Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I Shall Not Want

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Psalm 23:1

If your church follows a lectionary, then this coming Sunday is Shepherd Sunday. Even some of the churches that don’t follow one of these calendar plans for scriptures will read from John 10 and think about the metaphors of God as Shepherd and/or Christ as Shepherd.

I’m not preaching this week, but I've been thinking about that first verse of Psalm 23. Up until a few months ago, I’d only ever thought about it as saying, since God is my shepherd (and I am God’s sheep) I will never really have any needs. God will take care of me.

Which is a fine sentiment, but in the world today 750 million people lack access to safe water – more than twice the U.S. population.[1] And about 2,300 people die each day from diarrhea caused by unsafe drinking water, sanitation, and hand hygiene.[2] And, I say to myself, surely some of these people must be Jewish or Christian (just statistically speaking.)

So, as much as I appreciate the words of comfort this psalm provides, I’ve come to see it as somewhat… irrelevant. Not for myself necessarily, but as one more piece of the “this doesn’t touch my life” irrelevance that keeps so many people from trying God or trying church.

Recently, though, I read another perspective. What if, instead of taking this lovely verse as an expectation that we will be taken care of, we instead hear it this way ... “Since God is my shepherd, I choose to let that be enough. I will not to want anything beyond that.”

God is God and, good or bad, sunshine or rain, I will trust that this is sufficient. I will not pine after a bigger TV or tastier foods or a guy-friend. I will not cry out in indignation when bad things happen – as they will – for I now understand that the psalmist wasn’t suggesting that everything’ll be peachy.

I find this freeing in a way. God is still God, as much as ever, but I’m in a … more mature place. I still lean on God (oh, boy, do I lean) but I accept that there is a lot I can do and that I should, and even must, do.

God is my shepherd, and the shepherd for those children who are dying because their parents can’t provide them with clean drinking water . I suppose I’m stretching the metaphor, but I – and we, each – share in the ownership of each other’s situations. Just like the flock is all in it together, so are we.

* * *
As an aside, the book in the bible is called Psalms (plural), but when you’re talking about one of them, it’s a psalm (singular). It’s like nails on the chalkboard for me to hear a person say, Psalms 46 verse 10 (or something similar.)

[1] World Health Organization and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP). 2014.
[2] Tropical Medicine and International Health. 19, no. 8 (2014): 894 - 905.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day?

For six years, I lived in Clear Lake, Wisconsin – a town of about 1000 persons in the northwestern quadrant of the state. Clear Lake’s claims to fame include:
  1. The horror movie Clear Lake, WI was made there a few years ago; 
  2. Professional baseball player Burleigh Grimes, the last pitcher officially permitted to throw the spitball, grew up there; and, 
  3. It’s the birthplace of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day. 
(Actually John McConnell proposed a day of international celebration first – for the earth and for peace – to UNESCO. It was ratified by the United Nations. But that's another story. Senator Nelson's is the one which stuck – at least around here.)

As I was saying, I lived in the cradle of Earth Day, if you will, for 6 years. I remember my enthusiasm as we prepared to drive to Clear Lake and have a look around, soon after receiving my appointment to serve the church there. I remember wondering as we drove up and down the streets that April day, where are the gardens? I mean, this is where Gaylord Nelson got his start. Where were the signs that the community embraces this heritage?

There weren't any. Well, not many, anyway. Each April 22, or as near to it as the weather and the school calendar would allow, dozens of teenagers would come from the high school south of town for their Service Learning Day. Some would rake yards, others would paint or scrape paint, per the request made. I imagine some picked up trash. One year Kay joined a group that did a puppet show version of The Lorax for the elementary school students.

In my time at Clear Lake, I did not get a sense that the Clear Lake / Earth Day relationship was complex. In reality it didn’t seem to exist. They treasured their celebrities but as a community seemed not to have bought into the idea of earth care.

I suspect that this is the case for a lot of people. More and more are getting on the bandwagon now, whether because of fears regarding plastics & foods, or the quality of GMO and/or pesticide-ridden foods, or because of community expectations that you WILL recycle.

How much do you embrace the idea of being responsible for caring for our earth home?

Me? I see earth care as an integral part of the stewardship we're all called to practice as people of faith. Not that I'm exceptionally good at it. Far from it! But I’m working on using less and less plastics. I’m trying to live into an ever simpler lifestyle, one that leaves a smaller ecological footprint. I use a steel water bottle. And, I've been an organic gardener for decades.

I've learned that organic carrots from the supermarket taste better than the petrochemical-fertilized ones. But homegrown are best. Try for yourself and see if you don’t agree. Maybe there’s a garden in your backyard, or in your future. If not, there are more farmers markets around than ever. Check one out. Taste-test for yourself.

Here's something I wrote a few years ago, for a mid-April worship.

Psalm 104, For This Day

Bless God. Everyone here,
    praise our creative God!
With heart and soul and voice,
    let’s praise God!
All the earth, the cosmos –
    things we don’t even know about;
All the creatures –
    bugs and birds, fish and people –
    everything begins with God.
What an imagination our God must have!
    Think of it…
Plants living off other plants;
    plants living off air.
Underwater volcanoes spewing out future islands;
    mountain-high crystal pools in long-dead craters.
Leggy, long-necked, long-tongued giraffes;
    albatross with wingspans the length of cars.
Long-tailed thresher sharks,
    long-nosed elephants;
Fish with headlights,
    bugs with taillights;
Squid with eyes the size of basketballs;
Trees thousands of years old,
    trees that bloom only once in a century;
Snails, millipedes and dung beetles;
    Surely God has a sense of humor!
Suns and stars, moons and tides;
    Salt water and fresh,
    and each to live in its best environment.
What wisdom we find when we study nature,
    when we study all that God has devised.
Let’s celebrate what God has done and is still doing.
    Let’s laugh and sing. Let’s raise the roof!
Praise God!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tiny Dead Unicorn

Do not let the title put you off. This story is entirely G-rated.
No unicorns were harmed in its creation.

Kay and I have spent the last hour out in our little front yard, cleaning up last fall’s leaves, and grasses that I didn't get around to keeping trimmed from around the perennials I had planted there. Eventually this small patch of earth – surrounded by cement on all sides – will be a mixed bed of flowers and other leafy vegetation.

There are a couple dozen perennials in it now. Some I brought from the parsonage on the other side of the state. My peony, a pink single, has traveled through three moves now, leaving a larger piece of itself behind as I bring a segment to our new home. I also brought varieties of herbs, hostas and daylilies, as well as coneflowers, Siberian irises, poppies, bulbs... (Okay, I like to play in the dirt.)

Other plants I bought during Appleton First’s plant sale last June. (I went in disguise since officially I didn't begin serving there until July.) Still others I picked up here and there. Not everything made it through our mild winter. Last week I discovered that my rugosa rose was dead though I could see no cause. I will have to contact the seller about a replacement.

So, anyway, Kay and I were out in the yard. She’s picking up brown leaves from river rocks where privets recently grew (Out, out, out!) as I raked around the new plant growth as carefully as I could. That’s when I heard her say what sounded like, “Tiny dead unicorn.”

??? !!!

Now, as someone who once taught band and choir, and that after spending the years between age ten and twenty-two playing in large bands (think loud noisemakers), I’ve known for a couple decades that I understand people better when they enunciate well and/or face me. Kay’s speech tends to fall away at the ends of her sentences. But, still, “Tiny dead unicorn”?

I turned around to see her bent over something next to the front porch steps. I approached her as I asked, “What did you say?” Bending over next to her, I both heard her say, “Tiny earthworm,” and saw the aforementioned creature. It was tiny.

“That’s a lot more reasonable that what I heard!” I told her and we shared a laugh.

Here in the northern hemisphere, it’s the season of awakening gardens and earthworms. I treasure both, and hope you do the same.