Saturday, May 28, 2016

Treasures in our Care

"A gem I found in Harrisburg, PA" 
“I think of myself as more of a caretaker.” This’s how Beau described his role as owner of an old house a few months ago. We were at a small holiday gathering and he was responding to something Shae (who also lives in an old house) just had brought up.

I was headed back to the living room after selecting a couple more yummy items from the array on the table when he said it. I don’t remember what Shae said that led to the comment, but I know that she’s also put a lot of time and energy into fixing up her place.

I don’t remember if I nodded either, but Beau words resonated with me. I've thought of them a number of times since then. Though I’d never described my care for the old houses I’ve owned as stewardship, it was only because I’d never thought of it.

Old houses have character that new ones don’t have yet, and may never have. People have lived and died in them. This can seem kind of morbid when it first comes to you, but it’s true. Babies were made and born – or at least learned to walk – here. Bones were broken as children jumped off beds, or dressers, or the roof.

near Brasschaat, Belgium
Those same children grew up, fell in love, got their hearts broken and poured out their sorrow to parents who could only listen. They married, left, and continued to process, while parents, aunts and uncles grew slowly wiser and older, watching, listening, and eventually dying. Taken in context, death is not the horror we often make it out to be. It’s simply an uncharted (so, anxiety-producing) piece of a life continuum.

Before & After.
The fibers of these old houses are full-to-overflowing with living and praying and loving… rather like the elders I visit at their homes who can no longer join us at a church building. There are people who don’t see the value in these treasure-houses of lives well- or poorly-lived. They’re unwilling to invest their energies in sifting through stories to find the wisdom gained through experiences that are “before my time.”

But that doesn’t take from the truth that these old ones do offer us treasures if we will only invest ourselves in digging patiently, and being open to the possibilities that what we might dismiss could very well be the jewel beyond worth. 

Whenever we stop by for a visit, play checkers with them on a long summer evening, or shovel the snow off their walk, we’re practicing a kind of stewardship. We’re taking care of human resources, doing our bit to nourish their personhood as they have nourished ours or someone else’s through all the years of their living.

Abandoned botanical garden in Germany

Saturday, May 21, 2016

When Looking at the Big Picture, Humility Helps

The General Conference of The United Methodist Church concluded its eleven-day quadrennial meeting on Friday. Every four years, people the world over gather together to examine the vision and mission of the UMC, look at and revamp ministries, set a budget, draw lines between who’s in and who’s out… Wait. What was that last one? Yes, ever since the “united” denomination’s first General Conference in 1972 – 44 years ago – who we exclude (or not) has been an unpleasant part of our self-understanding.

But 44 years is a long time for most of us. And maybe the church has grown up a bit. True, the GLBTQ+ are still waiting for acceptance and love; and I join in the lament over this. But also true, some people within the U.S. have begun to accept (and others are truly thrilled) that this worldwide church reflects – though, still imperfectly – this diversity more than ever before.

I was moved as I read this morning one of Dan Dick’s posts from his time at GC:
“But what would our world be like (will our world be like) if this General Conference never occurred? I am not sure that this past eleven days has made much of a difference, in the grand scheme of things. Our world still spins, God still reigns, Christ is still Redeemer and Savior, and God’s Holy Spirit still uplifts, guides, and sustains. Nothing changed. People are still nervous about our future. Elections will still take place this fall. LGBTQI persons still feel unwelcome and unloved. Evangelical Conservatives still feel the church has lost its moral compass. The moderate mainstream still doesn’t even know our church is so conflicted or what all the brew-ha-ha is all about. Millions still suffer and starve, while tens of thousands receive relief and aid from our denomination. On Sunday morning, tens of thousands of United Methodist congregations will gather for worship, mostly oblivious about what took place these past eleven days in Portland. But they will still worship God. They will still gather in Sunday school classes. They will still drink coffee and eat pastries and snacks. They will still seek after God in spite of what we have been doing, not generally because of it.”
It’s not any sense of futility Dan might feel that moves me – that’s sad and undoubtedly disappointing – but rather the recognition that in the grand scheme of things, God Is. That hasn’t changed.

So often when bad things happen, I go all in a dither, at least for a while. Maybe you do too. Eventually I come back to my center and I remember, ah, yes, God Is. I’m not responsible for it all, just my part. And I remember that I’m only one small piece of a terribly, wonderfully large picture. Our church indeed all churches, and even all faith communities – while adding up to a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of good (and some damage) – are still only a small piece of God’s intention for God’s good creation.

And there is comfort in that.

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Yesterday, I’d been amidst the greenery all day – first, spending half the day helping at the Volunteers in Mission plant sale in the church basement, then digging holes in the yard to plant what I bought. (Yes, that’s a given for me. I may walk the mall and find nothing worth buying, but take me to a plant sale and watch out!)

Arriving at home, I found Shelley drawing this terrific chalk art on the driveway.

To give some perspective, those are dandelions on the right.
Shelley lives in an apartment on the other side of the block. Her mother lives out of state. She had this chalk and, as she said, I’m a mother, and she hoped I didn’t mind. Mind? This is wonderful, I assured her.

Isn't it wonderful?

Some days it’s easy to see the wonderful things that are happening around us – a yard sale with lots of stamping supplies if you love card-making. A youngster brings you a fist-full of flowers. Maybe there are still too many things to do before the end of the day or the bank account is stretched to the max. 

True, the inequities between the rich and the hungry seems so severe that we might think the Hebrew Bible prophet Amos is describing our current reality instead of the situation in Israel over 2500 years ago. 

But when we’re not overly stressed or when the sky is blue or when we’ve just had a great conversation with someone special to us, it can be easier to see the wonder.

Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to create moments in your day to experience wonder.
  • When you stop at the light – if you don’t already have a practice of saying a short prayer – maybe you’d like to take the chance to notice your breath, or a tree, or the pedestrians and just marvel.
  • When you see someone on skates or a board or with a hoop or a bike, instead of grumbling about the uselessness of the enterprise or wishing they were somewhere else, notice their sense of balance, their dedication, notice the beauty of the act.
  • What do the leaves on the tree outside really look like today? What’s new in the neighbor’s garden or in the park? What is that amazingly weird fruit on display in the market?
Experiencing wonder doesn’t cost anything, yet when we practice it we reap rewards. All our – and the world’s – problems are still there, but now, the mundane becomes infused with meaning. Now our breathing is a bit more relaxed. We find that we have joy. We are thankful.

And life is good.