Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Calm Before the Accreditation Visit

I think of this week-end as the calm before the accreditation visit.  I've spent it by spending time with friends, getting a hair cut, and thinking about what I need this week.

Today I plan to make homemade granola bars (I posted the recipe here).  It may be the kind of week where I can't heat up left over food in the microwave.  These homemade granola bars have almost too many calories for a snack, but as meal replacement, it will be good.  I can grab a bite here and there as I race between duties.

But it may not be that kind of week, so I'll also make a casserole so that I have leftovers for lunch.

I need to get to a store to buy some essentials.  I don't have enough V8 juice to make it through the week.  I plan to drink a huge glass every morning.  When I can't be sure I'll have enough time to eat my vegetables, I'll drink them!

One of my online classes is coming to an end, which means I have papers to grade.  I'd like to get those done today.  That task will be one that I spread out throughout the day.

And while I am beginning to feel like I should sit down and read my school's catalogue and self-evaluation report again (and I might look through parts of the material before the day is over), I will first go to church.  I will hear the Good News and do some sketching and try to keep everything in perspective!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Planting Prayer Flags for Earth Day

How should Christians celebrate Earth Day? You might think that the best way to celebrate Earth Day would be to head to the garden to plant. But what if you don’t have gardening skills?

This year, let’s plant prayer flags.

I don’t mean the traditional Tibetan prayer flags, although those flags inspire this idea. Pastor Naomi Sease Carriker told me about her simple practice at a recent Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge.  

She writes prayers on tulle and ties them to a pieces of lattice fencing in her garden. She takes great joy in seeing them flutter in the breeze. The fluttering reminds her to pray.

I love this idea on so many levels. I love a good purpose for fabric scraps. Although the tulle catches the breezes easily, I imagine most fabrics would work. And what a great way to add color to the garden.

Any practice that reminds us to pray has value, and this prayer flag idea has an added bonus. I need to be reminded that I pray so that I turn over issues to the One who is much more powerful than I am. Prayer flags give us this ongoing symbol: that we release the prayers to go to the Creator who can handle it from there. The visual reminder to let go of some of these issues once I've prayed about them seems especially important in our culture that prizes self-sufficiency and the ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

If we write our prayers, on fabric or on paper, we may find ourselves able to release the anxiety that often comes from our unacknowledged needs or our inability to find solutions. If we tie the fabric prayers in places where we'll see them, we can be reminded that we’ve handed it over to God.

I find many of my spiritual disciplines coming back to fabric. Even the ones that I think are word-based, like the spiritual journal, have some interesting possibilities in fabric. I have a vision of quilting the Psalms. I wonder how many other spiritual disciplines that I think involve other mediums could migrate to fabric.

I also like the idea that I can beautify the garden without having to deal with the dead plants that often come when people like me love the planting but forget the daily work of watering. The fluttering of the fabric scraps reminds me to pray for the mending of the planet.

There are as many ways to celebrate Earth Day as there are humans to celebrate it: we could clean vacant lots or reclaim poisoned plots of earth or buy a bouquet of flowers to remind us of green and growing creations. We could write letters to heads of corporations that need to clean up their acts or protest in a different way. We could run for office or go to schools to raise consciousness.

But we can also pray. Planting prayer flags can remind us to pray long after Earth Day has come and gone. The natural world needs our prayers now more than ever.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Poetry Friday: "Vow of Stability"

This week, I got my contributor copy of Slant.  Last night, I had a chance to read it.  What a wondrous thing, that a journal completely devoted to poetry is still being published.  And what a wondrous thing that it is one of many journals.

This poem came to me at Mepkin Abbey.  My friends and I talked about what it means to take a monastic vow, and we wondered how family members felt about it.  And on the long drive back to South Florida, this poem began to percolate.


Vow of Stability


Their friends wonder why
they’re happy to have their only child
disappear into a monastery.
Their communication will be limited.
Their visits will be rare.

Yet they are pleased, even relieved,
to accept their son’s vocation.
This sense of purpose comforts
them. They know their boy has wrestled
with calls of a different kind.

They know their child will be cared
for, with regular meals and a work schedule
and fatherly oversight from the abbot.
They know their child’s choices
about retirement and old age
have been made.

They have a bit of sadness
for grandchildren he will never give
them, but they know of many fine
children outside the monastery
walls who haven’t formed families
the way their son has done.

They drive back from the cloister
and spend the night in their son’s old
room, the trophies from a an athlete’s
life long over, the books about boy wizards
and detectives, a leftover Lego construction.
They whisper the bedtime prayers
of childhood and hold each other close.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Left Behind Disciple

Every time I read about a specific, named group of disciples who did something with Jesus, I wonder about the others.  Did they feel left out?  Were they off doing other important activities, and thus missed some events, like the Transfiguration?  Did they have family commitments?  Did their jobs keep them away?

I know that we think of the 12 disciples as already having a full-time job:  following Jesus.  But I wonder if we're wrong.  I've read some theologians who speculate that the disciples, far from being poor and rag tag, might have been closer to middle class, with thriving fishing businesses and the like.

We think that the disciples abandoned their families, but I'm not sure that's true.  After all, Simon Peter had a mother-in-law; we know that because Jesus healed her fever.  I wouldn't expect this story if Simon Peter was estranged from them.

I have the left out disciples on the brain because for the next 4 days, I will be feeling left out.  One of my tribes is meeting on the mountain for the Create in Me retreat; I can't go because next week is our accreditation visit.  The retreat is 12 hours away (even if I went by plane, the travel would take at least 8 hours, in terms of getting to airports early, waiting on connecting flights and/or renting a car at the other end); I can't zip up for an afternoon the way some have in the past when they couldn't come for the whole retreat.

I've missed the retreat once before, in 2015 when my whole family went on a vacation to Hawaii.  I didn't feel left out then.  I feel a bit left out this year.

And what's present this year that wasn't in 2015:  the fear that I will never make it back to this retreat.  I'm at a very small campus, and it's hard to get away in a way that it wasn't at my old school. The retreat moves, which makes it even harder to know the future--the retreat is always the week-end after Easter, because the retreat can have the whole camp.  That's great for the retreat, but it means that the retreat will sometimes fall during a week where it's more difficult to get away--the week before Spring quarter begins, for example, which is an all-hands-on-deck time on my small campus.

But I'm trying to stay in this current moment and let the future take care of itself.  A year ago, I wouldn't have forecast my current life.  It's hard to know what next year will truly be like or the year after that.

I have planned some fun stuff for the week-end; I'll be with local friends here.  I'll do some creative stuff on my own.  I'll pray for my tribe on the mountain, and I'll hope that they pray for me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The lessons for Sunday, April 23, 2017:


Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

How good and pleasant it is to live together in unity. (Ps. 133:1)

1 John 1:1—2:2

John 20:19-31


I love the post-Easter encounters with Jesus. It's as if the Gospel writers knew that we'd need to be reminded of the amazing thing that has happened. It's no wonder that Thomas said he wouldn't believe until he'd touched the wounds.

Jesus was dead. He wasn't just passed out or in a deep sleep or let off the cross early. He died and rose again.

Notice that here, as elsewhere, Jesus knows what humans need and meets them on that level. He doesn't get huffy. He doesn't say, "Well, if Thomas isn't glad to see me back from the dead, then I'm not going to talk to him. I'll just hang out with people who believe." No, he lets Thomas put his hands inside of his side wound, if that's what it takes.

He forgives the doubt. He forgives the disciples who ran away. He doesn't show up to berate the disciples for hiding in a dark room when they've got work to do. He forgives all the human ways we can't rise to the vision that God has for our behavior, for our blessed lives.

Notice in these post Easter lessons how Jesus roots his actions in the physicality of life. He cooks people breakfast when they've been off fishing. He breaks bread and blesses wine. He presents his very wounded body. For those of us modern Gnostics who want to deny that Jesus was as human as the rest of us, these lessons seem specially placed to help us work against that belief. Jesus was NOT just a mystical creature with a human form that he could put on and take off, like a special set of clothes.

Perhaps that should be a lesson to the rest of us as well. When we feel despairing, we should look for ways to root ourselves in our physical lives; maybe we should try baking bread or cooking a meal. Maybe when we're almost sick with missing the ones that live far away, maybe instead of moping, we should write a letter to our loved ones, telling them how much we love them. Maybe we should plant some herbs or flowers, get our hands in the dirt, remember our roots in the world that deserves our love and attention.

Perhaps this approach would make a good way to minister to others. Instead of some sort of theoretical approach to evangelism, we should look minister to our neighbors’ physical needs; then we can think about their spiritual lives. We should ask people to dinner instead of asking, “If you died tonight, would you go to Heaven?” We should describe the great potluck dinner that awaits them at church, instead of the Heavenly feast that we have to wait so long to experience.

God came to this world to become physically involved--we are called to do the same.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Octave of Easter

Last year I was at Mepkin Abbey to celebrate the Octave of Easter--actually, I was there for a writing workshop that corresponded with the Octave of Easter.  I had missed Easter Sunday, so it was great to have a chance to celebrate multiple times again through the few days that I was there.

Yesterday, as I moved through my work day with Easter music in my head, I thought about these 8 days that begin with Easter and will end this coming Sunday.  Was it the Easter music in my head that reminded me to be patient with everyone as I looked through files and continued to find mistakes?  Probably not--that schooling started long before Easter and will continue until I retire.

I am surrounded by flowers, the way I was at Mepkin Abbey, but mine are not surviving nearly as well as those did.  I bought tulips in pots the week-end before Easter, and they are mostly done now.  This week-end, I may dig those bulbs into the ground, just to see what will happen in future years.  On Easter Sunday, I brought a pot of hyacinths home from church, and they're on the front porch table.

As I ate some jellybeans yesterday, I thought of all the Easter candy that I used to eat and ration out across the days after I got my Easter basket.  It's been wonderful seeing everyone's Easter posts on Facebook, but it makes me remember past traditions that I forgot to make happen this year.  Once I made hot cross buns from yeast bread made with my own hands.  Once I colored Easter eggs.  Often I was doing this because I was far away from my family, and I needed ways to make my holiday special.  This year, we've had family here, including my mom and dad for the actual holiday.

It's been wonderful having my parents here.  Yesterday we went for breakfast at the beach, and last night we ate in downtown Hollywood.  I love having visitors who remind me of how wonderful it is to be here in this place.  Like those early disciples, I see the world through new lenses.

It is all too easy to leave the high holy days behind.  Ahead of us comes one last festival, Pentecost, and then the long stretch of ordinary time.  Let us linger in this light of Easter.  We have 50 days to celebrate this season until Pentecost.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Day after Easter

One reason why I like Easter less than many of the other Christian festival is the tendency of the substitutionary atonement theology that creeps in.  I call it "The Old Rugged Cross" theology for short--it's the idea that our very creative God could not come up with any other way to unite with humanity than to have Jesus die on the cross as a substitute for the kinds of animals that we might have brought to the Temple to offer in our efforts to get forgiveness for sins.

The idea of animal sacrifice as necessary for atonement is so foreign to so many of us in developed nations.  Why do we accept it as part of our Christian faith?

Many, many books have been written in an effort to answer that question.  I won't try to do it here.  But it is one of the hazards of Easter for me, this idea that we must be washed in the blood of Jesus to be cleansed.

Yesterday I began my Easter Sunday by listening to this episode of On Being which featured Richard Rohr.  He finished the interview with this wonderful quote:  "So that’s why I’m anxious to present the vulnerable God, which, for a Christian, was supposed to have been imaged on the cross. But again, we made it into a transaction. Transaction isn’t vulnerability anymore, really. Vulnerability transforms you. You can’t be in the presence of a truly vulnerable, honestly vulnerable person and not be affected. I think that’s the way we are meant to be in the presence of one another."

Yes, the transactional nature of death on the cross--that's what bothers me.  I would not have put it as eloquently as Rohr, which is why I wanted to preserve it here.

I'm lucky to be at a church that avoids much of this troubling Jesus came to die for my sins in this gruesome way because there was no other way kind of theology on Easter--particularly now that our former choir director has moved on. 

Yesterday, as I was on alert for something new in the Easter story, I was struck by the folded grave clothes.  Imagine:  Jesus comes back from the dead and folds the grave clothes. 

How would our society be different if we had focused on this aspect of Jesus instead of the cross?