Saturday, August 30, 2008
There is now a retired woman priest who is serving as a priest associate. She is a fascinating person, and I'll enjoy working with her in KidZone when I'm not doing Adult Spiritual Formation stuff.
It should be another rich experience. I'm psyched.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
My husband will attest to the fact that I regularly say I hate all politicians.
That intense feeling comes with certain credentials, after all - I was myself a politician, albeit a failed one, and I worked in public advocacy for almost two decades.
I am a political cynic.
But, damn, that speech was good. It takes something special, something not political, something, dare I say it, spiritual, to speak that way.
I'm not sure if it was a speech or a sermon or a prayer.
Whatever it was, it was good. May it be so.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
No, not me...it's the first day of school (and also the birthday of) Princess Granddaughter. Her little brother, the B-Man, doesn't seem overly distressed by her departure. He just turned one last month.
Somehow it makes my impending school year seem not so overwhelming.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I spent yesterday doing research in my little study carrel in the library, getting used to the space. A bit on the small side, but that's life. I expect I'll know every millimeter of it before the year is out.
Dang. I'm a senior. How did that happen?
Off to the farmers' market, and thence to icon writing. Some things never change.
1) Datebooks--how do you keep track of your appointments? Electronically? On paper? Month at a glance? Week at a glance?
I've got a Palm Zire, a wonderful little electronic device that holds dates, contacts, etc. Not quite as comprehensive as a Blackberry or an iPhone, but it works for me. We also have a family calendar on the frig, which has birthdays and who's out of town when.
2) When was the last time you forgot an important date?
You mean outside of forgetting it was Friday, time to do the meme? I'm pretty meticulous about the important dates, but many years ago I missed a key deadline for a government contract for my business, and that was not a good thing.
3) When was the last time you went OUT on a date?
Last night. Friday is Date Night for PH and me. We joined some friends at a local watering hole for a glass of wine, then went to Eamonn's for some Dublin-style fish and chips.
4) Name one accessory or item of clothing you love even though it is dated.
Can't decide if it's my crocs or my clogs. Love 'em, but my daughter rolls her eyes whenever I put them on.
5) Dates--the fruit--can't live with 'em? Or can't live without 'em?
I ate a bunch of them when I was in the Middle East, where they're the harbinger of hospitality. They're fresher and more delicious over there. Back here in the US, I tend to use them in cooking more than eating by themselves, since they're caloric little devils.
So much for dates!
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Colleagues of my husband's and mine who are also friends came over for dinner last night. One of them was supposed to stay over. The event provided the kick in the hinders that I needed to get the house cleaned. I spent most of the day preparing for the dinner. The steps of preparation - the cleaning, the cooking, the setting of the table - were almost as much pleasure as the event itself. Knowing that people I care for will dine at my table is both a privilege and an opportunity to show I care for them, so I want to do it well.
The evening was, as expected, a delight. The repast was simple: starters of homemade guacamole and chips, a salad of herloom tomatoes, cukes, red onion, mesclun, and blue cheese with balsamic vinaigrette, grilled Coho salmon and a French potato salad. Dessert was a cherry pie. Some nice wine from our recent travels through Virginia wine country (yes, there is a Virginia wine country) and some nice local beer for the beer drinkers among us. Conversation ranged from the vagaries of professional organizations, academic politics, intriguing ministry opportunities, ministry glitches both past and present, growing up as a missionary kid (PH), why Mibi doesn't want to go for a PhD at the institution of one of the guests (too old and too itchy to start working in a parish), living in Texas versus living in Colorado versus living in Your Nation's Capital, plus assorted general silliness. No arguing over church politics. No sniping. No one-upsmanship. As I said, a delight.
This, to me, is the true sacrament of table fellowship: this feeding of body and soul in mutual respect and love, this desire to hear everyone, to share freely, to lift up those around the table because we can see God in them.
Would that we have the same experience each time we celebrate the Lord's Supper. Would that the Eucharist could be done with respect and love, because we can see God in each person around the table. Would that I could be more true to this.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Two does and three fawns, up close and personal.
Several little bunnies in several different locations, utterly fearless.
A black bear, way too close to our cabin.
A dead fox - folks do drive fast out in the country. Roadkill happens.
A number of fat groundhogs.
A number of folks who really shouldn't be wearing that tank top.
Sunset across the Choptank with a sailboat running across the sparkling water.
A flurry of monarch and swallowtail butterflies.
Ospreys and their remarkable nests balanced atop pilings - sort of like the ancient hermits who would sit on a pole as a meditative act.
Rainbows, but mostly blue skies.
A number of horses and cows, including a bull standing at the fence, staring across the road at the fenced-in cows, moo-ing a love song, or a seduction song, or perhaps just the morning's news report.
Farmstands with the most wonderful fruit and vegetables.
Incoming students at Thomas Jefferson's academical institution. Are they getting younger, or am I getting older? Wait...don't answer that.
A great vacation, but it's also great to be home again. On the second load of wash, with a few more to go.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Saturday, August 09, 2008
PH and I were watching "Sweeney Todd" last night. Interesting work by Tim Burton. Extraordinarily gory, but it got to the point that it lost all its impact because the scatter and splash of blood was so unrelenting. On the other hand, the marvelous song "A Little Priest," a meditation on the flavor of men of different professions as filling for Mrs. Lovett's meat pies, was quite good. I had sung this with a friend who is a professional musician several years ago, to great acclaim (or at least no rotten tomatoes). Oh so tempting to use it for a seminary entertainment of some sort...
This says something about the perversity of my sense of humor, I suppose.
Friday, August 08, 2008
1. What is your sweetest summer memory from childhood? Did it involve watermelon or hand cranked ice cream? Or perhaps a teen summer romance. Which stands out for you?
The tinkle of the bell of the ice cream truck coming down the street. Ice cream bars were somewhere between 15 cents and a quarter. Even though we were pretty poor, mom always had the money for me when the truck came through on those hot summer evenings, when the mothers all sat on the stoop ( a New York thing) smoking and talking and we kids ran up and down the street. The air was lit by fireflies, the burning tips of the cigarettes, what streetlights hadn't been burned out.
2. Describe your all time favorite piece of summer clothing. The one thing you could put on in the summer that would seem to insure a cooler, more excellent day.
Actually, nothing. When I was very little(under four) my mom would let me run around in my shorts with no top on. I was four or five when mom said it was no longer appropriate for me to go topless. I was bummed out!
3. What summer food fills your mouth with delight and whose flavor stays happily with you long after eaten?
A truly ripe peach. You know the kind: you need to eat it over the kitchen sink because it's so juicy. Bliss.
4. Tell us about the summer vacation or holiday that holds your dearest memory.
It's a toss-up between my first summer camp at the Grl Scout camp, and our first week when the kids were little staying out on Cape Cod. For a city girl like me, camp was a whole new and wonderful world. As for Cape Cod, the beach on the bay side was perfect because it was so shallow and there was always a breeze, and Cobie's ice cream was waiting up at the end of the road.
5. Have you had any experience(s) this summer that has drawn you closer to God or perhaps shown you His wonder in a new way?
Spending the summer doing an internship at Saint Diverse was a blessing. It reconfirmed my call in some new ways, and gave me new opportunities to test my wings.
Bonus question: When it is really hot, humid and uncomfortable, what do you do to refresh and renew body and spirit?
Plan A: Sit in the house in the a/c, relaxing on the couch with a good non-school book. A gin and tonic helps, too.
Plan B: Drive down to DelRay and have some Dairy Godmother frozen Wisconsin-style custard.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
- I read the text in several translations (thank goodness for BibleWorks and online Bible tools of one sort or another).
- I read it in the original language, focusing on the words that seem problematic or interesting or pique my curiosity in some unnameable way.
- I meditate on it for a while.
- I do a brain dump of ideas floating around in my head, including possible links to illustrations or other imagery. Often it's a list of questions.
- I think about what's most important to me in the text.
- I narrow it down from twelve most important things to just a couple.
- I read the commentaries and see what cool stuff I've missed.
- I meditate and pray some more.
- Sometimes a "hook" presents itself, an image or a story around which to build the sermon, and that's a real blessing, but sometimes it doesn't happen, and it gets much harder.
- I try and come up with a one-sentence theme, AKA "what I hope they'll think about from this sermon for the rest of the week, or at least until the end of coffee hour."
- I start writing.
- I start rewriting.
- I throw it away, and start writing again.
- Once I've got a half-decent second or third draft, sometimes I'll run it by PH, who is good about identifying transitions that aren't working, or if I'm assuming some knowledge on the part of the listener which is unreasonable.
- I edit it down.
- I edit it down some more (‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’ - editing advice from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch), editing out the darlings that don't contribute to the thesis of the sermon. I hate it, though, when I've got a really cool bit of writing that needs to be jettisoned.
- I let it rest.
- I go back and re-read out loud, at which point I can usually hear things like disagreement in tense, problems with pronouns etc.
- I re-write some more.
I get this done over the course of five days or so, a couple of hours at a time. Inevitably, though, when I deliver the sermon, I find all sorts of stuff that I don't like, or that I modify in the moment. Not sure there is anything to fix that problem.
How do you write your sermons?
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
- I preached at Community Eucharist at the seminary. I used the Sunday sermon, and it was well-received. Some of our new students were there. It's hard to imagine seminary without last year's seniors. Another year and we will be the ghosts in the machine.
- We took both cats to the vet's this morning. One will have to go back on Friday to have a broken tooth extracted. Major $$$ today, more major $$$ on Friday. Gulp.
- The sermon for this Sunday is just not happening yet. I'm going to have to get serious about it tomorrow. Elijah in the cave, to be preached to a congregation that is seriously committed to social justice ministry. I'm thinking about how even the most committed prophets get tired and go hide in their caves, especially when society attacks them for their prophetic words. Any ideas, folks?
- The weight loss isn't happening either. I had such grand plans at the beginning of the summer, and now we're in August and I weigh more than when I started. I feel like a human dumpling.
Vacation cannot come too soon. I need to be out of town for a few days to decompress.
Monday, August 04, 2008
They came to us together because they were all going to be on the east coast for their father's birthday party, an annual extravaganza. My birthday is coming up, too, and my eldest, Litigator, decided that it was about time somebody threw a party for me . So Litigator came up with the idea, and the youngest, StrongOpinions, who is the picture of the overfunctioning child, did a goodly part of the work, the middle one, StoneMason, helped when told by his sister what to do, and PH, their stepfather, provided the money. The mom of one of their friends actually catered the deal, and a cake was gotten from CakeLove, a local emporium of transcendently delicious baked goods. Guests included a couple of dear friends of mine, one whom I hadn't seen in quite a while, and a bunch of the kids' friends, most of whom I have fed regularly over the years. It was a gas.
It was also a poignant moment, realizing that they recognized how I have always been the one throwing parties for people, but have only rarely been the guest of honor. It echoed the time last year that eldest son blew up at his father for insisting that they go there yet again for Thanksgiving dinner, saying "Mom never gets to have us for Thanksgiving. It's not fair to her."
By and large, the dealings with my ex have been reasonable, mostly because much time has passed since the divorce, because we both love the kids and because I pick my battles, so things like where these young adults go on what dates is just not that big a thing for me. But it is interesting and gratifying to see that they can and do make choices and they can and do see situations for what they are.
My hope has always been that the divorce and the aftermath caused them as little harm as possible. I don't know if that's the case. Time will tell. But I'm glad to see they are becoming caring adults, mostly responsible, and that they are devising their own ways of dealing with the world honestly and sensitively. Mostly.
P.S. Warren Brown, the owner of CakeLove, is a former government lawer and general cutie-pie who appears on Food Network. He is as sweet as his cakes!
Sunday, August 03, 2008
“I can’t do that. I don’t know how.”
Even at work, even when it’s a task that is part of the job description, we struggle and resist, until someone either forces us to do this new thing or patiently explains how to do it. We need help when we try something new.
Think about riding a bike. When you were little, you may have wanted to learn how to ride a bike because you saw an older brother doing it, or other children in the neighborhood, or even favorite characters in cartoons. So mom and dad got you a bike, and now it was time to learn how to ride it. I suspect most of us started our bike-riding with little tricycles. Easy to learn on, because the three wheels didn’t require any balancing. The trike did most of the work for us. All we had to do was pedal. Then we graduated to a larger bike, and that bike usually had training wheels.
The training wheels were designed to help us start to understand the balance required to keep the bike upright on two wheels. Just two small extra wheels, attached by some strips of aluminum to the back wheel, just a bit more help to maintain one’s balance…the guidance that would give us the confidence to try and balance the bike on two wheels ourselves. Later on, we might learn that balance with the training wheels off by our dads holding the back of the seat and running along side of us until we got a good start, then letting us ride by ourselves, as we realized that we could do it on our own, even though it had seemed impossible a few weeks before. Of course, if we forgot how to use our brakes, we might wind up in the bushes or down in a ditch, but we knew that we had begun to understand this bike-riding thing. And in that knowledge we found the courage to try and do it ourselves.
It happens in other aspects of our lives as well. Just about every new mother I have known - and I count myself among them – has had a moment of panic upon bringing the baby home. “How do I do this? How will I manage? Will I hurt the baby by doing something stupid?” Many of us have been fortunate to have our mothers or mothers-in-law available to help, to ask questions of, to show us the way she had done things. Of course, we knew that we were done with the apprenticeship when we started to get annoyed at suggestions, started to wonder when mom was going home. We were no longer in need of those training wheels to help us keep our balance, we were ready to ride by ourselves.
I found myself thinking of that stage of “almost ready but not quite sure enough to be on my own” in listening to the gospel story today. On the face of it, it’s a story about a miracle, about God’s great abundance, about Jesus’ care for those in need…but I’d suggest there’s something else going on here, a story about doing the work, but feeling unready, needing help to try something new.
Let’s step back a minute and think about where we are in the Gospel of Matthew.
Way back in chapter 10, Jesus called the twelve disciples to follow him and work with him. Since then, he’s been going around Galilee, teaching and preaching, healing and helping, and what started out so simply and beautifully has started to cause some problems with the authorities. He’s recently visited his own hometown and been rejected. And now, he has heard that the evil Herod Antipas has killed his cousin John the Baptist as the climax to a sumptuous banquet, at the request of his stepdaughter.
I can picture Jesus, grieving his cousin’s murder, feeling alone, wondering how this was all going to play out. He wanted to be by himself, to think and to pray. It’s what we all long for, when we’re hurting. But even as he climbed into that little boat to feel the gentle waters under the keel, to feel the rock of the waves, to hear the cries of the birds overhead, there was a crowd of people who wanted to hear what he had to say, following him out from the city.
He saw them, and he saw that there were some among them that were in need of healing, so he went back to the shore and got out, and began to heal the sick. His heart was sore, but his desire to help those in need of his healing power was greater.
So this huge crowd of people, five thousand men and perhaps triple that number of women and children, have followed Jesus, looking for his words, his healing power, and now they’re out in a deserted place, a wilderness. No 7-11 or Wendy’s down the street. And it’s getting on towards dinner time – these city folks ate the main meal in the evening, unlike the country folk who had the big meal at lunchtime – and the disciples knew all these people would be thinking about food. So they went to Jesus and said “send them back into the towns so they can get some food.” And Jesus turned around and said to the disciples just the thing they least wanted to hear : “YOU give them something to eat”. And in the Greek, it’s the emphatic form. YOU give them something to eat!
Think about it from the disciples’ point of view. All the way from the gathering of the disciples and their commissioning to follow Jesus in chapter ten, these guys have been following Jesus around. All through miracles, parables, q&a sessions. He gave them their instructions in chapter ten. But here we are in chapter 14, and they haven’t done much of anything, just followed the Lord around and asked some questions when they didn’t understand what he was saying.
Perhaps Jesus was a little tired of them at that moment. Perhaps he thought it was time for them to do something. Perhaps they needed a little kick to get moving. Perhaps they needed a little help to try something new.
So he said “YOU give them something to eat.” Notice he didn’t make them do the whole thing themselves. When they said, “All we’ve got are these pitiful few loaves and fishes,” (can’t you hear the whining in their voices as they say it?) he probably sighed, then said, “Bring them to me.” So he blessed the bread and the fish and gave it to the disciples to distribute.
Here’s the interesting question here: where does the miracle occur? He gives those few loaves and fishes to the disciples to distribute. It is only in their hands that the loaves and the fishes keep coming, keep coming, keep coming, until everyone has had enough to eat. How do we know they’ve had enough? Because there are leftovers. Twelve baskets full, which sounds like a lot until we realize that there were something like twenty thousand people sitting there. Twelve baskets of crumbs doesn’t sound like so much anymore. The Lord has provided enough to satisfy, not much more. And the Lord has used what was available, what the disciples had to offer, to care for the hunger of all those people.
But this question of when the miracle actually occurs is a pertinent one, one that deserves a closer look. On the face of it, we might say it’s the Lord’s blessing that does the deed. But it is when the bread and fish are in the disciples’ hands, that’s when the deed is made manifest. It is the disciples carrying out that order “YOU feed them.”
Perhaps the Lord could have had instructed them to say a blessing over the bread and fish. Certainly later in the disciples’ ministries, they would do exactly this to carry out the work that Jesus commissioned them to do, way back in Chapter Ten. But here, in this deserted place, they simply receive the blessed bread and fish, the peasant meal, no sumptuous banquet, from the hands of Jesus, and distribute them.
Perhaps the real miracle of this moment is not the transformation of the bread and fish into enough to feed the multitudes. Perhaps it is the transformation of the disciples, from those who merely follow after the Lord and ask a few questions, to those who do the work He has asked of them. This moment is a re-commissioning, a call again from Christ to do the work. The move from Chapter Ten to Chapter Fourteen is not just the passage of time, it is the embracing of a fuller understanding of what it means to be his disciple.
But remember Jesus doesn’t simply send them out on their own to do that work. He helps them. He tells them what to do. He models caring in his own actions of healing and bidding the multitudes to sit and be fed. He responds to their doubts by taking the bread and fish and blessing them. It’s a commissioning with the training wheels on. They’re not doing this thing alone; Jesus is guiding them step by step through their active participation in this miraculous act. His words may have generated the miracle, but their participation makes it real.
We sit together and we wonder what Christ has in store for us. Not a one of us hasn’t said at some time, “Lord, I can’t be of use to you. All I have are these meager things, and I don’t know how to do what you ask.” We feel the tug of Christ calling us to do something, and it is inconceivable that he would use us. We may not be facing tens of thousands of hungry people, maybe just some folks at the soup kitchen, or children in a Sunday School class, or parishioners waiting to hear our sermon. The feeling is still the same. We are unequal to the task. We know that as Christians we should be doing something more than just following along and asking a few questions, we should be doing the work of the Body of Christ in the world. But where to begin?
That beginning is Christ. He calls us. We bring him the small gifts we have to offer. He blesses them and hands them back to us, and says, “Use them. I’m right here helping you. The training wheels will stay on as long as you need them. You are not alone.”
The miracle occurs for us, somewhere between Chapter Ten and Chapter Fourteen. We don’t need to know precisely when…we only need to know that moment will occur. It may be with training wheels at first, but it will occur, and we will take our first tentative ride into true discipleship knowing he is right with us all the way.