Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Revived, Reviving

revival:  re·viv·al noun \ri-'vi-vəl – renewed attention to or interest in something.  (1) : a period of renewed religious interest (2) : an often highly emotional evangelistic meeting or series of meetings.  Merriam-Webster

The word revival is almost anathema in my tradition these days.  We Americans largely of Scots descent who call ourselves Presbyterians largely eschew the second meaning of revival in religious terms, having been well- and long-trained to distrust the emotional when it comes to our religion.  Emotions are fleeting things.  They do not last.  The picture of the town drunk coming down at meeting to confess and cry and believe only to be lying in the arms of torpor again tomorrow is indelibly inscribed on our subconscious.

Some might think it ironic that we spiritual descendants of Jonathan Edwards (participant in America’s 18th century Great Awakening) would be so sore about revival, but it must be remembered that the Great Awakening itself was a thing of great controversy, that it is said that some folks in reaction to their own despair of ever being admitted into the company of saints, took their own lives, and that while its effects were perhaps long-lasting, the ardor cooled pretty quickly in the revival’s wake.  Wikipedia

All of that said, this week’s revival in Highland County has been, I think, a thing of beauty and grace.  My more charismatic friends might bemoan the lack of fervor and my more presbyterian ones might decry some of the finer theological points (or they might not).

But people of many persuasions have shared their experiences of God moving in and through their lives, of their introduction to the faith, of their wanderings and their returns, and it has been good to sit with stories shared.

Tonight I will preside over God’s table at our last gathering.  It is my hope and prayer all will find there the joy of God’s grace, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the communion of all the saints through the wide door Jesus has laid open in all our hearts.

May it be so, Lord God, may it be so.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

7 or 8 of My Most Memorable Birthdays

In no particular order of importance:

1. Turning 50 in Chicago while in training with Christian Peacemaker Teams, Mom coming out for a visit, taking in the city and being with new friends, having earlier walked some Appalachian Trail both alone and with my son as my own gift to myself.  Earlier, team mates shower me with green cards, wrapping their love in color (in the color scheme that is CPT, I am green and that’s not necessarily a good thing).

2. Turning 47 in Glacier National Park, receiving scads of bouncing balls in the mail from seminary friends (if you’ve never received a bouncing ball in the mail, you are truly missing one of life’s great and fun gifts) and being serenaded by co-workers at the park with their own rendition of Take Me Home, Country Roads (yes, I know all the words and yes, Virginians, it is about West Virginia.)

3. Getting a pinball machine and a party for my 40th birthday, accompanied by lots of laughter and lots of friends.

4. Turning 6 – my first birthday party with kids and cake and a dress with a pinafore that my Grandmother made for me.

5. The many months of Beth, where friends indulged my need, my desire, to celebrate me – the laughing and silly gifts, the shared meals and jokes, the good times.

6. My 16th birthday, when I thought I was getting the keys to the kingdom (translate, access to the family car) and what I got instead was a life insurance policy on my life payable to my Dad (he laughed about that one his whole life long).

7. My 18th birthday, which I do not remember much.  The Alamo, the friends, the ritual rite of passage in America – lots and lots of beer and, to my very savvy mother’s amusement, my first crying jag.

Here I am, 58 today (well, in a few hours, to be technical about it).  I want to not like this birthday – it is far too close to 60 to suit me.  But I awake to sunshine and cool breezes, a happy birthday singing message on the phone from an old friend, apple butter left on the back porch by a new friend, bedecked with those silly clapping hands (I love those things), and the sure and certain knowledge that I am loved.  Later I will pack up my new yellow purse (gift from Mom – the envy of all the gals here, who’ve even checked out the very cool lining) – I get to carry evidence of my Mom’s love and care wherever I go.  It is a good day – and who knows?  Maybe this is the most memorable birthday of all.

Monday, July 29, 2013

And There Will Be Chocolate

Yesterday has come and gone and it was a good day – a very good day.  Church in the morning with chocolate communion – yummm!  Ice Cream Social and Kid’s Carnival in the afternoon and I’m dunked by the first one up – a young girl who just happens to be a standout on her softball team and has an arm Mickey Mantle would be proud of (thanks, Gretchen).

Kids roamed and played and laughed in the sunlight – or did their laughter bring the sunlight?  It’s hard to say.  Old folk sat and watched and oohed and aahed the silly prize treasures won and ate ice cream to their hearts’ content.

The day ended with the annual county revival.  Testimonies were given, all special, but Tracy’s comeback from a death-threatening illness was the highlight.  Just seeing her before us was testimony enough.  The music was charmed and inspired.  And then Mark (the local Baptist preacher), leading off the four nights of shared communion, speaks to us of the Baptist way.  Mark is a good man and a wonderful pastor and friend.  He is thoughtful and clear.

As I listened intently to his description of the communion experience from the Baptist perspective, my eyes wandered – first to the cross behind and above him on the wall and then above the cross to the furthest darkened small corner where odd angles meet at the top of the sanctuary – there, just there, as Mark connected the communion table to the ultimate meeting with our Lord, was the dove-hovering Holy Spirit, whispering so only I could hear . . . and there will be chocolate . . .

And I smile.

Yes, it was a very good day indeed.

Read more here about Chocolate Communion

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Insha'allahing the Weather

In Arabic, the statement insha’allah (literally, God willing) is used almost as a matter of habit or routine, reflecting the daily recognition that nothing is certain and yes, we will meet tomorrow for dinner, insha’allah.  The equivalent where I’m from would be Lord willing and the crik don’t rise.  It is the acknowledgment that our plans, our intentions, are just that – ours, and they are always subject to change.  It is the naming of the fact that we are not in charge – a good reminder, I think.

As I sit and ponder the grey skies today and look despairingly at the rains descending upon the carnival games set up in the back yard for tomorrow’s sunny-day planned activities for the community, feverishly checking weather reports, I have to smile, remembering some of my first days in Iraq.

Like any good citizen of the United States when making conversation with a stranger, I would speak of the weather, only to receive puzzled looks from my conversational counterparts, Iraqis all.

One thing none of us is in charge of is the weather.  In the United States, that fact is overlooked as we all ponder together (especially when we’re desperate for conversation) whether it will rain or not.  In Iraq, such conversation is viewed at best as weird and at worst as presumptuous.  They’re more right than we.

To discuss the weather is a waste of time.  But even when I know folks well, when I want something weather-wise to go my way, my God-given right as a US citizen is to talk about it, as if talking about it will change the outcome.

When did we pick up the habit of forgetting who’s in charge?  When did we substitute conversation for prayer?  When did we stop talking to each other in real and meaningful ways?  When did we become so afraid of words that the only safe exchange between strangers involves something over which neither of them has any superior claim (unless, of course, we’re speaking with a meteorologist)?  When did tomorrow’s rains begin to matter more than our common problems?  When did we stop talking to each other?

I really do hope (and yes, secretly and selfishly pray) that it will not rain tomorrow – insha’allah.  Either way, it will be a good day because it is God’s day.  And I will be grateful.

Friday, July 26, 2013

An EasyBake Ovenless Life

You know you’ve had a privileged childhood when you’re biggest beef with your parents is that you never
got that EasyBake Oven you drooled over as a girl.

That’s right – an EasyBake Oven.

Even now when I see the modern equivalent, I find I am jealous, feeling somehow bereft, that I never had the chance as a girl child to cook real, albeit tiny, cakes to the heat of a light bulb.

How does that work, anyway?

And the really silly thing about this (well, several silly things, actually)?

1. I learned to cook from the women of my family on real stoves – way better any day than EasyBake.

2. If I really, really, really want an EasyBake Oven, I could certainly get one for myself now (of course, that wouldn’t be the same, but still).

3. The cakes were crap.  We all know it.  No matter how cool the pictures were on television, when all was said and done, what you were left with was really not much.

4. None of my friends (that I can remember) ever had an EasyBake Oven.  So wherever the source of my childhood obsession resides, it isn’t in jealousy.  What is it?  I truly don’t know.  The fact is, I just hate to admit that 50+ years later, I can still be swayed into a morass of emotions just by seeing a picture of, of all things, an EasyBake Oven (sigh).  And I hate even more the very real possibility that it’s as simple as the power of advertising having planted this ridiculous desire in my heart.

What is an EasyBake Ovenless girl to do?

NOTE:  After another post on our church's FB page about our upcoming Sunday's Chocolate Communion service, I went to the FB page of Baraka Presbyterian Church (in Bethlehem) because they had 'liked' the Chocolate Communion post.  And what did I see?  In far away Bethlehem, where there is so much suffering, violence and trauma, the children in the nursery at the church there enjoy -- yes -- their very own EasyBake (well, maybe not the same brand) Oven.  What a blessing!  Thank you, Lord, that these children have space in which to laugh and play, live and love, worship and praise.  Amen.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Little Blue Marble

Friend Chris Little spoke during our study time today about the pictures showing earth from the vantage of planet Jupiter, as a small blue speck in the darkness, what he called “the little blue marble”.

I hear the phrase, and among other thoughts, ponder it as a great title for a short story.

Borrowing shamelessly from All Things Considered and its 3-minute fiction contests on NPR, I offer my own 3-minute (more or less) short story, The Little Blue Marble, an homage to small boys and their wondrously large imaginations:

A boy, too big to ride in the shopping cart and his Gran deeming it too dangerous to allow him to ride on the back, takes it upon himself to push the cart – his first solo drive.
Soon the boy’s mind wanders and an amazing thing happens:  the roof of the large store disappears leaving only the night sky before him.   
Open-mouthed, the boy  pushes the cart upward, slowly at first, step after magical step, until he and the cart, one in intention, hurtle into the vast sky. Only upon landing does it occur to the boy, still clutching the bar of the cart tightly in his small hands, to look back into thousands, maybe even millions of little lights he knows to be stars.  
As the boy seeks he knows not what,  suddenly, one light – the smallest of all that his eyes can see – pulses an insistent blue.  It looks like the smallest, the tiniest, blue marble ever made.  The boy cannot look away.
A word creeps slowly into his mind: home.  
As soon as the word takes shape, maybe even a second before, boy and cart turn towards the tiny blue marble and find themselves traveling even faster than when they left.
Back in the store, boy and cart continue down the aisle in front of Gran, who is none the wiser.
Atop the tiny blue marble, the boy begins to whistle with a smile in the tune and a skip in his step, and if you listened closely, you could hear the cadence in the whistle, the slight dipthong that says . . . ho-o-me . . . 

*Maybe you have your own little-blue-marble story you’d like to share.  I’d be happy to post it here (the obvious caveats apply).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Vacation of Hiatuses: 10 Learnings from Being Away

hi·a·tus  [hahy-ey-tuhs]  noun, plural hi·a·tus·es, hi·a·tus:  a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.

va·ca·tion  [vey-key-shuhn, vuh-]  noun:  a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday.

Gone for a week on vacation with son and grandson in tow, for the first time in a long time, the computer stayed off (well, all but once and should have stayed off then) . . . links in the ether were suspended . . . fingers did no key tapping . . . FB was not checked . . . blog was not posted . . . and all in all, it was good and very good.

I was having a vacation of hiatuses.  And boy, did I need them.

Learnings from this vacation, this series of breaking interruptions in my life continuity while in Chicago I share . . .

1. Even when you catch a cold, vacation is good.

2. Sons and grandsons are great travel buddies.

3. Always have a note pad handy to write down those unforgettables . . . like Rowen proclaiming that friend Anita was indeed the best resource for information, because, you see, “she’s an artist and artists know everything!”

4. Skipping is the best way of travel by foot – you get there quicker and it’s way more fun along the way.  So skipping was Rowen that his new nickname on this trip (dubbed by his father) was Skippy Longstocking.

5. Conversation in the hot late hours of the night with friends new and old around the kitchen table bring wisdom as well as mirth, ponderings and silliness in no particular order – and they are all their own blessing to be carried back into ordinary time.

6. A good humility check – everyone does fine without you while you’re gone.  Doesn’t mean you’re not missed, just that you’re not the center of anyone’s universe – which is how it should be, eh?

7. The best use of things is not always their intended use.  Sometimes a portable lap desk makes a better back cushion than it ever did a desk.

8. Schedules are put into the ridiculous light they deserve as a boy child goes willingly into sleep each night when his eyes can no longer sustain their open-lid status, the day having finally, at the last, overcome him.  Why do we not always simply go to sleep when we are tired?

9. Friends are treasures.

10. Birds are not benign.  Threatened, like all other of God’s critters, they will fight back – even on a mini-golf course, even when you mean them no harm.

Home again, tired, still fighting the cold, happy and warm, wrapped in love and good memories.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

VBS Day 5

A little boy runs across the parking lot and gives me a hug, then runs back to the sidewalk and runs back and forth between me and the sidewalk hugging and running . . . a sheet filled with red hands as young and old alike learn to stand up and speak out against injustice – the injustice of children being used by adults around the world to fight their battles for them . . . grass everywhere – the combination of cut grass + a wet day + lots of little (and bit) feet coming in and out and in and out of he church – what a glorious sight . . . singing softly until we get to the parts everybody knows when shouts of joy and recognition emerge . . . same little boy handing out music sheets like a pro as we progress from song to song to song . . . babies sleeping on mom shoulders . . . activity sheets strewn everywhere . . . old friendships strengthened and new ones forged . . . VBS is over and it was good.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

11 Ways to Know This VBS Is Not a City VBS

You’ll know this VBS is in the country (and not the city) when . . .

1. out in the parking lot at the end of the first day, one of the volunteers hands another her (yes, her) repaired chain saw

2. when the imaginary walk for the pre-schoolers imagines hunting deer

3. when the church parking lot is filled with pick-ups, SUV’s, and not a single van

4. the pre-schoolers can identify the fresh veggies blindfolded by touch and smell

5. the leader gets a right-out-of-the-garden head of cabbage left over from class as a take home

6. doing a circling prayer that requires you know where N, S, E, and W are even when inside is no problem – because most folks always know N, S, E, and W without thinking much about it

7. you do a story about peacocks and swans and the kids know what they are and also already know that peacocks can’t fly and at least one of the kids will be able to say, “we used to have peacocks” and be telling the truth

8. at least one of the kids is covered head to toe with scabs from scratched mosquito bites from being outside from sunrise to beyond sunset

9. feathers for the swan craft were gathered not from Michael’s, but from a neighbor’s turkey house and have to be chloroxed to get the skin off

10. at least one kid won’t be able to come because she has to walk her fair calf every evening

11. a Miss Wilma (who does not attend this church) drops off cookies for the kids (there having been a minor rebellion over the pastor’s decision not to provide snacks this year) and everyone (a) knows who Miss Wilma is and (b) the grown-ups are crestfallen that there aren’t enough for them too

Yep, it’s VBS in the country and it is good.

VBS Day 3

VBS Day3

Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory . . . 

All God’s critters got a place in the choir . . . 

Jesus loves me, this I know . . . 

He’s got the whole world in his hands . . . 

Singing and laughing and lots of hand motions
Observing the bold children mistaking their way through
and the less sure, some afraid to try lest they get it wrong
All of them jumping up and down today
midway time of running and playing
and Jesus – where is Jesus in all this?
I’m pretty sure Jesus is there in the grass
running and laughing and playing with the best of them
Do I worry about whether they ‘get’ the lesson?
Not so much
I’m figuring any time spent in sheer joy
that’s associated with Jesus
and church is a good thing –
a worthy memory for a child
to carry into adulthood
Oh, and there’s Miss Wilma’s cookies too

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

VBS Day 2

Bread made by 3, 4 and 5-year olds (with a whole lot of help from Caroline) - awesome
Peacocks and swans from paper plates – I love the versatility of paper plates and the mind that could behold that simple white circle and see a beautiful bird
Food bank procession of cans – one of the sweetest things I’ve seen as little ones reminded moms and dads to bring their cans and placed them gently, ever so gently in the tub so other people can eat tonight
The sheer joy of running and playing and laughing and being with other kids
Me - “what did you learn tonight?” Braiden - “Jesus!”   Love that wee boy!
The big kids helping the little kids – kindness
One bleeding lip and one cry for mommie – crises met with love and first aid and mommie’s arms
Austin jumping out of the van and shouting his excitement to me that his young cousin came too – and taking care of her each step of the way
Sitting bathed in the night sky with a friend when it’s all over while her daughter makes us laugh and ponder when we last jumped for joy as Maggie jumps and jumps and jumps some more, managing in the middle to sit for a quiet moment and hear the water and the sheep settling down for the night – one lone fellow (young, I imagine) determined not to let sleep overtake him just yet

Another good day.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

VBS Day 1

VBS Day1

15 minutes late to start
No teens
Curriculum changed & point of whole theme lost
No-show volunteers
Disorganized chaos
Controlling leader grabs papers out of another’s hands, hurting feelings along the way (yep, that was me)
Last-minute changes throwing a carefully created schedule into meaninglessness
Laughter in the halls
Children running and playing in the yard
Mommies trying to leave little ones
Songs sung with hand motions
Paper plates cut into animal shapes come alive with a little glue and a lot of imagination

Yep, it’s summer in America, where Vacation Bible School is in full swing.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sermon Cliff Note: As For Me and My House

Thinking about this, the 35th year anniversary of the McDowell Volunteer Fire Department, I’ve conducted an informal survey, asking ‘why do you do this?’  Most have gone silent and thought about it for awhile . . . many have mentioned family ties . . . but perhaps Gary summed it up best for them all – “somebody’s got to do it.”

It’s true, isn’t it?  Somebody does have to do it.  But not everybody does do it.  What we call to mind today is that more than 35 years ago, a bunch of somebodies got together and dreamed it.  And in their dreaming, they made it so.  Many of you will remember the helping hands – many of those hands were your very own . . .

There’s a Greek word – oikos – from the New Testament.  It literally means ‘house’.  In its various forms, it is also used to refer to the contents of the house, the human body, a household or family, a whole clan or tribe of people, a nation, a Christian community of believers, and indeed, to the whole inhabited earth.

In coming together to rededicate this house, it is appropriate to think on its many meanings – house as place of shelter, as a repository for our treasures, as our own bodies, as family, community, tribe, nation, church, and as the whole of creation – it is appropriate because in very real ways, to be a member of the MVFD is to be a house in its broadest sense.

The house we have here is a chosen thing – chosen by you, but even more importantly, chosen by God.  Speaking of Abraham, God says in the book of Genesis, “. . . I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

Like God’s own observation about Abraham, you rededicate yourselves to the future generations, to those who will come after, with every step you take.  Just as it was shown to you by the generations that came before, you show the next generation the way of righteousness and justice whenever you answer the call and throw on the gear and head out to who knows what, leaving your own family behind to take care of the family of a stranger.

Throughout scripture, we are reminded that we humans will be known by God by our fruits – by the results of our lives.  In Genesis, we see God’s sense of partnership with we human beings and right here in McDowell, we see that partnership being acted out day by day – we see it by the fruits of lives saved, friendships forged, dreams brought into reality.

But it’s one thing to do an act of kindness for a friend or family member and quite another to do it even at the possible cost of one’s own life for a stranger or an enemy.

In the gospel of Matthew in chapter 25, we read, “. . . the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ . . .”

Like those standing before God’s throne, you visit the feeble, you rescue the vulnerable, you give food and drink to those in need, you provide for the sick, you answer the call whether the person calling is worthy of your sacrifice or not.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is House – capital H house – a family, a church – a community of faith providing for those in need simply because somebody has to do it.  You were who Jesus was talking about.  What you might not have known is that the complaining old lady . . . the drug-addicted couple . . . the obnoxious and demanding, the careless, the angry, the ungrateful, the disdainful rich and the filthy poor, the one who started the fire himself as much as the one merely a victim – that all of them – each and every one – are Jesus himself.  Whenever you answer the call, it is Jesus himself you serve.

When you gather together to raise money for Relay for Life, you are doing God’s work.  When you slip a fellow fire fighter a little something to tide him over during his cancer battle, you are doing God’s work.  When you run into a burning house that any sane person would run out of, you are doing God’s work.  When you hold the hand of a car wreck victim waiting for the ambulance, you are doing God’s work.  When you sweep the floors and wash the vehicles, you are doing God’s work. When you attend one more training session when you’d rather do anything but, you are doing God’s work.

Your house has been well and truly built – on the founding stone of a community that believed it was possible . . . and necessary . . . and the cornerstone of a God who answered your prayers . . . with the walls of your own serving answer to God’s call . . . and the roof of God’s own protecting . . .

And so it is that you can proclaim with Joshua as he met the people Israel one last time before his own death . . .  “. . . choose this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Amen.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Painting Aunt Vivian

I imagine Aunt Vivian sitting down to the easel before her and wonder – did she take lessons?  When she painted this water color delight of pale pinks and greens, flowers resting upon a careless stack of books, was she alone or with a group of others equally intent on the subject before them?

I am the caretaker of this passed-along family treasure and it occupies pride of place above the mantle in my office, so much a part of my daily view I scarce notice it at all.  But when my eyes do stop there, it is Aunt Vivian I call to mind – gentle soul, ready smile, warm welcome.

I wonder that she never married, that she was the one to stay home and take care of the parents.  Was there no young man in uniform to sweep her off her feet?  Did the college-student boarders over the years serve the place of children?

I imagine Aunt Vivian’s life as a water color of pastels, soft and gentle.  And I wonder if she was given as much satisfaction and pleasure at the sight of her own creation as I now derive?  I hope so.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

5 Things About Being a Pastor That Make Me Laugh Out Loud (Sometimes)

1. How the physical activity of keeping house in a church becomes invested with moral significance:  there’s a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to do just about everything, instead of merely a preferred or habitual way.  Thus when I as pastor put the candles to one side rather than having one on each side, do I risk damnation.  Who knew?

2. That people sometimes assume I know things – all things – especially when it comes to pastoral care, as in who’s sick, who’s in the hospital, etc.  Investing me with magical powers of knowing isn’t always funny, but sometimes it’s hysterical.

3. That my physical appearance and mode of dress are the object of interest and comment, negative as well as positive.  When I began this journey, I had no idea my hair style would be seen as significant to my ministry.  It’s flattering, scary and sometimes funny to be the object of so much attention.   Really?

4. How those not involved in a church don’t know what to do with me.  Some immediately declare the state of their own faith or lack thereof, apparently fearful that I am going to do a Presbyterian snatch and grab.  Some just wander off, as if I’ve got a mild disease they’d like to avoid but are too polite to say so.  And some invest me with a degree of goodness that I do not possess (church folk seldom make that mistake!)  I especially pity those beside me on airplanes, as they’ve nowhere to go.

5. How the lives of people within the church are not to be the subject of my assessment or comment, but my life choices are open for discussion by any and all.  Thus I am not to tread into the sacred ground of how much money any one person gives or doesn’t give – that is none of my business.  But whether I serve beer to friends at a cook-out is material for the open reflection of the public domain.  I had no idea that I would be public property.  I guessed I’d be the subject of attention and focus, but have been taken by surprise the degree to which an entire community can actually care about what I do.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Symphony of Mindfulness

Slow driving . . . the weight of the weather somehow requires it as the clouds hang low with the weight of themselves . . . the flutes and violins pick up their tempo just a bit on the radio. . .  I glance to my right and am dumbstruck by the simple scene seen so many times before . . . the cattle roaming, chewing, staring from the field . . . it is a freeze-frame moment of beauty and awe and I am brought into mindfulness . . . the state of being that takes each sense and calls for attention . . . where I am going, from whence I have come all fade into this moment, this now . . . it is what I imagine stepping into a painting might be like, but more, oh so much, much more . . . and I am awakened . . . slowly . . .

Taking my time over the mountain I usually glide past at hyperspeed, I drift down into Monterey where the clouds have risen a bit . . . there on the left – the first house . . . the black cat sits haunched in the grass . . . eyes keen on the thing before it . . . mole?  Or just a blade of grass?  Who can say?  The moment frozen . . . time suspended . . . in that just-before-launch millisecond of feline pondering . . . the cat symphony will reach its crescendo without me as I drift on . . .

forte piano
The wind pours itself into the apartment moving the vertical blinds in a rhythm only it can name . . . sitting in silence, we two hear the infrequent traffic ebbing and flowing, underscoring in the gaping quiet the distant sound of child voices . . . perpendicular to the wind I sit . . . half of my face feels its caress, the other mindless of what it misses . . . strong then quiet . . . strong then quiet . . . feeling more than hearing . . . I am mindful that God’s lungs breathe in and breathe out a world and barely a sound is heard . . .

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Remembering the 4ths of July

July 4, 2002  Pick up trucks gather in circle in a large field.

It is nighttime and it is late, for dark comes late to this northern preserve.

We have joined people of the Blackfoot Nation who gather in their own local celebration of this national day of revolution remembering.  They too, I am surprised to know, celebrate and do so with the same fireworks I know so well from back east.

The fireworks are set off by the volunteer fire department in the middle of the large circle of trucks as children run and play and elders sit and watch from their lawn chairs.

We are all huddled with heavy coats and scarves – this is July, this is Montana and we are on the Blackfeet Reservation, which surrounds Many Glacier Park where we spend our summer.

We are welcomed into the circle with smiles.


July 4, Adulthood   The family gathers itself up and heads to the City Park to lay on the grass and watch fireworks.  Year in, year out, it is the same, with only the changes in the kids marking the passage of time.  Then there was the year when one of the rockets didn’t go quite high enough and debris rained down on us – trust breached, that was the end of the trek to City Park.


July 4, Childhood   It was only once, I think – mostly inferred from my mother’s telling of the story – that we went into the District and observed the fireworks on the mall lawn with many thousands of our neighbors.  I think I was 5.  I remember lying in the grass.  I remember being impatient.  I remember the ooohs and aaaahs of the light show in the sky.  I remember feeling safe.  I remember not being afraid of the night.  I guess it took us hours to get there and back, but I don’t remember that part.  What I remember is the magic.  Childhood blessing.


I love fireworks.  I have seen them from above in an airplane over Turkey.  I have seen them in my aunt’s back yard and at the drive-in movies and at the Jersey shore.  And somehow, it is the fireworks that most symbolize July 4th to me – and it’s not the rockets’ red glare I call to mind, but the people I was with, the night skies I witnessed, the grass I smelled, the family I carry with me always.  Maybe that’s what country is, when you get right down to it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Lie that Hid the Surprise

Down on one knee, this self-described most country of country men beheld his wife of 30 years and in front of us all, with tears in his eyes, asked her to marry him again.  Of course she said yes.  Of course they did.  And even the skies cried their tears of joy.

It was raining.

Friends brought dishes and the bride herself had a couple to contribute.

Rings (hers resized because of her illness) were exchanged.

Kisses and speeches were had.

And blessings pronounced, although that hardly mattered.

And confession was made, because his conscience would not rest easy until, with more tears, he apologized for the lies that hid the surprise.  Even in the joy he planned for her this day, it broke his heart to lie to her.

In her quiet smile lay the assurance of his pardon.

Life being lived.

And God smiles.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I Came Too Late for Your Good Times

I hear you tell
of the good old
days – not so
long past that I
couldn’t have
been there myself . . .

the days when parties
were had and friends
were visited and lives
were touched and the
young were taught and
care was given and life
was good and

I realize
I missed it all
for I came too
late to all your
good times

and all you and I
are left with are
dreams of memories
past that we did not
share because I came
too late


Postscript: Written when I was particularly struck that I had missed the many good times the folks at the church I serve have experienced as part of their past.  Last night, a group of us played bridge together and I had to laugh as I thought there will come a day when we will say together, “Remember when we used to get together on Monday nights and play bridge?  Remember that time when . . .?”  Past might be prologue, but it’s also wrapped up in present and future.  And so it goes.

Monday, July 1, 2013

I Was So Young When Nelson Mandela Was Dying

I was so young when Nelson
Mandela was dying – weren’t
we all?  Decade after decade
time passed and how strange
it must have been – to be man
and icon at once – how is that
skin inhabited?  Housed?
Defined?  Imprisoned?

Now Nelson Mandela is dying,
this time in earnest.

And a friend starts a FB group
of those of us who worked
and laughed and played and
fought together lo those many
years ago in ordinary time –
who can even remember the
80's?  I know I was there –
but they are truly
a blur in my memory now –
and he posts pictures – and I
look and am struck – as I always
am these days – by how very
achingly young we were –
we who knew so much that we
held the world carelessly in
our hands – living our blessed
lives in the far away from Africa
place that is West Virginia –
we laughed and worked and
played and fought as Nelson sat
and sat and sat – and who
could know then that freedom would
be his?  That leading the country
he begged to change would be his?
It never does to count too much on
things staying the same, for they
never do – a good thing, that –

and now it is a millenium later
and Nelson Mandela is dying
and I wonder if he was ever young
in that laughing, working, playing,
fighting kind of way that I was – so
unaware – I doubt it – it was a luxury
he was not accorded – that unawareness
and he, I think, was the better for it, the
one to be envied – ah, Desmond, what
will we do without him?

I was so, so young when Nelson
Mandela was dying.