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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Prayer After Earth Day

by Angier Brock

When a black garden center-style pot shows up alongside the fence that runs between Edith’s yard and mine, I know something good has arrived. By dropping the pot over the fence, Edith has delivered seedlings, bulbs, or a shoot or two of something she has rooted or thinned out.  She is forever puttering in her garden, and my yard is often the beneficiary of her labor. Sometimes—though not as often, for she is the far better gardener who already has most of the plants I have— pots also travel in the other direction over the fence, bearing offerings from my yard to Edith’s.   
            The same thing happens during vegetable-growing season. One of us will hang a grocery bag over the fence for the other to find. Lettuces, herbs, cucumbers, beans, squash, turnips, potatoes—whatever one of us has that the other doesn't—travel across the fence. Sometimes the pots of plants or bags of vegetables follow a conversation that transpired when we were out working at the same time. Other times they just appear.
            Last Sunday was Earth Day. The day before, when I was out planting some ornamental ginger Edith had dropped over the fence, it occurred to me that this sharing of the fruits of one’s labor is in itself an observance of Earth Day. I had an image of one neighbor passing produce from her garden along to another, and of that person sharing his harvest with someone down the street, and that neighbor giving something else to yet another, so that a vast network developed, neighborhood by neighborhood, and spread itself all around the globe. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if large-scale sharing were that easy!
            Alas, it is not, for many complex reasons. However, sharing beyond our immediate block is made possible by churches that encourage its members to bring their extra garden produce with them on Sunday mornings. Parishioners without gardens can then take what they wish, leaving a free-will offering in return. The money thus collected can then go to a local food bank, expanding the network created by the initial gardeners in ways that include strangers as well as friends.
            And what we share doesn’t always come from fruits and vegetables we ourselves plant and tend. Sometimes what we share comes in the form of store-bought canned goods that others planted, picked, and processed before we purchased and donated it to a food closets. Sometimes it comes in the form of cash or checks we give community pantries. Sometimes it comes in the choices we make about how we use the earth’s resources. Sometimes it comes in the form of budgets our representatives—local officials and state and national legislators—set on our behalf, budgets which share (or not) the pooled resources of our political districts, our states, our nation. 
In this week following Earth Day, it seems good to think about sharing food as a way to honor the earth itself. This week, I will hang a bag of parsley, dill, and mint over the fence for Edith. I will take wildflower seeds to church for planting as food for two colonies of honey bees, newly in residence there. I will also contact one or two legislators about the sharing I would like to see in the budgets they oversee. I will write a check to the local food bank.
As I do these things, may I remember with deep gratitude all the refreshments of food and beauty that spring from the earth. May I remember the work of both friends and strangers whose labors sustain me on my journey.
And may our sharing increase.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I. Connecting Love & Work

by Mary Catherine Bateson

The term “vocation” is used ambiguously both for “call,” in religious contexts, and for work, in the sense of employment or career.  Since I have been focusing for several years on the issue of “work in retirement,” I have had to think about the assumption, common in our culture, that work is something onerous and burdensome, from which one should be happy to be released in old age.  For it is clear that while this is true for some, for many people work is an essential part of what makes life worth living, and central to their identity.   In the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, the notion of work carries a negative connotation, going back to the story of the Fall, when Adam is cursed with the need to make a living from the earth by the sweat of his brow and Eve is cursed with the pains of childbirth (which have come to be called labor, thus tightening the association). 
By way of contrast, it is interesting to notice that when Sigmund Freud was asked what constituted a good life, he is said to have answered, lieben und arbeiten, love and work, and I believe that both love and work remain essential well into old age, although they may be disconnected from the biology of conception or the economics of production and distribution.  What seems to be critical is the distinction between “meaningful work” and alienated labor.  Christians have varied in their attitudes toward conditions of work, but although they have on the whole argued that the conditions of work should be just, a great deal remains to be done to make work “meaningful.”  Beginning in the 19th century, for example, there has been an emphasis on the importance of justice in dealing with labor in Catholic encyclicals, but “meaningfulness” is not seen as an aspect of justice.  Probably the most useful thinking in this area has been done by employers faced by the need to retain workers with particular skills or to evoke creative thinking.  Interviews with people approaching retirement suggest that most intend to continue work of some kind and often express the necessity to continue earning to support themselves or their families, which is one dimension of meaningfulness, but want increased flexibility and autonomy.  Many who anticipate working as volunteers, however, emphasize that they will do so only if their tasks are intrinsically meaningful.
We now face a situation in our society where there is a shortage of jobs, in spite of the fact that virtually all needs are now addressed with money paid for work, and indeed work is routinely translated into everything from food to shelter to education to the expression of love.  A famous poem by Robert Frost (“Two Tramps in Mud Time”) ends with the desire to abolish the gap between work done for love of the work and work done for pay, as Frost wishes he could “make my vocation my avocation,” something done “for heaven and the future’s sake.”
When most people have no choice of whether to work or not, and must often settle for what they can find, where does call come in?  In several ways.  Many people make a distinction between the work they feel called to do and the job that earns their living – often described as  their “day job.”  Others notice that having followed a vocation as, for instance, healers or teachers or clergy, it is often the case that “their job doesn’t let them do their work,” for instance by requiring them to spend time in committee meetings or filling out insurance forms or raising funds for a new roof.  But a deeper examination of the meaning of work might reveal two issues that are rarely included in discussion.   First, we need to study what people have in mind when they speak of “meaningfulness” – for instance the difference between standing in a production line repeating the same motion again and again and having some greater sense of share in the completed product and how it fits into lives.  We might hope that over time such factors would be included among the goals of the labor movement.  But second, we need to study the ways in which someone who has taken a job for the wage it offers can discover a calling in that job, like the nurse’s aide who starts out seeing herself in a menial role in the hospital and becomes increasingly identified with the care she is giving to individual patients, the elevator operator for whom recognition and greetings give meaning to the day and to his passengers, or the barber or barista who becomes a coach and counselor.

"Two Tramps in Mud Time" by Robert Frost

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


By Tom Pappas

The bridge on our street, which crosses Antelope Creek, has been closed for several months because it is being replaced. Yes – months!  They’re saying June for completion. It’s the bridge we must cross to go to church. 

Laurel and I have walked the several blocks to the site just to inspect the progress. We go during work hours and sometimes after hours. It’s fun to guess the next steps and reasons for what’s going on.  We are observant of the precautions taken to respect nature as the work is done.  We are also attentive to the details of our neighborhood.

Our early spring (it’s mostly over) activated the flowering trees magnificently. The Bradford Pears, Redbuds and Flowering Crabapples were stunning. 

The family two doors down have a huge property with a privacy fence along the front that stretches most of a city block.  On the inside a good-sized redbud grows with a few of its limbs reaching over and out toward the sidewalk. Somehow a sizeable branch was broken and dangling – it likely happened during that heavy February snowstorm that snapped many branches all over town. 

God’s creation and energy is in each of us to do what we were intended to do.  I know enough about plants to know their purpose – the reason we have flowers – is to reproduce.  The broken redbud branch, when it was time to flower, out-flowered the rest of the tree.  Literally, when a plant has one root in the grave it goes to extraordinary lengths to reproduce.  That’s why not watering forces blooms.

That gorgeous branch dangling by the thinnest strap of bark, even in death fulfilled its purpose.

Nature is so awesome.  Sometimes the creative mind of God boggles my mind when I think about the wonder and complexity of this natural world we inhabit. I am thankful for the reminders of nature, and the choices I can make to work out my call on a day-to-day basis and not as the last task of my life on this planet.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Blessed & Joyous Easter Season

By Tracy & Terry Moore

We are in the midst of an unexpected Grand Adventure.  We will be leaving within the next few weeks to a new place – Grande Prairie Alberta Canada.  Terry has received and accepted a job offer there.  We traveled there a few weeks ago to confirm that this invitation to stretch and grow was valid and came home knowing God has put into motion all the pieces necessary for us to do this.  Although Terry has been talking about changing jobs and possibly even moving to another state, moving over 2,200 hundred miles away to a different country was not in our thought processes.  And yet, everything continues to fall into place and sometimes to fall away, like our feelings of trepidation as we journey forth into the unknown.

As we journeyed through this Holy Week, toward what we know is coming, Easter and all its glorious and wonderful messages, we feel that we too are moving toward a New Dawn, a New Day, a New Way of Being.  And given our understanding of our human condition, we expect there will still be moments when we will be reminded of this journey through Holy Week and will revisit similar events.

We know there are “Last Supper” kind of meals ahead of us.  We know there are those who cannot yet fully embrace this choice we have made and we must honor their feelings.  We know there will be moments of laughter and tears, joy and grief, love and fear.  And amidst it all, we know God has invited us on this journey and will be our constant companion, where ‘ere we go and however we feel.

Easter and Spring, how appropriate they go together.  Seeds, planted long ago and often forgotten, are called forth to bloom and grow. What was thought dead is alive in a new way. 

Came across the following definition of love and find it certainly fits how we feel:
            Love: the essence of contentment and the foundation of serenity.  Love is the activation of our spirits reaching out to make connections.
            Love overcomes grief.  Love harbors no ill will.  Love heals all separation.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Prayer for Listening as God Calls My Name

by Angier Brock

My dog Joey and I have been going to dog training classes. The other day, our instructor gave us a homework assignment: to pair saying our dog’s name with offering something good. We were to say our dog’s name and immediately produce a toy or a small special treat or the leash for a walk. (As a corollary, she urged us NOT to use our dogs’ names to call them for “icky stuff” like a nail clipping or a bath—and certainly not for scolding.) The purpose: So that when we call our dogs by name, they will respond in expectant trust.

As I have practiced this with Joey, it has occurred to me that this is how God calls our names—not to scold us or to shame us but to let us know that we are loved and to encourage us to be expectant and trusting.

Isn’t that part of the Easter story? For those who observe Holy Week, this week can be a difficult one with its various liturgies that bear witness to the betrayal, judgment, and pain that Jesus suffered in the final days and hours before his death. But on Easter Sunday morning, when the Risen Christ calls Mary Magdalene by name, although she does not recognize his body, she does recognize his voice. It is a voice she knows to be loving and trustworthy.

Even amid the beauty of the season of spring, hardships can invade our lives. The betrayal, judgment, and pain recalled liturgically in Holy Week happen over and over again each day in our broken world—if not right now in our own lives, then in the lives of friends or those we hear about in the news. But what if through it all we could hear God’s voice calling to us in love, instilling in us a trustful expectancy?

Perhaps God speaks our names through the redbud and dogwood blossoms or through the melodies of a song on the radio. Perhaps God speaks our names through a meal brought over by a neighbor or in the impulse to respond gently to someone we love, despite our irritation at something that particular loved one has said or done (or not said or not done). For me, perhaps God speaks to me even through the way my dog Joey looks at me now when I say his name.

What about you? How might God be calling your name this week? Today? Right now?

My prayer this week is that we each listen expectantly for God to call our names. That we develop a habit of hearing God’s voice in surprising ways and places. And that we become more and more able to respond with gratitude, love, and trust.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Holy Week Through a Mother's Eyes

by Betsy Perry

I was in court recently but not for something as mundane as appealing a speeding ticket.  There were over a hundred of us gathered in Court Room Four to be with Molly’s mother and family.  I did not know Molly, but Molly’s mother, Margaret, is a friend.  Molly was murdered in cold blood in a rural town in New Hampshire.  That day in court was the sentencing hearing for the murderer (who pled guilty to a plea bargain of second degree murder) when family and friends could speak about Molly and their loss. 

I knew it was going to be a grievously sad afternoon, but I did not imagine I would have a taste of such agony laced with the most delicate strands of hope and love.  As I listened to Molly’s Dad, her Aunt Elizabeth, her sisters Ruby and Sadie, and her Mother Margaret, I was transfixed to Good Friday at the foot of the Cross.  Why does one who is so beloved and so innocent needlessly have to die?   How could we have prevented this?  How do Molly’s husband, mother, dad, aunt, sisters, and friends go on? 

It was Margaret’s words arising from a heart so strong, so full, so clear, and so open that transfixed me.  Margaret’s passionate and eloquent statement transformed everyone there including the judge, and, I suspect, the murderer in some way that may or may not ever be manifested.  Before hearing Margaret, I had never thought about what it might be like for Mary, Jesus’ mother, at the foot of the cross.  Margaret took me there as if the women at the foot of the cross were bidding us all to know that love can transcend the very worst of human action.  Somehow, love still breaks through in the pain and grief of losing a daughter.
Margaret is a Quaker and the meeting society had written a “minute” for peace which is like a call to remember and take action for peace.  We were all invited to sign it in Molly’s honor.  The judge clearly moved by the family’s testimony to Molly’s life said at the end, “I haven’t even looked into the ethical implications of this, but I want to sign the peace “minute.”  Margaret turned to Molly’s husband, with a smile that I can’t even describe—a mixture of surprise, hope, love, and so much more. 

It’s been hard this past week, I’m sure, for Molly’s family, her friends, her community, and even those of us who did not know her personally.   So where does the murder of one so innocent leave us?  Dare I just forget because it didn’t happen to my daughter?  NEVER!  I want to enter into Holy Week with the eyes and heart of a mother, one who feels the pain and sorrow and knows at the same time that God is suffering with us, crying out for our hardened hearts to turn towards love, inviting us to clear room for a glimmer of redemption, forgiveness, and resurrection.  That’s what Margaret has done.  That’s what the women at the foot of the cross did.  Am I brave enough to do the same?