Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Longing to Go on Pilgrimage

Chaucer said that it was Spring when people long to go on pilgrimage--but I often find myself longing to go on pilgrimage in summer.

I associate long walks on tough trails with summer.  I was rarely an autumn backpacker, and even if I went in the fall, the walk wasn't long.

No, my backpacker memories come from Congaree Girl Scout Camp, where I was one of 3 backpacking counselors.  I'm still amazed at what we accomplished:  we were dropped off at one point, and we would be picked up 4-7 days later, after hiking almost 30 miles during one trip and 15 miles during another. 

Those were the days before cell phones.  If anything happened, we had to figure it out ourselves.  And we did.

You've never experienced a thunderstorm until you've huddled under a tarp with 10 frightened teenagers.  What a night that was.  In the morning, I was ready to go home.  Luckily we had a leader (just 2 years older than me) who declared we would go on.  And in the afternoon, we made camp, spread out our soaked things to dry, and enjoyed the sun sparkling on the water of the river.

Yes, it's that time of year when I think of hiking the Appalachian Trail.  But these days, I might choose something more spiritual, like the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  This post made the important point that even during a spiritual hike, one must deal with all the elements of a long hike:  aches and pains, frustration and boredom, heat.

I found the hiking part of backpacking to be spiritual even when I wasn't doing it for spiritual reasons.  It's wonderful to be far away from civilization and to revel in the diversity of God's creation.  I'm not as good at doing that in my everyday life.

I want to run away for all sorts of reasons these days.  I would do well to remember my Chaucer.  I could tell myself that I was going for lofty spiritual reasons, but it's better to be honest.  It's good to remember that if I did go on pilgrimage, I would meet plenty of people making their travels for all sorts of reasons, few of them lofty.

It's better to stay put and learn one's spiritual lessons while sheltering in place.  At least, for this season in my life, that's what I'm discerning.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Salads Salty and Sweet

It's been awhile since I posted a recipe.

Last month, I went to a restaurant planning to get some happy hour snacks to go with some wine.  I wasn't planning on eating dinner.

My friend and I got ourselves settled at the bar to wait for the others who would join us.  It was fairly early, so there was only one other person at the bar.  She waxed euphoric over the salad.

Yes, the salad.  She had a bottle of wine and some other goodies--but it was the salad that made her so deliriously happy.

So, of course, I had to order it--plus it sounded good:  grilled peaches, prosciutto, goat cheese, on top of salad greens with a honey lemon vinaigrette.  Were there nuts on the salad?

For days, I wanted to go back--but the salad was a special, so I doubted I could get it again.  But how hard could it be to make?  So the other day, I stopped at the grocery store.

I got nectarines, which I like better than peaches.  I added some cherry tomatoes.  I got chopped romaine lettuce, because it was on sale.  I got a log of goat cheese and prosciutto.  You can mix it all in the proportions that you like.

For the vinaigrette, I used 3 lemons, but it was almost too tart.  I used 4 T. of honey.  I mixed in a cup of good olive oil.  It still didn't taste quite right--too tart.  So I added some balsamic vinaigrette and some ginger preserves.  I just kept mixing in small amounts until I got it close.  It still wasn't as good as the restaurant version.

But then I let it sit in the fridge for a week--it got so much better.  I made another version of the salad.  When I didn't have grilled peaches, I made the salad with chickpeas--not quite as good, but more protein to be sure.  I love the mix of salt and sweet.

I think I'll explore the whole summer creating salads that celebrate that mix.

For several weeks, I poured the vinaigrette on non-salads too.  I had a can of chickpeas that marinated in the vinaigrette--delicious mixed with goat cheese.  I also poured it over a leftover pasta with tomatoes and olives pantry kind of meal that I put together when I was out of most fresh foods--much tastier than the original pasta meal with parmesan cheese that I first served.

I liked the vinaigrette so much that I made another jar full.  I used 2 lemons this time.  It was almost not tart enough.

In my younger days, when I had lots of unstructured time and a kitchen (think grad school), I kept a variety of sauces and vinaigrettes on hand.  I had forgotten how transformative they are. 

It's the time of year when it seems almost too hot to eat.  Nothing sounds good.  I'm bored by it all.

But the human body still needs nourishment.  It's good to have something that will help me want to eat nutritious foods.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Dog Days of a Spiritual Life

It's the time of year again:  hot, endless days of summer.  It seems we will never celebrate Christmas again.

How to maintain our faith in a time of drought?  Perhaps by returning to nature, the river that runs deep:

Perhaps we will find the secret in the cool catacombs of a library:

Maybe by approaching an art form from a different angle:

Let us sit quietly on the porch:

We will cultivate our gardens in the belief that rains will come again:

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independence Day Prayers

When I'm on Facebook, I'm amazed at the anger and vitriol that some display, the sweeping generalizations that I see and hear.  I want to go into teacher mode.  I want to point out how wonderful it is that so many of us can have such a wide range of opinions, and none of us will be carted off to jail, unless we decide to do something violent on the behalf of those opinions.

So today, let me give thanks for this freedom that we've somehow managed to maintain.  But let me not be blind to the oppression that many still face.

For many of us, Independence Day is a day of cook-outs and fireworks.  If we don't live in a place that has preserved colonial history, or if we live further west, Independence Day may seem a distant holiday.  But this holiday week-end gives us a good reason to remember the high stakes that those signers of the Declaration of Independence faced.  It's good to remember how much they valued the idea of freedom, even if they didn't extend those freedoms to all.

In this time after momentous Supreme Court decisions and actions by evil-minded people, it's good to think of freedoms and what freedoms still need to be won.  I will spend some time thinking about all the female clergy in South Carolina who are getting vicious threats and hate mail.  I will think about people who still don't have basic protections, like the right to work at a job without harassment.  I will think of people still going to bed hungry, still out on the streets.

I will say a prayer for protection and for liberty from tyrannies of all sorts.  Today and every day.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Promoting Camp

At the end of the day yesterday, a group of us from Lutheran churches across the county met at our church, a central location for us all.  We were there to hear about promoting the campaign for Luther Springs, our Lutheran camp in Florida.  The man there to train us to go out to talk to church councils was once my college Theology professor and campus pastor.

We talked about what outdoor ministry had meant to each of us.  It was interesting to note how many of us talked about the deep importance of camp to our grown-up lives, not our camp experiences as children.

Our Florida camp, Luther Springs, has gone from being on the brink of bankruptcy to being more successful than the space developed can handle.  Luckily, there's room for development.

How did this happen?  Ten years ago, most Lutherans in Florida had never heard of Luther Springs.

Part of it was their partnership with the group that manages the North Carolina camps, Lutheridge and Lutherock.

And when that group started helping, the camp started offering more programs for adults.  Once better housing was built for larger groups, the popularity took off.

I thought of the one day retreat that my mom and I have created for her church women's group.  Could one day retreats held at churches help support camp?  We've said it at my mom's group's retreat:  "If you liked one day of this, just imagine a whole week-end or week."  Last night I thought of offering 1 day versions of the more popular retreats:  a 1 day women's retreat, a 1 day creativity retreat, and so on.

Of course, the kind of support that Luther Springs needs right now is money to build more lodging, to build a better kitchen (I've had home kitchens bigger than the Luther Springs kitchen), and to build a bigger meeting space/chapel.  The materials we looked at last night made it clear how little it would take from each Lutheran church member to get the camp to where it needs to be:  just under $34 a person a year for the next 3 years.

History is full of examples of what can happen when a large group of people works together.  Hopefully this campaign for Luther Springs will be another example.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Poetry Thursday: Creativity Lessons from Toddlers

I've been thinking about the lessons that Vacation Bible School teaches the grown ups about creativity.  The children entered into every arts and crafts activity with openness.  Even when they weren't enthusiastic--and most were--they still gave every experience a try.

Perhaps it was the activities I chose, but no one said, "I can't do this."  Only once did someone destroy a creation, and it was an older child.  The younger children gave no judgment.  It was very refreshing.

 I just finished reading Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins--a novel which also makes me think about creativity.  It's a book that works beautifully as a novel.  But at the end, a reader can't help but realize that it's also a book about narrative and story telling.

All of these threads make me think of a poem that I wrote years ago, after I spent Thanksgiving week-end with my nephew.  We told each other stories, stories which ignored the basic rules of narrative structure.

Later, I wrote this poem:

Narrative Lessons

The three year old tells me a story
that is really a list
of things you’d find in the firehouse
where the little old lady lived
once upon a time.

The three year old has not memorized
the five kinds of conflict
(or is it 6?
and what about the ones that overlap?).
He has not studied Aristotle’s rules.
He does not know about mimesis,
the mirror or the lamp.

He simply understands the objects
which he likes recited
to the grown ups who love
him best, the narrative that burns

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, July 5, 2015:

First Reading: Ezekiel 2:1-5

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Psalm: Psalm 123

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 48

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Gospel: Mark 6:1-13

What an intriguing Gospel reading for this Sunday: Jesus rejected by people who had known him since he was little and who knew his family. Perhaps you can relate.

The first part of this Gospel (in the reaction of the people of Christ’s own country) gives us a clear warning about the risks we face when we have expectations of God that might be a bit too firm. We're not really open to God or God's hopes and plans for us when we think we know what God should be up to in the world. The society of Jesus' time had very definite expectations of what the Messiah would look like and what he would do--and Jesus was not that person. How many people ignored God, right there in their midst, because they were looking for someone or something else?

This Gospel also warns us about fame and acclaim. If you've been alive any length of time, you know that the world grants fame to an interesting variety of people. But once again, if we expect God to act like a star, we're setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Much of the Bible shows us God appearing as a stranger, as a baby in a manger, as an itinerant preacher, as a crucified prisoner. We hear God speaking in dreams, in a burning bush, a whisper here, a glimmering there. If we’re waiting for angel choirs in the sky to give us a clear message from the Divine, we may wait a very long time. We need to learn to listen for God in other settings.

And the end of the Gospel has a warning for us, as well. If we become believers because we think we'll be famous or we'll make lots of money or we'll have political influence--well, we're likely to be disappointed. The Gospel of Jesus is not about those things that the world considers important--no matter what those Prosperity Gospel folks would have you believe.

If we think of Jesus as building a church, the model that we see in a Gospel might point us in a different direction than the path that many of us have been treading

Jesus sends out his disciples two by two, with no possessions and not much of a plan. Notice what he does not do--he doesn't make them create a mission statement or a business plan. He doesn't have them raise money for buildings and programs. And he doesn't expect them to work fruitlessly--they are allowed to shake the dust off of their feet and move on if a community rejects them.

What would our lives look like, if we followed this model? What would our lives look like if we trusted God more than our retirement plans? Where are we stuck, needing to shake dust off of our feet and move on? Where might God lead us, if we can just learn to trust and learn to move?