Month: May 2014

Up North: Living Off The Grid

It happens around this time every year. My mind, soul, body wants to get in the car and go North. To take the road that begins on asphalt, then turns to gravel and later to sand. To take the road, that leads to a winding driveway, where the branches scrape against the car, and seems to belong more to nature than to man.

And when it at last, the road opens, you see it. A small, brown cabin, and a crystal blue lake and you take a deep breath.

The most formative years of my life were doing something we today call, “living off the grid.” From the age of 8 to 14, my parents loaded up our Chevy van, three daughters, a dog, bikes and books and left for six to eight weeks to a rustic cabin in northern Wisconsin.

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I didn’t want to go. I put up a stink about it. I was not cooperative.

With no television, computer(obviously), or telephone, and one radio station that played only polka music, my sisters and I were left with our imaginations and each other for creativity and entertainment.

Our cabin, which we rented, had two bedrooms, a living room, a screened in porch, a bathroom with a big four-legged tub, and a kitchen. It had a basement that smelled like rotten cheese, of which I was certain inhabited a serial killer. I never went down there. My sisters and I shared one room, which consisted of a small dresser, a closet, a double bed and bunk beds.

There was a deer path that led to the lake. Surrounding the path, were wild blueberries. Every morning, I would go out and pick a bucket full of berries and come back to the smell of coffee and sausage and a cassette tape playing Mozart. The windows in the living room would be open surrounding a little table my Mom had already set up with math worksheets. I’d set the berries down on the kitchen table, go to the table and grudgingly do a sheet of fractions, while Mom sprinkled the berries into pancake batter.

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If it looked like it was going to be a good day, it meant a day down at the lake. Jumping into the cool water over and over and over again was “invigorating.” That was one of the vocabulary words we had to learn, “invigorating.” The water was so clear, you could see the bottom three feet deep. We’d walk along the shore to the peninsula to hunt for crawlers. The water was a part of our family. Whether or not we could visit it, determined the course of the day.

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Our afternoons were filled with bike rides, reading, games, and writing performances which we would be our evening entertainment.

Wednesdays were designated as Errand Day. It was the day we went to town to the laundry mat and grocery store, which meant we had to brush our hair. Going into town and seeing people was a big deal. The first stop was going to the dump. Mom put our laundry in big black garbage bags, and set them right along side the garbage. I was always certain Dad would confuse the laundry with garbage and I would be without clothes for the rest of the summer, but by some miracle it never happened.

Once we got to town, we’d pile out of the van, some would go with Mom to the laundry mat, some would go with Dad to buy night crawlers. Dad and I would bring our rackets and play tennis at the local courts while we waited for the laundry to dry. We’d finish up with our clean clothes and head to the library to replenish our books for the next week.

It was in the North Woods where Madelyn L’Engle and Anne of Green Gables became my friends.

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These stories rush through my mind faster than I can write them down.

I could tell you about the time Mom stepped in an anthill causing ants to run up her pants and she ran all the way home, screaming, and jumped in the tub, drowning hundreds of little insects. It was the grossest and funniest thing I have ever seen.

I could tell about the times our dog, Jenni scared up a raccoon, a skunk and a porcupine, and our evening ritual of checking her for ticks and digging them out of her belly with tweezers.

I could tell you about the “five-mile hike,” that was more like 15, on which I complained most of the way, and surely thought I would die.

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I could tell you about the nights…. when Dad would build a fire, and my parents would sing Hippy songs, and my sisters would watch them watch each other with a story that belonged only to them.

There was the night a screen was left open in our room and Mosquitos attacked us, causing my sister to swell up like a strawberry. I awoke without a bite.

There was the night our dog went crazy barking and we opened the door to find six raccoons hanging on to the outside of our screened-in porch. Their black bodies and beady eyes and little claws hanging on to the screen, un-intimidated by us humans and canine.

We were uninhibited in the North Woods. We were allowed to sing while we road our bikes down sandy roads until the traffic of a family of porcupines crossed our path. We were allowed to create, draw, write, rest, play, pretend, and be. It was the greatest gift.

It calls me back. It beckons me. It’s where my soul resides.

I’d like to go back for just one more day.

I think I just did.

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Memorial Day

They return to my mind when I am doing remedial tasks — digging in the earth, washing the dishes, folding a shirt. They join me in the work of my hands, and stop by my subconscious and give a nod.  These Saints.  I remember their crinkled smiles, their warm handshake, and their good humor. Their stories come back to me.

I have been honored to have officiated at the graveside of many World War II Veterans. Every service for a World War II Veteran feels like one is standing over the grave of a rare butterfly.

“There’s not very many of us left,” they say.

All of these men were my parishioners and before they died, they were my friends. I would visit them in their hospital rooms or in their homes and we would begin to talk, and they would tell me their stories. Later, I would stand at the pulpit, looking down at an American flag draped over a mahogany casket and recount these stories for their families. Many of them did not know the stories of war, as the deceased would never talk about “it.” “I never knew that!” they would say. These men were fathers, husbands, gardeners, and craftsman. Above all, I remember them as being the kindest of men.

They were also solders and seaman. They were heroic. Although, you would be wise not to call them a hero. For there was always somebody who was more heroic than they, they would say.

Here are three stories:

Jim

World War 2 had a tremendous effect on me. I was 13 when my brother Dale went into the Army and 14 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I was old enough to know the world was in turmoil but too young to participate. This bothered me as it did many other boys my age. Immediately after the Pearl Harbor bombing Dale’s 35th Division was sent to the west coast where they set up artillery gun emplacements in the mountains above major cities because of a fear the Japanese would invade. This fear was well within reason; there were sightings of Japanese submarines off the coast (some real and some imagined — some were probably whales) and one incident in which a submarine lobbed some shells in the direction of San Francisco although nothing was hit.

Dale is seven years older than I and was away from home from the time I was 13. Because of the age difference and his absence while I was growing up we didn’t really get to know each other until a long time later. When I was being inducted in the Navy in Kansas City he was being discharged from the Army in forte Leavenworth, KS after four and a half years of active duty. So we got to really know each other only after I got out of the Navy in mid-1946, a period of nearly six years. Even then we mostly were together with the rest of the family or when building a garage or house addition for our parents. I often wish Dale and I had known each other better sooner. –Taken from Jim Potter’s Memoirs.

Jim enlisted in the Navy on the day the war ended. He served two years in the Navy serving in the Pacific. When he returned, he attended school at Hutchinson Junior college where he had an entry-level literature class. The teacher had them sit in alphabetical order. Jim Potter sat next to JoAnne Neumeyer.” Jim writes, “I had known her brother, Paul, a little but didn’t know he had a sister. She was pretty and bubbly, and It was sort of fun to sit beside her. We hit it off OK but there was nothing special about it. The course was taught by Miss Inez Frost, one of the nicest and best teachers I ever knew. She gave a short quiz every day over the assigned material. The quizzes were not hard – all you had to do was read the material. “For a while I finagled Jo into giving me answers so I could avoid studying. But then she got smart. She made me read the material every-other day and give her the answers. I don’t think we fooled Miss Frost a bit. I’ll bet she knew the whole class was doing this but she also knew she had a good percentage of the students reading the lesson material. Composition and report writing principles we learned in her class have been helpful to me all my life.”

The Junior college had celebrated May Day. It so happened there was a dance and Jim’s friend Howard Meyer, wanted to date one of her friends, Marian Robbins. Howard suggested Jim set up a “double date” and go to a dance put on by the Naval Reserve on May Day 1948. Jim invited Jo and she accepted, but she was playing an Arabian dancer in an Operetta so she couldn’t go until late. Jim went to the dance ‘til time to pick Jo up at the theater and took her home to remove the Arab make-up while he sat and visited with her parents. “Then,” Jim said, “we went to the dance, and danced, and had a good time.”

“We’re still dating.”

Two years later they were married.

Six weeks later, Jim got a letter from President Truman and was called back to serve in Korea.

Warren

Warren was born March 4, 1921 in Reinbeck, Iowa. He was the ninth of ten children. His parents both died before he was six years old and he was raised in Reinbeck by his older brothers and sisters.

He and his brothers and sisters lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I mean, literally lived off of them.  That’s all he had to eat for years.

Warren joined the Navy in 1940. He served in both the Mediterranean and South Pacific as the ship’s store keeper for seven years.

Bob

Bob enlisted in the Navy in 1943 at the tender age of 18. He served on the USS St. Lo and was stationed in the Philippines during World War II and was a recipient the Purple Heart. The St. Lo was a Casablanca-class escort carrier. And on October 25, 1944 St. Lo became the first ship to sink as the result of a kamikaze attack. The attack occurred during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. There were 889 men aboard, and Bob was one of those 434 survivors who fought the waves and held on with moral courage as he swam in the midst of sharks and wreckage to a rescue boat.

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That terrifying event in no way defined Bob’s life, but explains a great deal about his personality. He had an inner strength that drew people to him. A resoluteness. He seemed to have an understanding of what really mattered. For Bob the thing the mattered was family, friends and community. He was the most reliable of friends. And he understood what it meant to be a neighbor. People were just attracted to Bob and Eleanor. When the garage door opened and the lawn chairs came out, the neighborhood would come alive and people would stop what they were doing and come over and chat and laugh and be together, in a way that neighborhoods rarely are anymore.

Bob, or Park, as many people called him loved the Cubs, golf, the Hawkeyes, Hannah the Dog, Dolphin Island, Alabama, boats, good food, a good laugh and family.

These men, and so many others, stay with me. They keep me humble and remind me to keep things simple. They still visit me from time to time.  They make want to pull my lawn chair out and sit in the drive way, and watch the cars go by, as Bob used to do, or get out a deck of cards, as Warren would, or go out for a long walk as Jim often did.

I remember them today.

I salute their service.

I miss them always.

I close my eyes and whisper,

“See ya’ around…”

Praying to a Generic God – The Invocation at a City Council Meeting

In late April, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the centuries-old tradition of offering prayers to open government meetings.

The 5-4 ruling was based in large part on the history of legislative prayer dating back to the Framers of the Constitution.

Defending a practice used by the town of Greece, N.Y., the majority ruled that opening local government meetings with sectarian prayers doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause as long as no religion is advanced or disparaged, and residents aren’t coerced.

“As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable court’ at the opening of this court’s sessions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the principal dissent for the court’s liberal bloc, arguing that the intimate setting of local government meetings, the participation of average citizens and the dominance of Christian prayer-givers put the policy out-of-bounds.

“When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another,” Kagan said. “And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines.”

“The First Amendment is not a majority rule, and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech,” Justice Kennedy said. “Once it invites prayer into the public sphere, government must permit a prayer-giver to address his or her own God or gods as conscience dictates.”

Not so, Kagan argued for the losing side. She said the town’s prayers differed from those delivered to federal and state legislators about to undertake the people’s business. Justice Samuel Alito drove home that point in a separate concurrence Monday in which he called the liberals’ dissent “quite niggling.”

“Not only is there no historical support for the proposition that only generic prayer is allowed,” Alito said, “but as our country has become more diverse, composing a prayer that is acceptable to all members of the community who hold religious beliefs has become harder and harder.”

If one sees oneself as a spiritual leader, with certain beliefs and practices, one could find the term “generic prayer,” insulting. For I do not worship a generic God. Nor do I feel our religious beliefs should be compromised to make everyone happy or comfortable. Further, I do not want those who have a different faith tradition from I to water down their religious language to make me comfortable.

If a prayer challenges me, makes me angry, or sad or makes me (heaven forbid) think, then I know God is working on me. If I think, “I don’t think that about God at all,” or “huh, I never thought about it that way before,” than I am richer for it, and my understanding of the Divine is clearer and more meaningful. I would rather have a brighter tapestry of our religious and cultural diversity than a generic blanket prayer that has little value or meaning.

Of course the question is, should such expressions be made in the walls of government? I understand and appreciate the importance of not letting dogma or doctrine seep into Democracy. Yet our religious diversity is part of what defines our society. Our religious values help us form our public policy. What we believe about creation, sin, justice and compassion influences our public policy. I would rather understand the richness of our religious diversity so that I can understand why decisions are made, then think that decisions are made with little consideration to personal values. Our beliefs shape our decisions. I would rather know my neighbor and what he believes, than pretend that he has a generic belief or no belief at all.

So what is the purpose of prayer prior to a council meeting or at the opening of a legislative meeting? Is it simply formality? Tradition? Is it there because it’s always been there? Or does it have a higher purpose? Is it white sugar or should it have substance?

I think it’s important to always remember there is a Power greater than us who is ultimately in charge of the world. Those of us who are leaders and are seemingly in charge of many things, need to make sure we remember we are not really in charge of anything. Prayer puts our feet on humble ground. We humans like power and to protect our egos. If prayer helps us to begin our decision-making with the humble reminder that we are all children of a Creator, more powerful than us, then I think there is value in that. If a prayer helps us to define our values and formulate our decisions, then I am for it. If prayer helps us to understand our neighbors and our community and the richness of our diverse beliefs then I am in favor.

If, on the other hand, the purpose of praying has no real value and it’s phony and bland and flippant, let’s give God the night off.

I was recently asked to pray at our city council meeting. Here is the invocation and my attempt to have integrity in my tradition while being respectful of all.

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God of all creation,

We thank you for this day and the many blessings we have received.

We thank for the people with whom we have been in contact: our family, friends and strangers.

We thank you for the ability to use our minds, to discern your will and work to create a strong and healthy community.

We thank you for our community and all who serve it.

For those who teach and those who protect.

For those who clean and those who repair.

For those who work in parks and those who work on roads.

For those who plan and those who make the plans happen.

For those who heal and those who counsel.

For those who govern and those who elect.

For all who live into the best example of what it means to be a citizen.

We thank you for our community.

We pray for all in our community who are hungry, unemployed or uninsured.

We pray for all in our community who are mentally or physically ill.

We pray for all in our community who live in violence.

For these and all the burdens of our larger community, Lord hear our prayers.,..

As this meeting begins this evening I pray for each person here.

Give each person clarity of mind, creativity, compassion, due diligence, integrity and a sense of humor.

Give them listening ears and thoughtful words.

Give them presence of mind and an open heart.

And all God’s People Said:

Amen

 

The Messy Church – Sermon on Acts 2:42-47

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I’m not sure I fully believe it. Call me a cynic, but I’m not sure I fully believe Luke when he describes the early church. It’s not that I don’t believe that they broke bread or sang songs or grew in number, it’s just I think our memories are biased, and I think Luke’s memory has become idyllic.

It’s why you have a second baby, because some how your brain makes you forget the child-birth, the sleepless nights, the colic, the poopy diapers and all you remember is that little baby and you think, “ it wasn’t that bad, let’s have another one.” How quickly we forget.

We do that with vacations and holidays. We only take pictures of everyone smiling, we don’t take pictures of the temper tantrums and bad traffic. Thus our memories of the event are slanted to the ideal experience and not the actual one. nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but life is messy.

We do that in the church a lot. “Remember the days when the sanctuary was full, the children all knew the Bible by heart and everyone loved each other and everything was perfect?

I think that is what Luke is doing in the book of Acts. The Book of Acts is the one book that tells the story of how the disciples formed the church after Jesus was resurrected. It tells the story of how the disciples created a sacred community. I imagine that Luke wrote this with future communities in mind and so on there best days this is what the church looked like:

They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed where together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need. Day by day they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

The church in the Book of Acts was a community of people who ate together, treated each other with kindness and generosity, and shared what they had. Their compassion toward each other was contagious and their hospitality toward each other attracted attention by people who were not part of the community. Scholars tell us that they had a radical openness and that their hospitality and inclusivity was so noticeable and controversial and impressive. People who never ate together, rich and poor, men and women, clean and unclean, moral and immoral, all were welcome. That’s the ideal picture. Sometimes it happened and sometimes it didn’t.

This morning is called Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s the Sunday that while we are told this story of the ideal church, also remember we are sheep, which is a pretty humble image. We’d all like to believe we are a little more than sheep.

There is a story of a minister who had all the kids in the congregation up front on the steps for a short children’s sermon, and it was on the 23rd Psalm. He told the children about sheep, that sheep weren’t smart and needed lots of guidance, and that a shepherd’s job was to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals, and keep them from wandering off and doing dumb things that would get them hurt or killed. He pointed to the little children and said that they were the sheep and needed lots of guidance.

Then the minister put his hands out to the side, palms up in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows said to the children, “If you are the sheep then who is the shepherd?” He was pretty obviously indicating himself. A silence of a few seconds followed. Then one boy said, “Jesus. Jesus is the shepherd.”

The young minister, obviously caught by surprise, said to the boy, “Well then, who am I?” The child frowned thoughtfully, and then said with a shrug, “I guess you must be a sheep dog.”

This was not the ideal children sermon. But it was the ideal message. We all need to remember who is really in charge and who truly is the shepherd.

It is hard for us to think of ourselves as the sheep, to relinquish control, but if we do suspend our skepticism for a moment and actually do think of the image of sheep . . .

 All sheep need a shepherd. If we want to spiritually mature people, we begin with the premise that spirituality happens in the most humbling of circumstances.

I used to think that the ideal spiritual person only prayed on mountain tops or by the sea or in monasteries. I used to think that in order to really be a deeply spiritual person I would need to leave the world behind and enter the peaceful quiet world of some other place. I used to think that in order to have prayer time with God I would need lots of space and lots of quiet. I used to think I knew something about God and spirituality and life.

Now I know better. Now I am a mother.

If you want to find me, I am in one of three places, if I am not at work, I am at home, and if I am not at home, I am in my car or minivan schlepping kids from practice to lessons to school has resulted in me imagining myself cruising down the street in a Harley Davidson or a red mustang convertible. As much has I try to keep the it clean and perfect, I find that life gets in the way. A water bottle gets left behind, stinky soccer socks, piano music, pony tail holders and bobbie pins, a leaf from a fall hike, old homework, handouts and art projects seem to be forever being stored there. I try to always keep hand sanitizer, sunscreen, an extra jacket for each kid, a pocket-size Bible, reading material for upcoming sermons and a communion set , just in case. My car in many ways is a reflection of my life – which can often be messy, harried, and in need of a good wash.

Life doesn’t really happen in a monastery or retreat center. Life happens in messy minivans. That is where conflicts are raised, prayers are said, stories are told and routine becomes prayer.

The ideal is overrated, it is in our messy lives where the Holy happens.

In his book, Messy Spirituality, Mike Yaconelli, puts it this way:

“My life is a mess. After forty-five years of trying to follow Jesus, I keep losing him in the crowded busyness of my life. I know Jesus is there, somewhere, but it’s difficult to make him out in the haze of everyday life. I want desperately to know God better. I want to be consistent. Right now the only consistency in my life is my inconsistency. Who I want to be and who I am are not very close together. I don’t want to be St. John of the Cross or Billy Graham. I just want to be remembered as a person who loved God, who served others more than he served himself and who was trying to grow in maturity and stability. I have been trying to follow Christ most of my life and the best I can do is a stumbling, bumbling, clumsy kind of following. I wake up most days with the humiliating awareness that I have no clue where Jesus is. Even though I am a minister, even though I think about Jesus every day, my following is…uh.. meandering.” Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People Hardcover
by Mike Yaconelli

How about you? Where are you going and who are you following? How do you know you have faith? How messy has life gotten for you. If you have survived twenty, forty, sixty, eighty years of this life, you have survived something. You have overcome adversity, you have known loss, you have experienced a trial or two. There may have been a time when you didn’t know if you were going to make it. Maybe you chose the wrong road, or loved people too much or not enough. Maybe you have followed too much the devices and desires of your heart, and maybe sometimes your heart called you to be brave, kind and honest and you have not followed through. But even still you did not give up. Why? What kept you going? Maybe you remembered that you are a child of God. Maybe you remembered that you were made in the depths of the earth and that the one who created you and knows you by name has journeyed with you. Maybe you remembered that Christ died for you. So that you could live. Maybe you remembered Christ in the disguise of another person, who forgave you, sacrificed for you, loved you without question. Maybe you remembered Christ in those who gave you strength to carry on. Maybe you remembered Christ in the hospitality of the stranger on the street, the kindness of a friend, the compassion of a neighbor.

What we remember about our messy lives matters.

Writer Anna Quindlen authored an essay on being a mom in which she wrote, “One of the biggest mistakes I made as a mother is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of my three children sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 7, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to go on the next thing: dinner bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”

When I meet with family members and we plan a funeral, they come in raw with grief. The best part is when they start telling me stories of their loved ones. They always tell me the stories of them at their best, at their ideal. The stories of their loved one begins to unravel like yarn and they weave a tapestry of stories about the person they loved, what they liked, what they believed, what they learned, what they taught, that healing begins and the person comes to life in the tapestry of memory. And slowly their cracked, grieving souls are filled with healing grace. Of course the person wasn’t perfect. Of course the person lost their way from time to time, but at the moment what matters is where their light most shined. What mattered were the moments in the sun.

Luke was looking back on the 1st Century church and remembering with love it’s days in the sun when people got along and all loved to sing the same hymns. But the truth is the first church was idyllic not because it was perfect, but because it was messy.

I don’t want to be part of a perfect church. I want to be part of a messy church, where people are real and vulnerable. Where people bring their dirty mini vans, and cluttered cars and their honest stories and we sit across from one another and ask questions and listen and learn and pray and cry and laugh and share. This is the ideal. It’s messy and challenging and joy-filled and honest. And it always, always, always relies on one and only Shepherd who leads us through dark valleys and restores our souls.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Worst Mother

There are two gifts every new mother receives that she was not expecting: guilt and worry. In fact, if she is a “good” mother she will have guilt and worry by the bucket loads. Why? Because guilt and worry are indications of concern for another person, and “bad” mothers are uncaring and selfish, right? Or is because we are control freaks, and we think if we worry or feel guilty enough, our kids will be “O.K.” And no one will ever know how clueless we really are.

When I was in junior high, everyone was obsessed with the movie “Mommie Dearest.” It was just scary enough. As blooming adolescents, I think we all thought our mothers were almost as crazy and neurotic as Joan Crawford. We all swore we would never be like her: career driven, critical, wanting things hung up in closets, needing our children to look beautiful and put together, needing holidays and birthday parties to be perfect and in control. Oh. Wait.

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It’s easy to throw mothers under the bus. Because we willingly go there. We so easily admit our limitations and failings. We take the blame for every missed spelled word, bad word, and awkward moment our children experience. Maybe if we had been at home, reviewed that television program, or had been there on the playground….Instead, they can’t spell, they know what rhymes with “witch,” and they need to change their pants. Again.

Mothers think that children, especially their daughters, are a reflection of themselves. I never got this until I became a mother.

The drop off-line on a Tuesday morning. In the car in front of me, two images are clearly having a disagreement. One has a headband and a hair brush. The other has a backpack and an attitude. The one carrying the headband will not let the backpack out of the car until the headband is on the head of the backpack carrier. The backpack is not interested.

“Let it go,” I whisper. “It’s not worth it.”

Finally, the backpack gets out, slams the door, and marches off to the classroom. The hair brush, rolls down the window and shouts, “I love you!”

The backpack doesn’t respond.

I pull up and see the headband peel off before it reaches the classroom.

How crazy.

You want to hear crazy? Ask me about the first time I dropped my 12 week old off at child care and went “back to work.” This little being had been part of my organs for nine months and glued to me for the past three and then suddenly I was dropping her, letting another woman, who chose to stay home, so clearly a better mom than I, take care of her. Clearly I was the worst mother in the world.

Or about the time I had to leave for a meeting and my son sat at the back door with his teddy bear and cried, “Don’t go Momma!” As alligator tears streamed down both of our faces.

Or about the time my daughter was injured and I didn’t believe she was hurt and I was annoyed that our Saturday plans has changed, and then I saw a bone protruding where it shouldn’t be and I rushed her to the hospital. “I should have ran over there faster when I saw her fall! I should have known she wasn’t just being dramatic. Oh my God, this is serious.”

Or about the time I lost my son in Barnes and Noble and they had to shut down the store and practice a new “lost child procedure,” until they found him, hiding in a book-case.

We mothers put an insane amount of pressure on ourselves and each other. We own our children’s problems and feel responsible for finding solutions. We want to read the book, give the bath, clean the sheets, tie the shoes and own the calendar. We want our children to know we are like the mother raccoon in “The Kissing Hand,” and only as far away as the hand on their cheek. We want them to know they are loved. We want them to know we are their biggest fan, without being accused of being a helicopter, or stage mother. When you get the balance figured out, let me know.

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For Mothers Day, I would like to give all mothers a day when guilt and worry is replaced with joy and acceptance. A day when they let go of feeling responsible for their children’s successes and failures and instead accept things as they are. A day when they remember that they too are children. A day when they remember that their Mother God watches over them like a Mother Hen. Clucking around, gathering them in. That they too are hemmed in by One who is watching and knows every anxious thought, every sleepless night, every lifted prayer.

There is an Eternal Mother who guards and protects all mothers. She knows your day. She knows your heart, and holds you in the palm of Her large, callused, hardworking hands. Don’t mess with Her. She’s crazy in love with Her children.
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The Road of Transition, Sermon on The Walk to Emmaus

emmaus

I would imagine that many of you are familiar with the  prayer written by the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, which has been named the serenity prayer. The original version went like this: “God give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

Change is a part of life. Change is life. Every day is a new day and as hard as we might try to keep things as they are, things keep changing– I hate it when that happens.  Changes can be small, like they moved the bread isle in the grocery story, they can be annoying, like you have to take your shoes off when going through security at the airport, and they can be life changing, like you will be on a certain medication for the rest of your life.  Change is hard.  Sometimes it’s for the better and sometimes it’s for the worse and sometimes it just is. Some of us are more adaptable to change than others.  Some of us can accept cultural changes like email, texting, Twitter and Facebook and some of us are just fine with our landline, mailboxes, and 8 track 47’s  thank you very much.

These changes are normal, expected and predictable.  The changes that I find more life changing are transitions. Transitions are hard. They leave us vulnerable, unsteady and disarming.  Transitions are always about leaving the past and entering a new normal. It always involves pain, loss, possibility and hope.

They were walking along a road to a town called Emmaus.  It had been a few days, or was it a few weeks, or maybe just an hour had past since that horrible day?  It was hard to say. So much had happened, time was measured differently and they were in a fog.  Too much change was happening to them at once.

There was an arrest, a trial (if you can call it that), a flogging and eventually a crucifixion. It was awful.  He was gone. They heard tell that he had returned but they hadn’t seen Jesus themselves.  So they decided to get out of town for a while. Clear their minds.  There was just too much change all at once.

They journeyed down a road they hadn’t planned on taking after an event that had not planned on experiencing. Ugh. Life didn’t work out as they had planned.

I wonder if they did some bartering. “Maybe if we had done this, this wouldn’t have happened” or some magical thinking, “Maybe if we just escape for a while, everything will return to normal.,” Maybe they were angry, “why did this happen to us?”  Maybe they were grieving, “why can’t things go back to  the way they were?”  They are on a road between the past and the future.  They are on the road of  transition.

As they walk along a stranger shows up and starts listening and asks what they are talking about.

Surprised by the man’s lack of knowledge on Jerusalem’s current events, they see this stranger as the chance to let their story pour out of them.

They tell him the events of the last few days, and their loss of their friend and the rumor that he was alive. And then an unusual thing happens, this unknown companion responds to their story by referring to scripture.  He puts what just happened in the big picture of Old Testament and he helps them remember what the meaning of Jesus’ life and death is all about.

It’s interesting that in dealing with grief and change the unknown companion reminds the travelers of the foundation of their faith. This is the first lesson of this famous story – when you are experiencing a great deal of change and transition in your life and everything is different, remember your foundation.  What do you believe at your core?  What keeps you grounded?  What gives you stability?  No matter what is going on in your life, these things will not change.  If you are in a state of unknown, focus on what you do know.    I have a good friend whose father was dying.  After weeks of holding vigil and watching him suffer, knowing he was going to die, she was at the end of her rope. She went into the hospital room bathroom and sobbed and sobbed.  Suddenly, the words of the Lord’s prayer came to her. She hadn’t said the Lord’s Prayer since she was a child, but suddenly she remembered the words. She prayed it over and over again, and the words provided a healing salve in the midst of great grief. Lesson one, when  everything is changing  rely on your foundation, return to your core beliefs – rely on scripture, prayer and calling on God to keep you grounded and aligned.

As the disciples remember who they are and what they believe,  they start behaving in a manner that reflects their beliefs.   They remember their manners and they invite the stranger to dinner.  They extend hospitality to a stranger.  Even though they are still in the unknowing and  they have been taught. And when they sit down at the table and  Jesus break bread and Luke says,  “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Lesson number two, Jesus reveals himself when we practice what we believe.

We  have been through a huge transition the past 9 months. Our family is transitioning to a new town with a new life. Orchard Park Presbyterian Church has been on transition steroids for past three years!  Not just changes in the bulletin or in the order of worship or in communication, but real challenging transitions.  The old life has gone a new life has begun and that process is  painful.  There is a reason Paul says, the whole world has suffering in labor pains and Jesus says, “come to me all you who labor” because when you are changing and growing and transitioning, it is painful. So when we as a congregation or as individuals go through transitions, it would be wise for us to remember our foundational beliefs staying strong in our core values and practicing disciplines that remind us that we belong to Jesus Christ.  Breaking bread together, praying together, being hospitable to strangers, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, teaching children, studying the Word, these practices are constant in the midst of change and remind us who we are and why we are here and that Jesus is with us.  We keep our eyes on the practices we believe in, while the changes swirl around us.

This brings us to the third lesson:  God journeys with us, always.  This is what “Emmanuel,” God with us is all about.  This is not some glib Christmas card cliché. This is always the case – God is always with us.  Have you ever gone hiking through the woods and after a while realized that the whole time you have been looking down to the ground, watching out for roots and dips in the earth, for fear of falling, and you realize that you have to consciously make yourself look up.  You have to trust that you will not fall and when you do finally look up you see such glory.  I think walking with Jesus is like that.  We walk along with our face to the ground, thinking, thinking, fretting, fretting, and all along if we just stop long enough to look around we will see something glorious.

In his book The Dance of Hope, William Frey, retired Episcopal bishop from Colorado, recalls how he volunteered to read to an older student named John, who was blind.

One day, Bishop Frey said, I just had to ask him, “How did you lose your eyesight?” “A chemical explosion,” John answered, “at the age of thirteen.” Still curious, Frey asked John, “How did that make you feel?” John responded, with brutal honesty, “Life felt like it was over for me, I felt helpless and I hated God with all my heart. For the first six months, I did nothing but stay in my room and I ate all my meals alone, by my choice. Then a curious thing happened. One day my father entered my room and said, ‘John, winter’s coming and the storm windows need to be up. That’s your job. I want those hung by the time I get back this evening or else.’” The John’s father turned and walked out of the room and slammed the door. John reported that he was so angry that he was thinking, “Who does he think he is? Who does he think I am? I’m blind.” He was so furious, he decided to do it. “I’ll show them. I’m gonna try to do it and I’m gonna be not only blind, but I’m gonna be paralyzed, ’cause I’m gonna fall. I’ll get them.” He felt his way to the garage and found the windows and located the necessary tools.

He found the ladder, and all the while he was muttering under his breath, “I’ll show them. I’ll fall, and they’ll have a blind and paralyzed son. That’ll be great payback.” Eventually, he did complete the goal, the assignment; he did get the windows up before evening.

But the assignment achieved more than that. It achieved the father’s goal as well. John reported that it was at that point that he slowly realized that he could still work and even more so that he could begin to reconstruct his life. As John continued to tell Bill Frey his story, John’s eyes, his blind eyes began to mist. “Seven years later, I learned that something else important had happened that day, that the entire day my father was no more than three or four feet from me.”

Long ago, there was an appearance on Old Emmaus Road. And there are appearances even today.  Sometimes we find ourselves in places we never thought we would be, and we think, “how could this happen?”  and we find ourselves in despair. When that happens, return to what you know. Open yourselves to the ancient words of the Bible, stay committed to prayer, find assurance in those words.  Once you remember what you believe, practice what you believe. Show kindness to strangers, pray for each other,  perform acts of justice…when you do these things, you will suddenly realize that Christ is sitting at your table, your eyes will be opened, and you will recognize him.

Let us pray:

God give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

Lord Jesus, stay with us. Be our companion on the way. Kindle our hearts and awaken hope that we may know you as you are revealed in scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.

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