Tuesday, July 31, 2007
In my profile I mention that we have an old beagle, almost ten to be exact. Buddy the beagle ( his name was already selected when we adopted him). Buddy came to us through a kind of winding chain of people who knew people. But the way we came to adopt Buddy is that when he was 4 he was rescued and his first humans were prosecuted for animal cruelty- he had never had any indoor shelter, nor had he ever had a doghouse. Imagine hot sun, raging storms, winter snow, and you are tied to a leash in the yard with nowhere to go. He ended up at the Humane League shelter and was adopted by different households, but the one we got him from was breaking up and no one could keep him. He has adenoid issues from all of the outdoor exposure and Lyme disease that is currently in remission. He used to have a really bad case of thunderphobia, but sadly now is going deaf. This photo is a couple of years old, but he looked so coy here, I decided it was the right shot.
You would think after all of that- lack of permanence, your humans are cruel to you- it would really leave a mark on your personality. Make you mean, vengeful, suspicious. On the contrary, Buddy is the most pleasant, even tempered and agreeable dog you could ever have ( minus some really bad breath). And he is absolutely devoted to me. When I come home, he is at the door, tail wagging so hard his rear end is wagging, and he howls to tell me all about his day and how much he missed me. He thinks he is a lapdog even though he weighs 40 pounds. A happy puppy is the one sleeping on Mom in the sunroom on Sunday afternoon while she reads the paper. Leftover lovingly distributed dog hairs in three colors are sure to be on every outfit so I can think about him when I am not at home. So what’s there not to love?
Unfortunately in the beagle world, perhaps even more than some other breeds, when you claim a loved one, you want to always make sure everyone else knows. Which in dog-speak means, stink up their stuff real good in your scent. One day I was cleaning out my closet and left a pile of shoes out when I went to run errands. Buddy marked the spot in the traditional leg-lift way. He thought he'd done real good.
If I leave my pj’s out on the floor or bed when I am in a hurry, they will be fluffed up and made into a pillow he lays on until I return.
Until recently I could not figure out the scratching of the carpet by my closet door and my dresser. Then one day on our walk, I saw him scratching to mark that he has been there. The light bulb of the epiphany moment flickered on. He is staking out his turf ( as if some other dog might be in the house). He is expressing devotion.
No matter how bad my day was. No matter that I yelled at him for digging in the trash can when I got home, when what he really wanted was a “I missed you, let me rub your belly.” No matter when my husband and I are late getting home and he has been waiting past when the humans should be here. No matter that we give him whiplash on the retractable leash every time he is just about to snatch that really good looking snack on the ground. He is still there, tail wagging and claiming me as his special person.
And in spite of a history of bad human behavior before he came to live with us, he has always had faith in humans to change. Although I suspect this is helped by a good food bowl.
In a lot less smelly canine way, God is like that. He claims us as His own. Even when we seem to reject Him. He still believes in us, even when He shouldn’t. He’s glad to see us even when we have been neglectful of our relationship. And those of us who are marked with the cross of Christ can never be permanently separated from Him – kind of like those little beagle hairs that just dig in and won’t let go.
Monday, July 30, 2007
After I left the theatre, I started thinking about the 60's. I was born in 1963 and was early school aged and living in the Midwest. My mother always had on a dress of some kind. The house was always picked up in time for my Dad to come home for dinner. When my parents socialized, the kids ran around like crazy while the adults smoked and drank. As kids we got to slurp the foam off of the beer. We would play all day in the development and you knew you needed to be home for supper and you should never be farther away than you could hear the whistle to come home. We did not have eight million channels on the TV. I remember borrowing the neighbor's station wagon to go get our first color TV for the Super Bowl. My Dad worked in retailing and we got a discount. We didn't have a lot but we had enough. I sang in the cherub choir at church with the white robe that had the really big sleeves that looked like wings if you stretched out your arms. Our church was not built yet in 1963 so I was baptized in the school gymnasium where the congregation was meeting. We had a lot of pancake suppers to pay for the construction. When we went into the big city to shop, I wore a dress and gloves and I had a patent leather purse on a chain for my offering to take to church. We watched all of the space launches. I still have the glass they gave out at the Texaco gas station for Apollo 13. On Sunday after church and dinner, we would take a drive and end up somewhere with ice cream.
But... my Dad bought a rifle because he heard there were race riots in Indianapolis and he was worried. When we took vacation to the Outer Banks, in 1970, we drove across the state of North Carolina. We drove through lots of small towns and I remember asking my parents why the black people got off the sidewalk when the white people were walking by. And my Southern relation would talk about how someone was a Negro, but they were clean, good looking or smart "for a Negro." And good upstanding men in my grandfather's church were in the Klan.
And I did not see or know a single person of color in my wonderful world. Even in college in Pennsylvania, old evils survive. My sorority was the target of a whole lot of ignorant behavior for allowing an African American woman to be a part of my pledge class. If only it was as easy and had the great soundtrack of "Hairspray."
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Saturday, July 28, 2007
The timetable is racing now. Our Happy Hour get together was one glass of wine, the day after her first chemo. And she needs someone to whom she can say the things she does not want to burden her terrified husband with. Her children, who are grown, have taken matters in very different ways. The daughter in the military is braced for anything. The son is angry at God for letting someone who has led a healthy productive life get cancer. As if there were a pecking order by which we value lives. But a natural grief response.
So we meet to talk about her treatment. Her service of Resurrection victory and her desire for a solo/congregation version of “Lift High the Cross” that she wants me to promise to sing. A plan to go wig shopping. And she talks about how blessed her life has been and how thankful she has been every day for what God has given to her and to her family. A loving husband. Grown children who still want to come home and visit. Financial security. Good food, good friends. Grandchildren.
Then she says, “ But how thankful would I be if it was just a crust of bread, just another day of chronic bad health?” It has been easy to be thankful. She wonders if she can love God and thank Him as easily as she heads down a long dark tunnel of treatment? Indeed.
I have been reading The Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a collection of a Jesuit priest’s letters to a group of nuns in the 1700’s. He speaks of a relationship with God where the more we seem to lose, the more we gain.
"The more He takes materially, the more he gives spiritually. We love him partly for his gifts. If they are no longer visible, we come to love him for himself alone. It is by seeming to deprive us of those gifts that he paves the way for the most precious one of all, because it embraces everything. "
DeCaussade speaks of abandoning ourselves, surrendering to the will of God. When I first read this earlier this summer, I read it in the context of surrendering what I had been doing to answer a call to ministry. But now it seems like a shallow thought in comparison to true surrender. When we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done,” it does include the possibility that God’s will is to call us home even at a time when we were not ready. It is entirely possible to know that heaven is there for you, but still desire to take another turn on the earthly ride with your spouse, children and grandchildren. It is a refining process to see cancer treatment as a way to closer walk with God when so much fear lies ahead. No regrets, just a sadness that this might be it. And yet there is eternal life promised through His grace.
I know that over the weeks to come, my friend and will have many talks and emails. There will be the range of emotions and my role is to listen, support and minister, with a little humor along the way- I suggested a hot pink Mohawk wig was a look she could explore. In the end, I suspect that regardless of the outcome, I will be the one who is taught as much if not more by the Holy Spirit and we will learn in new ways.
Friday, July 27, 2007
“For just as in a single human body, there are many limbs and organs, all with different functions, so we who are united with Christ, though many, form one body, and belong to one another as its limbs and organs. Let us use the different gifts allotted to each of us by God’s grace: the gift of preaching , for example let us use in proportion to our faith. The gift of administration, to administer; the gift of teaching to teach; the gift of counseling, to counsel. If you give to charity, give without grudging; if you are a leader, lead with enthusiasm; if you help others in distress, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:4-8.
It is sometimes hard to figure out why things did not go our way. My teenaged daughter was recently down in the mouth about why something came so easily to her friend, but was a real struggle for her. “Why can’t I be more like her?” As adults, we too know that we sometimes have our heart set on doing a particular thing, whether at work or in our commitments. We may believe very strongly in our own suitability, work very diligently to see it to fruition, only to hear that it is not to be- we have not been chosen, or sometimes even worse , this is not how others see us at all. “Why can’t I be more like her?”
Some years ago I searched long and hard to find the perfect gift to give a nephew. After a lot of thought, followed by traveling to the store, standing in line, to the excitement of wrapping the gift in anticipation of his opening it, I was indeed pleased with my gift. The time came at the party for the wrapping paper to be torn away. My nephew was also excited as the tearing began, until the secret was revealed. Speaking as young kids will, he exclaimed, “ But I wanted the blue one!” Our collective bubble was burst. It was not the gift he wanted. I was hurt- what was wrong with my gift?
Imagine how God must feel as we spend our time ever in search of what we want for our lives, rather than joyfully opening and using the gifts He has carefully selected for us. And how much time do we waste wondering “Why can’t I be more like her, or him?” We should each take the time to allow God to show us how we can best fulfill our purpose here. We are his instruments created for the work of his kingdom. So instead of wondering why you can’t sing, or teach or be handy, or _______________( fill in the blank), give thanks for your strengths and ability ( after all someone else wishes they had it). Say thank you to God by seeking to learn how you can serve best.
None of us is endowed with every gift, yet each us possesses gifts and talents bestowed upon us by God. With some of these skills, we find easily what they might be and set about happily to do them. However, some gifts only become apparent with time , or only come to light at the time they are needed. No matter how much I might wish that I could have the honor or joy of something that is my heart’s desire, my time is better spent discerning God’s call for me here. So it is for each of us.
In my mother’s opinion, you do not really enjoy her gift unless you use it. She frequently buys me clothing and within a week of the giving, the call will come, “ Did you wear it yet?” The suggested answer of course, is always “yes.” This is the second part of the message. Once you have opened the gift, wear it. Embrace it. Use it. You cannot wear it out for God intends it for you. Imagine His happiness as he sees you engaging the gifts He knows are especially meant for you.
Finally, as Paul says, remember that we are a body that should work together. If you have ever run in a three-legged race, you know that the secret to getting to the finish line is in not falling over. Unless you synchronize your running with the person to whom you are tied, the competing physical forces inevitably lead to loss of balance. It is not enough to realize your skill and then use it as though you are an island unto yourself. Just as working in isolation dooms the runners in a three legged race, so we here cannot succeed unless we work in tandem with each other. This requires patience, communication, effort, prayer, support, and sometimes, letting someone else lead the effort to get us started. Each of these skills is someone’s individual gift. Without all of them, the picture and our effort is not complete. Put your heart into working together with others. By so doing, you will be able to learn and to teach and the body as a whole will become stronger for it. This is how the gift comes full circle. Our work together is an offering, a gift to God. If we focus on these things, we and God will rejoice in the gift.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
I have a beautiful patch of white violets. I discovered them as a little clump behind a tree at the back of the property. I carefully dug them up and planted them in a shady spot that I would see and where they could grow more fully. Very enthusiastic plant. Overly enthusiastic. Took over one whole side of the property. Unfortunately, the ferns and hostas were not particularly thrilled with this arrangement. The violets were choking out their ability to rise up and grow. The violets show up first and, without being reminded that they share this space, the ferns and hostas would wither up and die in spite of their own efforts. The violets need limits. Eager, perky, hard-working, but they chase all of the other members of the community away. There are people like this at church too. They don’t just help with something, they own it. They intimidate without even realizing it. They scare off the less outgoing but equally dedicated types. They need to have their energy channeled so that everyone can be a part. Because eventually every year, the violets die back and the only thing that would be left is barren dirt but for creating a space where they can coexist.
Some plants need just the right place to thrive. Finding that place may be a process of trial and error. Patience and nurturing. But you have to know the plant to find where it will be happiest. Reading the tag is not enough. The answer may come over a few seasons, not in an instant. Oh, there will be some plants that just take off right away, but many others that need just the right combination to fit in. When people become a part of our community of believers, some jump right in, while others lay back. It takes time and getting to know them in order to come to a consensus of where they will thrive, what they feel called to be a part of. There is not a sure fire way to discern this. But if you try to make a plant grow where you want it, without considering whether the plant will do well there, you end up with a dead plant. It withers away. So too, if we try to pigeonhole people into our needs without allowing them time to explore.
Sometimes plants are too much of a good thing together in one clump. They need to be divided and spread around. So it is with us, we need to step aside from the “same old” and explore new people and roles in our community. We can certainly stay in the tried and true, but eventually we, and our congregation become rootbound and stuck.
And then there are the weeds. They are always there, growing when nothing else is ready, and going gangbusters when the rest of the garden is wilting and tired. When we are worn out and tired, or weary of our daily walk, this is when the seeds of discord settle in and take root and choke out all of our potential. Gossip, playing favorites, power struggles, mistrust, all can sap the strength of who we are and who we want to be.
So thank God for the compost! For the fertilizer that allows us to be nourished, rejuvenated and strengthened. When we do not get fed, even the best laid plans go stale, lie fallow or stunted. When we fail to care for ourselves, when we fail to pray, and to worship, to experience the joy of fellowship, and to be an active part of the community , we miss out on the fertilizer. And in my own garden I can always tell when my own self-care is lacking. Everything is wild and wooly. I realize that things have started to bloom and grow, or die off, without my noticing. I need to slow down, get my hands dirty, and listen. Some of my best rejuvenation happens in the garden. And when I sit down and listen to everything that benefits from God’s garden, and watch things at work, I can marvel at the Creator who puts it all in motion.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Poor Martha. She may or may not have known much in advance that Jesus and a dozen or so of his followers were stopping by. After all, there were no cell phones, or any phones for that matter. The house is a mess, and I don't have anything ready. There was no Turkey Hill or 24 hour supermarket. So she might have been absolutely scrambling. Go to the well and draw water for cooking, build the fire and bake the bread and prepare whatever else there may be. Tidy the place up, maybe change into something else to wear. And then they arrive, and there may be feet to wash in true hospitality of the day and serving the food and maybe the wine, and …SIGH. What is Mary doing? Well, apparently when she hears Jesus is coming, she gets excited, she can't wait to see him and hear him teach. And she greets him warmly. Sits at his feet, rapt in suspense, hanging on his every word. For Mary, hearing that Jesus will be here at her house is like scoring tickets to the big concert you have been dying to see. You drop everything and enjoy.
And this is not the first time Jesus encounters Mary and her sister Martha. Mary is the woman who anointed his feet with expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. And of course later Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead. There may have been, and probably were other occasions that are not recorded. There is a closeness between Jesus and this family. But he is still company and he has a posse with him everywhere he goes.
So Martha is in overdrive preparing to welcome Jesus into the home. And she is doing, and doing, and when will she just get to sit, and doesn't Mary see how much there is to do?! Why should Mary be the one to just sit, I want to sit, but of course that wouldn't be right- there are all these things to do.
It reminds me of a T-shirt I once saw in a catalog with three sayings. "To do is to be " attributed to Plato
"To be is to do" attributed to Camus
"Do be do be do" – Frank Sinatra
Viewed slightly differently, the do/be cycle is where we usually end up when considering this passage. Do-be-do-be, looks like a dog chasing its tail. And Jesus looks like he is rebuking Martha for choosing doing over being. But is that really the message here?
In breaking down the interaction, it sounds like Martha, who is on familiar terms with Jesus, treats him almost like family, like one of my kids coming and saying "It's not fair, I am doing all of the chore-make Mary help." Tattling and venting all at the same time. While Martha would never have talked this way with a stranger, she is comfortable enough to tell Jesus, "Mary will listen to you, tell her to get up and DO something." We have things to do to welcome you. Rather than get sucked into Martha's lament, Jesus changes the paradigm. It is not about doing versus being, and he is not really rebuking Martha, he is trying to comfort her, redirect her, and get her off of the spinning hamster wheel.
I can picture him placing his hand on her tensed up shoulder, and calming her. For he says first, "you are worried and distracted by many things." And who hasn't been there? We live in a "to do" world. Our world measures us in terms of our tangible accomplishments. We need to "Git 'R Done." And we have so many techno-gadgets to keep track of all of our stuff we have to do. PDA's, web calendars, buzzing Blackberry's. In our churches we often carry over the same things, into committees, agendas, long-range plans, formalized ways of doing almost everything. We are so busy doing. Some of us then excel at this by taking on too much of the things we are sure must get done. People burn out, ignore self-care, and ministry stops being done out of love or devotion and becomes a drudgery. Martha in today's world, like some of us would be a good candidate for chronic fatigue syndrome. But for Jesus' intervening comment, we can imagine his entire visit happening without Martha ever really experiencing its purpose. We in turn, become so focused upon the doing of our lists that we lose sight of the purpose.
Which leads us to the second thing Jesus says after he tells Martha she is distracted by many things. "There is need of only one thing." That one thing is being in God's presence. Talking to God, listening to God. Learning from God. Getting fed. And the way we welcome God into our midst is not the same kind of active doing that populates our to do lists and forms. "Come, spend time with me, let's enjoy each other's company, for I will not be here long," Jesus is saying to Martha. "I know you care for me, relax." In our busy world, we meet Jesus in many ways. In worship, in prayer and in others brought into our midst. Walter Wangerin, in his series, "Four Acts of Prayer" shares that there are four parts of prayer. Step One, we talk. Step Two, God listens. Step Three, God talks. And here is the one we all sometimes skip out on. Step Four, we listen. This is what Mary was DOING.
For me, the story of what Mary is up to is that she was not doing nothing. She was doing something. She was listening and sharing with God. And the third thing Jesus says is that for this, this doing, she " has chosen the better part, the thing that cannot be taken away." The things we do to welcome God into our midst, come and go without feeding us, when we do not stop and listen. Talk and listen, and then allow this to lead our actions.
If we give God the rightful place of priority in ordering our days, we will be choosing the better part. And we will be making more personal connections instead of gestures that feel superficial. And we will let God call the tune rather than getting caught up in our lists.
I recently attended Seminary Weekend at LTSG, and in the Saturday evening worship service, Pastor Mark Oldenburg preached about ministry. Let's be honest, there are meetings, there are agendas, and there are forms that clutter our days. "Blessed are the forms for they will always be with you" could characterize our lives. Paraphrasing the part that hit home for me in his sermon was a statement that when you are on your way to "do" the ministry that needs to be done, that is where you will meet Jesus. And so it is for each of us, pastors or laypeople. On the way to fulfilling your to-do list of calls and visits, and all of the above, you will meet Jesus, in unexpected ways. A person will cross your path who was not scheduled but you will meet Jesus. It may happen at a time that is not of your choosing. You may have all of these other things to do. But in ministering there, you will choose the better part as Mary did.
Of course, back to Martha, she is hard to change. When Lazarus has died, she rebukes Jesus for not getting there sooner, "Where were you?" After all, there was work to be done. And now it is too late, and don't open that tomb, it's going to stink in there, and then I'll have that to deal with." Jesus, repeats the same theme. Relax, "Did I not tell you to believe?"
And so it is for us. Even if we want to be more like Mary, many of us find habits hard to change. But even when we fail, God's grace is there for us. Even when church is running long and at the communion rail you are really thinking about what you need to get at the store for dinner, or half a dozen other things distract you. God is there for us at the table, saying, "you are worried and distracted by many things, but you only need one thing." And he feeds us and sends us out to try anew.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
This is the view from in front of our apartment in Lower Town Quebec.
(Wish I had captured the tale splash of the humpback whale)
Monday, July 16, 2007
Friday, July 6, 2007
Thursday, July 5, 2007
In the last year, our community has been rocked by three senseless murders. First, a troubled young man killed multiple members of his family, and then was apprehended on his way to another state to kill another family member. Who could make sense of this wave of violence? Another murder happened when three young men were driving around looking for someone to rob. They randomly picked a house and asked the man in his driveway if they could use his phone because they were having car trouble. For his courtesy they shot and killed him at his front door. A man who had devoted much of his life to bringing clean water to third world countries, the equivalent of life itself, slaughtered after offering help. Gut-wrenching. Finally, a young man goes to his best friend’s house and kills his friend and both of his parents in violent slashing and then goes to school crying about the loss of his friend. Evil that cannot possibly have any rational explanation that is responsible for life-altering desperation for the surviving families.
In each case, the immediate cry has been for the death penalty. These macabre events demand retribution. There must be justice. These heinous murderers do not deserve to draw breath. Forgiveness is impossible.
Yet, in the first of these three cases to work through our Court system, the family asked the Court for mercy. The young man has had a history of troubled thoughts and had seen much that had affected him. Killing the killer would not restore one life. They ask for his life to be spared. To the mind of the “eye for an eye” crowd, this is incomprehensible. The victim, the surviving grandfather is vilified by some for the request. And think of all of the taxpayer dollars that will be “wasted” on this young man when killing him would be so much more fiscally responsible. As if a life can be reduced to the cost of one’s existence.
Into this fray comes Jesus, “ I give you a new commandment to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13:34. Paul in his epistle to the Colossian church similarly teaches, “Forgive one another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Of what are we forgiven? Murder. Return to the Passion of our Lord. Taken into custody, beaten, denied food and drink, tortured, ridiculed and killed. By people to whom He offered love, teaching, and a mission of treating others with respect. And what was God the Father’s response to our actions? Did we receive death? Did we suffer “an eye for an eye?”
If it had been so, you and I would not be here today. Instead, the law was fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We were not only forgiven, we were set free!
So when we read that we should love AS we have been loved, is there really a limit to what we should be willing to do for another in the name of Christ? When we are confronted with any insult from the most petty slight to violence and death, and we are called to forgive AS we have been forgiven, do situational ethics change the equation?
Was it just lucky for us that we as a people are spared for killing God’s Son?
While can never understand the heart of evil, the work of demons in our midst, we are not called to match hatred with hatred, but to love and forgive AS the Lord has done so for us.
Doing so does not change the fact that sin has entered in; it does not mean that there is no consequence at all. We can hate the sin. But we are all children of God, and we are not appointed to play God and dispense life and death in a way that He has not.
Our God gave us the example. While it may hard for us to fathom such boundless and infinite love that God shows to us, a fractured people, nonetheless it is His example that we must model, growing into maturity of faith.
God knows we will falter, in small and monumental ways, but AS He shows His grace and mercy to the least of us, so too we must strive to do likewise. Even in the darkest of times we must cling to Christ, the perfect example of love, humility, grace and forgiveness and to render “justice” with that little word “as” in mind.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
God, may I never step out in front of you.
May I never block your path
and put myself in your way again.
And if I ever decide
that I'm the one in charge,
run me over with your bus again.
Apparently, I haven't learned.
From Lammi's anthology, Bread for Beggars, published by Lulu Press. (www.lulu.com)