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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tending Your Manger

by Lauren Van Ham

God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity,
but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illuminated by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.

~ Dag Hammarskjold

Do you have childhood memories, like me, of unpacking and creating the nativity scene in your home during the Advent season?  We had a few of them at my house: the one my parents brought back from their visit to Jerusalem, the ones my brother and I made from uncooked macaroni noodles in Sunday School, and the teeny-tiny one with a fake tree and baby Jesus that were irresistible toys for the cats.  “Has anyone seen the baby Jesus?” my Mom would question, her head poking under the chairs and shelves, hoping to repair the fragmented story and invite its anticipated outcome.

Years later, in the home of my spiritual director, I stood dazzled and mesmerized by her nativity, an annual original creation, that covered her entire dining table.  Every animal figurine you can (and can’t) imagine - scorpions, dolphins, emus and dogs, serpents, chickens, and unicorns - were making their way across the loooooooong dining table to see the new baby.  Seeing the scene depicted in this grand and cosmic way, allowed me to expand its scope.  I could find myself in new facets of the story. 

Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart nudged each of us to consider the Christmas story this way when he wrote, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture?”

The longest night of the year is passed, Christ is born and the Light has returned.  But the events of Advent have only just happened.  If we heed Eckhart’s words, it puts us right about here: we experienced angels, and endured long travel; with anticipation and uncertainty, we arrived in a new place, simple and earthy, inconvenient and unfamiliar.  And there – right there! – Divinity arrived.  In us, for us, through us, beyond us.

How will you bond with this new arrival?  How, in these first, fragile days, will you tend this Child?  What would you like to share about this exciting, tender, joy beginning at this time?

Peace and Blessings to you as the New Year dawns!

About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute, an interfaith seminary and tends a her private as a spiritual director.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Coffee and Church Stained Glass

by Tom Pappas

If your daily mail looks like mine, a significant portion of it amounts to worthy causes hoping for a year-end monetary gift. I find myself wanting to help most of them. (I also want to adopt every orphaned dog my wife’s nephew posts on Facebook – usually more that one a day.)

This fact hasn’t always been so, but I find myself in a position where disposable income is more than a phrase. I can make some financial choices and do some good.

This morning at our coffee group, Jim fired up his ipad and showed us the two stained glass windows that he and Judy are going to have restored with a donation. He is passionate about stained glass and creates art with it. He knows about it. They sponsored a window last year and he went to the studio and was allowed to clean and prepare some of the hundreds of pieces that had been removed from one of the smaller windows.

Old, beautiful buildings take money to keep up. Our heritage church has lots of windows, all in need of restoration. The whole project exceeds a quarter million dollars. Jim invited us guys to think about joining him and his wife to sponsor a window or part of one.

We had a lively discussion about money,
            and church budgets,
                        and mission,
                                    and priorities,
                                                and passion.

Of course knowing me, I want to do something about the windows. But the question in my mind is – “I have this bit of money and I want to give it where it counts.  Can I make a difference with a gift here?”  I do want the windows to be strong and efficient; and I know I want to give some other places.*

What to do? What to do?

Let’s wrestle together about this giving question. It is clear from Scripture and experience that we are called to a life of lively giving. I truly believe that generosity puts me close to the heart of God. As this year ends, I hope we are able to make decisions that benefit the Kingdom, and we are happy with.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Prayer for Advent: Advent Moon

by Angier Brock


Let the coming of the One
who arranges Orion and the Pleiades                        
begin in darkness.
Let the night be cold, with drifts of snow.
Let there be one lily blooming,
and whispered messages, and kneeling.

The fierce earth spins in expectation              
beneath the long night’s moon. 
Like the restless fox crossing frosted meadows,
the silvered owl in focused, silent flight,                                           
each of us is hungry.
In rooms of untold longing,
we sing our seasoned carols.
We watch. We wait.  

Let the coming of the One
who kindles fires of hope,
whose faithfulness runs far beyond our sight,
be like the coming of a child.
Let there be milk, forgiveness, quiet arms.
Come quickly, Love, our dearest deep
and sweetest dawning.
Come, fill us with your light.

© 2013 Angier Brock
Used by permission.

NOTE: Arranged by British composer Cecilia McDowall as an anthem for organ, SATB, and optional handbells, “Advent Moon” was premiered by the Choirs of Bruton Parish Church, under the direction of Rebecca Davy, on Sunday, December 1, 2013. Oxford University Press is publishing the anthem.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Veteran's Day Memoir

by Tom Pappas

Last evening we drove 100 miles to see our granddaughters, twin 9 year-olds, in their school’s vocal music program. The travel went well and with time to spare we found a parking space and walked to the high school auditorium.  I had spent several moments during the day imagining the excitement that was building in our girls, and all the kids.  When we entered the foyer we were hit by the electric sound of children wired to the max.

We made our way to the roomy, modern auditorium and it tingled with chatter and laughter. Grades three, four and five filled the first several rows. We found excellent seats in the exact middle and were told by Harley that she could see us from the stage because we were directly under a light. That was satisfying. She and Brett were also in the middle.

I found myself feeling grateful for the appropriateness of the program on Veteran’s Day. Songs popularized during the different wars provided the theme. Brett had wished for Yankee Doodle but the third graders did that one. Fourth grade got Boogie Woogie Bugle Boys.

All the grades sang the songs for the individual branches of the armed service and vets were asked to stand while their anthem was sung. Each was given a small flag.

We went directly to a frozen yogurt place and I was overwhelmed with the options. There were 18 flavors of frozen yogurt – then toppings – then fruit – then syrups. They weighed your cup and you paid by the total weight.

While we ate our creations and visited, grandma and grandpa tried to get some Christmas gift ideas. This was marginally successful except for a statement from Harley, which turned out to be an early gift to me. “Can you think of something you’d like for Christmas?”

“I want to be surprised.”

I have gratitude for a nine-year-old who isn’t obsessing about the material options that we know are being presented to all of us.

I have gratitude for the promise and innocence of children. I am thankful for the magic of music. I have gratitude our country and its freedom to love and worship God in the way each of us finds the most meaningful.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Prayer for the Farmers

by Angier Brock

Among my favorite vendors at our weekly summer farmer’s market is a trio of siblings who come each Saturday morning from their family farm across the river. I started out buying their fresh eggs. With yolks so richly colored that they approach orange (if you have ever eaten fresh eggs, you know what I mean), those eggs are amazingly delicious. I have also bought chickens—whole ones as well as parts—from these young farmers (the chickens are as tasty as the eggs) as well as some of the breads, cookies, and granola that they make. 

Last weekend, some friends and I visited their farm where the family was holding an open house. “It’s good to know your farmer,” the father smiled, directing us to the place where the farm tours would begin and promising cookies and hot cider at the tour’s end.

Yes, it is good to know your farmer. Of course, most of what I eat comes from hands of anonymous laborers and from places that are much more distant than a thirty minute drive into the next county. In large measure, I don’t know the names or faces of the people who raise the food I eat, or of those who process it, deliver it to my area, and put it up on the grocery shelves. And so I feel especially grateful for knowing at least this one family. I am glad I can call each of them by name—and that they can call me by mine. I admire the hard daily work they put into raising food. I appreciate the respectful philosophy of husbandry they espouse, and I especially applaud their humane and healthful practices. I also feel humbled by their commitment to their call—seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, in both rain and sun, no matter how hot or cold.   

We are not all called to be farmers who provide food for the table, but each of us is called to cultivate something to help nourish our own souls and bodies as well as to nourish our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our communities. Our call might involve teaching, making art or music, tending the sick, working for justice, caring for the earth, building or restoring something, keeping lines of communication open, volunteering for an organization that helps others, fostering faith, or keeping hope alive. It might include sharing our financial resources as well as our time and energy. We may not collect eggs each morning, but as we live and work and pray, we can strive to let God’s Spirit, working in and through us, grow its fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

And particularly at this time of year when it is traditional to celebrate bringing the harvest home, we can give thanks—not only for that harvest but also for the farmers.   

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

What decision are you facing in these next days?  Chances are there is something:

           Calendar: you may be thinking about how to spend next Saturday afternoon;
           Work:   you may be wrestling with how to prioritize projects or        allocate resources;
           Health:  you may face a decisions related to next steps in a lingering health issue;
           Checkbook:  you may be wondering if you can afford ______(fill in  the blank).

Some of our choices are large and weighty.  They give us pause and we may literally agonize over the options.  Others feel easy and quick.  All of them combine to constitute our lives. As the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “We create ourselves by our choices.”  Choice by choice, decision by decision, we make a life. 

Lumunos mission is to help you make good decisions.  By “good” we mean choices that reflect your own values—that which is truest in you.  And by good we also mean that which is best for the world.  Our hunch is that when God says in the Old Testament “choose life,” (Deuteronomy 30: 19) this is what God means. There are decisions that represent the highest good both for us and the common good.  This path is generally not easy.   It is not without personal sacrifice.  In fact, it is often quite complicated. But there is a way, a path, a pattern of decisions that is life-giving both for us individually, and for the world as well. 

Two examples from Ann Arbor MI on a Saturday night.  One represents an individual decision; the other comes from the world of work:

--Dorm room, University of Michigan:  Isabel’s friends are all heading out for a fun evening together.  Isabel lets them know that she is going to stay in and have a quiet evening on her own.  Her friends roll their eyes, thinking affectionately, “She is a bit odd, but we love her anyway.” Isabel on the other hand knows that, while she would have fun at the party, what she needs is some alone time.  She knows that she will have more to give her studies, her friends, and the tutoring program she leads if she takes the time to renew her spirit.  She makes a simple choice to stay home, even if her friends don’t fully understand.

--Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Shop, State St:  The ice cream shop is packed on this warm evening.  Regardless of what flavor a customer orders, he or she knows that choices have been made in the creation of that ice cream.  The stakeholders are not just stockholders or the parent company, but include the employees that put the ice cream in its containers and the cows that provide the milk.  (For a fun way to find out what kind of life giving decisions have been made for your favorite flavor, click here.)  These decisions have not been easy.  There has been a cost, literal and figurative.  But the choices represent one company’s best effort to make decisions that are good for Ben and Jerry’s and good for the world. 

Wayne Mueller writes “Every single choice we make, no matter how small, is the ground where who we are meets what is in the world.”  (A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough)  Highlighting the importance of these small or large decisions isn’t so that we become paralyzed with fear in the face of our decisions. In fact, all of us have bad choices in our past.  We will continue to be imperfect in this way. 

The point is to be care-full about these decisions we make.  When possible, take the time to connect with our deepest beliefs and convictions.  Then move forward.  Or in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss,

You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

If I Were Bees

by Lauren Van Ham

One can no more approach people without love
than one can approach bees without care.
Such is the quality of bees...
~ Leo Tolstoy
A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  
~John 13:34-35
For two seasons now, I have been beekeeping with my neighbor, Frances.  It has been a true adventure with plenty of humor and doses of drama.  The hive sits in her yard, next door, and on days when details or work have become far too engrossing, I’ve taken to walking over and observing the hive.  What happens there, and what happens to me as I watch, is a welcome miracle.

If we were bees, our vision would measure at 23,000 -- that’s 3 times worse than legally blind for humans.  If we were bees, we would fearlessly fly blindly because our navigation skills (using the sun and movement) would put any human navigator to shame.  If we were bees, we would let all the bees in our hive know where the best food is by dancing (sounds fun, right?).  And all our friends would know what we’re saying, not because of how our dance looks (so don’t be self-conscious; we’re blind, remember?), but because of the sound we make with our wings (13 flaps a second) and the degree to which we direct our waggle.  If we were bees, we would understand one another with such accuracy, we could consistently double our population at the aforementioned food source every 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, if we were bees, in the hive, we would, each of us, come up through the colony ranks, fully mastering our declared roles: nurses (tending the bees who’ve fallen ill), guards (protecting the hive from intruders of all sorts), foragers (finding the food), grocers (bringing the pollen home), housekeepers (meticulously cleaning any and every mess -- especially the ones cause by beekeepers checking on the hive!), construction workers (building comb, sealing with propolis), royal attendants (ensuring Her Highness has everything she needs to be profoundly productive), and undertakers (yes, those too).

And if we were bees, we would be doing all of this…for the good of the hive. 

It’s insanely organized, bafflingly efficient, and utterly miraculous.  Standing there, at the hive, watching the coming and going of these winged wonders, I feel the sun on my face and listen to the buzz of those wings flapping 11,400 times a minute.  My heart flutters, it’s own attempt to join and appreciate this simple, ancient community. 

If we were bees and Earth our hive, what role would you play?  In what way are you called to serve, sustain and grow this life together?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Confession of an Introvert

by Tom Pappas

When I went to Home Depot this morning the only other customer in the store (I exaggerate) was looking at the exact item that I came to price. For our shower I want to install 12”x12” white tiles on the walls. I needed 12 boxes and it was possible that the other could buy so many that there would not be enough for me; I stood back hoping he would make a different choice.
After a while, I twisted my courage past my introversion and asked the other, “How many do you need?” He said a vague answer, then he went for a cart. The clerk and I chatted. Me: “Isn’t it weird that there are two of us that are here for the exact same thing? Clerk: “Yes, really weird.”

The other came back and started struggling to drag the cartons of 11 tiles to his flatbed cart. This was made harder because the tiles were strapped into bundles of two. As he was muscling the first pair off the floor onto the cart, I hopped (I exaggerate again) under the shelf to start sliding the bundles toward him.  He misunderstood.
The other: “I was here first, sir.  (Oops, he’s accusing me of getting them out for myself.)
Me: “I thought it would be easier if I pushed them out for you.”
The other: “Oh.”
                                                                              The plight of the introvert!  I did all the processing internally. He’s having a hard time. I’m good at teamwork. If I drag them from under the shelf to the aisle it would be a big favor.  I’ll help him get as many as he wants and then I’ll know if there will be enough for me.  It would have been plenty easy to say, “Mind if I help?” I tend to be the silent partner.
 Sometimes I am Laurel’s silent partner. On more than many occasions my wife has asked me a question or made a comment that required a response. My process is to immediately begin to formulate what to say. In my brain I cover the content of the topic and also the exact language I want to use to explain my response. It seems that the energy I’ve expended moves the meter so far that it feels to me that I have said out loud what I have concluded, when in fact, I never said a word.
The arc of my life has taught me that the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of right relationships. I find it strenuous to be in relationship with someone I love if they are so utterly discourteous as to disagree with me. That’s a friend or loved-one, and we 
all know what Jesus has to say about loving enemies in Matthew 5. 
My prayer is to be a person who is more transparent. With a little effort I can demonstrate to the other, friend or not, that my motives, answers, and opinions are not so important that only I get to know what they are.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Prayer for the Light on This Corner

by Angier Brock

As I made my way from western NC to eastern VA recently, having determined to avoid interstates as much as possible, I came to a place where NC Highway 16 crossed a smaller road. Above the intersection hung a traffic light, green at the time, and so I proceeded. Though I did not slow down, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I glimpsed a sign that read, “God is the light on this corner!

As soon as I could, I made a U-turn and went back to look. Yep, that’s what the sign said. I took a picture: God is the light on this corner! I am still pondering what it means. Taken literally, the sign apparently refers to the traffic light; no other lights are in evidence. I suppose there are worse metaphors for God than one in which the Creator of All reminds us to share the road and suggests when to stop, when to use caution, and when to move ahead.

But perhaps another possibility is that the sign meant that God is the ambient daylight on that corner. If so, wouldn’t it be more accurate if it read God is the light on ALL corners? Perhaps the risk there is that if we speak of God as being everywhere (as most of us sometimes do, when we dare speak at all about the Holy One), perhaps we think on such an enormous (and generic) scale that we miss the specific truth that God truly is here: in this moment, with me, at this desk, right now (8:01 PM on a Sunday evening), as I write this blog about a signboard and listen to this particular CD of lovely and haunting Armenian music. In other words, perhaps the sign reminds us of the intimate and immediate presence of God, even when we are doing such mundane things as driving to or from work, going about our routines, or passing through an ordinary intersection as we drive across two states on mostly back roads returning home from a friend’s birthday party.

 “God is the light on this corner!”  I have no idea, of course, what the person who put the sign up intended by those words. Perhaps one day, out of sheer curiosity, I will call the pastor of the church that sponsors the signboard and inquire. Or maybe I will simply let the proclamation continue meandering on the back roads of my own thoughts.  

Perhaps that is the point: To call passers-by to a consideration of where God is and how God acts. To encourage people to think about—well, about whether God is in fact light to them, and what that means. And to do so in a way that is surprising, even playful. “God is the light on this corner!” This very corner of the road! This very corner of the room where my desk is! This very corner of my life, no matter what road I am on or where I am headed! May it be so.   

Monday, September 16, 2013

Turkey, Tulum and Tuolumne

I don’t know if travel can be considered a “call” or not. I do know that I am blessed and lucky to have seen the places I have seen this year.    
  • My tour group was to have gone to Taksim Park in Istanbul the day after Turkish citizens began protesting the plan to raze the Istanbul park and replace it with a mall and an historic replica army barracks.   
  • Tuolumne Meadows is part of Yosemite National Park. With our friends, the Opitz family from Germany, we made a 4900 mile road trip from Lincoln, Nebraska, to the west coast and back and had a ton of bucket list caliber experiences. 
  • Tulum is a Mayan ruin that is fascinating but not newsworthy. (Other than our car rental experience, which will have to wait for another blog.)
“And God said it was good.” This is what I re-learn each time I go to a new place where God made the terrain different. God’s people do their life differently than how we do it in Lincoln. There’s variety too in the remarkable people God has given us to share this planet with.
In the past year I swam in the Gulf of Mexico, sailed on the Bosporus and waded in the Merced River. Lucky me. Blessed me. The important part is to be mindful.

Reflection Question:  Where did you travel this summer?  What did you learn?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Prayer for the School Bus

by Angier Brock

I have a friend who tells the story that when she was a teen-ager, her parents gave her a car, a pale yellow convertible. She immediately vowed that whenever she was driving that car, she would never meet a school bus she would not pass.

A certain reckless teen-aged vanity is, to be sure, writ large in that impulse—the kind of blind self-absorption and nervy sense of infallibility we would all do well to outgrow so that the world might be a safer place. And yet, something exhilarating is also present in the image of a young woman in her yellow convertible, top down, hair flying, determined to pass any and every school bus on the road.  Her vitality, her delight in her new-found freedom and independence, her unabashed pleasure in the goal she had set for herself, her confidence in her sense of timing, her youthful determination not to be slowed down by anything as mundane as the plodding of a school bus—those aspects of my friend’s story make me smile every time I remember it, which I do often at this time of year when School Bus Season is beginning afresh.

Probably most of us reading this blog do not ride school buses these days—though we may have children, grandchildren, or neighbor children who do. Probably most of us do encounter school buses, though, if we go out driving on local roads just as schools are opening or letting out for the day.

Driving behind a school bus is not my favorite circumstance. Many is the time I have wished I could have passed one before it stopped at a railroad crossing or one of the places where riders get on or off.  This fall, however, I am adopting a new school bus-related goal. Rather that deplore being “stuck” behind them and thinking of them as obstructions to my own self-absorbed hurry, I am going to remember what they truly are: vehicles that carry the future, the young people whose lives are set to outstrip my own.

To honor and respect the journey of the school bus riders, when I see a school bus (even when I get stuck behind one), I will say a little prayer for its passengers. May they be treated with dignity and respect each day, whether at school, on the bus, or at home. May they, like my friend when she was a girl, take delight in the freedoms into which they are growing. And may they learn all they need to become the wise and compassionate healers, peace-makers, farmers, artisans and artists, teachers, and leaders our world needs. 

I will also say a prayer for the school bus drivers. If ever there were a job deserving of appreciation, theirs is one! And, for myself?  I will give thanks for yet another opportunity in which to practice some deep breathing—and some patience.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Calling to New Places

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

There are many, many reasons to follow a call.  Just one is that it brings you to places that you never would have discovered otherwise. 

Dr. Conrad Fischer wrote in his book Routine Miracles  Now I know that a calling can bring you to strange place.”  He is referring to a decision he made early in his career.  It was 1991, the year between residency and being chief resident.  The Director of Critical Care invited him to work in a small hospital in New York City called St. Clares.  Half the beds were for AID’s patients.  Most of his teachers told him not to go, saying, “Once you have a place like that on your CV, your career in academic medicine is over.  No one will want you.”  He went anyway.

When I became Executive Director of Lumunos (then called Faith at Work), it required moving from Vermont to Washington DC.  DC was a “strange place” to us, way further south than we had ever lived.  And we loved Vermont, so it was not a move we were excited to make.  But the call was strong, and we both agreed it was the right decision.

While there were challenges to those years, I would not trade them for anything.  The people we met, the small church we connected with, the differences we encountered—all have enriched my life in many ways. 

I wonder if that is one of the reasons God calls us—to get us moving, to open us to new experiences, to show us places we wouldn't otherwise go. Maybe Jonah needed Nineveh as much as it needed him.   

Reflection Question:

When has a calling brought you to a “strange place” or a place you wouldn't have predicted?  

Thoughts?  Please feel free to post your comments below, and share! 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Ministry of Imagination

We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable…  The hope-filled language of prophecy, in cutting through the royal despair and hopelessness, is the language of amazement... the language of amazement is the ultimate energizer.
                                                                          ~ Walter Brueggemann

by Lauren Van Ham

Recently, I was holding space for a group of individuals engaged in a process of deep formation.  In the course of their sharing, questions surfaced about race and the unexamined privilege in the group.  I wonder what it feels like to simply read these words in this blog?

Race.  Unexamined privilege.

Reactions in the group ranged from seat-shifting and barely waiting their turn to speak, to downcast expressions and complete withdraw.  And my reaction was in there, too.  In that moment, more than anything, I wanted to have a conversation about race and privilege as though each person in the room were fearlessly, joyously describing a part of their story – how they got here and what’s important to them. 

But we’re not there yet.  The conversation about race and privilege isn’t over, because it’s not finished. And there are many more conversations just like it.

In effort to learn more about what had happened in the group that day, I sat with one of my trusted mentors and described my desire to move past the topics of racism, power, sexism, privilege, you-name-it, and experience a new kind of conversation, a new form of connecting human to human.  My mentor re-focused my longing with simple instruction, “The prophetic imagination renews our energy to see and work with the things we no longer want to see.” 


There was a thud of recognition in my chest.  There are so many conversations I, we – all of us – wish could be over.  Prophetic imagination nudges us to look again, and it begins with *amazement:

  • In America, 1 of every 3 black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
  • The human heart weighs only half a pound, but it does the daily work-equivalent of lifting 1 ton from the ground to the top of a five-story building.
  • At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day
  • It takes about 600 gallons of water to make one hamburger
  • NBA player, Kobe Bryant is paid 30.4 million to play for the L.A. Lakers
  • About 64.5 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2011 and September 2012
  • If we were to fit our solar system into a coffee cup, the Milky Way galaxy surrounding it would be the size of North America…
  • If the DNA in our bodies were uncoiled and laid end to end, it would reach the moon and back 100,000 times. 
  • Prairie grasses grow roots measuring 10,000 miles long, and bamboo can grow up to 3 ft in 24 hours.

And with some amazement in the air, are we then able to add the ministry of imagination….our own? 

What, in your last 2 days, has been amazing?  Where, in the world, your communities, your family, are you longing for some prophetic imagination?  How might imagination bring fresh eyes to your view today?

About Lauren: Lauren is an interfaith minister and lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as the Dean of Interfaith Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute and tends a private Spiritual Direction practice.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

*Amazement Sources:
8. DNA

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why Can't We Make Enough Room?

by Tom Pappas

[Ed. Note: The Americans with Disabilities Act is celebrating 23 years.  It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications.]
Honoring two good men and praying to bring down the mini bureaucracy.

Bonnie has MS and Rich, her husband, has been here caregiver for longer than the decade that I have known them. I have been in their home and photos indicate an earlier active life outside the chair that she now manipulates with slight movements of her head.

MaryAnn and John met in college and her polio did not dissuade their courtship or long happy marriage.

I am inspired every Sunday as I observe the dedication with which Rich and John attend their partners. Their devotion seems like a lot in the sanctuary, but what about the traveling, and the preparation at home? These men are a credit to all Christian men and to their marriage vows. Everyone with a “man-card” would be well served to do Rich or John’s day just one time.

Both couples sit near us in worship – front left. We don’t own the pew but do we think of them as “our seats”. During the sanctuary remodel, two pews near the door to the elevator were shortened to accommodate a wheelchair and not crowd the aisle. Guess what? When both couples are there, it’s not enough space. You should see it when there’s a baptism and those front pews are reserved for family!

One time only, would you be willing to say a prayer for them with me. Pray that the committee called Building and Grounds would abandon their position, “That would be expensive,” when requested to shorten two or three more pews. Pray a blessing for Rich and John. If Presbyterians had them, they would be saints.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Prayer for a Changing Planet

by Angier Brock

In the summer of 1976, I went for the first time to a retreat center called Shrine Mont. There I made the 500-foot climb up Yellow Spring Mountain to a clearing where a wooden tower is topped by a large wooden cross. That summer, I had been married for six years. That summer, my two sons were young, ages three and four, and the prospect of grandchildren was so far in the future as to be unimaginable. That summer, I could hike up to the cross and back in forty-five minutes—though why I was in that much of a hurry escapes me now.

I went there again last week. This summer, I have been divorced for six years. This summer, my hiking partners were my older son and his two children, ages nine and eleven. This summer, I could not have gotten up the mountain and back in forty-five minutes even if I had wanted to—though, thankfully, no one was in any rush. 

Things change. Things change not only in the lives and relationships of us humans but also in the life of our planet, which the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer calls “this fragile earth, our island home.” Part of the Appalachian chain, Shrine Mont’s Yellow Spring Mountain probably was once as high as peaks in the Rockies or the Alps. After eons of erosion from wind and water, however, today it rises only about two thousand feet above sea level, a far cry from its earlier glory days—though still high enough to count as a good climb.

At the clearing at the top, I stopped to pick up a rock streaked with red. I wanted to show my grandchildren an example of the iron deposits that lend a metallic taste to the spring water we had sipped at the foot of the mountain. When my granddaughter turned it in her hand, lo and behold, there in the rock, in addition to the veins of iron, was the fossilized imprint of a shell. Could it be that the land on which we were standing, long before it had been pushed up into being a mountain, had been the bed of an ancient sea? Talk about change!

Change is all around us, sometimes subtle, even invisible, and sometimes obvious and unmistakable. At times we welcome the gifts that change brings into our lives. At other times, we rail against the losses and the grief it dishes out. Somehow the human race has managed to muddle through all manner of changes—births, deaths, marriages, divorces, illnesses, the rise and fall of empires, wars, feasts and famines, employment and unemployment and retirement. It helps, of course, to make the climbs and descents of change with people we love—and to come into clearings along the way where we can stand at the foot of the cross, take stock of our situation, voice our fears, name our thanksgivings, lift up our prayers.
And then there is our planet, which is undergoing changes in climate much more rapidly than scientists had originally thought—and with consequences we are only beginning to grasp. “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low,” the prophet Isaiah tells us. Indeed. And the ice caps will melt, and the sea level will rise, and weather will become more and more extreme, and…. 

How well our planet fares will depend on how willing we are to help it muddle through. How willing we are to come into the clearings and take stock. How willing we are to listen and to learn. How willing we are to speak out. How willing we are to pray not only with our words but with our actions. And, God help us, how willing we ourselves are to change. 

Please read, share, and comment...what are the changes you are struggling with?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Visits

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

For many of us, summer is a time to see family.  We use these precious months to visit new grandchildren, or aging parents. We witness young cousins reconnecting while the adults good naturedly argue about whether Suzy has “Wysockey eyes” or “the Johnson nose.” On my vacation I spent time on the Lake Michigan shoreline where my grandparents spent their honeymoon.  They are gone, but their spirit lingers. 

Yes we slip into our old family roles.  Conflicts do come up and tempers flare. But there is also the realization that this is dear and fleeting time.  Looking around the table while we celebrated my father’s 87th birthday, I had to wonder:  What will this celebration look like next year?  Will we all be here and healthy? 

Experiencing these family connections is one of the joys of summer.  The poet Wendell Berry captures the spirit of these times:  
I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children
who take pleasure in one another.

At our dinners together, the dead
enter and pass among us
in living love and in memory.

And so the young are taught.
                        (Poem #VIII, from Leavings, published by Counterpoint) 
I wonder:   Who from your extended family did you enjoy seeing this summer?  Who did you miss?

Please feel free to share and comment below!