Friday, October 20, 2017

Special Days

Have a good day!" That’s a kind of greeting you hear just about every day from someone. Occasionally I'll get "Have a great day," or "Have a blessed day," or some other variation of the wish that you have a day that has good stuff in it. There are those who resent that kind of thing. "Don't tell me what kind of day to have!" Yes, that's a bit snarky, but then people can be very snarky and really have nothing against the people who wish them a good day or a great day or a blessed day or any other kind of day.

There are some days that are better than others, like days when you don't hit every red light when you're late leaving the house for work, or you forgot you were out of milk until after you’d poured the cereal in the bowl, the days with flat tires, burst water pipes, leaky faucets, sick cats, and all manner of small to enormous disasters that can really mess up a day. It's funny though, it's all in how you look at it.

This week has been a series of “Lord help me!” days but with some truly brilliant flashes of hallelujah! Thursday was one of those days. Back home it was a day of celebration because it was the 236th anniversary of Cornwallis's surrender George Washington in my little home town. It was and still is a big celebration with lots of activities both fun and educational.

There was a special day (I won't say how many years ago), when our family was increased by a new baby, my brother's first child. It was on Yorktown Day, and the whole family was just overjoyed. She really was a cute baby. It was memorable, a new baby on the day we celebrated a conclusion to almost all the fighting to gain our independence.

Then, 17 years and a few hours later and half a world away, another baby was born on Yorktown Day. He almost missed it, being born only nine minutes before midnight. I had been so hoping he'd wait at least one more day, but he was in a hurry. This was my son, and he was born in the Philippines, miles and miles away from Yorktown. But my little town was still very much in my mind when they finally showed me my child and I compared him to the memory of the little girl born 17 years previously. It was interesting to see the differences, but of course, my son was probably the best-looking baby you ever saw.

We celebrate days the secular days and sacred days, and customs vary on how we do it. We celebrate secular days like July 4 when the Declaration of Independence was signed.  We make it a day of picnics and pool parties, hot dogs, hamburgers, watermelons, potato salad, fireworks, and the whole bit. It's quite a day. I could go on and on, but I believe you get the point. It commemorates a day when we lit a fire that took until October 19, 1781, to quench. The result was a new nation, conceived in liberty – a goal which we are still spending our days trying to comprehend the meaning of and the way to make it work for everyone.

There are some days that are better than others, like days when you don't hit every red light when you're late leaving the house for work, or you ran out of milk after and remit only remembered after you had poured the cereal. The days with flat tires, first water pipes, leaky faucets, sick cats, and all manner of small to enormous disasters that can really mess up a day. It's funny though, it's all in how you look at it.

In the course of our daily lives, day by day, we tried to get as much accomplished as we possibly can, do the best job that we can, and find time for things like meditation or prayer or yoga or walking in the park telling a kite. We can't be rolled robots, but neither can we be total free spirits in the sense of we have no responsibility and no commitment to anything other than ourselves and what we want to do at any given time. God didn't create us to do that. God gave us some things to do that we have to work into our daily lives like helping the sick or feeding the hungry, or maybe just visiting or calling someone who's been sick, or celebrating a birthday, or other commemorative events.

This week will be quieter, no major birthdays, no major celebrations, not even minor celebrations, unless God grants that the Cubs win the pennant. Still, this coming week I need to concentrate on how I'm spending my day. I have to have time to work, time to study, to be social with friends and time to be alone. It's a challenge to find a band of balance in all of this. But God made the world in balance and now we have unbalanced it. Maybe I can't stop the wobble of the earth on its axis, but I can learn how to work with the wobble to my own life and make sure that there is time for me to be reminded that God deserves a chunk of my time, and that I'll it to myself to carve out that chunk of time. Ultimately, that makes for a good or great day.

God bless.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, a wannabe writer,  and a homebody. She keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter. She is owned by three cats. She is a member of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, North Scottsdale, AZ.

Friday, October 13, 2017

One hand, one finger, one change

Once upon a time  in Austria there was a young concert pianist, a man who had a father who did not believe that art in any form was suitable as a way to make a living. Unfortunately, that father lost three of his five sons to suicide because they did not want to follow in his footsteps. Of the two remaining, one chose to follow philosophy as a career. The last son became a concert pianist, well known but with no clue that he would become not only famous but an innovator one day. Fast forward to the end of World War I. The young concert pianist had served in that war had been severely wounded in his right elbow. His arm had to be amputated, leaving him a pianist with one arm, the left one. What could this possibly mean to a young man with great promise but a flawed body?

He asked composers to write piece of music for him a few did. Eventually composers like Ravel wrote pieces to be played exclusively  with the left hand. Those pieces are still played today, usually by two-handed pianists who voluntarily keep one hand in their laps while the left hand plays beautiful melodies and intricate passages written by composers who believe that a one-handed pianist could still be an artist. Were it not for his injury and his subsequent recovery and determination to remain an artist, we probably would never know the name Paul Wittgenstein.

In 1831, another man, born in Lithuania, went to Germany to study to be a rabbi. He became a Christian instead, and emigrated to the United States where he trained for the priesthood. He was ordained in the Episcopal Church and was sent to serve as a priest in China. There he worked hard to master and also to translate the Bible into Mandarin Chinese. He was made a Bishop in 1877, and he founded the University in Shanghai. He began to translate the Bible again this time in a different style and form of Chinese. And then disaster struck.

Parkinson's disease is a gradually debilitating disease where the body develops tremors and gradually becomes incapacitated. The Bishop of Shanghai, as the priest was called now,  resigned his position as bishop but continued to work on his translations of the Bible. By this time, he had only the use of one finger on one hand. Nevertheless, he continued on with his work, picking away character by character, letter by letter, with his one finger. His translations today are considered authoritative and masterful and are still being used as standard text. If not for his one fingered task so well performed, and his dedication to doing what he believed God wanted him to do, we may never have heard of Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky.

What the two had in common was to fight what could have been an overwhelming disability that would have prevented them from doing what they felt they were called to do. Fortunately for them, they were able to follow their passions in a way that set a new standard for dedication. Those pieces written for Wittgenstein are still being played today by artists of both one and two-handed variety. Schereschewsky's works of translation are still used as standards. Even after death, both men continue to inspire others in their various fields.

We all have heard it said that what was one person cannot really do much to change the course of things. Easier to believe that than it is to get out and do something about it. We expect leaders like Steve Jobs or other captains of industry for statesmen or even people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu to get the crowd fired up and ready to do things. Sometimes all it takes is one person, like Malala Yousefzai, to call attention to something of a great need and encourage others to join the struggle to change what is wrong and make it right.

Jesus was one man, and yes, he was a human man, when he walked on the earth. Were he not a human male, the whole focus of his teachings would have taken on an entirely different point of view. If he openly declared himself the Son of God, would people have believed in him? Caesar claimed to be a god, yet he never walked on water or fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fish, although he claimed a virgin birth. No, Jesus was human and as a human he did things we don't expect humans to do, yet Jesus used those things to show what a depth of faith can do to make changes, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to look at the marginalized and give them value. Jesus changed the world, not totally by himself, but through his messages and how they were presented, how they influenced those who heard him, and who went about telling others about the wonderful things that had been said and done.

Maybe it's time for us to start thinking about what we could do, even as single individuals. I think about the woman in Las Vegas who held a dying man and continued to hold him even after his death because she did not want him to be alone. That was so poignant and such a Christlike moment. I don't think she even knew the man, but she saw a need and filled it. How wonderful is that?  One person made a difference -- as did the individuals who rushed in where others were scrambling to escape.

One person, one vote. We may not see it as able to change anything, but then no vote equals nothing no progress and no change. One person, one action, one small deed of kindness, one check, one thank you, one smile, like all little things, they can join together to become a big thing, and the big thing can change the world.  yet every single thing starts with an idea in someone's head or a calling in someone's heart to do something to make the world better. That's what we are taught to do as Christians, so why are we not doing it?

This week I think I will look for little things that I can do in the course of my work and in my ordinary life. I may not be able to solve everybody's problems, but I can at least let them know that I have heard what they said and have made note of it so that I will know how to best make that need known to someone else who can actually do something about it. I'm already conscious of smiling at total strangers at odd moments, and quite often I get a smile back. That feels pretty nice. I think it can become addicting.

So this one woman is going to try in her own way, small as it may be, to make the world better. Is anybody with me?

God bless.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, a wannabe writer,  and a homebody. She keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter. She is owned by three cats. She is a member of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, North Scottsdale, AZ.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Hands and Hearts

The afflicted shall see and be glad;
you who seek God, your heart shall live.
  For the Lord listens to the needy,
and his prisoners he does not despise.
  Let the heavens and the earth praise him,
the seas and all that moves in them;
  For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;
they shall live there and have it in possession.
  The children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his Name will dwell therein.  -- Psalm 65:34-38

I almost hate getting up in the morning, simply because I'm afraid to look and see what the morning's headlines are. It seems like almost every day there is a disaster, a shooting, a mass murder, injuries natural disasters; everything seems to be piling on at once. Even the Eucharistic reading for today seems to bring shades of disaster right to my eyeballs where I cannot help but read them. And just reading them is enough to make me feel uneasy, and at times, rather sick.

"The afflicted shall see and be glad you seek God your heart so live for the Lord listens to the needy and his prisoners he does not despise." These days it seems to be hard to find things to be glad about. There don't seem to be enough pictures of new babies, or people getting married, or cute kids doing wacky things, puppies, and, lots and lots of kittens. Where are they when we need them? They make us feel happy, they lighten our mood.

Instead, though, we are barraged with eyewitness stories, commentator speculations, worst-case scenario presentations, and lots more that can increase our feeling of disconnect from God because we're too busy being afraid of what our fellow human being could do was.  

The last two verses seemed to strike even deeper. "For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah, he shall live there and have it in possession. The children of his servants will inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell therein." If any place right now needs to hear that God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah, it's probably the people of Puerto Rico, who have undergone not one but two devastating hits of category 4 hurricanes within the space of only a couple of weeks. Their fields, towns, villages, and almost all of its infrastructure have been destroyed.

Puerto Ricans pray for release from situations which are life-threatening and more than just merely inconvenient. But praying carries things only so far. Throwing paper towels into a crowd of Puerto Ricans is not exactly the way to show deep caring and empathy. So many want to help, but are hindered by red tape and the fact that Puerto Rico is surrounded by waters no bridge can cross.  So many need the help that can be brought in, yet it took over a week for much of a response to even begin to trickle in.

It's all well and good to say, "Pray and God will take care of it." The problem with that is that God gave us brains and hands and feet and hearts and also our senses of compassion and empathy. Prayers are great; they help us focus on something that is troubling us and, in a sense, lay those things at the feet of God so that their weight is not so much on our shoulders. Still, even though the weight may be off those shoulders, we need to keep the weight in our hearts. Usually that's the only time we actually get out and do what we should do to help those in need, to volunteer to raise funds, or gather supplies, or even travel to places where devastation is so widespread, to be able to help those who are very much in need. It's only when our hearts really get involved that we are truly motivated to do what God originally intended, which is for us to work together to heal the broken, rebuild the shattered, and make the world a place of peace and safety for all people, not just one race, nationality, or any other qualification.

"Let the heavens and the earth praise him, the seas and all that moved in them; for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah." This is the promise and this is a declaration that God will rebuild, but contrary to some belief, God needs us to accomplish what the psalmist attributed to God. It's doable, but it's going to take work. Too many of us are too busy worrying about our own lives, and accumulating our own words of wealth and possessions, and perhaps feeling mild pity for those who are in deep distress, but that's as deep as it goes. It doesn't touch our hearts, or at least it doesn't touch most hearts very deeply at all.

Yet the Psalmist tells us that not only are the heavens praising God but the earth, and by the earth it means all of us who live here, all the living things: animals and birds, trees, and even the rocks, waters,  the mountains, and the hard desert soil. All of it must rejoice and praise God because all of it is connected to God, not just a few select individuals who believe they are to be the recipients of God's bounty on this big blue marble on which we live.

It's about those who quietly and sometimes totally unnoticed do what is necessary to help their fellow human. Like those who responded to the shooting in Las Vegas this week, thousands of people were caught and thousands of people were the targets. Some ran for safety, some covered the bodies of others with their own to protect them, some held the dying so that they would not feel alone at that time, and some worked feverishly to save as many lives as possible. They did God's work, and I'm pretty sure God was very proud of them, but God expects us to step up to the plate and to what we can to relieve suffering, comfort the dying, and ensure the safety of everyone at any time, not just at times of great trial. 

This week I think I will probably be praying that it would be a calm week, without a lot of heart- wrenching details of tragedies and disasters to fill up the pages of newspapers and the posts on Facebook. But I also need to remember that I have to praise God, and also to remember I have a responsibility to do what I can to help bring this chaos into a state that God would truly call a kingdom.

Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Quakers, said it so well and so succinctly, "Hands to work, hearts to God."  Amen to that.

God bless.

Image: "My heart in your hands" by Louise Docker, Sydney, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, a wannabe writer,  and a homebody. She keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter. She is owned by three cats. She is a member of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, North Scottsdale, AZ.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Levavi oculos

    I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?
   My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
   He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
   Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
   The Lord himself watches over you; *
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
   So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.
   The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.
   The Lord shall watch over your going out and
your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.  --- Psalm 121

Probably if you asked someone to name their favorite Psalm, at least someone who is familiar with the Psalms, they probably come up with Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” For some reason, that one really strikes chords in people's lives, so much so that it's almost a given that someone who has planned out their own burial service or celebration of life has already picked Psalm 23 to be read or recited at the event. There are 149 other Psalms, but that seems to be the top choice.

But among the other favorites is Psalm 121,”I will lift up mine eyes into the hills". Look Prayer Book or some Bibles and you will see that next to the Psalm number is a phrase in italics.  That is the Latin phrase for the first line of the Psalm, Levavi oculos. Think about it. You may visit an oculist (an ophthalmologist or optometrist) to have your eyes checked or glasses prescribed. It’s all about the eyes.

There's something comforting about the phrase of looking up to the hills, especially since we tend to see high places as areas of safety, or areas of particular sanctity because they are closer to heaven than the land around the mountains. Moses went up onto the mountains several times, for safety, to investigate, and to answer a call. Perhaps that's where we get the idea of mountains being sacred ground, places where we can commune more easily with God since hilltops are, at least atmospherically, closer to God, or so we think. It's also another reason why people build churches with steeples or great Gothic spires -- to reach higher towards God.

Levavi oculos is a Psalm of confidence. The second part of the first verse asks, "…from where is my help to come?" We are taught from childhood that God is there to help us and if God is in heaven, then we are to look up to try to communicate with God. If there happens to be a very big hill, a great mountain, or even a smaller mountain, that stands out from the surrounding area, then it might be a place to see as a possible dwelling place for God.

I think Psalm 121 is a good one for us these days, since it's a comforting song but it also offers hope. It tells us that God won't let our feet be moved and that God will never slumber nor sleep. That's a pretty wide range of expressions of confidence that no matter what happens, all I have to do is remember to look up to God.

Granted, I don't always get what I ask for. Really, none of us do. We pray for things, but they don't always work out the way we want them to or the way we think that they should work out. Still, were encouraged to keep believing and this Psalm gives us some pretty decent reasons why we should do that.

Looking up to the hills sometimes gives us the urge to climb those hills. Sir Edmund Hillary once said that the reason he climbed mountains was because they were there. I think Moses would probably take exception to that, because he went up because he was told to go up. He was told to go into a remote place where he would not encounter crowds but rather places of solitude, places of client, places of connection, as well as places where the panorama showed the lands that surrounded the mountain and thus dangerous places could be noted or friendly places could be visualized so that the journey could take the right direction once the leader reached the bottom of the mountain again.

For those who periodically visit the mountains or wish we could visit them, the Psalm often brings to mind those mountain views that we find so inspiring, the rivulets that slowed down over rocks and boulders, the trees that grow either very lushly for quite often rather sparsely, the closer you get to the top. Use these images when we hear the Psalm with think about the opening verse. It's our way of connecting to a high holy place where one can almost touch God.

A lot of us don't have the luxury of going to climb a mountain or such when we want to feel connected. Unlike ancient hermits, monastics, and sages, we don't tend to congregate on top of a mountain, even if we could. We may be able to manage a few days or weeks, and we seem to find some peace and refreshment from the experience. Even a few hours can allow us to catch our breath and find a bit of God’s peace to bring back with us. It’s a welcome relief, and very much a help that came from God.

 This week I think I'm going to use that image to try and connect myself a little more than usual. There are things going on in my life that are getting in the way of my spirituality, and I have neither the resources nor the ability to take off for the high country, as dutiful as it would be this time of year. I will take the words of the Psalmist and the image of the eye looking up to God and also the eye of God looking down at me and all of creation. Somehow in there, I think I may find the connection I'm looking for. I certainly hope so anyway.

God bless.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, a wannabe writer,  and a homebody. She keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter. She is owned by three cats. She is a member of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, North Scottsdale, AZ.


Thursday, September 21, 2017


My house is a mess.  I’ve been busy with studying and errands, so the floor has enough cat hair on it to make wall-to-wall carpeting, the sink is full of dishes, the dust is thick enough to sink the house into the ground an inch or two, and all the rest of the stuff.  I wish I had a self-cleaning house.  I also wish we all had a self-cleaning world that would simply reverse all the damage and become the pristine Garden-of-Eden type place God made in the beginning. Or are floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions, and plate tectonics all part of God’s cleanup plan?

Looking at all the tragedies of the past week, it seems that we go from bad to worse and then even worse again. The fires that raged so aggressively across the Northwest and other places fill the air with particles that make it hard to breathe, destroys beautiful things, houses, animals. and even when it's out, the rain will come and wash the earth down to block roads and streets, possibly cover houses, and send giant boulders crashing down on whatever is in their path. It seems like the damage never ends.

The Caribbean has been targeted by yet another hurricane, and what wasn't flattened in the last hurricane or two probably is flat by now. They won't have power for perhaps weeks, if not months, because the infrastructure has been destroyed. And there's another storm on the way.

In Mexico, there has been another earthquake and aftershocks, coming just two weeks after another one on Mexico's northern border. There was a severe quake off the coast of Japan, and Lord knows what's going to shake apart next. Maybe these are our signs of the earth trying to clean itself, but it is making an awful mess in the process.

Is this God’s way of cleaning up?  The world was made immaculately clean and in perfect harmony, as the Bible tells us. God planned it that way. Now, we sort of take the world for granted. We can do anything we want to it, and we expect it to continue to nurture and nourish us, just as it always has, no matter what we inflict on it. If there is something, some sort of disaster that wreaks havoc on us, invariably someone will say, “Well, it’s God’s will.”  Really?  Did God really make this world just to watch it tear itself apart and have us assist in that destruction? 

We need to look around and see what there is to see. I know that in the Phoenix area, we live in a valley with mountains around, and on some days, you can't see the mountains for the dust particles and the smog in the air. Some of that is natural, but some of it we caused. We caused it with our cars, fireplaces, barbecue grills, and industry. And God supposed to clean it up? It seems so, since attempts to clean the air have been rolled back to the ineffectuality stage. We've denuded the land to build more houses and upset the balance of nature to the point it’s becoming unrepairable.

There are places in this country were clean water is nonexistent. There hasn't been clean, uncontaminated water for the kids to drink and for the mothers to cook with in years. Not just one or two major cities, but in places where the watershed has been despoiled by industrial waste, toxic materials, and clogged with dirt and animal matter because nobody seems to live downstream, it appears. If all the crud flows downstream, somebody's gotta live there and somebody's got to pay for it because the folks upstream are busy making money with heavy metals and other contaminants that make a toxic soup. And God supposed to clean that up with a flood or fire?  Don’t we have any responsibility there?

 God created people with brains. I sometimes wonder about that. It didn't take much of a brain to throw a smoke bomb into a dry canyon and start a fire engulfing parts of two states and which will have consequences for years to come. And God supposed to clean that up, since fire is one way the earth gives itself a clean start? There are so many other things that we seem to expect God to take care of, because after all, it must be "God's will" if something happens because of something else that has been done, usually by us. Granted, we are not responsible necessarily for each individual thing, although if you stop and think about it, natural disasters have going on since time immemorial. It's just now that they appear to be happening with a lot more regularity and a lot more intensity than perhaps in the past. We’ve done things that seem to have helped them along, and yet we don’t acknowledge it or try to make repairs that would be permanent.

I was looking at a map of the Caribbean and actually seeing four hurricanes in one picture, one image. it was almost unbelievable. I don't remember them coming together this close, so is it possible it's partly our fault and not "God's will?”  We build unsuitable buildings in unsuitable places, and then when earthquakes happen, it makes us think it's God's will that the earth shakes, all sorts of things fall down, people and animals are killed, and the destruction will take years to rebuild? Do we blame God for that?

God gave us this world, the volcanoes around the world, the earthquake fault zones that rumble and shake and shift, the tsunamis that are some of the results and that destroy lives and livelihoods along the coastlines, the hurricane and typhoon winds and rains that dismantle homes, businesses, schools, churches and the like. Do we have any responsibility for that? Perhaps, although some will never be convinced. It's God's will, and we must accept it. Really?

This week I'm be doing a lot of praying for the survivors of all the disasters that are happening around the globe, especially in our own hemisphere. I'm going to be wondering is this actually what God had in mind? Is this really what God planned and set in motion that is going to happen next week, or next year, or even 1000 years from now or more? Is God to be expected to clean up all that? Or does God kind of expect us to help clean things up, rebuild responsibly, help our neighbors in need, and act like we all occupy one world instead of individual nations?

I read once that it was said that God made disasters to teach people to work together. I'm not sure God makes the disasters, but I have no doubt that it's an opportunity for us as God's children and God's people to help clean it up and restore the world if not to Garden-of-Eden standards, but to a standard that is sustainable, livable, and united in purpose. Going to be a busy prayer week, I can just tell.

God bless.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and a homebody. She keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter. She is also owned by three cats. She has been Episcopalian for over 50 years, and is grateful God led her to the Episcopal Church in various places.

Friday, September 15, 2017


From the time we were children, we all sought approval, from our family, friends, teachers, priests, and almost anyone else we came in contact with. The approval of some people outside our immediate circle of friends, family, and acquaintances were less important to us because the people are further away from us, but that didn't mean we didn't want their approval.  

It's normal, I think, to seek approval, but it's so much nicer when I don't have to. Oh, it's nice to be approved, that's really great. But over the years it's become more and more apparent to me that the two that I really need the approval from are myself and God. Hopefully God approves, but I'm not egotistical enough to think everything I do pleases God and that I'm his favorite rosebush in the garden.. In fact, I'm darned sure I'm not. But still, I know I also have to approve of myself, and that's when I run into problems.

Sometimes, like now, I read books, especially those written by women, that picks me up, shakes me up, and sets me down again with a feeling of "Wow! I feel/understand/know/have said that." The endorphins flood my system, and I feel vindicated, because someone else has been/done/experienced the same or something similar to my own experience. It's a woman speaking to a woman, in a way that I can respond to in a way that I can't always when a man, no matter how erudite or empathetic he seems, can do for me. It's giving voice to me and perhaps thousands or even millions of other women, in a place and time when I (or we) feel we aren't heard, valued, or even accepted. That's not feminism talking, that's just someone saying "Wow!" because someone has put words to things I have felt but couldn't enunciate for myself. It's a validation, and it feels good!
Jesus was a great validator. Look at the women who surrounded him and whose stories are recorded in the Bible for us to read today. The woman with the hemorrhage, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, and all the others who came to Jesus or on whose behalf someone appealed to Jesus for assistance beyond what they themselves could provide. These were women who were looked down on, often ignored, and relegated to the corners of the house when visitors showed up. These women were more or less outcasts of society because of health, economic status, lifestyle choices, and cultural custom and opinion. But Jesus talked to them, healed them, treated them as if they were worth his time and attention. Even the woman who corrected Jesus about being the crumbs under the table. He listened to her and accepted the criticism.  In all the women, he validated their existence, and in so doing, gave a model for his disciples and those who came after him. 

Unfortunately, the lesson was set aside, whether it was because it was threatening, or because it was truly felt that women were too weak, stupid, or unsuited for things outside of housekeeping, breeding, and being used as a showcase of a man's wealth. It was a long time before we heard a lot of Bible stories about women and with women as central characters, not just as an additional prop for Jesus to use to get a point across. The daily readings used to skip over many of the female stories, and very seldom did we hear about any woman other than the Virgin Mary on Sundays. When Ruth, Rahab, Jephtha's daughter, Tamar, and others began to appear, it was liberating, just as it was when, in the Eucharistic prayers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah began being included along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Suddenly, some of us got chills and realized how much we had missed hearing those names for all those years.

There are still lots of times when we as women aren't heard, aren't acknowledged or even seen because we are felt to be less than capable of doing jobs traditionally reserved to men. It's not saying that all men are bad, misogynistic, or simply uncaring. What I'm saying is that many times, what we as women do is devalued and discounted because of the traditional mindset of even the disciples at times. "Men know best." "It's a man's world." "Women belong in the kitchen, church, and having children." I wonder -- is this something of which Jesus would approve?  What if he had totally ignored women like Mary and Martha, Jarius' daughter, even his mother Mary?  The Gospel stories would look and sound very different.  There would be great chunks of stories missing and a whole gender not represented at all.

This reflection is an opportunity for me to let my voice be heard, whether or not anyone listens. It is how I work out how faith, God, the world and I work together to try to make things better. I know, I'm a small voice, much as Rahab standing on the walls of Jericho, speaking to the wind and hoping that the words would be carried to God. I'm grateful that the Gospels record women's stories, and that Jesus gave such a good example of what it meant to be not just a great teacher and healer but a man who modeled what he and God wanted the world to be like.

So this week I'm going to look inside for validation of my worth, not waiting for someone else to do it for me (even if they could). As I said before, I just need God and Jesus. The rest is up to me.

God bless.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 16, 2017.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Back, Around, UP


Fear  looks back, worry looks around, faith looks up. – Unknown

Looking at a map of the US right now, it looks like it should be the United States of Disaster rather than the USA.  Floods, fires, threats of either, both or even something else makes it seem like there's hardly a square mile anywhere that is exempt from some kind of disaster or other. Sometimes it isn't a local issue, but a personal one and it can feel pretty overwhelming. Then there are the memories -- whether the memory of a flood, fire, or, as we will be remembering on Monday, the anniversary of planes hitting two very tall buildings in New York City. A lot of times, memories bring fear of a repeat of the event, and worry that something else will happen that will rip the scabs off the still-healing wounds caused by losses.

Have you found or noticed people who seem to be fearful, whether or not there is the reason for fear? Granted, if I were in Florida right now, I'd be rather fearful as to what was going to happen to me and my cats, much less my house. If I were in Oregon (where I have lived), I would be concerned about my world exploding in flames (or ending up a modern-day Pompeii from volcanic ash). Mid-America has tornadoes at the drop of a hat, The Northeast is not exempt from hurricanes, although Nor'easters are more common. In parts of the country, like Arizona, for instance, 2 inches of rain can feel like a flood, and 80 degrees is balmy. We bake -- and we dread the heat of summer and the possibility of being stranded in the desert with no extra water and a broken-down car. Maybe not much of a fear, not like those faced by Texas, Louisiana, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, Alaska, Florida, and the East Coast. Still, fear and worry seem to be a national pastime.

There's a state of being that says, Maybe I can't do anything about this all by myself, but I have confidence that God will help me get through whatever it is I have to face." A cancer diagnosis, a flood or fire appearing over the tops of the nearby mountains, rising water, a possible merger in the company for which I work, there are a lot of things to worry about that are really quite serious. Can I do anything about the fire by myself? No, but I can help support the first responders and I can also get out of the way so that they have the room to do what they need to do. Can I stop the floods? No, unless I want to build a wall of sand bags all around my house while other people have few or none and whose houses become mold-ridden, soggy masses that will either be horrendously costly to repair or be torn down and rebuilt at an even greater cost. Other things I may have some control over, but that doesn't mean I don't worry or fret about them.

I don't believe God brings floods, fires, cancer, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or any other kind of disaster. I think God plays those kinds of games with us. It's not the kind of God that I would have faith in, because I would feel like a puppet, like God was pulling my strings and that's not a picture of a person with free will. I can't see God using me as a chess piece much like Job was used. I just don't think God works that way. I realize there are people who do believe God causes those things, and they are welcome to their beliefs. It's just that I can't accept that for myself, and I have faith in a God who weeps with me but isn't necessarily handing me the Kleenex box in the process.

In order for me to have faith I have to have a God I can trust, a God who isn't going to solve all my problems for me because then I won't grow. Much as I'd like to have God plant a money tree in my yard or cause one to grow suddenly, it's not gonna happen, so I might as well figure out what I can do for myself while having faith that God will be with me in the struggle even if God isn't shouldering the burden.

The saying is that fear looks back. Was Lot's wife looking back because of fear?  Perhaps, or perhaps it was to take a last look at a place she'd never see again, a family left behind? 
Worry looks around, as if to try to spot incoming trouble or storm clouds ahead. Faith  looks up, for the source of providential help. Another threesome that could represent these three aspects are the pessimist, realist, and optimist.

Pessimists look back, seeing the past as the right and true way. They usually fear change, and even the thought of change makes them itch.  Realists pride themselves on seeing things as they "really" are, but sometimes it is hard to tell whether the perceived "real" is really the true real.  Optimists often looks around and chooses to see the better parts of life while still being aware that there are other parts far less attractive, far less happy, and far less enjoyable. The optimist chooses to see things in a good light; they tend to look up. 

Some people are congenital pessimists, while others are congenital optimists. Realists sometimes start out as one or another and gradually move to the middle. Personally, I think that, in a way,  the optimist has a natural faith that things are going to work out. Meanwhile the pessimist, the fearful one, has to work to find faith that will help them get through whatever trials they are having to face. Which is better?  That question would fox a Platonist -- or maybe an Aristotelian, if not both.

People of faith should be looking around, not looking up all the time as if God were going to appear in the cloud at any moment, although it isn't that God won't do that at some point in time. The person of faith isn't going to be a pessimist, looking at all the bad parts and feeling hopeless about doing anything that would make any slight difference at all. People of faith look around, not with worry, but with a sense of there is something there that can be done and it's their job to do it, and it's a challenge they accept.

God expects us to be people of faith. God expects us to help the poor, widows, orphans, the imprisoned, and the whole list of people who will require help, including the aliens in our land (who are mentioned in the Bible as people that we should be taking care of), but we also have to accept that faith is going to compel us to do something, not just think about it. It's going to require us to look back, around and up.

This week I've got to stop my worrying, although with friends and family both in the possible path of hurricane or major fire, it's a little hard not to worry. But this week I'm not going to spend a lot of time looking or looking up. I need to spend my time looking around and seeing where faith is telling me I need to go and telling me what I need to do.  I need to be part optimist, part realist with maybe a sprinkle of pessimist just to make things lively. Most of all, I have to have faith.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 9, 2017.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Wind, Rain and Fire

You know, I don't think I've ever really thought so much about weather in very long time. The weather seems to be all the news this week, with floods and fires and extreme heat and flooding covering many miles in various places in the world, uprooting millions of people. It's been that kind of week, I can't say it's been an unadulterated pleasure, even as I sit high and dry (and hot) here near Phoenix.

I grew up in an area where hurricanes happened somewhat regularly. We would get usually one or two each year that resulted in damage either by trees being blown over, roofs being denuded of shingles, or sheds being blown over. I remember lots and lots of rain, and coupled with the wind, it got scary. Granted, they weren't storms of the magnitude of Harvey or Katrina, but to a kid, they were still pretty frightening. I was always glad at the end of the storm, when the rain seemed to lighten up a bit, I could hear frogs in the punch bowl-shaped field across the road. After really bad storms or hurricanes was the only time the frogs sang. For me that was kind of the rainbow at the end and I looked forward to it.

People in Texas, Louisiana, and those who are yet to be affected, would celebrate seeing the sun, with or without the frogs, I think. The damage has been astronomical, the disruption of a major city and a number of other cities, towns and communities that represent home to a number of very major industries upon which part of our national economy depends has made it something is going to impact all of us. It's so encouraging to see people coming together from all over to help, like the Cajun Navy, the busloads of people coming from all over the country and various agencies, both for- profit and nonprofit alike, pulling together aid in the form of food, blankets, rescue vehicles, and even shelter. Even learning our neighbor to the south, Mexico, has offered aid is one of the best things yet. 

On the other hand, the northwest is a place where they would welcome even a quarter of the water from Houston and the Texas coast. According to the USDA Forest Service, there are currently 71 wildfires burning in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and California are burning, many totally  out of control. Most are in rugged, difficult terrain, far from water sources and firefighters.

What both hurricanes and fires have in common is that they produce wind, strong winds, and like a second punch coming right on top of the first one. The wind is not always predictable, and it spreads the fire and blows the rain where it will. This week the country has taken quite a beating not just by fire and rain but also by wind.

There are times when we read Bible stories where we actually have our attention called to the weather or to weather-related phenomena.  Probably the most familiar one is that of Jesus sleeping in the boat while the tempest rages and the disciples are fearful that they may lose their lives because of the winds and the waves and probably some rain too. There's also a the story of Job where natural and weather related events come together to tear his life, his home, and even his family apart. There's even Jonah, the storm at sea, and Jonah's attempt to flee what God wanted him to which resulted in him getting thrown overboard and ending up in the belly of the great fish.
There are folks who want to blame events like the Northwestern fires or the hurricane battered shores of the Gulf coast (and also South Asia) on purely human offenses against God. No matter how much scientific information bolstered by actual data, photographs, and charts, there has to be a reason why things like the fires, hurricanes and great winds happen. It must be a punishment from God for something, maybe for accepting things that others consider totally unacceptable, or maybe the opposite not accepting things that others accept. It's funny, both sides claim God has a hand in it, and it's a punishment against sins others commit.
Undoubtedly God has a eye on this somehow. For me, I can't believe that God directs such suffering on people just on a whim or even as a punishment. I don't think God punishes people, especially innocent people, and so I can't accept the it's the will of God that people should be forced out of their homes, risking their lives, sometimes losing them, because somebody sinned (in their neighbor's estimation) or someone espouses the wrong theology or whatever. I don't think Jesus had on his Day-Timer that there was going to be a big storm on the sea of Galilee on such and such a date at such and such a time and Jesus needed to be asleep to make a point. Definitely Job didn't have any advance warning of the catastrophic events of his life, and I'm sure Jonah had no plans for anything except a swift journey as far away from where he was supposed to be as humanly possible. Still, the weather caught up with all of them. Jesus did get to make a point, that being that he  could even command the winds and the waves to be still. Job had a lot of enduring to do, but in the end his faithfulness earned him not just a restoration but a restoration several times over of what he lost. As for Jonah, after being in the belly of the fish, he got to land and realized okay, he had better go where he was supposed to go.
Sometimes we need a storm or fire or headline even of the storm, or fire, to get our attention. It's not for us to sit back in our homes and say, "Thank God, it wasn't here." Indeed we are fortunate, but that is all the more reason why we need to be conscious of those who aren't. It is part of God's plan -- of that I'm sure.  We can look at disaster on television and be moved to make a contribution to a special charity or an appeal or even a group like the Episcopal Relief and Development. It may encourage us to go where that problem is and try to help fix it. It may be buying cases of water or a bunch of blankets to add to a collection that's being made locally that will be transported to areas of need.

That's what impresses us when we look at examples of disasters and the people helping each other. Most of these people are strangers, nobody knows exactly who they're being rescued by or who they are rescuing. The important thing is to rescue, to help, to feed, to shelter. That is faith in action, not sitting around talking about religion. it's putting religion to work. Not just Christians, because Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Universalists, and just about every other known faith group or non-faith group has been involved in helping. I think that's a God thing, and perhaps the useful part of a disaster is that it forces us to work together with people that we don't agree with or maybe who speak another language. It's important to help one another because helping one another is a sign of love, and God's greatest commandment was love.
I hope this next week is a little less fraught with disasters and the like. I know it will be a long time before the fires go out and before the water totally recedes. Both areas are going to need a lot of attention, and in different ways, they are all going to need healing both of the earth and of those who have been affected. Maybe this week is a week for prayer, but it's also a week for work. The disasters are over, there still needs, and they will continue to be probably for months and maybe years to come. God did not say, "Do this and that's all you have to do ever." We are expected to continue to show love and help and compassion.
Prayers going up from all over for all those who have been affected not just in our country but in around the world where disaster strikes and things seem hopeless. God grant healing to the land,  to the victims, and to the lost.

Now where can I be useful?
God bless.

Image: McTaggart, William, Through Wind and Rain (1875). BBC.CO.UK via Wikimedia Commons.

Originally published on Speaking to the Soul  on Episcopal Café (temporary) Saturday, September 2, 2017.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


It's coming toward the end of summer. Farmer's markets are still full of produce of all kinds, but it's time to start thinking about stocking up on things for winter: freezing berries or making jam or jelly or preserves, canning beans, corn, tomatoes, peaches, pears, and more. Most of all, there is the making of pickles.

What brought pickles to mind was a photo on Facebook of my sister-in-law and a niece in the kitchen making pickles. I remember Mama making pickles when I was a kid, especially green tomato, watermelon rind, and the fabulous cucumber pickles we called "Baptist" pickles because Mama had gotten the recipe from our Baptist preacher's mother.  Oh, were they good!  Soaked for several days in lime, boiled in vinegar with some raisins and a few spices  added, then decanted into jars and sterilized, those pickles stayed crisp and flavorful all winter. In fact, we opened the last jar of Mama's pickles a few years after her death and they were as crisp and tasty as they were a week after she made them years before.  I'd almost kill for a jar of them now. 

Cucumbers are a lot more historic than I thought. They're mentioned twice in the Bible, once as referred to in Numbers 11:5, "We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost -- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic" (NIV).  It doesn't say they pickled any of them, but every single item in that list could have been marinated in vinegar or brine and turned into pickles.  The other reference is from Isaiah 1:8 which talks about "Like a hut in a cucumber field," meaning that they lived without walls, vulnerable to being in a pickle of a situation if things turned bad.

Situations turned up over and over again in the Bible that told of people in a pickle of a situation: the spies that Rahab had to rescue, Naomi and her daughters-in-law when their husbands all died, David being pursued by Saul, the disciples hiding in the upper room, Peter in a place where he was frightened into denying his master, Stephen being stoned at the feet of Saul, Paul being blinded on the road and in jail, and even Jesus in front of Pilate. There were lots more, but you get the idea.

Today we find ourselves in situations from time to time that could be described as "real pickles." Sometimes they are simple things that are easily fixed or managed, sometimes they are like drowning in a vat of apple cider vinegar. While vinegar is great on salads and in pickles, even for cleaning or on sunburn or jellyfish stings, it's not something one would want to bathe in or even drink straight, much less be immersed in it for any length of time (diluted is much kinder and tastier). Still, tricky situations do not always last a long time, and they can be both learning experiences and character builders.

Prayer works well when one is in a pickle. For one thing, it encourages our mind to focus on something other than the situation, or at least, to offer the opportunity to view the situation with a bit more clarity or distance. For another, it reminds us that when we are puzzled about which way to go or what to do next, checking a map or a guidebook or asking for help can make things clearer. Also, it reminds us that God is with us and is listening to us, so therefore we are not as alone as we probably thought we were.

I love pickles, except when they are situations in life that are painful, puzzling predicaments. Even so, the trials of life are spicy additions, just as a good pickle is to a good potato salad, a grilled burger, or even as an accent to whatever's going. Prayer, like a good pickle, adds texture and flavor to life, and offers us a chance to balance a life of busy-ness with a bit of tang or even sweetness. It connects us to God, and that in itself is a thing of blessing, whether in good times or pickleish ones.

This week, I'll think about Mama's pickles, but I will also think about the tang prayer offers me in my life, no matter what is going on. Most of all, I'll remember that when I have a good bread and butter pickle, even if I can't have one like Mama used to make, God bless 'er. 

God bless you too.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, August 26, 2017.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Divided Houses

It's been quite a week. It seems like every week I think things have gotten about as bad as they can get, but then something happens that makes me think I was being naïve.

This week it was Charlottesville, Virginia. I know Charlottesville; it's a beautiful place. In downtown Charlottesville, like a number of Southern towns and cities, is a statue of Robert E Lee, Virginian, Episcopalian, a slaveholder, and general of the Confederate armies during the Civil War. He had been a general in the Army of the United States until the South had declared it would secede from the union. Lee was given the choice to stay with the U.S. Army or to lead the state militia for the South. He loved his state, and so he chose to fight for Virginia, something for which he is now called a traitor. It was probably a hard decision for him to make, I'm sure, and at the end of the war, after he had surrendered his sword, he had to go and build a new life. He became the president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, and when he died, at his funeral no flags were flown, no uniforms were worn, and even the respected Mr. Lee wore a plain suit at his burial.

During the years after the Civil War there were people who came to Robert E Lee and asked to put up statues to memorialize the defeated generals and soldiers, but Lee turned them down, believing that it would only increase the pain and retard healing of the wounds that the Civil War had caused in the South. What would he think of all the statues of himself? He would probably just sadly shake his head turn his, turn his back, and walk away, thinking that his words had not been heeded.

Lee was a symbol of what we have come to realize was a house divided against itself, a comparison that was made by Abraham Lincoln in 1858, but originally appeared in the three synoptic Gospels which quoted Jesus is saying that  a house divided against itself cannot stand. It was nothing new under the sun, because for millennia houses and countries have been ripped apart by politics, by conquest, by ideology, by hatred, and a number of other causes. In some cases, the divided have been able to build  strong foundations for themselves, but in many cases, like our Civil War, there remained a rift never totally repaired, even to this very day.

Jesus used the figure of Beelzebub, or as we call it, the devil, to illustrate the principle he was trying to get across. He said that Beelzebub could not stand if he were divided. In other words, his strength would be diminished by having to control two opposing sides rather than one unified whole. It is like walking a tightrope without a balance pole.

I grew up in the segregated South. I knew about segregated water fountains, bathrooms, waiting rooms, churches, schools, and the whole bit. But I also lived in a small town where there were African-Americans living next door to Caucasians without friction and in a very friendly manner. There are a lot of people today who would find that laughable and who would argue that it was not possible, given that we were a racially divided area in so many ways. Yes, the house was divided, and very probably we didn't handle it well at all, although I don't remember a lot of difficulty when our schools were integrated. The two groups were segregated themselves by choice for a while in that same building, but gradually the invisible barriers went down and we began to be a school rather than two opposing camps.

I look at the church, now that the Cromwellian era is long gone, where one would think that the church might come together as a unified whole with its focus on the worship of God and the following of the teachings of Jesus. Instead, it seems to have set up its own divided house, again based on a number of criteria. In the Anglican/Episcopal church, we are trying to work through our problems of racism, gender and racial equality, orientation, and interfaith and intercultural relations. It seems like in some places they have put up statues (or inviolable rules) of heroes to those on one side who, to those on the opposing side, are seen as traitors or heretics. I look, for instance, at the division of the Anglican/Episcopal church over the question of homosexuality and orientation. I can't literally visualize statues representing each side, but I see both sides fighting to make their side victorious, each with arguments bolstering their side which they feel is substantive and authoritative. There are so many other issues that divide us, but race, gender, and orientation right now seem to be the biggest cracks in the foundation of the unified church.

Lee believed that such things as statues could be reasons for keeping wounds open that should be healing. Even as a slaveholder, he felt that whether Yankee or Confederate, they had all undergone trauma and both needed healing, a unified healing, not a separated one. Anything that became almost an idol would be another instrument of keeping that division alive. Very possibly he would be grateful to have all of the statues removed and either placed in  museums or in a Confederate cemeteries or whatever. I think he was a very wise man in that respect, and I think he had it right about taking down the idols and looking only to God.

What idols have I got that I need to take down? What preconceptions do I need to eliminate? Where do I need healing? And most of all, what is keeping me divided in my search for wholeness, unity, and peace within my relationship to God and the world? I've really got work ahead of me this week, And please don't mind if I'm grateful to Robert E Lee who, despite his flaws, left words that have begun healing in me have a part that I didn't even know was still wounded.

God bless.