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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Prayer After Thinking About Bees

by Angier Brock

My church is considering keeping bees. Several dozen parishioners of all ages gathered last Friday night to watch a movie about bees, and later this week there will be a follow-up meeting where those who are interested will learn more and begin to discern whether some in our parish, either collectively or individually, have a call to beekeeping.  

I am intrigued. I have been hearing for several years about “colony collapse” and the attendant warning that as the bees go, so will go humans. Without bees to pollinate many fruits and vegetables, our food sources will be greatly compromised. The direst warnings predict that our food will be reduced by 30–40%, bad news for a planet with a burgeoning population and other threats to agriculture such as water shortages and climate changes. 

After seeing the movie, I did a quick search of various translations of the Bible, looking first for the word “bee” and then for the word “honey.” The particular concordances I used turned up “bee” in only one place. The word “honey,” however, abounded, appearing fifty-some times. The surprising difference in the frequency with which those two words are used in our scriptures makes me wonder: Are bees yet another creature in our universe whose gifts to us humans we take for granted? 

Certainly I often forget to consider the energy, the labor, or the good will, let alone the cost behind many things I rely upon—or merely enjoy. How easy to assume certain gifts, in this case not only honey and wax but also the pollination of fruits and other plants, without giving much thought to the source, in this case Apis melifera, the bee itself. Except that now that the health of bees is imperiled, with grave implications for our own well-being, we seem to be waking up to yet another sign that we have not been good stewards of this earth. 

As citizens of our planet, twenty-first century human beings still have much to learn about the interdependence of God’s creatures. The bees are but one example. Now that my church has begun looking at the possibility of a beekeeping ministry, we parishioners have much to learn about what might be involved in that specific sphere.  

I do not know where this will lead, but I do know that because of thinking about bees, my prayer this week includes renewed awe at the complexity and interconnections of the world. It also includes my confession that I am often not a very mindful steward of the many resources at my disposal. It embraces the hope that I can yet live in ways that enrich the earth rather than deplete it. And it includes gratitude for all God’s creatures.

Especially the bees. For the sweetness they provide. For their fragrant wax that lets us make candles to light our way. And for their work of bearing life-renewing pollen from blossom to blossom. May I too be such a faithful servant.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


by  Doug Wysockey-Johnson

Daniel Pink has a new business book called Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  The book is well written and the research and examples are fascinating.  That said, the ‘surprising truth’ isn’t all that surprising—it is meaning and purpose that motivate us.  He ends the book with this sentence:  “…we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice—doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.”

Money and acknowledgement are important to a point, but that point is probably less important than we thought. Using our time and energy on the things that matter to us, and making the world a better place—that is what motivates us. It sounds an awful lot like listening for call to me.

This past Sunday I cried my way through the memorial service for my good friend Susan.  Listening to the eulogies, and rummaging through my own memories, a clear picture emerged of Susan.  Here was a woman who was motivated by her own values and her faith.  In her work, relationships, and volunteer activities, Susan’s “drive” was to use her gifts and experiences for the good of others. (She also loved her week at the spa, nice dinners, and a good show on Broadway.  She would cringe at being turned into a saint.)

How about you?  What drives you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Captain and the Ship

by Tom Pappas

I am fixated on Francesco Schettino. If there ever was someone who needed a moment in time back, it is the captain (need I say former captain) of the cruise ship that ran aground off Italy.

What have you read? State of the art, brand new ship. “Fly by” the island of a crew member’s family as a favor. Left the ship before the passengers were safe.  Lied that all the passengers were off.  Lied that he was not even the captain. Refused to go back to supervise evacuation. Horrible, horrible, horrible!

No need to stand in judgment. I observe with a broken heart and ache for the victims and their families. For the passengers. For the crew. For the owner of the vessel who trusted Schettino with a huge piece of equipment.  For the danger to the pristine seacoast. For the industry. Here is a man who will never again use a vast skill; and neither will he be at peace with himself – ever.

I grieve the diminished optimism all of us have suffered this week. Any one of us is capable of a lapse of attention while driving. (The blind spot is always a menace!) I certainly am not immune to the bad decision – or the impulse to show off.  To provide something memorable.  It is easy to look over the arc of my years and see times that the slightest variation could have spelled disaster.

What does God do for a person in this predicament? When I did prison ministry any number of inmates said this sentence or a variation of it, “I know God forgives me for what I did, but I will never be able to forgive myself.” Wow, what a challenge to grace. But I can see their point.

I don’t know the answer to the question in the paragraph above. If you shoot me a Bible verse I would almost automatically find a way to minimize what you think it means. I need to struggle with this one for a while. How about you?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Prayer on the Birthday of an Old Friend

by Angier Brock

Today is the birthday of my best friend from childhood, Elizabeth. She lived just across the street, and my first sleepover away from my family was at her house. Her mother, a children’s librarian, signed me up for my first public library card when I was six. Her family had one of the earliest black-and-white TVs in our neighborhood, and it was in her living room that I encountered the original Mouseketeers—Annette, Jimmie, Karen, Cubby—and watched I Love Lucy before there was any such thing as reruns of I Love Lucy. As teenagers, we told each other our secrets. Together we laughed and cried over boyfriends, and we played Johnny Mathis and Christy Minstrels albums for hours on end. We also swiped—and smoked—the freebie cigarettes her father stashed in a hall closet, cartons and cartons of Marlboros he received as a job “perk” (he was a chemist for Phillip Morris before lung cancer killed him). When she turned sixteen, her family got a second car, a baby blue convertible, in which we tooled around town on weekends. Six months later when I turned sixteen, she threw a surprise birthday party for me. That’s also the year we insisted on sitting together—and apart from our parents—at the midnight Christmas Eve service at the neighborhood Episcopal church.

Even though we attended different colleges, our history of friendship kept us close enough to be bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. But after she and her husband moved several states away and her visits home became less frequent, we began losing touch. I am not sure when I saw her last. Perhaps at her father’s funeral sometime in the 1980s? Her mother developed Alzheimer’s, and I did not learn she had died until weeks after the fact. I felt sad that I had not known, and I wrote Elizabeth and told her so. I never heard anything back. That was fifteen years ago.

Thinking about Elizabeth today, her sixty-fifth birthday, I am filled with gratitude for the many gifts of our friendship, particularly for the ways in which I learned from her what it means to be a friend. But I confess to still carrying a little hurt that she did not let me know about her mother’s death, and I cannot help but wonder if, prior to that, I had done something that hurt her. Probably I will never know—though I have come to understand that friends, even mature friends and even best friends, can inadvertently wound one another. That’s one of the risks of being vulnerable, which we are, I think, with our friends.

This, then, is my prayer. That if there is some way in our past in which I have aggrieved her, that she can forgive me. That if ever she thinks back to our long friendship with fondness and gratitude, that she can rejoice. Most especially I pray that her life continues to be blessed, as mine has been, by the presence of friends: people to whom she can tell her secrets; people she can sit with in church on Christmas Eve; people with whom she can tool around town, even if not in a baby blue convertible, and listen to music, even if it’s no longer Johnny Mathis. 

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Even the Wise Men Asked for Directions

by Alice Ling, Guest Blogger

The Magi were disciplined and focused in ways that I’m often not. They didn’t let one day roll into the next.  They studied their own history and sacred texts in a way that prepared them to recognize a sign of something special when it appeared.  And even though they were clearly fine scholars, they didn’t always have their noses stuck in books.   They paid attention to the world around them, and were motivated to respond by what they saw.

Once they saw the star, they got their feet moving to go and check it out, rather than just sitting and talking about it with the first person to walk through the door. They knew their knowledge was limited.  So they asked directions along the way:  sometimes in the right places, and sometimes in the wrong places, like when they asked Herod which way they should go. Once they reached their destination and had accomplished what they set out to do, even then they remained vigilant, learning they couldn’t stay with the child long and should not go back the way they had come.

What do you think this year might be like for any of us if approached it with that kind of mentality? Not with a half-hearted list of resolutions, but with a keen sense of who we are and where we come from, combined with attentiveness and openness to what’s going on around us.  Add to that readiness to listen to something you can’t quite explain and a willingness to strike off for someplace you’ve never been before, asking directions along the way.

It’s hard to know where we might end up or who we might encounter along the way, but I have no doubt but that God is ready to lead us and guide us to insights and experiences we’ve never even dared imagine.

[Alice Ling is currently the pastor of the Richmond (VT) Congregational church.]