Friday, October 31, 2008

What Scares Us the Most


"One's life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions." Luke12:15

It's Halloween, and as I was driving back from the train station, after dropping my husband off, I noticed all sorts of oddly dressed people exiting cars in my neighborhood. We have a high school, an elementary school and a grade school all within in a few blocks of our house. Most of the costumed people I saw today were high school students since they start the earliest. There were the usual witches and baseball players along with some characters I couldn't recognize. Halloween is a wonderful moment, just before we move into accepting the cold, just before we turn our clock back and accept the very early darkness, just before we admit to winter -just before all of that - children dress up and go door to door expecting candy from strangers. And they get it. And the people that greet them delight in their costumes and their silliness. The roots of Halloween, as we all know, are ancient customs adapted to the life of the church. In older times, the Eve of All Saints' was the time when the poor were admitted to the grand halls and fed, all in preparation for honoring and remembering those who had died in the past year. Indeed, it is an ancient custom, the celebration of a moment in time when the living and the dead are in close proximity. This is a very liminal moment, where the border is porous between the living and the dead, the past and the present, when we listen for a time to the whisperings of departed souls.

Into this day of mostly childlike good fun, Jesus suggests something most profound. He suggests that we are fools when we worry about storing up possessions and money. How apropos to the climate we live in today. Greed and uncontrolled consumption and lending have led to horrible consequences. The stock market has tumbled and the job market looks bleak. Panic has set in across the nation, and across the world. We really aren't frightened by the goblins and ghosts that haunt this night, but the terror of being without, of being poor and needy, and relying on others. That's what scares us the most, divides families and relationships and keeps us from loving others.

My prayer this day, when we are rightly frightened by harsh economic times, is that we might use these times as God's prompting us to be generous. I pray that when this worry try to set upon me, I will take heart and reach out to others. I want to be generous to others around me, and I want to be rich towards God. It is normal to be scared when the money runs out. And it also can be an invitation to remember that God's love, care and compassion never runs out. There is abundance, even in the midst of these hard times. May we all have the courage today to be more and more dependent on God.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More than Many Sparrows


"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Luke 12:6-7

One of the most difficult challenges of being a parent is watching your children struggle with their self-worth and value. When they begin their lives, tiny and swaddled, every breath a child takes is precious and every sign of growth and gain is celebrated. As they grow, they are in every thing a joy to their parents, no matter how difficult their sleep and feeding routines are. But when they go off to school, they are constantly contrasted against their peers, and often feel they have come up short. There are some children that achieve from the very beginning and are recognized as outstanding from the get-go by their teachers and classmates. I am not related to any of these people. I was never like that as a child. Most children want to be different somehow - better, more like someone else than themselves, stronger, prettier, thinner - the list is seemingly endless. Media has made comparison into a high stakes game and so challenges a young person's self-image even more. We barely make it to adulthood and many feel like failures. Many feel they have little or no value to themselves or to society.

Into this timeless and yet modern dilemma, Jesus breaths the word that parents want to say and that every child so desperately needs to hear. "Even the hairs of your head are all numbered." Your value is so great that even your ridiculously small details count to God. Jesus speaks for God who is perfect parent and Creator of all. All of creation is valued by God, but each human being has incredible value to God. The kid who never gets picked for the team, the girl who is teased because of her size and looks, the boy who can't keep up with the pack, the child who struggles every night with homework -these are exactly the ones whom God places extreme value on. You are precious and loved by God, he tells us. Something we all need to hear. Something that so many have never heard, and yet it is still true.

Today, I pray that I can live as one valued by God and that I can treat everyone I encounter today as a precious child of God. How easy it is to feel invisible in this world. How wonderful it might be if we treated ourselves and others as if we were priceless works of art. So today, I want to notice the great art and value around me in the faces I encounter. May we look on each other today with the eyes of a perfect parent - the God who loves us and who values every breath we take.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

State of Shock


"Woe to you, Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God." Luke 11:42

We arrived home yesterday, ten hours after we left Honolulu, to cold rain and a temperature of 39 degrees. When we left Honolulu it was a warm and pleasant 85 degrees. We had enjoyed a splendid day, first swimming at the beach and then exploring the hills and out of the way places of Oahu. We left a community that is gentle and welcoming, even in their driving habits, to return to North Jersey which is full of it's own special welcomes and very aggressive drivers. My body was in shock due to the temperature extremes, lack of sleep and time differences. My spirit was in a state of shock too - joyful to be home and yet seeing home with the surprised eyes of a visitor. I was thrilled to be home, to gathered up our animals and be in the comfort of our own surroundings. And yet, the gift and challenge of stepping away from home is the new lens we gain on the world from being away and the insights we can borrow from other people and other places.

Jesus encountered critical Pharisees, who were unable to see the world through any but their own lens. They knew that they were following the complete letter of the law. They couldn't see that they were breaking the heart of God. They were focusing on the rules and were overlooking the suffering in their community. They missed the big picture of God, because they had a careful, close-up view of the details of daily life. How easy it is to get accustomed to indifference in familiar surrounding. How challenging it is to gain insight when we are focused on being right rather than being present with God.

Today, I want to take up the challenge to see my familiar world with new eyes. I want to take my focus off of the details of existence and put it on the heart of God. I want to participate in the love of God poured out for the world. May God give me the strength and capacity to take in the world around me and notice those who I have never seen before. And may I act with God's justice and love today. I pray you will join me in living today, not by rules but by heart - God's heart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Kingdom Divided


Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined,and a house divided against itself will fall." Luke 11:17


When our house was full of children, three boisterous and beautiful girls, there was often a lot of noise and squawking about meals. No one child would agree with the other about what they wanted to have for a meal on any given day. Although there were many things they enjoyed in common, they often chose to dislike a dish on a day when one of the other sisters wanted that particular dish. In truth, no matter how much contention there was over a given meal, I would cook what I had planned and any child could make a sandwich for themselves if they weren't able to stomach the menu of the day. Life in families finds us among very closely related people with very different ideas and opinions about what our common meals and lives should be. Life in the church also finds us among people, closely related by baptism, who hold various different ideas and opinions about our common life. Although to some, this might seem like the house divided which Jesus talks about, it is instead the stunningly beautiful and challenging diversity of the kingdom that God created for us to dwell in.

If we serve God together, we dwell in a unified house,and, despite the complexity of our common life and the diversities of expressions among us, we are not divided. Some people, in putting forth their arguments in church will claim that the other side is of the devil, or not a follower of Christ. A difference of opinion, theological or otherwise, does not remove us from the family. God, the Creator of the universe and each and every one of us, loves us in our diversity, not in spite of it. And so, we too might want to love each other in our differences and not reject one other for those same differences. It is the way of Christ, who reached out and touched the untouchables, made relationships with those judged evil and sinful, and took meals with the outcasts. Jesus drew the kingdom, the household, the family to himself, so that we might see the loving hand of God in our midst.

Today, I want to have that sense of unity in my heart. That all those I see are not strangers, but are family not yet known. We might like a variety of foods, pray different ways, fight about which team is best, but we are one family in one God who is the source of love and life. May we have the strength today to see those around us under the same roof, under the loving care of a loving God.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Greatest Commandments


"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like this: Love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-40

I have been blessed to be in the Diocese of Hawaii for their annual convention. Over and over I have heard the stories of people who work tirelessly in the care of their community - from children and elderly to the homeless and infirmed. Young and old alike told of how God transformed their lives as they were reaching out to others. How love flooded in, just as love and care was flowing out. For all of us who are worrying about the future of our Church or the future of our finances, I was clearly reminded this week that the only thing I really need to worry about is how well I love. How I love God and how I love my neighbors are really the greatest worries I want to have. God promises to supply all this other needs if I will but act in love.
So here is a prayer for all of us, striving in these challenging times to be faithful and true.

Blessed Creator,
in the beginning you brooded over creation,
hovering over water and earth,
forming majestic life
with your tender hands.

Your love breathed into the world and animated us all,
and your love continues to bring light and life to us all.
Help us today to be grateful and help us today to share.

Strengthen us for love's work, the reaching out to every one
the sharing what we have with all, the singing of your love
in the desolate and painful places.

You ask us to love, and we often fail,
but your love and forgiveness are as constant as the sunrise.
May we rejoice in your constancy and strive to shine
with your love.

Stretch us, as we journey forth, with bigger hearts for love,
more strength for service, and voices ever willing to sing love to strangers.

May your love be so visible in our lives today, that people we encounter
will give thanks to you for love made visible.

We ask this all in the name of him who is love incarnate, Jesus Christ,
Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Martha, Martha


"Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her." Luke 10:41-42


Today is the first day of Convention in the Diocese of Hawaii. I am so grateful to be here, and yet I will admit to worrying about what I am going to say, if I am prepared enough and whether I chose the right things to wear and the right tone to take. Odd, isn't it, to get so worked up over minor things, while looking out over the Pacific Ocean, swimming early every morning and being swept up in an atmosphere of welcome and inclusion. I guess I favor Martha more often than I want to admit. But I also know, the work it takes for me to open my mind to the experience,to welcome Christ's presence, and to listen closely for God's guidance makes me extra grateful for God's love and care in my life.

Some of us are blessed to be Marys- the one who gets it right away and runs to the Savior. But many others,although they have no doubts, also take their responsibilities very seriously, and have been left with too big a burden by careless others. So this is a day to be reminded that we can put down the burden and the worry. God will take care of the necessities, and will bring us joy and peace. Today is a day to embrace the Mary in us - the one who is able to fling worry aside and embrace the total change of plans, embrace the strangers at our doors, rejoice in being a stranger in paradise, and open our hearts completely to Jesus.

A Prayer for Convention

O wondrous Creator,
who lights the waves with the pink light of morning
who brings forth abundance of green and fruit on the land,
and who is singing in the nighttime blessing us with new life;
draw close to the people of the Diocese of Hawaii.

Give them deep roots and great vision,
warm hearts ready always to embrace stranger, enemy and family,
and give them strength to go where you have called them.
Make them one in Your Son;
who honors each and every diverse culture and language
with the honor of homeland, hospitality and generosity.

Give them a renewed spirit,
hearts quick to laughter
and voices quick to singing.
And may their lives together be a sign for us all
that You are alive in our midst this day.
We ask this all in Christ's holy name. Amen.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Coming to the Mountain


"You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly to the church of the first born whose names are written in heaven." Hebrews 12:23

Yesterday, we took some time to drive out of the city and into the country on the windward side of the island of Oahu. We drove along and took many stops, trying to take in the magnificent beauty, the mountains exploding upward through the clouds, the mist hanging low and making everything shimmer, and the little coves and inlets dotted along the coast. All the traffic and all of the tourists could not obliterate the created beauty of this place. God must be right at home here, and angels must know these streets well.

We also saw for ourselves the needs of so many, the kids who come from all over to paradise, thinking they can find work and an easy life, only to be on the streets and broken, burnt by the sun. They dig through trash bins and detritus hoping for a bit of a meal or a cigarette. The reality of our human existence is a series of intersections of absolute poverty and seemingly endless wealth. The collision of extraordinary beauty and complete selfishness. The convergence of sorrow and joy. We are reminded in Hebrews that what we see around us, whether beautiful or horrible is not the complete story. We are truly surrounded by thousands upon angels, heavenly creatures, hidden among the sharp, rough edges of life. We are in a broken church which is buoyed up by a God who created beauty and joy without end. We are planted in paradise, even when life is excruciatingly awful.

I want to be able today to see beyond my own limits. I want to see who is behind me, holding me up and remember that people everywhere are praying for peace, are praying for our harmony knowing that God is the source of all the peace and harmony we can entertain. May we glimpse, if even in a split second, that vision of a community, surrounded by angels, surrounded by light and water and life - a paradise hidden but just around the corner.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sunrise Over Diamond Head


"Blessed are the eyes that see what you see." Luke 10:23

We arrived in Hawaii, after midnight our time, just after sunset Hawaiian time. We found our hotel, some food and stumbled around falling asleep early. Travel, even to paradise, can provide some moments of absolute confusion, crankiness and disorientation. We were up early and headed out to the beach to watch the sun rise. Our travels have brought us to a most beautiful part of the world. Even with all the tourists and development, it is easy to see that the Creator made an incredibly beautiful, profoundly moving and overwhelming stunning world for us to live in. This island, like all of the islands on our small planet from Manhattan to Tahiti, demonstrate God's incredible creative activity. Humans rarely rise beyond utilitarian, but God's work continues to take our breath away.

The disciples encounter profoundly moving demonstrations of God's love. They see healing and transformation where there had been pain and suffering. In the midst of tense political and economic times, they were shown the profound capacity of God's love. They were instruments in that healing. They return to Jesus in awe and gratitude. And he reminds them of the blessing of being able to witness the profound creativity and transformation that God brings to ever member of creation. They saw what very few others see.

I pray today to have the sight to see the evidence of the Creator's love in every one and place I encounter today. We humans are very good at hiding the magnificence of the Creator's handiwork from one another. We hoard and hide. I pray to have the eyes with which to behold God's love transforming even the most broken places in this world.And I pray that each of us might have the eye sight granted to the disciples - to witness God's miracles of love and healing in our lives today.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Radical Hospitality



Yet be sure of this; the Kingdom of God is near. Luke 10:11

Today we are flying to Hawaii and I have the privilege to take part in their Diocesan Convention. Today's reading from Luke tells the story of Jesus sending 72 out with instructions to take nothing and stay where one is invited. I have set out to many places in my ministry, and some are more welcoming and cordial than others. Among the Native Hawaiians and the people of the Episcopal Church in Hawaii, I have had welcome beyond my deepest imaging - they have welcomed me as if I were at home. So for today, for all of us setting out to serve God in this world, I offer this simple prayer.

O Creator of all languages and locations,

Go with us today as we venture forth. We might feel inadequate and unprepared, but you promise to complete us. We may worry of our welcome, but in you we have a home, wherever we go. We might be anxious about the words we have to say, or the conflicts we will face, but you, who makes the streams run will give us voice and peace at every turn of the river. We may be taking small steps out of our comfortable places today, but you, who are love incarnate has promised to draw near.

Guide us, be with us, go before us and surround us with your love. Strengthen us, renew us and make us instruments of your love. May our comings and goings be your delight and our service. May we make our hearts and souls welcome places to you and all others whom we encounter this day. May our journey be a blessing for us all.

We ask this in the name of Christ who walked this earth, who journeyed with his disciples and journeys with us still, Amen.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Going



When I was in college I worked full time during the day and took classes at night. I went to Antioch and work/study was the core of their philosophy. My first year I worked for a publishing company, the second year at a day care and the final year, at the writers' council. Some of my most vivid memories are from the year I worked in the daycare. It was also the year that we got married, 1975. The daycare had only two and three-year-olds and so reading out loud to them was an important activity. One of their favorite books was a Dr. Seuss called, "Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now". They would wait until the reader got to the end of the section and along with the reader shout out at the top of their lungs, "Marvin K. Mooney will you please go now!" Marvin was advised in the book to take a variety of different exit strategies including taking a boat or a plane and other odd conveyance devices. My favorite was the suggestion to "stamp yourself and go by mail." We laughed all together and loved this book together. When I had children of my own, I read it to them, shouting out the all important, "Marvin K. Mooney will you please go now!" Setting out on a journey is always hard whether its in uncharted water or to familiar grounds. There is still preparation of body and soul to be done.

"Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem." Luke 9:51


When the disciples followed Jesus towards Jerusalem, they could not have known how challenging their next days would be. It would be their final journey with him in the flesh. And he warned them of the difficulty, and told them of the cost. And he told them that he would be with them always. None of them really heard the truth of the experience until much later, I believe. And so too with us, we set out on simple journeys that change our lives forever. When we choose to follow Jesus, we never know what challenges to heart and mind are before us. But still we must go. Staying back in the warm and familiar only elongates the leaving and raises the pain level for everyone. Only by going out and facing our fears can we truly experience God's love and protection going with us.

So, today I will say to myself, "Carol Joy Gallagher, will you please go now!" If I look back and wonder, or hang on too long to what is passed, I might just miss the blessings before me. Today, I want to be open to the blessings before me. May we all take the first steps on our journey to following Jesus, knowing that the surrounding care and protection of God is so much more sure than any insurance policy we can buy. God goes with us, so let's go.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Playground bullies



Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." Matthew 22:21

One of the hardest things to explain with words to young children are the rules of a specific game. What is most profoundly amazing is how they can pick up the rules of a game, or the rules of playground and classroom society, although no one has ever explained these rules to them. Children know more about power and control than most adults are aware of. They watch us and they know how we play and they imitate us. They see how we bully or embrace, defend or welcome. Bullies tend to be people with hurt in their heart, people who have had power used as a tool against them, so in turn, use it over another. Those who came to Jesus were looking to bully him into answering a question about the rules of the political game, not to see if he was a good man but to entrap him into breaking the law. We do this to one another too often, and it is usually a sign of our radical anxiety and hurt. We try to trip others up because they hurt us, because someone used the rules to hurt us, or they did not listen to our needs at the time we spoke them.

Jesus answered them with a deep understanding of the differences between the rules and institutions of humans and the rules and institutions of God. People's institutions are based on power, resources and the control of both. God's rules and institutions begin and end with love. The outward signs of God's structures are inclusion, compassion, mercy, forgiven and powerlessness. God chooses the weak to be leaders, and chooses humble shepherds to be kings. Our institutions, including the church, live in the world of power, privilege and control. Human politics are embedded everywhere because we are human. It is so easy to confuse one for the other. We humans are frail and broken, the kids on the playground that always get picked on. The sad part is that when we get a bit of power and place, we often find someone else to crush. But God, in full loving mercy, is always inviting us to a safe place, a sanctuary of love and forgiveness, a place where power is in the weakest and the offering of one's heart is the most honored treasure.

This Sunday, I want to be an agent of the things that are God's. I want to invite and embrace, rather than play politics. I want to offer my heart, even if it gets broken and I want to live in peace so that all enemies become friends. It is so easy for us in the church to wield power badly. The problem is not in skill but in our calling. We are not called to wield power. We are called to wield the loving, embracing arms of inclusion and justice. It is so easy for bishops and other church leaders to forget that. May today we pray for all who are in leadership in our church that we might use what we have been given with the heart of God. May we transform the world in our willingness to be humble and broken before others. And may we all be agents of God's love and mercy breaking forth into the world.

Witness for Love


"And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,and in all of Judea and Samaria,and to the ends of the earth." Act 1:8

Today is the feast day of St. Luke, who is said to have written both Luke and Acts and was a physician. He was not among the original disciples but was a witness for love. He told the story of Jesus to Theophilus, promising him an orderly account. Luke also tells him that he "investigated everything from the very beginning" so that the listener could count completely on his accurate and truthful telling. Luke told his story, so another might learn and believe. He was a witness for love. People throughout history and throughout our own lives, have been witnesses for love. They tell us clearly that God's love is unending, undying, unaffected by the passing of time, does not change with government or leadership, but is steady and constantly seeking us out. Luke's story says that love is not a transaction, life-style or a political movement. The disciples wanted Jesus' resurrection to signify the restoration of Israel. Jesus wanted them to be witnesses to love made real in their lives. Luke took up the charge long after Jesus had departed. He understood that the best work he could do was to tell a story. He could make God's love real to people around him by word and action.

Today, I want to be a witness for love. I want my life to tell the story of human frailty buoyed up by God's constancy and love. Luke writes constantly about the disciples' failure and how Jesus forgives them and transforms their lives. None of us can be a witness to God's love and in-breaking of justice and compassion alone. None of us need hide from our broken places and our humanity. We need to tell our story, share our humanity and offer our broken pieces to the love of God and a community. I pray that we can all tell our stories to those gathered around us. May we be witnesses to love in our cities and in our day.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sleeping through Glory



"Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him."

I've never been much of a morning person and I've always been good at sleeping. I am not one to be up pacing the floor at night with sleep escaping me. If they gave award for falling asleep in class, or watching a movie, I could win a prize.
Today, I am heartened by this passage from Luke - the story of the transfiguration. Peter, James and John almost missed it. While Jesus was praying, they were sleeping. Out cold, oblivious to the presence of flashing lightening, brilliant light everywhere and the patriarchs of the faith. They almost missed the whole deal. I can see the picture now, with Jesus bent in prayer and the light moving in and surrounding him while the three stooges lay by his side, sacked out and snoring. They almost missed the entire event. An event which is one of the most important feasts in the Church year.

I for one am thrilled by Luke's telling of the story. God, in full glory, surrounds Jesus, loving parent to beloved son, and the champions of the faith stand in too. The sleepy disciples witness a family gathering, a tender and powerful moment in Jesus' earthly ministry. Jesus did not leave them out although they were human, frail and prone to falling asleep on the job. God did not punish or reprimand them but spoke directly to them about loving relationship and about being a disciple. Enveloped and terrified by the cloud, the near and tangible presence of God, the three drowsy disciples hear, "this is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to him." And then they were alone with Jesus. God's presence in this mystical moment etched on their hearts and new kind of commitment and understanding. Love was made real in the words spoken, the signs seen. And they nearly missed it.

Today, I want to remember that God reaches out to all of us, whether we are fully conscious and fully aware or half awake and stumbling. Jesus took his very human friends with him to the mountain because he loved them, not because they were perfect. They rarely got things right and they were easily distracted. And it was these same men that came off the mountain with Jesus and followed him to Jerusalem. To the cross, to the place of torture and death. And they followed him to the resurrection and beyond. Today, I want to hold the small glimpses of God's glory in mind as I face the coming days, knowing that Jesus' love for all of us is not diminished by our humanity. He asks us to go with him, despite our worst failings. May we all go with him today, following the one who looks not at our shortcomings but to the needs of the whole world.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What About You?


"What about you, then? Who do you say that I am?" Luke 9:20

When our girls were younger and we took car rides (long or short, it didn't really matter), we would play a game simply called questions. My husband Mark was the best questioner, as he always had good questions with simple age appropriate answers. Sometimes it was spelling, sometimes math and sometimes questions about the universe in general or about our lives specifically. The girls were asked questions in rotation and we didn't keep score. These were part of the several girls rules we lived by which included endless do-overs, lots of band aids and boo-boo kisses, having an unending supply of chocolate milk and frequent potty breaks. They loved playing questions and sometimes even now when we are in the car together someone will request a game of questions. Our game was both innocent and silly, the kind of thing that sprouts up naturally when people live together and help each other bide time and circumstances.

The nature of Jesus' question to the disciples and the situation it was asked in were markedly different. They were praying, they were in a reverent, holy moment. And yet, there is also a comfort level and familiarity that is found among those who spend time together and cling to one another for support. There was intimacy and sanctuary among them. And Peter replies, "You are the Christ!" He gets the answer right, although he was known for stumbling over simple things and getting things wrong more often than not. Peter understood who Jesus was completely in that moment of quiet prayer and safety but when faced with the scrutiny of the world he folded on a regular basis. He was in need of endless do-overs and the intimacy and safety of loving circumstances. It is a profound realization then, that it is this same
Peter,the flawed, blurting, stumbling, awkward Peter on whom Jesus founds the Church. He rests the whole history of our worship of God throughout the ages on the back of this character. Thank God. What comfort in knowing, through Peter's example that we are also welcome and needed in the kingdom of God. We who stumble and need do-overs, who get the answers wrong more often than we admit are the ones whom God seeks out.

So, for today, may we forgive ourselves our humnaity, knowing that God in Jesus Christ already has. May we be happy, if but for a brief moment, in the knowledge of God as a loving parent, who asks questions and also has an endless supply of band aids and kisses. If we know how to love, however incompletely it might seem, how more so can God, who is love, completely love us. May we have the courage to blurt out our faith and our need, knowing that God is anxious for us to be right and will honor us in our effort and our human struggle, today and every day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Traveling



He told them:"take nothing for your journey-no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic." Luke 9:3

I do a good deal of traveling as part of my ministry and I am pretty good at taking what I need for the journey. This story of Jesus sending out the disciples has always troubled me, since I want to be prepared for whatever I encounter rather than relying on others to take care of my needs. So today, in wrestling with this Gospel story I have written a poem in response.

The bags are packed and by the door
don't stand in the way I am on
a mission, a holy journey, a road
of dust and welcome, a train full
of pilgrims and warriors, a life
of hope and certain death.

All anxiety folded in these bags hidden
from daylight from other passengers
we are hidden from ourselves and one another
but not from God.

We fall asleep on trembling planes and rocking
railroad cars but we do not rest or celebrate
the journey is unfolding and we are hiding
from one another and God and the truth
of our own need.

Take nothing for your journey
he said he would provide and yet I see no angels
no hosts on my travels, I see only
tunnels and tickets and security screening
me for terror, screening others for metal
we are so afraid that we are all alone.

May I take nothing for this journey
that I cannot lose, save my love for you and
my trust in God.

May I take nothing for this journey save my
hope and joy in meeting angels
and fellow travelers generous with their
stories of love left behind and love's
unexpected encounter.

May I take nothing save the image of love.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Daughters and Children


Then he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace."....But her took her by the hand and said, "My child, get up!" Luke 8:48,54

These days, when I get up in the morning, it is dark and foreboding outside, with a chill gathering around, refusing to burn off. I love the fall, and the coming of the winter, but the times are still dark, and there is anxiety in the air. This time of year, I miss my daughters the most. All three of them are grown up, splendid human beings and they make me very proud. But I miss raking leaves so that we can all jump in them, hot cider and playing games in the chilly air. I miss picking apples with them and sneaking bites of apples in the fields as we pick. Although they are no longer children, I know they too miss doing these things together. So the seasons change, and rightly so, but it is hard to let children grow up and move away so that they can shine in their own right.

Jesus encounters two women in very different stages in their lives, both in need of great healing. He chooses to address them both directly, seeking out the one who touched him, pushing parents back from the brink, and speaking directly to the suffering girl. One young, one old, but he completely present to both. As with any family, even when there is physical distance, there is an intimacy and a strong connection. He calls them daughter, child. He reminds them that they are known, loved and that their healing is already complete. Each is asked to respond and claim it, for God has done the work of mending already. Daughter and child, they will always be, no matter how far they feel removed from God. The intimacy and love is present, even at at distance.

So today, I want to rejoice in this season of change. I want to give thanks for the thousands of hours we spent as a family together in the leaves. I want to rejoice in the promise that God has set before me. Intimacy and love are always present, even when the ones we love aren't in an arms' reach. I want to make sure that I tell them today how much they have blessed my life, and how wonderful they are. May we all have the courage to give thanks for the healing that has already begun, and the mending that has already taken place. And may we all remember that God's love for us is as parent to child. God's love is aching for us when we are at a distance, and is bringing healing before we can even ask for or acknowledge the need.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Recycling


When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Luke 8:33

In the small town where my mom lives, not only do they have great community celebrations, they also have community collections. One day in the fall and one day in the spring is designated as bulk trash day. It generally falls on the Tuesday after a holiday weekend like this one. Starting on Friday or so, people drag out their unwanted large items to the curb. This can be counter tops and sofas, rotten carpets and broken chairs, and a myriad of other items. One of my neighbors drives around and collects any scrap metal he can find and recycles it. He usually gets over $150 dollars for what he brings in. Other folks walk around and scout items and come back after dark with their cars or trucks to collect their finds. I saw a complete well worn wicker set out by the curb one afternoon, which disappeared by the next morning. I saw old cable spools that were used as tables disappear also. Those who have a keen eye and a good memory can even spot items that have been put out before, now put out in front of another house. The people who buy new furniture are often mocked as new comers. But then too, they are watched by a flock of hawks (long time residents), who are hoping they will offer their unwanted items to the bulk trash pick up roulette. Newcomers often put out the best items. Most of my life I have watched chairs change hands, get repainted,refinished and reworked and offered as seating in another kitchen or on another porch. This is recycling, finding possibilities for what was left at the curb, and finding hope for what was clutter and damaged goods.

I believe that God is the ultimate recycler. One look at the yearly cycle of seeding, growth, harvest, decline and rebirth points to a Creator who reuses everything and who finds hope and possibility in things tossed aside. When I was a child, I didn't like this story of the possessed man whom Jesus healed. He made the man better, but allowed the demons to kill all those pigs. I've always had a soft spot for pigs and the story made me cry. But now I know that good always is recycling and restoring while evil is that which tosses value and life away as if it had no value. Our worst sin is that of shutting out possibility and creativity in ourselves, in relationships and with God. We are demon possessed when we are unable to see value in another, when we shut them out and the possibility of encountering God.

Today, I want to find a way to see the possibility in everything and everyone. Even those who have been tossed to the curb and even those who have been rejected as inadequate or unstable. I know the Creator is in the repair and restoration business. God is willing to hang around the curbs of life,and around the junk yard because there are treasures to be found there - in people and in life that can be renewed. May we remember today that the Creator of all life is continually retooling us, remaking us and renewing us so that we might bring life and light to the world. And may we tell those in whom we see possibility and potential that they are loved and needed. It is a message so many need to hear today.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spaghetti Dinner




"So they gathered all the people they could find...and filled the wedding hall with guests." Matthew 22:10

We've spent the last few days at my mother's house by the ocean. She lives in a very small town, which has less than 250 year round residents- a hearty and lively bunch. Although many of them are elderly, they keep busy in the community and beyond. Last night the fire company hosted a spaghetti dinner. The younger men move out the trucks and the older men set up the engine bay with tables.They all participate in cooking and waiting on tables. It's a boisterous,friendly time and people are buzzing around, checking in with one another, teasing and cracking jokes. Some families take up whole tables and others share their tables with strangers and neighbors. It's an inexpensive and wonderful time. The kind of event that happens in lots of small towns across the country. Time when people celebrate life and enjoy one another.



On the walk home, the sun was setting. Magnificent colors, pinks swiped against deep corals and blues, moving fast into darkness. We tried to make it up to the beach to see the sun actually setting, but it was too fast for us. But we marveled and enjoyed every moment of color and spectacle we could. How easy it would have been for us to miss these simple moments of life. It would have been easier to stay home, to keep our six dollars per person, and stay inside the warmth and comfort of her home. My mother's walk is challenged now, and she has to use a cane, so it would have been easier to linger in the safety of home. And yet, we would have missed one of the nicest Saturdays in recent history, and overlooked the beauty of the setting sun.

God invites us daily to a banquet, and we often linger in safety, keep our money and stay home. Too often, we daily miss the splendid displays of beauty and laughter that are in store for us. Those of us who have been hurt or wounded, those who have great challenges, we all are tempted to stay home in the confines of what we can manage. Despite all of the challenges, may we have strength on this Sabbath day to hurry to the banquet hall, knowing that all the pain that prevent us is much less than they joys we will share. May we leap at the chance to share a meal with others, even when our muscles ache and our hearts have been broken, knowing we will be fed more than we have lost. May we all answer the invitation to love again, knowing that God's abundant love goes ever before us, paving the way and making the crooked paths straight and the surface safe for even the most feeble among us.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

When Worlds Collide







My mother has been staying with us for many days. First, she was with my sister at her home and then with me at my home. Now, I am at my mother’s house, and we are trying to get her set up for the coming days. Several times, my mother has asked me questions she knew the answers to. Several times, she thought someone else had done something I had done, and visa versa. It has made me sad to watch her lose her sharpness and her control over her world. For so long, she has been a tower of strength and clarity in a very fluid and confusing world. And now the world around her often overwhelms her. We try to do as much for her as we can, but also recognize that she still needs to be in charge of her life as much as possible. Personal dignity and making her own decisions is very, very important to my mom and I want to honor that.

So, I help when I can, sit on the sidelines and watch when she needs me to, and try to navigate a reasonable orbit around her – one close enough to reassure, far away enough not to smother. She is not my child although this situation elicits parental responses from me. She is my mother and doesn’t take direction well, even when it’s offered. So we dance, carefully dance and hope that God gives her fullness of days without complete diminished capacity. But some days, I wonder how the designer made us with this enormous capacity for love and expression, to watch it flourish and then fade. I can only think of Dylan Thomas in days like these, “do not go gently into that good night.”

Today, I ask for God’s strength (because mine has grown weak) to carry on and to care for my mother with respect and dignity. I ask that God would show me step by step how to make these colliding worlds a blessing for us both. I ask the Creator to make a colorful dance out of our awkward stumbling today. May we all remember that we are on the same road together and that as we have learned to walk, so we shall learn to fall. May we cling to each other today, knowing the experience will be a good one if we walk and dance together. Then no one has to fall alone.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Persevering



Ariel, our second oldest, loves to play lacrosse. She played throughout her college years, and throughout junior high and high school also. But it almost didn’t happen for her in high school. We lived in a small town in Delaware, where there had never been a lacrosse team before. She played other sports her freshman year, but asked again and again if they couldn’t have a team. Finally, the school board approved a lacrosse team – but only a boys team. She didn’t give up though, and the boys, who she supported throughout the asking process, invited her to play with them. The principal said it was fine. One day, before their first season started, with practice well underway, I got a call from the team captain’s mother. She was upset and I thought maybe the boys had decided it was too awkward to have a girl on their team. Instead, she surprised me by telling me that Ariel would have to wear a cup to be official, and that the team could be disqualified if she wasn’t wearing one. Her son was too uncomfortable with this discussion to mention it to Ariel. When I got done laughing I asked her where I would get a girls cup, and if they actually made them. Her son had done some research and indeed they were available at a large chain sports supply store. Ariel and I went off that evening to the store and bought her the official gear and also, some chest protection that was not required for the boys.
Ariel played every season and every game until she graduated.

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:15

Ariel has severe learning disabilities and struggled with school, but never gave up. She graduated from college with a degree in dance and psychology and is now working with young people who are transitioning out of child services into an independent life. She had lots to manage throughout, but she retained the good things she has learned and persevered. Today I want to remember all those who have persevered and produced a crop. I want to give thanks for those in our lives who have not returned evil for evil. Those who have not hit back when they were hit but who persevered knowing that God’s love was stronger and mightier than anything the world can dish out. They produced even when they had every right to give up. And today, I want to try to be like Ariel and all others, who despite the odds, have battled to participate, advocated so others could participate, and who would not give up until there was a good crop and a good yield. May God bless us all with the strength to hear, retain and persevere today.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rescue Mission



"I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. The one who has been forgiven little loves little." Luke 7:47

Early last evening we heard a mewing in one of our bushes. It was loud and insistent and when I peered in to the bush in semi-darkness, I saw two little frightened eyes looking back. We tried to reach in and extract the small kitten but she seemed stuck. After a few minutes struggle she exploded from the bush into the street, away from us whom she perceived to be predators. She ran onto the grounds of St. Thomas' Church. All through the evening she persisted in crying, loudly and regularly. Before bed, I went out to try to gather her up, but she ran again, and so I just left some food, in case there was none available. I woke several times during the night, the piecing screams of a small infant cat breaking through my sleep. This morning I went to look for the cat but she was gone. Another neighbor told me to forget it, no one would come get her anyway, she was a stray. I can't help myself. I want to go out and help the helpless, I cannot get away from their cries. Maybe, if I am to be the Rescue Bishop for those tossed aside, so be it.

How many times in our lives have we heard the words that turn us and others away - forget it, don't worry about them they're just a stray. They have to live on the streets so they must be shunned. Or, they're sick and needy so they must have been bad. Or, they are ignorant, don't know how to get by, so don't get too close. There but for the grace and abundance of God, go you and I. We could be in the same shoes as the woman who anointed Jesus, or the stray cat who someone tossed onto the street. Into the world's rejection and harshness comes Jesus, overflowing with compassion. Her love comes from being loved and knowing that she was forgiven, released from her shame about the things she had to do to survive.

It is easy for us, to overlook our own broken selves and our neediness when we see others in greater need. For some, we are moved to compassion but to others we turn a blind eye. Today, I want to live as the woman lived - loving much. I want to remember how much I have been forgiven, and how much God loves me and continues to forgive me. And I want to be able to have the strength today to love much. I want to love much so that others might receive in their brokenness, in their sorrow. May we live today confident in the knowledge that God loves us so much, and that we have been forgiven all the shameful things we have done. And may we remember that others are desperate to be released, forgiven. May we be agents of God's undying love.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sacks and the City


" They are like children sitting in the marketplace calling out to one another: 'We played the flute for you and you did not dance, we sang a dirge and you did not cry'" Luke 7:32

Yesterday, my mother and I went to White Castle for lunch. She is here for a few days with me, and I am trying to make the most of it for her. For many people, White Castle is something they know from the Harold and Kumar movie, but for my Mom is signifies something very different. When my mother and dad were first married, they lived in Clark Township in New Jersey, about 15 miles away from where we live now. My Dad was a senior in seminary and was ordained so he could plant and build a church in that community. It was then mostly farms which is hard to believe it you saw Clark today. Anyway, they had very little money. She was 19 and he was 25 when they married in 1942. So, they were kids and it was wartime. And their big "date" was to save up all the bottles, take them back at once for the deposits and then take the money they had collected and buy as much White Castle as they could with their wartime dollars. For my Mom, our experience was not only a greasy quick lunch, but a romantic memory, a sensory explosion of all things adult, wonderful and thrilling. That little meal we shared yesterday was far more than food. It was a conversation and relationships rekindled with early fires. Now, she can't eat at White Castle very often because of her health issues, but she can, every so often, delight in something that is magic and celebratory for her, even if other people only see it as fast food.

Jesus encounters a generation of people who cannot see the mystical value in anything around them. They won't dance or cry because everything is measured out, evaluated by lawyers and accountants, everything is counted and compared. We live in a world where money and measurement reign supreme. And we can miss the small, transforming moments, judging them insignificant and inappropriate. We can cast others aside because they seem to have no value to us.

Today, I ask God to give me the wisdom to see the small moments of love revealed in my life. Today, I ask to have the eyes to see old things in new ways. I ask to not measure and compare but to value everyone with the eyes of God, who sent Jesus for us all. May we today slow down enough to revel in the small moments of God's transforming love, and reach out so that others might know that love in the small and broken places of their lives.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Such Great Faith



"I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in all of Israel." Luke7:9

The centurion knew what authority was and how it worked. The troops he had authority over did his bidding, and he didn't worry a minute that what he said would be done. People knew the rules, the culture and the expectations. And so,understanding Jesus' authority, he could ask freely and knew that Jesus had the capacity. In our day and time, very few people trust others with their authority, let alone do they trust their own authority. We often prize most highly those who distrust authority and try to bring it down. And yet, we listen and follow some authorities, especially if they promise to make us thinner, younger, or more attractive. We have handed over so much to the least authoritative at times.

Today is a day of testing for me. I pray and ask God that there is nothing serious with my back, nothing that cannot be cured with exercise and physical therapy. And today, I want to have the faith of the centurion, who, despite his differences in culture, langauage, religion and training with Christ, knew Jesus as a true authority and trusted him for healing. May we all today live like the centurion. There may be lots of people to distrust, and we should be wise about them. May we all today have the courage to trust the ultimate authority, the loving Creator, the wise counselor with all the healing we need, in body and in soul.For Jesus humbly brought God's love to all who ask. May we have the courage to embrace that love today and the strength to trust God for all our needs.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Removing Logs



"First, take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. Luke 6:42b

We come with many instincts as human beings. We learn early to be wary of rustling of bushes and strange noises. Some of our instincts and learned behavior are good for our survival. Some are less so. Lately, I have observed the joy and zeal with which Americans watch dancing, talent and design shows where people are judged and get voted off. Folks love criticizing, deriding and laughing at others' failure. We love dishing it out about others' lack of style, whether in personal dress or home decor. And we love to laugh at people who are not a perfect shape or weight - the embarrassing, private photos of stars we look at shamelessly as we check out at the grocery store. And yet, each of us knows how painful it is to be ridiculed, and know many who have never recovered from public humiliation. So I think, this reminder from Jesus is a good way to start the week. Jesus invites to take the time to remove the obstacles in our own life that keep us from loving God and others.

My work this week is to pay attention to all the ways I can love myself and open myself to God's love in my life, so that I don't have to distract myself by tearing into another human being. This week I want to commit to living beyond criticism, which is easy, to creativity, which is much harder. It takes time and self-examination to find creative and loving ways to offer ourselves to the world. It takes courage to take our incompleteness to God. It takes faith to trust that God will remake us, remold us and transform us into beings of love and service. It takes time to let the broken and over-criticized places heal. Removing the logs we cling to so completely is not about personal self-improvement, but instead, is about seeing clearly and being open again to love. When we criticize, we build a wall of defense that no one can get through, not even God. When we honestly and prayerfully look at our own broken hearts, we open ourselves to love. May we all have the courage to live this week, open to love.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Produce at Harvest Time





‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes”?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produce the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. Matthew 21:33-46


I have had lots of gardens in my life time. Some have flourished and some have been miserable failures. Sometimes, we didn't have a yard with very good light, or very good soil and got poor results. Other times, we got too busy to care for our garden and the weeding and the watering were neglected and the plants and what they produced suffered. One year, when Mark and I lived in Colorado with our oldest who was three at the time, we planted a garden with a group of church friends. One of the group had land near where his nursery was and he set aside a couple of acres for a shared garden. It was a lovely thing to share with friends and we all made an effort to care for the garden space and take our turn weeding and watering. We often made the gardening project a social event, taking food and beverages with us to share with each other. Several of us had small children, and they reveled in running in the garden and the attention of all the adults. One day we had bright green tender plants, in neat, well-weeded rows, and the next day we had nothing. It was the year of the locusts, and we had provided the newly hatched, frenzied creatures with their first real meal. There was nothing to tend, because every last plant was gone.

Jesus tells the story of the tenants who acted like they owned the vineyard, and who simply killed anyone who got in the way of their authority and control. They thought winning was everything and assured themselves that their hard work would earn them ownership. They did everything right for the vineyard and it produced well. They believed they should be rewarded. How often do we fall into that trap? Thinking we own that which is truly a gift? God's generosity is too often considered a prize righteously won and deserved. Jesus comes into today to remind us who the owner and giver of land and life is. He stands with us, telling a story to remind us of the loving Creator who formed the abundant land, who showers us with renewing and life giving waters, and who asks us to live as loving tenants who rejoice in the bounty we have been given.

Today, I pray that I can be a laborer in the field. One who helps produce the fruit of the most loving God. God's garden is full of peace, healing, joy and lives transformed. It is overflowing with the capacity to forgive and offer others what we have to share. It is a field ripe with need, asking for us to help others to be fed. May we all have the humility to work in God's fields today, no wanting to own or control, but offering what we have to the healing of those around us, and those across our aching world.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

St. Francis



"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn and offer the other one also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop them from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do unto others as you would have them do to you."


St. Francis had been a callous, sophisticated, wealthy young man. He had way more than he needed and didn't notice the suffering around him. He faced some rough times, and somehow, God's love broke through to him in his failure and his broken heart. Somehow love broke the mold. He was destined for position, fame and extraordinary wealth. God met him at his crossroads and he took the path of selflessness, compassion and care for all the people and creatures in the world, following Christ who showed him love. His failure turned his world around, and impacts our world directly. Francis loved his enemies, and cared for the people and the world he had previously discarded. The people and creatures who the world threw away became the focus of his mission and devotion.

May we have the courage of Francis today, to love our enemies and to care for the discarded and the disenfranchised. Francis saw the presence of Christ in those he ministered to, he knew peace in his heart as he reach out in the love that Christ gave him, and he set aside privilege and station so that many might have a better life and a compassionate relationship with God. The Church of St. Francis' time wasn't too keen on his behavior. He didn't initially have many friends or supported. May we be strong today knowing that we have God's approval when we love the unlovable - no matter what the powers and authority think or say. Christ is known as we give love away - especially to our enemies.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Blessings and Woes






Then he looked up at his disciples and said:‘Blessed are you
who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you,
revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your
reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors
did to the prophets.‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.


This is my first full day in the diocese of North Dakota. I arrived yesterday, on a warm and sunny fall day and got a chance to explore the city of Bismark for a little while. With great excitement I am here to work alongside Bishop Smith and the people of the Diocese as their journey together following Christ. They have welcomed me and I am so glad to be in their midst. I expect I will learn as much from them as they can from me.

The passage from Luke assigned to this day is very helpful as a place of beginning for me. At each transition and change in our lives, we can see ourselves as hungry or filled. In need or in no need. We can have known blessings and woes - all at the same time. Jesus was teaching his disciples how to understand the ministry ahead of them. And for us who might be at a cross roads, or beginning a new journey, Jesus comes with us to that place and reminds us that serving God is not a glamorous business, it is a sacred one. It is about encountering real human suffering, living through hard times with the trust that even what might seem difficult now, God is actively finding a way to turn it into great joy. Following Jesus is not for the fainthearted. Not for those who want a smooth ride, and complete comfort at all times. It is for those who have known troubles and who have known God in the midst of those times.

Today, I want to stand at the cross roads with Jesus. I want to set my expectations aside and open my eyes and heart to the people I encounter today. Blessing is on the horizon for us all. I want to remember, today, that the Creator is more creative than I can imagine, possessing endless capacity and possibility. I am only called to respond to the lead of a wonderful God. A god who puts us in the midst of community and who calls us to rejoice in the blessings that are present and the ones we can't imagine, just over the horizon. Today, I want to rejoice in being at this place knowing that blessings overflowing are right around the corner.

May we all find ways today to know blessing in our present circumstances, no matter how woe some they might seem. May we remember that God is in the midst of all of our beginnings and ending, and all the places in between. Sometimes in the messiness and awkwardness of our lives, we might feel like God is far off. But be bravehearted today, Jesus is right here with us, bringing blessing to us all.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pie



Yesterday afternoon, my mother, who is visiting with my sister in a neighboring town, came over to my house. Since I had gotten a large basket of apples over the weekend, we decided to make an apple pie. For some reason, I could not find the crisco that I knew was in my kitchen. I could have used butter for the crust, but my Mom can't tolerate any milk products. So we made the crust with oil. She peeled the apples, and at 85, she can still remove an apple peel in one complete piece. I put the crust and other ingredients together. We worked in my kitchen side by side, laughing and joking. I had learned to make pie by her side when I was a small child and conversation and stories flowed as we worked together. This moment seemed like one in an eternal continuum.

We had a simple but tasty dinner together, although all three of us thought we should just eat pie. Skip that main course entirely and make pie the whole meal. The pie was still warm and steaming when we cut it into pieces. We ate our pie and drank our coffee with satisfaction and joy. The simple gifts of life and love enjoyed around a table.

When we dropped my Mom off at my sister's house, we were talking about our afternoon. And about pie. I will be away for a few days and I expect that the pie will be a good comfort to Mark while I'm gone. My eight year old new phew heard us talking and said. "You had pie? Don't tell my Dad. It could end very badly". Pie has that potential - to make people so needy, envious or hopeful - things could go bad with all the swirl of emotion. Pie can and has kept many people happily alive for years. Not so nutritious, but with a high pleasure value, thrilling tasty and somewhat dangerous (at least to the hips).

May today be a day filled with pie. Filled with those things that are simple and lovely in their capacity to bring joy. May today be a day where the small things in life bring the greatest pleasure. God is in our small pleasures, our tender hidden moments and the gifts we offer one another in love.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Old Wineskins



Last night, we went to my sister's house to celebrate our niece's 4th birthday. We had a lovely simple dinner, with the usual candle blowing out and ripping open of presents. My mother was there with us, so we had three generations of women together. This event is something both familiar, and ancient, old to us and relatively new to Annabel. She and her brother are zealots about the liturgy and procedure of birthdays. Aren't all kids? Over the past few days, I have been working with some old family photos and many of the pictures taken are of someone blowing out candles, surrounded by family and well-wishers. Many of the children in these photos are very grown up and many of the well wishers have joined the heavenly happy birthday chorus. And yet, we are suspended in these moments, between old and new, ancient and inventive, celebration and mourning. We are surrounded by those of the past as well as the new moments, rewriting and adapting all along the way.


He also told them a parable: ‘No one tears a piece from a new garment and sews it on an old garment; otherwise the new will be torn, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wine skins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wine skins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, “The old is good.”Luke 5:36-39 ’


The old is good, and so is the young and new. Sometimes though, we cannot ask the new to understand the old and we cannot ask the old to stretch and bend for the new. Children have to be zealots about family rituals, because it is new to them. And oldsters are bound to be nonchalant about some procedures. They have seen it all. And yet, somewhere there, the middle ground, God finds us all. Somewhere in the moments of celebration and life, the old become young and the child becomes parent. And gathered round in silent watching joy is all the love surrounding us throughout history. Jesus knew that his time was short. He knew our time was short. I want to live like time is short and that every celebration is new. Live like I might not get the chance again. And if I get a chance to be old (my kids think I'm old already), I will say with great joy, 'old is good'.