Friday, July 31, 2015

Spinach in my Teeth

With the eating regimen I’m on, I don’t get oatmeal for breakfast, or eggs, or pancakes, or cereal. Most days, I eat vegetables. I’ll throw together ‘most any variety. And whatever the mix, it almost always includes spinach, collards, or kale.

When it comes to dental hygiene, although I do floss most evenings, I’ve never gotten into the practice of brushing more than once a day. Yes, I know. I could do better, but then there are lots of things I could do better. It is what it is.

Some mornings, I remember to check out my smile in the rear view mirror on the way to the church. Or if I eat there, I can pick up the beautiful little mirror my desk – the one with the hand-carved back that I bought from a free-trade exhibit at a conference a couple years ago. 

But some days I forget to check, or else eating at my desk I think of something to ask our administrative assistant. I walk down the hall and have already started talking when it hits me. I cover my mouth and mumble, “I hope I don’t have spinach in my teeth.”

Some of you no doubt have toothbrushes in your desks. But others will understand walking out of the room straight to a mirror, smiling, and then groaning.

I’d like for people to tell me when I have something in my teeth — or on my face — that doesn’t belong there. I’d like someone to let me know when my fly’s down. And some do. But not everyone.

Two weeks ago, I talked in my sermon about how often we’re nice when we ought to be kind or honest. Nice is easier. It takes less effort. And since it’s expected by the people around us, it’s even rewarded sometimes.

Have you ever gotten that verbal slap because you were kind or truthful, when what the other person wanted was “nice”? Yeah, me too.

When I was at seminary in the Twin Cities, conversation would occasionally include frustration about “Minnesota Nice” – that artificial caring that some residents seem to have perfected. Those of us from further afield nodded but countered that this characteristic is not unique to Minnesota.

Even though niceness is the way of our day, maybe it’s one of those things we ought to grow out of. Maybe too much “nice” is like too many marshmallows. Too much of either one can leave us feeling a little ill. 

So how about you and I make a pact? We’ll each work on being honest and kind (remember to practice them together, Jayneann, to avoid hurt feelings!), and we’ll try to leave off of the niceness, at least most of the time.

What do you say?

We can be proud of our clear conscience. We have always lived honestly and sincerely, especially when we were with you. And we were guided by God’s wonderful kindness instead of by the wisdom of this world. 2 Corinthians 1:12 CEV

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Busyness

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 
Matthew 6:27

It's Saturday morning. “Do you think you could wash some silverware, before you eat and head out?” I ask as I point at the mess of utensils next to the sink.“I have to get to the farmers market, then go to the laundromat. Then home again by 10:30 when John comes to drop off the horn.”

Yes, laundromat. I have a washer, but if I use it, I have to wring the clothes out afterward. I’ll be getting a new one after the plumber does some other work for the house. As for the horn, Kay’s played a school instrument for eight years. Now that she’s off to college, we’re looking for a double horn that won’t break the bank.

I continue: “Then I have to get my blog written. And if it’s not too hot after that, work in the yard … And it’s 8:15 now. I don’t know if I’ll have time to hit the market and the laundromat.” After Kay suggests that I could do one or the other after collecting the horn, “I don’t want to make multiple trips if I don’t have to.” I bustle out the door, bags and egg cartons in hand.

A little frantic? I feel tired just writing it.

It’s 11:45 now. Bags of veggies are on the floor by the fridge. The horn is in the living room. And the laundry is clean, even if it's still in the car. I'm at the laptop, but my blog entry won’t be posted by noon this week.

I’ve been practicing yoga and meditation for 2½ years. I tell people they’re the only things that gave me relief after my concussion; and they were. I’ve gained strength and flexibility from the yoga. But I don’t think I’m any better at meditation than when I started. I realize that your sense of expectation goes up as you get better at something, but I really feel I’m about where I started. I grin as I remember Liz Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love when she spent some months at an Ashram in India: “I can’t seem to get my mind to hold still. I mentioned this once to an Indian monk, and he said, ‘It’s a pity you’re the only person in the history of the world who ever had this problem.’” I guess my concern isn't unique.

What do you do when the pressures of life threaten to swamp you?

My default is to go a little crazy. I’m not pleasant to be around. No doubt, this has played havoc on my relationship maintenance. I need meditation even if I never do it well. I need to lie in the hammock and watch the clouds. I need to remember that the world doesn’t require much, if anything, from me. I need to breathe, do my own part, and then stop.

The stopping is hard. But it’s necessary.

Be still, and know that I am God!  Psalm 46:10

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lodged

      The rain to the wind said,
      'You push and I'll pelt.'
      They so smote the garden bed
      That the flowers actually knelt,
      And lay lodged - though not dead.
      I know how the flowers felt.

I can’t locate a date for when Robert Frost wrote this poem, but it’s been part of my psyche since I first read it in high school. I committed it to memory, not because it was assigned but, because the poem reflected how I felt in my life. I’ve felt pushed and pelted pretty regularly, and I suspect some of you have, too.

We moved to an old farmhouse just before Kay was born. In the years we lived there, I was the one tuned in for nighttime storms so I could shut the windows so the sills wouldn’t rot any more than they had already. I was the one who stressed about the roof leaks (after replacing the roof, I might add.) Maybe it was because I resented the loss of sleep. Maybe it was just my overly responsible self, but I came NOT to love those nights.

I’m trying to remember how I felt when I used to sing “I love a rainy night” along with Eddie Rabbitt. “… Puts a song in this heart of mine, Puts a smile on my face every time, 'Cause I love a rainy night …” Whenever it rains, I’m practicing happy thought and feelings, and encouraging myself to go back to sleep. (It works… sometimes.)


And while we all know that flowers love the rain (notice that rough transition!), recent summer rains have taken a toll on the daisies in my front bed. When I do my morning walk-about, I find them leaning – on the peony, or kale, or whatever is nearby.


 A couple weeks ago I cut some Crazy Daisies after one storm. While they looked cheery in the vase on my counter, most of their heads were hanging down.


A funny thing happened though. After a few days, most of them perked up. You could see their bright yellow centers again.


And I thought to myself, that happens to us, too. Life beats us down, but caring attention, and a bit of time, do wonders for us. And soon, we can be back showing off our bright centers as well.

Then the Lord will cover the whole city and its meeting places with a thick cloud each day and with a flaming fire each night. God’s own glory will be like a huge tent that covers everything. t will provide shade from the heat of the sun and a place of shelter and protection from storms and rain.
Isaiah 4:5-6 Contemporary English Version

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Why is God banging her head against that tree?

I’ve loved musicals most of my life – My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, most of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s, Godspell, Hello Dolly! More recently I’ve enjoyed Phantom, Joseph and his… Coat, Into the Woods, Les Mis.

Another I like is You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, which, like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, combines two favorites, Charles Schultz’s Peanuts and music theater. My favorite song is “The Book Report,” a quartet of four characters writing (or not writing) a report on Peter Rabbit. Wonderful!

But, I digress. It’s the song “Little Known Facts” where Lucy explains amazing “facts” of nature to her little brother that got me thinking about this week’s entry.

(Lucy) Do you see that tree?
            it is a Fir tree.
            It's called a Fir tree because it gives us fur,
            For coats,
            It also gives us wool in the wintertime.

(Linus) I never knew that before, Lucy. That's very interesting.

(Lucy) This is an elm tree.
            It's very little.
            But it will grow up into a giant tree,
            An oak.
            You can tell how old it is by counting it's leaves.

As the song continues, Charlie Brown tries to correct some of the misinformation, but as usual, Lucy’s louder. Finally, Linus asks, “Lucy, why is Charlie Brown banging his head against that tree?”

“To loosen the bark to make the tree grow faster.”

What does this have to do with theology? It’s my opinion that sometimes God may feel the same way as Charlie Brown.

Consider Jephthah who makes a vow before God and everyone that if he’s victorious in battle, he’ll offer a burnt-offering of whatever comes out his front door when he gets home. (How could he have thought this was a good idea?) Anyway, he’s victorious. He goes home and his daughter runs out to meet him. 

You can see where this is going. No mention of Mrs. Jephthah who would surely have had something to say about this. No mention of God saying, “I hold you to this deal!” either. (Abraham was given an out when he thought he’d have to offer up his son.)

A few weeks ago, I heard John Bell at the Washington Island Forum. “I’m so glad that’s in the bible,” he’d say after reading one of its more difficult stories. He’d go on. These stories are here for a reason. It's our job to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with them, giving them time to unfold their meanings within us. It’s not about whether or not they’re historically accurate, but about finding what truth they offer.

A literal reading of some bible stories makes us think, Eew! Thankfully, we’re not supposed to take them literally. They weren’t written to be taken that way. But nor are we supposed to dismiss them.

When you come to one of these stories, be uncomfortable with it. Wait longer than you think you should have to. Days … weeks … years. 

What bible text makes you go, Eew? What could God be hoping you’d take away from it? (You, not some theologically-trained other person.) What is God's message for you?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Guilty as Charged

A few weeks ago, I was driving down Highway 15, and just as I left Greenville behind, I saw a yellow traffic sign that read "Centerline Rumble Strips." Only I read it as "Combustible Rumble Strips."

That would certainly get one’s attention! Needless to say, I took a second look and read more carefully.

This experience got me thinking about how we sometimes do things, and wonder afterward… how could I have done that? Or, how could I have thought this was a good idea?
  • Why, oh why, did I steal that pack of gum when my 9-years-old self was frustrated with the clerk who (I thought) was ignoring me?
  • How did I ever believe she’d be a good fit as secretary? (This was years ago.)
  • What possessed me to go tent camping in Wisconsin in June again? 
  • Did I really think we’d eat all those grapes before they went bad?
Maybe for you it’s not about composting fuzzy grapes or going home early from a cold, wet vacation, but we’ve all made bad choices. And experienced living with the consequences.
  • I still remember waiting by the counter in that shop, sweaty from riding my bike, while the clerk left me standing there. I wish I hadn’t taken the gum. I’m sure it didn’t taste right to my young, “lawful-good” self.
  • That secretary didn’t last. 
  • Would you believe I went camping in Bayfield in June just two years ago? Lots of rain and nighttime temps in the 30s! (One of the others in the mission team took pity on me and loaned me a blanket to lay over my sleeping bag.) 
  • I consider composting a great invention. It keeps me from feeling quite so guilty when something in the fridge gets forgotten.
But… Guilt. That’s where I was going with this. How are we to handle it?
What do you do? How’s that working for you?

There are some actions that demand restitution, but, really, most of them are over and done with right away, or at least soon afterward. It’s only our own sense of guilt that makes us relive them. I read once that guilt is helpful only if it lasts no more than five seconds. That makes a lot of sense.

What to do after you’ve said or done something stupid or wrong or unfortunate…
  1. Admit what you did, without redirecting or avoiding responsibility.
  2. If it helps, go ahead and feel guilty.
  3. Seek forgiveness and make amends. (Forgive yourself!)
  4. Decide how you’ll handle things differently next time.
  5. Now stop feeling guilty, and get back to living (and enjoying) your life.