Saturday, May 27, 2017

Up In the Air

That is the title of the sermon that I am going to be preaching tomorrow in Zanesville as I begin filling in for Dawn Remster on her sabbatical.  I am preaching on the Ascension of Jesus who goes "up in the air" and ascends to God the father.

I finished - even printed (!)  - the sermon this morning and after hours of struggle found that it made sense and I look forward to delivering it tomorrow.  But all during the struggle of writing I was truly "up in the air."  That is what I talk about some - that part of what I think is the human condition - all the ways in which we are "up in the air."  On the computer I learned that "up  in the air" is an idiom that means "not yet resolved, finished, answered, decided or certain."  That says it all for me - that is how I live most of the time.

This week I did a funeral for Yvonne Hardenbrook a poet who lived at Oakleaf who I came to know and love when I preached over there in the past. I spoke after the service with one of her friends and we talked religion and how open we both were to different paths that lead to God.  However, I found myself saying how much I liked being a Christian for one reason only - the grace of God that is taught and lived out  in Jesus.  As I said to her - I live my life in a lot of confusion and self doubt and the understanding and the experience of grace is what is really my anchor.  That is what gives me peace.

And so, I guess I just wanted to write this morning about how blessed I feel by my faith as I venture into a summer of service to First Christian Church in Zanesville.  Completing this first sermon of the summer reminds me that the spirit that can guide and inspire is real as I moved this week from being up  in the air writing to this place of peace as I prepare to pastor these people.

Yvonne wrote a beautiful poem that I read at her funeral that really speaks to me

What We Miss Awake
by Yvonne Hardenbrook

What we see
is never all there is.
We drowsily salute the bright-edged
clouds of dawn, in full sun
close our eyes. Again
at sunset we comment on the flame,
say nothing of the subtle
easter sky.

What we miss awake
we see in dreams, distorted
for paid seers to explain
If not dreams then letters,
your words of love I saw and never
recognized. These forty years
the ink has dried on pages folded
tight and ribbon-tied.

They spill into the fire, the ribbon
last. I tell you, I did not see
till now the face of love.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Grace upon grace upon grace

I keep learning over and over again about the grace of God and the constant invitation that is being made to me (and to all of us) to come home again.  Like the prodigal son....

This week I wrote this in my journal:

I spend as much time
running away
as I do looking for

I spend as much time
hiding from
as I do searching

I spend as much time
as I do feeling

I spend as much time
as I do listening

I spend as much time
as I do emptying

And when I come back - looking, searching, feeling, listening, emptying
there you are waiting

This is what grace upon grace upon grace means to me today.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Little bit of Clarity

Sometimes I feel like I am living in a sort of fog.  I feel discontent and confused especially since the election and watching the chaos that is coming out of the white house.

Yesterday I watched a documentary on Netflix that helped a little bit.  It is called Get Me Roger Stone and it was fascinating.

It is described as a " documentary exploring the life and career of notorious Republican dirty trickster and longtime Trump advisor, Roger Stone, who helped create the real-estate mogul's political career."

What was helpful to me was that this documentary delineated the values that he espoused throughout his life.  He talked about in 6th grade learning the power of "disinformation."  He was present during  Watergate  and  cared  about winning at any cost.  Nixon is his hero and he even has his a tattoo of his face on his back!
He and his partners - Paul Manafort and Charlie Black  - formed a political consulting firm that was instrumental in electing Ronald Reagan.  Afterwards they were lobbyists for Marcos and the Congolese dictator Sese Seko. There was no concern about morality or ethics - only the making of money.
Roger Stone is a fighter and his response to attacks it to attack back and when confronted with accusations his first response is to deny, deny, deny.  He has a whole political history of dirty tricks and cruel innuendos in which he "promoted a number of falsehoods and conspiracy theories."  Finally, there was no respect for the idea of service to others - he thought those people were chumps.

He has been friends with our president for years and encouraged him to run for president for decades.  His values and Trumps seem similar - the fighting back, the denials, the lying, the grandiosity.

It is, of course, easy to point to Roger Stone with disgust and revulsion.  Yet on reflection I realize that it may be that they are almost an exaggeration of the  values of the culture that we are all living in.  We are breathing the air that says that we must compete,  win at all costs,  the material is most important,  we must be ambitious and defend ourselves.

Where the clarity came for me was in conversation afterward. What I realized is that these values are diametrically opposed to the way of Jesus.  Our spiritual seeking leads us into a path of:
 - humility
 - truth
 - compassion
 - service to others
 - unity
 - reflection
 - love
 - forgiveness
 - grace

And how does that happen?  There is, of course, choices that we make but much of our path is about grace.  The pre venient grace that came before we were even born for many of us.  We were blessed to be born into homes that  lived these values and to grow up in a community that taught us about that alternative way of life.  But the choice remains always.  We are surrounded by people and media that promote comparing, competing, division, and materialism. And in our pride and unconsciousness it is so easy to point fingers at the Roger Stones of the world and miss the ways in which we can easily fall into all of those behaviors. It is easy to live in scarcity rather than abundance, it is easy to worry about our security and not other people's needs, it is easy to be a taker rather than a giver.

So, I begin this day in prayer and praying the spirit will guide me to seek "The Way" that really leads to peace.  Here is a wonderful prayer by Walter Brueggemann:

You are the giver of all good things.
All good things are sent from heaven above,
rain and sun,
day and night,
justice and righteousness,
bread to the eater and
seed to the sower,
peace to the old,
energy to the young,
joy to the babes.
We are takers, who take from you,
day by day, daily bread,
taking all we need as you supply,
taking in gratitude and wonder and joy.
And then taking more,
taking more than we need,
taking more than you give us,
taking from our sisters and brothers,
taking from the poor and the weak,
taking because we are frightened, and so greedy,
taking because we are anxious, and so fearful,
taking because we are driven, and so uncaring.
Give us peace beyond our fear, and so end our greed.
Give us well-being beyond our anxiety, and so end our fear.
Give us abundance beyond our drivenness,
and so end our uncaring.
Turn our taking into giving … since we are in your giving image:
Make us giving like you,
giving gladly and not taking,
giving in abundance, not taking,
giving in joy, not taking,
giving as he gave himself up for us all,
giving, never taking. Amen.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rejoicing in Ordinariness

Finally!  I have not written in this blog for over a month.  This may be the longest break I have ever taken from writing here.  And I have to confess that it is because I was going through a time of desolation.

Just writing that is a confession.  Because I fall prey to the delusion that because I am an ordained minister, a spiritual director and an avowed optimist that somehow I should (that's a loaded word!) be exempt from times of desolation.  Especially when I am retired with a sufficient pension, in good enough health, with a loving husband and close family.  Why should I be desolate?

Last Sunday I went to the church I have been attending with Marnie and her kids and afterward spent much of the day in my form of compulsive behavior - eating, playing computer games and watching Law And Order SVU.  Finally at the end of the day I could not sleep and was able to really identify the feelings that I have been avoiding.  And it is a sense of disconnection.  And there are a whole lot of ways in which I feel disconnected.  Later in the week I wrote in my journal about feeling "Unmoored".  Here is what I wrote in my journal

I see a boat at twilight
 - in the soft grey mist of the evening
 - floating untethered from the dock
 - the water lapping at the sides
  - a rope floating in the water 
 - it is unanchored

Where does it belong?
 - is there a slip somewhere?
 - it is adrift
 - it is unmoored. 


As I saw this image I wanted to "solve the problem"  except
 - my children do not need me
 - there is no church for me to serve
 - there is no plce to work
 - there is no uniform to put on
 - there is no office with my name on the door
 - there is no task to do today
 - there is no deadline looming.

I think of my most favorite poem/ prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer - "Who am I?"
And I think - who am I?
Am I the one who goes to churches and preaches with confidence, or the one who sits in meetings with assurance, or the grandmother who listens and laughs and drives kids around
Or am I a woman waiting for something more, feeling, irrelevant and inadequate.  Wondering where I fit and where I belong now?

As I ponder honestly these essential questions and talk to my retired friends I hear echos of my own story./  And at the same time I continue to try to be faithful.  To be HERE with God even as I feel empty and confused. To read, to write, to pray.

As I write this I know that something is stirring within me.  I have found myself playing the piano for the first time in years and that is bringing some sense of creativity and peace.  As I ponder the situations that cause me pain write now - both the challenges of the regional church and the concern over the nation under the leadership of Donald Trump - I believe that I need to step back from judgment and gossip and negativity and trust God is at work here in unseen ways.  And I continue to read, to pray and now again to write about the reality and the messiness of the spiritual path. 

This morning I returned to a book by Richard Rohr that I have been slowly reading - Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi and this  really spoke to me:

"This core Christ Identity was made into a worthiness contest. or moral contest, at which almost no one wins and so most do not even try.  Francis and Clare undid the whole contest by rejoicing in their ordinariness and seeming unworthiness - which I believe is the core freedom of the Gospel itself.  And I must say it again: this is something you can only fall into and receive - and nothing that you can achieve, which utterly humiliates the ego, the willful, and all overachievers."

And so, this morning as I have put laundry in the washing machine, cleaned the kitchen, and spent time in prayer I rejoice in my own ordinariness.  Trusting that God is bringing me closer to the harbor where I will find peace and a place to serve.

Here is that wonderful prayer by Bonhoeffer:

"Who am I?  They often tell me
I stepped from my cell's confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as through it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing
My throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely question of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou Knowest, O God, I am thine."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A New Mantra

I write this quickly today as I am leaving in 10 minutes to do a funeral.  I got the call when I was in New Mexico and knew I would be home in time to meet with the family which I did yesterday.

The family was the daughter of an 80 year old man who died of COPD from a lifetime of smoking.  He was - like all of us - ordinary - a  man who drove a truck and cared about his home, his family, his pets. And he was - like all of us - a man with opportunities for goodness that will be remembered well beyond his lifetime.  He and his wife were unable to conceive a child and adopted his daughter when she was five years old.  He then became - in her words - "the best daddy in the world."  She is grieving mightily and at the same time exhausted from caring for him physically and emotionally.
This is the way it is.

So, I spent a little time praying this morning for all who are grieving - and I can think of many.  I opened my Richard Rohr book and happened upon an underlining that really speaks to me.  I think it is a good mantra for today - and maybe forever


I am blessed to be able at times to be part of the celebration of a person's life. What I keep learning is that whatever we see in the moment is partial - but it helps me to know that God is always at work.
I can trust in God's goodness and that there is always more to see and experience in this life that I have been given.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Soar we now .....

That is the beginning of the 4th verse of "Jesus Christ is risen today" and I stood in a church sanctuary this morning next to my granddaughter and sang these words -

Soar We Now Where Christ Has Led....Alleluia

Today is Easter afternoon and I sit here at my computer and reflect on how the words - "soar we now" really speak to me today.

Yesterday I returned from an amazing family trip to Bluff Utah.  The occasion was our celebration of the 70th birthday of my brother Wayne.  Chuck and I joined Wayne and Gail, my brother Geoff and his wife Vicky and Wayne's daughters Elyssa and Hannah and their families for a wonderful week in the American southwest.

There were twelve of us who ranged in age from 4 to 81 and we ate together, talked, played games, celebrated the birthday, hiked, took pictures, and rafted together.  I had no idea what the week would bring, but it was just an opportunity to "soar" together in learning about native American rock art, see vistas of canyons, bluffs, ridges, mountains and boulders that were almost transcendent and experience a magnificent river rafting experience that was unforgettable.

 We first saw examples of "Rock Art" Monday morning guided by a gentle and wise  man named Joe who has spent a life discovering and documenting these primitive drawings that gave us a glimpse into life for native americans thousands of years ago.  .  Later when we went on our rafting trip we saw more panels that were simply fascinating.

On Tuesday we did a lot of exploring the area and seeing the natural vistas and the canyons. I knew as I was taking pictures that they would not be able to capture the wonder and the grandeur of it all but here are a few.

Wednesday was our rafting trip that was a gift to us from my brother Wayne.  It was peaceful at times and thrilling at other times.  Not only were we awed by seeing the canyons up close but also the wildlife - sheep, burros, ravens, an egret.   Often when we were driving or walking or on the river the song "How Great Thou Art" welled up in me as my soul soared and sang at the beauty of this land.

I am  home again and after church spent some time at Innis Woods metro park with Marnie and her family.  And again - in the beauty of the flowers and the trees and the blue skies and my grandchildren - my spirit soars.

It is Easter Day and the tomb is empty and Christ is Risen.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Not your own doing

I have not written for a couple of days because I have found myself pretty busy with a whole variety of activity - facilitating  boundary training for the region, leading a murder mystery birthday party for a friend, preaching in Sidney Ohio, and entertaining Lisa, Chuck's daughter from Toledo.  Maybe it doesn't sound like much but I have sort of lost my morning routine in which writing in the blog happens.

But here I am this morning and back at it.  Caught as I look at the day's scripture by this line from Ephesians 2

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, 

The grace of God and the ongoing flow of creative love in my life and in this world  is   - to use an overworked word - awesome.  As I look back on these last few days I see it, I taste, I love it.  The grace that enables me to be present, to see beneath the surface, to savor the moment.  Which all sounds lovely.

This morning I read an interesting quote by Julian of Norwich:
"Only in the falling apart of your own foundation can you experience God as your total foundation and your real foundation." 

And what I have learned over time is that when what I think is a "foundation" starts to crumble is when I really do find God is there in the chaos and the crisis and the cleanup.  That is when it is really clear that grace is "not my doing."  

I have a meeting this morning as a regional elder in which I imagine we will talk about the future of the region in the light of the sudden resignation of our regional pastor.  There is a sense with many people that things are changing and almost crumbling in the church.  My faith that reminds me that there is a foundation beneath what we think is foundational is always foundational!  I certainly don't have answers here - any more than I have answers nationally as I worry about the leadership of our country.  However, I trust that God is at work even though it sure looks on the surface like we are falling apart.

My Mantra for today - TTRUST IN THE GIFT OF GRACE

I will include this Psalm that always speaks to me in times of change.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields[d] with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.