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Friday, April 27, 2012

Taking A Break


Today, the UPS man spent his break on our street.

And I look with other eyes wondering
At trees, gladly green and reaching, imitating
Grandfather Elm, so old, so straight, so strong.

Lawns with invitingly plush carpets
Of sweetly green grass framing
Gardens of impetuous flowers – all
Under a canopy of benevolent blue.

Today, the UPS man and I spent his break on our street.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Fulcrum

I want to tend well
What I’ve been given
This the fulcrum be
Of my balance,
My pendulums
Chosen rhythm.

When young
The swing
was wide
And free
Causing tips
Sometimes constantly,

Now the motions be
Subtle and imperceptible
Maybe muscles stronger,
Balance more acceptable.

When sudden swings
Threaten now a tip
I widen my arms
Embracing it…

I practice trusting,
I bend my knees,
Relax muscles
And ride the
Swing back
To be.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Moment with a Stranger

Yesterday I stopped off at our credit union to set up three savings accounts for the kids. A young man helped me do that. While we were going through that process we had a little conversation.

I don't remember what started me explaining to him, but I told him how we have our kids on budgets where they can spend 50% of what they earn, 40% they must save and 10% they must give.

I was not prepared for the guy's enthusiastic reaction! He was so excited and that really got me excited; so I went on to tell how we've never given our kids allowances but have always paid them for work around the house. Since they were young I'd broken up common household chores into '50 cent chores.' 50 cent chores are chores that are small enough to not be intimidating, are useful to daily living and I'm willing to pay 50 cents to have done.

I told the guy that I hadn't sorted my laundry for 10 years! He and I just about flipped. (His excitement really was catching!) When Elijah was 3 or 4ish I'd made a basketballish sort of game out of sorting the laundry. It started out where I had him in the buckets and I'd throw the clothes on him one at a time. I'd yell out 'darks!', 'warms!', 'hots!'. Of course, this entertained the little four year-old no end; but soon he was outside the baskets throwing the appropriate colors into the appropriate baskets. Besides teaching Eli to sort laudry; it made me able to do my laudry with the little mobile, get-into-everything boy.

Each of our kids has a 'daily chore' that I pay 50 cents to have done that is required and they must do. When they've bucked me on it; I remind them that we all live together as a community and it takes each of us to make it nice to live together. They might still grumble, but they have pretty much respected that reasoning.

When they haven't respected it or done the chore; being broke on payday has finished convincing them. Especially when their siblings are flush and they're not.

They are each expected to clean their rooms for free because there are many jobs that we need to do to live well together; but I do pay for jobs that help free me up so that I might do more and better work for the family.

We also pay them when Craig gets his paycheck. We set that up so that they would know what it is like to wait for a pay cycle before getting more money. I have to admit, though, that Craig and I are often not very reliable at this and we often forget to pay them! They have been gracious about it, though, and we do sometimes give them a little 'interest' money because we're late.

When they were young, there was a time they really fought us on this; but I have to say, the bad economy has really helped us here. They see that people's undisciplined habits with money have had a profound effect on many other people; and they don't like it.

Well, this guy at the credit union started telling me about how he didn't have a dad that was around and how his mom wasn't good with him and that he'd been in and out of foster care homes as a kid. It broke my heart to hear the yearning in his voice as he told me he wanted to be a parent like I was. He told me I should be preaching about what we do.

Well, I don't have a pulpit, but I do have a little blog-soapbox; so to honor that guy's heart, I've told you.

I hope I meet him again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Good Friday

There was a bite to the wind, so I told the boys to wear sweatshirts. They didn’t listen so well, only one of them had one by the time I noticed; which was too late to do anything about it.

We were biking down Randolph Avenue, headed to the Good Friday event at Art House North in the West 7th neighborhood of St. Paul. We were early so that I could feed the constantly hungry teenage boys with Subway subs and still get good seats. I left the boys picnicing outside AHN as I went in to snag some seats.

I have to admit, I was surprised by the building; but I immediately fell in love with it. What a small, intimate little place it is. Things are just beginning to improve and I could already imagine what it will be like in a few years when a bunch of artists make it home. I was happy to see that it was not already ‘perfect.’ It made me relax to think that whoever was in charge was taking their time.

The boys eventually came in as the place filled up with attendees. Troy Groves opened up the night by telling us a bit of how the night came about; from them attending a conference at Blackhawk Church in Madison, WI. What happened there sparked in them the desire to have
some Blackhawk musicians and Tim Mackie come share with AHN that night.

We had come, my son, his friend Gabe and I, because J.R.R. Tolkien and comic books were on the bill. I was there because I wanted to check out AHN; but I hooked my son and Gabe into it by mentioning Tolkien and the comic books.

What was lovely to me was to see Hutchmoot friends and Church of the Open Door friends there. Again, it seemed to me like streams of my life were converging in that place. I always make a note of it when I see that happening. That was how I’d found my way to Abbey Way; the streams of Open Door and my Benedictine friends converging. It always makes me think that God is up to something; like bringing forth streams in a desert.

When Tim Mackie began to speak, I immediately liked him and was so thankful he was who he was – a young, intelligent, seemingly rooted guy. I saw Eli and Gabe perk up and listen to what he was saying. I could tell they liked him, and I was grateful. It is so hard, sometimes, to get teenagers to eat what is good for them.

Tim talked about how he wanted nothing whatsoever to do with spiritual things beginning when he was around 10 years old (or so) until he was in his teens. At that time, he spent every moment he could at the local comic book store, devouring Marvel comics.

He talked about how, when he became a Christian at age 20; he realized that the comic books had formed his imagination so that when he read the Bible he saw it for the complicated, paradoxical, mysterious hero story that it is. The comic books had given him a framework that was similar and to be found (created? originated?) in the Bible as well.

Tim went on to talk about how good story, not cheap stories, form and expand the boundaries of our imaginations. He shared with us what J.R.R. Tolkien says about these things in his essay, On Fairy Stories. I’ve ordered the essay and am anxious to read it because I worried that Tolkien and Mackie were stealing my next few planned blog posts. I’ve been thinking about the role story has played in my life and have been getting a little series of posts ready; and my thoughts and experiences line up with what Tolkien talks about in his essay and Mackie was sharing.

But since that evening at AHN, I've been thinking about a particular nuance in story. Tim was talking about books he’d read and how they formed his imagination. I am assuming most of
those books he read to himself. What his talk stirred within me was the thought: What happens when people read formational stories out loud, together? Then do you get a people’s imagination formed?

One of the most thought altering, perception shifting books I’ve read is New Monasticism: What it has to Say to Today’s Church by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove. In it, JWH explained that the Bible was written to a people, for the formation of a people, together. The way he helped me understand it was that when it says ‘you’ in the Bible, it is most often translated more like the Southern, y’all. The Bible is not an introspective self-help book; but a people-help book, an everyone learning to live together well-help book.

So, I value community. I value nurturing community. I value story lived into and shared in community.

From those values our family, for years, has hosted what we call “Wrinkle” every other Saturday night. It all started when a bunch of adults, teens and kids decided we wanted to read through the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeline L’Engle, out loud, together. Instead of a book club where everyone reads the book alone and then comes together to talk about it; we
wanted to actually listen to a reader read the book to us.

And Wrinkle was born.

I’ve been the reader. Our family provides popcorn and fires. In the winter we gather around our living room fireplace. In the summer we’ve gathered around a campfire. Everyone listening brings some activity they like to do while they listen. People have sketched, molded small sculptures, knitted, crocheted, beaded, played solitaire, done puzzles, sewed, graded papers, and various other crafty/arty/useful things.

The ages are mixed. Single people come, married people come, families come, kids come on their own; everyone heaped together, all mixed up. I have watched a kid sit close to an artist and try to draw like they do; then show it to the artist for feedback. I have helped a young knitter learn their next needed step in their project before I start reading and then watched as they finish their project, beaming. It has all been quite amazing.

We have each been formed, shaped by those stories we shared experiencing together. We often make jokes to each other, mimic a character’s voice or laugh about a moment that was funny in the story; and what has resulted is a community that has been nurtured and formed together.

And it is good.

I wonder: How could this be shared with people who don’t do this? How can this be shared with kids who don’t have adults who take time to read to them? How could this be shared on a broader scale to nurture a larger group?

I am wondering.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

I Would Rather be Judas...

I would rather be Judas... Yes, I mean that Judas!

Sometimes thoughts float in and out of my brain. Sometimes I may or may not pay attention to them. Sometimes I may or may not follow them.

Recently I was startled when the thought; “I would rather be Judas” came to the surface from somewhere deep within. “What??” I questioned myself… “What do you mean?”

As I was preparing a lesson during Lent for the children of Abbey Way, I looked up the Last Supper story in each gospel; comparing them to each other. I also read that section from the book, God so Loved the World” by Elizabeth Goudge.

Because of that research, I began to notice that I heard a different tone in Christ’s words when he speaks of the one who would betray him. In the past, I always heard his words of, “It would be better for that one to never have been born” as very condemning… coming from the angry lips of a justifiably revenging God. But this year, I heard them as coming from the heart of a Shepherd; one who sees more landscape than the sheep does, and is mourning over what that sheep is about to do and where it will end up… in pain, confusion and, ultimately, a lonely death. I heard him – in the moment of his pain and betrayal – inviting that sheep to reconsider and not continue. When the moment is sealed by Judas proceeding with his intention; only then does Jesus tell him to hurry up and get it over with. I can almost hear the click of the closing door of opportunity.

So, back to my random thoughts; needless to say, I thought I was crazy, thinking that “I would rather be Judas…”

But my thoughts continued on with the story. As the events unfold, and Judas betrays Jesus, more players step into the picture. I thought particularly of the religious leaders… and then I noticed that my random thought completed itself… “I would rather be Judas; then be like them.”
I began to be aware of the depth of their ‘calculated-ness’ and their cold-hard determination to kill. Who knows what Judas was thinking or what truly motivated him to betray Jesus; but the real, scary killers that day were the ones who were determined to hold on to the power they had in the existing system and not allow God to ‘create a new thing.’

I think the meeting between the religious leaders and Judas is particularly telling of the craziness of this cold determination. Judas comes to return the money to them. He cannot bear keeping it; realizing he has sinned and betrayed an innocent man. The religious leaders retort, “What do we care? That’s your problem.” (Matt. 27:4 NLT). Judas then throws the money into the temple and goes out and hangs himself.

Not a very shepherd-like response from them, huh?

Then... then! The religious leaders say to each other, “It wouldn’t BE RIGHT to put this money
in the Temple treasury since it was a payment for murder.”

Talk about straining on a gnat while eating a camel!!

I can hardly breathe, that statement is so fraught with the insanity of hypocrisy.

What sort of Temple are they protecting??? One that should be torn down!!?? One that Christ rebuilt in three days??? And, wasn’t that what they were convicting Christ of??? Saying he would rebuild the temple in three days??

They decided to buy a potter’s field with that money and it became a cemetery for foreigners.

Even with the profits of Christ’s betrayal; the outsider finds shelter.

Nothing is wasted in God’s hands.

So, back to Judas… I would rather be Judas. I would rather be able to see my sin and wake up and try my best to stop and turn; even if I get SO muddled up because it is so huge that I cannot see the way through… than to be so hard and cold that I do not even care that I have brought about murder.

But each of us has our ‘religious leader’ moments, don’t we?

We are, each of us Judas and the religious leaders at times. What about them?Are they beyond cure?

No.

All are covered in Jesus’ words as he died… did you notice that? ...as he died. Again, in the midst of his pain and agony; he was tending… praying. He was praying for each one and his words cover us all. “Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing.” We are, after all, sheep. We can only see so far… we only notice the grass at our feet or (at best) a little bit ahead of us. Where would we be without a shepherd? Where would we be?

Thank God for our Shepherd.

Thank God that he has the power to tear down the temples of our hearts and rebuild them.

Thank God that his ‘love washes over a multitude of things’.

He is risen.

He is risen indeed.

And so,
we can rise,
and begin again…

Monday, April 02, 2012

Entering into Holy Week

Last night, Pastor Jan spent some time at church teaching on the traditions and values of Holy Week. As she was speaking about Holy Saturday, I remembered when I experienced the tension she was describing of the 'in-between day' of the Triduum. I was aware of that tension because our family had done something that brought about that awareness.

On Good Friday, we'd decided to make a Lego Jesus to be put on a cross of two boards nailed together.

When we finished and put him on the cross, we melted red crayon and dripped it from his hands, feet and side. It was very natural to talk about why we were doing each part with the kids. The story of his death was easily told as we worked together.

When we were all done, we took a moment in silence; being present to him. Then we took him off the cross and wrapped him in a white floursack towel and laid him in our fireplace (tomb). We closed the fireplace doors and became aware of a feeling of emptiness that remained. The cross leaned against our wall; naked and condemning.

We went to bed that night in somber moods.

The next day was Saturday. I spent the whole day aware of what lay in our fireplace. Craig and I had figured out what we were going to do on Sunday morning; but we had to wait. Wait. Wait. We could not rush Saturday; the day of unknowing, the day of oblivion. I saw the kids periodically stop in front of the closed fireplace. I wondered what they were thinking and feeling.

When Jan taught about Holy Saturday, she said that traditionally people did not light fires so that they could "symbolically enter into the waiting of the dawn's light. The day was one of stillness and grief, of holding to hope even when all is dark." That was the tension I became aware of as we waited for the morning. I felt it, I was awake to it because we had made a Lego Jesus and laid him in a tomb. We could not light a fire; the place was taken.

On Easter morning that year, Craig and I got up early and went down to prepare for the kids. We took Jesus out of the tomb. Craig tranformed him so that he was standing and happy (we had a lego piece that makes a smile or a frown). I laid his wrapping back in the fireplace and opened the doors wide; placing a sign above it that read, "He is not here! He is risen!" We then put candy around the standing Jesus so that whoever discovered him first could share the sweetness with others.

That year stands out to me as particularly sweet and 'real.' I believe it was a formational time for our family. I can not describe it in words, but I just know that we are different than we were before because of what we experienced together.

I wanted to share this story with you so that other families may try this idea at home, if they want to. If you don't have a fireplace, then just find the next best thing. Listen to your heart and let God lead you in how to adapt the idea in your own family.

May you walk through this week with Jesus. Peace.