Saturday, August 31, 2013

One Day at a Time

Commemoration of Aidan and Cuthbert

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. -- Romans 12:6-13

 I've been working on a project for church that involves putting together a timeline of Anglican/Episcopal church history. It's always a treat when one thing I'm doing suddenly gets a bit of light from an unexpected source -- in this case, the Daily Office and the commemorations of the day.  Aidan and Cuthbert both made their mark on Anglican church history, even though the Anglican church at that time was Celtic and later Roman Catholic. They had a hand in both, and added to the history of the church in England which became the Anglican Church.

Aidan was from the tradition of Celtic Catholicism as practiced at Iona, a center for mission activity off the western coast of Scotland. Oswald, king of Northumbria, sent to Iona with a request for a monk to establish a new mission on the eastern coast of northern England and so Aidan went and founded the monastery at Lindisfarne, an island like his former home. Aidan and his monks spread Christianity not only in the Northumbrian area but as far south as London.  Aidan was a holy soul, inviting everyone he met, whether pagan or believers, to join the faith or strengthen the faith they already professed.  He taught by invitation, not compulsion and met with great success. Aidan died in 651.

Legend tells us that Cuthbert had a vision that Aidan had died, a vision that prompted him to join the Celtic Catholic religious life Aidan had practiced.  He eventually became  the prior of Melrose Abbey before assuming the post of prior at Lindisfarne in 654. During his tenure at Lindisfarne, he guided the community to acceptance of the Roman form of Catholicism as established norm based on the decisions of the Synod of Whitby in 663. the main point being how Easter was calculated.  Cuthbert was later Bishop of Hexham but remained at or on a small island near Lindisfarne until his death in 687.

In the reading this morning, Paul speaks of gifts and the results of those gifts. Everybody has at least one gift, and some have more than one. With Aidan and Cuthbert, it seemed they had most of the gifts on Paul's list -- compassion, diligence, exhortation, teaching, generosity, cheerfulness, ministry and faith. Invitation and persusasion "got" more people on board with Christianity than all the rules and rule-enforcement could muster. Theirs was true vocation for ministry. Frederick Buechner could have easily applied his definition of vocation to them -- their greatest passion met the world's needs.

It's funny how many people don't see the gifts they have within them. Sometimes it takes someone else to point it out to them, and, depending on how the information is received, they either find greater passion in that gift or they discount it and leave it unfulfilled. Sometimes folks just "follow their bliss," to use Joseph Campbell's notable phrase, not realizing they have found a vocation and a ministry in work that may be far outside the walls of any church or even any denomination. Feeding people at a homeless shelter might just seem like a good deed, but if one comes away with a feeling of having done something good for someone else who cannot possibly pay it back in kind, that is exercising a gift and getting a benefit far greater than any monetary reward or even profuse thanks can offer.

A 12-step program in which I was involved for a while had traditions, promises, slogans and exercises that we read at every meeting. The one that sticks in my mind the clearest goes, in part: "Just for today I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. If anyone knows of it, it will not count." It is a quiet kind of ministry statement and objective -- but one that meets one need in a world with a billion billion needs. It sounds like a drop in the bucket, but what if every person on earth met just one need for someone else every day?  A single raindrop doesn't really do much, but a whole lot of raindrops can make an oasis out of a desert.

That "Just for today" slogan goes on, "I will do at least one thing I don't want to do, and I will perform some small act of love for my neighbor."  I'm sure Aidan and Cuthbert would have recognized days in their own lives where that saying was totally applicable, but I have a feeling they welcomed the opportunity, unlike most of us who try to squirm out of doing what we don't want to do and usually can't see some small thing we could do for someone else. I know I have and I do. Perhaps this is the lesson I am supposed to learn -- or re-learn-- from both the readings and the autobiographies of today's honorees.  Being able to see a need and do my best to fill it (or help them fill it) is probably a gift I need to cultivate a bit more, not waiting for something to crack me on the head and say "Here. Now. Do it."  It's easy to be oblivious and much harder to be awake and aware. I need to stop sleepwalking through life and maybe the stories of Aidan and Cuthbert plus the words of Paul are the alarm clarion I need.

And those most blessed words, "Just for today..."  One day at a time, one hour or one minute at a time, that's all. No great huge lifetime commitment, no permanent vows or even long-term contract, just one day at a time, one bit of time every day, practicing hospitality, compassion, patience, perseverance and letting hope and love light the road. It's not an insurmountable task and it may help me discover where my passion meets the world's needs. And I don't have to go to a holy island or be sent from one to make it happen. I just have to wake up.

One day at a time.

Originally published at Daily Episcopalian on Episcopal Café Wednesday, August 28, 2013.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Aftermath of a Microburst

Among other things, weather in Arizona is usually rather predictable: sunny days followed by relatively cloudless nights. It can dip below freezing at night (very infrequently) and rise well above 115° during the summer. People come to Arizona for the sun and sometimes get cranky when we experience what is, in this part of Arizona, a relatively uncommon experience called rain. People come to the desert expecting warm temperatures and sunshine punctuated by numerous restaurants, bars, and stores into which they can duck when they begin to overheat a bit. So much sunshine gets tiresome, at least for this East Coast-raised woman who misses four identifiable seasons and rain that occurs on more than a quarterly or semiannual basis. That is our normal, but two nights ago, at least for a while, normal went out the window something very different came in.

It was a normal evening. It had been a warm day and I was sitting at my desk writing when I got a phone call from a friend who hardly ever calls. Unusual event number one. We were chatting along and I was noticing that the overcast skies were getting more overcast by the moment but thought nothing of it since it had been cloudy most of the day anyway. All of a sudden the power went out, making it unusual event number two. I told her that it had happened but thought nothing more of it, really, because it happens once in a while when someone its power pole or a transformer goes haywire. It usually returns in a short period of time – most of the time, anyway. We finished our conversation and I gathered my flashlights, my Glade candle and my Kindle on the off chance I would need them all, which I did.

Almost without warning, the air started to turn brown and the wind started to pick up. At this time of year and this area, that’s usually indicator that were going to get a dust storm, known as a haboob, that blows through with high winds blowing dust that reduces visibility to a matter of feet in area where visibility is measured in miles. The haboob did present itself in almost in the blink of an eye when the brown dust pushed by the winds changed to torrential rain that created almost a white out. The rain was also blowing sideways, testimony to the power of the winds that I heard later were measured in gusts up to 68 miles an hour. I could barely see the trailer across the street. Lightning was zigzagging everywhere, there were occasional rolls of thunder and as I looked at my neighbors trailer catty- corner across the street, I noticed the electrical pole behind her house was throwing off sparks. Thinking to myself, “Oh crap, this is not good,” I dialed my electric company with the information of the power outage and the sparking pole. Meanwhile the rain abated after 10 or 15 minutes and the winds calmed down although the lightning and thunder continued for some time. I can’t say I was terrified, but I was certainly unsettled, fascinated, curious, shaken, relieved, and horrified with each of those emotions going on inside me like a miniature tornado. I finally went outside and looked up the street only to see that one of the very tall trees was now lying across the road. Looking in another direction, at the street at the bottom of the small rise on which my trailer sits, was a small lake.  I checked around my house and thankfully found no damage and only bits of twigs and leaves from the trees; however, many of my neighbors and other residents of the same area were not so fortunate. They had lost awnings, parts of the skirting around their trailers, sheds, tree limbs and whole trees, fences and sometimes shingles or even parts of their roof. The blessing in all this is that no one was seriously injured and many neighbors were out walking to see the damage and to make sure everyone else was okay. It’s funny how a situation like this can bring together people who don’t know each other all into a group concerned for the safety and well-being of other unknown people.

It was an uncomfortable night that night. The power had gone out about 7 PM and the temperature inside my trailer had fairly rapidly reached approximately the ambient temperature outside which was about 95°. I turned on my Kindle and read for a bit but couldn’t settle down for long. The candle didn’t give a lot of light but it was comforting to have it glowing in the darkness.  I lay down to try to sleep but it was too hot,  so all I did was toss and turn as my mind jumped on its squirrel cage and ran like a frenzied hamster at full tilt. Just as I almost dozed off about 2 AM I heard the sound of chainsaws. They were very close and they were also very noisy. When they didn’t stop within five or 10 minutes I finally gave up trying to get to sleep and went to see where exactly those chainsaws were. I didn’t have to go far; they were busily removing branches from the mulberry tree just outside my bedroom which apparently had been impinging on some power lines. I’d called the electric company about that problem earlier in the year but nobody seemed too interested. Now at 2 AM they were interested. They cut and dropped and cut some more for almost an hour, leaving behind a pile of branches probably 20 feet long and up to about 4 feet high. By this time I had totally given up on sleep and so put on my walking shoes and took 3 AM stroll around the park to see what I could see. What I saw was a lot of destruction. Venerable old trees, beautiful trees, lying on their sides, one fortunately having missed a very small camper in which one neighbor lives that always reminded me of a hobbit hole. Others had fallen across streets and one demolished a chain-link fence by falling directly on it. On my walk I dodged tree branches, mud puddles, bits of corrugated aluminum, and occasional car or electrician’s truck but aside from workmen, it was almost like the proverbial “not a creature was stirring...”

I went to work yesterday as usual, but the routine was somewhat modified by my having to take a shower with the light from a small LED flashlight, a breakfast consisting of a couple of tablespoons peanut butter and no iced tea which would have involved opening the refrigerator, something I was not willing to do since I was not sure how long before the power was restored. On the way I had stopped to speak to a neighbor and to watch him start to clean up his yard when we noticed this porch light had come on, the signal that at least in that part of the park there was power again for the first time since the night before. I rushed back home to find that yes, I too had power, and once again I could turn the air conditioner on and not worry that the boys in their fur coats would overheat and become ill. I went to work but it was a very long day. I have pulled all -nighters a number of times in my life but I’m getting a bit too long in the tooth to be able to do it with any semblance of gusto or more than a modicum of energy. It was a pure joy to walk into my house last night, not quite 24 hours after the storm passed through, and find everything in order (or in what passes for order in my cluttered little world), the air still, the sky relatively clear, and everything almost normal.

It’s been almost 36 hours since the storm which I now believe was a microburst went through and made some any changes in the landscape. I’ve been through hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes and even have been close enough to see some effects of a volcanic eruption during my lifetime. Each time there’s a period right afterwards when the danger is past but there is still a feeling of unreality about it all. Physically and mentally I’m still unsettled, tired, and I guess a bit anxious. I know the probability of another such storm of such a magnitude occurring anytime in the near future would be at least highly unlikely if not astronomical. The cleanup continues but even once the debris is cleared away there will continue to be reminders of that half hour or so when the world went mad. Maybe it’s good to be a little unsettled, because then you’re not taking anything for granted like your health or your safety or the health and safety of the people and things that you love and even people and things you aren’t aware of or don’t know. It’s probably a very good day to just sit and think. Perhaps, in looking at what could have happened, I should make plans and choices that might affect me in my surroundings the next time we have an unusual event with even .01% the power of the microburst. I don’t remember feeling terrified as the storm blew through, but I think I would be lying if I didn’t say there was some fear and anxiety there. I do remember quite clearly now that I wasn’t praying to God to deliver me from injury or death, more just a watchful waiting for what, I don’t know. At the end however I do remember more than one occasion of conversation with neighbors and passersby that included “Thank God!”

Was it a chance for me to practice my faith that God would take care of me even without my asking? Was it a reliance on my faith that I didn’t feel the need to pray for deliverance? Was it a fatalism that what was going to happen was going to happen regardless of what I said or did? After consideration I still don’t know. I just know my soul is unquiet and my spirit is troubled and I’m not totally sure what I need to do to regain my spiritual balance.

I guess I hoped that maybe by dictating this and letting my friendly neighborhood Dragon program transcribe it for me might be therapeutic. Maybe it will be, just not right now. The writer in me felt the need to put words on paper – or electrons on a computer screen in a word processing program – to try to capture my thoughts and feelings and emotions over the past 36 hours. I know I need more sleep, I know I need to get firmly back on my schedule and just as firmly back on my dietary plan which, due to the upsets yesterday, were somewhat discombobulated. The boys are napping, so all appears right in their world. They didn’t miss a meal, the discomfort of the night before last and the heat is dissipated, their drinking fountain now works as it should, so they can pick their favorite spots and either watch the world go by through the window next to the cat tree, on the lingerie chest in the bathroom or even on my desk. Perhaps they’ve got a good idea; maybe I just need a nap and maybe, just maybe, I need to say “Thank God” a few dozen more times.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Waters of Home

Towards the beginning of harvest three of the thirty chiefs went down to join David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold; and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. David said longingly, ‘O that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!’ Then the three warriors broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord, for he said, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?’ Therefore he would not drink it. The three warriors did these things. - 2 Samuel 23: 13-17

David the king, the hero, the villain, the psalmist, the chosen of God, is dying. It happens to everybody but not everybody's passing is chronicled in such a way.  The first part of the reading (which I have omitted), is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God, but it is this part of the passage that calls for my attention this morning.

The story is simple.  David is safely inside his stronghold but knows his time is short. Like many, his mind casts itself back to his early life and he remembers sights, sounds, smells, and tastes from that long-ago time. Like many, he thinks of one thing that would bring that time closer and he speaks of it to those surrounding his bedside: he wants a drink of water from the well by the gate in his hometown, Bethlehem. A simple request for a glass of water shouldn't be too difficult. The difficulty is, however, that Bethlehem is presently under the watchful (and powerful) eye of the Philistines but three men risk their lives, retrieve the water and, as an act of love, bring it back to the dying king. I'm sure he appreciates the gesture but instead of drinking it, he pours it out on the ground in a sacrifice to God. His men had risked their lives and, to David, the water had become the blood they might have shed to grant him one last wish.

Perhaps this passage strikes me because I too long for things from home now and again. There are things I miss -- the smell of the salt water and the pungency of the marshes, the feel of sand beneath my feet, the forests that spread everywhere and exhibit every shade of green I think God ever thought of. There are times when I can almost smell the salt air, I can walk in the park sandbox and feel the fine grit beneath my toes and I can go about two hours north and see mile after mile of trees in a hundred thousand shades of green but it just isn't the same. It's the memory of the past, maybe a bit idealized, but still a memory just like David's thought for the water from the well back home.

What devotion he must have engendered in his men that three of them would risk life and limb to get a bottle of water for a dying leader. Maybe they thought his gratitude would extend itself to his giving them lavish gifts and rewards, but maybe they just wanted to make him happy by granting his wish. They were, however, surprised by his act of what might seem like wanton waste of their time and effort.  To David, the memory of the taste of that water was probably sweeter than the actual water itself could be. In what was probably one of his last actions, he made a priestly gesture in sacrificing the water to God. Maybe it wasn't his job theologically or traditionally to do such a sacrifice, but he felt it was the right thing to do.

One of the sayings I keep remembering (and keep being reminded of) is that you can't really ever go home again. Things have changed, people have died (and others born), and even in a small Colonial-era town new buildings get built, old ones torn down and roads rerouted or widened.  Even the scent of the water might be different than I remember. I wonder -- on my deathbed will I want just one more scent of that water?  One more taste from that well?  One more feeling of being home?

Perhaps I will just be looking toward my next home, all past homes forgotten. I'll have to wait and see.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, August 24, 2013.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Psalm of Climate Change

He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry live,
and they establish a town to live in;
they sow fields, and plant vineyards,
and get a fruitful yield.
By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their cattle decrease.

When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
but he raises up the needy out of distress,
and makes their families like flocks.
The upright see it and are glad;
and all wickedness stops its mouth.
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.
-- Psalm 107:33-43

There are some Psalms I like better than others and 107 is one of those.  I admit being more partial to the preceding verses, especially when it comes to the "They that go down to the sea in ships" (v. 23) part. Being from a place where there was a lot of salt water and also a lot of ships doing business and providing pleasure on those waters, it strikes a chord in me. Yet here is a passage that speaks to the me that is now a desert-dweller by necessity if not totally by choice. 

There are deserts and there are deserts.  There are the areas of desert where cacti and scrub vegetation are about all there is aside from rocks and dirt so hard it practically takes a jackhammer to get through it. Then there are areas where there is nothing but sand, often blown into shifting dunes. There are deserts where the temperatures can be literally like standing in a blast furnace and then there are some, like those in the Himalayas, where it so cold flesh can freeze almost instantly upon exposure. Usually, though, when someone says "desert" they mean a dry, arid place where not a lot grows and where there isn't a lot of interest in more than a few moments of "Oh, ok, that's a desert. Let's get on to Las Vegas (or LA or anywhere else)."  The thing that marks a desert, though, is water, specifically how much and where -- and what happens to or is done with that water.

The psalmist puts the onus on the inhabitants of the land; if they are faithful, just and righteous, the land will be fruitful but if they aren't, they will soon find themselves in the middle of a very inhospitable place. The needy will be cared for while those causing trouble will be made to pay for their iniquities. God will make sure of that.

It's not too far a stretch to think of this passage in terms of global warming, whether or not one accepts that the actions of humanity can affect the land on which it lives and that what affects the land affects the climate. It's a chain, one link gets forged, then another. Sin's like that too. Commit one and it's really easy to commit another to try to cover the first one. Greed is sin, and greed is at the bottom of a lot of the climactic changes we see happening around us. Yes, nature moves in cycles and we're probably in one of those cycles right now, but we as humans have directly impacted the cycle by wasting and/or polluting water, pouring emissions into the air, and stripping the land bare and then walking off and leaving it to dry up, blow in the wind and become a wasteland. We are both the needy and the princes of the psalm. God has given us a land to care for and to nourish us, but we don't always act as good stewards of that gift.

It isn't just the physical environment that is subject to this kind of situation the Psalmist describes. Financially, emotionally, spiritually - we again are the needy and we are the princes. We want safety, freedom and justice for ourselves but we aren't always that picky about what happens to other people. Jesus' words of "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me" seems to get left by the wayside when self-interest is at stake. Programs that benefit the rich are well-endowed and very carefully watched over while those that benefit the poor and needy are often stripped to bare bones if not eliminated entirely. The climate of greed has infected every part of our lives, whether we recognize it or not, and the result is a moral, emotional and often spiritual wasteland that benefits no one and no thing.

It's not enough to say that suffering in this life brings its own crown in the next. The poor and needy shouldn't have to wait for the next life to be safe, fed, clothed, housed, educated and cared for. The princes shouldn't be so busy accumulating and trying to win by being the one who dies with the most toys or money or possessions that they forget that once their own family was very possibly one of those which had to scrimp, save and scrabble for every bit of sustenance they could get. And, as George Santayana put it, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."  How many times do we have to repeat past mistakes, wrongdoings and sins before we learn?

Sometimes the Psalmist hits on things that are repeated elsewhere but which don't always strike home for me like this reading did.  It makes me question what I'm doing to compound the problem and what I'm doing to resolve the problem. I already live in a desert, even though "made over" to make it more habitable. Under the thin layer of grass and concrete, though, it is still a desert, just biding its time and waiting for enough mistakes to pile up before reasserting its authority and its own form of judgment.

And God's hand is on it.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul  on Episcopal Café  Saturday, August 717, 2013.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bucket List and Dreams

People talk about bucket lists, lists of things they would like to do before they die. Some of them have quite a lot of things that they want to do in whatever time is remaining to them. Whether or not they get to it that’s another story but at least they tried. Some die with unfulfilled bucket lists. This morning I found myself thinking about bucket lists all the way to church and I thought about what is it I would really like to do before I go into that good (or not so good) night. I don’t have to worry about how to do them right now; first I have to have the dreams and then and only then do I need to think about how I could possibly make them happen. Some are totally out of the question, some are possible and some seem very doable, but first I have to figure out in which category each belongs and its likelihood of getting done over the course of, say, the next few years. I certainly don’t know how long I have so I can’t plan a real timetable other than: 1) Do it soon; 2) Possible, but not right away; and 3) Ain’t never gonna happen but it’s fun to dream about.

Oddly enough the first when it comes to mind is to preach a sermon. Don’t ask me why; I’m not sure I can explain it. Somehow being asked to give a sermon (or a homily) has the concept that the person being asked has something to say or is an expert in some aspect that would be informational or inspirational to others. It’s a lot like teaching since you stand in front of a group and talk about what you know or what you think and there’s some recognition of the validity of your thoughts.  I’m not really a showman and I certainly don’t proclaim myself to be the world’s greatest expert on theology or anything else other than myself. I blog, which is like writing essays, and sermons are, in some respects, sort of like essays. You have to catch the attention of the group to whom you are speaking, you have to have a general point, you have to impart some facts or explain your own POV in a way that might convince others that yes, you have a point and you’ve done your homework, and it helps to have a bit of divine inspiration to pass on. It also helps to have a few jokes or an ability to recount stories in an interesting way. Come to think of it, aside from not having my essays read aloud or preached from a pulpit, I may be able to scratch this one off – or at least put a check mark by it as partially completed. I’m not counting it out yet, though. How successful those essays are is still up for debate. Of course, they'll never be up to the standard of sermons by the priest at my church who, I think, could preach about instant mashed potatoes or hippopotami (not to mention any lectionary reading) and make it both interesting and relevant. Back to the drawing board for me.

Another thing I’d like to do is publish a book. I’ve had that dream for so many years now I can’t remember NOT wanting to do it even though there have been years and decades where I put the thought aside and didn’t give it any consideration at all. I know the Great American Novel is not in me to write; my strong suit is essays and word paintings, so maybe I need to focus on those. I don’t really want to do one of those self-publishing things because I am still the mindset that that’s kind of a vanity press thing and I’m not really into vanity press. I’d like to be sought out but hey, self-publishing might give me more options and might very probably be something more attainable, so I will definitely keep that on the list.

Number three is that I’d like to go home again one more time before I die. I’d like to see people that I know I’ll never see again if I wait too much longer, like I missed seeing my brother one last time. I miss my river. I don’t care how much the landscape around has changed, the river still the same and that river is one thing I really miss.

Talking about travel, I’d love to go to England. Why go just for a week or maybe two, see the main tourist attractions, and come home thinking I’d had the English experience? I’ve read too many books, watched too many documentaries and films and videos. I want to see if England really is what I imagine it to be. I want to settle in a small cottage in a little village and earn a place in that village.  I’d also like to go visit as many cathedrals as possible because for some reason I get off on cathedrals. There’s something about touching something that has existed for a long period of time, and by long I mean more than 50 years. I get that feeling from touching the wall of the little Episcopal church back home that was built in 1697.  I guess I’m really a church junkie at heart. I could do with daily Evensongs and living in a cathedral close, just to be near the church and able to participate in its life even vicariously.

I’d like to get my bills paid off. It’s a worthy cause, somewhat doable, but I’d better start now. I realize the way to lessen my bills is to pay more than I am spending and to me that’s difficult as I have an impulse control problem when it comes to money. Still it’s something to work on.

I’d like for the people I love and who have helped me in various ways to know how much they have meant to me, whether I’ve known them for a month or a lifetime. That’s an ongoing project. I may never finish that one, but that’s okay. As long as I’ve tried and told as many people as possible – and as often as possible. I hate those thoughts of “Gee, if I’d only known and said something sooner…”

I’d like to sing Messiah again, preferably in a big group. I love singing in choirs, always have. I’d far rather be part of a big group than a soloist, as nice as it is to have the spotlight once in a while. Some of the greatest highs (in the emotional sense) of my life have been from performing with a large choir.

 I’d like to earn a couple more college degrees – preferably masters’ degrees but I’ll take an Associates or Bachelors if the field were right. I’d love to study theology, Biblical anthropology, psychology, communications – and the list keeps growing. This is definitely one of those “Ain’t gonna happen” items on the list. I’m too old, to slow of mind and too poor to do much about it other than take a class or two now and then in whatever subject interests me and that fits the budget. Besides, I’d never pass the Graduate Record Exam at this late date. I had enough trouble with the SATs in high school!

I’d like to get a call from God and be able to follow that call. No, I don’t think the job of priest would be for me, but maybe a deacon’s job might. I can’t second-guess God, but if God wanted it I imagine there would be a way to do it. As it is, though, I couldn’t pass the exams or the discernment process. Still, I’m letting God know I’m still trying to listen…

I’d like to learn to speak another language fluently. I took French and Spanish in high school but haven’t done anything with them and never was really proficient at them anyway. Even now, living in a culture where Spanish is spoken almost as much as English, I still haven’t caught on to it. I think I’m just too lazy. Learning a language is a lot like learning to play the piano. I wanted to do the sonatas and such but wasn’t so interested in learning to do the scales. I would like to have the capacity to learn Koine Greek so I could read the NT in it without using an interlinear. I hear there are some good jokes in there – or was that the Hebrew of the Jewish Bible?

There are other things, like meeting the HM the Queen or Desmond Tutu or Katharine Jefferts-Schori, sitting in on a class taught by Marcus Borg, working as a church secretary again, or being a successful teacher. The thing about dreams is that when I dare to dream one thing it may never happen but it also might just open the door for other, more possible dreams. It’s been a long time since I’ve dared to even think about my dreams and wishes, much less actually making a bucket list of possible.  I’ve started one here and now, and all I have to do is decide what to do and how. Whether something is possible or not, I need to learn to think “as if” – and go with it.
I may not do anything on my list or, by some miracle from God, I could do all or at least most of them, I don’t know. I just know that life without dreams is a rather bleak place. I’ve been there, done that.  I need my dreams now, even if they never come true.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cat Lace

Looking at the floor this morning I suddenly came to the realization that I couldn’t put off mowing it any longer. I walked over to the front window and happened to look down to find a rather loose aggregation of fur probably 3 inches long that had been shed and had now made itself into this lovely lacy little pattern that lay on the floor in front of the cedar chest. While it was attractive it brought me to the realization that I haven’t vacuumed in a while, have I? As if to reinforce the idea, I looked and underneath the table where the DVD player and assorted CDs and what have you reside, not to mention under the desk and the computer stand, there were similar lacy cat hair things, each larger than the last. As I looked around just see what else was around I noticed there were quite a few more of these little lace things, so I decided that as much as I didn’t want to do it, I had to mow the floor.

I hate housework. The only self-cleaning things in my house are the oven, which draws too much power and might burn the house down, and the cats. Unfortunately the boys aren’t totally self cleaning enough. I still have to police the litterbox, wash the dishes, dishes open the cans to refill the dishes, change the water in the electric water fountain that they have for drinking and clean up stray cat hair, whether it comes in the lacy form or the severely congealed form usually cast in the middle of a high-traffic area. Admittedly the lacy form is nicer. Still, housework has to be done, and is much as I enjoy doing other things, like writing or dictating essays on life and theology and the importance of peanut butter in the diet of diabetic old ladies, there are times I have to put down the recorder, take my hands off the mouse, step away from the keyboard and go do something to improve the environment in which all of us live.

In getting my little Oreck Ironman out of the closet I managed to knock it on its side, right on the toes of my right foot. Luckily it doesn’t weigh much and even luckier for me, it wasn’t my left foot which already has a broken toe.  I managed to get done with the combination living room/kitchen/office without too much trouble.  After sucking up about a quarter cup of cat kibbles, numerous pieces of carpet fuzz from the scratching post I just bought them a couple of months ago and which is beginning to show a bit of wear and tear, and no less than half a dozen more bits of cat lace I figured I’d gotten the floor fairly clean – or I did, until I turned around and saw a ball of cat lace sitting in the exact center of the floor I had just mowed. I didn’t see a tongue sticking out but it definitely had a “neener, neener, neener” air about it. I wasted no time dispatching it with the Oreck and thankfully, no others showed up to take up the challenge.

One thing I have found about floor mowing --- Gandhi enjoys it.  I bet if I had one of those cute little automatic mowing things for the floor Gandhi would be riding it around.  He loves riding on the walker my husband used to use. One click of the brake levers and Gandhi is up on the seat with his front paws on the crossbar, ready to go. And he loves to be mowed. Whether I use the upholstery brush or just the end of the hose and go over his back and tail, he purrs, rolls around and acts like this is the best thing that’s happened since the last time he had cat treats.  He absolutely loves it. I like it too; the more hair I vacuum off him, the fewer cat laces I find lying around. The other three felines, though, wanted nothing to do with the process. They were firmly planted on top of the china cabinet during the proceedings, even though Gandhi was on top of the cat tree right beneath them as I held the hose against his fur.

I finished the rest of the house with relative dispatch, including about half a pound of cat hair from the air conditioner filter.  I notice the a/c sounds less strained now; probably it wishes I had done that cleanup job last week!  I’m glad it’s a small house; I’d hate to see how many pieces of cat lace I’d find if they had a lot of room in which to grow!  When the time comes for my son and heir to clean out my effects he’ll probably still be finding bits of cat lace lying around.  Oh, well, they’re probably as valuable as anything else I may have to leave him. Besides, he might know about cat lace. He has a cat too. Just one. His mother is more of an overachiever in that line.

So now the floor is mowed and the furniture dusted off a bit. It looks cleaner but I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere just out of sight and waiting for an opportune moment, there is a bit of cat lace just waiting to put in an unexpected appearance.  And they said cats were sneaky!!!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Unknown God

 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the market-place every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’ (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.’ Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. -- Acts 17:16-34

There's an old saying that goes something like "Flattery will get you nowhere", but in this case, a little flattery got Paul quite a hearing.

Paul was wandering around Athens, a city noted for its arts, philosophy and sophistication. Among the many public buildings he spotted a number of temples dedicated to various members of the extensive Greco-Roman pantheon. Why so many? It wouldn't do to ignore a god who might get upset at the slight and do something awful in retaliation. There was even an altar to an "Unknown God," a true marker of how seriously Athens took its god-worship. There might be another god out there they didn't know about but they weren't taking chances that the unknown god would get upset. Messing around with gods just wasn't good.

Paul called attention to this altar when called before the Areopagus, the Athenian high council that mandated things both judicial and legislative, to explain his claims about this "Unknown God."  Now, if anything, Paul could talk a good talk and knew when a bit of flattery would get him somewhere and this was definitely one of those times. He commended Athens for its religious observance and then proceeded to tell them that this Unknown God actually had a name -- God -- and had created all things including time. This God didn't have or need idols of gold or silver, even stone, clay or wood. This God was different and this God was bigger and better and more powerful than any of the representations of the traditional gods of Greece and Rome. Paul laid it all out and the Athenians listened.

I wonder what gods Paul would find worshipped if he wandered around one of our modern cities?  Tall buildings as temples?  Gods of commerce and ease and pleasure? Idols of rock stars and entertainers and public figures?  Worship of money and greed and "I've got mine, good luck getting yours"?  I don't think it would take him long (once he got over the culture shock) to see those temples and altars and idols. We make it very easy; it's called advertising and it works. It encourages our worship of things we probably don't need by portraying them as things we do need, we must desire, we must possess.  Never mind the cost, whether financial or ethical, we must have these things in order to be fulfilled, comfortable, and on par with or above our neighbors. We worship money and power and often overlook the cost to our souls for doing so.

There is still an Unknown God out there, one we visit on Sunday but don't always remember during the week. It's not a god whose essence or power can be captured in an image no matter how precious the metal or how flawless the gems adorning it. It's not a god who is susceptible to flattery and can be bought off with offerings and occasional flattering attention. This is a God who has the power to create universes with a word and who has a refrigerator big enough to show the pictures of every person that has ever been on the face of the earth. We can barely even begin to comprehend the vastness of our ever-expanding galaxy, much less the borders of space that seem to be pushed back with each new telescope and every continued spacecraft journey, so how can we even begin to figure out the limits and expanses of God?  We can't, and so in some ways God remains unknown. What we do know, however, is that God is here, now, among us, unseen by us, often unrecognized by us. God is in the faces of the beggar with his tin cup next to the restaurant where plates of unfinished food are often dumped in the garbage or the woman bending over a sewing machine for hours, sewing garments to be sold for ten thousand times as much as she will earn for making them, or the child suffering from a disfigurement or disease that could be easily cured if the money and the doctors were available. God is in the butterfly and the cat and the snake, the rocks and the trees and the restless ocean. Everything that is, has been or will be has a bit of God within it, perhaps even those things to which we devote our lives to attaining, obtaining or maintaining. What we don't see in many of those things, though, is the God-spark, the presence of God in all things, a spark waiting to be encouraged to grow into a full flame. Paul would probably shake his head and wonder where the message went astray.

Paul's words didn't reach everybody who heard him that day but some got the message. Some are just now reading this story and getting the message.  Some, though, will read or hear the story and simply keep walking -- walking past the temples and altars that we have created to worship in place of the Unknown God who beckons us.

No matter how much we know (or think we know) about God, including what we don't know, there is so much more than we can ever even imagine. God is in the little boxes we have that we label "God" and think we understand what is there, but God is also outside the box since no box could possibly contain all that God is. Still, we seek the Unknown God that we know is there and yet don't fully comprehend. Sometimes we just go for the wrong god, the one we do understand and for what we think that god will do for us.

The Unknown God -- still present and still unknown. I wonder what Paul would say? I doubt the words would be flattering.

Originally published at Episcopal Café Saturday, August 3, 2013, under the title "Flattery."