Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Living WORD: Knock and the door will be opened

I love when the lectionary dwells in the likes of Hosea and Amos...such angst and teeth gnashing and condemnation.

And the risk is that we read through the readings assuming that the Gospel is corrective commentary on the Hebrew scripture. Not so. Really.

This week I am sitting with the well-known verses from Luke - everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Perhaps because this was the theme verse for the last VBS I ran, I tend to see this verse in a simplistic way that edges on prosperity gospel - the better you are, the more you will get.

But this week I am holding Jesus in tension with a couple of weeks of the prophets. It sure can feel like God is absent amidst the chaos that is our lives, the economy, the domestic agenda, raising teenagers, driving in rush hour, pondering the justice system...  Oh, yes, you probably get the point.  

But Jesus is reminding his followers in Luke's gospel to keep showing up even when it seems to be getting no response. And I feel like this is less about asking and more about being present, seeking to be in relationship with the living God.

As July ends, I am winding down a period of intentional discernment. No longer working for a church, I am seeking a clear understanding with God about what is next. This amidst some tumultuous family times has made for a deeply unsettling season.  I have been stewing.

Yesterday, I tuned into NPR for my drive to the seminary where I work. A local reporter did an in-depth piece about how babies get left in hot cars. The segment included a very poignant interview with a mother (who sounded amazingly average and responsible) who lost a child after forgetting to drop him off at daycare. The story was dramatic and included the sounds of the 9-1-1 call that was made when she realized 7.5 hours later what had happened.  

At about three points during the story, I thought to should turn his off. You do not need to listen to this. But I did not turn it off.  I felt heavier and heavier.  Like I was coated in the slick oil that drowns birds after an oil spill.

I have been reading Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Unbelievably Close. It is heavy, walking through generations of complication brought to a climax on 9/11. The main character references his depression as having "heavy boots."

Life is heavy and hard sometimes. I believe that the Israelites in exile knew that well...felt the weight of missteps, political upheaval, occupation, changes in the family structure. It must have felt like God was absent.

It does sometimes, doesn't it?

And life has proven time and again that even the most fervent prayers of request don't result in dreams fulfilled.

Our Father in Heaven, your name is Holy...
May your Kingdom break through on earth as in heaven.
Give us our daily bread and forgive our sins as we strive 
To forgive the sins of others.
And keep us from the time of trial.
The Kingdom, and the power and glory are Yours
Now and forever and ever.

But what if the point is showing up? Not so much asking for things but asking for relationship? What if the point is being God's? What if part of it is letting God be God too?

How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.

They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.  (Hosea 11: 8-11)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Living WORD: Mary, Martha, oh the irony... (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C)

So I am trying to adopt a new habit of blogging about the lectionary again, this time not from the perspective of preparing to journey with the text, but rather from the space of living with the text after hearing or reading it on Sunday. You know, sort of where God has taken me as I live with the text each week...

I was beating myself up this week for having procrastinated about this for the entire month of July... There is always something else to do - my last online course to finish up for ordination requirements, kids' schedules to manage, food to cook, bathrooms to clean, dog hair to vacuum. Next month my attention will turn to refining my ordination papers and the back-to-school parenting chaos, as well as the fall cultivation rush at work.

And that's so sad, because this week's selections were rich - the prophet Amos wringing his hands over Israel's failures to pay attention and love God first and God's response - to leave them in the dust of exile.  Jesus familiarly chastising poor Martha for her misplaced busy-ness.

Oh, wait a minute.  Spirit you are a sly one.  Therein lies the rub. Sitting at the master's feet requires setting things aside, making relationship a priority. 

If only it were that simple.

Aren't we glad then for grace?  Because when I can catch myself, remind myself, ignore the dog-hair induced dust bunnies, God is still right there waiting for me.

And I think he might be chuckling at my antics.

I know that might be an offensive gender-specific anthropomorphism (c'mon, Laura, use a normal word -- PERSONIFICATION) of God.  But in this situation, with the backdrop of what is a somewhat troubling tale of Jesus scolding a woman for providing nurture to him and his uninvited entourage, it's what I have. It's not a gender neutral story.

But maybe my songs are turned into lamentation and my joy to weeping by my own distraction.

And so this week, here on Friday, I give up. And do what I am called by a creative and imaginative God to do - to set things aside and remember whose I am and what I am to do.

I will thank you forever because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful, I will proclaim your  name because it is good.

The lectionary readings for this week, beginning Sunday, July 21 are:
Amos 8: 1 - 12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1: 15 - 28
Luke 10: 38 - 42

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bounty emerging

We are in that strange in-between time when the garden is lush and pregnant with possibility, but the cool weather crops are finished and high tomato season hasn't yet arrived. The tomato vines and pepper plant hang heavy with blossoms and I ripened bounty. You can see the onslaught headed our way. But beyond a stray squash (they have been destroyed by fungus) and beautiful handfuls of purple runners, the daily haul seems light. 

We supplement with a CSA, so we have plenty that is locally sourced. Our neighbors have space and time for some crops that we don't. So we do have a bowl full of squash and cucumbers, cauliflower and red cabbage to put to good use. 

But in the resourcefulness of this thin week in the season, there have been some brilliant surprises.

The rhubarb is fighting the heat and yielded a modest fourth picking. That became rhubarb chutney to accompany a cauliflower dal.  

The cilantro has gone to seed, but the sun has not yet toasted the coriander seeds that follow. Like bright green to yellowish-green berries, when crushed they emit a lovely cross between the brightness of fresh cilantro and the warmth of coriander.  They went into the dal, rounding out the curry and giving the whole dish a new profile.

The dill is slowly going to seed. There is something deeply satisfying about gathering up the seeds, knowing that while the volume is small, the harvest will season a range of things throughout the year.

An immature jalepeno added the right flavor to a coconut fish curry for last night's dinner. Round that curry out with some ever-present zucchini and the remaining Thai basil from this week's CSA and some purple opal and sweet basil from our own front herb bed and...yum. Just yum. Even better today as a lunch leftover.

The neighbor's cucumbers met with more of the opal basil and a fig balsamic vinegar we bought in Maine. Topped with some feta, I think I could make a meal out of the dish. And maybe I will tonight!

The blackberry canes are yielding about a cup of bright berries a day...perfect for yogurt in the morning.

Tonight's food adventure must necessarily address cabbage. I wish I'd planted potatoes. I am seeing some rift on new potatoes, braised cabbage and sausage. Goodness.

There is so much joy in maximizing the possibility...even in the thin weeks awaiting tomatoes, pasillo, jalepeno and Anaheim peppers, figs (!!!!), blackberries, eggplant, grapes....


Friday, July 12, 2013

Always a strong mountain...

I have been medication free for three weeks.

It feels good. Even though emotional swings and tears are back, moments of breathtaking anxiety surface, the desire to curl up in a ball occasionally to sleep away the stress, I feel better knowing where the highs are and where the lows are. And perhaps most importantly that these are only temporary places.

It snuck up on me. I sent my oldest off to college last fall and found myself in a stupor...tears, exhaustion that drove me to sleep in the middle of the day, anxiety pressing in about a litany of small things that would mount to untenable fear.

It has always been hard for me to just "be." I am wired to do, and specifically to do what perhaps others should. I can't leave the dishes in the sink. I can't see the counter tops cluttered. Dog hair on the staircase haunts me. How do people move through their day oblivious to these distractions?

Lately, I have been trying to meditate, trying to focus on the present, trying to let others do, practicing letting go, returning to my yoga practice where things are sorted out on the mat through a series of poses and balances.

I wanted the medicated haze to end, and to end well. I wanted to return to experiencing the highs and lows. I want to rely on myself, the gifts of my heart and body and mind, to recognize what I can and cannot control, who I can and cannot be. This is for me in part about letting go of what I cannot control and trusting that God is present and at work, and that no matter what shows up, it will be ok.

Matt and I are in Maine this week on a getaway. One side affect of weaning myself off meds has been a return of long-standing neck and back problems. Clearly I carry my stress in my spine, and this past few weeks, I have let a build-up of unmediated stress park itself along vertebrae high and low. I can hear things crunching from my shoulders to my hips. Sleeping in a strange bed with a strange pillow exacerbates the does knowing there is a "problem." So I have been treating my back gingerly. And trying to remember that pain is a moment, not forever.

On Wednesday, we circled the entire island on foot. The weather was misty and windy but not uncomfortable. After a day of adventure we headed out to search for sea glass. The beach was full of rocky obstacles and we traversed broad swaths that were slick with green moss and peppered with snails. In my jeans and handy all-terrain sandals, I found myself recalling mountain pose with each footfall. I would step forward across a slippery expanse, plant my foot anew and align the rest of my body with loving care, finding a strong center, a tall mountain in spite of the slick spots.

Instinctively, I was protecting my back, seeking balance and alignment, afraid of spending my vacation in bed with ice and anti-inflammatory meds.  But I realized quickly that this is also how to protect my soul, finding my tall mountain with each step on the changing terrain. Beginning with where my foot lands, how my legs line up over that foot, where my hips square while I begin to prepare to move the other foot, where my breath is. Just like on the mat.

Suddenly this week I am powerfully aware of my yoga and its daily - minute by minute impact - on my life.

And so I begin each moment anew.

I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Postcards from Vacationland...

We are on Peaks Island, an island three miles from downtown Portland. We arrived yesterday, having shuffled luggage and coolers and miscellaneous bags from the car, hustling about 5 blocks downhill from the county parking garage just outside the courthouse, where we boarded the ferry for a 20 minute cruise to the island. The temperature dropped as the mainland slipped into mist.

We are staying at the 8th Maine Regiment Lodge (and Museum). Not a Bed & Breakfast, it is more like a camp from years gone by. The building is massive with a common hall that comprises the main level. A broad wraparound porch circles the entire building. Below the common hall and porch is a pseudo basement, above grade at the back where four simple bedrooms run along the oceanfront. We ar I. Room 104 -- quaint and a little claustrophobic...

But clean and refreshingly simple. This hallway of rooms is just off a crazy dining room/kitchen space. The dining room has about 14 kitchenette stations, each with a cupboard and a two burner gas hot plate thingy. The dining room regulations require that your table is always set. We were assigned table four and station 4 upon arrival. We have space in refrigerator 2, located in a line up of 8 refrigerators that serve guests by room and kitchen assignment.

Upon arrival, Steve gave us a quick tour of the kitchen which is stocked with more pots, pans, plates, glasses, mugs, gadgets, tea towels, etc. clean up is an honor system, with three sinks for washing, rinsing and sanitizing. We didn't really come expecting to cook...  But now that we know the lay of the land, attempting a meal seems like part of the adventure. As I type, we are sitting in a parlor located in a massive turret on a corner of the wraparound porch, facing the ocean. We emerged into the upper hall from an afternoon nap after walking the entire island earlier in the day. Books in hand, we were ready to curl up, watch the fog and read.

But as we neared the top of the steps, we were surprised to find a ballet class taking place in the hall. As surreal as it seems, it also really fits...quirky, opportune, practical -- a place for adolescent girls and women who are probably vacationing for an extended stay with parents and grandparents to get away and try something new or reconnect with an old skill (think Dirty Dancing and the ballroom dance lessons....). (Parenthetically, the woman teaching dance just explained within a single story that she studied for a year at the Ailey School and that she is a plumber.)

Amazing stuff.  It would be great to bring the family, in part because it is so different from typical vacation expectations. Simple, lo tech but not wireless, ocean but not beach, gourmet but not restaurant soaked.... Right now we can't even see the Casco Bay for the fog, but we know it is there.

Tonight, crackers, wine and cheese and figs with the sound of the ocean, good books and fog as a backdrop.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Saving the next generations...

Once there was a man who did and said such amazing things, people simply wanted to be with him. One day, they asked him who he was, and he answered them, "I am the Light of the world."

This is the way that storytellers begin stories about Jesus in the tradition of Godly Play, a Montessori-based Christian education program for young children. Helping children discover God through creative storytelling, art and imaginative play, children are not told so much about God as discovering God throughout their own experience.

It is a beautiful method. 

I like to begin worship with children or youth. It is a beautiful way to begin the Great Thanksgiving.
I light a candle as Jesus answers them, "I am the Light of the world."

I had a stunning epiphany this week.

I desperately want to save my kids from the church.

Sounds drastic. Even to me.

I want them to know Triune God. I want them to know Jesus and want to live the way he lived. I want them to feel the Spirit drawing them toward places where their gifts and graces make a difference. I want them to love God and their neighbors. I want them to know the Light of the World.

I don't want them to know how petty, how hateful, how merciless the church can be.

I don't want them to have to dig through the rubble of a disintegrating institution to find God.

Because God isn't in the rubble.

Back in college, I took a class in bureaucratic theory (riveting, I know). I had never seen the word "bifurcate" before. That semester, I read it about a thousand times. To bifurcate is to splinter into two. think about what has happened to the church, from early communities that shared all they had including a profound witness for what Jesus had done in their presence, in their lives.  We are destined to build and divide and splinter and compartmentalize until the purpose of the institution is fractured  and indistinguishable.

I want to save my children from having to sort through all the pieces, trying to find the real meaning.

What if we could help younger people navigate past our bifurcations.

I was lovingly reminded by a friend that every generation reforms the church to meet its needs and expectations. Each generation clings to its reformed church, afraid that the next generation will destroy the church for all time.  But with the expansion of technology and the resultant shrinking of the global society, the distance this generation has to reform to find relevance is light years more than any generational leap before it.  Let that sink in...  

What if some of us are called to reach out to that younger generation with hospitality to help the uncover the living God and their role in God's unfolding story? What if we are willing to stand with them as they seek God's relevance in the world they have inherited? Instead of assuming we had it right or best, what if some of us had real faith that God is bigger than any generation and let the story continue to unfold in the hands of the next generation, encouraging, supporting, empathizing? 

What if we focused our efforts on saving this generation for relationship with God rather than for the survival of the church? That might mean rescuing them from our institutions, helping them find new growth and light than shines out in the world instead of in buildings or programs or models.

What if?