Around the Bend

Around the BendWM

Yes,
as you say,
summertime often fills the water with voices.

But around the bend,
I reply,
that is where my eardrums cease to tingle.

And in the silence,
I am Gaia,
creator and creation.

Without tingling ears,
plastics or steel,
we are all one, interconnected.

The Myth of Human Separateness

The Spirit moves us together,
she dances around the edges.

An opening appears,
and she oozes into the space between us.

The Spirit fills the space with respect,
laughter, and comfort.

She dances joyfully,
overjoyed at our response to one another.

The Spirit smiles and nods,
bursting with joy.

“Aha!” she says, “I told you:
human separateness is a myth.”

 

Pomegranates & Pussy Willows

pussy-willowwmWe gathered around a table where Mrs. Straub showed us what she’d brought in this time. She gave each of us a branch to hold and observe with our eyes and hands. While they didn’t taste as good as the pomegranate seeds she brought in, the softness of the pussy willow is embedded in my memory. Though I know they can grow in other parts of the United States, I don’t recall seeing them in Missouri where my family moved after Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

 

And so, as I run past them in my new home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a pang of joy wells up in my eyes. I was blessed by a first-grade teacher who understood the importance of hands-on science learning. When we weren’t able to get out of the classroom, she brought nature to us in the form of pomegranates and pussy willows.

This morning I paused on my run to peer at the pussy willows clustered in the wetlands. I made another scientific observation: rain beads up on pussy willows as it does on my rain jacket. Thank you, Mrs. Straub for helping me to appreciate our world.

Multiple Multiples

We’ve just moved to a new city where I will assume a new pastorate in a few days. Until this transition, my wife and I worked 165-miles apart. We  will be living together full-time for the first time in four years. Unpacking and consolidating I’ve discovered that when you live in two homes, have a home office and a work office, AND keep the car well-stocked, you can end up with multiples. Multiple multiples might be more accurate.

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Weary of being without when needed, I kept lip balm in my car, with my running gear, in both homes, and in my desk.
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Can you really have too many paring knives? I have paring knives from both homes as well as my office desk.
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I’m a middle-aged runner. Of course, I had two ice packs (one clay, one gel) in each city. Sometimes, heat is more appropriate which meant two heating pads. I gave my multiple unopened bags of epsom salts to the Food Pantry before the move.
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Is there anything more annoying than toe nails that need clipping and you’re without an adequate tool? Tweezers are needed wherever you are when the stray hairs of middle-age crop up. Yes, that’s three toe nail clippers, three tweezers, and two nail clippers. Why three? Maybe for the trinity; we’re clergy after all.
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Notice? I did not take the church’s stapler. Nor did I take the church’s staple removers. (Though, there was the time when I bought multiple staplers for the church office within a few weeks. The bookkeeper was confused until I explained the children had gotten hold of the first new stapler. 
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In the small town where I lived and served a church, power outages were not rare. When you live in a frontier town, you don’t want to be without a flashlight. Of course, my wife needed one, too. Or more. Quite a few more.
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I’m not so much of a salt lover that I need shakers in my office or car. Still, do we really need two sets now? Yes, why yes we do. She prefers the glass ones and I like my Tupperware versions.
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Scissors are useful in the kitchen, in the office, for sewing, and for opening packages. I don’t know why we needed six, it’s not like we carried or used them in the car. Honest. Trivia: that top pair were my grandmother’s sewing scissors. No one is allowed to use them. They are sacred object in my home.
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Besides the two sets of three hymnals (Chalice, New Century, and Sing! Prayer & Praise) that I used for preparing worship, I needed incense in both locations. Incense can help lure the Holy Spirit out of hiding when I prepare sermons. It’s true.

We also had multiple toasters. We have multiple bags of dog food not to mention the hand lotion here, there, and everywhere. We even have an extra robe now because she kept an extra in my parsonage. None of this is to complain. It’s been fun counting the number of like items we’ve found we had. The joy of being together in one home outweighs any minor difficulties of merging households.

 

 

Guilt is a Funny Thing

walk-sign
Photo from www.driversed.com
The Walk sign came on. I started to move into the crosswalk. So did the white Honda. Frightened, I stared through my wet glasses at the driver. Instinctively, independent of conscious thought I thrust my arm out and pointed to the Walk sign.

Throughout the day, I’ve had this nagging guilt about the exchange. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t yell expletives (or even think any). I wasn’t angry, just scared. Still I have nagging guilt.

Guilt is a funny thing. Guilt doesn’t always make sense. As I’m prone to do I’ve been reflecting on the encounter. Why has it nagged at me off and on throughout the day?

This is it: I was able to communicate my feelings (he stopped) but I did not hear the driver’s perspective. More, there was no reconciliation between us. I don’t know who the driver was or what he looked like because of my wet eyeglasses.

Yeah, guilt is a funny thing.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

Text Mark 6:31-34 & Mark 7:24-30

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  • I love my dog.
    • under covers
    • kiss his head
  • Dogs were not pets
    • “Dogs, a highly insulting name, dogs were regarded as shameless and unclean” (Jewish Annotated NT)
    • rats?
  • Region of Tyre
    • Gentile area bordering Judea
    • “potentially hostile”

Nevertheless, he persisted.

  • Meets Syrophoenician woman
    • Gentile?
    • approaching a man?
    • her daughter is sick

Nevertheless, she persisted.

The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter.  27  He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Mark 7:26-27 CEB

  • Jesus says heal the Jews.
    • says in derogatory way
  • Possible interpretations of Jesus’ actions
    • ignore context and think of our own pets
    • misogynist
    • xenophobe “Make Judea Great Again”
    • testing her
      • hostile?
      • worthy?
  • seizing a teachable moment
    • use of “dogs” plays into Jews’ biases
    • good news is for all

He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Mark 7:27 CEB

We need to take care of Americans first. It isn’t right to take the bread and toss it to the refugees and immigrants.

  • Jesus has laid his trap.
    • On to him,
      • Nevertheless, she persisted.

“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:28 CEB

  • Story has turned
  • Jesus reveals his point
    • Jesus heals her daughter
      • when she persists
      • tho she’s not Jewish
      • tho she’s a she
    • The kingdom of God is for everyone

and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31  The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 CEB

***

  • Condon UCC criticized
    • too inclusive
      • LGBT
      • women
      • black lives
      • immigrants
    • too loving
    • not Christian

Nevertheless, you persisted.

  • Your faith is palpable
    • resist an inward focus
      • But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness… Matthew 6:33 NRSV
    • be active in your faith
      • My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? 
      • Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? James 2:14 CEB
  • You have big decisions & challenges
    • Nevertheless, you will persist.

I leave you with the words of the apostle Paul writing to the Philippian church,

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.  I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6 CEB

Amen.

__

This was my final sermon at the Condon United Church of Christ, delivered Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017.

I Was Oblivious

Closeup of a trail runners feet running on a gravel trail
Photo from Zooma Women’s Race Series.

I saw her up ahead. In her bright reflective pink-purple jacket she was hard to miss even in the early minutes of dawn. Of course, that’s the point. Runners want to be visible to traffic.

Like me, she ran by herself. As I was about ten feet away, she veered away from me on another trail, and picked up her pace.

This was not competition. This was caution. Solo runners, especially those who are women, need to be cautious in a way that those of us who are men do not. A recent Runners World survey revealed that 43% of women and only 4% of men have been targets of harassment mid-run. (See Running While Female.)

I confess it wasn’t until several women in my online running group shared their experiences of harassment that I considered the risks of the solo run. (Their conversation was in response to last summer’s murder of several women while running.) Whether in my rural community or the suburban and urban areas I often run, I have never personally experienced harassment or threatening behavior from others.

I simply had never thought about it.

Once the women in my runners’ group brought up the topic I paid attention. I noted the watchfulness when I encountered women on my runs. Running alone was not nearly as common among women as men. Group members talked about never running the same way twice and carrying self-protective devices. Many women lamented they no run less often because they feel unsafe running alone. Others described frightening encounters.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I taught college my women students were careful to call security or go with friends after night classes. The young male students brazenly marched into the dark without fear. That’s been awhile, though, and my own sense of security deprived me of appreciation for my fellow runners.

How had I been so oblivious to the experience of so many of my fellow runners? Now that I was aware, I noted the alert looks i got from women especially in more isolated areas. Maybe my big smiles were a little creepier than I imagined. In response, I began giving a wider berth as I would pass to assure others that I have no ill intent. I drew back the magnitude of my smiles, sometimes just nodding.

In an era when our politics validate lewd or worse behavior as locker room talk, those of us who feel safe running alone (or walking to our cars alone) have a responsibility. We must make it clear to our male peers that any talk or action that degrades and belittles others is unacceptable.

I still run alone but I hurt for those who cannot. I am awed at the  bravery of those, like the woman in the reflective pink-purple jacket, who run solo but must remain ever-vigilant because of the sins of my gender.

A Prayer for Today

Sacred Wholeness: 

Inspire our hearts, feet, & hands to be your expansive love in the face of hostility and hatred and fear. Help us to retain your essence of compassion and favor for those on the margins. May we embrace your calling of love and justice in “just such a time as this.” Amen. 

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Related Scripture Readings
Luke 12:22, 25, & 31
Micah 6:8
Mark 12:30-31
Esther 4:14