all our leadings in this life begin with the question of whether it will hurt or help the children’s fire?

In The Peaceable Kingdom there can be no room for putting out the fire of a child.  It would be well with us to be led by such simple truth.

I still have lots of questions . . . and I’m not entirely sure what it means to say that a little child will lead us.

But I do know that God calls into our hearts to be open to divine surprises.  God calls us to seek God as fervently as God seeks us, for God’s final word in our Isaiah text is the promise of the knowledge of God.  The question remains for us, not ‘will we find the God we seek’, but rather, will we seek the God we’re bound to find?

An experienced rabbi was once asked why so few people were finding God. He replied that people were not willing to look that low.

May we, now and always, in living out God’s peaceable kingdom in the here and the now, always and ever be looking so low.


*As heard from the elders of the Hopi Nation, quoted in Kathleen A. Guy, Welcome the Child.


The 2nd Reading

Romans 15.1-12 (The Message): Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God. Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! For instance:

Then I’ll join outsiders in a hymn-sing;
I’ll sing to your name!

And this one:

Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!

And again:

People of all nations, celebrate God!
All colors and races, give hearty praise!

And Isaiah’s word:

There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse,
    breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,
Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!


The Offering*:  Pilgrimaging Towards Peace

. . . letting our very lives sing in harmony to God . . . that’s how Paul envisions the peaceable kingdom of the here and the now . . . as something brought into being out of the motivations God plants within us that we are moved to share with others on their behalf.

The peaceable kingdom doesn’t come by wishing . . . it comes by working.

Born not of our desires or our beliefs or even our efforts, the peaceable kingdom of the here and the now, born in the imagining of God, nevertheless does not come into its fullness without us.

Why God should entrust us with such as this, I cannot say.  We hardly seem up to, let alone worthy, of the task.  Yet it is our task.

Thus will it never do for a follower of The Way to succumb to despair or the mute acceptance, “thus it has ever been, thus it shall ever be” when it comes to such things as war and violence and poverty and injustice.

Before the peaceable kingdom comes, we must (1) believe it is possible; (2) work to make it so; and (3) journey towards it.

Advent waiting is a crucial time in our church calendar for the remembering of the Father’s business we’re to always be about.  Waiting is not doing nothing.  Waiting is the preparing time. . . the making ready time . . . the wisdom-seeking time . . . the I-don’t-know-everything time . . . the running-to-greet time . . .

Henri Nouwen, in his book The Prodigal Son makes a crucial spiritual observation: as we grow into our faith, the time must come when we move from being either brother to doing . . . to acting . . . to being . . . the Father.  Yes, he proclaims, we are to step into the role of God and do the work of caring and waiting for the world.

Thus do we pray as we enter the Feast of Kept Promises and render up the offering of our very selves to the
God who gave us a life destined, pointed, aimed,
towards peace, always imagining that it can be so because God desires that it be so, never despairing, always proclaiming, never succumbing, always persevering in the race set before us.

We pilgrim people were never intended to sit still, to remain motionless like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights frozen by fear.

We pilgrim people were made to be on the move, always with a destination in mind yet never forgetting that the journey is all.  For if heaven is our destination, however we may imagine it, how can we not live as if we’re already there, already worthy for such a journey?  We cannot.  We must not.

Let us then rededicate ourselves to the work of peace . . . to the examination of our own lives to discern where we fall short . . . to the hard work of forgiveness where forgiving needs doing . . . to insisting on justice for everyone, for without justice, how can there be peace? . . . to refusing to settle for anything less than the fulfillment of God’s design as worthy of our work . . . to believing that with God, all things, even peace, are possible and living accordingly . . . to insist on truth-telling when it comes to our own actions, whether as individuals or as a nation that we may know where we have fallen short . . . to love in all things at all times just as we are and have been and will be loved in all things and at all times . . . to act as if the Gospel is our reality, because it is.


*In our services, we call the offering ‘The Feast of Kept Promises’ from Psalm 50.14 (The Message): “Spread for me a banquet of praise, serve High God a feast of kept promises.” – a wonderful image of the process of offering.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent: For What Do We Wait?

When we say we’ll wait
we advent people – for
what, for whom, do we
wait?  For You, O God –
of course – but what
does that mean?  When
I wait for You, what am
I waiting for?  

Rescue?  Only a very silly
woman awaits a rescue
which has already come

Peace?  Already given

Love?  Already bestowed

Perfection?  Already present

You?  Already here . . . and
gone . . . and done . . . and
back again

To die?  Nay

To live?  Now we get

so long as I remember

to live in the waiting
to live

to meet in the waiting
to meet

to get in the waiting
to get

to give in the waiting
to be given

Maybe advent’s more like a summer picnic at Grandma’s house than Christmas morning – Christmas morning has us looking forward to the presents as well as The Presence and sometimes (often?) the one outshadows the other.

But a summer picnic at Grandma’s – there, presence is the present, as we all gathered round, forming and reforming into smaller groups of the whole . . . caught up . . . hugged up . . . loved up . . . and out came the memories in story and pictures and we all gathered round to listen and look, to relive and remember, to smile and cry and huddle in . . .

This . . . yes – this together, gathering round time . . . this is what we waited for and it was the who of us all along.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Just-A-Man Mandela

Tata to a nation
as you stand at yet
another gate, I wonder
what holds sway in your
remembering – decades in
a prison cell circumscribed by
those who would define you – were
they wrong? – by the violence you played
with in ever more desperate measures to claim
even the possibility of freedom for your own
or the women – the many women – what
is it about men of charismatic mein
that the women become your
drug of choice?  Your
children– will you
miss them as
they will
miss you?
Do you ponder
the many meetings
and speeches and losses
and victories?  Do you forget
as we have the violence and recall
only the peace – for it was prodigious
the reconciling calls to a forgiving together
kind of living that you and others dared dream into
something approaching reality in the land that
so held your heart and soul in its wrenching
claim upon your destiny?  We so want
our saints to be perfect, so without
the many sins that hold sway in
our own lives – the humdrum
ordinariness of the wrong
won’t do for you