Sunday, August 27, 2017

Vacation choice

Last week, Kay and I took our summer vacation. We wedged a week away between our various work commitments. It was both wonderful and terrible. And during more than one of our long drives, I contemplated my choice as to which I'll hold onto – the good or the bad.

Months earlier, Kay'd asked if we could go somewhere to experience a total eclipse. This doesn’t happen everyday (I’d never seen one) so, sure. Before going further, I want to tell you that the eclipse was incredible. I didn’t know what to expect – and really didn’t expect much – but it was beyond anything I have witnessed in a long, long time. I’m so glad Kay suggested it. However…

This inconveniently scheduled astronomical phenomenon fell on a Monday, roughly midway between the two Fridays that contained our available time. So we had bags of time to enjoy Irish Fest and Ren Faire over the weekend, then had to race to cover the rest. Still, having years of experience planning itineraries, I trusted this could be done. I was mistaken.

Among that basic human needs are water, food, sleep, and shelter, all of which were challenged this last week. The biggest obstacle, which led to other challenges, is that Google maps fibbed (Kay’s word) about travel times. Every leg of the journey took longer than anticipated. This led to constantly running late. We cut two National Parks from our itinerary and still had minimal time to tour. Every night was a late night, with us arriving at the motel or camp long after dark. (Setting up a tent in the dark is not particularly fun but it can be done.) The one night we were doing well time-wise, we stopped for dinner – fast food, but at least we were out of the car. Then we got to town and couldn’t find the motel through all the construction. No one answered our repeated calls to the motel. When we finally found it, the office was closed and dark.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. We couldn’t see the eclipse through the eclipse glasses NASA said were safe. ...We got to spend only 45 minutes at Arches National Park because the park was closing early for construction. ...The night we camped at Mesa Verde, the wind was so strong it alternately lifted legs and head, leaving us sleep deprived the next day. ... We almost pulled a Wild Hogs by running out of gas in the middle of nowhere (at night). ... We didn’t have time to stop and eat..Good thing I packed car snacks as we practically lived on them. (I came home a pound lighter than I left.) ... Trying to keep my electrolytes balanced, I ate pinches of my Celtic sea salt, but at the Grand Canyon I could tell I needed more. Without going into detail, I’ll say that James Bond’s use of salt to remove  poison from his system works. ... Tired, tired, tired...

During my driving shifts, exhausted, it was too easy to dwell on the bad stuff. So I rehearsed the good stuff, like:
  • The clouds clearing just before the eclipse. In spite of surprising traffic in eastern Nebraska, we got far enough to witness the full eclipse.
  • Walking through alpine tundra, and snow (in August), at Rocky Mountain Nation Park and ...
  • Driving above the tree line and even the soaring hawks.
  • Spotting three moose, for a total of five animals.
  • Elk at Grand Canyon NP (“There are babies! They have spots! I though that was only a deer thing.”). Also, a turkey vulture.
  • Mule deer, I don’t remember where.
  • Kay visited four new states. 
  • Watching from a distance as she took pictures at the Grand Canyon.
  • Re-experiencing what I treasure about the high desert.
  • Learning that Butch Cassidy’s Hideout has Wi-Fi.
  • Seeing Arches NP during the golden hour.
  • Watching distant western lightning while we drove.
  • Tsebetai (Shiprock) seen from Mesa Verde.
  • Scanning cliffs for ancient houses.
  • Three days at fairs.
  • Turtles in the pond at Ren Faire.
  • Getting home a day early to recuperate.
  • Spending time together with my best girl while driving.
Yes, I'm still tired. Dehydration effects linger. But water and sleep will cure these. I choose to remember the good stuff.

I know that there’s nothing better for them but to enjoy themselves and do what’s good while they live. Moreover, this is the gift of God: that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 CEB

Friday, August 18, 2017

We Need That Light

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not, will not, overcome it. John 1:5. adapted

I came home to a flooded basement this afternoon. I knew the floor drain was having issues. Last week, I went down there about 15 minutes after drained my bath and found a brown puddle. Yuck. This morning I'd finally Googled possible issues and solutions, and determined that I needed rent a power snake to deal with the problem. I'm glad I didn't rent one today. The pond surrounding the drain would have deterred me from using any electrical devices in the vicinity. Apparently I hadn't made sure the toilet shut off this morning, and water had been running since then. The waste of water is bad enough when everything’s functioning well. For a compromised drain, the situation's worse.

The water's gone down quite a bit already; by morning, it may be only damp downstairs but this did throw a monkey wrench into my plans for the evening. On the way home, I’d picked up an outside corner tool and was going to finish drywalling the bathroom. As it is, I watched some TV episodes I’d downloaded onto my tablet. Oh, and weeded a bit after the rain

I remember in the movie Forrest Gump, in one of its nods to cultural phenomena, it dealt with “Sh*t happens.” It seems lately that it's been happening more often than usual. Sewage in the basement, possible asbestos-containing kitchen flooring that I can’t decide what to do with, a handyman that keeps so busy with his prior jobs that he only occasionally makes time to work here, shards of glass that shows up mysteriously in the middle of the living room floor.

Yet none of this is of any significance when compared to the hatred, racism, and white supremacy displayed in Charlotteviille last week. Or our nation’s chief executive blustering with South Korea in what seems to be a bid for war.

What are we to do?

For some years, I played the ostrich, burying my head in the sand. Though there’re still plenty of people doing this, at ease with there ignorance, this no longer works for me. But, again, what to do? I wish I had an answer.

My hope rests in God, yet I have no expectation that God's going to help us out of the messes we’ve made. A god who would interfere with international politics is also a god that might arbitrary decide which ones survive the mudslide or bus crash, which people deserve to find easy parking spaces so they’ll be on time to their meetings. This is not a god I recognize.

God is the one we turned too, run to, flee to, when stuff happens. God is the one that gives us strength and courage to face our own and other people’s messes. God is the one we can cry with, complain to, scream at when we can't bear what faces us.

Right now maybe you feel like screaming. Or running away and never coming back. So, open that conversation. Tell God how fed up you are. Or scared or spent ir angry or uncertain. When you're done, when you've given voice to every bit of the moment’s emotional load, linger a while. Rest in the company of the creator of all that is. Let yourself rest in that presence. Accept that it's not all on you.

Then, when morning comes, a bit refreshed, face the world. Shake your fist at the powers that be. Stand tall. Declare that you, that we, are not defeated. Then, pick one thing you can do to help fill the hole in the world and start shoveling. And trust that you won’t be alone.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What makes you you

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

A couple Sundays ago, Gwen* asked what books I’ve been reading. My mind was not on books and, stumped, I stumbled through, saying I’d read The Help after finishing my M.Div. (But that was 5 years ago.) The conversation moved on to another topic but the question stayed with me.

Back at the house that afternoon, I sat on one of the two estate sale lawnchairs that, along with a small coffee table I’d picked up at St. Vinny’s, are my living room furnishings (until the floors are refinished in November.) On the chair opposite me was a stack of books – yes, I do read – a pair by BrenĂ© Brown (I’ve mentioned reading her books); The Peoples' Bible, the book I use for morning prayers, and a 42-year-old copy of Barkley's Romans; Living the Questions which I hope to begin soon; and some things by Richard Rohr. While sabbathing last Thursday (I had an obligation Friday) I reread half of M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. (Kay* came home and said she’d been wondering what read-aloud we’d use for our car travels next week. We put that one at the top of the list. It’s been years since we read it.)

I've been puzzling over not having titles to share when a congregant asked. I can think of two possible reasons for this. The first, that my memory is a bit more Swiss-cheesy than usual I could understand given the changes of recent months. The second reason may be less likely but it’s deeper, so I want to explore it.

Was I assuming that Gwen meant fiction? Yes. That’s okay, but even so, why didn't I tell her about Brown or Rohr? As I sit here on my balance ball trying to understand, I realize that this is part of who I am. I answer questions directly. I sometimes wish I didn’t and have worked on doing differently. A friend of mine regularly unsettles me by asking surprising questions. I fumble to answer, but often leave without having said what I wanted to say. Other people can answer around questions or respond by redirecting the conversation. I can only do this with great intentionality.

(I thought this post would be going in a different direction, but I tend to go with what comes. A novelist friend of mine – okay, it’s Kay – says this happens with her characters and her story lines regularly and that it’s normal.)

Most of us have personal traits we’re not fond of. This answering thing isn’t even the big one that bothers me. As we mature, we grow used to these ways we have, but we can still be hard on ourselves. You know what bugs you – and, I don’t mean “nose” or “feet” or anything like that – do you love that part about yourself? I don’t, but until this moment, I’d never thought about loving it. Maybe I’ll try. 

My straightforward style is not a world problem. I doubt it troubles anyone but me. God knows I came this way. I’ve probably even learned to use it to my advantage. Maybe love is the answer…

Maybe we could both work on loving our own ways. What do you think? Are you game?

* I seldom use people’s actual names. Kay is my pseudonym for my daughter.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What's your personal theology?

Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, 2 Timothy 3:16 (CEB)
I’ve been thinking about sermon series for future months. A member of a United Methodist clergy group on Facebook asked what people’s favorite series were. Some were old ideas, some new. One I liked started from the “I AM” scriptures. She said that when she comes to a new appointment she does an “I AM” sermon talking about her personal theology, something they like to hear about.

Wow! How perfect since I’ve just started at Wausau UMC. I could talk one week about my own theology, then a couple or three weeks on some of the various I AM statements in the Old and New Testaments. Weaving through this could be invitations for people to consider their own theologies.

I really like asking people what they believe. Sometimes they’re so surprised. They’ve never been invited to articulate their own theology; it’s a new idea for them. On one side, I feel sad that the church has such a (deserved) reputation for telling consumers what to believe instead of educating and inviting disciples into dialog. On the other hand, it’s really cool to listen and watch as people take up the invitation, telling about what’s always troubled them, what resonates within them, and what they’ve always gravitated toward and why.

So. what's your personal theology? What do you believe about:
  • God? Is God a he/she/they/it? Is God eternal? Good? Omniscient? Omnipresent? Does God control events, get involved in our messes, or guide us and let us accept the consequences? (Does God open a parking spot just for you?) 
  • Jesus? Divine? Only begotten son? Healer? Resurrected? Ascended? Sits at God’s right hand? In Heaven? (And what about heaven…?) 
  • The Bible? Is this collection of writings inspired by God? Holy dictation? Human efforts to make sense of the holy, and our part in all of this? Is it all important, and if so, to what extent? 
  • People? Are we all God’s children? Or just some of us?
Then, of course, there’s Grace, Salvation, Heaven, Holy Spirit, Trinity, Creation, and oh, so many more.

Having a particular lens – or frame, like looking through a window – that shapes all our understandings can be quite helpful. Is God’s Love, Faithfulness, or Justice at the core of what you believe, shaping how you understand bible texts as well as how you live out your faith in the world? This seems like a more sensible way to live and eat and vote than picking a topic like capital punishment, global warming, abortion, or a living wage (any of which would be affected by a core belief in… Life or Love or Justice.)

People who view everything through a lens of God’s preferential option for the poor will have a radically different understanding from those who believe that a personal relationship with God – strictly God & me – is the end goal, and nothing else matters. In fact, they may not be even be able to talk to each other!

One woman I know interprets everything in the bible – from Genesis on – in light of God’s love. Does the genocide of The Book of Joshua fit within that frame of Love? No? Then she interprets this as a human attempt to remake God in our image. The same with slavery, the oppression of women, racism, and the views that have lead to Christian persecution of Jewish people.

What do you believe? What don’t you believe? Either question could be a starting place. Think about it. Pray about it. Write it down or draw pictures. I'd love to hear from you.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    don’t rely on your own intelligence. Proverbs 3:5 (CEB)