Saturday, May 31, 2014

Is This the Moment of My Undoing?

I am not a hypochondriac, but sometimes, I think like one and I wonder, is this the moment of my undoing, of my dying without knowing it?

This morning, two birds were pecking above my front door.  Whenever I put up a wreath on the front door, the birds make their nests there.  I got used to that for a time and when they were done, simply threw away the ruined wreath (trust me, you don’t really want to know everything that goes in to the making of a bird’s nest).  But I drew the line last year when they pecked and pooped their way through the mesh of the screen door, incorporating it into the nest.  No more wreaths for me.

This, then is the first post-wreath year.  And what do they do?  Apparently they make a nest on the slight ledge of the door frame.  So I open the door, they fly away and as I step outside, a little bird detritus floats down as I am inhaling and I am left wondering – did I just breathe in my own demise?  Will bird poop be what finally kills me?

Hmmm.  I’m going to have to add that one to my list of stupid ways to die (yes, I actually have such a list).

Sometimes I make me laugh out loud.  That’s usually the same time I’m scaring myself stupid.  Just like this morning.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Not One More

It is enough.

We are done.

If you have nothing to contribute, stop talking.

Your opinion does not matter simply because it is yours.

My opinion does not matter simply because it is mine.

What would you do instead?

Does God judge a lack of care for the young?

When did we decide the young are collateral damage?

Inertia is no defense to doing nothing.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

I, for one, was stunned to learn that the NRA used to be an organization dedicated to teaching gun safety and used to favor registration.  The New Yorker

I remain confused as to how and why that changed so radically that in my time, the NRA’s public persona seems to have abandoned the advocacy for safe gun use in favor of the advocacy of universal or virtually universal gun access.

Debating the issue gets us nowhere because it is not actually a debate we’re engaged in when it comes to guns and gun control.  It’s not a debate: it’s a shouting match.

But at the risk of wasting a bit more time, here goes: as simply as I can put it, what if we take the things folks are saying about keeping the guns as givens – that government might come and take what is ours if we do not have guns to protect ourselves, that gun control equals the potential for government taking of guns, that Barak Obama really is the antichrist, and nothing we might do to limit guns or gun access will work anyway.

Well, if our President really is the antichrist, then all these opposition measures will not matter one bit – the antichrist really doesn’t need laws to act, now does he?

And whatever the government might do, the fact is that those with guns who are angry or mentally ill in certain ways or whatever else that leads to mass shootings have already done what they intend to do.  And those folks will keep doing it, so long as their motivations, however obscure, continue to exist and so long as they have access to the instrumentalities to do the deed.

So, when I balance what has already happened against the fear of what might yet happen, I go with solving what has already happened.  And mass shootings have already happened.

And to the folks who oppose gun control, my question remains: what would you do instead?  If you knew a mass shooting was going to happen (and here’s the thing: you do know it is – you just don’t know where or when), what would you do to prevent it?

I’m listening.  Really.  What would you do?  (Don't say arm the populace -- the populace is already as armed as it wishes to be and that just hasn't worked, now has it?)

Here’s what I would do: I would experiment with laws and actions that have the aim of eliminating access to guns by those who would engage in such behavior.  I would be willing to be accountable to my fellow citizens about my own ownership of such instruments (much as I am accountable to you all for my ownership of a car).  I would be willing to sacrifice quite a lot to save children from such horrors.

That’s what I’m willing to do.  What about you?

And please spare me the conversation about what you won’t do or what won’t work.  We’ve done beat that dead horse enough, don’t you think?

So really – if you won’t agree to gun registration, to waiting periods, to outlawing the sale or manufacture for the civilian use of certain types of weaponry, what would you do?

And can someone please help me understand why so many of us seem much more frightened of the bogey man who might come (government take over of our lives old Soviet style) than the bogey man that’s already here (the slaughter of innocents going about their day-to-day lives by their fellow citizens)?

I really would like to know.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Remember Viet Nam

Yesterday I listened to an NPR story of recovered reel-to-reels of young men headed to, in the midst of, and
some not making it home from Viet Nam.  It is a gut punch to hear their young selves in that crucible time, especially the one who didn’t make it home.

I listen and I remember . . . being a child a teenager and the television news and Walter Cronkite’s voice bringing us the news and images of war never the likes of we had seen and heard before or since, while eating my supper. . . body bags and body counts and children and tall grasses blowing from the winds of helicopters hovering above . . . marches and protests and anger in our streets and our homes . . . I remember I was opposed to the war – Viet Nam is why I became an aspiring pacifist.

I remember my Uncle Richard being there and worrying about him and the few stories he would share when he came home – bombs in baby diapers and jeeps exploding in front of and behind him.

I remember it ending and friends like Walt being spared being sent and numbers taking on desperate meaning as the draft lottery decided who went and who stayed.

And I remember the POW/MIA bracelets

I wore mine until it broke – snapped in half.

I do not remember the man’s name on the bracelet I wore.  I kept the two broken pieces in my jewelry box for years.  I do not remember when I decided to let it go and leave it behind.  I do remember he was MIA, my soldier.  I was not a person of faith at that time, but I suppose in some way, the thoughts I kept of him formed a prayer of sorts.  I cannot know what happened to him as I cannot even remember his name.  And that troubles me greatly.  How could I have remembered so much and forgotten his name?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

20 Interesting Things About Being a Preacher

What I’ve gained in this journey of becoming a pastor has been sometimes funny, sometimes mean, sometimes touching beyond words, sometimes startling.  It's always interesting to see ourselves as others see us.  As their pastor, folks have an ownership interest in me that was lacking back in my law days (nobody much cares whether their lawyer colors her hair or likes or does not like fish, trust me).

So what have I gained?  Well . . .

1. Friends

2. Travel to new and interesting places

3. Learning

4. Measures of kindness large and small

5. Free meals – lots of free meals

6. Respect and disrespect

7. Confusion and clarity

8. A whole host of new enemies

9. Experiencing what it’s like to be a social pariah (people no longer think I’m fun at parties – who knew?)

10. A veritable photo album of memories of holy-ground moments

11. A very interesting network

12. Strangers taking an acute interest in all that I do

13. Being thought both foolish and wise beyond both within me, often at the same time and by the same person

14. The ability to speak openly about Jesus and God and my affection for them both without embarrassment

15. People I can call and say, “will you pray . . .?” and neither of us thinking it’s weird

16. A really cool house – my folk are still manse people and I, for one, am glad

17. The tendency of strangers to rush to tell me why they believe or do not

18. Free-ranging discussions and heightened interest in my presence, my absence, my ‘real’ motives and what I serve my guests – hilarious

19. The acceptance or dismissal of my words because or merely because I am the preacher

20. People praying for me in ways I will likely never know

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Affirming Our Faith

Oh . . . if we really believed, not as an article of our creed, which has become so familiar to us that it produces little impression upon us; but as a vital and ever-present conviction of our souls, that with us there was ever the real presence of the real Christ, how all burdens and cares would be lightened, how all perplexities would begin to smooth themselves out and be straightened, all the force would be sucked out of temptations, and how sorrows and joys and all things would be changed in their aspect by that one conviction intensely realized and constantly with us! A present Christ is the Strength, the Righteousness, the Peace, the Joy, . . . the Life of every Christian soul. – Alexander MacLaren
The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship notes that the proclamation of God’s Word in scripture and sermon invites a response of faith and one of those responses is a corporate Affirmation of Faith, such as the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed.

In our church, the Affirmation comes immediately after the sermon and is a physical as well as verbal response, as the congregation, sitting during the sermon, stands to say together some form of what we believe.

The trick with things done by repetition is, as per Alexander MacLaren, is to keep such recitations “as a vital and ever-present conviction of our souls”, noting as he does, what difference in our lives that would make.

We join in affirming out faith as a reminder of what is real, what is true; as a way of internalizing into our very molecular structure, that which God would have us hold to; as a way of claiming Christ present, the very ‘Life of every Christian soul’.

And so last Sunday, we drafted our own Affirmation, our own statement of core beliefs, beginning with I believe . . . Jesus is Lord . . . in the Resurrection . . . God moves in mysterious ways . . . because He lives . . .amen/may it be so . . . 

The challenge, perhaps, is to not stand at the end of the sermon, but to jump from our seats, offering our enthusiastic response to all that God has provided us, to provide our own amen of commitment as well as belief, claiming as well as receiving, of God’s own way, God’s own truth, God’s own life.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Meaningful Farewell

In John 14.15-21, Jesus speaks to his closest followers about . . . them – about what his death will mean for them in real time – God’s time . . . what they are to do . . . how things will really be . . . why they shouldn’t be afraid . . . this is his dying declaration of love.

If you love me, you will attend to the things I have told you – my commands.  

Just what are Jesus’ commands?  The most obvious is the one he has just given them – what he calls a ‘new command’:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. -- John 13.34-35
This is not a demand for proof of our love . . . Jesus is speaking to his own followers – their love for him is a given.  What he’s is doing is telling them what love for him looks like.  He might have said it like this today: I love you and I know you love me, so I know you’ll do as I’ve told you and love each other.

Jesus continues:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with all you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees it nor yet knows it. You know it, because it is among you, and it will be in you.
David Ewart in Holy Textures, notes that the Greek word for Truth (as in ‘Spirit of Truth’) is  A-lethea – from Lethe (the river in Hades people drank from to forget their past) and ‘a’, meaning ‘not’, so literally, what is translated as ‘truth’ means ‘not forgetting’.

Truth thus understood is to be alive, truly alive, to be aware, present, not in a stupor, not merely putting one foot in front of the other . . . it is the buoyancy, the bounce, the quickening of the budding flower bursting in to bloom in response to the radiance of the live-giving sun.

The Holy Spirit thus understood is that of God within each and all of us which calls us back to God . . . reminds us of all that is true, all that is real . . . keeps us remembering God and our call to God and God’s work in the world.
“I will not leave you bereft; I am entering you.  In a little while the world will no longer behold me, but you are beholding me; because I am living, you also will live.  On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  
Through the Holy Spirit, our reality is that God, very-God dwells within and moves without us.  Trials and tragedies are real, but God’s very presence puts them in their proper context – nothing separates us from God and God’s presence, which is God’s Truth.  We live in a reality of God-beholding.
The one who has my laws and attends to them – that is the one loving me; and the one loving me will be loved by my Father, and I shall be loving him and shall be appearing to him myself.”
“Jesus made a promise then that is still alive today. . . the sum total of how to claim a full life in the face of the fear, terror, panic, isolation, loss, and grief that comes simply from living, that comes simply by the very nature of our existence in this world. . . His word to us is to trust in the abiding presence and love of God, which is unceasing, and to remember we are never alone, no matter what.” – Anna Hosemann Butler, Patheos, 5/25/14

A deathbed declaration made across time and space rings out thousands of years later in our hearts with its promise which we claim over and over and over again . . . Left not alone, we are made strong in ways we could never have imagined . . . Invested with love, we are made caring in ways that change a world . . . Left with work yet to be done, we are prepared to the tasks at hand . . . Left with the ever-present reminder of God’s Holy Spirit, we never forget who we are or what we are about.  

Saturday, May 24, 2014


We are in the midst of Eastertide – the season in the church’s calendar between Easter Sunday and Pentecost.  It is a time of joyful celebration.  Resurrection – real and ever-present – abounds with every life-giving rain drop, every sun-kissed blooming.

William Sloan Coffin once said, “I know miracles are real, for I have seen Jesus turn beer into furniture.”

Resurrection happens in all kinds of ways – lives changed from disaster to hope . . . anger to laughter . . . resentment to forgiveness . . .

May you be found this Eastertide in full bloom – filled with God’s own resurrected, resurrecting love that never leaves anyone or anything the way they were found.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Invisible Footprints of Leadership

To lead people, walk beside them ... As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate ... When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves!' — Lao-tsu

The quote from Lao-tsu reminds me of a similar conversation I often had with my ex-husband, usually when
we were dining in a nice restaurant.  Bob was speaking not of leaders, but of waiters, “you never see a good waiter.  It’s as if the water appears at your side by magic.  A good waiter knows that he is not to be noticed.”

Perhaps Bob and Lao-tsu have more in common than they might have thought, for they both speak to the servant model of leadership, a popular catch-phrase in the church.

But what does it mean to be a ‘servant leader’?  Most often, Christians point to Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet on the night of the Last Supper, and rightly so.  Jesus was giving his followers a show-and-tell lesson in servanthood from a leader’s perspective: nothing is so demeaning, that I would not do it for you and have you do it for others.  

But what about church leaders, and ministers in particular?  What does it look like to be a servant-leader in the middle of a committee meeting?  When listening to a congregant’s crisis?  When stuck behind a slow driver in the fast lane (who just might also be a congregant)?

Can it all be simply boiled down to the aphorism “lead by example”?

I wish I knew.

Most of the moments in my ministry that bring us all closer together aren’t what I think of as leadership moments.  Mostly, it’s when I’m sitting with someone who has just said good-bye to a loved one or when I’m listening to someone’s troubles, or when we’re laughing in the kitchen together, that I feel the unifying action of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  And that doesn’t seem like leadership.  That feels like being present.

Perhaps being present is part of being a leader . . . just the very ordinary act of showing up.  All I know for certain is that I am forgiven much when I just show up.

But back to Lao-tsu.  Being invisible feels counter-intuitive to being a good leader.  Don’t people have to see who or what they’re following?  And maybe that’s it – it’s the ‘what’ that matters; not the ‘who’.  I used to get quite irritated whenever someone would offer an idea or thought that they had gotten from me as if it were their own.  But I have come to realize that we all do this – take on board the thoughts of others and incorporate them into our own fabric, seldom realizing the origin of the thought from elsewhere.

Maybe it’s akin to seed planting.  The garden spends little time wondering where the seeds came from.  The garden takes the seeds on and nurtures them into maturity.  It matters that I plant the seeds, but it does not matter that the garden know it.

If I were to offer my own ‘Top Ten’ on good leadership, coming more from my own failures than successes, they would probably be:

1. Do no harm.  It’s axiomatic, but leaving folks worse off than better for the encounter is abuse, not leadership.  And the excuse, “this is for your own good” is just that – an excuse for my own failings.

2. Talk less, listen more.  I really fail at this one – a lot.

3. Roll up your sleeves.  Be willing to do anything that you ask others to do, especially the dirty, footwashing, kind of stuff that no one wants to do but has to be done.

4. Love, love, love.  I hear too many ministers speak of congregations for whom they have precious little love.  People know when they are not cherished.  To fail to love those whom we serve does great harm.

5. Share.  To refuse to delegate is to refuse to share – it’s an act of selfishness, not selflessness.

6. Show up.  Be present to people.  See them – really see them.

7. Admit what you can’t or won’t do.  There really are some things I cannot do.  And there really are some thing I just will not do.  I will not eat shrimp.  It’s silly, but it’s true.  I won’t eat it to please you.  I won’t eat it to be polite.  I won’t eat it.  And it’s really o.k. to say so.

8. Admit when you’re wrong.  We all make mistakes.  And people know yours.  What they don’t know is whether you know them or not.

9. Name the conflict and deal with it.  Conflict avoidance is deadly.  The conflict doesn’t go away by ignoring it.  We all know this.  But, oh, the lengths to which we will go to avoid dealing with it.  In 12 Step programs, there’s a slogan: Some are sick, some are sicker than others, and some are as sick as they want to be.  To avoid conflict is to be as sick as we want to be, to wallow in the misery of our own dysfunction and fear.

10. Know when it’s time to go.  The hardest thing for me to grasp has been that I am not always the solution to someone’s problem.  It’s much easier to blame them (“they really don’t want to change”) or to avoid the person or situation.  But years ago in another profession, I learned the value of letting go.  A client had become difficult to work with and we ended up avoiding each other.  I kept trying and trying and getting nowhere and then I gave up, but I didn’t let go, until finally I realized that nothing I did would resolve our situation and so I severed the relationship, over her objection.  Months later, I saw her.  She literally ran up to me.  I was frightened that she might hit me, but instead, she threw her arms around me and thanked me and let me know how she had been able to move on and resolve the problem that brought her to me in the first place.  With absolutely no help from me, she was able to do what she needed to do.  We were both better off for having parted ways.  It’s humbling to realize that I might not have what you need.  But it’s important: otherwise, we end up right back at #1, doing harm where we had only the best of intentions.

May the seeds grow, but may my footprints be invisible.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What I Am as a Person of Faith

follower of the Risen One
teacher who follows
follower who teaches
shepherded shepherd
beloved lover
rhymed to the rhythm of the universe
found wanting
wanting to be found
craver of too much for me
pursuer and pursued
stumbler along The Way
dancer to unheard tunes
freed and free and freeing
confident and confused
sure and uncertain
raced and embraced
peculiarly me and eternally universal
well and well and truly well
longed for and longing
alone and accompanied
planted and uprooted
graced giver of graces

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Creed

Most Sundays we stand at church and proclaim together what we believe, our creed.  Today on FB, I shared The Creed of Living Legends from Digital Evangelism, the kind of thing that states in simple, declarative sentences what to do to be who I should be.  You know – inspiring.

But then I got to thinking and posted this challenge with it:
An exercise: tonight, review your day w/ paper and pen (no tablets for this one) -- then, based on what you did and did not do, what you said and did not say TODAY, write down YOUR creed . . . reflect on what you've written . . . our creed, you see, is not what we say we believe . . . it is what we do . . . thus, on a bad or frustrating day for me, my Creed would probably begin with "Be rude to other drivers for they surely deserve that honking horn for having the audacity to be in my way . . ."

And then I got to thinking that my joking reference to my driving probably is closer to the mark than I’d like to think when it comes to what I believe.

What do I believe if I look at my own yesterday?

I believe that if you’re going to have guests, the good china should come out.

I believe that whether it’s time at a vacation house by a lake or just hanging out at my house, time with family is time well spent.

I believe that my time is more important than anyone else’s, so give myself the freedom to be late while becoming impatient with you when you do the same.

I believe that mayonnaise on a hoagie or sub is morally wrong.

I believe that planning my future makes sense, but imagining it is virtually impossible.

I believe that some things are better left unsaid.

I believe that Star Trek in its many iterations is filled with engaging ways to grapple with the big questions.

I believe that laughter matters.

I believe that this side of heaven, driving a fast car on a sunny day is about as close as I’m going to get.

I believe that the want of you in me is bigger than the need of me is in you.

I believe that God listens – sometimes with amusement, sometimes with frustration, sometimes with down right “I’m done with this”, but listening God does.

I believe that I am very lucky and that good fortune needs sharing.

I believe I will be a better cello player merely by having the cello sit in my living room.

So, what about you?  What did your yesterday say about what you believe?  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Being Loved

Being loved . . . 
it is a fine place to begin . . . 

and I can see the glimmering of the deeper forest a ways off but not so far as before . . . 
the forest depths that are God’s own deepening and loving and being . . . 
a place not light but dark . . . 
a place where privation thrives
it is a good thing for the only thing, even that small thing, is the only thing . . . 

God . . . 

and yes, dear Julian, all is well and will be well and whether I am here for the broken or they for me ceases to matter for there is only love . . . 
for me . . . 
for them . . . 
my own but an imperfect imagining of the real thing, the only thing, that is God . . . 
but it will have to do, for it is all that I have and all that I am . . . 
and lo, it is enough and more than enough and here I am and this then is purpose – 
not in the broken ones nor in me, but in God . . . 
where purpose has always resided . . . 

where else could it live?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Some Snippets on John 14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  

At the time of their last gathering, when Jesus has washed the feet and the meal has been had and Judas has run off to do his dirty work, Jesus (1) tells his disciples he’s leaving and they can’t go with him and then (2) gives his followers their last and most important marching orders: Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this [loving] everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

After pointing out how the grand claims to love will ring empty (Jesus’ prediction that Peter will betray him three times) Jesus’ very next words are but don’t worry about that.  Just believe.  Believe God.  Believe me.

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  

Jesus speaks of relationship with God as a home place – a place already ready and waiting . . . a place for you . . . where the sheets are clean and the bed already turned down, where your name is set in a place of honor . . . where you will be made not merely welcome, but at home . . .

And you know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. 

I am . . . the way . . . the truth . . . the life . . . Jesus could just as well have said I am your way, your truth, your life . . . walk as I walk . . . live as I have lived . . . proclaim as I have proclaimed . . . this is your journey and your destination, all wrapped in to one . . . do not worry, for you really do know . . . you have seen me and in seeing me, you have seen the face of God and lived . . . keep seeing me and you will keep living, keep loving . . . for the fact is, you really do know the way because you know me.

No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

This is not a creedal statement of our faith; rather, this is Jesus’ statement about his own identity.  This is Jesus’ own proclamation that he is The Divine.  Jesus is making it as clear as he can to his disciples that they have seen God (the Father) because they have seen Jesus.  They are one and the same.  Philip’s question and Jesus’ answer make that even more clear:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  

The very voice of God speaks now directly to Philip: Here I am, standing right before you.  Philip, I’m right here.  Right here, right now, you can be satisfied, made whole, filled . . . for right here, right now, I am.

Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 

To make this be about miracles is too limited, too small, a claim.  Jesus is speaking here to one of his disciples, one who has lived, eaten, walked alongside, slept with, listened to, this Jesus.  Philip has seen the private face as well as the public one and thus is uniquely qualified to know Jesus through and through.  This is about knowing.

This isn’t about faith.  This is about understanding – about knowing the nature, the character of God . . . of knowing what kind of god God is.

And there is God, standing right in front of Philip and declaring, here I am, your exhibit A – know me and know what kind of God I am . . . know me and be comforted . . . know me . . .

This, perhaps, is the most surprising thing about the entirety of the New Testament: God is a god who wishes to be known.  Like you know your best friend known.  Like you know your lover known.  Like you know your husband or wife of 50 years+ known.  Like you know every crevasse of your baby’s body known.  Like you know the back of your own hand known.

There is a poignancy to this plea of God’s, this almost begging desire to be seen, to be understood, to be known.

And there, in that exchange with Philip, is the sum of our faith: behold your God . . . see your God . . . in the face, in the words, and especially in the doing, know Jesus, know your God.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 

And in this seeing, in this knowing, there is an unleashing of great things where wonder walks the earth . . . and maybe, just maybe, he speaks of miracles and wonders . . . and maybe, just maybe, we were made to heal and also to upset the social order the way Jesus upset tables . . . maybe, just maybe, we were made to preach and proclaim and also to care about and from our caring feed the thousands as he did . . . maybe, just maybe, we were made to tell stories and also to sweat out our prayers like blood and pray reality into existence as he did . . . and maybe, just maybe, we, like Jesus, are here to love and in our loving, to make the God who so desires to be known be obvious to a world looking so hard for a little love.

I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Whether we say so or not, all that we do, we do in his name, under his authority, his claim upon our lives.  All that we claim, we claim in his name, under his authority, his claim upon our lives.

Jesus answers for us because we are his.  Simple as that.

This life we live, these things we do, we live and do not on our own behalf, but on behalf of the one in whose name we come.

And so do we pray in Jesus’ name not as a magical incantation, as if stamping Jesus’ name on the end of our prayers guarantees their answer to our satisfaction.  Rather do we act in Jesus’ name in recognition that what we do and how we do it, which includes our prayers, we do only within the identity of Jesus as the Risen One, as God’s very self.  Thus do we merge into the God that God is, becoming one as God and Jesus himself are one.

It is an incredible gift and an incredible responsibility.

And it is all wrapped up in one simple sentence: my house is yours.  Where I live, you live.  Where I go, you go.  Where I am, you are.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Hope Unnecessary

Hope is necessary, but is not a sufficient starting point . . . worship and praise are our necessary starting point, reorienting us to God. – Jonathan Ytterock

As the young man preaches his ordination sermon before a veritable bevy of ministers and elders, I am stuck on and struck by his words about hope and its place within our worship and our lives.

Hope – that thing ineffable that the writer of Hebrews calls the object of our faith.

Well, if faith is the evidence of things not seen, perhaps hope is the evidence of things seen – seen and found wanting.

And so it was that in early 2006, listening to the stories of Iraqis fled to Amman, Jordan, juxtaposed with reports from home that I wrote:
My young woman friend’s engagement party was scheduled and rescheduled three times because of security concerns, each proposed location deemed unsafe.  Finally, the party was had at home.  Unfortunately, her family live near a police station and the morning of the party, there was a car bomb at the station.  In addition to the carnage there, all the windows were blown out of their apartment.  Tired of rescheduling, they elected to fix the glass and have the party anyway.  About half the guests stayed away.  Yet, when she remembers her engagement, she smiles.  Even the violence of the day did not drive her from Baghdad.

But later, her step-brother was kidnapped and beaten.  He was ultimately returned, after a large ransom was paid.  Her father initially tried to haggle over the original ransom demand (a common practice); but the kidnappers reacted by threatening to kill his wife and daughter.  The family then fled to Amman.  Her husband continues to work in Iraq, but manages to come to Amman to visit her as often as he can.  She tells us this matter-of-factly and even with some humor, especially about the engagement party.  But there is an ever-present sadness in her eyes.

As I listen to this beautiful, bright young woman tell about her life and marriage, I am reminded that President Bush or someone in his administration recently remarked that one of the signs of improvement in Iraq is the fact that people continue to get married, that marriage is a sign of hope; therefore, things must be getting better in Iraq.
I remember and I am furious at the facile statement.  Mr. Bush is a baby boomer himself; does he really not know what that means?  Does he really forget that his own creation was born in a time dominated by fear?  Can he really not know that our generation’s existence owes as much to desperation as to hope?  Does he really not understand that hope itself is about a wish for something not now true?  That hope does not reflect an existing improved reality, but rather the lack of one?

Hope is for people who need, not people who have.

Ah for the day of dreams fulfilled . . . peace found . . . hope unnecessary . . .

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Life-like Living

Part 1








Part 2

What has my life been like the last 10 years?  I ponder after asking a friend newly turned 40 about what her next 10 will be like in her imagining and she ruminates on the many changes . . . happenings . . . events . . . growths and losses . . . of the last 10 . . . 

And I ponder my own last 10 . . . from 2004 to now . . . trips to and from Scotland . . . friends made and shed . . . a new career – a calling . . . Iraq . . . no Iraq . . . striving to make peace with barely the language for it . . . a grandson . . . paradise and theater of the absurd – all wrapped in to one decade in one life on one tiny planet . . . 

Its significance eludes me . . . I am sure it is there but have not the facility to read the leaves of the tea and am left floundering for the meaning . . . the purpose . . . the design in a tapestry where I can only detect the faintest of threads . . . 


Part 3

What if I had been . . . 

President – no room for pacifism with that job description

A mother of many rather than few – would I have gotten better at it with more practice?

A dancer – but oh, the chocolate I would not have known

A Nigerian woman – would I have survived to womanhood or would I have been sold into invisibility long ago for daring to dream of reading a book?

Born a man – what secrets, what handshakes, what ways of striding the earth entitled would I know that I do not, cannot, now, with this feminine-encased carcass, know?

A waitress – would my legs hold me up at the ripe old age of almost 59?  

Born with no legs – would I hate you your easy grace?

A cow – would I have been lucky enough to have been born in India?

I suppose a life is what it is like.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Rain . . . a layered thing
peeling back one drop
at a time that which
remains otherwise
hidden – the undersides
of leaves . . . tree frogs
making a run for it
(who knows why)
across the roads . . .
worms surging out of
the dirt into the water
warmed by the sidewalk’s
sun-baskededness . . . the
rumbling of a world other-
wise unheard in the reverb
of a single clap of thunder . . .

washed away the lies told
to make truth more palatable . . .
the  I will not that hides behind
the I cannot and calling it
kindness cannot stand where
the floodwaters have washed
such things as nonsense away
leaving only real in its wake

as the tree frogs rush to make
it across the great concrete
divide thinking the water their
friend . . . unaware of the rumbling
approach and mistaking the tires
for thunder and all it not well

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I am not Anne LaMott and I love Mother’s Day

Just because everyone can’t be a mother does not mean that no one should be or that no one should be honored – that’s like saying we should all get presents on your birthday – really, can we not honor those who are the thing without making it be about how we or those we know are not the thing?  Can we not, for a change, be glad for someone else’s joy without it becoming our sorrow?

Didn’t have a good Mom?  I get that – but you know what?  I bet there was someone in your life who mommed you.  Or someone in your life that you mommed.

What I like about Mother’s Day among so many things is that Anna Jarvis, resident of my home state, one single person, lived in a time when one person could make something happen – perhaps we still live in such a time although it can be harder to see.

So I love Mother’s Day because

1. It reminds me how blessed I am to have and have had the one I do

2. I love home-made cards from the little ones in my life past and present – they rest in my treasure spots all over the house and sometimes on the wall

3. Full employment – when I get cynical that it’s all about making some money for the card and flower and chocolate industries, I think so what – those folks need jobs too

4. A reason, even if an artificial one, to get together with family

5. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t many celebrate me days in my life, so I want to hold on to all the ones I’ve got

6. Did I mention that the woman who started it all came from my home state?

7. In my church (and I don’t think we’re alone in this), we speak of church as family all the time, so Mother’s Day becomes a day to celebrate all the women of the church who are all mothers, spiritual if not biological.  Same with Father’s Day.

8. In addition to cards, I am right fond of flowers and chocolate.

9. Did I mention my great Mom?  Yeah.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Far Country

I drive the 150 or so miles from home to home yesterday, traveling from where I now live to where I once did – to family and gatherings, to laughter and memories, to new rituals and old – whenever I take this drive, I am literally traveling into my own past – maybe that’s part of the problem – the present is not my past and thus cannot sustain my expectations, whatever they may be, for things are not the same nor should they be – I’m not so why would they be?  But maybe that’s the thing – that I am not the same cries out for something to remain unchanged and what better terrain than my past – already written and rewritten long ago – but of course, it is not my past into which I travel – that trick of mind simply will not do and each change in the lay of the land chants change . . . change . . . change . . . and it, if not all, is well and for today, that will do.

Friday, May 9, 2014

My Misreads Continue

WHAT I READ Susan Philips shared a blink
WHAT IT SAID Susan Philips shared a link

WHAT I READ You can always massage me
WHAT IT SAID You can always message me

WHAT I READ . . . really appalling story . . .
WHAT IT SAID . . . a really appealing story . . .

WHAT I READ Prayer of Confusion
WHAT IT SAID Prayer of Confession

WHAT I READ Nacho man . . .
WHAT IT SAID Macho man . . .

WHAT I READ Thou shalt teach thy children how to thank
WHAT IT SAID Thou shalt teach thy children how to think

WHAT I READ Jesus embroiled the love of God in the world
WHAT IT SAID Jesus embodied the love of God in the world

WHAT I READ Afraid you’re praying too much?
WHAT IT SAID Afraid you’re paying too much?

WHAT I READ What would the me be?
WHAT IT SAID What would the theme be?

WHAT I READ Alcoholism is a family business
WHAT IT SAID Alcoholism is a family illness

I love the idea of sharing a blink with Susan . . . getting a surprise massage via FB . . . thinking of a man as a food group . . . thankful children . . . a Jesus embroiled in all the things of life . . . not so much the family business being alcoholism, but hey, even that gives me a giggle on an otherwise unfunny thing . . . and my prayers are as often confusing as confessing . . . and I had to wonder why anyone would fear praying too much (certainly not my problem, is it, Lord?) . . . and ‘what would the me be?’ – that one doesn’t even make sense – but it made me laugh at the time.

So who’s to say these were misreads after all?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

But It Doesn’t Work For Me: 10 Ways to Make Sure New Folks Feel Unwelcome at Your Church

We in the church are often older than the average population.  Many of us have been coming to church since we were infants.  And we know how things ought to be.  Just ask us.  But here’s the thing we forget: the people before us made way for us, as evidenced by the fact that we’re still here.  If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here.  It really is that simple.  So too must we make way for those to come after.  Or they will not come.

So – you say you want young folk.  And they aren’t here.  And you wonder why.

This list is not intended to say that we never get it right.  We know when we get it right.  It’s obvious.  What is not obvious is when we get it wrong.  Hence this list.

1. Insist that things remain as they have always been.  This was
the error of the Roman Catholic church at the time of the Reformation – to insist that nothing change is to lose those for whom change is essential to their participation. . . it is to fail to recognize that the new voice may just be the voice of God come with a new or renewing message to the faithful . . . Jesus did not come as a statue at a frozen moment in time . . . he came as a living, breathing, change-bringing human being . . .

2. Resent the change new folks bring with them.  The fact is that whenever a new person walks in, things change – literally, the identity of the group is changed whenever a single part of that group is changed . . . so with the loss of some and the addition of others.  Change thus understood, is inevitable.  Sensing this do many resent rather than embrace new folk, understanding the change their very presence brings as a threat rather than an opportunity.

3. Complain . . . a lot . . . insist that words to the hymns never be changed (treat the hymns as if they’re scripture) . . . voice your confusion when familiar tunes are put with different words (refusing to learn – learning, studies show, is actually promoted by changing things up a bit) . . . treat your customary seat as if it has your name engraved upon it . . . frown whenever someone new missteps on your (unknown to them) sacred cow of how things are “supposed to be” . . . snarl when young children fuss, or better, tell young parents how your children never acted that way in church . . . bitch and kvetch instead of offering solutions to new things being tried (such as recorded music because you can’t understand the words – rather than suggesting we might include the lyrics to help those who don’t hear so well anymore) . . . Whine about missing the choir, refusing to see that there aren’t enough voices to sustain a regular choir anymore and that this preacher is not a musician.  And absolutely do not volunteer to organize one yourself.

4. Blame others for your own changing limitations.  You don’t hear as well as you used to.  Standing and sitting are not easily done.  Sometimes you may find yourself more irritable, especially in those pews, which are not user-friendly to your aging body.  When that happens, be sure to blame your discomfort or limitation on the preacher (why does she make us stand so often?  Why doesn’t she leave the words to the songs alone?  Why is the sermon so long?), the new folks with kids (I can’t hear what’s being said over that child), the bulletin (squinting at the regular-sized order rather than taking one of the large-print ones lest someone know you can’t see as well as you once did and think you weak, less than), and so forth.

5. Refuse to learn anything new.  When a new song is introduced, refuse to sing it; refuse to even look at the words; revert to #3 and let the complaining begin.  When the preacher starts a blog, refuse to read it because you do not read blogs (declared as if you were announcing that you, a vegetarian, do not eat meat or you, a law-abider, do not break into other people’s homes).  When a new service is introduced, never attend, because it’s not your cup of tea.

6. Misremember your own past.  You were change to another generation at one time in your life.  Refuse to remember that.  Refuse to recall how others before you made space for you and your ideas and new ways.  Or how it made you feel when they didn’t.

7. Insist that church is your house (my house, my rules).  Actually, church is God’s house and we are all the guests.  The rules are God’s too.  Pews are not bible-mandated (read it – if we wanted to be biblical and literal about it, Sunday would have me as the preacher sitting rather than standing and the rest of you sitting on the floor or standing around me as I taught).  Participation and ownership are not the same thing.  One is inclusive; the other is not.  Isn’t it time at this point in your life that you understood that?

8. Insist that children are interruptions, better seen than heard.  Here’s the test to know if this is you: when an old folk makes a remark from the pew during the sermon, do you laugh?  (We do at my church).  Or do you complain that she should be quiet?  Of course you don’t.  Well, if she is able to ‘participate’ from the pew, why cannot the babies and little ones?  Jesus reserved a special anger for those who would keep the children away (presumably being the ‘distractions’ that they often are).  If it displeased Jesus, why would we think it would be all right for us to do it?  More importantly, why would we think the only message we’re to get on Sunday would come from the front?  (And remember, I’m the preacher in these scenarios).  Why would we not understand that maybe, just maybe, the ‘interruption’ was the real reason we were there?  That the child had something of God to teach us?

9. Insist that one’s apparel is the measure of one’s dedication to God  The testimony of a man I heard years ago at my home church makes the point better than I ever could: John (I can’t remember his name, so we’ll call him John) had a great epiphany when young, making his own profession of faith in a family member’s home just after he had sat in his van on their lawn with beer and joint in hand.  A brand-new Christian, he decided to come to church the next day.  Still having what he called a rebellious spirit, he came wearing his dirtiest clothes and no shoes.  He mentioned the clothes and one of the elders of the church shouted out to remind him that he was barefoot too (yes, people noticed).  Laughingly, he said, “you’re right – I’d forgotten that.”  Then he went on to say how everyone in that church made him feel welcome and made no comment on his appearance and how much difference that made – their loving him (or if you prefer, loving him anyway) – to his walk.  Some folks don’t have anything but work clothes.  Some are simply indifferent to their physical appearance.  Some are wearing their Sunday best and it just happens not to be quite as good (in our eyes) as our Sunday best.    And some are testing us, to see if we really live what we proclaim.  The whole idea of dressing up for church probably stems from rituals of purity (such as washing one’s hands or feet) before entering the house of the Lord.  But Christians have, by and large, not retained such rituals, understanding Jesus the Christ and his death on the cross to have achieved for us our ‘cleanliness’ before God.  So if it’s veneration for The Holy One you want, you might be better off to put a washing sink outside the sanctuary than to insist that men wear ties and women wear hats.

10. Always insist that worship is about you.  Forget that you have already had a lifetime of wonderful worship experiences.  Overlook that you have the skills to experience worship walking down the street.  In other words, refuse to make way for worship geared to those less sure in the faith than you.  Don’t participate in that worship.  Do not lend your support to it.  Make it always and only be about you and your needs, wants, desires.  Do not share.  Henri Nouwen, in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, challenges us older Christians to remember that the parable has three main characters and that we are not to remain prodigals or older brothers, but rather are called out by God to become the father in the story (that’s right – we are to move towards taking on the role of God) – to become the one who runs out in greeting, the one who kills the fatted calf and celebrates the long-awaited return, the one who explains to the resentful older brother why it should be thus.  It is an important reminder: we begin our journey as prodigals or older brothers or even sometimes as both.  But we are not to remain there.  As we progress in our walk, we are called out to become the very face of God to all the other prodigals and older brothers, to understand that it isn’t all about us and live out that redemptive love and in so doing, change a world.  Or not.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dancing to the Lord

King David famously danced before God in his underwear (ephod – check it out – it’s really his underclothing), much to the shame of his wife (and she paid for that shame, trust me).

The psalms exhort us to dance our praises to God.

Ecclesiastes reminds us (think the Birds song here) that there is a time to dance.

The celebration of the Exodus people after safely traversing the parted sea, led by Miriam, took the form of music and dance.

All of that biblical witness leaves me wondering when my tradition (Presbyterian) took off our dancing shoes, especially this morning.

Listening to the local radio station while getting breakfast, Pastor Shirley Caesar burst forth into my kitchen with her feet-must-dance belting of Satan, We’re Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down.  And I did what I had to do – I stopped all else and danced to the Lord.  Right there in my kitchen.  Right there in front of God (well, that sort of was the point).

It is good when morning prayers look like dance.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thank You, Lord, For Not Killing Me

[F]or Paul, salvation does not primarily mean the end of past disaster and the forgiving cancellation of former guilt. It is . . . freedom from the power of sin, death and the divine wrath; that is to say, it is the possibility of new life.  –Ernst Kasemann

Preachers get paid the big bucks to think on such things as did Jesus have to die on the cross?  If so, why?  What happened with his death?  How do we put that in words?  

With that comes my own discomfort on the emphasis of atonement and words like justification and redemption.  Too often, these concepts (that Jesus ‘had to’ suffer the cross in order for humanity to be restored, redeemed, reclaimed, reconnected, reconciled [notice all the ‘re-’s?] to/with/for God) echo in my own mind with the sharp feminist critiques of thinking that such views somehow require God to turn to murder (if not Jesus, then it would have to be us) in order for everything to work out right.

This thinking makes (for me) the most fervent prayer: Thank You, Lord, for not killing me.  

Is that really the prayer God desires?  It seems small enough thanks to offer – the cringing plea of the undeserving supplicant grateful to be spared what she surely had coming.

Somehow this line of reasoning seems to me to combine in an artificial way The Fall (original sin) and Jesus as the curative restorative that reduces the thing ‘saved (humanity) to a thing pitiable beyond recognition.

I am a grateful woman and offer regular thanks . . . for the beauty of the world and all within it . . . for the many graces I have experienced in a lifetime on this planet . . . for the very gift of life itself . . . for each new marvel of ingenuity . . . for children and laughter and good food and quiet times and playing bridge and big thoughts and night-sky wonders and . . . and . . . and . . .

But I find that I am never grateful that God didn’t kill me as I so richly (according to some) deserve . . .

Perhaps that makes me a bad Christian.


But it also makes me, perhaps coincidentally, a thankful one.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ordinary Time

Perhaps the first thing to notice is the very ordinariness of it all – Jesus coming after the resurrection to his various followers:  sharing meals with them, talking to them, sitting with them.

Perhaps then we might remember that God doesn’t comes to us when we’re rescuing children from burning buildings or leaping tall buildings with a single bound . . . nor does God come doing those things . . . most of the time . . . most of the time, God comes to us at the dinner table . . . sitting beside us watching tv in the living room . . . walking or driving home . . . working in the garden . . . standing at the Wal-Mart check out.

We live our lives in ordinary time . . . thus it follows that most of the time, God, who is ever-present, would be with us not or not mostly, in times of crisis, but in the every-day of things.

God’s coming to us where we are is what we call grace – a thing done just for the doing and not for the earning.

Our recognizing God when the divine stands before us we might call mindfulness – paying attention . . . looking for . . . seeking out the very God before us.

When Jesus comes to dinner, grace and mindfulness meet at the table and share a meal.

It’s not very noteworthy in the headline news.  Nobody – even me – will record for history that I eat dinner tonight.  No one, including me, will remember what was served.

The big deal is not what we’re doing at the time . . . it’s not even what we need at the time. . . the big deal is that Jesus is there at all . . . that we have been graced with his presence –

Merely by being here with us, God has elevated us beyond the ordinary that we were into something more beautiful, more wonderful . . . we are made better merely by God being in the room.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sermon Cliff Note: It Was Evening When He Came

It was evening when he came . . . and they, well, they were afraid – hiding behind locked doors – dreading every sound, hearing every creak upon the stairs as the threat to their existence that it was . . . they were next – simple as that . . .

It was there . . . behind the locks and the doors . . . in the foggy dimness of twilight . . . in a room filled with the stench of fear . . . that Jesus stood, as if he had been there all along . . . and calmly pronounced the accompanying reality of God’s own peace to a group of people who could barely imagine such peace let alone feel its accompanying presence . . .

And then the risen Jesus does this extraordinary thing . . . as part of his divine sending, he breathes the Holy Spirit into them . . . God has come to become their very breath . . .

And thus what happens in that room is the very Genesis act of creating and recreating . . . God breathes . . . we live . . .

As one translation of God’s creation of humanity in Genesis has it, “And Yahweh God fashioned the humanity of the dust of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breathing of life, so the humanity became a living breath”. . . because God breathed, we became . . . a . . . living breath . . .

Medieval scientist, nun, theologian, poetess, chastizer of popes and bishops, and songwriter, Hildegard of Bingen, once wrote, “My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God.”

Every  breath we take is infused with God . . . every song, every word, every shout, every cry . . . floats on the breath of God . . .

God’s breath is like an ocean surrounding us and infusing us . . . how very silly we must seem to God as we spend so much time unaware that we are filled with and in the midst of God’s life-giving, life-saving ocean of breath. . . an ocean of love lifting and holding us up . . . safely floating us to our destination while we, unaware, dream we are swimming . . . or worse, nightmare we are drowning . . . when God’s life-sustaining breath is there all along . . .

Understood this way, perhaps we can see Jesus and ourselves as God’s breath . . . inhaling . . . taking into God’s very self all that is wrong and broken and bad in our world . . . and in us . . .// and exhaling . . . breathing into us and through us, into the world, as God’s gifting all that is of God . . . God’s goodness . . . God’s wholeness . . . God’s health . . . God’s peace . . .

For Jesus’ words convey clearly that what God sent him to do, Jesus sends them, sends us to do on his behalf . . .

And what is that thing for which Jesus was sent?  It is that simple and oh-so-hard-in-the-doing thing we call forgiveness . . . the better translation of the Greek is release, as in set free from bondage . . .

As Jesus says, it’s quite simple, really: If you forgive others, they are forgiven . . . this is the work I am sending you out to do . . . everywhere . . . with everyone . . . for if you do not do this, then . . .

Well, the usual translation is that if you don’t forgive, they’re unforgiven, which most interpret to mean Jesus’ followers are invested with the divine ability to forgive . . . or not . . .

The ‘or not’ is problematic when considered with the entirety of the gospels . . . recall Jesus’ own words in his Sermon on the Mount: forgive others if you yourself would be forgiven . . .

Jesus is not setting forth a menu of choice for his followers; rather, Jesus is reminding them that forgiveness, setting free, is the very center, the heart, of what he came to do and teach us to do . . . the Greek makes it a bit more clear by saying essentially if you do not let them go, then they are held . . . The Message translates it thusly:   “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

Precisely: if we don’t forgive, if we don’t set ourselves and others free with God’s forgiving word, then what?  What will we do instead?

This Jesus, resurrected from a cross . . . spent not one moment on how he got there or who put him there . . . forgiveness . . . the real-time demonstration of freedom from the bondage to the past . . . is Jesus’ central gospel theme . . . and thus it must be ours . . .

When he sent the disciples, investing them with the priestly power to proclaim forgiveness, this, then, is what he came for . . .

And notice what he did not do . . . he did not proclaim them forgiven . . . what he did was actually even more extraordinary – he gave unto the ones in desperate need of forgiving the very power to proclaim forgiveness . . . after all, who better?

The only question left is . . . Are we going to live out his gospel or our own?  His forgiveness or our refusal?  His release from bondage or our insistence on enslavement?  His joy or our bitter condemnation?  His grace or our justice?

Thus every day do we choose . . . locked doors . . . fear. . . guilt . . . shame . . . or freedom . . . joy . . . grace . . .

Here then is the Good News in a nutshell:  breathe in God’s spirit
and the only thing you can breathe out is peace . . . God’s own delivering, releasing, freeing . . . peace . . .

The fear-filled trembling followers hiding out behind locked doors, so frightened were they of what was to come, became faith-filled believers, betting everything on God and letting it ride.

The question for us is a simple one: do we want to be that kind of follower?  If so, pray for it - pray for the kind of faith that will give you the miracle of giving it all away.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Symphony of Peepers

Photo from The Wilderness Center in Ohio
The other night I wend my way in the dark along US Rt. 250 from Monterey back to McDowell, radio
blaring, when I hear ‘it’ – the sound of spring that sets my heart to sailing: peepers – tree frogs that sing so loud for their tiny bodies that you can hear them over the car radio with the windows up.

I turn off the radio and open the car window and fly in and out of their song as the car and I wax and wane to the parallel of Crab Run, whose steady roar of spring waters rushing to Richmond are the constant bass one-string pizzicato writ large into the night behind the peeper symphony.

More than the blooming flowers and the sunny warm-ish days, it is the peepers who tell me spring is here. . . darting across the road in mad dash when the rains come . . . singing into the night a desire so strong, so loud, it must be heard . . . their call is not mine, but it tugs the heart always and ever towards spring . . . spring . . . spring . . .

Friday, May 2, 2014

Unexpected Beauty

It is 2001 and I am about to enter seminary.  For a last blast, my son and I travel to Italy, Greece and France.  In Pisa, we do the usual photo-op grab of the Leaning Tower and then wander around the square.  I notice the Baptistry nearby and decide to go in while Ben shops for tourist trinkets and obscure music suited to his tastes.

As I approach, I hear a choir singing and it is breath-taking, even outside.  I open the door only to have an Italian gentleman in a uniform (the sort national park folks back home wear) smilingly signal me to wait and so I do.

A few minutes pass, the door opens and several folks come streaming out.  I am the only one at the time, so I enter alone and look around the spartan circular space for the choir.  They are nowhere to be seen.

The gentleman who gave me entrance smilingly beckoned me to be seated and he began to sing.  Just him.  No choir.  And it was . . . well, it was beyond words – what his voice and that space did was magic and I simply sat on the concrete bench that hugged the wall and listened and noticed only later the tears streaming down my face.

“Moved to tears” is more than a phrase: beauty in its many forms can and does move us to tears as it did that day in the Baptistry for me with a man whose name I will never know brought beauty to me I wasn’t looking for and did not expect.

For all the musicians in the world . . . opening grace for us in ways expected and unexpected . . . thank you.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Gone Fishing

We lectio the John passage where Jesus appears to his disciples one last time.  They are fishing.

As we spend one cycle entering the story with our senses, imagining ourselves as actually there, I immediately identify with Peter – not as a person, but as a man . . . I have never even imagined myself a man before – in my imagining, it happened something like this:

It’s been a rough week – actually, a horrible week . . . Jesus – dead . . . friends and followers – scattered . . . me – unable to even lift my head let alone meet anyone’s eyes for I know what I will see there . . . even his coming back leaves me jittery . . . on edge . . . unsure of everything – my skin literally crawls with it . . . I have been wanting out of this body ever since that horrible night with Judas and the soldiers – I . . . want . . . out . . . 

And the boredom of the waiting is nearly driving me mad . . . so up I jump, eager to get out of that damned room that stinks with our fear and announce that I am going fishing.  What I really want is to be alone, so of course they all follow along – I suppose they’re as unnerved by it all as I am . . . 

As soon as I think of the sea and the boat and the nets, I feel my whole body relax – this is what I was made for, this is something I know and can do in my sleep . . . it’ll be nightfall by the time I get there, but the boat will be ready – it always is . . . 

The night is still young as we pull away from the shore and so am I – young and strong – the muscles in my back and arms rejoice at the familiar effort as I holler at the guys to go further – but they have not the heart for it, so I relent and we stay close to shore – it doesn’t really matter what we catch – I just had to – do – something . . . 

Nothing calms me like being on the water on a calm night – that and Him . . . but even He does not calm these days – scares the snot out of me, actually, coming and going like he has been – who knows when we’ll see him again . . . 

I shake my head sharply to clear it of such thoughts and laugh at something one of them says – whispering – these days, they’re always whispering . . . and tonight, it makes me laugh and I slap him on the back – hard – and ask who can hear us here?  And I laugh again and haul the net out of the water and furl it out on the water, watching reflections from the moon off its knotting as it settles down and down and feel a tug to plunge myself down there . . . I jerk myself back from the edge and plop down on the deck . . . 

The boat’s gentle sway comforts and I laugh out again realizing it is my mother I am wanting – as if she could help me now . . . 

But here, now, there are no soldiers, there is no Him . . . and for the moment, I am actually glad to be shut of both . . .

At some point we doze off and I am gentled by the snoring and farting – the night sounds of my companions – usually so annoying but now so very comforting . . . and I slip down on the deck resting my head into the crook of my arm, feeling my own pulse beat to the rhythm of the water against the boat . . . smelling the familiar odors of fishes past and the salt catching on the hairs of my nose as I breathe in and out and in and out and slip into the first true sleep I have had in weeks . . . I am home . . . and for now, all is well . . . 

Daylight cracks the sky awakening me and as I stand and stretch and scratch away the night (no fish) and the annoying little one who likes to tell us how he was His favorite points and shouts that it’s Him . . . I squint (out of habit) towards the shore and there in the dim dawn, I see a figure . . . and in that brief second of before, I see them all groggy with sleep looking to me to see what I will do and I know there can be no more hesitation, no more running, hiding, denying, for me . . . wearily, I jump in to the water and make my way, half swimming, half walking, to the shore and whatever awaits – Him, Roman soldier, old man walking the night away – doesn’t much matter to me, but it matters to them . . . 

The water’s coolness brings me full awake as I plow its resistance, my strength returned . . . I breathe in deeply morning’s air and begin to look more intently and wonder . . . and there I am, standing on the shore – first face to face and then beside Him (there is a faint smell of spice surrounding us), both of us still looking to the boat, when He shouts instructions – fish from the other side – I smile – risen or not, He is no fisherman . . . 

But of course, there are fish – when has he ever been wrong?  

And there is the fire with fish already crackling in the coals . . . when I see it, I begin to laugh – big laughing – not crazy, not joy – it’s going to be a good day laughing . . . and so we eat . . . and all is well . . . 

Resting on elbows by the fire, I see the rest of them sneaking their furtive glances towards him and I scratch myself in disgust and then laugh some more, kicking a little sand beloved’s way – just to let him know I read his silly mind. . . 

And then He ruins it with all the talk of sheep and feeding and like always, He makes me mad to make His point – why He always has to do that, I do not know – dying has not mellowed Him, not even a little bit . . . 

I sigh and sit up and pay attention and answer His questions and He will have none of it . . . we both know this, then, is our last time . . . can we not simply lie by the fire?  Feel its warmth in our bones?  Smell the salt spray?  Watch the lapping of the waves on a fine day?  Be silent?  Why does he always talk so much?  

I know He had much to say that couldn’t get said, but I would have liked more silence . . . I think with my arms and legs and they need time to sort such things . . . you’d think He’d know that . . . 

But this is the kvetching of a man who will never live long enough to be truly old . . . then, I was just . . . happy . . . 

It was a beautiful day . . . it still is . . .