Saturday, September 23, 2017

Post-Irma Update

We finally got power restored on Thursday--we had to have an electrician come out to do some repair work to the conduit/tubing/riser that had come apart.  On Tuesday, the FPL woman told me that we didn't have to do that, that the crew would fix whatever damage they found.  On Wednesday, the crew said no.  I called several electricians--thank God for Facebook and my various communities there who could make recommendations. 

I feel fortunate to have found an electrician who could come the next day, instead of in October.  I feel fortunate to have power and even more fortunate not to have to do battle with Comcast.

During the rain yesterday, the first rain since Irma, we discovered a leak in the laundry room.  I'm trying not to feel overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do list.

I hope that this week will see a restoration to some sense of normalcy, even with all the repairs we need to make.  I hope to be back to blogging more regularly this week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rusty Survivalist

Wednesday, day 10, no power, with the website saying it will be restored by 11:45 tonight. Let me keep my perspective by reminding myself that 2 weeks ago, my spouse and I took a walk and talked about the very real possibility of a category 4 hurricane coming over our house in a more direct hit and what that would mean for our house and posessions left behind (a total loss, we assumed, 2 weeks ago).  Today, 2 weeks later, we don't have power, but we have a house.

Let me remember the very surreal feeling of walking through the house and thinking about evacuation by car or by plane--what would we grab?  Our various documents, our laptops, and some clothes, if by plane.  If by car, a few extras here and there.

As we packed the car on Friday, Sept. 8, I thought about the space that was left, and whether or not to leave things behind to face what we thought would be certain storm surge losses.  Should I do a quick sort of CDs to ascertain what I'd truly miss?  Perhaps pack a few books?

In the end, I left it all, for the most part.  I meant to bring my box of chapbooks, but I didn't.  We almost forgot the fireproof safe that has all of our important documents.  It's become very clear to me that my survivalist skills have gotten rusty.  In this week with no power, I've discovered that I didn't have the stash of batteries I thought I did, and we don't have an alarm clock that works with no electricity.  Until 5 days ago, we had forgotten that one of our radios will work with AA batteries.

Let me not focus on the fact that my house is the only one on the block with no power still.  Let me focus on the survivalist skill that I've kept sharp:  a variety of communities.  Let me sing the praises of people who have invited us over for a meal and who have shared their batteries.  Lots of people have offered their generators or their guest rooms, but we don't need them, because of our very kind neighbor who hauled his revamped 1968 camper with AC down to our driveway--we've had a cool place to sleep.

We are rich in friends.  We are lucky to have a safe neighborhood, where I can sit on the porch at all hours of the day or night to read.  I am happy that I still have my supply books to read--I've been revisiting them.  A collection of books:  I may not have as many batteries as I need, but a supply of books is as important to me.

And we will have power soon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 24, 2017:

First Reading: Jonah 3:10--4:11

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 16:2-15

Psalm: Psalm 145:1-8

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

Second Reading: Philippians 1:21-30

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

I've often thought that these parables that use work metaphors are less useful to those of us toiling in the 21st century--and I've wondered how the contemporaries of Jesus would hear this parable.

Outrage is the classic response to the idea that the workers who toiled all day getting the same wages as those who show up one hour before quitting time. We howl, "But that's not fair."

Some preachers will use this Gospel as an excuse to preach on the classic idea that life isn't fair. Maybe they'll remind us that we're fortunate that life isn't fair (how often do we pray for justice, when what we really long for is mercy?) or maybe they'll give us a real soul-sapper of a sermon about the grinding nature of life. Or maybe congregations will hear about the idea of grace being extended to us all, no matter how long it takes us to acknowledge it.

But the poet in me immediately searches for a new way to frame this parable. What if, instead of toiling in the vineyard, we're invited to a party? Those of us who come early get to drink more wine, eat more goodies, and engage in more hours of intense conversation. We get to spend more quality time with our host. Those who come later will still get to drink wine, eat goodies, converse, and have quality time. The wine won't have soured, the goodies won't have molded, the conversation won't have dwindled, the host won't be tired and wishing that everyone would just go home. The party will still be intensely wonderful. But those who come late won't have as much time to enjoy it.

God does call us to toil in the vineyard. But toil is the wrong word, or at least, in our world, it has negative connotations that can't be easily overcome.

Don't think of it as the kind of work you had to do in that soul-deadening job with that boss who delighted in tormenting you. It's not that kind of work. It's also not the kind of work where it's OK to just show up and keep the seat warm, wondering when it will be time to return home, to the place you'd rather be (which would be Heaven, in this metaphor, I suppose).

Instead, God's work is like that enriching job, the one where you were challenged, but not overwhelmed. God's work engages you on every level and you look up at the end of the work day, amazed at how time has passed and how involved you have become. At the end of God's work day, you're amazed at all you've been able to accomplish.

God calls us to partnership in an amazing creative endeavour. We're called to transform the world, to help reclaim the world for God's vision. In Surprised by Hope, Bishop N. T. Wright reminds us, "But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15;58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff" (208).

The ways that we can do this Kingdom work are varied, from helping the poor, to enjoying a good meal, to writing a poem, to consoling a friend, to playing with your dog, to painting . . . the list is as long as there are humans in the world. Wright assures us that "God gloriously honors all kinds of ways of announcing the good news" (226).

Do the kind of creating that involves you on many levels, that makes you lose your sense of time, that leaves you unmoored in your wonder at the beauty of creation. That's the work that God calls us to do.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Haves and Have Nots

Today is the day that my good spirits start to flag.  It was fun, the first day or two without power.  We had had a few sunless days, after all, and then it was breezy, as one might expect in a hurricane.  Most people lost power, so we were all camping in our houses.  We went ahead and ate all the food that had been in the freezer.  We chatted with neighbors with whom we rarely speak.  We had leisurely evenings with nothing to distract us.

The sound of generators wasn't as maddening as in past storms--likewise for generators.

Now that some people have power, and we don't, I confess to feeling a bit more dejected.  We are lucky--we should have power by Sunday, FPL tells us.  We have activities planned at our friends' houses.  I am so grateful to have friends who say, "Come over for dinner" and/or  "Stay in our guest room."

Still, it's wearing.

And it's a valuable insight into the way that parts of the world live all the time.  I know that plenty of people in the U.S. can't afford to run the AC, even if they have power and AC.  I know that those same people often live in neighborhoods where it's not safe to open the windows.  I know that although the developing world may have access to electricity more than they did in the past, that the electrical supply isn't reliable.

I know that plenty of people would love to live in my little cottage in the back of the property, even though we haven't cleaned it up from the flooding.  I know that plenty of people would envy me my ability to cook on propane.  I have water that's clean enough to bathe in and drink--much of the world does not.

This week, I have had a glimmer of how it feels to be a Have Not in a world of Haves.  But it's only a glimmer.  I'm only a tourist in this land.  I'll be returning to my home country of the Haves very soon--but I hope to help more people migrate to this land, having been reminded of how tough it is to live on the Have Not side.

Friday, September 15, 2017

When God Doesn't Change the Path of the Hurricane

I told myself I wouldn't get sucked into these kinds of conversations on Facebook.  I had been so good at not engaging.  But then I saw this post from a family member (the fact that it's a family member may make this engagement better or worse, I'm not sure):

"So...there was a massive unprecedented hurricane barreling down on Florida. We all saw the radar and space images. The country went into a panic and many began asking for prayer and millions were praying that God would ease the storm. The storm followed the predicted path but did not cause even remotely the amount of damage or loss of life that was expected. Now there's an outcry that either the media was lying or the scientists were wrong. Why is no one considering the possibility that God answered some prayers and intervened, thwarting the devastating effects of the storm?

I let it go at first.  If I responded, would I really change any minds?  But in the end, I wrote this:

"Have you seen reports from Key West? The fact that no one has seen pictures makes me worry that it may be truly awful. And Naples is in bad shape. The problem with this theology: did those people pray less well? Why did God thwart devastating effects for me and not for all the island nations? I feel certain that it's NOT because I pray better or are [sic] more deserving."

The FB poster said this: 

"It wasn't a matter of praying better. If Irma had taken the path they said at a Cat 5 then there would have been massive deaths. We don't know with the Keys yet but at this point it seems that most of the deaths in Florida were avoidable. They were either from human mistake (the fall and genator deaths) or human incompatence (the nursing home)"

I wrote this:

"Read that last sentence of your post again--you do seem to be suggesting that God answered the prayers of those praying for Florida after God decided not to answer the prayers of those who prayed for all of those islands to our south. It's crummy theology in so many ways."

Another FB friend responded:

"The main message that I saw in this post was why aren't we giving God the credit for his help with this storm. True, there are so many who were tragically impacted (my daughter is in St Maarten and is living that tragedy now). However, I do believe that God did answer prayers and that it could have been so much worse if He hadn't. My heart goes out to those who were not as fortunate as we were here but I do believe that God should get all the glory for all blessings."

Again, the theology and the logic bothered me, and so I posted:

"I wish that God had answered my prayer to have the storm curve out to sea and not impact any of us at all. I just don't see prayer as working that way--which doesn't stop me from praying, as you can see. I don't blame God, either. I believe that God is there with us in every storm, but not to change the course of the storm. Otherwise, the theology is just unsustainable--why some prayers answered and not others? I don't think that God intervenes in the laws of the physical world that God created in a certain way."

And then minutes clicked by, and my inner voice accused me of a bit of hypocrisy.  It's not hypocrisy, so much, as believing two opposing viewpoints at once.  I posted this:

"But of course, I'll pray regardless. I'm sure that God hears our prayers and that having God by my side is better than not praying. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a very tiny human with a much smaller vision than God's--I could be wrong, and I'm not seeing the long view that God sees. I also think that if God intervenes, it's only when we ask. So, yes, I hedge my bets and pray and pray and pray, especially when the news looks grim."

I am fairly sure we haven't changed any of our minds.  I still don't know how they would explain the many things that prayer hasn't changed--can we rejoice when prayer goes our way, and live with the difficulty of coping when prayer doesn't.

The Facebook exchange above shows how I have wrestled with the issue--and I expect to wrestle with it my whole life.  I would like God to make the changes that I can't pull off by myself.  I would like to control God--and everyone and everything else in my life.

I just don't know that I can buy into that theology that if I pray hard enough, it will all turn out OK.  It often doesn't.  What do we say then?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Sept.17, 2017:

First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 14:19-31

Psalm: Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 114

Psalm (Alt.): Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 (Semi-continuous)

Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

The Gospel for today, at least the first part, is probably familiar to most of us. Peter is looking for the magic number of times that he must forgive--and you can tell he's annoyed, ready to cut off the person who has offended him, but he'll forgive seven times--and you know that he's probably already forgiven that person eight times. Jesus tells him he must forgive seventy times seven.

I remember in fifth grade Sunday school class where we studied this passage. We immediately got to work on the math. And if you were an obsessive child, like I had a tendency to be, you started keeping a list of how many times you had forgiven your sister.

I had unwittingly proven Jesus' point. Peter asks a stupid, juvenile question, and Jesus gives him an answer to let him know how petty he has been. By now, we should all know that Jesus didn't come to give us a new set of legalisms to follow.

Jesus then gives us a parable about the nature of forgiveness. Most of us will need more forgiveness throughout our lives than we really deserve. We are like indentured servants who can never hope to pay off our debt, but we're miraculously forgiven.

Most of us, happily, will never experience indentured servitude in the traditional sense. But in our past years of financial collapse, many of us have discovered a different kind of indebtedness. Many of us owe more on our houses than they will ever be worth again. Many of us owe more on our credit cards than we can ever repay, and we likely don’t even remember what we bought. Because of the lousy job situation throughout the country, many of us are chained to jobs that no longer satisfy. Think of how wonderful it would be if someone came in and relieved us of those debts. Think of forgiveness the same way.

Our task--and it sometimes seems more monumental than paying off a huge financial debt--is to extend that quality of forgiveness and mercy to others.

Who needs your forgiveness? Have you told those people that they're forgiven? Do they know it by your loving actions? To whom do you need to repent? What's keeping you from doing it?

And now, for the part that might be even harder for many of us—have you forgiven yourself? I've gotten fairly talented at forgiving my loved ones, but I'm still not good at forgiving myself. I'm still angry and annoyed when the struggles I thought were past me resurface. I'm still hard on myself for my shortcomings, even as I acknowledge that my shortcomings could be worse.

Fortunately, God has a higher opinion of me than I do of myself. God is willing to forgive me for my shortcomings--even as I fall short again and again.

Let us model ourselves after God's capacity for forgiveness.  And if our capacity to forgive isn’t at 70 times 7 yet, let’s pray for an expanded ability to forgive. Let us also remember to pray for our enemies, both the personal ones and the political ones, the inner voices that berate us, the outer voices that shrilly defeat all peace initiatives, all the enemies who would undo us.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Irma Update

It is 7:35 EDT on the southeast coast of Florida--Hurricane Irma's eye is at Key West right now.  It's still a category 4 storm, and sadly, it has slowed down. 

Here, 17 miles inland, in the northern part of Broward county, we still have power, so I thought I'd write a brief post. 

We had a lovely day yesterday, helping our friends with the last of their storm prep--I was grateful to have a place to stay, so I was glad to be able to help.  Actually, my spouse did all of the heavy-duty help.

In the evening, we kept hearing about tornado warnings.  These are not the scary midwestern kind of tornadoes. Plus, many of us have impact resistant glass and/or shutters. These baby tornadoes really aren't much of a worry for me.

I'm more worried about flooding, but I'm seeing local news crews standing on wet but not flooded streets near the coast. I'm continuing to hope for the best for the east coast of Florida and to hope for unexpected good news from the Keys and the west coast.

The storm surge warning was lifted for our coastline, so if we get flooding, at least it won't be that kind of flooding. 

We've had a few storm bands, but we still have power. So far, so good. It will be a long day, but others will have a much worse day.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Day Before the Day Before the Hurricane

Our days of watching and waiting and hoping and cursing and praying are coming to a close.  Hurricane Irma arrives at some point in the next 24 hours.  When I look at the radar, it seems we'll feel some bands later today or tonight.  I think (and desperately hope) that we'll have a storm that arrives in daylight.

My spouse did much of the hurricane prep on Thursday, but some of it must be done at the last minute.  Yesterday, I made some raspberry streusel bars, in part to use up the frozen raspberries, in part because they make good breakfast food.  My spouse and I plotted out the day.

I made a quick run to the bank to deposit my spouse's paycheck while he started working on installing the last hurricane panels.  I got back and helped, but I'm really not much help.  For every wingnut I installed, he installed 4.

We had made several lists of what we'd take with us, but it was surprisingly hard to finish the work.  When we were preparing, the projected track was right up the middle of the state.  Should we protect our possessions that we left behind against the wind or against the floods?  Probably both. 

I knew that I'd be leaving some stuff in the dryer--it's off the ground and well protected.  We put some framed family pictures in the dryer, but decided to leave the photo albums on the shelf.  Once I have to go back to work, I want to have those clothes, so I added them to the collection, along with my work sandals that are in better shape.

I still had room.  I put all of my poetry rough draft legal pads in there, my sketchbooks and expensive markers, and then I called it done.

I put the handwritten journals that are most important to me into the dishwasher.  It's never been connected, so I didn't worry about water backing up into it.  I was surprised by how much writing is left.  I hope I don't lose it all, but if I do, I've protected the important stuff that's not already digitalized.

Then it was on to the food decisions.  Since we would be evacuating to our friends' house, I didn't want to arrive with no food, but I wanted to be mindful that they wouldn't have room for all of our perishables.  I had some salmon in the freezer; it stayed because my friends don't eat fish much, and I didn't want to cook fish there and put up with the stinky fish wrappers through the storm. All of our non-perishables with any nutritive value fit into several bags, so they came with us, along with a cooler of food for the freezer and the fridge.

We loaded the cars, which was a sobering moment.  I looked at everything that was left behind?  Should I try to cram all the CDs into every nook and cranny of the car?  I was tempted, but I didn't.  I moved some of our items up off the floor, and we unplugged everything.  Then we put shutters over the last door and drove away.

We were worried about the traffic on major highways, so we took Highway 1 north.  I was flooded by memories:  there's the furniture store where we bought our sleigh bed which may or may not be there when we return.  There's the Riverfront Hotel, where we stayed the very first time we visited Ft. Lauderdale.  There's the Hustler Store that used to be the last Peaches Records in the U.S.  I remembered meeting friends at various restaurants along the way.  I felt somewhat desolate, but I didn't cry.

We are lucky to have friends who were sincere when they offered us shelter.  We unloaded the cars, relaxed, and played cards all afternoon, just waiting for the 5 p.m. advisory.

The 5 p.m. advisory was good for us, but terrifying for the Keys.  The track has shifted west again.  We will stay put, because we're still on the outer edge of the cone, and it's a huge storm.  We're still looking at hurricane force winds, but they'll be a category 1 or 2, not the category 4 that the Keys will feel.

By the end of the day, with all the physical labor and the worry, I was exhausted, but I found it hard to fall asleep.  I was worried about the people who are under much more severe threat than they were this morning.  I worried about the homeless people that we had seen along the way.  I worried about the ability of all of us to weather two major hurricanes in a month.  I tried to pray.  Eventually, I drifted off.

We are as prepared as we can be.  When we emerge on the other side, we'll see where everyone stands, and we'll recover.  I'm ready for this storm to be over.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Hurricane Irma Approaches

It feels like a very long time ago that I first started to monitor the progress of Hurricane Irma.  I have considered at every possibility, and now it looks like we will get the worst one for the state of Florida, a track right up the middle of the state for a major hurricane.  The only saving grace is that we might only be looking at a category 3 through most of the state, instead of a 4 or 5.

My mood has swung back and forth.  At some times, I am so terrified that I feel the blood race through my body.  I go to an alert like this one, and I wonder why we're even bothering to secure our properties when all of the buildings will collapse and we will all die.

But then I saw some information that made me hopeful--and I saw it on the local news, of all places. One of our weather experts showed a graphic of maximum expected winds in our county--105 mph, which we've survived before. It's much better than the 150 or 180 that I was terrified we might see. I also saw a graphic that I saw divides the storm risk surge into 4 categories, and we're at the lowest risk. Southern Miami Dade county and points south are at the highest risk.  In my home county, Broward, we have deep ocean out there, unlike a lot of other coastal areas, so the water will have some place to drain to. 

My mom and dad listened to our state governor's press conference on Wed--I'm not sure what that man said exactly, but boy, did it make them feel panicked. Yesterday, my mom said that if we'd get to Orlando today, she'd pay any price for our plane ticket to get us out of here.  We both searched for tickets, but there's not an empty plane seat today in any airport in Florida. 

Yesterday was a typical pre-hurricane day:  I woke up at 2, and decided to check the 11 p.m. advisory.  I wrote this Facebook post:  "I am sure that when people talk about the dark night of the soul, they are not talking about the sinking feeling that comes from waking up at 2 a.m. and reading the 11 p.m. National Hurricane Center advisory. Doing some laundry, pondering how far west is far enough to get away, hoping that the hurricane ultimately goes east of the Bahamas, far, far east."

I stayed awake for awhile, and around 3:38 a.m., I decided to go on a quest for gas.  We likely had enough to get through the storm and its aftermath, but we have had such a run on gas stations that it made me anxious.  At a convenience store nearby, I found pumps--no premium gas left, but I don't need that.  So, I filled up one car and then the other.

My car tells me how many miles are left on a tank, so when I saw I could go 430 miles, I had a brief span of time when I thought about loading up the car and driving north.  Later, my spouse and I looked at track maps and decided that everywhere we'd want to go would be in the path of the storm.  And we know that the roads get increasingly crowded as everyone feels jittery and decides to make a run for it.  Tough as it might be to ride out a storm here, it would be even worse--and likely deadly--to be stuck in the car on the Interstate.

I spent the rest of the morning before I went to work doing a bit of storm prep.  It is strange to wander around the house thinking about losing it all--and even stranger to think about how little I would miss most of it.  I don't really like most of our furniture, for example. 

I felt the most despair when I looked at the refrigerator and freezer.  I try not to stock up on perishables during hurricane season, but we still have a lot of food.  I felt this despair well up, and I thought, what is this about?  I'm feeling more despair about replaceable food than I am about other possessions?  But I realized that the largest part of my despair comes from what the food represents:  normal life, when one can buy and cook food.

As we finish our preparations today, I'll try to think about flooding.  I'll move things that are valuable to me, like a box of journals, to a higher spot.  I'll put some things like photo albums in the washer, dryer, or dishwasher.  I'll wrap some things in plastic.  One friend suggested I wrap all my books in plastic, but I don't have that kind of time--or plastic.  And frankly, if all my books were ruined, I'd only feel sad about some of them.

So, Home Depot will open momentarily.  Let me go see if I can buy some wing nuts that we need to attach the shutters to the doors (the windows have the very convenient accordion shutters) and some algaecide for the pool.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017:

First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-11

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 149

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

The Gospel readings from the last several weeks have shown us Jesus trying to prepare his disciples to take over his mission, once he's no longer physically there to lead them. Here we see him address issues of conflict management, and his advice seems to hold true, even centuries later: try to work out the conflict privately and go through increasingly public discourse.

The last verse is one of the more famous Gospel verses, the one that tells us that we only need two or three to gather in the name of Christ, and he'll be there. But what does this verse mean for the larger church?

This morning, I'm thinking of the modern church, which seems focused on numbers and growing large.  This morning, I'm thinking of this passage and wondering if Christ calls us to be small.

I think of all the articles I've read that talk about the declining numbers of people who affiliate with a church.  I think of all the people who remember the glory days of the U.S. church, back in the middle of the 20th century, back when stores were closed on Sundays, and it seemed that everyone went to church.  When church leaders talked, communities listened.

Of course, the sociologist and historian in me also knows that many vulnerable members of the community were not heard in those days.  I would not go back to 1959, even if more people went to church on Sundays. Too many people led restricted lives--no thanks.

Still, those of us who have inherited the churches that were built during those glory days might be spending a lot of time wondering how to support those buildings with our smaller memberships.  We look for ways that the building can be a blessing to many groups, not just ours.

It's good to remember that church doesn't mean the building. This Sunday, many Lutherans who aren't experiencing a hurricane will be having God's Work, Our Hands events.  We will see the power of small groups working on a project.  As Texas has been coping with Hurricane Harvey, I've been impressed with how the ELCA Bishop of the Synod and various pastors have helped coordinate clean up efforts.

I am working on this meditation as the most powerful Atlantic storm in history, Hurricane Irene, batters the islands to my south.  I am praying for those people in the path of the storm.  I take comfort remembering that church groups often come to the aid and rescue of those who have been battered by natural disasters--and they'll often stay long after the attention of the nation has wandered somewhere else.

Jesus promises that the presence of God will be with us when only two or three gather.  And we've seen from the lives of the earliest Christians, the transforming power of what happens when groups of two or three go out into the world together in the company of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Prayer For Those Who Are in the Path of the Storm

Another week, another storm. I'm keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Irma, and I'm hoping for the best for those tiny islands with residents who can't evacuate.

I have always felt weird about praying about the path of hurricanes.  For one thing, I'm not sure that God gets involved in the laws of physics that way.

But for another, I'm aware that if I'm saved by the hurricane going elsewhere, it means doom for someone else.

 In Oct. 2106, I came across a way to pray about hurricanes.  The rest of this post is from a Facebook post written by Mary Mappus Finklea, who has given permission to share:


"Grant weather that nourishes all of creation."

 This petition from Holden evening prayer has always been particularly moving for me. Especially after staying at the Lutheran Seafarers Hostel in NYC and meeting a sailor who said it drove him crazy when everyone just wanted the storms to go out to sea. He said there are people there too to care about. I've also liked this petition because it's not "me-centered" as in 'get the storm out of MY front yard and send it up north to be some other guy's problem'. And the petition keeps in mind the welfare of plants, animals, livestock, etc.

So my prayer this morning is "Grant weather that nourishes all of creation."

(a Facebook post from Mary Mappus Finklea)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day Contemplation and Prayer

How will you celebrate this Labor Day?

Will you spend today putting away your white clothes and your sandals?  I will not.  I wear sandals year round, and I have one white skirt that I'll wear until October or November.  But I am old enough to remember a time when we were not allowed to wear white to church after Labor Day.  It was just not done in the traditional states of the U.S. South where I spent my childhood--even though the hot weather would continue well into September and October.  Back to school meant that feet went back into closed shoes--no more sandals.

Most of us will probably not participate in Labor rallies, picnics put on by our unions, or civil disobedience designed to bring more benefits to workers.

Sadly, for many of us, it's just a day off of work.

It's a good day to celebrate all of the work we do, the work for pay, the work that feeds our creative spirits, the volunteer work that bolsters the spirits of so many.  How can we honor the work that nourishes?  How can we devote more time to that kind of work?

A prayer for Labor Day:  Oh God of labor and rest, we pray today for all who work in various fields.  Let the work be nourishing.  Let the compensation be consistent and fair.  May all of our colleagues be easy to work beside.  We also pray for those with no jobs.  Let them find the work they need.  We pray for parents who toil without pay, and everyone else who works a similar job.  Mindful of your example, we also pray for rest on a regular basis.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Towards a Photo Theology of Work

We labor in our various workplaces.  Gone are the mines and the mills, for the most part.  But our offices can be just as demanding:

Work even invades our bedrooms and other spaces that should be sacred.

In our quest for a theology of work, perhaps it is time to go much, much further back:

I envy the monastic schedule, with its balance of work, prayer, study, meals, and rest:

As we labor, let us remember that it's not only the worth of the work that gives our lives meaning.  Let us honor the ones that walk beside us:

Let us resolve to do the work that nurtures what is holy.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Poem for the Clean Up: "Strange Communions"

Here's a Facebook post I wrote yesterday, which I post here to preserve it:

"I understand why people are upset with Joel Osteen--although, if you read his books or watch his show, he is walking his particular Prosperity Gospel walk, which does not include caring for the poor. But lately I've seen a bit of grumbling about other Houston churches and their perceived hypocrisy--tax exempt status, so whey aren't they doing more? Having helped restore a church after a less damaging hurricane, it's not hypocrisy when you decide not to open your church as a shelter. It's not good hospitality to say, "Go sleep on that sodden, ruined carpet, and in the morning, we'll all eat spoiled food together." That's not walking the walk, talking the talk either."

That post, along with pictures posted by Bishop Mike Rinehart of the ELCA churches in his Synod beginning the hurricane clean up, took me back to the time after Hurricane Wilma.  The church to which we belonged sustained massive damage. I spent much of the next 6 weeks cleaning up that church. It was a church of older people, and there weren't many hands to do that work.

One day, about a week into the recovery time, I had spent the day hauling wet carpet to the curb after ripping it out of the floor, and I was wet, dirty, and bloody. The Bishop of our Synod appeared, dressed in casual clothes, an assistant by his side. I said, "Are you the carpet guys?" Oops.  The men bristled a bit.

Like I said, I'm fairly sure they were dressed in casual clothes. If the bishop had come wearing his purple shirt and his impressive cross, I'd have known he wasn't the carpet guy.

Later it occurred to me to wonder why I should be expected to know what the Bishop looked like, to recognize him by sight. He had never graced the church with his presence before. And unlike the South Carolina synod conventions, which don't cost much to attend, our Florida synod conventions are astonishingly expensive. Even though I was church council president of that church, I never went because I knew the state of the church's books. We could barely afford to send the pastor.

The Bishop looked at our damage, took notes, and left us with a case of bottled water and some tarps.

At the time, I remember wishing for a bit more help with the physical labor, as I went back to ripping up carpet and hauling it to the curb.
But later, I got a great poem out of it. That poem was published by North American Review.

It's part of a series of poems that imagines what would happen if Jesus came back in our current world and moved amongst us today. Long ago, a Sunday School teacher asked us what we thought would happen if Jesus came back today (today being 1975). Little did she know that I'd still be playing with that question decades later:

Strange Communions

Jesus showed up at our church to help
with hurricane clean up.
“The Bishop was so busy,” he explained.
“But I had some time on my hands,
so I loaded the truck with tarps and water,
and came on down. What can I do?”

“Our roof needs a miracle,” I said.
“Do you know a good roofer?”

“I used to be a carpenter.
Of course, that’s getting to be a long time ago.
Let me see what I can do.”

I set to work ripping up the soaked
carpet in the sanctuary.
As I added a piece of dripping padding
to the pile, I noticed Christ across the street,
at the house with the fallen
tree that took out both cars and the porch.
He walked right up to the door to see
how the household was doing. I dragged
sopping carpet, trip after trip, while Jesus sat
on the porch and listened to the old woman’s sad
saga. The rough edges made my hands bleed.

Good smells made me wander down the dark
church hall to our scarcely used
kitchen, where I found Christ cooking.
“I found these odds and ends and decided
to make some lunch. Luckily, you’ve got a gas stove.”
I shrugged. “Why not? Otherwise, it’s just going to rot.”
How he made the delicious fish stew and homemade
bread out of the scraps he found
in our kitchen, I couldn’t explain.
We went out together to invite
the neighborhood in for a hot
meal, even though they weren’t church members.
We all spoke different languages,
but a hot lunch served by candlelight translates
across cultures.

I dragged drywall, black with mold, to our dumpster,
and noticed Christ walking by the cars in line
for the gas station on the corner.
When I got closer, I noticed he handed
out fresh-baked cookies and bottled water.
“Have some sweetness.
Life is hard when you can’t get necessities.”
Some drivers stared at him, like he was one of those predatory
scammers they’d been warned against.
“What’s the catch?” they growled.
“No catch,” he said with that convincing smile.
“Just a gift of grace, freely given. You’re free
to accept or refuse.” A strange communion.

Jesus left while there was still
much work to do: new carpet to be installed,
drywall to be hung, fencing to be constructed
around church grounds. I watch him drive
his empty truck, followed
by some of the neighbors, away from the church.

The next time it rained, I noticed
that the long, leaking roof had healed.

Strange Communions

Jesus showed up at our church to help
with hurricane clean up.
“The Bishop was so busy,” he explained.
“But I had some time on my hands,
so I loaded the truck with tarps and water,
and came on down. What can I do?”

“Our roof needs a miracle,” I said.
“Do you know a good roofer?”

“I used to be a carpenter.
Of course, that’s getting to be a long time ago.
Let me see what I can do.”

I set to work ripping up the soaked
carpet in the sanctuary.
As I added a piece of dripping padding
to the pile, I noticed Christ across the street,
at the house with the fallen
tree that took out both cars and the porch.
He walked right up to the door to see
how the household was doing. I dragged
sopping carpet, trip after trip, while Jesus sat
on the porch and listened to the old woman’s sad
saga. The rough edges made my hands bleed.

Good smells made me wander down the dark
church hall to our scarcely used
kitchen, where I found Christ cooking.
“I found these odds and ends and decided
to make some lunch. Luckily, you’ve got a gas stove.”
I shrugged. “Why not? Otherwise, it’s just going to rot.”
How he made the delicious fish stew and homemade
bread out of the scraps he found
in our kitchen, I couldn’t explain.
We went out together to invite
the neighborhood in for a hot
meal, even though they weren’t church members.
We all spoke different languages,
but a hot lunch served by candlelight translates
across cultures.

I dragged drywall, black with mold, to our dumpster,
and noticed Christ walking by the cars in line
for the gas station on the corner.
When I got closer, I noticed he handed
out fresh-baked cookies and bottled water.
“Have some sweetness.
Life is hard when you can’t get necessities.”
Some drivers stared at him, like he was one of those predatory
scammers they’d been warned against.
“What’s the catch?” they growled.
“No catch,” he said with that convincing smile.
“Just a gift of grace, freely given. You’re free
to accept or refuse.” A strange communion.

Jesus left while there was still
much work to do: new carpet to be installed,
drywall to be hung, fencing to be constructed
around church grounds. I watch him drive
his empty truck, followed
by some of the neighbors, away from the church.

The next time it rained, I noticed
that the long, leaking roof had healed.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Walking the Walk

I've been seeing lots of Facebook posts about the hypocrisy of churches in the recent Hurricane Harvey.  There's the fury directed at Joel Osteen.  And that fury has begun to be directed at other churches.  Let's separate them.

First, let's talk about Joel Osteen.  I've seen lots of criticism, along the lines of "He should walk the walk."  Well, frankly, he is walking the walk--his particular walk.  Have you read the man's books or watched his shows?  He's a prosperity gospel preacher--God will bless you if you behave/believe a certain way, and that blessing is in the form of money.  There's not much in there about taking care of those less fortunate.  After all, if they're less fortunate, they could pray more or change their beliefs so that God would bless them too.

It's not the version of God that speaks to me, but I understand the appeal.

Yesterday I saw the first meme which criticized other Houston churches.  It said that churches get tax free status so that they can take care of the less fortunate and only a very small amount of churches in Houston were taking care of storm victims.  This post was created while the rains were still hammering the city.

I thought about how many churches in the area are flooded.  They will not be opening their doors as a shelter any time soon.  During Hurricane Wilma, I was part of a church that lost some roof tiles, which led to water intrusion.  It was much less than the water inundating Texas churches, and it took weeks just to get the damaged building materials, like carpet, out of the way.  And then it was many months after that before it was all repaired and replaced.  After a huge storm, the pace of repair slows because there aren't lots of workers to hire, and everyone has so much repair to do.

But let's say the building itself is in fine shape.  The roads to get to the building might not be.  And churches don't necessarily have huge staffs to help with sheltering storm refugees. 

I think that most non-church members think of churches, and they think of huge congregations, significant staff, and lots of money.  That has not been my experience.  Many churches can barely pay their pastor and organist.  Many churches have elderly congregations which can't easily help people who need a shelter.  Many churches are meeting in a rented space, which means they can't open the building to refugees.

The most vociferous critics of The Church will not be paying attention to the smaller corners where they might actually see The Church in action.  They will not see the church members who take care of the community in so many ways.  They will not have read the posts from church people who pass on information.  They will not know about church affiliated charities that will give so much help to victims, and who will stay long after the initial impact of the storm.  The vociferous critics will have moved on to judge other institutions by the time The Church in all its local incarnations has time to swing into full action.

If you want to support the Houston storm victims, and you want an organization you can trust, I suggest Lutheran Disaster Response.  The group will use 100% of your donation towards the relief effort and not administration, and they'll help everyone, regardless of belief.  And they'll stay for the long haul.  Go here to donate.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 3, 2017:

First Reading: Jeremiah 15:15-21

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 3:1-15

Psalm: Psalm 26:1-8

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28

This Gospel shows us a picture of Jesus who knows that he's on a path to crucifixion. With clear sight and clear mission, Jesus warns his disciples of what's ahead.

Peter has a typical reaction: "That will never happen." Peter reminds me of the certain type of believers, the ones who deny the ugliness of the world and the difficulties of life. These are the ones who tell us that our problems will vanish if we just pray hard enough.  I'm thinking of an encounter I witnessed once, when one woman said to another who had just gotten a troubling diagnosis to pay no attention to the earthly doctors because she's got a Heavenly doctor.  Just keep praying, the woman was advised.

My inner cynic raged, but I kept quiet.  I've lately wondered if our modern sin is that so many of us are so quickly moved to rage.  I also think of the larger sin of despair, the disbelief that anything can change.  This Gospel passage has moved many of us to talk about the crosses that we have to bear, and this counsel has discouraged too many from even thinking about the possibility of change.
We'll have all kinds of crosses to bear, Jesus warns us, and we'll lose our lives in all kinds of ways. But we'll get wonderful rewards.

It's important to stress that Jesus isn't just talking about Heaven, or whatever your vision is of what happens when you die. If Jesus spoke directly, Jesus might say, "You're thinking too small. Did I give you an imagination so that you let it wither and waste away? Dream big, dream big."

 In Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N.T. Wright stresses that Jesus doesn't just announce a Kingdom in some Heaven that's somewhere else. On the contrary--the appearance of Jesus means that God's plan for redeeming creation has begun. And we're called to help. Wright says, ". . . you must follow in the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus' saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project." (204-205). He points out, "But God ordered his world in such a way that his own work within [our] world takes place not least through one of his creatures, in particular, namely, the human beings who reflect his image" (207). And for those of us who feel inadequate to the task, Wright (and before him, Jesus) reminds us of all the talents that we have at our disposal: "God gloriously honors all kinds of ways of announcing the good news" (226).

For many of us, the most difficult part of Jesus' mission that he gives us will be the willingness to believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King reminded us. The arc of history also bends towards beauty and wisdom and love and mercy. Some of us are so beaten down that we forget. Some of us would have no problem being crucified for our faith, but it's much harder to believe in God's vision of a redeemed world and to work to make that happen. But scripture and thousands of years of theology makes it clear, as Wright says, "We are called to live within the world where these things are possible and to agents of such things insofar as they lie in our calling and sphere" (248).

We'll lose our current lives of bitterness, fear, hopelessness, and rage. But we'll find a better one as we become agents of the Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Post Hurricane Poem: "Exodus"

I've been interested to watch my Facebook feed, to see how many posts are people weighing in about Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey and its floods and to see how many people are talking politics.  As someone who lives in hurricane country, I can't take my eyes off the Texas news.   I tend to worry more about winds and trees falling over.  But this current storm shows us the power of flooding rain.

I remember after Hurricane Katrina hearing about people who stockpiled water and food the way that they were supposed to and then the floods washed them away.  I remember being horrified by people who couldn't get out of the way, like people in hospitals and nursing homes.  We had had a terrible year personally, in terms of my mother-in-law's broken hip and her subsequent death by medical-industrial complex.  And I'm always aware of other apocalypses that wait in the wings.

All of those images came together in this poem, previously unpublished:


The swampland family stockpiles against storms,
supplies that are swept to sea
as the storm overwhelms the earth and the dams
designed to contain it.

In a distant hospital bed, antibiotics
flow into the veins of an older woman with a broken
hip. Microbes laugh at this attempt
to turn the tide as they flood her flesh.

On the opposite side of the planet, officials order
the slaughter of every bird in the country.
Some fly across the border.

Desperate to pack flesh on your frail frame,
she bakes every sweet treat you used to crave.
It’s the week the nausea attacks
you with apocalyptic vigor.

He keeps vigil by his mother’s bed
thinking that the doctors will take greater care.
He pretends to understand the markings
on her chart, the tidal flow of fluids.

I am tempted to try the tricks
of ancient peoples, to paint
the doorposts with blood, to offer
sacrifices, to dress in costumes
to keep my identity hidden from avenging angels.

Instead I keep the candles lit
and read the sacred texts. I make
sandwiches for the ones who deal with damage.
I listen for the call to leave,
ready to flee at a moment’s notice.
I keep my shoes laced, my camel tethered nearby.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Kingdom of God Is a Retreat Center in the Storm

On Sunday as I perused Facebook, I came across this post by Bishop Mike Rinehart, who is a Lutheran Bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, an area which is undergoing historic flooding:

"The Synod Office will be closed tomorrow, and probably most of next week. We'll keep you posted.

Deans will have a conference call at 9 am tomorrow, Monday. The Disaster Response Team will meet at 10 am by conference call. Check your email for call in Info.

For those in the Galveston County Mainland, Zion Retreat Center is open and available. Beds are made. Chili is on the stove."

I deeply love the last sentence--what a vision of hospitality and welcome:  beds made and chili on the stove!

I think of the famous The Kingdom of God is like . . . statements of Jesus.  Here's a great metaphor for Kingdom Life:  The Kingdom of God is like a retreat center that's open in a storm, with beds made and chili on the stove.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hurricane Relief

Hurricane Harvey, while no longer a true hurricane, is still not done with Texas, and likely won't be for days.  The pictures of what the wind ripped apart are dramatic, but because of them, we might not know that water kills more people during storms than wind.  And this storm brings a lot of water with it.

So let us pray for those who are still in the path or swirling in the waters of this storm. Let us pray as the waters rise.  Let us cling to the hope of helicopters and life preservers.  Let us hope that all may float and not be submerged or swept away.

By now we all know that there will only be so much that government agencies can do.  We will all have to pitch in, and some people's lives will be forever altered, as will the earth that they lived on. 

Some of us will feel compelled to send money, and money is a resource that gives the flexibility that communities will need in these difficult days, and the difficult rebuilding time yet to come.  There are many fine organizations, and some of them are faith based.

I recommend Lutheran Disaster Response--most of your donation will go to disaster relief.  Go here to donate:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hurricane Aftermath

I've been up for hours, since we went to bed at 8.  It's been the kind of week/month/season that has left us wiped out and weary.  The sky beyond my window over the writing desk has just begun to lighten.  I wonder what the people of Texas are waking up to?

Right now, the coastal residents of Texas are likely waking up to rain and wind, as Hurricane Harvey is still in the neighborhood.  It will only be later that they can evaluate the damage.

In the last 5 minutes, I've watched the sky go from gray to lavender to pink--very lovely, although it probably means we've got more flooding rains for today.  But it has been a quietly beautiful sight.

What a week this has been in terms of nature:  an eclipse back on Monday when the forecast for Hurricane Harvey said it might be hurricane strength by the time it got to Texas, flooding rains for us, and a category 4 hurricane by the time the week ended.

It's too early to send help to the Texas victims, but soon you can--remember, money to aid groups goes further than anything else you might donate and the group would have to ship. 

In the meantime, we can pray for those who have a lot of work ahead of them to clean up and rebuild.  We can pray for those who will wake up this morning to realize they have lost so much.  We can pray for those who will be in the path of this storm, as this story will be ongoing for days.

And we can look around us and be grateful for all that we have.  Ever since our disastrous hurricane season of 2005, I have rarely taken my morning coffee with hot milk that can be reheated in the microwave for granted.  Let us all have those kinds of creature comforts that make it possible to keep going.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Prayer for Those in the Path of the Storm

I have had trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons.  But the major reason is the major storm that threatens Texas, Hurricane Harvey.

At this point, there's not much that can be done.  But we can pray. 

I found this posted on Facebook, originally posted on the ELCA Worship page:

"We pray for those in the path of Hurricane Harvey:

Merciful God, when the storms rage and threaten to overtake us, awaken our faith to know the power of your peace. Deliver us from our fear and ease our anxiety. Help us to endure the time of uncertainty and give us strength to face the challenges ahead. Give us the assurance of your presence even in this time so that we can cling to your promise of hope and life shown to us through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen."

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Prayers for all the Refugees on the Anniversary of Hurricane Andrew

It is pouring rain here, with more in the forecast.  But we are not facing the kind of heavy weather that South Florida would have faced twenty-five years ago when Hurricane Andrew slammed through the area.  I can't even imagine that fury.  And I really can't imagine the aftermath and the rebuilding--well, I can, but it fills my heart with heavy foreboding.

My brain shifts back to 1992, when we had just moved into a house in Mt. Pleasant, SC.  We had spent some time paying attention to Hurricane Andrew, as one does when one lives by the coast.  I pay attention to every weather system, at least until it's clear that we're not in the storm's path.  Even then, I fear the mercurial nature of massive storms, so I keep a wary eye.

In the days after the storm, we noticed some small children next door.  They lived in Homestead, Florida, and had been sent north to stay with relatives while the grown ups tended to the clean up.  They were there for several months.  I think of a late summer night, all of us playing a version of soccer in the front yard, trying to help these refugees forget their loss and exile.

Those children would be in their 30's now.  I wonder how they are and where they are.  They didn't seem traumatized at the time, but I was a very casual observer.  It took several decades for the city of Homestead, Florida to recover.  I imagine that it takes the psyche even longer.

In some ways, they were the first climate refugees that I had ever seen, although I wouldn't have thought of them in that way back in 1992.  In many ways, many refugee crises can be traced to climate or weather issues, even ones that seem to be rooted in war.  Those wars are often rooted in conflicts that are provoked by drought or some other form of destruction.

This morning, I think of all the populations currently displaced by events outside of their control. I pray for them all.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for August 27, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 51:1-6

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 1:8--2:10

Psalm: Psalm 138

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 124

Second Reading: Romans 12:1-8

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

In this Gospel reading, we find Jesus asking some of the basic questions. “Who do men say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a curious exchange that has Peter proclaiming Jesus as Lord, and Jesus instructing him not to tell anybody about himself.

Hmmm. Is this a basic existential moment? Surely, of all the humans who have walked the earth, Jesus would have the least reason for asking these questions—depending, of course, on your view of Jesus. Many of us believe that Jesus understood his purpose from babyhood, or at least during his childhood, when he disappeared only to be found in the Temple, teaching the priests (that story appears in Luke, not in the other Gospels). On the other hand, some scholars speculate that Jesus didn’t understand the full scope of his mission, that Jesus, like many of us, spent his days asking God, “Am I doing what you want me to do?”

We see in this text Peter getting the kind of affirmation that many of us crave. Jesus tells Peter that he will be the cornerstone, the rock.

I think of Peter and imagine that in times of frustration, he must have looked back at this moment with Christ. What a comfort that memory must be.  Or maybe it's irritating on those days when he feels more like a pebble than a rock.

I spent much of my younger years longing to be sure that I was doing what God put me on earth to do, as if I had only one destiny, and I might be missing it.

My parents, in their wisdom, kept reminding me that God can use me no matter where I am. God is the original collage artist, taking bits and pieces that don’t seem to go together, and creating them into a cohesive whole.

It might be worth thinking in poetic terms about this Gospel. If Peter is the Rock, who are you? Some of us are willow trees that bend with storms but don’t break. Or maybe you’re sand, having been worn down by those storms, but still valuable. Maybe you’re soil made rich by the compost of circumstances. Some of us are grass, that steady groundcover that makes the larger plants possible by holding the soil in place.

I could go on with these metaphors, but you get the idea. The Gospel wants us to wrestle with these questions. Who are you? And who is the triune God in relation to you?

What part does Jesus play in your life? A guy you see once a week in church? A fellow traveler? Comforter? Savior? Someone you don’t know very well because you just don’t have the time? Co-creator of a joy-filled life? Reason for living?

More importantly, can people see who Jesus is to you by the way you live your life? How is your life a testament, like Peter’s? How can your life be more of a testament? What changes can you make today?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

All of God's Glory, not just Eclipses

I spent much of yesterday afternoon with my neck craned, looking up at the sky, struck with wonder at the glory of the eclipse.

I saw many Facebook posts that talked about how the eclipse made people feel awe and wonder in many shades.  Some of those people talked about the experience in terms of God.  The stranger posts seemed to suggest that God did something special yesterday to create an eclipse.

I don't even respond to those posts.  If all the scientists at NASA can't help people understand the way the solar system works, I don't stand a shot either.

At one point, I looked away from the eclipse and saw the very green leaves of a tree and beyond them, the very blue sky.  It was a good reminder that every day we're surrounded by the glories of God's creation--but so often, we forget to stop and look.

Let us use this eclipse as a reminder to stop several times a day and appreciate the wonders that are all around us.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Rare Celestial Show for the Continental U.S.

We have our eclipse glasses--we are ready!

I have handed out moon pies and fliers of information to students.  We have eclipse glasses and liability waivers ready to go.

Will this solar eclipse make us take notice of all the wonders of creation?  I suspect it depends on where we are and what the weather lets us see.

I for one intend to say, "Great show, God!"

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Blessing the Educational Forces

Today my church will be blessing backpacks, blessing school children, and blessing all of us who work in some capacity for a school or an educational setting.  It's interesting to me to realize that most of us who are still in the workforce in my church are working in either an educational setting or a medical setting.

Most of the women in the church who have school age children are working as public school teachers.  One father has just undergone the training to work in the public schools after working in a municipal arena.  I think that fact tells us something about both our church and our workplaces.  Most workplaces aren't very friendly to the needs of families.  But at least if a parent is working for the public schools, the holidays and days off will be the same--that's no small deal, if the alternative is working in a job where one only gets 2 weeks of leave.

On the other hand, I got into college teaching by accident.  I was working my way through grad school with a teaching assistantship--and I LOVED my first class that I taught.  They were enthusiastic and hard working and happy to be in class, and I assumed that every college class would be that way.  Happily, often, they have been.  And the work feels important.

Similarly, I got into full-time administration by accident.  I'd done some part-time oversight of adjuncts, in addition to teaching.  When a position came open in 2007, I was the one who applied who had the most experience.  And I've found that I have some administration skills that many people just don't have:  I can work on multiple projects at once, I'm efficient, and I'm also creative when it comes to solving problems in new ways.

I will not be at church this morning, however.  My sister and nephew are in town, and we don't go to church when they're visiting.  I wish I could get a long distance blessing.  But in some ways, there's no substitute for the laying on of physical hands, the anointing with oil.

I know that my church will be praying for us all--and that will be enough.  And I, in turn, will pray for everyone who returns to schools this week, and those of us who never left our posts.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Meaning of Statues

Do all of our Confederate statues insult our modern sensibilities?

Picture taken by Paula Feldman: SC Statehouse statue saluting the women of the Confederacy

If we will be known by our statues, what do our statues say?

A statue made out of a fallen tree tells the story of our humanity:  all we love will ultimately be lost.

Can a statue made of marble bring us comfort?

Does a statue made of recycled scraps tell us something about our ultimate destiny?

Can a statue call us to something bigger than ourselves?

We continue to make our tributes.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Confederate Statues and Modern Times: Through the Lens of Gender

All this talk of Confederate statues has put me in mind of the only one I really like:

 In March, in honor of International Women's Day, one of my favorite grad school professors posted this picture with this Facebook post:  ""To the Women of the Confederacy' erected 1909-11 on the SC statehouse grounds. "They were steadfast and unafraid," proclaims the pedestal. This century old monument to female strength was inspired, in part, by Jim Crow era myth-making."

I wrote:  "Even though I knew its troubled history, and I knew all the ways that the idea of Southern womanhood had been used to oppress all sorts of people, I still found it a comfort--I would walk to the State House grounds and remind myself that any grad school tribulations I might have had did not compare to life during war time."

Then I remembered a poem that I wrote long ago that was published in an online journal Clapboard House, which is sadly no longer online.  Of course, I still have a copy of the poem:


The statue, a tribute to Confederate
Womanhood, keeps her bronze eyes fixed
on the statehouse, while her metal
children clutch her skirts. Inside,
women throng into the chambers, this once male
bastion of legislative power.
The current law states a husband
cannot be charged with the rape of his wife;
a wife is property, to do with as a man pleases.
Females of all ages bear witness, testify
to the violated sanctity of home and hearth.
Only one senator remains unswayed
by their pleas for a twentieth century view.
He doesn’t approve of racial integration either.

I also wrote it as a sonnet:


Inflamed by laws we deem unfair,
we approach the leaders of our state.
In this chamber, men stop to stare,
and ask if women deserve their fate.

The current law has stated
a husband cannot be charged with rape.
This issue engenders hatred
on both sides of the political tape.

Females of all ages testify
to the harm of violation.
Only one senator remains mystified.
He still does not approve of integration.

The law is changed and we rejoice.
We tell our daughters of the power of the human voice.

And yes, it's based on a true incident. Until 1989 or so, it was legal in South Carolina for a man to rape his wife. I was part of a campaign to change that law. I remember heading over to the State House after my graduate school classes at USC (an easy walk) and watching the proceedings. I didn't testify, since I had no horrifying stories, but I like to think that the fact that so many women jammed the meeting halls led to the change in that law.

And yes, some of the legislators really did look puzzled and/or annoyed that so many women were there, back in the days of very few women legislators anywhere. 

I like to think we've made progress, but when I look at pictures of state houses and federal buildings, I still see a lot of old, white, male faces.  But there are female faces and minority faces and younger faces.  We are making progress--it's just taking longer than my grad school self would have believed.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Children's Community Peace Garden

In these times of hatred spewed out of mouths both expected and unlikely, let me focus on something that might bring peace and gentleness.

This morning, I found this Facebook post on my pastor's page:

"We've been talking for a while now at Trinity about replacing the prayer labyrinth that was destroyed a handful of Holy Weeks ago by vandals (meaning that they crushed to shards some 800 re-purposed red clay barrel roof tiles. )
But what if...what if the focus was a Children's Community Peace Garden ? One that included (likely in stages) mostly interactive things like a prayer labyrinth, a garden peace Bell to ring, a place to make a mandala out of sand and colored stones, prayer flags to hang, a peace path with peace quotes along the way, a butterfly garden, and more. A place where pre schools and other schools and family's could come and learn about and reflect upon and practice forms of peace either on their own or on special days with more activities organized by our congregation and others?"

I love this idea.  We are letting a preschool put a playground on part of our grounds, so this vision dovetails nicely.

In these difficult times, let us remember that we can be peacemakers.  Let us remember all the ways that we can be peacemakers.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 20, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Genesis 45:1-15

Psalm: Psalm 67

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 133

Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Gospel: Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

I don't like this picture of Jesus that today's Gospel represents. He treats the Canaanite woman rudely, with a complete lack of compassion. What do we make of this vision of Christ?

Part of the answer may depend on your view of Jesus/God. Do you see God as completely formed? Do you see God as never making mistakes?  We see Jesus change his mind in today's reading.  It's an interesting idea of the Divine.

I like the idea of God who allows us to disagree--and a God that sometimes agrees that we are right in our disagreement. I like the idea of a God that is being shaped and changed by creation, just as we are being shaped and changed by creation--and by God.

I know it's not as comforting as what many of us were taught in Sunday School. I know we'd rather believe in an absolute God, a God who has all the answers. We don't want to believe in a God who gets tired. We don't want to believe in a God who doesn't have absolute control. We want a God who can point and make magical changes, even though everything we've experienced about the world doesn't suggest that God does that act very often, if at all.

In today's Gospel, we see a tired, irritable Jesus. It's a terrifying idea (I'd prefer a God of infinite patience), but it's the best support to show that God did indeed become human.

The Canaanite woman is much more Godlike than Jesus in this Gospel. Here's a woman who is desperate to help her child. When Jesus rebukes her, she stands up to him and argues her case. And she persuades him. She demands justice, and because she stands her ground, she wins.

She has much to teach us. We are called to emulate her. When we see injustice, we must cry out to God and demand that creation be put right. Many theologians would tell you that if you want God to be active in this free will world that God has created, that you better start making some demands. God can't be involved unless we demand it (for a further discussion of this concept, see the excellent books of Walter Wink). If God just intervened in the world, that would violate the principle of free will which God instilled in creation. But if we invite God to action, then God has grounds to act.

I would argue that some of the most sweeping social changes of the twentieth century were grounded in this principle of crying out to the wider world and to God to demand that justice be done. Think of Gandhi's India, the repressiveness of the Jim Crow era in the USA, the South African situation decried by Archbishop Tutu, the civil wars in Central America, the Soviet occupied Eastern Europe: these situations horrified the larger world and the movements to rectify them were rooted in the Christian tradition. True, there were often external pressures applied, economic embargoes and the like, but each situation prompted prayer movements throughout the world.

We are in a similar time--perhaps humanity is always in a similar time.  The world is full of injustice that should make us cry out, especially since much of the injustice will not easily be fixed by any one of us.  Cry out to God about the plight of refugees, the racism that has such deep roots, the economy which keeps so many so desperate, the warming of the planet, and the list could go on and on.

 Let the Canaanite woman be your guide towards right behavior. Let the actions of Jesus remind you that even if you're snappy and irritable, you can change course and direct yourself towards grace and compassion. Let your faith give you hope for a creation restored to God's original vision of a just and peaceful Kingdom.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Affirming Life

Yesterday was a good day in many ways, despite the sobering events of the week-end in Charlottesville.  We went to church, where we heard a sermon I would have expected to hear, a sermon that reminded us that we are called to be better, both as individuals and as people. 

I often sketch as the service is happening because I'm often at multiple services on a Sunday.  Yesterday I made this sketch:

Years from now will I remember the context?  Or will there have been events so much more extreme that this week-end's events will seem dwarfed?

We came home and relaxed.  We had delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.  We also made tiramisu.  We were invited to a friend's house for halibut, and I volunteered to bring dessert.  I made tiramisu primarily because I like it, but it's also light in a way, and it doesn't require turning on the stove, a plus in these hot, humid days.

We had a wonderful dinner with our neighborhood friends.  Once again, there was a strange moment when we realized we all had once been at the same school but now no longer had those ties, not any of us.  Happily, we didn't spend much time talking about the politics or the future of the old school.  We also didn't talk about national politics much, although we did briefly talk about North Korea.

It was wonderful to catch up, good to remember why we go to the efforts that we do to live where we do. 

And if you need an easy dessert recipe, this tiramisu couldn't be much easier, although it does require dirtying multiple dishes.

It's from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts.


I doubled this recipe because I wanted to be sure we had enough; as is, this recipe serves 5 generously, 6 modestly

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. cocoa
1/2 c. whipping cream
2-4 c. coffee (you can add in some coffee and/or amaretto liqueur)
12 ladyfingers

Whip the cream in one bowl.  In another bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese, sugar, cocoa, and vanilla together.  Fold the whipped cream into the mixture.

Pour the coffee into a shallow bowl or pan.  Soak the ladyfingers for a minute or two on each side.  You can then create individual bowls or one big bowl.  Put the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of the bowl (and the sides, if you like).  Add the whipped cream mixture.  You could keep doing this in layers or not.

Refrigerate for at least an hour and serve cold.  You can top with grated chocolate or cocoa or raspberries--whatever you'd like.