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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Is Enough Really Enough?

by Tom Pappas

I shopped for our church’s pantry food drive last week. Laurel and I picked up two paper grocery sacks with a list stapled to it.  On some of the items (potato flakes, syrup, bar soap) I included the minimum. On other Items (canned tuna, canned vegetables, soup-not creamed) I bought extra. While I shopped I put pantry goods in the front of the cart and things for our use toward the back. Hopefully for the right reasons (Jesus said to) I felt pleased with helping families suffering hard times.

With the pantry list and our personal list completed I searched for the shortest check-out line. I would pay twice to keep a record.  An ineffable sense of sadness, that I am still having trouble understanding, came over me as I looked at and compared the pantry items with what would stay in my kitchen.

Cans and boxes of really nice food would wait in my trunk to be taken to the chancel Sunday. The trunk would be disaster for what we would keep for ourselves. Among other things, fresh artichokes and asparagus were on the belt to be scanned. Do the poor get to know how awesome these can be? I’m guessing not.

Really nice canned and boxed food is perfect when the cupboard is bare. But I’ve become accustomed to a culinary “abundant life”.  Most of our kitchen waste goes to compost, not landfill or recycling. Since I’m not giving up fresh vegetables until they pry them out of my garden-gloved fingers, I need to ponder how to make God’s gifts available to those whose circumstances make it impossible or hard.

Even with a sore knee I am called to crawl around in my vegetable beds to individually plant leeks and eradicate the yellow wood sorrel (What was God thinking?). Yet I am simultaneously called to share. I need the community of faith to help me with this one. Any ideas? Know that I’m thinking and praying hard on this one.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Prayer as Lent Begins

by Angier Brock

Lent comes around again this week. Seems like it was just here, but no, that was the 2011 version.  This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday 2012, the holy day that marks the start of Lent. The liturgical season of prayer, fasting, penance, reflection, and almsgiving is once more with us.   

Some years I have greeted Lent with open arms, eager to use its various practices to seek a closer connection with God or to deepen my relationship with the Jesus of the Gospels. Other years, I haven’t felt quite so enthusiastic about being penitential, let alone about undertaking a particular spiritual discipline, increasing my charitable giving, or relinquishing a specific habit or luxury for the forty requisite days. This year I confess that I have been more in the latter frame of mind than the former. So what’s a would-be pilgrim to do?

Because I love language, I turn to etymology. My dictionary reminds me that the word “Lent” comes into English by way of the German and Dutch words for spring—“Lenz” and “lente,” respectively—both of which derive from an Indo-European word root (“del-”) that means “long” (in the sense of length). The liturgical season of Lent thereby references the geo-physical lengthening of days here in the northern hemisphere.

Several other words can be traced back to the same root, making them linguistic kissing cousins of Lent. Two of them— “long” (in its other sense of yearning or having a great desire for something) and “linger”—are words I find particularly rich and evocative. I begin to reconsider the forty days of Lent as a time during which I am called to become more fully aware of my deepest longing and to think of Lenten practices as ways of lingering with that longing.

Somehow that simple shift has melted my resistance to embracing Lent this year. As I write this, I have not as yet committed myself to a particular practice, but I feel more open to the possibilities. That alone seems a grace, and one which leads me to this prayer as Lent begins:  That through my longing—and my willingness to linger in this liturgical season—I may move from grace to grace, growing in the love of God and in the habit of letting that love reach through me out into the rest of the world.

No matter what else happens during this time, the forty days of Lent will lead us through the last few weeks of winter and into the first few weeks of spring. No matter how you choose to observe—or not observe—Lent this year, may you too be touched by the grace and generosity of the season. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Taking Laughter Seriously

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

Who do you laugh with easily?  It might be worth spending more time with that person. 
It is middle of winter here in northern New England.  We could all use a little playfulness about now.  That is my very unscientific observation from looking around.  But it turns out that there is some data to back it up.  

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore have shown for the first time that laughter is linked to healthy function of blood vessels.  They assert that laughter appears to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels to expand.  This helps increase blood flow, which has a healthy effect on your arteries and reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease.   Their conclusion?  “We recommend you try to laugh on a regular basis.”  (The Creation Health Breakthrough, by Monica Reed, M.D)

Playfulness is an important part of relationships as well.  One study looked at couples that had been married between 15 and 61 years who said they were happy in their relationship.  Of those interviewed, an overwhelming majority agreed on the importance of play and humor in their relationship. (The Play Solution:  How to Put the Fun and Excitement Back into Your Relationship, by Jeanette C. Lauer and Robert Lauer)

Forced laughter or playfulness usually backfires, at least for me.  If someone tells me that they want to tell me a joke, I usually think, “This is not going to be funny, but I am going to feel pressure to laugh.”  By and large, jokes don’t make me laugh. 

But there are certain people who are gift to me because of the way they evoke my laughter.  And it is worth thinking about ways that my wife and can play together.  

Krister Stendahl was the archbishop of Stockholm for many years.  Before that, he taught at Harvard Divinity School (not a very playful place).  In his 1984 Commencement Address, he said “Joy is closer to God than seriousness.  Why?  Because when I am serious I tend to be self centered, but when I am joyful I tend to forget myself.” 

Back to the original question:  With whom do you laugh easily?  Who helps you play?  Might want to spend more time with them. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Harmony in Winter

by Tom Pappas

My town of Lincoln Nebraska had the fourth biggest snow in a 24 hour period in its history last Friday night and Saturday.  It was a beauty.  While it measured 11.1 inches it had to weigh 11 pounds per inch.  Literally a wet blanket.  Lots of sagging tree branches.  Lots of broken limbs.  Lots of people without electricity.  The city workers did a magnificent job digging us out.

I had just brought my snow blower back from being serviced and I was ready. Thankfully my neighbor did our long driveway with his tractor because frankly, I’m getting old.

Less than a week before this storm a local nursery notified its email list that our dry winter was stressing the evergreens and it was advisable to get out hoses and sprinklers or expect damage to, or possibly loss of these trees. I consider it a royal pain to put away hoses when it’s warm and they’re flexible, but since we have lots of spruce and pines I got out there and watered a whole day.

One of my deep held beliefs is that we live here on this glorious planet because of God’s goodness and grace. It’s a gift and a wonderful puzzle to piece together the clues about how to be in harmony with God’s good creation.

I like it that we can cool and dehumidify our homes in the summer and keep ourselves warm in the winter.  I don’t like it that bedbugs are making an impact on dorm life at our University.  But it all is part of the package which is this puzzle of life.  It’s fun and it’s scary at times.  My neighbors and I live under massive trees that could have collapsed on our homes under the weight of the recent snow.  The same trees I love and enjoy are threats to my safety and economic well-being.  

God continues to be beyond my comprehension. As was explained to Lucy about Aslan. [my paraphrase] “He’s a lion, of course he’s not safe, but he’s good.”

BTW: This site was emailed to me in real time as I was writing this blog:

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Shortest Month

by Terry & Tracy Moore
Given that February is the shortest month of the year; I find there are a number of things to write about. Valentine’s Day is of course the standard, and then this year is leap year which adds an extra day to the month. There is also, at least here in the northeast, Groundhog Day, which is also Candlemas Day and then I came across the reminder that there is also the feast day (or month if you live in Ireland) of St. Brigid.

In doing some research on St. Valentine I found there are actually 14 of them, although only one is credited with having anything to do with the holiday as we know it. Turns out there is really very little information about him, the main point being he was thought to have been martyred by Emperor Claudius III on February 14, 269AD, the same day that had been devoted to love lotteries in the roman Empire. There are legends stating that he was a kind and generous man, helping out the poor and needy and also marrying young Christians, against the orders of the emperor, who had decided that young men going into the military were more willing to do so if they did not have a wife, girlfriend, and children. It was his act of marrying them that caused him to be beheaded.

Groundhog Day has nothing to do with Love, at least that I can find. Leap year is the time when a woman can propose marriage to a man (based on an old Scottish legend). Candlemas is a Christian holiday celebrated by the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Church. On this day, people bring candles to church to have them blessed, either for use at home or as a donation to the church for use during the coming year.

St. Brigid, I believe, has much to do with the kind of Love we refer to as Agape, the Love Jesus shared with all. Her life stands as an example of how to live out the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and to Love your neighbor as yourself.” I recently read an account of a woman on pilgrimage to St. Brigid’s well in Kildare Ireland. She tells of 5 story prayers that were told of how Brigid was: a woman of the land; a peace-maker; a friend of the poor; a woman of the hearth; and a woman of contemplation. She came from a wealthy family and there is a story of how her father gave her a horse to ride and she immediately gave it away to a farmer she met on the road. She is said to have created a cross from some rushes on the floor of a house and one can find them today in stores which carry Irish merchandise. They are meant to hang over your entry door as protection from evil and to prevent fires. We have friend who have one hanging over their front door as a sign of welcome and peace.

May you find time to share your presence with loved ones this month. May you find time for some silence and solitude, as you listen for what God has planned for you as Springtime approaches. May the seeds of Love fill your hearts to overflowing.