Saturday, January 28, 2017


Me at Devils Lake, 2015, courtesy of Kay

Someone to hold you too close. Someone to hurt you too deep.
Someone to sit in your chair, to ruin your sleep

Someone to need you too much. Someone to know you too well.
Someone to pull you up short, and put you through hell

Someone you have to let in, someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not, will want you to share a little, a lot.

Someone to crowd you with love. Someone to force you to care.
Someone to make you come through, who'll always be there,
As frightened as you, of being alive, being alive. Being alive.
Being alive!
(Stephen Sondheim, “Being Alive” from Company. Here’s Raúl Esparza’s performance.)

January is speeding by. With each ticking of the cuckoo clock on the wall behind me, we draw closer to February. I might wish that I could’ve known – like those in a far distant past – life without a calendar always marking what hasn’t been done or can’t be undone.

Life lived or life ignored, times passes. Days and years pass. I might say this is “all we have,” yet the phrase implies a scarcity that doesn’t exist, for “this all we have” is quite a lot. “This” is abundance. “This” is today, and today can be replete with good things if we will only permit it. The blood that seeped from my knuckle this morning after I snipped it along with some of my hair is life – good and full of promise. This afternoon’s painful finger will remind me that I am alive, that as long as I can feel pain, hunger, or lack of sleep there is life yet to be lived.

Being alive is THE WHOLE POINT. It means I have more opportunities to laugh with friends and to feel the sun’s warmth, the wind’s bite. Alive, I have a chance to help at Harbor House and to polish that Chopin waltz. It means I may yet share love with someone who – like me – appreciates the wonder and possibilities of being alive.

So when I’m feeling stuffy this week because of allergies, I’ll celebrate this proof that I’m alive. When soundtracks try to play on my Celtic station or rodents eat at treasured garden plants, I will try to rejoice that I’m alive. And when in days of grief I find myself both crying and feeling joy, I hope I’ll remember that grief and joy can coexist, that they are both part of a life lived in love.

I’ll try to see whatever comes my way as invitations to live more fully. And I’ll make a practice (again) of asking myself whether or not what I’m doing will matter next week, next year.

Jesus told parables, example-stories, about this very thing.
A woman found a gem in a shop. She saw it and knew that this was perfectly hers, if only she would accept the cost. So she went out in joy and sold everything she possessed so that she might claim it. Matthew 13:44-46
He wasn’t speaking of some heaven way out there someday, but of living the life of justice, compassion, and relationship that God intends for each of us – in the here and now. We need to claim that life which is already ours. It doesn’t just happen. We may see hints of our true selves reflected in others. We may stumble onto pieces we'd never noticed. When this happens, we have to accept and welcome them. Make room for them in our being. And to do this, we have to be willing to give up those parts that aren’t leading us to deeper, broader, fuller lives. That’s the hard part. But to be who we are meant to be, this is the path.

God tries to first create a joyous yes inside of you, far more than any kind of no...
Just saying no is resentful dieting, whereas finding your deeper yes, and
eating from that table, is always a spiritual banquet.
~ Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"I solemnly swear that I am up to ... good" (if you'll pardon the HP reference)

"We The People" by Shepard Fairey
Yesterday I encouraged my Facebook friends in a National Day of Prayer. (I wasn’t the only one. Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe of the UMC's General Board of Church & Society sent a prayer that began, “As we welcome President Trump and say goodbye to President Obama, we pray for the world, the Church, and all of God's creation.”)

I thought I’d again try Julie Cameron’s idea of Morning Pages, “three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning.” I’m no artist but years ago, I took away this idea and one about Artist’s Dates from her The Artist’s Way. So far I’ve made it one day … hmmm …

I’ve reworked some excerpts from yesterday’s sabbath day/inauguration day journaling. This may mirror or contrast your own thinking but I offer it for your reflection.
I was going to write about “my greatest fear” and it was going to be personal, yet how can I write about myself? What is huge for me is insignificant for almost everyone else.
O God, move this man. Do to him as Samuel told Saul (1 Samuel 10). Make him a changed man that he may come away compassionate and strongly motivated to care for all and not just some.
I know we’ve made our bed and now we have to sleep in it. I believe wholeheartedly that while all things happen for reasons, this consequence is of our own making. Too long have “we” behaved as if we are better than whomever we see as inferior. Throughout this nation’s life, we’ve grown rich and powerful by giving in to this sin – and yes, this is sin for it distances us from our fellow creatures, and so from God. Surely, we didn’t truly believe that brown-skinned bipeds were not as human as we were, yet it was convenient and served our purposes to pretend otherwise. So we actively worked for genocide and slavery. The consequences of these actions haunt all of us today.
Maybe we thought the nation had worked through our problems in the 60s and 70s. But the hatred did not end; it only went underground. People’s affirming response to Mr. Trump’s bigotry and sexism (to put it mildly) shocked and saddened me. I never expected this election’s outcome. I’m still somewhat shocked but the grief has lessened.
I am white. I’m progressive. I believe in a God who passionately loves ALL of creation. My response to that love compels me now to be as vocal as I can be for the sake of:
  • All who believe God is selective in their love*
  • All who fear, whether because they are not white, heterosexual, culturally Christian, flag-waving, passively accepting…
  • All who think that it’ll all pass over and we should just roll with the flow
  • … I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting…
I’ve talked for the last two months about how Mr. Trump’s campaign and subsequent election has had one good result: it has let us know that hatred and anger are alive and well. They’re out in the open now. And while my heart cries for my friends who live in uncertainty – if not fear – it’s much easier to contend with a problem we can see and hear than with a hidden one.

Peter Leyden posted a reframing of the political situations in which we (and the world) find ourselves. Leyden posits that Mr. Trump’s Inauguration is, rather than being the end of all that’s good, making room for what is better. This presidency and Brexit “are going to make for some near-term chaos, but in the end I actually think they are going to accelerate changes that finally need to come.”

Most people don’t like change. Yet change is truly the only constant. (Death is after all change.) Change is now, this week. And change can be healthy. In what ways will you strive toward change that will lead to a better tomorrow?

* I claim the language of the 20-somethings who use gender-neutral pronouns in healthy ways you and I never learned in school.

Thank you, Sojourners.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

When Was the Last Time You Played?

Kay at Rehoboth Beach last summer.
As I may've mentioned before, I haven’t done New Year’s resolutions for years – except this year I found myself thinking, “If I had a resolution what would it be?” and two words came to me. (More on those in a moment.) During one of this week's studies – we’re just getting into Adam Hamilton’s Half Truths – Lydia shared something her spiritual director had told her: “If you’re paying attention, the Spirit will give you a word.” (Very much paraphrased – I’m terrible at quotes.) Lydia said “joy” had come to her, twice, then someone she hadn’t spoken to in months came up to her on the 1st and told her she is such a joy-filled person! Lydia conceded that this is clearly her word.

Back to my words. The second one is “stand” I expect because I spend so much of my time sitting and, even on a stability ball like I have at my desk, I need to sit less and stand more. Unless something else presents itself – the universe does that sometimes – I think this one is cut and dried.

The first word, which came this fall and continues to haunt me, is “play.” I’m part of a Discipleship Covenant group and one of our Acts of Devotion reads, “With individual wholeness of body, mind and spirit as a goal, I will be mindful of my diet, sleep, exercise, and Sabbath practices; scheduling time each week for retreat, reflection , renewal, and fun,” which means that each of us will weekly be giving our account of how well – or not – we did on this. Usually I’m okay with sleep and diet (I have to be) and I’m pretty good about taking Sabbath time each Friday. So you might think I’ve got this covered. But then there’s that “fun” word.

Kay's first presidential voting experience.
In the last few decades I’d pretty much lost my sense of fun. I didn’t laugh unless I was around youngsters. I didn’t play, didn’t even know what might qualify as play! (Maybe I don’t need an exclamation point, because this is probably true for many adults, maybe you.)

Play relieves stress, stimulates the mind, boosts creativity and can improve relationships. We need it. And it’s God’s hope that we will play and enjoy life. Okay, we’re convinced and we commit to making time for it. Now the big question is, “What is play?”

Some of the ideas I’ve gleaned from the universe, and the web follow:
My front yard.
  • Blow bubbles. In the bathtub, the porch or anywhere else.
  • Do something with a ball. Juggle?
  • Visit a park. Take a walk someplace new.
  • Host a game night. Why not play charades or Codenames for your next get together. Kay and I played lots of games between Christmas and New Year. Fun!
  • Belt out the tunes. In the shower, the living room, the mall parking lot …
  • Learn a magic trick.
  • Sing into someone’s voicemail.
  • Try gardening… outside. Get up-close with dirt and earthworms. See how things grow. 
  • Play an instrument. Kazoos and handdrums work if you’re not so musical.
  • Throw a party. I’m not one to speak to this one, but if it works for you, go for it.
  • Sing or play. In a community choir, band or orchestra.
  • Skip. Not just one hop. Do it through down the block or through the store. 
  • Dance. In public, if you dare. Around home, at the very least. 
  • Try a new hobby. Archery? Baking pastries? Fencing? Geocaching?
  • _______. (This is for you to fill in. Break one of your inner-voice rules and go play!)
What is play for you? Block some time into your schedule and protect it. Go, have fun!
Along the Grotto Trail at Devils Lake State Park.

I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
* not her real name

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Amahl and What I Thought as I Listened to It

The set of Amahl and the Night Visitors. Lyric Opera of the North.

January 6th is Epiphany, so yesterday since I hadn’t done it already I listened to Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian-Carlo Menotti. I first saw this short opera performed at my church – Covenant United Methodist – when I was eight or nine. It’s had a special place in my heart ever since. In college I watched as friends – voice majors in the School of Music when I was studying – sang the parts of the three kings, Amahl and his mother.

My ears perk up each time I hear, “Wake up, Kaspar” for I know the shepherds' chorus will soon sing my favorite, “Emily, Emily, Michael, Bartholomew, how are your children and how are your sheep?...” Yet in truth I love it all.

Still, yesterday I heard it differently. (Isn’t that the way it is. Each time is a new experience. Each time God as Spirit has new things to offer as she gets us to notice what'd been hidden.*) I usually listen as if it’s happening in a long-ago Middle East. And I did but I also heard it for today.

I heard a mother sing to her child, “Hunger has gone to your head” and “Unless we go begging how shall we live through tomorrow?” I listened as they went to bed then were awoken by the unexpected arrival of royal guests. I heard as she sent Amahl to gather their neighbors and tell them to bring whatever they have to share with the guests. In my mind's eye I watched as she admired, “Oh, these beautiful things, and all that gold!”

Biblical texts admonish us to care for widows and orphans –76 times for widows; 36 for orphans or fatherless – which is exactly who is suffering in Menotti’s opera.  Society didn’t do a good job of taking care of them back then – 2000 years ago or in the 50s when he wrote this – and we don’t do well now.
  • Why are we so little moved when we see people on the street carrying their worldly possessions on their backs or in carts?
  • How is it that we're okay with sending backpacks of food home with schoolchildren so they have some for the weekend instead of fixing the reasons that so many thousands are hungry?
  • Why are we not squirming over our own comfort (that is, in truth, luxury) in the face of so much need?
Anyone who claims Jesus Christ as LORD is called to discipleship themselves. Being a disciple means more than private devotion and community worship. It means practicing compassion by caring for others’ physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. It also means working to fix the root causes of society's dis-ease. This is justice.

Without justice the rest is just half-hearted mouthings. I’m pointing a finger at myself. You decide for yourself. Use the mirror test. When you look in the mirror of your spiritual practice, what do you see?

Today is the day we can make a difference. And tomorrow, that will be the day we can made a difference. And the next day, that will be …
* I use she because the Hebrew word for the Spirit is feminine. And that’s the word Jesus would have known and used when he was speaking of the Holy Spirit.