Gratitude

Did you know that Thanksgiving is now considered the most psychologically correct holiday of the year — because of gratitude and its affect on the human spirit?

The story of the Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19) gives us pause to think about gratitude and our connections to God.  My reflections on that story are titled “One Leper Leeping” and are located here

Today, David Lose’s daily email landed in my inbox with this poem attached.   

On Aging

Why does a date-palm lose its leaves in autumn?
Why does every beautiful face grow in old age
Wrinkled like the back of a Libyan lizard?
Why does a full head of hair get bald?
Why is the tall, straight figure
That divided the ranks like a spear
Now bent almost double?
Why is it that theLion strength weakens to nothing?
The wrestler who could hold anyone down
Is led out with two people supporting him,
Their shoulders under his arms?
God answers,
“They put on borrowed robes
And pretended they were theirs.
I take the beautiful clothes back,
So that you will learn the robe
Of appearance is only a loan.”
Your lamp was lit from another lamp.
All God wants is your gratitude for that.

Rumi, 1207-1273

 

I hope it blesses you today. 

Wisdom Way, Righteous Road or Wicked Bypass?

Wisdom Way, Righteous Road or Wicked Bypass?

Back when I was in the tenth grade, I had brand new English teacher — straight out of college — who really wanted to connect with his students.  To illustrate his contention that he was “not much older than we were” he had us analyze contemporary songs of the era for themes and tone of voice and genre.

Because of that class the words to the song Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign by the Five Man Electric Band (catchy name – don’t you think?) is forever burned into my brain.
Some of you might remember the words:

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery,
breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Life is so complicated.  How do you know which sign, or whose sign, to follow in order to shape your life?  What signs are true and what danger lurks among the signs?

Don’t you wish real life could be as simple as simply following clearly marked Wisdom Way or Righteous Road and steering clear of Wicked Bypass?

At one time or another we all feel like the figure standing at the crossroads asking:
What will make me happy?  How will I be fulfilled?
What will give meaning to my life?
What about the folks I live with and among?

At one time or another, we all have experienced both false starts and success along the path of life.  Some of us have learned to seek Sage Advice –Advice given with wisdom to back it…

Now there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom:
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom is not putting that tomato in a fruit salad.

Contemporary proverbial wisdom sounds like this:

  • Be the type of person you want to meet.
  • You can do anything – but not everything.
  • If one makes their husband or wife priority number one, all other areas of life benefit.
  • Your children will become who you are so be who you want them to be.

It’s common to think that wisdom comes from an older person.  Yet – wisdom is revealed through attentive people of all ages.  Attentiveness is a discipline.  My dog makes me practice attentiveness on our daily walks as he sniffs out where other creatures have gone before.  Children help us to slow down, play, and be attentive.

The sages of the Hebrew Bible were observant worshippers of the Israelite God, and as sages, they uncovered and interpreted messages that Yahweh had embedded into the world.  These sages regarded the world of nature, including human nature, as a sacred text upon which Yahweh has written important insights about life.

These are my initial thoughts about wisdom as I contemplated worship on July 21st.  To hear the sermon

Back when I was in the tenth grade, I had brand new English teacher — straight out of college — who really wanted to connect with his students.  To illustrate his contention that he was “not much older than we were” he had us analyze contemporary songs of the era for themes and tone of voice and genre.

Because of that class the words to the song Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign by the Five Man Electric Band (catchy name – don’t you think?) is forever burned into my brain.
Some of you might remember the words:

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery,
breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Life is so complicated.  How do you know which sign, or whose sign, to follow in order to shape your life?  What signs are true and what danger lurks among the signs?

Don’t you wish real life could be as simple as simply following clearly marked Wisdom Way or Righteous Road and steering clear of Wicked Bypass?

At one time or another we all feel like the figure standing at the crossroads asking:
What will make me happy?  How will I be fulfilled?
What will give meaning to my life?
What about the folks I live with and among?

At one time or another, we all have experienced both false starts and success along the path of life.  Some of us have learned to seek Sage Advice –Advice given with wisdom to back it…

Now there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom:
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom is not putting that tomato in a fruit salad.

Contemporary proverbial wisdom sounds like this:

  • Be the type of person you want to meet.
  • You can do anything – but not everything.
  • If one makes their husband or wife priority number one, all other areas of life benefit.
  • Your children will become who you are so be who you want them to be.

It’s common to think that wisdom comes from an older person.  Yet – wisdom is revealed through attentive people of all ages.  Attentiveness is a discipline.  My dog makes me practice attentiveness on our daily walks as he sniffs out where other creatures have gone before.  Children help us to slow down, play, and be attentive.

The sages of the Hebrew Bible were observant worshippers of the Israelite God, and as sages, they uncovered and interpreted messages that Yahweh had embedded into the world.  These sages regarded the world of nature, including human nature, as a sacred text upon which Yahweh has written important insights about life.

These are my initial thoughts about wisdom as I contemplated worship on July 21st.  You can listen to the sermon here for more about Wisdom literature and the Bible.

Tennis and Testing

Pondering this week’s Lectionary

Psalm 139: 1-6

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.

2          You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

3          You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

4          Even before a word is on my tongue,

O LORD, you know it completely.

5          You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

6          Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Beautiful words used to put forth the idea of God’s surrounding presence and comfort.  Feasting on the Word commentator Timothy Beach-Verhey says about the passage, “Because God is at the farthest reaches of the universe and in the most secret depths of the human heart, God is the constant companion, who cannot be escaped, fooled, or ignored.”

I am reminded of my tennis boot camp instructor who has taken to asking me what my sermon is going to be about each week.  My answers are brief, because it’s kind of hard to talk when your chasing a ball around the tennis court.

Today he told me he had theories.

“Oh, yeah, what theories?”  I asked.

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“God tests you in order to pull you back.”
I stopped and looked at him – as a ball whizzes by and I miss the next shot.  (My doubles partner wasn’t happy.
“What do you mean?” I responded.
“I’m going through a mid-life crisis and I feel like God is pulling the reins in on me.  It’s a test.”
“I’m not sure God’s testing you as much as allowing you to make decisions.  I call that freedom, not testing.  In my tradition we think of it as God allowing a person to choose to follow God.”
In between shots I tried to convey the theology that God wants us to choose the right path, much like a parent.  God even sent Jesus the Christ to show us how to make those choices.  But in the end, if one really wants to go off and try life on one’s own, God allows it.  However, there is a lot of muck (sin and evil) in the world’s and inevitably it snares you.  Yet, in the midst of the muck, God hasn’t abandoned us.  God is there to help us out of it.  And, in my humble opinion, God’s not testing how we’ll get out of the mess.Again, Timothy Beach-Verhey captures the idea when he says:“The conviction that human beings are autonomous, self-determining individuals is an illusion produced by pride.  Human destiny is in the hands of a gracious God.  Therefore genuine selfhood includes trusting dependence on God and grateful responsibility to God.” (Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word Year B, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011)

At the end of the lesson, I offered to have coffee to talk further about his theories.

“I don’t want to take up your time,” he said.

Hmmm…better off the court than on.

Advent ~ While We Wait?

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:7a

Be still.

Really?

How many times have you heard that this week?  Namely, that the way to approach Advent is by being still and waiting.  Seriously, it’s not an option for many of us.

For me, I put a few things into the hopper not knowing what might come to fruition when.  There is my thesis finalization, a capital campaign kickoff, and a Fairfax County grant application that has been in the works for over six months in addition to my “other” pastoral responsibilities.  Lately, I have begun to secretly hope the grant wouldn’t materialize.

What do you secretly hope will fall off the radar so you can be still this season?

This morning my reading took me to Adam Thomas’ book, Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Digital World (Abingdon, 2011).  Here’s an excerpt that makes me slightly revise be still and wait in my Advent world:

This is how our human brains work: with so much information downloading every minute into our neural hard drives, we tune out the constant things in order to see clearly the things that change.  We perceive that changing things will affect us more immediately, and so we grant them more consideration…[Yet], like the ocean, God is a constant that we fail to notice most of the time.  When we do attend to God’s presence, however, we are surprised that we ever forgot to look. “ (34-35)

This week I’m going to practice brief periods of “be still and notice.”  I’m sure my Advent-ure will be better for it.  I hope the same for you.


Spiritual Change Agents ~ My Children?

 

I didn’t have a Damascus Road experience.  My children led me into the ministry.

This post is based upon the following premise:

The idea of children actors in their own right is not new, but feminist theology gives it renewed meaning…First, feminist theology upholds children as persons created in God’s image and therefore deserving of basic human rights accorded all people of any age, color, or creed. Second, it celebrates children as a source of spiritual insight.” (Emphasis mine)

(Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective, p. 138)

The description of children as “actors in their own right” is parallel to the idea that “Benjamin Franklin was a major actor in many of the events leading up to the founding of our nation.” (www.Merriam-Webster.com) Children have something of value to offer “in their being” apart from the adults that surround them.

As change agents…

My children led me into the ministry.  Their demands on my life and my time forced me to evaluate the time I spent away from them.  If I had to give up time to be with them to be employed, was that employment valuable to me?  Was working 45-60 hours a week worth the higher grade level and wooden office furniture?

Not for me.

I started evaluating my options; I decided to train for employment in the public school system. School psychologist seemed appropriate since I like to try to understand what motivates people.  After taking all the necessary undergrad requirements to enter a graduate degree program at Rochester Institute of Technology, and while I planned to study for my GRE, I took a part-time job as a youth director at my church.  I needed to ‘test’ whether I could make working with children my vocation.

That set me on the path to ministry.  The following are a few important reflections that also come to mind when I think about what my children have taught me.

That it is possible to love each one deeply for their uniqueness.  My own mother used to tell me she loved each of my siblings and me the same.  At the time I wondered how that could be possible and what that felt like. Now – I disagree with her.  I don’t love my children the same because I’ve learned that their unique personalities, quirks, and challenges make them who they are – and I love them for being who they are in their one-of-a-kindness. (Maybe that is what Mom meant.)  I’m quite confident it is a piece of how God feels about humanity.  My boys have taught me about how grace happens, how God continually loves us so much, even when we mess up.

What brother love looks like.  An image imprinted on my brain is the time Jesse and I returned home from a week away from the rest of the family.  We were in New York finalizing the sale of our home while the two older boys finished school in Baltimore, MD, the location of our new residence.   When we got off the plane, seven year old Dylan ran arms wide open to Jesse (not Mom) exclaiming, “Buddy!! I missed you!”

Fourteen years later, with home base now in Virginia, dinners together as a family are rare. At eighteen, twenty-one, and twenty-six years old, having dinner with Mom & Dad are not always on the top of one’s to-do list.  However, each son makes a special effort to eat with us when he knows his brothers will be present and vice versa.

There is an innate maleness that I will never truly comprehend. Raised in the 60s and 70s, I believed it was possible to raise “androgynous” children, sifting out the negative of both genders.  Crazy, I now know.

The first clues that my philosophy was not working are when 1. LEGOS became swords and guns because mom would not buy more realistic toys.  2. Baseball and football stats were memorized and recited with barely a prompt before multiplication tables were close to being learned. 3. Numerous quiet activities, crayons, chalk, coloring books, word games, went untouched because the preferred activity was wrestling until someone cried. One pediatrician chastised me because Jesse barely knew how to write his name before beginning kindergarten.  The same pediatrician was in awe of Jesse’s large motor coordination at the age of five.

My perfectionism is not their problem and I need to deal with it.

Perfectionism is “a propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.”  My guys didn’t share my view that I needed to “do it all” because the opportunity existed.  They taught me my limits.  The “paid” job and the pristine house didn’t matter.  After years of trying to mold them via my perfectionist imagery, I finally learned that they have their own schedules of maturity and even my “intervention” is not going to change them as much as I think I can.

That is their God gifted agency in my life.

Growing with my children, thus far, has been my most important spiritual discipline.  Jake, Dylan and Jesse continue to teach me how to “let go and trust God.”  I can’t be with them every moment of every day.  I have to trust God that they will come back home in one piece, whole and healthy.

Dylan, Jake & Jesse (clockwise from upper left)

“Letting go of children goes against the grain of self-preservation precisely because to let go means to admit one’s own finitude, limits, and fears.” (Let the Children Come, p. 157)

Now that the youngest is away at college and the nest is empty, I find myself “dying to oneself as previously known and being born anew.” (156)  Empty nests have perks but they are also lonely – and one has to deal with it.

I pray for God’s re-creation for another of God’s purposes.

Referred Pain, Therapy, and the Bible


This summer I’ve spent a lot of my spare time trying to learn to play a decent game of tennis.  Rarely have I ever picked up a racquet beyond my high school physical education classes some 30+ years ago.  This new level of activity sent me to my family doctor.

Tendonitis was the preliminary diagnosis for the hot, tender pain in my wrist. For the umpteenth time my doctor prescribed physical therapy, a prescription I’ve always ignored due to a perceived lack of time.  But – this time I really wanted to continue playing; playing as in a break from responsibilities, playing as an outlet for my ‘competitiveness’, playing as in a team sport that my husband and I can do together (somewhat together since he’s stronger and has a harder swing).

So – I went to the physical therapist, who also was a chiropractor.

According to Dr. Chiropractor, the tendonitis was actually “referred pain.” In my PT sessions I came to understand how, in different situations, I was contributing to an old back and shoulder injury.

From my reading this week I learned that the word therapy comes from the Greek word therapeia, related to the Greek verb therapeuo, which means, “to wait upon.”  In different scenarios in society today we are “waited upon” in terms of physical therapy (to restore physical movement), drug therapy (to halt disease processes in the body), and psychotherapy (restore emotional health).

In the book “Grounded in the Living Word: The Old Testament and Pastoral Care Practices” Denise Hopkins and Michael Koppel make the point that there is much “referred pain” involved with living in a “me-centered” world, which is putting oneself at the center of existence.

The Bible, the Living Word of God, is therapeutic in that it invites us into a de-centering experience.  Through Scripture, God invites us into an expansion of our worldview as we envision new story possibilities for our lives.

We can’t do it alone.

In the words of Denise and Michael:

When we read the biblical stories and share our stories in community, we engage in a healing process as we serve and wait upon the text and one another.  This process destabilizes and reorganizes our understanding of sick/healer; care giver/care receiver; and subject object…

Sharing our stories around biblical texts in a group provides a window as well as a mirror as we grow in faith. A group serves as a window, and the window lets in more light with the presence of theological, gender, ideological, economic, and ethnic diversity.[1]

As August cycles into September and a new program year at JCPC, we commemorate and celebrate, and hope to open the window for more light.


[1] Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski., and Michael Sherwood. Koppel. Grounded in the Living Word: the Old Testament and Pastoral Care Practices. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub., 2010, p. 16.

Can We Put A Dent in Human Trafficking?

I was contemplating the next topic in my summarization of the book “Let the Children Come” when my Presbyterian planning calendar caught my eye. January 11, 2012 is designated Human Trafficking Awareness Day.   Referencing the link listed on the calendar, this grabbed my attention:

A Global Phenomenon in Our Backyard

Modern-day slavery is a global phenomenon that manifests itself in the United States as well. From the fishing industry in Ghana, the brothels of Thailand, to domestic workers enslaved by a husband and wife in their Long Island home or farmworkers harvesting tomatoes in Florida fields, slavery is alive and well in a new form in the 21st century. Indeed, some of the products we wear or consume were produced using slave labor. Our whole society, from corporations to law enforcement, from the U.S. Justice Department to the church, must be involved if we are to put an end to human trafficking once and for all.

As well as this:

The International Labor Organization (ILO) — the United Nations agency charged with addressing labor standards, employment and social protection issues — estimates that there are 12.3 million people in forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor and sexual servitude at any given time; other estimates range from 4 million to 27 million. (Trafficking in Persons Report, U.S. Department of State, 2008).

The situation is horrifying.  Statistics like this can numb us.  What little impact can we have on a problem of this magnitude?

In part, that’s what our study of Miller-McLemore’s book has been about – issues facing children and families in the 21st century.  That includes not only our own biological children, but also a concern for children around the world.

This week, our lectionary story for Sunday involves Shiphrah and Puah, two little known characters from the Bible who stood up to Pharaoh.  These midwives refused to kill newborn male Israelites.  Their one act of defiance allowed the birth of Moses.  Moses went on to lead the slaves to freedom.

Could there be one or two little acts that can help change conditions for modern-day slaves?  Check out the Take Action possibilities here.