Sunday, March 29, 2009

Evening Meditation

Psalm 51:10-12

[10] Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
[11] Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
[12] Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

End of the Weekend

It's the hour at which a great many of us Americans wonder if the coffee pot is ready to go tomorrow morning as we groaningly consider that we have come to the end of another weekend. My coffee has yet to be ground and loaded into the little fibrous paper filter with the de-ionized water and the timer which will trigger fresh brewing at 6:00 A.M.

It was so much easier on Saturday to believe in the power of weekends, when there was an entire day stretching out before me, mine to fill with trips to the farmers market, a bike ride in the warm spring air, or poking around the food co-op to see what new plant starts or whole foods might have appeared since my last visit. No floors were washed, no checkbooks were balanced, not one load of laundry was done.

Sometime between 9:00 Saturday morning and 9:00 Sunday night, the weekend passed through a time warp and it became Monday Eve. Just enough time to give thanks for each new blossom sniffed, each breath of warm breeze in my hair, and each rejuvenating turn of the bike pedals.

There are still clothes to wash, floors to mop, and a checkbook to be balanced, but at least I've taken care of the truly important things.

Thank God for the power of weekends!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nazis and Indiana Jones

My son pointed out to me the fact that the really cool (read: successful) Indiana Jones movies involved a religious artifact, preferably Judeo-Christian in origin, and Nazis. I suppose that when we want some really despicable bad guys, nothing beats a Nazi.

Think about it.

In the first movie, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, the coveted artifact was nothing less than the holy lost Ark of the Covenant. Who among us tolerant, multi-cultural, Americans didn't cheer when the Nazi's face melted at the climatic moment?

The second movie tanked, probably because Americans couldn't focus enough WWII animosity on the Temple of Doom dudes whose heart-ripping-out grisliness just didn't seem justified for the sake of some throbbing quarzite orbs. Not only that, the Chinese gangstas just didn't command enough universal hatred. Not like the Nazis!

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a smash hit. A lot of people think that's because of the one-two punch of Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in the same film, but let's face it: with that much technicolor testosterone on one movie, what enemy could possibly compete? Why, the Nazis, of course! And didn't it just do our hearts good to see Ilsa, the Nazi-sympathizing archaeologist, slip into oblivion like a blond Gollum because she couldn't let go of her greed?

Naturally the last Indiana Jones movie fell a bit short not because, in my opinion, there was anything lacking in Cate Blanchett's portrayal of a powerful, dominating enemy nor because Harrison Ford was over 60 when he made the film. But if they'd made Blanchett a Nazi instead of a commie, why, we would've had a FILM! And if Indie and Marian had been after the Veil of Veronica or some other Judeo-Christian relic instead of those crystal skulls, we really would've had a blockbuster!

One part of the holiness we ascribe to created objects seems to be treasuring and venerating them because of their particular provenance. The Holy Grail, which may or may not ever have touched Jesus' lips at the Last Supper, would have been someone's pottery cup-I can imagine it being akin to the "banquet ware" we would rent for a large dinner party when we were afraid we wouldn't have enough of the good set of glasses to go 'round and we didn't want anyone to have to drink from plastic. But for centuries, claims of its conservation and contemporary existence became the stuff of legends.

Another part of holiness we ascribe to created objects flows from our beliefs surrounding their legend. If the true Ark of the Covenant, golden cherubim notwithstanding, were somehow discovered in our time, it would be our beliefs which would assign to it an unworldly pricelessness. Because it is the notion that it was designed by God, and executed by God's chosen people to be the dwelling place of holiness throughout the Exodus that makes it, in our imagination and tradition, an unspeakable thing of power.

Yet, all things considered, when the Spirit of That Which is Holy moves in our creativity and joins with the individual artist in expression, don't we all as artists become the vehicles which express unspeakable power? Whether it's a John Williams musical score, a Harrison Ford performance, a Steven Spielberg/George Lucas movie, a potter's simple cup, or a beginner's 5th-grade watercolor painting, the art of the world, both simple and accomplished, shows us that creativity is such a powerful force for blessing that evil would have to choose the most formidable champions it could find to oppose it.

It's not surprising we had the Nazis. They were the perfect personification of evil! What is surprising is that we want to think they've disappeared. I don't think we should allow ourselves to be fooled-there will always be those who tell artists and believers to abandon art in favor of more "productive" pursuits-It is up to each human being to discern and determine for themselves those forces that block the creativity which supports and gives shape to the Spirit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


In my pastor's sermon last Sunday, he spoke about four types of personalities we human beings are blessed with. Our personalities influence the way in which we go about our jobs, our family lives, and our marriages. We are apparently intended to operate differently from one another, and the difference in our wiring makes for some wonderful, complementary ways to achieve our goals together. It also makes for some really tough challenges.

If we're self-aware and intentional about acknowledging our characteristics and recognizing them as gifts, that can bring tremendous energy to a ministry, to a marriage, to our parenting experiences, or to our jobs. I think too often, however, that people are quick to overlook the different ways of being with which we all come into the world. It then becomes too easy to construe another's predispositions as inferior or wrong in some way.

Here's a little description of the four styles:
1. Task/Unstructured-Can be given general guidelines & will achieve desired results. Versatile, creative, helping wherever needed. Prefers flexibility. Goes for tangible results.
2. Task/Structured-Get the job done. Give specific instructions, lots of direction. Loves having an agenda to follow.
3. People/Unstructured-Connectional, interactive. Very spontaneous, relates well to others, tend to be flexible.
4. People/Structured-Most comfortable within defined relationships, feel secure in familiar surroundings. Projects warmth. Can get to task once they're comfortable with the team.

Put another way, task-oriented people are energized by doing things whereas people-oriented folks are more energized by their relationships. Unstructured folks organize themselves best when there are a lot of options and flexibility. Structured people tend to do best by planning and ordering their lives.

God's little joke seems to be that he always puts one of each kind in a marriage. One packs the car, fills it with gas, and drives as far as it'll go. The other uses MapQuest, AAA, and makes reservations for every motel or restaurant they're likely to encounter.

Churches run this way, too. One leader wants to organize and pre-plan every minute of a meeting, while another might devote the first fifteen minutes to checking in with one another. I have actually conducted meetings for which I've built in meditation time only to have a task/structured participant become so powerfully uncomfortable that they have asked to "move on to something productive". I wish I'd known more about these personality types back then!

It would be so rewarding if more of us were willing to accept the differences in personality the way we accept differences in, say, our ethnicities , our disabilites, or our races. But many of us can't seem to see beyond a narrow, fault-finding perception of others who are just hard-wired differently. And that's a shame-worse, it limits the richness we could be experiencing in our families, in our jobs, and in our ministries.

God didn't create us differently so we could make enemies of each other. We're created differently so we can make a more glorious human God's image.

Quote for pondering:

"If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies. "
- Moshe Dayan
Israeli military commander and politician turned peacemaker.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Take a Break

This is the painting I did of a donut and coffee for the studio class I'm taking with David Lobenburg. I offer it up as a reminder during this season of Lent to slow down, spend some time in silence, perhaps with a snack, just to treat yourself gently for a little while as you listen for the coming of Spring.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Psalm 147

[6] The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
[7] Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
[8] He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.

My prayer that accompanies this is to be able to relinquish frustration over the injustices and inequities of the present economic situation in this country. Releasing those emotions liberates us to approach the job of bringing about an end to economic oppression with clarity rather than rancor.

After all, the clouds should not be over our thinking. They should be to make grass grow on the hills.

Rock on, God, and give us the vision to do our part.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


A few weeks ago the first assignment in my studio painting class was to paint a tomato. It sounds fairly straightforward at first blush. It's red paint, green for the stem, and hey, presto! You have a tomato.

Not by a long shot.

First thing to consider, what shape is the tomato? What place does it occupy on the picture plane? How is the scene lighted? Is the canvas vertical, like a page, or horizontal, as in a landscape?

A litany of further choices proceed. I discover that cadmium red medium is nowhere near the yellowish, orangey, firecracker red of a real tomato. How much yellow do I mix in? What color are the areas of highlight? What about the shadows? Before I was finished, I was ready to engage in the time-honored tradition of throwing tomatoes, I was so frustrated!

It seems to me that our frustration over the economy and all the other angst we are experiencing right now has come to a head over AIG and the bonuses paid out. We are angry, we feel cheated by the wealthy, we're afraid, and we feel powerless. So powerless, in fact, that maybe all we can do is throw tomatoes.

The one single thing I was most grateful to see today turned out to be the headline on USA Today. It had "AIG" in huge font, splattered with a picture of a yellowish, oranegy, firecracker red tomato!

Makes me wonder if we'll resort to throwing real tomatoes or, God forbid, worse...before all this is over.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Joy Movie

The slide I mentioned appears in this link. If you have a few moments and a good set of speakers, enjoy the visuals and music!

Cowboys Know More Than You Think

I was sent an e-mail from my friend, Robin, in Salt Lake City. It featured a slide show of beautiful pictures with memorable quotations and, given the fact that much of my time for the past couple of weeks was taken up with sermon preparation, I found it compelling that one of the slides showed a hard-working cowboy on horseback in the middle of a herd of cattle, lasso aloft, and the quote read simply,

"The best sermons are lived, not preached."

With apologies to the writer of Ecclesiastes, there are times to blog and times to live.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Experience of Grace for the Day

Every so often I am privileged to preach from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. This morning was one such morning and I'd pored over my sermon for two weeks (you can see it on my sermon site, The Quiet Woman, if you care to)first trying to examine what it was that God was laying on my heart that needed to be said this particular morning in Lent. It evolved rather differently than other sermons of mine, because often I like to use the lectionary readings for the preaching text. Mainline churches typically use the revised common lectionary so it's pretty easy to research good commentary and interpretations of particular texts from a number of different sources.

This was different in that my pastor has been preaching a series on spiritual gifts and had left it wide open for today. The temptation was great to try to draw to an inside straight but I've only done that once before in such a situation with him and it was really dicey because his style and mine are so different. If memory serves, that sermon came off feeling contrived.

So I took on something that I'd been just burning to speak to-Lenten practices in our non-liturgical tradition and how we misunderstand them and, further, how they actually flow from practices common to Jesus and the disciples spiritual practices. Naturally Matthew 6 came to mind.

The great part of grace is when I've labored over the writing of it so much that when it comes time to preach it I feel I can deliver it totally under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such a thing occurred today.

Our worship leader has introduced more contemporary music and, I must say, he's done itvery well indeed. But not everyone loves to rock a Sunday. This morning a lady hollered out at him to turn down the music-it was too loud! This was right after he'd finished up the first song and was launching into the second. It actually stopped him for a moment. After the song he took a few minutes to address the church and discuss the many, many, conversations he's had since joining us-everything from whether he should use the electric or acoustic guitar, how he should wear his shirt, even how long/short his hair should be. He went on to make the very true and gracious point that whatever he or anyone else does is unimportant; the true calling we have there on a Sunday morning is to point people to worship at God's feet. I'm not doing him justice for I have seldom heard such a grace-filled extemporaneous talk from someone who could have just as easily become very angry and let the woman's remarks interfere with the rest of the worship hour.

I guess I underestimate how much the spirit moves with us in worship. The congregation actually applauded him, and when I got up to preach, I went from my 7-page sermon and extemporized down to a 4-pager to bring us home on time and I was amazed how seamless it felt. People were reallywith both of us all the way and today, at least, I am sure God was using us to point people to God's throne. It's something I know we strive and pray for, and sometimes it really, really happens the way it's supposed to.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Give it up!

Here are some things that you may find useful and energizing to give up. They're not original, they're from a list saved by Rev. David Leininger and used in one of his Lenten sermons. He had them for a long time in a drawer and doesn't remember where they came from. In our fast-moving culture, this makes them as venerable as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive criticism is OK, but "moaning, groaning, and complaining" are not Christian disciplines.

GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion.

GIVE UP looking at other people's worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.

GIVE UP looking at other people's worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.

GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. "Love covers a multitude of sins."

GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God's grace be sufficient.

GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit some lonely or sick person. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the "tube?" Give someone a precious gift, your time!

GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God's riches, not consumers.


Things to Give Up for Lent

I ran across a list of unusual suggestions of things to give up for Lent and I wonder what might happen if we actually gave them up. Since they have to be imported from my Word file, I am hoping I won't mess this up and lose it. Here goes nothing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Daylight Savings

I wonder about Daylight Savings Time.

Now that we have set our clocks forward one hour, as we do each Spring, I notice the sense of disconnection between my body and the surrounding world. It's still dark at dinnertime. It's still dark when I go to sleep at night.

It's even darker when I wake up in the morning. I want to rise up, no wait, I don't either. I want to snuggle down, no wait, I have to get up.

Where is the daylight I saved?

I'm not the only one to take time to adjust, it seems. On Sunday we had about half of the church population we would have had during the first hour, which includes Sunday School period. During the second worship hour, we had considerably more folks than we normally do. Many rushed in as if blown there on the wind, breathless and slightly disoriented. It was actually rather grand to think that people care enough about being at church that they make the effort it took to get there, especially the families with young children.

The thing I particularly liked was seeing the slight wildness in the eyes of some of the kids. Although it wasn't a holiday, they knew there was something out of the ordinary, something unusual about the day, something just a little bit higher pitched about Sunday. There was a little more jumping, hopping, bobbing in the pews, and mayhem in the Children's Church. It was a day to ditch the calm, coloring pages and have a jumping, hopping, bobbing game instead.

So we did. It was grand. It was loud. It was fun. No one won. Everybody won.

Is that where the extra daylight went?

You gotta wonder.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Do-Be, Do-Be, Do......

One of the areas of life I constantly hold in tension is the balancing act of finding self-worth in what I am able to accomplish vs. recognizing the intrinsic worth of just being the person I am, created as a unique individual. With great appreciation to Frank Sinatra for his rendition of "Strangers in the Night", from which came the signature refrain, "do-be, do-be, doooo...." I have long thought of this dichotomy as the War of Doing or Being.

I know I'm not alone. All over the world, people attempt to validate themselves with what they achieve on To-Do lists, which may include entries such as:

Do the laundry
Do my homework
Do the bathroom
Do dishes
Do the yard work
Do the job

Even something as sublime as love-making is referred to as "doing". On TV and in movies, it's common (not to mention vulgar and unappealing) to hear one character say s/he would be happy to "Do" another.

When did we stop being? When did we decide that it was no longer enough to be who we are are, and to be that person to our ultimate level of being? When did our value become exclusively the product of effort, instead of the treasure of who we are?

I have yet to see lists like this one:

Be fastidious about my clothing
Be excited and engaged in the learning opportunities I am offered
Be aware of the condition of my personal living spaces
Be the host/ess who offers guests a beautiful welcome, including gleaming glasses & silverware
Be entrusted with a tiny corner of the planet, to keep it healthy and growing
Be committed to honorable work, no matter how humble or how exalted it may be

A troubling corollary to this is that we extend this struggle beyond our day planners to our spiritual and creative lives. We compose internal lists such as these:

Do XYZ job at church, synagogue, temple, ward house, or whatever
Do (Women's/Men's/Youth/Children's) ministry jobs
Do interminable and only marginally interesting or downright boring God-jobs out of guilt or because *someone's* got to do them
Do my best to squeeze in every activity I think will ensure right relationship with the Divine

During Lent, I notice I pay more attention to the being side of things although it can be difficult. What would it be like if our inner lists were replaced by an internal memo which instructed us:

"Pay no attention to the To-Do List. For today, try just to be........."

I wonder who gets to sign the memo. I frankly enjoy thinking I have the power to sign it myself, although realistically I know it would be co-signed by parents, teachers, etc. since they all contributed as much as I did to writing out the original list.

But what if we believed, really believed, that we are valuable just because we are created by God and wonderful just in the person we are? What if we could imagine the memo came from the very top of the company?

What if it were signed by God....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lenten Quote of the Day

Lenten Quote for the Day
There remains an experience of incomparable value ... to see the great events of world history from below; from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled -- in short, from the perspective of those who suffer ... to look with new eyes on matters great and small. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
Letters and Papers from Prison

It is a mildly cool day and the sunshine promises to burst forth robustly here in Northern California. Tonight I will set my clocks forward as LED confirmation that spring has arrived, but for the moment I am reminded of the change in seasons by the fact that it is Lent.

Every Lent season for the past 15 years or so I have taken the practice of discipline increasingly seriously. As a Reformed Christian, it's hard to get my mind wrapped around the practice of penance, so for me it isn't about that. Instead, I value adopting particular practices in a disciplined manner such as daily journaling or modifications to my diet. I have learned that my overall sense of spiritual wholeness is enhanced, perhaps, by the idea that I am opening the window for the Divine to work on my spiritual gifts of patience and self-discipline. (I'm all for aiding and abetting the Holy Spirit.)

One practice I have continued to follow for the last couple of years, having found it to be particularly nourishing and window-opening, is the practice of reading scripture each morning. Following the Common Lectionary, I read two psalms, a passage from the Hebrew Bible, an excerpt from one of the epistles, and finally the gospel message for the day.

Today in the light of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's observation from prison, I read the scriptures differently. I marvelled that one of the things I worried about yesterday was the fact that Citicorp's stock price fell below the amount they charge for an ATM transaction.

A window opened, and I discovered that it is Spring.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Day to Breathe

Spiritual health is so elusive. I make my living by guiding and nurturing the spiritual formation of others, yet I sometimes book whole weeks without even one lonely hour of Sabbath...something I'm always nagging others to do!

Today I was given the gift of an accidental spiritual interlude.

You may have done something similar; I read about Aggie students at UC Davis selling flats of 30 eggs from their farm chickens at the terrific price of $4.00. The eggs are new-laid from the chickens the students raise, are only available on Fridays, and always sell out. I got there at 12:10, sure I was too late.

Actually, they open at 1:00. As I turned to leave, wondering where I would go and what I would do for 45 minutes (too short to go home and come back, too long to sit in the car) I noticed where I was. In back of the building I could see horses and mules in paddocks and a big, glossy chestnut being exercised in the yard in front of a barn. Adjacent to the meat lab was a grove of redwoods full of twittering and scampering.

Since we haven't seen sun for two weeks, I went and got my sketchbook out of the car and settled down in a sunny spot with my back against a tree. My intention was to sketch but for long moments all I could do was look, look, and look some more at the squirrels, birds, and shadows.

Gradually the rest of my senses adjusted. I heard the stubborn protests of a mule being handled by a student, the whinnying of horses, and the gossiping of tiny birds. Then the fragrances began to register: resinous woody smells, spring grass and a hint of livestock.

Sabbath had broken into my world.