#WeekendCoffeeShare: Contemplating the Power of Prayer, and a Road Trip

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Gratuitous sunflower because I love them.

 

If we were having coffee, we would be out on the patio enjoying the morning, as our temperatures in North Central Texas have dropped and the mornings have been spectacular.

Over the first cup, I might ask if you’ve spent any time in prayer this week, however you pray, given all the various storms of every kind rocking our poor, tired old world; I would tell you that I prayed a lot this week.

 

python whacking monksFunnily enough, just this morning our Vicar sent out a test of our Spiritual Gifts and one question asked how comfortable I’d be “in constant prayer”. In my head, I saw myself dressed in sackcloth and ashes a la Monty Python. Then I thought about how one really can be in constant prayer, in terms of noticing the need and the beauty in Life, both with thanks and supplications, as the need arises. In fact, it’s easier than saving them all up for one big, massive discourse at the end or beginning of the day, at least for this Christian. Eat the elephant one bite at a time…. and it helps shake me out of the doldrums, acknowledging the beauty and blessings liberally scattered throughout my life. I might wonder if you, also, got yourself so tangled in the hurts and annoyances of Life that you occasionally need reminding how fortunate you are? Because I surely do.

If we were having coffee, I’d confess that I actually admitted I needed some prayers this week, like, for me. I had myself worked into an obsessive mess about some Adulting I needed to do involving standing up for myself, something hard for me, which most people might find surprising. Anyway, I am luckier than most because I belong to a huge circle of ordained and praying women and so I finally surrendered, reached out and asked them for prayers. Prayers just for me and my (comparatively) insignificant problem. And you know what? All those RevGals got to praying, sending it flowing my way and immediately I could feel it, the weight on my heart lifted, and what once seemed unmanageable became, if not cured, at least tolerable. And that’s all I really needed at the moment, respite, so I could put it into perspective.

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But, on to the second cup and more cheerful topics: Paul and I are planning a road trip. Yes, yes, I know, neither Paul nor I really like road trips, we are airplane people really, but this trip is to Chicago to see my daughter and deliver my old wedding china.

Truth be told, we’ve moved four times in two years which has left zero time for fun trips, so driving the china to Chicago might be a wee bit of an excuse to have some fun. We’re breaking up the drive, allowing us stops in St. Louis on the way up and Memphis on the return. We’ll be sampling the barbecue of both places, even if we know they’ll never measure up to Texas barbecue. And I’ve already started organizing the camera gear, thinking of all the photographic opportunities awaiting me.

If we were having coffee, I’d be grateful for our safety. There is incongruity, or at least cognitive dissonance, in planning a trip of pleasure while knowing millions are in danger of losing all they have, so if we were having coffee, I’d ask you to say, in whatever way you pray, a little prayer me and Paul, for ease of mind and traveling mercies, and ask you to also offer up a big one for all those in harm’s way.

Radical Hospitality

I’ve been hearing the term Radical Hospitality in Christian circles for some years now. It seems to vaguely mean Inclusion, Tolerance, and Support for the individual on his or her faith journey, as well as a method of bringing newcomers to the faith. It has meant different things to the various different people and congregations I’ve known who espouse it, or at least espouse the concept of it. I’ve heard it used as a reason to host a local ecumenical event, include Gay people in all aspects of congregational life, and as something the Welcoming Committee needs to take Very Seriously. It’s meaning for me has changed many times, but as ever: recent experience + old memory = lesson learned. One of the rewards of living long enough is that even ancient artifacts of memory can have lessons, given the right ignition.

My ex-husband’s late father left my late mother-in-law for another woman. It was as cliche as could be: she was his secretary. All his adult children and we spouses disapproved, vocally so, and then sat back in our disapproval and waited for the affair to end.

But the affair didn’t end, and a couple years later it occurred to all of us that if his children and grandchildren wanted a relationship with him, we were gonna have to get over our disapproval and hurt and bring them both back into the fold. As the family Golden Child, it fell to my ex-husband, and by extension me, to make that happen.

We invited them to dinner and, because my father-in-law didn’t like me and I knew it, I went about my pre-party cleaning with a double dose of OCD; my neighbor, finding me sponge-mopping the ceiling, gently told me I might be taking things just a tad far. They were likely happy to be invited and wouldn’t be judging my housekeeping too harshly.

They arrived fifteen minutes early and found me, mop in hand, finishing the powder room. Wanting to kill them, I smiled through gritted teeth. We all ate. Both Agnes and I drank way too much. After they left, concluding that “the other woman” had neither horns nor claws and that my father-in-law was not being held against his will, we counted the evening a success.

My ex and I felt quite proud of ourselves. What grown-ups we’d been! We’d nobly cracked the door open a little bit, so they could get back in. Over time, I think all of the kids eventually found their way to forgiving him enough to include them in their lives somewhat, and maybe they’d have done that without my dinner party but, weren’t we Good? Weren’t we hospitable to the woman who had broken up their family? We congratulated ourselves that we’d given more than they deserved, and were the bigger people for it.

Never once did it occur to me how much courage it took for Agnes, whatever her sins, to walk through my front door.

Never once did I think how nervous she must have been.

Never once did I even try to imagine what she must be feeling.

Never once in all the years that followed did I open my heart to her, to who she was, what she felt or thought. I don’t recall ever asking her a question about herself, her life, her interests. But I was always polite.

They eventually married and remained so until her shocking, sudden death some years later. She lay down for a nap and never woke up. There were no second chances at offering Radical Hospitality to Agnes.

According to Dictionary.com:

Radical:  Adjective 1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference; 2. thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company. 3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.

Hospitality:  noun  1. the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. 2. the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Just reading the definitions calls up Jesus for me, dining with tax collectors and prostitutes. It points out my giant failings were Agnes was concerned: I took the standard societal attitude about a woman who has an affair with a married man – that she was a heartless homewrecker and not worthy. If I’d been more radical, I might have accepted her as a fellow human being, full of errors and mistakes, just like me. And if I’d been truly hospitable and received her in a generous fashion, I might have saw in her whatever it was my father-in-law saw and loved. I might have offered radical hospitality as well as food and drink.

It is difficult to step away from our convenient labels for people, especially those we consider “other”, be they other woman/other man, or other color, other creed, other point-of-origin, but the loss is greatest to ourselves when we won’t. I say won’t, rather than don’t or can’t, because the latter two might denote a lack of choice, and our freedom to choose how we think is the best, and potentially perilous, gift of freewill.

In a dangerously angry world we need not walls but truly radical hospitality. From being radical enough to suppose the lady with 47 items in the express lane ahead of you at the grocery store didn’t do it to piss you off, to being generous and hospitable enough to listen to fact-based ideas and concerns from the opposing political party.

I think our lives depend upon it.

Weekend Coffee Share: Women’s March Edition, 2017

 

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Home of the University of North Texas, Denton has a lovely old square conveniently surrounded with good restaurants and quirky shops. There is a stately old courthouse around which protests and events happen all year round, and here is where an estimated 2,500 of us gathered in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, and hundreds of thousands of others the whole world round.

There were signs from about every group the Trump campaign maligned, threatened, or insulted over the last year.

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Held by mother and daughter, this sign is a replica of the one the mother’s grandmother carried as a Suffragette. So here we are again.

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There was abundant patriotism on display.

There were priests, pastors, and holy people, including a small contingent of opposition which set up on the corner across the street. They prayed and sang and chanted, just like we did. I was sad that breakaway group from the Square surrounded them and it devolved into a cross-the-intersection chanting at each other. Still, it was peaceful. It’s important to remember that in America, all voices get heard. Even those with whom we disagree.

Beautiful, fierce Latinas leading us in both Spanish and English versions of chants, Yes We Can! ¡Si podemos!

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There were veterans, families with kids, straight couples and gay couples, men in support of their wives, daughters, sisters or just, you know, humankind.

I was impressed with the turnout by older people, and by that I mean people I assume are older than me, who clings tenaciously to an increasingly elusive “middle-age”.

Black Lives Matter joined us.

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Those for whom Black Lives Matter, and also donuts.

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This lady, with perhaps the best advice of all.

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Someone braver than I ever thought of being.

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The Fire Department cruised by and blew their horns hello; there were abundant police milling throughout the crowd, friendly, though they did tail a man with a long rifle closely for a while. This Sheriff in particular I think has a wonderful face, and he seemed happy to be there with us. Note the mourning strip across his badge; my town is grieving a fallen officer.

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It was very loosely structured and there didn’t seem to be a solid plan for moving forward. There was a great deal of “stronger together” overheard, and disparate folks engaged in conversation. All good. Great even. Anything that brings differing people together for good  common cause is awesome.

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But as wonderful a feeling as this gathering left with me, I worry that the momentum will lose steam as everyone gets back to their day-to-day lives. Now is when the work starts, and we can’t afford to become (again) complacent. We need to get out and vote. Know who our local, state, and federal representatives are, and their voting records. Get noisy and remain vigilant. Fact check everything we read and hear, especially anything we ourselves pass forward, lest we contribute to the confusion and division.

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Somehow, we need to keep this feeling of purpose and unity with us every day.

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It was a good day, ending in Chinese food with friends.

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Oh, Mr. Chopsticks how I adore you.

Now, the real work begins. Stay vigilant, my friends. For our daughters, our neighbors, our friends yet unmet, those who have no voice, the disenfranchised, those who turn to us – to U.S., for hope.

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Weekend Coffee Share: Rolling up the Sleeves edition

I’ve been in a funk since the election.

It didn’t go my way.

The Wednesday after, I allowed myself to wallow, neither listening to nor watching any news. It would all still be there when I was ready to hear it. Instead, I Netflixed the day away on the couch in my sweats, with my critters. There may not have been a shower taken that day. Paul called from his job site in England and talked me off the ledge.

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He talks me off the ledge

I texted with my daughter, who also was not doing well with the election result, and we commiserated. I gave thanks for the supportive work environment she’s now in, where apparently nothing got done that day, but they all took care of each other.

Thursday, I watched Samantha Bee’s post-election show and was comforted, first by her righteous anger, then the exhortation to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Work: this is something I understand, and we surely do have a lot of work to do in figuring out how the Democrats got it so very wrong. This election has resulted in an outcome requiring much soul-searching, most particularly in figuring out who we are as the American people, because that picture has clearly changed over the last several decades. Lots of work to do.

 

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This fabulous woman makes me laugh, hard.

While the bewilderment remains, the malaise lifts. My daughter came for Thanksgiving week and we did not much of anything but commiserate, watch movies (definitely go see The Arrival, wait until Nocturnal Animals shows up on cable), and laugh. Few people make me laugh as hard as Charlotte. We cooked a very successful Thanksgiving dinner and followed that with a mini-Sloth Day on Friday. Perfect.

 

Now we hurtle through the Holiday season towards a new year and a new President. I am lucky to belong to the RevGalBlogPals, and in this time when my faith in my fellow man is shaken to the core, I am inspired by their writings reminding me there is a power bigger and stronger than I can imagine in control and that eventually, everything will be alright. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. They also remind me that this is not an excuse to stay mired in the funk, trusting others to do the work but rather, now is a time for prayerful consideration on my role in making the world a better place. Because we all have a role.

I believe the next four years will be a time when thoughtful people, whatever their political affiliation, must be vigilant in fact-checking and holding to account our public officials and the media. We will need to be sharp and attentive to preserve our democracy, this great experiment of American Freedom.

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Ornery Cat
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Notorious Sock Thief

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff and I used to talk about the condition of our homes as metaphors for our emotional states and I do believe it is time to fill my home with light, color, and the aroma of baking goodies. It is Advent, the time of preparation and expectation and a spray-tanned president with a bad comb-over is no excuse to forget the coming of the One. For this weekend I am going to nestle in with my sock-stealing dog, ornery cat, wisely wonderful husband, and listen to the rain while bringing out Christmas.

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Come January, there is a lot of work to be done.

 

Friday Five: Light

Julie over at RevGals asks for this Friday Five, we fill the Web with light, in photographs, poetry, scripture, or whatever else brings light to a troubled world.

Ever a shutterbug, I’ve recently taken up actually learning photography, which is all about light: the interplay of light and shadow; compensating for the lack of it; mitigating too much of it; chasing the best, most beautiful light of early morning or late afternoon. With a camera, I’m learning to bend light to my will, present in a permanent record something I saw or felt, and if I fail I can always Photoshop it until it does. It’s a point of pride to resist the temptation of ‘shopping much.

Light is a tricky thing. Not for nothin’ do we have songs and poems that talk of being blinded by the light. Plato’s Cave is the example we use to explain how some knowledge must be attained portion by portion, because the totality would be too much all at once. We say that information or explanations for things “dawn” upon us, the knowledge comes once illuminated, often when we choose to see it. I guess that’s Free Will at work as our own internal light switch.

Here is a photograph taken just after sunrise, when colors are true and pure, and the light reminds me of when we first fall in love with someone, how the object of our affection is perfect and beautiful and without flaw. Maybe this was the light on that first day, when God sat back and looked at His creation and it was Good. The world was new and all things were possible. This is our faith when it’s newly discovered.

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Just after sunrise, Irmo Park, Irmo, SC

Growing up in Southern California, I always thought of the mid-afternoon light as hot, hard, and flat. In photographic terms it is. It washes out colors, casts harsh shadows, and makes humans squint. This is the light of the workaday life, when work and kids and mortgages makes one squint with worry and toss and turn through sleepless nights, and where the shadows seem, as Melisandre would say, “dark and full of Terrors”. Which isn’t to say there isn’t beauty to be found, though it is incumbent upon one to seek out the shaded areas of an active prayer life, people in whom one can seek restoration and succor. This is our faith when we realize it takes work on our part to live it.

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Mid-day at the Farmer’s Market on Lady Street, Columbia, SC

Sunset light is lavishly beautiful, rich and full, reminding me of adults in later life – I guess this is why it is sometimes said old folks are in the “sunset years”, being full of Life, Experience, and Knowledge. It reminds me of when that new, fresh falling-in-love feeling deepens into a mature love, the kind when you wake up next to your beloved snoring soundly next to you, and you thank God for your good fortune and say a grateful prayer. This is our faith when it is mature, when we have acquired the good habits and done the work, and the places where God carried us through are now bathed in light and easily seen.

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Sunset over Lake Murray

We say some people light up a room or have mega-watt smiles, and Jesus was the Light of the World (which we lost no time in extinguishing, at least the earthly light). We might be blinded by the light, but though it has always struck me as a song about troubled love, I find myself thinking of U2’s Ultraviolet – there are things in the light we can’t see, and we need someone to light our path. Or maybe… hard as it might be, maybe we are supposed to be the light, and it is up to us to light the path forward. This is how we live the faith and make sense of a dark world.

 

Ultraviolet by U2 (From Achtung, Baby)

Oh
Sometimes I feel like I don’t know
Sometimes I feel like checkin’ out
I want to get it wrong
Can’t always be strong
And love it won’t be long

Oh sugar, don’t you cry
Oh child, wipe the tears from your eyes
You know I need you to be strong
And the day is as dark as the night is long
Feel like trash, you make me feel clean
I’m in the black, can’t see or be seen

Baby, baby, baby, light my way
Alright now
Baby, baby, baby, light my way

You bury your treasure
Where it can’t be found
But your love is like a secret
That’s been passed around
There is a silence that comes to a house
Where no one can sleep
I guess it’s the price of love
I know it’s not cheap

Oh, come on
Baby, baby, baby, light my way
Oh, come on!
Baby, baby, baby, light my way

Oh, ultraviolet (ooh)
Ultraviolet (ooh)
Ultraviolet (ooh)
Ultraviolet

Baby, baby, baby, light my way

I remember
When we could sleep on stones
Now we lie together
In whispers and moans
When I was all messed up
And I had opera in my head
Your love was a light bulb
Hanging over my bed

Baby, baby, baby, light my way
Oh, come on,
Baby, baby, baby, light my way

Oh, ultraviolet
Ultraviolet
Ultraviolet
Ultraviolet

Baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby, light my way

Baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby, light my way

Baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby, light my way

Baby, baby, baby, light my way

 

Weekend Coffeeshare: Simplicity

IMG_8999 (2)If we were having coffee I would ask if you have found, as you mature, that it is the simplest things which make life most beautiful? Were you as foolish as I when very young, and dreamed of all manner of opulence and glory, and thought they made life worth living? No, I imagine you were probably much more sensible than I.

Because I can be willfully stubborn, sometimes God sends me cosmic two-by-fours when He thinks I need a lesson. However, the older I get, the less frequent they’ve been, and I think it is because I’m more willing to see the small, gentle hints and nudges He sends, and more willing to revel in the simple pleasures of life: sleeping in, the cat sitting on my lap, a walk through Farmer’s Market.

Because I’ve had a bit of a funk going this week, I might wonder if you agree with me that it might not be strictly coincidental today’s WordPress prompt is Simplicity, or that the first thing I read was this lovely, grateful, simple post by one of the RevGals. It may be called Lucky, but I think it speaks to the simple things in life, the everyday wonders that keep us going and, if we’re observant, in wonder at the beauty of Life.

Like, coffee. It is simple, warm, comforting and gives me a vital kick in the butt in the morning. Oh, I can get up without it (how about you? Can you?) but why would I want to?

Pizza. I make my own pizza dough, because it’s so simple to do and so worthwhile: flour, water, yeast, salt, and a bit of olive oil. Let rise. Roll out and top with anything you want. Last week it was pesto sauce, mozzarella, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. This week was a classic pepperoni. Almost every Friday night, Paul and I eat it sitting in front of the TV watching whatever series we’re currently involved with, right now, it’s Vikings.

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The Classic Pepperoni Pizza

Movies. It’s one of the things that bonded Paul and I, our mutual love of movies. Today we’ll go see Now You See Me 2, which we doubt will win any awards but will entertain us. Also, Previews. We are united in our love of movie previews, and always get to the theater in time to see them. Yes, we are nerds. Yes, we are unashamed.

Nature, as seen through a macro attachment to my camera. Simple it is not, at close range but I think it qualifies because it is all around us, and all around the grocery store at which I bought these flowers:

It reminds me a bit of looking through a microscope in college biology, which I passed by the skin of my teeth, and wondering at the beauty of cells. So complex and wonderful and only visible through a high-powered lens. Why would they be beautiful? Maybe the better question is, why not?

IMG_8931 (2)More nature, sitting on my back patio with my camera, and catching this guy on the branch sporting the Tenacious Pine Cone, as Paul and I call it. Through powerful winds and storms, this solitary pine cone hangs on. One day we’ll look up and it will be gone and we will mourn its passing, comforted in the knowledge that its fall will propagate more such stouthearted cones. I wonder if this mockingbird has the same flights of fancy as we about the Tenacious Pine Cone or, being a much more practical creature, was simply posing for me? He gave me quite a look, just before he struck this pose, as though to say, “Catch my good side, please”.

What are some of the simple things you appreciate in Life? I’d love to hear them over a good cup of coffee, maybe in the backyard where we can watch the mockingbirds, cardinals, and bluebirds.

#weekendcoffeeshare

Simplicity

 

 

Friday Five: Throwback Tunes

Oh those RevGals! They ask the best questions; maybe this is how they became Reverends. Rev. Michelle Torigian posed these:

Which musical artist from your teen years would you love to see in concert?
Which album was your favorite during high school?
If you could create a festival (like Woodstock, Lilith Fair or Lollapalooza) of your favorite bands from high school or college, which bands would you choose?
What was the best concert you’ve attended in your life?
What song from your childhood, teen years or adulthood means more to you now (because of lyrics or the power of memory)?

led zeppelinMusical artists…. so many, but in High school I was a devotee of Led Zeppelin all the way. That is the concert I never saw, along with The Who, which I always wanted to see. The sound of The Doors is inseparable from my California childhood, but Jim Morrison was long dead by the time I reached High school, though the music carried on. Every time I hear Riders on the Storm, I can see, hear, and almost smell the beach I was on the first time I heard it, when I was nine years old.

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Once upon a time, there were 8 track tape decks…

Favorite albums during High school:

Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and Houses of the Holy were almost always in my car’s eight-track deck. That’s right, eight-track tape deck. And that deck was hungry for Zeppelin and ate at least three Physical Graffiti’s, which as a double album was expensive to replace, but replace it I did, every. single. time. Steely Dan’s Aja was popular in the shop building, where my photography class was held and where the darkroom was, and our indulgent teacher let us blast it while we processed film. Nothing like a bunch of teenagers wailing, “Drink Scotch whiskey all night long…. and die behind the wheel…”. The glamour of that thought diminished substantially when a popular football player actually did die our senior year, in an accident fueled by speed and alcohol. The year I graduated Pink Floyd released The Wall and though of course I was familiar with them, that, along with Punk Rock which had made it’s way over to the US, opened new musical doors for me.

My dream festival: Zeppelin, of course, The Who, The Kinks, U2, Cheap Trick, The Jam, The Clash, Paul Simon. Funny, writing this down I see my late teens and early adulthood were a sort of cuspy period, with great bands waning and great new bands just arriving.

 

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U2 @ Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN photo Kerry Wood Photography

Best concert ever:

U2 in Nashville. It was the first trip I took with my husband, Paul, so it was romantic, and being the romantic he is he took me to the one band I’d always wanted to see and never had. I feel we’ve grown up together, U2 and me, from youthful idealism to jaded cynicism, and now back to an educated, realistic idealism. In concert, they understand their job: to entertain. Bono gets his pitches in for his causes, with a wink and a smirk covering his genuine concern for them, like all good stoic Irishmen, and they give it their all. It was a great show, and I was with a lovely man I was just realizing was going to be very important to my life, in a beautiful city. One can’t ask for more than that.

Song(s) from childhood: Literally hundreds but to narrow the field, when I was very little, I lived with my Auntie Helene, and her daughter, Leonora, was a true fan of folk music. I can see her now, with her long red hair and beads, strumming her guitar and singing Peter, Paul, and Mary. Along with the Beatles, my earliest childhood was full of Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan. In High school we analyzed The Sounds of Silence at some point in an English class, and I knew about silence used as a weapon from my mother, but silence as partner to violence, societal despair, and loss of humanity were concepts growing up helped me understand. Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue always captured my imagination as wonderful storytelling, but gaining first-hand knowledge of love and loss and a return to hope has enriched the experience of the song for me. Like films and books, revisiting good music throughout one’s life reveals more truths within it, or maybe the truths are within ourselves.

What about you? How would you answer this Friday Five?

Friday Five: Houses

The RevGals pose this challenge:

  1. What is the most important room in your home? What requirements do you have of this room? (Sure, you can answer “bathroom,” but we can stipulate that as a reasonable assumption and you can pick the second most important room).
  2. What is the least important room in your home? The one you use the least, or are not very picky about?
  3. Do you have preferences for your neighborhood? What are they?
  4. If your elementary aged offspring were to choose colors for their rooms, would any color be off limits?
  5. What is your best piece of packing or moving advice?

Since it’s just the two of us, the house Paul and I have together, our first house with no ghosts or debris left behind from another life is small, and that is fine with us. The dining room, living room & kitchen are all open to each other and I love it. So this area, the dining/living/cooking room, is the most important room. And all my requirements are met: the dining area is a distinct dining area, the cabinets in the kitchen large and plentiful and when I’m cooking, I can still participate in whatever is going on in the living room, which is large enough to prevent claustrophobia and with a wall soon to accommodate a “big-ass TV” to replace the one stolen from Paul a couple years ago in a burglary.

The least important room would be the Office. It’s actually the third bedroom, and here we have a solid wall of books, the desk, printer, office supplies, and everything we don’t want you to see when you visit. Beyond this point, thar be dragons!

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Gratuitous Photo of a Cardinal from my backyard. 

Preference on neighborhood is pretty much that it is safe and attractive. Our street is full of cookie-cutter houses, but the surrounding neighborhood looks like it formed over many years, with many different styles of houses and a long, hilly road meandering through it, full of beauty grown by unknown neighbors with green thumbs. Azaleas of every color, climbing, fragrant wisteria, dogwood trees, and of course the ubiquitous Palmetto trees all thrive down and up that road.

Orange would be where I might draw the line, ironic as my daughter graduated from UT-Austin (burnt orange is their color). Or black. Just…. No.

My best piece of advice for packing and moving is: throw away, donate, get rid of extraneous crap! Seriously, if you haven’t seen it in over a year, unless it holds real, genuine sentimental value (it belonged to  or was gifted to you by someone you adored, or from whom you are directly descended), throw it out. Give useful things to Goodwill or some other worthy charity, but get rid of it. If you are, as I am, an American, you already have too much crap in your house and you know this to be true. The argument, “I might use it one day….” holds no water if you haven’t used it in the past year. Get rid of it. The day you move and finally collapse, 18 hours after starting to tote boxes, into your bed, having discovered muscles you’d forgotten about since Anatomy and Physiology class 20 years ago, you will be glad you did.

The Maundy Thursday Cowboy

Foot washing. Ugh. This was the task assigned to the lowliest servant of a home in ancient times in lands where people wore sandals and streets were filthy. When I visited Pompeii, I noted areas along streets where there were little speed-bumps, taller stones its citizens had used for crossing the street and thus avoiding the filth strewn in it. If one had a visitor in say, Nazareth or Jerusalem, a servant would bring fresh water and kneeling to the task, wash their feet of the dust and debris accumulated on their journey.

So Jesus knelt before his disciples, a physical, active metaphor for the life to which he called them. The first shall be the last, and the last, first. They didn’t get it. I didn’t get it until I saw this:

I was the Lector at a Maundy Thursday service at my old parish in Texas and sitting in the pews transverse to the center aisle of the sanctuary, I had the best seat in the house.

I loved the service, but not the foot washing and not just because foot washing is icky. It might help to know I was well into my 40s before I got my first pedicure. I don’t like anyone messing with my feet, referred to by a man I once knew as “luau” feet, because he said Hawaiians also have wide feet since they never wear shoes, thus managing to insult me while maligning an entire race in one fell swoop. But I digress…

There I was, sitting in the pew watching the foot washing, trying not to laugh at my daughter and her co-acolyte as they scurried back and forth with horrified expressions, removing basins full of used water. A lovely woman who had ALS and used a small, electric scooter thing to get around when she wasn’t up to managing her crutches whirred up to the altar. The ushers helped her stand and sit in the chair where the last person whose feet were washed in turn knelt and washed her small, pretty feet. Then she beckoned the ushers help her assume a kneeling position and so receive the next in line, a big man who wore big, dirty, scuffed, ancient cowboy boots always and every single day. Off came the boots, off came thick, white, sweat-stained tube socks and in my over-active imagination I saw corns and fungus and cracked, no, fissured heels and waves of stink coming off those feet. But there she was, with her ALS and lovely, serene face, tenderly taking those big ole feet in her small, manicured hands and washing them gently and lovingly.

I knew something about both of them. She, a highly-educated professional woman with a long and successful career. He, less well-placed socially and a little broken, I think, though always kind and considerate; a good man. It was sort of like watching the lady of the castle wash the feet of the blacksmith. But I got it. Years in the Episcopal church, years of hearing the story, and I finally got it.

In the years since I have found foot washing opportunities in many forms, opportunities to be of service, to love the unlovable, be present for those in need of presence, see the false value in pride. It’s an evolving lesson I am still learning, the lesson of humility and service taught by Jesus in the form of a petite, handicapped woman and a cowboy.

May y’all have a blessed Maundy Thursday and whether you wash feet or not, may you experience the beauty and tenderness of the lesson.

A Need for Gethsemane

It has been hard to focus on Lent during this abrasive and invasive electoral Lenten season.

Another act of terror, eliciting unhelpful responses from the GOP candidates: Ted Cruz calls for pogroms against American Muslims, a modern version of what my Russian-Jewish grandfather fled at the beginning of the last century. Donald Drumpf rants that discrimination against an entire religious group is the answer without regard to its largely peaceful members, some of whom are fleeing exactly the same extremist faction committing the acts of terrorism in Paris, Istanbul, and Brussels.

Raised nominally Roman Catholic I believed in substitutionary atonement doctrine, found it inspirational that someone 2,000 years ago would die for me without ever knowing me. As I grew older, better educated in both parochial and secular studies, doubt crept in on kitten-feet. After all, I had only my own fathers to whom I compared God and while bio-dad was largely absent he was never unkind, and my adoptive step-father was good, kind, and loving. What sort of a father would send His son to die a hideous death? Even for the whole of mankind? Maybe the sort who would allow the Holocaust to happen. It was hard to wrap my brain around, harder still when I became a parent. Send my child to die a horrible death? Even for all the people in the world? Are you out of your mind?

Several years ago I read Martin Borg’s excellent book The Last Week. It introduced me to a whole new Jesus, one who was a lot less meek and mild, not quite the warrior Messiah the Jews had hoped for, but rather an intelligent, thoughtful man who knew exactly what he was doing and tolerated zero bullshit. Here was someone I could understand and admire, even as I struggled with the notion that wars, tragedy, and evil might be less God’s will, more mankind’s own stupidity, stubbornness, and hubris. It was tough stuff, but did not preclude my belief in all things working toward good under God.

Fortunately, even in my state of world-weariness this Lent has brought some wonderful, thoughtful blogposts on the humanity of Christ or rather, atonement doctrine of lamb-to-the-slaughter Vs wise, thinking human completely knowledgeable of what would happen to him, but willing, and God’s astounding grace within it all. This one in particular finally bubbled up to me from a couple years ago and I found it especially compelling.

Regardless which version of Jesus was real sometimes I find myself wondering, especially during times like this election cycle with common sense in short supply and shouting all around,  if he ever just got weary with all of it? Were there moments when he looked around at his screwed up world and doubted the mission, felt helpless at the enormity of it, and considered just packing up and going home to Nazareth? Finding some nice girl and having a few babies, plying his father Joseph’s trade to make a living? Creating for himself and his family a decent, calm, honorable life away from the hurly-burly of the city, the stress and strain of Rome and its agents, of Jerusalem with its puppet kings and pharisees. Did he ever just hope to live out his life with a modicum of comfort and without a quixotic quest of bringing God’s kingdom to earth in the form of justice, forgiveness, compassion, acceptance, and love?

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Photography: one of my Gethsemanes

At my old parish we kept the Watch, took it in turns on Maundy Thursdays to sit with Jesus an hour in the garden of Gethsemane. Matthew or Mark, take your pick, both indicate he experienced weariness, fear, and doubt. Yet the next day he faced it all, finding even the grace to forgive those who betrayed him, those who abandoned him for fear of their own lives, and those who killed him. Whatever your perception of the Son of God one has to admire his fortitude. It’s a form of bravery which makes me a little ashamed of myself, here in a country in which I am guaranteed personal autonomy and religious freedom, the days I don’t even read or watch the news because I can’t stand to hear one more bloviating politician lambasting another while making empty promises. My only responsibility for my own freedom is that I pay attention and vote; how can I find myself too weary? But some days, I do. So I sit an hour (or a day) in my personal Gethsemane.

Doubt is part of faith; we don’t know for sure what comes next. Personal weariness aside, I find myself thinking this is exactly why thinking Christians must commit to the up-hill battle that is continuing Jesus’ work. This is precisely why we can’t be silent in the face of xenophobia, hypocrisy, corruption, greed, hunger, religious persecution, and social injustice. We can’t sit dreaming of all the justice to come in the next life; we must instead work toward creating it now. But like Jesus, sometimes we will need to sit in the garden, whatever our personal garden is, and rest an hour before resuming the battle.

The essential thing is in continually resuming the battle, until we too can say, “it is finished”.