Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hiatus?


Yes, it's been a while (months!) since I posted anything. I could make the excuse that working 50 hours a week and composing weekly sermons has depleted my creativity. (It has.) But beyond that, I was finding that the only topic that interested me was one I've already written about and I couldn't revisit it without fresh insights. So I waited, silent. Waited for something else to come to me. Waited, as I read through my list of blog seeds and found nothing that inspired me. Some of you waited too.

In early September, I thought, “Maybe this blog has run its course. Maybe I need to put together one more “Goodbye” entry and end it all.” But that didn’t happen. Again, it could have been the busyness. Or it could have been something else. In the weeks that followed the thought, I pondered that maybe Spirit God knew something I didn’t and I practiced compassion on myself as I continued to wait.


Thursday, I returned from Palestine where I’d joined a group on a Living Stones Pilgrimage (more on that another time). One evening midway through our time there, “First World Problems” popped into my head. I don’t remember in reference to what, but this’s how blog ideas have come to me in the past – as a possible title, a theme or a sentence to be fleshed out. And in that moment, I realized that I’m not finished here.

I have work to do.

I’ll come back to my favorite topic another time. (I already have an entry written and waiting.) I’ll probably write about those first world problems, too. But I expect I’ll also be writing about walls and reservations and apartheid. I may write about Wi’am. Or Tent of Nations. And refugee camps and settlements.

And, in season, gardening, of course...


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Goodness!


Some people object to the phrase, “God is good,” and for good reasons. Others say, “God is good,” whenever something good comes their way, and this works for them.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I remember when Bishop Linda Lee led the Wisconsin Conference and how she would regularly (and often) pull us back to task.
Bishop: “God is good.”
Church: “All the time.”
Bishop: “All the time,”
Church: “God is good.” 
But is God good?

Yes, God is good – in the same sense that life is good and that burping when your stomach is distended is good. Neither example have any inherent goodness about them. Releasing GI pressure brings ease. As long as we don’t do it in an unacceptable space or moment – like during the community prayer at church or during the heart-wrenching death scene at the theatre – all is good. Life is good, as good as we choose to believe it to be with all the death, disease and injustice that abounds.

Yes, God is good. The Source of All that Is leads us to live as fully as we’re able, with a compassion- and justice-focused mindset. The One that is Beyond All Else empowers us to live abundantly, to trust that even with all the bad stuff that life throws at us living is still a gift, something worth doing as well as we can.

So God is good.

But is God really good?

No, not if you mean “good” as we might measure it on our own good/bad scale. We humans are each somewhere on that continuum, some of us more good, some more bad, while others are smack-dab in the middle.

The challenge to God’s goodness comes when we accept that God doesn’t fit on this continuum. God is neither good nor bad – not by any human definition. God is quite other. Not simply larger (tho’ that may be); instead God is different beyond our comprehension. To use an imperfect analogy, we can’t really compare apples, mallard ducks and rose crystal. They each have their merits. Each has its value. But equating one with the other? ... that’s tough.

Then is God good?

When my children were young, I tried to remind them often that they were perfect just as they were. They were exactly as a five- (or seven- or ten-) year-old ought to be. This idea also helped when I might otherwise have been frustrated by students at school. “They’re perfect examples of 7th graders. They’re acting just like 12- and 13-year olds should act.” 

Expecting that nine-year-old to act like a nine-year old and not like a little man is about perspective. It's helpful – for both of us. Not expecting God to act like a finite human being is also about perspective, and is similarly helpful. I honestly believe that God (however you define them) leads us – rocks, blowfish, and humans, all of us – toward a best way, if we will only accept guidance. The blowfish and rocks are better at following but with practice we can get pretty good too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tending & Keeping


I close my eyes and I see weeds. I've spent a couple hours at "The Garden" weeding.

When I moved to Wausau, I made the conscious decision not to plant a garden. I told myself, “With this new job I won’t have the time. And think about resale. You don’t want to have to dig up all your beds and plant grass when the time comes, do you?” (No, I don’t.)

The place I bought has a very small front yard which – it turns out – had no grass but lots of purple coneflower and perennial cornflower (mostly self-seeded) and a pear tree. The first time I saw the house was in early spring so I didn’t know the flowers were there. On closing day, I added some hosta, bleeding heart and such to fill the space.

In full disclosure, I’ve also been cleaning up a pair of nooks on either side of the back entry this spring and filling them with all sorts of other green and flowering plants. But I haven’t dug up any yard. And I won’t.

These spaces could probably keep my down time full as I water and weed (plus mow the backyard) but in February I made a marvelous discovery. I’d heard about the various sites of interest in Wausau since before arriving in July. Not surprisingly, the one with Gardens in its name caught my attention.

Monk Botanical Gardens is a private garden space that’s open to the public year round, dawn to dusk. One cold winter day after being indoors entirely too long, I drove there just to look– it’s only a mile from my house – and the rest is history. I go at least twice a week. I feel a sense of peace sitting in the meditation garden after a long week or having received bad news. Walking around the pond or through the Wildflower Woods, I look eagerly for what's changed since the last time. Are there swifts in the chimney the birders donated?

Now, in June, I still feel that peace. I still find beauty but even more than that I notice the scents and the unique warmth and living presence one feels when one is connected with nature.

A friend suggested I ought to sign up to volunteer  which I did. Now I don’t take as many meandering walks instead I kneel (or sit) and weed. I like weeding – it’s so satisfying. And even with the dozens of volunteers that help there, I can always find work to do.

Someone asked me Saturday how I came to gardening. I don't know. It's been a growing thing (no pun intended). My dad gardened and I helped. I started growing parsley, sage and thyme next to their back door when I was about 15. My mother said recently that I always prefered working outside to doing indoor chores. I hadn't realized.

For me, tending and keeping is about looking after all the ones who are smaller or weaker or who have little or no voice. It's also about doing what I can to ensure that when I leave, my tiny piece of planet earth is no worse than I found it, and maybe a little better.

What does it mean for you?
There’s a season for everything
    and a time for every matter under the heavens... Ecclesiastes 3
A time for weeding at the gardens, a time for tending my own lawn, and a time for indoor chores (ugh).

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Communing

I'm vacating this week this week – taking a staycation (or cottage days). Jennifer Johnson, from First Church, shared this story with me last month, then graciously gave me permission to include it in this blog as a vacation post. Thank you, Jen!

My curly hair boy and I deliver communion for people who are not able to come to church. We have an elderly woman with whom we meet. She lives in a memory care facility with her cat. Pearl (not her real name) always remembers us—especially my son. They have such a sweet friendship. The facility where she lives also has a cat that lives on the premises and he often visits Pearl and her kitty. It was a sunny afternoon that we found Pearl sitting in her chair, with the building kitty snuggled down in her lap sleeping. Her own cat sleeping soundly on her bed. In her small room we pulled chairs around her. The sun was shining through the window as we all sat close together.

The communion kit was all ready for us. Bread and grape juice that had been blessed by our minister the previous Sunday. A small communion reading and a prayer written out on a card. My son was eager to lead in the communion and with Pearl’s permission he began. I could see the seriousness on his face as he read what was written on the card. Stumbling over some words he didn’t recognize as I helped him out. Pearl patiently waited and smiled at him in a way that encouraged him to continue. He then served us the bread and juice and I served him. Afterward, we prayed together and then sang some Country Western songs. The kitty on her lap sleeping through it all.

In those moments, our chairs smashed in the small area around Pearl, with sleeping kitties, and a 10-year-old curly hair boy so seriously reading the card and serving us the elements I felt such a deep connection with our Creator. We were there caring for her by providing communion and friendship. She was there caring for us by patiently listening to my son read and encouraging him with her smile. Helping him to grow in his faith and understanding of connectedness. Helping me as well. I grew up believing that God is Love. That Jesus is the great teacher of this love. In that sunny room, draped with sleeping kitties, in that small circle that we formed, listening to the curly hair boy reading the words of our faith, Love was indeed present. We were indeed in communion with the Almighty.

I think about ways that God is in communion with us as we go about life. If I have enough mindfulness as I go through the day, I find Him in many places. My husband, son and I recently went to a Willie Nelson concert. There were various other bands before him and it was going to be a great show. I looked around the packed auditorium and marveled at all the different people there. Young people and elderly. People with all types of beliefs, ideas, and hopes. And then the music started. A whole group of strangers connected through music. There wasn’t any negativity. People were not fighting. Singing and joy could be heard. And I thought about how God is present in such a moment. Teaching us through the music of the artists. Showing us how we are more alike than different. Even with our differences there are things we agree on. We have common ground.

And then I look around and God can be found everywhere and in communion with us. In the budding tree of spring time. In the old dog happily groaning in his sleep. In the sink full of dirty dishes. In sadness and tears that are shed and the fight for justice. In the sing-song voice of a boy calling me “mom”. In the echo of voices that will never be heard again. And at the beginning of a new day with birds singing their ancient songs. As Mies van de Rohe says, “God is in the details”. Albert Einstein says “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle”. God is in the miracle of the ordinary. He is the Love in the room that communes us together.