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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Time for Sentimentality

by Tom Pappas

I packed up Nena’s nativity set this morning. Juanita Delbridge was my first wife’s centenarian grandmother who provided her progeny with china, tea sets and every manner of beautifully hand-painted ceramics. I have displayed the nativity faithfully since Fredrena died suddenly in 1999. 

It occurred to me that the line of succession for Fredrena’s things should be to our children directly, with me not slowing it down.  When I mentioned to Christine that I would love to send the set home to Oklahoma with her (where it originated) after this Christmas visit, she was visibly pleased. Here words were, “I’m honored to have this wonderful keepsake.” No mention was made that this was the child who snuck the Big Bird ornament off the tree each year for him to make a guest appearance in the crèche.

Was it symbolic that the larger pieces went into the box first? I tried to make it so in my mind. The camels and magi were at the bottom. Clustered together next were layers of animals, shepherds, angels and the holy family. Does it mean anything significant? To me it says that God is busy visiting this earthy world and blends in with the daily stuff. I know God is the God of all but if there’s a God bias, it’s for the day-to-day. 

 I don’t mind it that the holiday season is a time for tempered and intemperate sentimentality. I hope you had a time to laugh hard with others this season. I hope you had a chance to sing.  I hope you had a chance to wipe tender tears away during a candlelit "Silent Night" or the Muppet Movie. I hope you had a chance to pass on a keepsake, or a needed affirmation, or bit of love.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Prayer at the Dark of the Year

This time of year, I love to “walk the sun down”—that is, to take a walk just as the sun is setting. I love watching the day’s last light swim through bare branches of trees in shades of rose and lavender. Then the sky goes dark and stars become visible. Lights come on in my neighbors’ windows. Something rustles in the shadows of shrubbery—a sparrow settling onto her nest? a rabbit taking cover? Sometimes the dark feels magical. 

Of course, not all darkness is cozy, and particularly during the holiday season, darkness can be a place of loneliness and heartache. Sometimes darkness is not something we can choose to move through quickly. Sometimes it is thrust upon us and we experience it as a period of seemingly endless fear or ferocious pain. Yet even in that kind of darkness, treasures can be found. A brush of kindness. A flutter of hope. A glimmer of light. 

In the deep darkness of this week, as we ponder our own stories either in conversation with others or in solitary reflection, may we each find some treasure, no matter how small or fragile. And may we thus be reminded again that God is with us.  


      The dark, a wonder. The deep. A wonder
      the wait, sitting in silence, watching each breath. 
      Wind, a wonder, winding in and out. And tonight,
      whatever aligned the planets just after sunset.

      All flesh, a wonder. The bitter cramp of wounds.
      The fitful itch of scars where skin pulls tight.
      A habit amended, a wonder. The reach of inner space.
      The drift of time. The marble stance of death.

      Flight, a wonder, the open gates of earth, 
      a childhood friend descending from the stars. 
      A wonder, fire contained in succotash or flaming in a grate. 
      Greens wound into the comfort of a wreath. 

I, a wonder. Whoever God. Whatever shakes 
down snow. A wonder, you. The long night’s 
stories. The dark. The deep. The wait.

Angier Brock © 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Response After the Response

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

When was the last time someone wrote you a $100,000 check at a holiday party?  

A few weeks ago Susan was conflicted about going to a holiday gathering.  Actually she was pretty clear that she didn’t want to go. But there was this inner nudge, this intuition telling her just to show up.  She listened and she prayed.  Then she got dressed and went to the party. 

Backstory:  Susan is a therapist, working with people with eating disorders.  She and a group of others are fundraising to open a new residence house for those struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and other issues.  As a survivor herself, she cares deeply about those in the grip of an eating disorder.  

Long story short, she met a guy at the party whose life had been touched by anorexia.  This guy had a lot of money, and on the spot he wrote her organization a check for $100,000.  

Fun as that story is, this isn’t a blog about eating disorders, fundraising or holiday parties.  What struck me most about Susan’s experience was her willingness to follow her intuition and get past her resistance.  At Lumunos we talk a lot about willing to pause long enough to listen more deeply.  We have to get past the default yes or no. 

Most of us have a quick response to invitations.  The invitation may be to a party, a volunteer opportunity, a potential relationship or anything new.  Sometimes that default response is a yes and sometimes it’s a no, and the reason we have the set response is usually due to a number of factors.  Sometimes the default response is the right one.  But not always.

Around the holidays, there are default yesses and no’s flying all over the place.  “Yes we will buy gifts for the cousins because we always buy gifts for the cousins even though we can’t afford it.”  “Yes we will go to that party even though people drink too much and it is too loud to talk and we would much rather have a quiet evening at home.”  “No, I will not introduce a new tradition into the family even though I have an idea I keep thinking about, because I’m not the kind of person who stirs things up.”

Listening for call means getting beyond the default yes or the default no.  Even if you take just a few moments, it may help you hear a deeper Truth.  As Morton Kelsey writes in The Drama of Christmas, “Sometimes our religious experience needs to displace our conventional human wisdom.  Saints are those who follow their deepest inner promptings, even when they make no worldly sense.” Mary may well have had a default “no” before she pondered the angel’s words in her heart.  We know Joseph had a well deserved “no” on his lips.  The Wise Men had a default route back home until a dream changed their mind.  The Christmas story is a story of people listening deeply, and then having the courage to go beyond the default response. 

What is your default response to something new?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Help from Mary

By Doug Wysockey-Johnson
Here is what is going on this weekend (so far):  Work all day Saturday, Christmas party, greeting at church, teaching Sunday School, ski club meeting, Cub Scouts, getting the Christmas tree, putting up decorations, artists workshop, and three play dates for the kids. This is as of Wednesday. Slowing down to reflect during Advent?  Bah Humbug!

Advent is the perfect time to talk about call.  Because Advent is a lot like life, only more so.  If call has something to do with translating our deepest priorities into the daily calendar, then it is especially important that we listen for call during the holidays.  There is just a lot more going on. 

Ron Farr writes, “God’s call is the basic organizing principle of our lives.  It wells up from our deepest priorities and inspirations, and determines how we manage our time, focus our energies, relate to others, organize our day, and make plans for the future.”  If ever there were a time to focus our energies on the things that matter, Advent would be it. 

I am going to follow Mary’s lead on this one.  I am going to spend a few moments pondering before I say, “Here I am.”  I just want to make sure that each of these commitments is a part of my call today.  Wrestling the kids into the car for church or scouts or school usually doesn’t feel like call at the moment. But if I ponder it for a few seconds, I see the connections.  Parenting is a call, and part of parenting is providing opportunities for my children’s growth.  

There are two things I suspect will happen in the next few days. One is that I will have flashes of frustration, wondering why I am racing all over town, wondering if I am “missing Christmas.” Those moments are not fun.  

But there will also be times of sensing something deeper.  It may happen in a quiet moment at church, or it could happen driving to scouts.  It will be a brief epiphany where I understand that it is into this world, this time, and even into my life that Christ comes again.  Let it be with me according to your word.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Adventures of Acolytes by Tom Pappas

One of my favorite activities at the end of worship is to anticipate the adventures of acolytes. (book to follow) It’s impossible to predict what they will encounter/manufacture as they approach the candles during the last verse of the last hymn, transfer the flame to their candle-lighter, snuff the candle and then process out in front of the pastor.

These are elementary school students, coached by a parent. They are cute as can be in their white robes and clunky tennis shoes. Sometimes siblings serve in pairs and it's clear that for some brothers it makes a difference to finish far ahead of sister. Sometimes an over-eager acolyte will put out both candles and disappear from the chancel leaving the partner high and dry. Sometimes the wick will be pushed out too far and the candle-lighting device will sport a much too big flame. Sometimes the hymn is short and their duties can't possibly be completed before the singing stops. The benediction waits. 

Last Sunday I anticipated a new anecdote for my catalogue of misadventures when I noticed that one of the lectern candles was out for most of the service. What would these kids decide on the fly?  How would they work it out? To my delight they nailed it.

The girls both approached the lit candle, in turn they lit the wicks of their candle-lighter, then the second girl put out the candle and they turned and processed out the middle aisle. It put a smile on my face. Children solving what I hadn’t figured out.

In the afterglow of Thanksgiving I love having additional reasons for gratitude and hope. Forgive me for being weary of our culture of me-firstness.  I’m thankful for Jesus’ devotion to children. Could it be that he taught these girls a Kingdom lesson before adult "values" could interfere. 

God is God - of the big and little. Big and little people – big and little events. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Prayer After Giving Thanks by Angier Brock

Thanks-giving is a political act.

Most American history books—and holiday ads and decorations—link thanks-giving to 1621 Plymouth, Massachusetts, and to pilgrims and Indians. My home state of Virginia, however, claims Virginia as the site of the first thanks-giving, because in December 1619, English settlers sponsored by the London Company landed at Berkeley Hundred with instructions to observe the day of the ship’s arrival “yearly and perpetually as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

On the other hand, a Texan might place the first American thanks-giving either in Palo Duro Canyon in 1541, with the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and Teya Indians as participants, or somewhere along the Rio Grande River in 1597, with Spanish explorer Juan de Onate, Native People of that region, and Franciscan missionaries.

What those thanks-giving celebrations have in common is that they followed weeks or months of hardships. In Texas and Massachusetts, many had died of starvation or thirst. What too often gets ignored is the myriad ways in which Native Peoples of all tribes had given thanks on this land for centuries before any Europeans showed up—and the cost to them of the arrival of the Europeans. We would do well to remember that the names of Plymouth, Berkeley, Palo Duro, and Rio Grande are European names, not indigenous ones. 

Thanksgiving is a political act. 

At the urging of Congress, George Washington declared a national day of thanksgiving in 1789. In the early 1800s, Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire writer and editor, urged the creation of a national Thanksgiving Day. In 1863, in the bleak middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed such a day—though it was not until 1939, under Franklin Roosevelt, that Thanksgiving was set as the fourth (rather than the last) Thursday in November, ostensibly to help retailers by adding a week to the Christmas shopping season.

Thanksgiving is a political act, and any statements about the things for which we give thanks are political statements. I give thanks for my food; I have money to purchase it and transportation to stores that stock fresh fruits and vegetables. I give thanks for my health; I have insurance to help pay for good doctors and the medicines they recommend. I give thanks for the roof over my head; unfair mortgage practices have not cost me my home. 

By some reckonings, the average salary of an American CEO today is as much as 185 greater (or perhaps even 325 times greater) than that of the average worker. I wonder what things will make the thanksgiving lists of those CEOs this year. What about those who have lost homes, or jobs? And what about those in the Occupy Movement? What will they say this year when they give thanks?  I have to admit that they too are on my list. I give thanks for them, for their non-violent witness and for the ways they have spoken truth to power—and money. Thanksgiving is a political act. It is also an economic one.

And so as Thanksgiving approaches, surely it is right to take stock of our blessings, both individually and as a nation, and to offer God our grateful hearts. But here is my prayer: that out of our gratitude will come not only words but also a more equitable sharing of the resources with which God has blessed us—so that thanks-giving can become a more equitable political act. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Call to Coach by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

Coaches are in the news these days for all the wrong reasons.  We are sickened and angry to hear about the coach at Penn State who betrayed the trust of some young boys.  It is easy to feel cynical and even suspicious about coaches these days.

At this time I think it is especially important to hear about a different coach, a coach who is called to coach for all the right reasons.  Joe Erhmann was an All-American at Syracuse and an NFL star for the Baltimore Colts.  Since then he has been a high school football coach and a minister.  Speaking about the crimes at Penn State, this is what one coach had to say to other coaches:

Moral courage is what sustains the basic freedoms and responsibilities of life in community; we belong to each other; we need each other; we affect each other.  What is painfully missing in this horrific story at Penn State is the lack of moral courage displayed by men who spent a lifetime in education, leadership, sports, coaching and working with young people.  Courage can be divided into two types: physical and moral.  Of the two however, physical courage is the more recognized virtue in the world of sports.  Coaches talk about physical courage, encourage it, and hold up examples to the team often in the context of fighting through injuries, rehabilitation, and pain.  There is far too little emphasis, teaching, modeling, nurturing and developing of moral courage.
                                                                        Blog, Nov. 14, 2011

Joe Erhmann coached high school football for years. He wanted to win, and his teams did win quite often.  But the mission was much larger.  He wanted to help his boys become men. Here is how he defines masculinity:

Masculinity, first and foremost, ought to be defined in terms of relationships.  It ought to be taught in term of the capacity to love and to be loved.  At the end of your life, it is going to come down to this:  What kind of father were you?  What kind of husband were you?  What kind of coach or teammate were you?  What kind of son were you” What kind of friend were you?

And I think the second criterion—the only other criterion for masculinity—is that all of us ought to have some kind of cause, some kind of purpose in our lives that’s bigger than our own individual hopes, dreams, wants, and desires.  At the end of our life, we ought to be able to look back over it from our deathbed and know that somehow the world was a better place because we lived, we loved, we were other-centered, other -focused.
                                                Seasons of Life by Jeffrey Marx

Even in this discouraging time, I am thankful for coaches.  I am grateful for the people in my life that took the time to be my coach.  I am grateful for the coaches that today take the time to lead my son and daughter.

And I am grateful for people like Joe Erhmann for whom coaching is a call with a larger mission than to win games.

Who was your favorite coach?  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Heart & Soul of Knitting by Andi Johnson

Knitting is an art, a craft.  You need some mathematical ability.  You need to have some dexterity.  You need to have good eyesight.  And, if you don’t knit, please consider this some life lesson, substitute the word “crochet”, “weaving”, “woodworking”, or whatever other craft you do.

Last spring, I was given an opportunity to purchase a book in honor of Administrative Assistant’s Day from a certain publisher.  I chose a book I’d been drawn to called, The Knitting Way, by Linda Skolnik & Janice MacDaniels (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2005).  When I received the book, I allowed it to take me on its journey through the patterns. 

“Knitting keeps me sane.”  As one who is ADD, I bring my knitting everywhere.  It helps me focus and concentrate on the speakers and conversations.  And, I suppose I knit for sanity, for stress-relief.  Can you be upset when you knit, while you knit?  Stressed out about events happening around you?  Think about that.  How connected do you feel when you knit?   With your past, connecting to your present, connecting to your future.  When you are thinking the stitches involved in an intricate pattern, turning a heel, or purling & knitting when you should be knitting and purling, how can you be stressed?

The spiral is on the cover of the book.  I’m drawn to spirals, eternity, the circular pattern of the spiral.  I had to knit the spiral.  The book explains, 
“This spiral is a reminder that we are on a journey.  As your hands work this pattern, reflect upon where you are along the journey and be content with your progress.”

After many years’ hiatus, I picked up the needles when I became a caseworker.  I brought my knitting into peoples’ homes while I sat and talked with them.  If I happened to finish a hat while there, I’d hand it over to the mom, saying, “You need to take better care of yourself, and this is a start.”  

A few years later, one of the women in our church began a Shawl Group.  It began as a spiritual group, beginning in silence and meditation, with a reading, and just knitting for a while.  The shawls would be given to parishioners who had lost someone, who needed just that bit of comfort in their lives during a tough time.  And, so we continue with our shawls.  Not in silence, and not always together after the service, sometimes in our homes, out in public, and usually in church.  I feel the connections we make in church through our knitting, whether we knit in a group, or in our homes, make us stronger, build a better community, sharing skills, patterns and yarns.  We recognize the need for someone to take care of themselves with the finished project as we pass it on.  In that way, we connect our spirituality in the work we do.

The colors and textures can be luscious.  I’m reminded of sunrises, sunsets, mountains, rocks, flower gardens, oceans…I love perusing yarn shops.  When I pick up a skein of yarn, I am awed that I can turn this beautiful yarn into something wearable, something usable, and something beautiful.  My heart flutters a little.

When I mentioned to someone about writing about knitting, they said to be sure to tell you that mistakes are okay.  We learn from them.  They can be corrected, but they don’t always need to be corrected.  They can make our finished pieces interesting and creative.  And, isn’t that the way life is.  Is there anyone here who does not make mistakes?

When you knit, you pick up from the last stitch you knit, connecting the yarn, row to row.  And, on and on it goes.  You connect the loops.  Stories are told, occasions are celebrated and recognized.  You are carrying on a tradition that is hundreds of years old.  It is a craft passed down from generation to generation, within families, among friends.  Connections: yarns to yarns.  Connections: women to women, and, even between the sexes.  Connections: community.

How is it you connect your heart and soul to your community? 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Enough by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

Wayne Muller has written a book with the intriguing title  “a life of being, having and doing enough.” I’m suspicious of the grammar, and he doesn’t even capitalize the first letters in the title. (But readers of this blog will already know that he who is without sin casts the first stone, and I sin boldly when it comes to grammar.)  Rather, it is the word “enough” in the title that has caught my attention.

I think Muller has found one of those words that has layers and layers of meaning around it.  It is a word that raises questions about my life, both practical and spiritual.

·         Am I working hard enough in my job?
·         Do I have enough money?
·         Am I doing enough for the needs of the world? 
·         Am I praying enough?
·         Am I spending enough time playing with my kids?

Muller writes:
First, how do we know we have secured enough food, shelter, sanctuary, health and security for ourselves and our loved ones?  And second, as members of our global human family saturated with unnecessary suffering and death, what is enough for us to do, to give to contribute?  As we listen together to these challenges, I expect we will discover that these two basic human needs—to have enough and to do enough—live within us as two chambers of a single beating heart

When Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he seems to be pointing to this same question:  How do we balance care of ourselves with the needs of the world?  How much is enough in either of these areas?

Without offering any easy answers, Muller raises up the importance of our choices.  Specifically, he speaks of “the next right thing.”  He says,

Every single choice we make, no matter how small, is the ground where who we are meets what is in the world.  And the fruits of that essential relationship—the intimate, fertile conversation between our own heart’s wisdom and the way the world has emerged before us—becomes a lifelong practice of deep and sacred listening for the next right thing we are required to do.”

Sometimes the needs of the world and within me feel overwhelming.   Shortening the scope by focusing on the next right thing might well be enough. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What About Bob by Tom Pappas

My friend from church, Bob, had his name in the obituaries this morning. Part of the newspaper information made me wonder if there was another person with his not very common name.  The age was right. Seatbelt worn, no alcohol involved - seemed right. But he lives in Lincoln, not the nearby village mentioned in the article. Maybe he moved.  Services at the cemetery, not the church; I wondered about that. The church secretary indicated that it wasn’t “our Bob”.

There is a bit of guilt in being happy for my friend knowing that some other family of his namesake has lost a son, father, brother.  I am relieved, nonetheless. 

I am taken back twelve years when my marriage of 30 years was abruptly ended by an entirely unexpected seizure in the night. My world changed forever in an instant. In the ensuing days, I became acutely aware of one of life’s qualities. God gives us this wonderful, fragile gift and we don’t really own it.

In pondering that reality, I found it appropriate to make a promise to myself to eradicate a certain phrase from my experience. Too many times I would finish an experience or a conversation and wonder to myself, “Why didn’t I  .   .  .?”  It seems as if I were being unnecessarily cautious with what I said and did as well as giving too much weight to my imagined opinions of others.

I don’t for a minute believe God would cause Bob to die so I would get back in touch with this personal pledge. (I have been generally happy with my ability to keep it!) But I do think it’s fair and the right way to honor the life of another to use a sad event to live truly for God.

“Our Bob’s” Facebook page didn’t mention his name being listed in the obits until I wrote on his wall. I wonder how his life or view of life will change because of it?  What moves you to change your perspective?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Prayer After Liberating a Tree by Angier Brock

The tree, a common hackberry, stands across the street from my house on a small but steep embankment. Even the one relatively flat approach to it presented challenges: the tangled ground cover was a tripping hazard and it hid the entrance to a groundhog burrow, itself an ankle-twisting hazard. Moreover, the ivy vines climbing the trunk had grown way too large for pruning shears. To cut through them required the use of a pruning saw. What all this meant for my aging and sometimes arthritic joints was that the job was strenuous work. But it was also straightforward work. The point was to rescue the tree from the ivy that threatened to strangle it, and rescue it I did, in about thirty minutes.

I have to admit that I enjoyed thinking of myself as a liberator, even of a tree, even if briefly. And no wonder. Our planet earth is in dire need of being freed from famine, over-population, pollution, poverty, and a host of other things so numerous it is hard to list them all, let alone know where to begin tackling them in order to make a difference. So too in my own life there is much from which I could use a little liberation. You know the kinds of all-too human afflictions I mean. Greed, prejudice, self-righteousness, self-absorption, depression, loneliness, fear, and rage are but a few. What if a good saw and thirty minutes of vigorous work would free us and our world from the “vines” that threaten to strangle us physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually?

Alas, it is not that simple. Or perhaps it is. My experience with the hackberry tree reminds me that while I cannot do everything—I cannot rescue all of the trees in the world, or even in my own neighborhood—I can do something. It also reminds me that while pruning shears and handsaws are not appropriate for every task, there are nevertheless tools I can pick up and use day after day. Reflection is one, time spent in intentional silence. Another is service. A third is reading: whether it be poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, sacred or secular, the point is to spend time with words that foster in me a more discerning heart, a greater generosity, and, above all, the courage to try again.

What about you? What tools of liberation are at your disposal? When and how do you use them?

The ivy around that hackberry tree will probably grow back. Sooner or later it will need pruning again, though if I am vigilant, the task next time may not be nearly so onerous. In the meantime, other vines will threaten other trees, and weeds will creep into the garden. My prayer is not so much to take care of any of them once and for all. It is rather to be able to keep close at hand the tools that can help me be an instrument of liberation. And to remember to use those tools over and over and over. . . .   

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Borders of the Seasons by Terry & Tracy Moore

I wonder what life would be life if we didn't try so hard to live within rigid borders.  As I sit at our dining room table and watch the color-filled, cascading leaves raining down, I become aware of how the change of seasons flow one into another.  It’s not like there is a line of demarcation between them, one day it’s spring than the next summer, then one day it’s summer and the next fall.  And then one day its fall and the next winter and then the seamless cycle begins again as winter flows into spring.  We as humans seem to perceive borders between things as necessary and real.  We create or try to anyway, borders around us to keep us safe and protected, when what they actually often do is only keep us separate one from another and from the rest of God’s glorious and magnificent Creation.  We are created to be relational with our Creator, with each other and with all manner of created things. 

It feels funny to me, now, to think of how we even now ‘border’ things within manmade time frames, instead of within the flowing cycles of the moon, as our ancestors did.  Like the seasons listed above, someone decided that there are 4 specific dates on the calendar when one season changes into another, like the recent September 21st, which here in Michigan is often celebrated by organizations with an “end of summer” festival.  There is a much older way to honor this change – they are called the spring and fall equinox and the summer and winter solstices and they do not fall on the same calendar date each year, rather they are based on the movement of the moon through her cycles.

I do understand why we feel the need to create borders, whether borders of time, that allow our days to have some structure, or borders between locations, like countries, so that we feel our place and space belong to us alone.  Seems to me that our ideal places, like the Garden of Eden and Heaven, are places without any borders. 

One of our favorite poems is called Footprints and it depicts a scene along the seashore where there are footprints left in the sand.  Sometimes there are two sets and sometimes there is only one and the author asks God why and God replies that when we see only one, it is because God is carrying us.  As I picture this scene now, I am aware of the ever changing line between the seashore and the water.  This border changes on a regular basis as the tide ebbs and flows and so, the footprints are impermanent, being washed away each time the tide comes in.  If we are to remember that God is always with us, we need to have faith that even though we may not see any footprints at all, our Creator is with us, sometimes walking alongside us, sometimes carrying us, always within us, where there are no borders created by our physical form to keep us separate.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spiritual Amnesia by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

This morning I came down with a case of spiritual amnesia.  Spiritual amnesia is that illness where you forget the things that have connected you with God.  (Don’t try to claim it on an insurance form, because I just made it up.)

I raced into the office this morning, running late.  There was the stop at school to bring the forgotten gym shoes, then the bank, then the dry cleaners. I had lots on my plate, so there would not be time for my usual practice of beginning my day with journaling, scripture, and prayer.  This is spiritual amnesia.

I forgot that gratitude matters.  I forgot that, even on a busy day, prayer helps.  I forgot that especially on a busy day, prayer helps.  I forgot that writing in a current journal or reflecting on an old one often brings helpful perspective for the day.  I forgot that bringing my life to God is what sustains me over the long haul.  I had spiritual amnesia. 

The great thing about spiritual amnesia is that God never forgets.  So when I did sit down to pray, the gifts of that spiritual practice were there once again.

Now if I could only remember where I left my car keys….

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In Praise of Apples by Andi Johnson

"What a healthy out-of-door appetite it takes to relish the apple of life, the apple of the world, then!"  ~ Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples

[Warning: This blog may be hazardous to your diet.]

Here in the northeast, it’s apple pickin’ time.  It probably is where you live, too.  And, most of us know a place to pick the “best” apples.  I know several.  It’s a true community and family event at these places.  You get your basket, go into the rows of trees, and pick those ripe, juicy apples from the trees.  You strike up a conversation with the person at the next tree over, making a connection with that person.  (If you’re lucky, these places also sell the cider, and perhaps cider donuts.  If you haven’t had a fresh, warm cider donut, you’ll have to find one.) 

Eating one of apples on your way home, and thinking about whether you have the ingredients to make a crust, and eat the pie. (Don’t forget the butter…and the vanilla ice cream or sharp cheddar), your mind wanders through your years: watching your mom or grandmother make that perfect apple pie.  The making of the crust: rolling it out, and placing it in the dish.  Peeling & cutting the apples.  Adding the spices, a little sugar, and placing it all into the bottom crust.  Carefully rolling out the top crust, and crimping the edges.  You bake it in the oven, and making the house smell scrumptious. 

Of course, Pillsbury makes it easier, and we all must have apple corer-slicer-peelers for just such occasions.  I could even pick up the local apples at the grocery store. 

But, for a change, I think I’ll make my pie the way my mom and grandma did: to honor the past, to think about the connections of the generations before me.  Stopping for the food rituals, going through the old recipes, often help me think of those who have gone before me. 

Time to go apple pickin’.

How are you called to make connections with your ancestors?

P.S. Don’t forget to put on the coffee or tea, and invite a friend over to share in your creation.  And, it’s okay to have apple pie for breakfast.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Went to Snack, Got Inspired by Tom Pappas

“I never pay attention to the weather; it is what it is. But the last two days I have been checking every 20 minutes.” This is what the engaging young man said.

Last Friday we were standing in his beautiful back yard at a fundraising event for the program his wife started for our community.  Dozens (maybe hundreds) of people were invited, wonderful food was prepared, the street was blocked by the city, yard games were set up for the kids and adults alike. We had been enjoying glorious fall weather, and the date for this outdoor party was set, expecting more of the same. It rained the day before and a little in the night. I’d be checking the internet too.

Weather-wise, it was a pretty gloomy afternoon. We persevered. Under a gray sky we nibbled and chatted and at 5:45 the jazz combo quit playing and the founder of “Teach a Kid to Fish” spoke to the assembled guests.  She talked about quitting her pediatric practice and saying goodbye to patients and work she loved, to try to do something about childhood obesity in our community.

Sounded like a call story to me!  What would the voice have to say for me (or you) to trade a dream, a life course, the comfortable, for something that would have to be imagined and created out of nothing?

The chair of her board spoke next. He talked about his encounters with people who loved to fish and take kids fishing. We all laughed. Having an evocative name (see Lumunos) gets you into some fairly interesting and sometimes unpredictable conversations.  The board of Faith@Work was advised that this beloved name created problems for future growth.  People thought they knew what it meant. Staff and others had to un-explain the organization before they could define it properly.

Teach a Kid to Fish? What were they thinking? Yet how many of the important – truly important – elements in life are not so very easily explained?  They ride in on the backs of allusions and metaphors.

The Lumunos way is to tell your own story, not someone else’s. I break this rule consciously because I am quite inspired by all of this. How about you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Prayer at the Change of Seasons by Angier Brock

I recently received, through email, a political “joke,” a cartoonish thing that the sender must seen as  having sufficient merit to warrant sharing it with four people, of whom I was probably the only one who found it offensive, bordering on violent. 

I keep thinking that she sent it to me in error, but there it was in my mailbox. I could have guessed her political persuasion, but I wish I had not glimpsed the bitterness and hostility behind it. I wanted to respond, but I deleted it instead.

Here’s the complication. The sender and I used to be connected to one another through our children. We had a cordial relationship, and over a ten-year period, we were often in one another’s homes. But ever since the divorce of our children, which I know broke both our hearts, we have been simply and quietly out of touch—though our paths will cross again, for we have two young grandchildren in common. Of course we each want the best for their future, even though, politically speaking, we differ in how we think that might be accomplished.

The thing is, receiving that email from her was an up-close-and-way-too-personal reminder of the deep divisions that afflict not only the two of us and our particular families but also those in culture beyond. Meanwhile, I know that while she and I differ in many respects and do not share all of the same values, we do share some. And then there’s the matter of our grandchildren.

This week, riding through the heavens on our fragile planet, all earthlings will undergo a change of seasons. Those who live south of the equator will move from winter into spring while those of us in the northern hemisphere will move from summer into fall. I, for one, am ready. We’ve had a long, hot summer in my Virginia neck of the woods. More than that, though, I take comfort in remembering how light continually changes for all people and all cultures as we travel around the sun, for reflecting on that changing light gives me a sense of the wholeness of creation— and reminds me that creation’s goodness is greater than our tribal divisions.

Thus reminded, perhaps in the first few days of fall, while day and night are still fairly evenly balanced, I will respond to that email. I would like to tell the sender that, as regards our differences, my heart is heavy. I would also like to say that I wish her and her family well. We share a common humanity, and we share a common brokenness.

And not only to her but to everyone I  would like to say that I wish we could find opportunities and language to talk over our differences, to work with both reason and compassion toward solving the complex problems our world faces, and to be kind and respectful to one another as we figure it out. In fact, that is my prayer at this change of seasons. From all extremes of both hot and cold, dear God, deliver us.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Where Do You Pray?

Ian is building a chapel.  In his back yard.  In many ways it is a typical back yard, with kids toys, patio furniture and dog poop in the grass. But he has made space for a stone chapel too.  Ian is a busy guy, with a complex job and two young children. But piece-by-piece, he is putting together this space that he will use for prayer, reflection and writing.

I don’t see myself building a stone chapel in my backyard, and I doubt you do either. But what might you or I do to help our prayer life?  Where could we go or what could we change to deepen our life of prayer? 

Sometimes intention makes all the difference.

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11 - What Would Peace Look Like? by Terry & Tracy Moore

I recently read a piece describing what constitutes a person being an American.  Given that Terry and I have referred to ourselves as a Heinz 57 kind of mutt, it was affirming to read that the author expanded on this description for any of us called American citizens.  He wrote that we come from anywhere and everywhere throughout the world.  We come in all shapes and sizes and colors.  We cover the gamut of faith traditions and have made up some of our own.  We are conservatives and liberals and everyplace in-between.  In the past we have reached out to help about every other country in the world and we have accepted and even welcomed their tired, their poor, and their misfits.  Then the events of “911” happened and it seems strange that the three numbers, we have used for years, to call for help in an emergency, are the same numbers  now frequently used to describe the worst direct attack the continental United States has ever experienced. 

So what if we look at the events of September 11, 2001 (911) as an emergency call.  Not the kind of call that brought forth an entity called Homeland Security and spurred ongoing wars, with no end in sight.  What if instead of becoming like the enemy we are seeking to destroy, we offer another way. What if instead we looked at the perpetrators as the enemies Jesus taught us to love? What if we looked for ways to be Christ like, to truly follow Jesus’ teaching, to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds and our neighbors (and our enemies) as ourselves?  In the many versions of the Bible we have, we have never found Jesus to add the words, “Except for…”

Peace has never been bought with the price of war.  Yes, our country came about because our ancestors fought for our freedom.  So we often equate freedom with peace, although they are not necessarily one and the same.  From the very beginnings of the United States we have experienced many fights to protect our freedoms, as if we have a right to this gift of freedom which apparently many of us, as Americans, have believed God bestowed on us alone.  Even in times referred to as peaceful, there have been internal strifes and external wars. 

So, what would Peace actually look and feel like?  The first step would be to find Peace within ourselves.  This Peace comes when we begin to truly follow what Jesus’ taught and not just worship Him on Sunday mornings.  As does the Peace which comes when we mindfully love and care for ourselves and our neighbors, where ‘ere they may live, and also for all creatures and the environment.  By so doing, we are showing our love for the Lord our God and offering thanksgiving for all the blessings we share.  "Share" seems such a simple word.  It’s one we say to our children as they grow older and go through the stage of “mine-I-ness”.  Unfortunately, many of us never grow beyond this stage and as adults wielding power and authority, we still shout out: “It’s mine. Let go”. 

As the 10th anniversary of the attacks perpetrated on September 11, 2001 approach, what will you remember?  What will you choose to honor and memorialize?  Terry and I are praying for all those, here and the world over, whose personal lives were irrevocably changed. We remember those who gave their lives in the attempt to rescue their friends and neighbors and give thanks for their courage.  We remember those, who in the aftermath, sought for a peaceful resolution and for those who still do.  And we pray that in the face of any attack we may personally encounter, we will stand as strong as the Amish-Mennonite communities and their belief that Jesus teaches an alternative way.


Terry and Tracy

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sign Still Up by Tom Pappas

I consider it a gift from God given to me by a remarkable colleague many years ago. We were high school counselors together and because the offices were being remodeled, our desks were pushed together and we faced each other in a normal sized classroom. There were several other counselors also in the room. Not a model for security and privacy, huh?

The topic might have been politics, or more likely (is the principal listening) best educational practices, when I complained to Jerry that, “I hate it when I have my opinion settled and I come across new information; then I start questioning my position. I don’t like being wishy-washy.”  Here’s the gift, which I have enjoyed incalculable times since.  He said, “I don’t think of that as wishy-washy, I call that open minded.”

The yard sign on our property says to the drivers on South Street, “STOP THE XL PIPELINE”.  I put it out there because the vocabulary of oil delivery includes the words rupture, spill and leak. As a Nebraskan I was offended that the route through our state crosses the corner of one of America’s unseen treasures.  The Ogallala aquifer is a vast resource for water, in fact, the largest in the world. It was clear to me that the risk of a possible spill is not worth it. But then I got wishy-washy when I saw a document that showed the routes of dozens of pipelines already crossing the aquifer. Sign still up.

A protest at the White House ends this week regarding the XL pipeline. Nebraskans are participating but the leadership for the action comes from others who reject the environmental impact of extracting oil from tar sands and the commitment to fossil fuel energy this huge project represents. I still don’t like a Canadian company blithely deciding the endanger water our state needs, but I am bolstered by the ammunition of better arguments than what I started with. Sign still up.

Local news this weekend showed a scientist explaining that an aquifer is not a cavernous underground lake but water filled layers of rock and sand. An oil spill would not spread uniformly but would stair step down and away from the middle of the aquifer. God’s gift through Jerry is making it trickier for me to stand where I stood when I first encountered the XL pipeline. Sign still up - mind still open. Thanks, Jerry.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A World of Need by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

This is one of those weeks when there are a lot of people who need help. It follows then that this is one of those weeks when there are a lot of people who want to help but aren’t sure how, or when, or if they can. 

Here in Vermont where I live this is certainly true. I spent yesterday carrying buckets of water and mud out of a friend’s basement. But this equation of people needing help and others wondering about if and how to help is also playing out in Chicago and Atlanta and Seattle and Des Moines.  Bad things happen every day and everywhere.  When do we drop our schedule and go?  When do we trust that it is right not to go?

There are times when a need presents itself, and we just act.  Because of who is involved or the urgency the matter, it is a no brainer.  Most of the time though, taking a moment to pause, to pray, to reflect, can help us discern whether or not we should go.  

I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by this, but prayer made a difference for me this week.  I was stuck, trying to figure out how to juggle helping neighbors with work and childcare obligations.  After spending some time praying, the way just seemed to open.  An email came from a friend stating what they needed and when.  A neighbor and I figured out how to share childcare.  Loaves get multiplied, time extends, and things just work out.

Following call (which this was) always involves a cost.  So we were woefully unprepared for our arriving guests last night, and the email box is a doing some flooding of its own.  It is a part of the deal.

Another day the leading might lead to a “no.”  I don’t believe that all of us are called to attend to all needs all the time.  I do believe that in the face of need, each of us in our own way can ask the question:  God, do you want me there?  If so, will you make a way?