Pitching Tents

I was working late at my church office when the doorbell rang. Alone in the building, I was apprehensive about answering. Gingerly, I went to the door, where a man and woman stood. They both had backpacks, not the cute little day packs you might see in a city but large frame packs, the type that wilderness campers use; and by the looks of these two, they had everything they owned on their backs. Casting aside my apprehension, I opened the door and invited them in.

The woman was as  short as I am. Her clothes were quite worn but still sturdy. Her hair was long, in braids; her face was weather-beaten, dark and furrowed, leathery. She might have been Native American, but she looked younger than me despite her wrinkles. The man was taller, muscled but slim, Anglo, with a full beard and tired eyes. They asked if they could pitch a tent to stay the night.

They were modern-day hoboes, traveling the highways of the nation, hitching rides where they could. Fall was coming to northern Ohio, and they were on their way south, perhaps to Florida. While they took me up on the offer to wash up in the bathroom, I searched through the food pantry box for something to give them to eat. Jar of peanut butter, some cans of tuna, a few other things. I asked if I could take them out to eat or take them to a store but they declined.

As for camping overnight, they wondered if there were a place they could put their tent that wouldn’t attract the attention of the police. It just so happened that the church owned the house next door, then unoccupied. The back yard was fenced, and I asked if they would like to camp there. That seemed to be ok. So they loaded up their packs and went back outdoors to make their beds for the night.

When I got home, I told Ernie about the visitors, and he was angry with me for letting them in. We had a little argument about safety, which I topped off with a request. I had promised to come get them the next morning and drive them to the interstate entrance on the outskirts of the city, to give them a head start on getting out of town. Would Ernie take them instead? That didn’t go over well at all. But he agreed he would do it.

The next morning when he got back, Ernie felt ashamed at his outburst of the night before. “I know why you helped them. They wouldn’t hurt anyone.” There was such peace about the couple we were both put at ease.

The Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his home among us.” Yesterday my pastor explained that the “made his home” part is like saying, “God moved to the neighborhood.” A seminary prof said, “God pitched tent” with us.

When has The Word knocked on the door and asked to pitch tent in your yard?

Make Justice Your Sacrifice

Every night when I pray with my brothers and sisters, Psalm 4 is included in our prayers. In repeated hearings and readings, the phrase in verse 5: “Make Justice your sacrifice,” is beginning to slam me in the face every time. Somehow this command sounds new to me. So I started exploring. The translations I’m more familiar with don’t use these words. NRSV and NIV say “offer right sacrifices.” Other translations say, “bring righteous offerings,” “offer the sacrifices of righteousness,” “offer sacrifices rightly.” In fact, amongst all my collections of hymnals and Bibles, I don’t find any mention of justice in this verse, except in the old Douay-Riems my husband had: “offer up the sacrifice of justice.”

Of course I then tried to find out where the Breviary we use got this translation, and then got thoroughly confused. Let’s just leave it at this: Make Justice Your Sacrifice. That is the verse speaking to me.

I’ve never thought about justice being a sacrifice. Maybe that’s because I envisioned justice “out there” somewhere, not close to my everyday actions. That’s why I don’t think the other translations pierced my awareness. Also, using “offerings” instead of “sacrifice” changes the flavor of what’s being asked, doesn’t it? I make offerings to my church, to several charities, I support my public radio stations. But I can’t say the offerings I make are really sacrificial. They are just “offerings.”

A sacrifice is something different. When you’ve sacrificed something, you feel it. You have given up something that you will miss. When I found out that my mother had inoperable cancer, my boyfriend folded up his maps. He was planning a 4-week camping trip for us the coming summer, but he knew I would need my time and resources to attend to the needs of my family. We sacrificed that 4 week vacation so that I could spend more time with Mom that year.

So how can I make Justice my sacrifice? I think this means that we should take actions for Justice that will be costly to us individually, or to our group or class or society. So speaking up for the poor and disadvantaged may be costly to me — it might invite anger from others, or make some relationships difficult. When President Lincoln made Justice a sacrifice, and declared Emancipation, the sacrifice imposed on the nation was huge; though it was the right thing to do, many people lost the wealth they thought was theirs because they gained it unjustly in the slavery system. So how are ways I can make justice my sacrifice? I can become educated about child slavery and be aware of the industries across the world that use child  or forced labor, and not buy those products, or buy fair trade products. Coffee and Cocoa come to mind here. It will cost me more to buy fair trade, but that is my sacrifice to try to keep a child from being caught up in an evil system. I can begin to think how decisions that I make may affect other people, or the natural environment, or my own well-being. Is eating fast food the best use of resources? Is consuming beef the best use of the environment? Is buying that piece of jewelry supporting companies that disrupt the environment and play a part in conflict? When I make Justice my sacrifice, it will always cost me more time or money to get the things I want, and may even make me question why I think I need the product or item.

I’ll have to finish contemplating this subject in a further post. In the meantime, if you read this, please comment about ways you make Justice your sacrifice. Thanks.

Social Justice

 

 

 

Praying the Office

 

 

A few months ago I joined a group of disciples who pray the daily office from the Benedictine Breviary. Once, sometimes twice, daily, we connect by phone and read our prayers together. I had read daily prayers from several formats previously, but I have been so surprised by the effect that saying the prayers, even in such a short time, has had on my spirit. The Benedictine prayers are based on the Psalms. Some psalms are prayed every day, like the three at bedtime. Others are rotated about every 2 weeks. The point is, the prayers we read are not chosen by us. We read these words over and over, and they begin to speak to our innermost selves. Sometimes an insight comes to me so startling I’d never expect from a psalm I almost have memorized.
Something happens when the prayers are prescribed. Instead of me talking to God, reciting the psalms regularly allows God to use those words to speak to me, to touch me in profound ways. Saying the prayers that have been used for 1500 years helps me leave myself behind and be present to the Holy One. Indeed.

 

The Gift of a Good Man

My husband died on December 21, 2016. We had lived and loved together for 26 years. As I prepared for his Memorial Service last weekend, I kept thinking I hadn’t shared enough, that most of his mourners only knew his aged body, and couldn’t know him as I do. The night before the service, I asked my friends and family members what they thought about bringing a few books from my husband’s library to show his range of interests, his eclectic tastes. I was told I was trying too hard. So I will begin a series of posts listing some of his books.

Letters of Mozart, edited by Hans Mersman

Atlas of Prehistoric Britain, by John Manley

Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States, edited by Kermit L. Hall

The Scramble for Africa, by Thomas Pakenham

The Oxford Companion to World War II

The Spanish Inquisition, by Henry Kamen

The New York Public Library Science Desk Reference

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, by Jeffrey Toobin

. . . Just a few of the books I can see from the bookcase behind where I sit!

Being God’s Partner

I found this sermon I preached nearly 20 years ago. As I read it, I found it was speaking to me, right now. Maybe you need to hear it, too.

Luke 5: 1-11

“Being God’s Partner”

The story starts simply enough. A wandering teacher was walking by the shore of the lake, when so many people gathered around him the press of the crowd almost pushed him into the water. He needed to get a little distance from those folks, so he climbed into one of the fishing boats there on the shore. He rowed a little into the water and taught the folks from the boat. I imagine it was a sunny, warm day — they don’t get much rain in that part of the world. And there was a pleasant breeze blowing off the lake, carrying the teacher’s voice out over the crowd. But there were other sounds: the call of the gulls, the flight of the other shore birds, the sounds of the fishermen as they brought their boats to shore with their catch. And the never ceasing sound of the waves of the lake lapping on the beach and the boats and piers. The whole area smelled like fish, for this was a fishing village. So there were nets stretched out on the sand for repair, and fish spread out on racks for drying. There were three kinds of fish in the lake to catch: a family of large panfish, one of which is now called “St. Peter’s fish,” the carp fish, and catfish. Of course these Hebrew folk didn’t eat the catfish, because their laws did not allow eating fish that do not have fins and scales.
But everyone’s livelihood here depended on the fish in the lake. So when the teacher was through talking and he turned to Simon and said, “Let’s go fishing,” Simon didn’t interpret his offer as a suggestion for a day of fun on the lake. For Simon, fishing was his work, not recreation. And he had already been on the lake all night long dropping his nets and retrieving what few fish he could find. He didn’t have a good catch today. And tired, hungry, dirty, and smelly, Simon just wanted to get some lunch and rest for awhile. But the teacher looked him in the eye, and the power of his glance convinced Simon that maybe it was worth it to go out once more.
He didn’t have much confidence as he lowered the nets into the water. In fact, he was pretty distracted. His tax bill was coming due, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to pay it. Ever since their new tetrarch, Herod Antipas, started building his brand new city on the shore of the lake, taxes had been going up and up. Tiberias he named this new city, a monument to the Emperor of Rome, with its fancy architecture and Roman baths and all the graven images the Hebrew people were supposed to avoid. Yes, a Roman city for the Roman rulers and their sympathizers. But the poor people of Galilee had to pay for it with taxes that left little for feeding your kids or getting ahead. Added to that were the tithes and taxes for the Temple in Jerusalem. Everybody was feeling the pinch.
And fishing wasn’t much like what it used to be, either. Before Antipas, the fishermen could work the lake and support their families by selling their catch at the local market. But things were much different now. Ever since Antipas put in that fish factory in Magdala, the lake was covered with fishermen. They were pulling in tons of fish for the factory, which made pickled and spicy delicacies they exported to Rome and Greece. All the fishermen were dependent on the factory now. Every time a new boat was built to fish the lake, the price the factory would pay went down a little more. And now it seemed the fish just weren’t as plentiful as they used to be.
So Simon was feeling squeezed from both ends. And the teacher with the powerful eyes told him to drop the nets again. Well, OK. It won’t take long to convince him you can’t catch fish here in the middle of the day.
But . . . what’s this? The nets are full! Simon can’t pull them into the boat fast enough. He signals to his partners to come with their boat, and they fill them both with fish. The biggest catch they had ever seen! Yes, he could sell this haul and catch up on some of his bills. But who is this man? This teacher, he has power over fish, too? What about this catch? Miraculous, extravagant!
And then the teacher caught his eye, and with a glance looked into the depth of his soul. And all at once Simon knew. . . . Knew that here in his fishing boat he was in the presence of the power of God. And he remembered what the rabbis had taught about Isaiah, how he was in the Temple and the power of God came over him, and he saw the Lord sitting on a throne, and the winged creatures flying all around singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory.” And that is how Simon felt right now, today, in his fishing boat on the lake. And like Isaiah, Simon was overcome with his own frailty and feebleness and sin. Isaiah had said, “Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the Lord of hosts!” Oh, that is how Simon felt, covered with his inadequacies and failings, ashamed of his worries over petty things, and sorrowful for his neglect of his own religious life. “Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” he cried, for he knew he was in the presence of the Holy One.
What happened next changed his life forever. For the teacher looked him in the eye again, and said, “Simon, put away your fears. From now on you will be catching people.” Simon had no idea what he meant right then. He just knew he wanted to follow the teacher, and learn from him, and dedicate his life’s work to the will of the man with the powerful eyes.
*************
Now, although Simon lived in a different world, his worries about work were not so very different from ours. For Simon was concerned about finding meaning in his work. You see, the changing economic picture of Galilee brought on by Herod Antipas had thrown everything in turmoil. Old family structures were falling away, and for the first time ever, people were needing to fend for themselves. The security of a close-knit village and extended family structure were falling away. Even if Simon were able to pay his tax bill with the load of fish generously given him by Jesus, that would only postpone his worries about paying taxes. So many people were behind in their taxes, and drowning in debt, they were having to sell old family estates. Once the family property was gone, there was no security at  all. As rich merchants and overlords gobbled up all this property, they got even more wealthy and detached from most of the people.
So working to keep even seemed a futile task. Simon had long since discovered he was not getting ahead. What he wanted to know was why he kept doing it. Why haul himself out every night and fish the lake in the dark? What difference would it make?
I know that Simon’s experience is shared by many people, no matter what the work is they are doing in this life. For what Simon needed and what we all need is the understanding that the work we do has meaning, has a larger purpose in the scheme of things. And when Jesus looked him in the eyes that day, Jesus gave meaning and purpose to the work Simon would eventually do. For Jesus invited Simon to become his partner in the work of the Reign of God.
Several times lately I’ve been encountering this idea of being asked to be God’s partner in the work of the world. The first time was for a wedding I officiated. The couple had chosen the text from the first chapter of Genesis where God makes the man and the woman, and then says, “Great, now that you are here, you can help me with this creation work. I’m giving you jobs right now.” And as I thought about God creating that first couple for the work of creation, I invited the wedding couple to think of ways they, too, were called to be God’s partners in creation.
Then, lo and behold, the same idea came up later in our confirmation class. There again, we were challenged to think of ourselves as God’s partners in the work of creation, and to develop an awareness of the ways we work with God in creating the Reign of God on earth right here and now.
And as this idea has been cooking in my head, I want to offer it to you today. For I think that Jesus is looking each one of us in the eye this morning and challenging us to join him in the work of God in this world. Now I’m not just talking about doing church work, and mission work. Those are important ways we do the work of Jesus among our sisters and brothers. But I’m talking about all the work you do —  your employment, and the work you do building and sustaining your families and communities! In that work Jesus is calling you to join in partnership with him in the work of God.
And so a nurse could see his or her job as participating with God in the work of comfort and nurture. And an accountant could join with God in the work of bringing order to the world and making it accountable. And an architect could be God’s partner in the work of creating environments for living. A clerk at the deli counter can be God’s partner in providing for us all the food we need. And of course a parent who takes care of children is an image of God our Nurturing Parent. What about those who cannot work because of disability? What is their partnership with God? Perhaps they can be messengers of God’s care and love for us all, even when our bodies appear useless to this world. And this work of being God’s partner is not something we retire from. No, indeed, as our years proceed we find more and more ways we are called into partnership with God in making peace and justice a reality in this world.
When we think of our work, our very lives, as being in partnership with God, then we find our outlook changes. Instead of looking for affirmation and acclaim in our work, we can join God in praising those who help us or others. When confronted with a choice between God’s way and a less honorable way, we find it easier to choose God’s way of doing business. And when faced with the inevitable daily frustrations, we can see how we can bring our good humor to bear to ease tensions and lighten the mood of someone else. When we live our lives as God’s partner, we will find many moments of our daily lives affected by the presence of God at our side, influencing our decisions and guiding our work.
Jesus saw something Simon’s eyes that day. A deep hungering for meaning in his life. For an end to the drudgery and sameness of day after day. And Jesus spoke the call to Simon, “Come and follow me; from now on you will be catching people.” But it wasn’t just Simon who heard that call. James and John, Simon’s business buddies, also heard that call to a life of meaning. And after that miraculous fishing trip, they brought their boats to shore, and left everything and followed him.
And now Jesus looks into our eyes. What is Jesus calling forth from you? Are you ready to leave your boat on the shoreline behind you, and by Jesus’ side, fish other seas?
This will require some soul searching from everyone this week. So I invite you to look in your bulletin at the second to last page where it says, “Being God’s Partner.” There are some questions there, questions I hope will spark your thinking and inform your prayer this week. I hope you will come to see how Jesus is calling you to become God’s partner in the work of living the Christian life. Won’t you please take some time to consider how you can be God’s partner in the coming week? (Copyright 2017, RevLinda)

Gerhard Tersteegen

I recently discovered Gerhard Tersteegen, an 18th century mystic, preacher, and poet involved in the Pietist movement in Germany. This happened because I’m teaching a Sunday School class on hymns, and chose a hymn of Tersteegen’s to study in class. I’ve scratched the surface of knowing about him and reading his works. I’m excited to  meet someone new to me, who might have some new teaching for me.

Here is one of his poems:

The Opened Eyes

John ix.37

“Were is a God?” doth weary Reason say —

“I see but starlit skies.”

“Where is the sun?” So calleth at noonday

The man with sightless eyes.

Thou, little child, from thee God is not far;

Look inwards, not above:

Thou needest not to roam from star to star,

For God is Love.

from The Quiet Way: A Christian Path to Inner Peace,

by Gerhard Tersteegen, trans. by Emily Chisholm

Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, Inc., 2008, page 10

Coming Out on the Other Side

I haven’t come back to these “Every Day” contemplations for quite some time. Since I last posted, my husband got progressively more helpless and dependent, finally ending his journey in death in the past month. My attention was of course, riveted on him, and I had little time for attention to myself, and no strength to consider writing here for awhile.

After his peaceful death, I finally felt at peace. Have you ever played tug of war? Two teams of people start pulling backwards on a rope. The first side to cross the starting point loses the game. Well imagine you are tugging with all your might against the force pulling at the other end of the rope. Now imagine that the adversary suddenly drops the rope. Because you have been tugging so long, you are off balance. Your tugging posture depends on the force at the other end of the rope to stabilize you. So if the other side lets go, you will fall backwards. That’s what it was like for me. My husband and I have been struggling for over 8 years with his disease. And finally the disease has dropped the rope. I spent several weeks alone, trying to get up, because I fell backwards so completely after his death. Slowly I am beginning to reconnect, to struggle up from the fall, and to walk on my own.

The first time I went to the grocery store after he died, I didn’t know what to buy. I had been buying to meet his needs for so long, that now I didn’t know what I wanted to eat. That’s an example of the kind of hole is left behind when a loved one dies. Stunned, exhausted, numb. I was caught in a fog.

Slowly, I am beginning to start my walk on the other side. At least I can now get up and reconnect with all my friends I’ve missed for so long. I’m beginning the journey to come out on the other side.

Commitment

Commitment

My husband Ernie is getting weaker every day. Each day he needs more help and attention. This morning he was so week it took two of us to help him out of the bed and into the chair. Thank goodness I have some help part of the day.

Even though hospice will grant me 5 days per month for outside care, each time has been so stressful for Ernie and not that restful for me. So I’ve decided not to send him to respite care again if I can help it.

I’ve been suffering with a condition that is undoubtedly stress-related. I saw a doctor today who pretty much confirmed that. He offered a couple of ideas of coping with the problem, but after I told him the situation with Ernie he agreed that those ideas probably wouldn’t work right now. So I’m stuck with a difficult but benign problem. He made a comment that really struck me: “I can tell you are committed to see this through. And you can do it.”

Lord give me strength.

Forgotten

I am trying to clean up an email inbox and found this email I wrote for some reason back in August. Decided to plunk it here:

An old friend of Ernie’s sent this article. I really object to the term “Hillbilly,” as do my relatives who live in W. Va. The article does not point out a few things:

1. Do we really want people to go back to underground mining? It is inherently unsafe, and what safety measures there are on the books are regularly bypassed. Furthermore there are way too few mine safety inspectors to inspect what mines are left on a regular basis.

2. A lot of coal “mining” in West Virginia, Kentucky, and S. Illinois is done by surface mining. This is the process whereby the mountain is dynamited. Trees are removed or blown to bits, as are the birds, mammals, and other critters who live on the mountain. The streams are obliterated, and the area is systematically bulldozed to reach the coal veins, which are stripped out and sent to market by truck. This mining method uses far fewer workers, most of them skilled workers which may not include local miners displaced from the deep mine jobs. All the residents in the area are forced to sell their property for a fraction of its  value and move out of the ravines and hollers their families have lived in for generations. Silt and leechate from the surface mine clogs and pollutes the waterways downstream, and those who still live near the surface mines may find their wells are poisoned, or have run dry. The coal is hauled off the mountain in heavy trucks , hundreds a day, down two-lane mountain roads to the shipping point. Those roads are choked with pollution, noise, and black coal dust coating everything along the road. Family graveyards are desecrated, and of course they can’t put the mountain back. Reclamation usually involves “improving” the land for farming, or making golf courses. Many local residents are protesting surface mining because of what they’ve seen it do to their environment.

3. The coal mining regions have been ruled like colonies of the coal companies since coal was first discovered and mined. Miners have struggled for unionization, but with no support from governments, many mines have not had unions, meaning there is no one to stand up for the miners regarding issues of safety, hours, work load, pay, vacations, or benefits. Many miners get “black lung” disease. Then their health and welfare is not covered by the mine companies but by the federal government. So we all pay to take care of those made sick by mining companies skirting the regulations to increase their  profit margin.

4. Why is the choice: coal mining or unemployment? Why can’t governments encourage entrepreneurs to develop cleaner, safer industries to provide more lucrative employment for the workers?

5. I think there is an element of disdain amongst better-off people towards “hillbillies” or the West Virginians. My uncle Hal Turley told me he sometimes was sent east for meetings in relation to his work in Charleston, and he experienced disdain and downright prejudice when he was in New York, Maryland, or other places in the east.

That said, the article is worthwhile to read.

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/trump-us-politics-poor-whites/