Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 Lessons from a Small Boy

A few hours ago, I said my good-byes to my wee grandson.  His week with Gran has come to an end.  It was a wonderful time, as it always is.  But just now, it was magic – a combination of the age of wonder, country life filled with opportunities for adventure and the joy of love given and love received.

There will be other visits, but I suspect this one will be the one we remember always, for there were many lessons learned and it was the boy who led and the old woman who followed.

1. A dead moth smells good - like vanilla.  I’ll have to take his word on it, but my grandson’s fascination with the insect world comes from many things, I suspect.  One of them might be that they, like he, are small.  Mostly, I think it’s his innate curiosity that prompted him to pick up a dead moth and investigate it with all his senses.  It never would have occurred to me to smell a dead moth.  But it did to him.  And he faithfully reported to me that it had a pleasing smell, like vanilla and offered to let me smell too.  Sadly, I turned him down and now am left wondering whether dead moths really do smell of vanilla.

2. We humans travel tight circles and narrow paths.  Rowen made friends with older folk Alex and Shirley first at Evelyn’s Pantry.  He saw them again, with their sweet dog in tow at the Fiddler’s Convention.  Then at the Farmer’s Market, the restaurant and the ice cream social.  I seldom notice how often my path crosses others in any given day, week or lifetime.  But it was all new to Rowen, so I was seeing through his eyes and it was a wonderful mixture of small town and serendipity that he kept meeting up with his new friends and each time was always a surprise.  There’s really nothing quite like someone being genuinely glad to see you.

3. When you let your imagination run wild, a village quickly turns into a world Rowen, with friend ChihChun in tow, started building a village out of sticks and leaves and rocks (actually, it was probably ChihChun who set him on this course, but he ran with it once they began).  There were houses and walking paths and bridges and then the village turned into a city when a maple-leaf-twig hotel was added.  Then he ran in to demand of Anita that she help him locate a map of the world!  Around the great maple the structures grew and grew into continents.  I’ve never seen rocks as possible houses or leaves as roofs.  But I do now.

4. The facts of our lives make great stories.  And so it was from a chance encounter with some spiders and a silo of an exit from a great caving adventure, with ladders to climb and caverns to explore and low tunnels to navigate that a story book of vampires and skeletons (friends all) was written – a magnum opus to a boy’s life, replete with silos and spiders and ladders.

5. Competence and love have nothing to do with each other.  As we were exiting the cave we had gone exploring with caver friend Bill, we had to climb a vertical ladder up a metal culvert and yes, there were spiders.  Bill sent me up after Rowen, thinking a grandmother’s presence would give him confidence.  But Rowen knew competence when he saw it and demanded Bill’s help rather than my own, which was as it should have been.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When the Whales Stopped Talking

I read an article on whale communication in this month’s Smithsonian magazine and it links in my mind with yesterday’s trip with the grandson and some buddies to the local Safari Park.

The Safari Park is a fun way to spend a day and get to know some animals up close and personal, as they nudge their noses further and further into your car to get at the containers of feed, giving little ones the chance to pet a llama and check out goats and sundry other critters.

But the other part of the park – the zoo part – the part where animals are kept penned, gives me pause.

I have never liked zoos much.  The ethos of the Safari Park, where we are the ones contained and the animals run (somewhat more) free seems the right mix of interaction, as opposed to the formerly free-ranging animals now penned in for my amusement and edification.

I don’t know enough zoology to have an informed opinion.  Perhaps it’s just fine for animals to live in such confinement.

But the Smithsonian’s piece on Noc, who spoke human words as an adolescent and then, inexplicably stopped, is filled with pathos.  The experts speculate that he stopped simply because he was no longer an adolescent.  But maybe he stopped because all his efforts to convey something important had come to naught.  Maybe he simply ran out of the energy necessary to communicate with those who would not respond to his pleas.

Of course I anthropomorphize.  But when it comes to how we humans treat our fellow creatures, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Have You Prayed?

Have you prayed?  This is fast becoming my question – to self and others – when it comes to things big and small, all important in God’s scheme, and especially when someone asks for something and the (mine or others) immediate response is ‘no’.

It is a simply question: have you prayed?

When asked to serve in some way, before saying no, have you prayed?

When confronted with the decision or action of another with which you disagree, to even consider why it is that you disagree, have you prayed?

When someone challenges your view of things, in order to discern not your will, but God’s, have you prayed?

Before deciding someone else is bad, stupid, wrong, misguided, unworthy, have you prayed?

As I said, it is the question I am more and more asking myself as well as others.  So when I read the latest in political outrages (to me), I am trying to pray first.

And when I do, I find myself surprised by the answers that come.  The most frequent answer seems to be: listen.

Listen, Beth, to others.  Listen more; talk less.  Maybe then you will better understand what is at stake for others.  Maybe then you will discern My will in the hullabaloo of the day.  Maybe then you will know that I am God and you and the many voices coming at you are not.  Maybe then you will know when it is necessary to speak and when it is not.  Maybe then you will know what I (rather than the world) require of you.  Maybe.

Monday, June 23, 2014

News from a Boy's Life

[a city boy’s day in the country]

Lemonade-stand profits are definitely up, as folks at church yesterday gave me money even though they didn’t get any lemonade.  They sure are nice people at that church, aren’t they?

I fed the catfish and blue gill at Miz Sue’s pond.  The fish fought for the disgusting biscuit pieces that I threw to them (the biscuits were so bad we wouldn’t eat them, but the fish liked them very much – fish don’t know much about biscuits, that’s for sure!).

I picked wild flowers for Miz Sue.  She liked them very much.  The flowers were yellow, white and purple.  Daddy put them in a pretty little vase for her.  We had a good time at Miz Sue’s.  She gave me a wooden whistle on a rope I could wear on my wrist.

Later we watched some World Cup.  We missed the USA/Portugal game but we did see Algeria – they looked pretty good.

And then we went to Maggie’s house.  We had steak to eat – it was chewy but the flavor was good.  And grilled asparagus.  And s’mores for desert - they were yummy.

Maggie and I played tag and we rolled down the hill and we ran – a lot.  It was very fun.

Gran and I hunted lightening bugs but we didn’t catch any.

Then we both went to bed.  We were very tired.  It was a good time.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Monstrous Angels and Angelic Monsters

When it comes to horror

To the question why
there is no answer
that will suffice
and perhaps
there really is
no answer at all
save perhaps

is madness
an answer?

The answers that
get offered up
shy away from 
the banal – the 
more true for
it, I suspect –

because we could
because we wanted to
because there was no one to stop us
because the stars were thus aligned
because we thought you deserved it
because we are monsters

monsters capable of angelic kindness
and angels capable of monstrous horror

how it can be thus I cannot say
for I simply do not know
but like you, I have observed this ‘it’
within and without
and thus do I know it to be true

angelic monsters and monstrous angels
make no sense and we cannot explain
them . . . us . . . away
yet here we are
all of us . . . 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Lessons of a Boy's First Lemonade Stand

Today was my grandson’s first experience with that quintessential sign of summer: the lemonade stand.  He hung in there for a couple of hours, during most of which he sat waiting as car after car simply passed by – some waving, some honking, but none stopping for a little boy’s first offering in the world of exchange.

But perseverance won the day and he is $13 richer (half to go to his piggy bank and the other half to Food Bank, or in Rowen’s words, “to the poor people who need food”) for the experience and dedicated to having another go, maybe tomorrow – maybe in the church parking lot.

Watching this wee boy of my heart, I thought about lessons.  And they weren’t about capitalism or even about the value of hard work.

The lessons were about people.  Lots of folks wished him well, evidenced by their friendly honks and waves.  They were appreciated for a time, but after awhile, you just want someone to stop.  So to the fellow who pulled up in his truck just to say hi and who offered up 50 cents even though he didn’t want a lemonade, many thanks – you made a wee boy’s day.  And the first customers – from the big city in northern Virginia who stopped and turned around, who chatted and took a picture – you are rock stars!  And to my neighbor Cotten who stopped as a dedicated lemonade stand sponsor and customer from way back, a special thanks.

I’m not sure what my little guy learned today, but I know what I’ll take away from the experience:

1. From his Gran (yes, me, the preacher lady): “We don’t want your honks; we want your money.”

2. Waiting for a customer can feel like you’re waiting for Godot.

3. The people who frequent lemonade stands are kind.

4. It only takes a little bit to capture a child’s imagination, commitment and heart.

5. It’s like Tom Sawyer’s white-washed fence: once you get going, everyone wants to be a part of it.

6. When you live in a small place, everything and everyone are connected, so your grandson’s money box turns out to have been a gift made and presented to his Gran by the father of one of his lemonade customers, who recognizes the craftsmanship right away.

Lemonade – sweet with just the right amount of tart and cold – the perfect serving on a hot summer’s day on a country road.  Hope you’ll stop for a cup next time you’re by this way.

Friday, June 20, 2014


kind·ness  'kin(d)nis noun :   the quality of being friendly, 
generous, and considerate

kindness (lower case)

tastes of warmth and liquid and a little salt
the perfect spoonful held up to waiting lips

smells of bread baking at the moment of
its crust cracking with yeasty life rising

sounds of songs and whispered prayers
offered into eagerly waiting hungry ears

looks like a tenderly kept field of wheat
golden in its giving for the sheer beholding

feels like gentle hands clasping the soles
of feet worn by life and time and far too
much the cruelty of indifference

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Peaceful Coexistence with a Wasp

No, not WASP, but wasp – the flying, stinging kind.  And yes, I said peaceful coexistence with.

A big old granddaddy looking wasp of a thing has taken up residence on my sun porch.  And his stinger is formidable.

Apparently wasps live anywhere from days to a couple of years, depending on who they are (of course, the queen of the colony lives the longest and why not?  She, after all, is the recipient of the largesse of all ‘her’ workers).

I had no thought of wasp life-spans, however, when I beheld granddaddy on the door in to my office the other day.  I thought about getting out the trusty fly swatter (and no, I am not so dedicated a pacifist that I don’t have one) and bringing our budding relationship to a quick end.

But I did not.  I’m not sure why, but it did occur to me that he was doing me no harm and surely we could peacefully coexist within that space.

Being who I am, I gave thought to the notion of pre-emptive strike (as in kill him before he even thinks about stinging me).  And I remembered the ants – the ones I allowed to share my domain who turned out to have thousands upon thousands of close relatives and friends they invited to the party and who all came.  That did not end well for them or me.

Still I took the risk that this guy means me no harm and bowed out gracefully, leaving him to do whatever it is wasps do.  But perhaps I did him no favor, as I doubt there’s much for him to eat on the sun porch.

I saw him a couple of days later and he’s definitely moving slower now – the normal life cycle?  Lack of food?  Boredom?  I cannot say.

Thus can I claim a lack of vice by taking no action to end his life.  But there is hardly virtue in my (feigned) indifference, for surely if I really cared, I would have acted to return him to where he really meant to be, which is not captive on a sun porch with none of his fellows and a scarcity of resources.

After all, it was and is within my power to do so.

And yet, out of my own fears of granddaddy and that pernicious stinger, I know I will not.  And he will die.  And that will be that.

Another day on planet earth where I am left to conclude that our indifference is the greatest killer of all.  Guilty am I, for it turns out that peaceful coexistence requires a bit more of me than leaving you alone.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Couch Akimbo

Years ago I took an individual IQ test as preparation for a speech I was to give for a college course.  During the test I was asked questions but also tasked to recreate shapes of increasing complexity with some blocks.  I remember the tester finally calling ‘time’ and insisting that I could do it if he just gave me a little longer.  After a round of this, he finally told me that he had already given me twice as much time as he should have and that I certainly was persistent.  Later, going over the results, he shook his head, informing me that if he had not witnessed my difficulties with his own eyes, he would not believe the results – seems I’m pretty smart when it comes to verbal and math skills, but when it comes to navigating the physical world, not so much.  In fact, he actually mentioned the phrase ‘organic brain syndrome’ (which he quickly discounted, but there it was – the evidence of my extreme lack of ability to discern and comprehend the physical world – I will, I then realized, never be picked first for any team).

Flash forward to Monday evening.  I decided to rearrange some furniture and put a small love seat formerly in my office in the dining room.  I know it fits through the door because the moving man got it in here back when.

It’s not heavy and I determined (against all evidence to the contrary) that I could do this on my own (that’s part of my charm and frustration for those who know me – this belief that I can simply because I wish it to be so).

So to the doorway I headed, pushing the small couch in front of me.  I quickly determined that it would not go through head on (I really am not a total idiot).  So I turned it first on one side then the other.  Still no go.  Then I tipped it up.  No luck.  Then I tried angling it.  You guessed it – failure again.

I did this for 30+ minutes and to my credit, never lost patience.  I just knew that if I kept angling, I would get the thing through.  Alas, I did not.

So I left it there – lying on its side in the doorway (I would post a picture, but there is only so much self-disclosure I am willing to document).  Fortunately, there’s another door so I could get in and out of the office without climbing the couch.

I left it there knowing that an opportunity for help would present itself and it did in pretty short order.  Yesterday, Wes called and after catching up, I mentioned the couch and he offered to stop by and help.

And you know the rest of the story already – funny even or perhaps because of its predictability – Wes came; looked at the couch for about 10 seconds, commented, “you know it has to be angled, right?” (of course I knew that – I just didn’t know how); lifted the couch and had it out in about 30 seconds.  “You’re not funny,” I said with a smile on my face.  I’m not sure, but I think he said back, “sure I am.”

Less than 5 minutes later, what I had tried for almost an hour was done: couch – safely ensconced in the dining room, looking as if it’s been there all along.

Sometimes, but not often, I envy the rest of you your ability to navigate the physical world.  Mostly I just laugh and phone a friend.  That works too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Upon a Field of Quilts

With a field of quilts 
they were married
in the picture it’s a
mere background of
color but if you were
there – there, in the
picture, you’d see
the invitation written
in the fields:  Come 
lie with me and be
my love . . . come,
let us claim the fields
as our very own 
eternal ‘spanse of joy
life together amidst
the tender hands of
mas and grandmas
and aunts and cousins
stitching our life upon
the fields we inhabit
in our dreams

For Casey & Justin Siron on their 2nd anniversary.  What a privilege it was to be there with you both amidst a field of quilts.  Blessings upon blessings for every year yet to come.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Alpha & Omega Moments

Who was . . .
God . . .
before all that is or was or ever will be, You were . . .
Dreaming . . . creating . . . being . . . 

Who is . . .
Holy Spirit . . .
with us in every one of our now moments . . .
Who is to come . . .
Jesus the Christ . . .
The Risen One . . .
Having been and being yet again and again and again . . .
Coming to us . . .
Coming for us . . . 

Reflecting on Revelation 22.13 - Alpha & Omega moments

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Church as God’s Icon: Blessed Trinity

In the Orthodox tradition, the church is the icon – the visual sign and symbol – of the Trinity.*  Unity is
the point: from many, one.  We – the church – are the incarnation of the Trinity in the present tense.  Us.  Thus can we not be separate or separated, for the Trinity is not a unity of decision or will; rather, the Trinity is a unity of identity – unity is an integral part of who God is.  And because it is a unity of who God is, it is a unity of who we are.

Consider the Trinity: we understand God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to be One, united in all respects.

Polytheistic beings (such as the gods of Greece and Rome) can and do disagree and have conflicts with each other.  Not so God – God as one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a perfect unity, does not conflict, does not disagree.  Reform theologian Karl Barth said it this way:  “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not names for different parts of God, but one name for God.”

And by extension, we the church are as God the Trinity: many and one at once.  Recall Jesus’ prayer in John 17.22 – “that they may be one as we are one”.  Who are the “they” of Jesus’ prayer?  We are.

As God’s icon or sign of God’s own Trinity-self, we are:

1. Invited into peace with God – invited by Jesus, who gives us in the form of his very self, an introduction letter to God.  Paul makes it clear that justification by faith is not so much a doctrine to be understood as the gift of wholeness to be received.  Peace with God is a grace, a gift, we receive, not a prize we earn.  Peace with God by the grace of God is the only solid ground, the only standing place, we have.

2. A looking forward people, looking into the very glory of God’s own self.  Looking back – back to who or what we were before only freezes us in time and turns us into useless pillars of salt.  We are to be, because we are, a forward looking people – looking forward and leaning into God’s own glory, which like the pillar of fire and column of smoke that led the Hebrew people out of Egypt and into the promised land, leads us into God’s own self, which is our promised land.

3. We are a poured forth people – just as Woman Wisdom, God’s Holy Spirit, was poured forth from before the beginning of time, through that same Spirit, God’s love is poured forth into our hearts that we may be daily poured forth into the world.

So church is the icon, the symbol, the sign, of God as Trinity – we many together as One are the sign to the world of the one-ness of the Loving God.  We’re the peace sign to a world at war with itself.  We’re the grace note to a world of discord.  We’re the solid ground, the standing place in a world off kilter.  We’re the glory of God shining into the darkness.  We’re the patient ones in the face of suffering, showing that there is nothing to fear.  We are the love of God poured forth into the heart of a world stretched beyond its patience, near if not beyond its own breaking point.  We are the heart of God laid bare to the world.

That, friends, is who we are. . . blessed Trinity.

See The Church - an Icon of the Holy Trinity

Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's an And World

So saith Julian*:

Truth sees . . .
Sees what?
Or nothing?
Sees how little it sees?
Knowing itself to be so small,
it cares not how little it knows,
rejoicing in the enough, the sufficiency
of its tiny knowing and calling that good and good enough

Wisdom contemplates . . .
not knowing
the all-ness of The One
the partial-ness of itself
limits and eternity
bounded and boundless
love and hate
truth and lies
will and surrender
the bigness of the small
and the smallness of the big
words written on the page and in the heart
sung by the birds and children and operatic maestros

Love arises . . .
as Truth sees
and Wisdom contemplates
and all is well and very well
for Love arises
and again
and again
and and and

*Inspired by the writings of Julian of Norwich

Friday, June 13, 2014

Iraq: Going Beyond Tribal in Our Prayers

Today I received an e-mail from a Christian group concerned with Syria and Iraq (somehow the two have now become combined in our minds – other than geographic proximity, I know not why).

The e-mail asked for prayers for the Christians of Mosul, claiming that “hundreds of thousands” of Christians are fleeing that devastated area.  The only problem?  The hundreds of thousands are Iraqis of all stripes religiously speaking, not only or merely Christians.

Other than the fact that it isn’t true*, why is that a problem?  For several reasons:

1. As a Christian, it’s simply not okay to pray merely for my own kind, leaving all others to their own devices.  God, I am taught, cares for all humanity and has, in fact, created all humanity and not merely Christians, in God’s own image.  And what God cares for, I too am to care for.  Simple as that.

2. To overstate our suffering is to imply that the suffering of others similarly situated is somehow less than or not important.  And that isn’t true.  All suffering matters.  All suffering is of concern to God, and thus is to be to me as well.  There is no room for tribalism in our prayers.

3. To paraphrase the then-Patriarch of Baghdad, who had grown weary of all the questions about the suffering of Christians in Iraq, we are all suffering – Christian, Muslim, we are all Iraqis and we are all suffering.  Pray for us all.

4. If you’re from the United States, you might want to include confession as part of your prayer, for our part in the destabilazation of this nation and its people from our support of the tyrannical Saddam Hussein out of our own perceived self-interest through this latest debacle.  Others have played their parts, but we own a large measure of the destruction of that nation.

So if you are moved to pray over the plight of the Iraqis, now in more than two decades of violence visited upon them both from within and without, please, please, oh please, pray for them all, for they, God’s own beloved, largely forgotten until the most recent headlines, surely require your prayers.

*Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 203, it was estimated that there were a total of roughly 1.5 million Christians in all of Iraq.  Since that time, it has been estimated that the majority of those Christians have fled their homes.  In 2009-2010, in the face of a series of concentrated attacks over a 3-month period, slightly more than 4,000 Assyrian Christians from the Mosul area fled Mosul. Wikipedia

As of 2013, the total number of Christians in all of Iraq has been estimated to be between 200-300,000.  Islamopedia

The Chaldean News reports that 150,000 people of Mosul are fleeing to the borders with others fleeing to the plains of Ninevah.  The Chaldean News

That’s people total.  The vast majority of those, even in Mosul, would be Muslims.

According to the Chalean Bishop of Mosul, there were 35,000 Christians living there prior to 2003.

It is not correct to say that hundreds of thousands of Christians are fleeing Mosul by virtue of the very simple fact that hundreds of thousands of Christians were not in Mosul to flee.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Devotional Time

I read a daily devotional from d365 and in the reading and contemplation, find myself . . . invited.

It is a way of knowing God that I love, this sense of invitedness. . . for every time not picked . . . not chosen . . . not valued . . . not loved . . . there is . . . God – inviting, welcoming, God.

Thus in contemplation am I invited to free myself to be formed (reformed?) by Creator, Creating, God.

And the blessings flow . . . as the waters bring forth . . . hosanna shouting birds of the air . . . slap-happy children plunging their faces into the joy-filled wetness . . . the greening of everything . . . and it is good and very good indeed.

What would Artist God draw forth from me this day?  Loving others?  An appreciative eye and ear?  The gift of simply being?  An openness to that which has not happened yet?  Any and all, I think.  Lord, let me be ready.

Then comes the invitation:  Go/come and join in – it sounds like a party to my ears – I’m having a party, won’t you come?

O Lord, how I do love Your parties.

Thank You for inviting me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On Not Paying Attention

Paying attention – heeding the other – no small thing in our society, we demand it from ourselves and others from an early age and I am left to wonder why.  For paying attention is not really about actually noticing someone else or what they’re saying or doing.  When we in these United States speak of paying attention, what we really mean is that you must heed me in a way that lets me know you’re heeding me.  Otherwise, you are not “paying attention” to me.

Spouses demand it from each other.  Parents from children although children do not have the right to expect it from parents.  Teachers certainly expect it from students.  And here is the rub.

A little guy in my family is not one for paying attention.  Never has been.  To the chagrin of his parents and others, he probably never will be.  But I am not to sussed by his supposed lack of attention for one very simple reason: this beloved boy-child comes from a very long line of inattentive ancestors and I am chief among them.

Don’t get me wrong: social skills matter.  But I have to ask whether they matter as much as we think they should.  When it comes to school, the point (it seems to me) to paying attention is to learn.  Turns out this grand son actually does quite well in school with his subjects.  But he does not do well in communicating to the teacher that he is present.

Given that he’s doing well, he must actually be paying attention to the subject matters at hand (either that or he was simply born knowing his school subjects, which, while I’d like to think he’s that smart, seems highly unlikely).  So it seems to me that his problem is that somehow, either with eye contact or its lack most likely, or with moving about or talking with other students or drawing when he’s supposed to be ‘listening’, the teacher is interpreting his behavior as inattentiveness when really, he’s hearing everything she says, or enough at least to teach him what she wants him to know.

So what is the problem?  From my own extensive experience, I conclude that when it comes to attention, perception is everything.  So often am I perceived by others to not be paying attention to them.  You’d have to ask them why they think so.  Maybe it’s because I’ll often be looking somewhere else.  Maybe it’s because I seem to be doing something else.  Maybe it’s because I do not offer the expected response or when I’m listening especially attentively, I offer no response at all because I am still listening, waiting, for you.  That’s all speculation on my part.

But I can tell you that my hearing is just fine and I hear it all (sometimes I wish I didn’t, but that’s another story).

Maybe it is a character flaw not to give folks the response they seek when we’re communicating, whether it’s eye contact, head nods or other non-verbal prompts, or verbal engagement.  And if someone goes to the extreme on avoiding those things, I get that it’s a problem.

But the daily input of information can be overwhelming.  And our world leaves little room for quiet.  So me and my kind have a tendency, even amidst our own talking, to create our own quiet spaces inside our own minds simply because it’s restful there.

But don’t worry.  We hear you.  Really.  Just look at our test scores.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Monticello, Jefferson, Contested Memories & Hate Speech

It’s a phrase I heard some time ago in an NPR interview about the southern United States and the fact that our Civil War has created a host of “contested memories”.  The phrase has stayed with me and leaves me bemused and troubled and unsettled.

Yesterday I visited (again) Monticello (Jefferson’s home) here in central Virginia, taking a guest for the umpteenth time (yes, Max, you guessed correctly) to this shrine to I know not what – interesting architecture?  I really do not mind as the grounds are lovely, but each time, I am reminded how divided we are as a nation in so many, many ways.

And I hear all our voices in my head, so that I am left hardly knowing what to do with myself:

Enjoy the feast of interesting things, say the Jefferson enthusiasts.

Learn the checkered history of a famous man, including his ‘relationship’ (she don’t know what to call it, so settle on ‘relationship’) with slave Sally Hemings, says the earnest historical guide.

The DNA doesn’t prove it was Thomas Jefferson, so claim the apologists who simply cannot bear that an icon might have feet of clay.

“My industries”; “my boys”; “my nails”; “my land”; “my legacies”, so read the many Jeffersonian quotes attesting to his own greatness, leaving out, of course, that there is none of this, not even the time to read and study and pen a universal Declaration of Independence for the select few, without the slave labor that makes his life possible.

I hate it.  I hate it all.  I hate the way it makes me feel, co-opted somehow into the conspiracy by enjoying the fruits of this ill-gotten labor – the same way I felt beholding the Sistine Chapel and then remembering the many sales of indulgences that made it possible.

Is Monticello beautiful?  Yes.  Is it filled with clever and interesting artifacts?  Yes.  Is there a vision there to be beheld even today?  Yes.

But what do I do with the contested memories that are paid mere lip service here?  With the placard that insists that Jefferson the keeper of enslaved peoples, strived to treat ‘his’ slaves ‘well’ (by sparing the whip as much as possible as if that were a grace rather than the travesty to human dignity that a whip would be used at all)?  With the many unremarked ironies and fissures in the integrity narrative (like how there are so few slave ‘houses’ because most of them ‘lived’ where they worked, with perhaps a room beside the kitchen or being relegated to the kitchen floor)?

And why am I to be thankful for a man who almost single-handedly set this nation up for the inevitable Civil War we had by failing and refusing to confront the issue in his own time and shoving the debacle down the road a few decades?  Am I to be thankful that he thought nationhood was more important than the lives of those thousands and thousands of people he believed could be owned like a chair?  That he and others participated in a constitutional convention that held that emancipation could not, must not, would not happen (continuing the lie that those held as slaves were not people) while insisting that they be counted as 2/3 a person for representation purposes (the irony of that one never fails to stab)?

There is no contested memory.  What there is is wide-scale denial of reality.  It’s easier that way and sometimes (not often, but sometimes) I am envious of those living in the land of denial.  It really is easier to simply insist we were the ones wronged than to grapple with the long-term consequences, benefits and disadvantages of claiming the right to own another human being.

It was wrong then and we (white folk) knew it, pretending not to.  And we did it anyway.  And it wasn’t that long ago.  And I hate it (yes, this is my own hate speech).  I hate the lasting legacy.  I hate that I still benefit from it.  I hate that my own people work so hard to deny it.  I hate what it cost us all.  I hate the injustice of it.  I hate that the very foundation of my own nation rests upon it.

And I hate that I pay money to go to a place that celebrates one of the main people here that made it happen by institutionalizing and ensconcing it in our (claimed to be sacred) founding documents.  I hate that the folks who try to deal with that reality at Monticello still describe Sally Hemings as somehow in a relationship with her claimed owner.  I hate that the word ‘rape’ is not used to describe the reality of a man who holds absolute power of life and death and all in between over a woman and engages her in sexual intercourse.  I hate that the docents are careful to point out that Jefferson’s wife was long dead by the time of his sexual congress with Hemings, as if infidelity were really the elephant in the room, as if fidelity in marriage were the issue.

And I hate that the people who love Monticello and Jefferson and American history will likely hate me for having said these things, for having felt them at all.  I hate that they can so easily adjust their thinking and make the ownership of other human beings a footnote of not much import in the life of this supposedly great man.  I hate that the Enlightenment was reduced to self-serving self-interest in this one person.  I hate the lack of moral imagination that we collectively hail as evidence of greatness.

And truthfully, there are days when I hate that I hate it.  For who am I to judge?  Who am I do demand more from history and its keepers than it or they are willing or able to give?  Who am I, a white woman, to feel these things at all?  For the fact is that Thomas Jefferson gave me much (with some help from some Suffragettes along the way, let us not forget).  But truthfully, I do not thank him for it.  And I hate that too, for I know in the eyes of many, it makes me ungrateful.

So be it.  Because I also believe with all my heart the God that I know that Jefferson could scarce abide forgives it all – Jefferson’s hubris and blindness and failures – and mine too.

Just today, however, that forgiveness feels like shifting sand beneath my feet.  And yes, I hate that too.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pentecost Reflecting: This Peter; This Crowd; This Jesus

This Peter 
So unlike the Peter of even yesterday . . . 
Hiding in a room safe from the crowds . . . 
Waiting for he knew not what . . . 
Now filled with such power that the crowd is stilled before his words . . . 
Powerful Peter . . . 
but even Peter does not stand alone . . . 
The eleven are with him . . . at his side . . . 
There are no cowboys in God’s kingdom 
Not even This Peter. . .  quoter of prophets . . . 
Himself now a prophet of the Most High . . . 
This Peter who cowered and ran from the crowds now seeks their attention . .  Demands their listening ears . . . 
And he reminds them of what they already know . . . 
A day will come . . . 
A day when God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh . . . 
On everybody . . . 
Even those with umbrellas . . . 
On that day, boys and girls, will be prophets
and teenagers will have visions
and old folks will have dreams
and even the poorest of the poor . . . 
the nothings and nobodies
will have prophecies to tell . . . 
And creation itself will be a prophet of God . . .
Bringing signs and wonders of things to come . . . 
And everybody that calls out to God . . . 
Will . . . be . . . rescued . . . 
What has been promised is no longer a tomorrow-thing . . . 
it’s a here-and-now thing . . . 
And this Peter is the first one to tell of it . . . 
he will not be the last . . . 
But he is the first . . . 
And the crowd listened . . . at least some of them . . . 

This Crowd 
people from all over the known world of the time . . . 
Listened and heard
Each in their own language 
it was impossible 
yet it happened
God’s attention-getters are always humdingers . . . 
Yet understanding the words did not breed true understanding in everyone . . 
For some, it was enough, this hearing in their own language . . .
For others, one suspects, nothing would ever be enough . . .
The old saying, ‘seeing is believing’ gets turned on its head . . . 
And suddenly . . . 
Believing is seeing . . . 
And so we’re left to wonder . . . 
Did those who sneered understand?
Or did they only hear nonsense noise?
This Peter . . . 
This crowd . . . 
This Jesus . . . 

This Jesus 
This Jesus whom you crucified . . . 
He’s the One . . . Messiah . . . Anointed One . . . 
Doer of miracles . . . 
Crucified and killed by his own flesh . . . 
Raised up from the dead by God
Foretold by David and Joel, and people of old . . .
This Jesus . . . 
God’s promise . . . 
Exalted at God’s right hand – the spot of honor . . . 
God has made him Lord and Messiah . . . 
This one you crucified . . . 
This Jesus . . .  He is the One . . . 
The crowd in Peter’s day believed a Messiah would come . . . 
Most just didn’t believe it was Jesus . . . 
In our day it’s the opposite . . . 
Most, even Christians, believe Jesus came . . . 
We just don’t believe much in Messiahs anymore . . . 
I wonder . . . 
Do we know the Messiah when we hear him?
Or do we just think it’s the wind?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Pentecost Reflection: Come, Holy Spirit

Some write of a Pentecost of Power . . .
Sounding like they’re gearing up for battle . . .
But I like Robert Siegel’s Pentecost vision best . . .
Yellow flames flutter
about the feeder:
a Pentecost of finches.
a snappy way of saying a whole lot of birds at the feeder for a whole lot of days . . .
fifty, to be precise . . .
that’s what Pentecost means . . . 50 days . . .
Or the 50th day . . .
Now what a day that must have been . . .
The fiftieth day . . .
Seven weeks of waiting . . . plus one . . .
Waiting for what?
Something? . . . no . . . someone . . .
And suddenly the someone they did not know they waited for came . . .
Holy Spirit came . . .
Like a wind . . . and not just any wind . . . a violent wind . . .
Change was literally the air they breathed . . .
the whole house was filled with the force of this coming . . .
And it came as a small ‘d’ democrat . . .
For all were filled . . .
None were left out . . .
Not one got even a bit more spirit than another . . .
All were equally blessed . . .
Or cursed, depending on your point of view . . . [remember – in earth-terms, it ends badly for them all]

They were filled to overflowing . . .
And what they overflowed with was language . . .
All kinds of language . . .
Words Coptic and Arabic and Aramaic and Hebrew . . .
and Greek and Latin and every dialect in between . . .
The words poured out of them . . .
Not randomly . . .
Not obscurely . . .
Plain words . . . words easily understood . . .
Words about God . . .
What God had done already . . .
what God would keep on doing . . .
About the God-power in their very midst . . .
And they who heard were . . .
Bewildered . . .
Amazed . .
Astonished . . .
Perplexed . . .
Questioning . . .
Sneering . . .
Believing . . .
Doubting . . .
When God comes to town, no one is unmoved . . .
When God comes to town, it’s noisy . . .
And confusing . . .
and words pour out of mouths
like raindrops from the stormy sky . . .
Striking everything . . .
And everybody takes sides . . .
Some opening their mouths to be filled with the storm water flowing down upon them . .
Others getting out their umbrellas to be extra sure to stay dry . . .
After all, you can’t dance your way through raindrops . . .
The invitation is to free-fall . . . to put away our umbrellas and dance in the rain . . . to float into God’s deep embrace, in the words of poet Denise Levertov:

As swimmers dare to lie face to the sky and water bears them, 
as hawks rest upon air and air sustains them, 
so would I learn to attain free fall, and float into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns that all-surrounding grace.

Come, Holy Spirit, we pray today . . . It is such a dangerous prayer, this bidding God to come into our midst . . . 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Days of Women

Sitting on the front porch talking and drinking in the night sky and remembering and laughing and falling in to silence . . .

Going bowling as a group because she, the one leaving you, wants to – and having fun . . .

Dancing on her front yard right there in front of God and everybody – these minister ladies – with the music from the van cranked loud and feet bare and hands waved to bemused passers by . . .

Gathering yourself to the two women at the sign board at the airport, seeking comfort as much as information when the plane is late . . .

I have long enjoyed the solace and presence of my own kind, we are good company.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Bowling Alley Lessons in Humility

The only sporting trophy I ever won was in bowling.  Yes, bowling.  It’s not, perhaps, what you might think.
Lady ministers bowling:  Erin, me, Melissa & Deb with
her Holy-Spirit Pentecost bowling shirt on.
 I am not a good bowler.  In fact, I may be the worst bowler you have ever or are every likely to meet.

Here’s what happened:

My then-husband was in a bowling league and I went with him just to hang out on Friday nights.  Turned out one of the teams was short a player and somehow I ended up (virtually never having bowled) on their team.

They were pretty good.  I was not.  That was okay, they assured me.  My handicap would offset my lack of skill.  What I later figured out is that my handicap was only worthwhile if I actually improved, which I did not.  Truth is I got worse, which seemed an impossibility.

But it was fun and my team mates were good sports.

At the end of the season came the League banquet, which is where I won my only ever sporting trophies: one as a team member – the League gave us all golf trophies, believing we had misunderstood the point of bowling and its scoring (think about it – it’s pretty funny).

And I personally received the award for “Miss Congeniality” for being a good sport.  What I pointed out to my fellow bowlers at the time I still believe to be true: it wasn’t so much that I was a good sport (although I was) but that whenever anyone in the League was feeling bad about their own performance, they would simply come stand with me for a few minutes and ask me how I was doing.  No matter how bad their night was, mine was worse and they felt better for it.  Which was fine with me.

Bowling remains my favorite sport because the folks I’ve bowled with have always been patient and kind and their laughter when I threw the ball backwards behind me was tinged with gentleness and good humor.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my bowling experience was teaching me about humility and its true nature.

hu·mil·i·ty  - noun:  a modest or low view of one's own importance; humbleness.  Google

Contrary to what the dictionarists would hold, humility, at least in its godly sense, is not about abasement or lowliness in a negative sense.  Rather, godly humility is simply about understanding my right relationship to God and to the rest of the world.

When it comes to bowling, the truth is that I will never be very good.  And that’s perfectly okay.  I can still have fun and be a part of the group.  I can still be welcomed even as the weakest member of the team.  I can still have a place, even if it’s mostly as a place filler.

So here are my own 8 lessons in godly humility learned in a bowling alley in Parkersburg, West Virginia many years ago:

1. Humility is cheerful.

2. Humility is not bothered by its own lack.

3. Humility rejoices in the well-doing and well-being of others.

4. Humility offers itself for comparison and does not suffer for it.

5. Humility is not jealous – what would be the point of that?

6. Humility is fine with being the worst on the team, being simply grateful to be a part of the team.

7. Humility displays its golf trophies proudly.

8. Humility shares the joke, even when it’s on her.

Somehow I had been led to believe that humility is a hang-dog kind of thing.  Oh, how wrong was I.  For humility is simply holding value in the smallest of things and rejoicing in the great gift of being allowed to show up.

That’s what I think today, anyhow.  And you know, I could be wrong about that.  But that would be okay too.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Let There Be Water

My imagining of God's imagining in creating this thing we call water:

Water, said the Creator.  Now that will take some time.  I think I’ll make it solid, liquid, gas, a trinity of a thing.  It will be separate and distinct but when it comes together, it will be a unity of one-ness that no one can distinguish one drop (that’s what I’ll call each speck of it) from another.  
And ice – what a powerful, beautiful, wondrous thing that will be.  I think I’ll capstone this planet thing with ice.  But in between there shall be oceans and oceans of this, my most amazing creation of all.  From it shall come all life.  Water, rather than dust, shall be the evidence of my lasting creativity.
And then there shall be rains – not one, but many.  Soft sprinkles, so light, so delicate a touch that they shall barely notice it.  And plenishing rains that shall bring forth the greening of things.  And rains mixed with wind that make a soul bitter when it forgets the deep things that have need of the rains too.  And drops thrown so forcefully from the heavens they bounce and bounce again when they meet with solids.  And monsoons and typhoons and spring rains and sheets and drizzles and dreich drenching droplets-of-it-filled days of nothing but rain and freezing rains and waters that hang in the sky deciding what they will be – some pouring rains, some fog – and torrential rains and phantom rains and cleansing rains – yes, rain shall be my masterpiece.
And with the rains, they shall know thirst.  That shall be their great mystery, the thing once unlocked that makes it all clear.  Oh, you, my creatures.  You are not earth.  Of the earth, but not the earth, you were made unlike the trees, for you were made to move, with the winds and the waters.  Planting was not intended for you.  I already planted my garden and you were not it.  You are the seed on the wind.  Trust the wind to take you where you need go and the waters will find you and you them.  Hold loosely the ground beneath your feet.  Go where the waters flow.  You knew this once.  Even I am not sure when you lost this knowing.  May the rains bring it back to you.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Trinity of Things

I love the Celtic prayer habit of three-ing everything.  There’s just something about things in threes that satisfies me like the evenness of twos and fours never can.

Thus do bacon and eggs never satisfy without a side of fried potatoes or at the least, a piece of toast.

And oh, how I wish socks were sold in threes, for I am inevitably set on losing one, leaving the other lone sister abandoned, unwanted, in the dark reserve of the drawer of abandoned things too good to throw away or hurled to the rag pile, this perfectly fine sock with no mate.

And if there be PBJ in my future, I’ll wait until I have a banana for that perfect trio of flavor.

And what are pencil and paper with no story?  Or a hammer and a nail with no hand?  Or a pair of pants with no legs?  Or spaghetti and meatballs with no scooping, sopping garlic bread?  Or peaches and cream without a spoon?  Or Fred and Ginger without the band?  Thunder and lightening without some rain?  Sound and fury without a thing signified?  Sheets and pillowcases without a bed?

A father and a son without a she-flying-the-waters-of-time, wisdom-bearing-carrying, life-breathing-love-giving oh-so-holy spirit?

Ah, yes, I do love the trinity of things.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Wisdom of a Gran

Monday is for laundry.
           I don’t know why.
           It just is.

The grass is always greener til
           you’re the one who has to mow it.

Chances are when I’m glad to see you,
           you’re glad to see me.

Never be afraid to dance, sing, laugh when you’re by yourself.
           It’s good practice for when other people are watching.

If you want to navigate all the hells you’ll meet in life,
           it’s a good idea to hold on to heaven with all you’ve got.

Reuse tin foil and baggies and bread sacks –
           they’re useful and people will think you’re eccentric,
           which is not a bad reputation to have.

Feeding the world
           begins with knowing how to cook.

I will always love you
           no matter what
           count on it.

Art made by the hands of a child
           is always worth framing.

Guests, even uninvited ones, are a gift –
           treasure them.

Never be afraid to
           cry in front of others or laugh alone.

Pick the soundtrack of your life wisely –
           those voices will be in your head for a long time.

It's better to seek forgiveness than to seek permission
          is only good advice for picking someone else's flowers.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Ascension: Going Up?

In Acts 1.1-11, we read that Jesus ‘goes up’ to heaven.  When I hear this, all I can hear is an elevator
Dali's Ascension - a ground's eye view
operator asking, ‘going up’?  It just seems so . . . ridiculous. This ‘going-upedness’ of Jesus, lifted into the sky on a God-cloud, seems . . . so . . . silly . . . as if Jesus were Superman or better, Lois Lane, being flown into the sunset . . . it . . . is . . . ridiculous . . . isn’t it?

But the author of Ephesians has it more right than I do when he prays that the people of God’s church may ‘see with the eyes of your heart’.  That helps . . . a little.

The eyes of the heart and the words of Barbara Brown Taylor help me to understand a bit better what this ascension thing is all about:  “It was not enough that through him God was born into the body of the world; that was just his Christmas gift to us. His ascension gift was that through him the body of the world was borne (carried) back to God. . . Jesus has not only brought God to us; he has also brought us to God.”

John Calvin says, “Since Christ entered heaven in our flesh, as if in our name . . . in a sense, we already sit with God in the heavenly places in [Christ].” Thus does Jesus open the way to the heavenly kingdom, by which Calvin means that without Jesus, you and I just can’t get ‘there’ from ‘here’.

Using my elevator image, we might say Jesus ‘went up’ in order that we won’t ‘go down’.  By opening the gates of heaven, Jesus closes the gates of hell forever.

Brown Taylor puts it this way, “It was almost as if he had not ascended but exploded, so that all the holiness that was once concentrated in him alone flew everywhere, flew far and wide, so that the seeds of heaven were sown in all the fields of the earth.”

Silly as it sounds . . . We do worship a flying Jesus . . .

But it’s a bit like an airplane . . . no matter how well crafted it is, it can’t fly simply because it ‘decides’ to . . . [This might be a good time to make your own paper airplane and try to fly it to heaven.  That’s what we did in church today, anyhow.]

What is astonishing is that neither could Jesus . . . Jesus didn’t decide to go to heaven . . . Jesus didn’t fly ‘there’ on the power of his own might or even the power of his own decision . . . Jesus didn’t go to heaven . . . Jesus was taken to heaven . . .

Grace is the word we use to understand this simple, crucial truth . . . of our own power, we can do nothing.  Yes, we have work to do.  But if we are not very careful, it is oh so easy to believe that the work, and not God, is our pathway to heaven.

Like paper airplanes, human beings who try to fly themselves to heaven will always fall back to earth.

Think of it as the difference between the grateful and the guarded.  The grateful share what they have . . . it wasn’t theirs to begin with, so what’s the big deal?  The guarded live their lives like characters on apocalyptic television shows, willing to kill to protect their bread from starving others . . .

The guarded always have a plan . . . the grateful simply trust, for they know their plans mean nothing . . . they’ve failed too often not to know.

The guarded know how much work they have done and how much pay they’re entitled to for the work . . . the grateful simply offer thanks for whatever they get, knowing they didn’t earn a bit of it . . .

The guarded think in terms of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’, for they have earned what is theirs and expect that you should do likewise. . . the grateful know there is no earning all the bounty they have received, so they simply say ‘thank you’.

The guarded are often angry at the injustices done to themselves by others . . . the grateful are angry with the injustices done to others . . .

The guarded are productive and hold those who are not in contempt . . . the grateful are not productive and so are free to love others simply because they are, and not because of what they do . . .

The guarded are jealous of the successes of others . . . the grateful rejoice in them . . .

The guarded compete . . . the grateful cooperate . . .

The guarded believe good fences make good neighbors . . . the grateful know good fences make only good fences . . . and that a good neighbor is made from being invited in, not being kept out . . .

The guarded believe the path to heaven is a ladder they must perpetually climb lest they be left behind . . . the grateful know the path to heaven is an elevator and their ticket was bought for them by Jesus a very, very, long time ago.

Going up?