Monday, December 28, 2009

Prayer for critics and enemies

Prayer Regarding Critics and Enemies by Serbian Orthodox Bishop

By Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, Serbian bishop who spoke out against Naziism, was arrested, and taken to Dachau.

(reposted from

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;

So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Copenhagen Sermon -- Archbishop of Canterbury

Copenhagen Sermon

Given by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams

'Perfect love casts out fear'. It's a well-known biblical text; in its original setting, it's about how we learn to have the proper kind of confidence in the love and forgiveness of God. This kind of confidence, St John says, comes from understanding that we are – miraculously – able to stand in the same place as God himself. 'In this world we are as he is'. Our own confidence, our fearlessness, is built on seeing love at work through us – not our personal warm feelings or positive emotions or even kind actions, but the love that really sets people free and brings something new into the world: God's love, dealing with the deepest tangles and knots of our situation, the love that was the essence of Jesus' life and death and resurrection.

And the deepest religious basis for our commitment to the environment in which God has placed us is this recognition that we are called to be, and are enabled to be, the place where God's love for the world comes through. We have to flesh out in our lives that fundamental biblical conviction that when God looks on the world he finds it good. We have to show in our lives some echo of the delight God finds in creation, recalling the astonishing image in the Book of Proverbs of God's eternal wisdom playing and rejoicing in the whole span of the universe.

Love casts out fear. If we begin from the belief that God wants us to rejoice and delight in the created world, our basic attitude to the environment will not be anxiety or the desperate search for ways of controlling it; it will be the excited and hopeful search for understanding it and honouring its goodness and its complex, interdependent beauty. If there is any 'fear' around here, it should be fear of spoiling the heritage given us, of forgetting the overwhelming scale and depth of the gift and of our responsibility and care for it, fear of forgetting that we are called to show consistent and sacrificial love for the created world as we must show towards our fellow-human beings. And, as we should have learned by now, the truth is that we cannot show the right kind of love for our fellow-humans unless we also work at keeping the earth as a place that is a secure home for all people and for future generations.

But there is another kind of fear we have to think about, a fear that should prompt us to get in touch again with the love that made us and sustains us. At the present moment, we are faced with the consequences of generations of failure to love the earth as we should; and we are also faced with the choices that might make those consequences less destructive than they would otherwise be. Each of us as an individual, each international business concern, each national government – all of us have choices. We are not doomed to carry on in a downward spiral of the greedy, addictive, loveless behaviour that has helped to bring us to this point. Yet it seems that fear still rules our hearts and imaginations. We have not yet been able to embrace the cost of the decisions we know we must make. We are afraid because we don't know how we can survive without the comforts of our existing lifestyle. We are afraid that new policies will be unpopular with a national electorate. We are afraid that younger and more vigorous economies will take advantage of us – or we are afraid that older, historically dominant economies will use the excuse of ecological responsibility to deny us our right to proper and just development.

There is, in a word, no shortage of excellent excuses for turning away from decisions that will mean real change. But at least let's be honest about where they come from: it is fear – not necessarily irrational fear, not even necessarily purely selfish fear, but fear all the same. And so long as that dominates our calculations, we are stepping back from love – love for the creation itself, which we must look at as God looks at it, love for one another and for the generations still unborn, who need us to do whatever we can to guarantee a stable, productive and balanced world to live in – not a world of utterly chaotic and disruptive change, of devastation and desertification, of biological impoverishment and degradation.

Love casts out fear. The truth is that what is most likely to get us to take the right decisions for our global future is love. The temptation is to underline fear so as to persuade one another of the urgency of the situation: things are so bad, so threatening, that we have to do something. And indeed there are moments when we might think, rather bitterly, that the human race is still not frightened enough by the prospect of what it has stored up for itself. But this is to drive out one sickness by another. That kind of fear can simply paralyse us, as we all know; it can make us feel that the problem is too great and we may as well pull up the bedclothes and wait for disaster. What's more, it can tempt us into just blaming one another or waiting for someone else to make the first move because we don't trust them. We need more than that for lifegiving change to happen.

And that is what we are here to say today. We meet as people of faith in the context of this critical moment in human history; and so we are not here just to plead or harangue, let alone to encourage panic and terror. We are here to say two simple things to ourselves, our neighbours and our governments.

First: don't be afraid; but ask how the policies you follow and the lifestyle that you take for granted look in the light of the command to love the world you inhabit. Ask what would be a healthy and sustainable relationship with this world, a relationship that would in some way manifest both joy in and respect for the earth. Start with the positive question – how do we show that we love God's creation?

Second: don't separate this from the question of how we learn to trust one another within a world of limited resources. In such a world there can be no trust without justice, without the assurance of knowing that my neighbour is there for me when I face insecurity or risk. How shall we build international institutions that make sure the resources get where they are needed – that, for example, 'green taxes' will deliver more security for the disadvantaged, that transitions in economic patterns will not weigh most heavily on those least equipped to cope?

Love casts out fear; and the promise that makes sense of all this is the promise we heard in the reading from St Paul's letter to the Romans: if we allow God to teach us trust and if we learn to live in trust and confidence, the whole created order feels the effects. The 'slavery' imposed on the created order by human sinfulness and selfishness gives way to liberation; human freedom and the fulfilment of the destiny of the world around are manifested together, and the result is glory.

In this season of Advent, we renew our confident hope that such a future is possible. We give thanks for the Christmas gift of Jesus Christ that has broken through our selfishness and begun the work of our liberation. We reaffirm our conviction and commitment in the name of love; and we say 'don't be afraid' to all who stand uncertainly on the edge of decision. Don't be afraid; act for the sake of love.

© Rowan Williams 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

writing christmas

Honestly, it's been so long since I've done any serious writing that I'm not sure I know how any more. What do I mean by serious? Crafted language, inspired by the Breath of God (rather than the completed work of someone else), that puts the poetic in perspective, that makes mystery manageable, that in-spires as well as ex-piring.

So we get to Christmas, and a couple of hours of research later, nothing out there says what I want it to say the way I want it to say it to the people I want to say it to. Or for. Whichever. Now I have the choice of continuing to look for the right words (someone else's) for a few more hours, or taking those same hours and begging God for both breath and skill. And trust. And patience.

How many hours would it take 100 monkeys with typewriters to come up with Shakespeare? And how many hours until Christmas eve?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Luke 13:34b

That's it. Just the scripture.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Do they know it's Christmas?

They're so young.
And it's still a good question.

Out of body -- back in 30 minutes

So I get to the office today and there's a message on my phone from my cousin* Debbie. I was last in contact with Debbie in the early 1970s. She got my church number from her mother, Lynne.** I do a little googling and find Lynne in a YouTube video. I may have also found her son's wife's blog.

You'll have to excuse me now: my body seems to be typing without me.

*She may be my cousin too -- I don't understand these things. Her great-grandmother and my grandmother were sisters.
**I think Lynne is genealogically my mother's cousin. I don't think I have been in contact with her since my mother died -- 2 years before I started at this church. Maybe. Unexpected, nonetheless.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Is it too late to be a youth minister?

I love my kids.
I feel for the parents and teachers.

If you're a praying sort, would you please keep them and their families in prayer? I'm seeing a few slo-mo train wrecks in the works.

And btw: if you're a former teacher of mine, I'm sorry. Pick an event. I'm sorry for it.

Friday, December 04, 2009

4 new family milestones

Location: Neighborhood sit-down Mexican restaurant, packed at dinner hour.
Scene: Mama and Toddler Daughter out for girls' night. Both on banquette side, facing out. Mama wearing business casual, Toddler in dress and leggings. Toddler has eaten well, been well mannered, a joy.
Time: Dinner winding down. Check paid. Toddler starting to play with straws and spoons. Good moods all around.
Event: Toddler pokes Mama with her mouth-held straw. Straw pokes back of Toddler's throat.
Milestone: First public full frontal vomiting of horchata and tortilla. Ongoing, pathetic.

Milestone: First time Mama holds Daughter's hair back while she throws up.

Milestone: First time young teenage stranger goes to kitchen and comes back with many napkins, and helps me spread them around and under Daughter's fountain. And does it again. My hero. His mother helpfully suggests I clean out Daughter's mouth with water to help stop the vomiting.

Aside: Did I mention we were facing out, toward the other people in the restaurant? Or that the family directly across from us was celebrating with a huge platter of beautiful shellfish -- crabs, mussels, oysters?

Toddler goes to bed at 7:45 pm. By choice.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Have a beer with the President?

I never understood the "if you wanna have a beer with him, vote for him" standard of presidential election. I don't want a president who is my peer. If I have to choose between liking and respecting, I'd rather respect.

As you might imagine, it has been a long time since I respected my president, prone as we have been to electing The Guy Next Door. I've met the guy next door. I don't want him as president.

Obama is bearing up well under a constant campaign to "other" him. Fearful people from various threads of the tattered political flag are working hard to make him a noncitizen, a socialist, a communist, a czar/tyrant who will abolish free election, a turncoat dove, the antichrist. While this is all ludicrous -- all of it -- and much of it racist, and some of it anti-intellectual (can anyone say "Palin"? No, not Michael, though he would be a lot easier to stomach.), here's the bottom line for me: though I want us to agree on the Big Things (like the belief that the real purpose of government is caring for the least among us), I don't want my president to be my mirror image. I've seen myself in the mirror, and I wouldn't want me as president.

So, I want my president to be "other" than me in some really critical ways. I want a president who is way smarter, more well-informed, more even-keeled, more thoughtful, and quicker than I am. I want my president to be more humble than I am. And, when we disagree, I want my president and his advisors to have enough spine to not label me unpatriotic/unamerican/unreal, even if I stoop to name-calling myself.

I don't always agree with President Obama, and Jesus is still my commander in chief. But finally, I have a nonfictional president* I respect.

May God bless and keep him and his.

*Hey, Josiah Bartlet was my president for a long time. I just wish he existed outside Aaron Sorkin's head.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Answer to a young friend

A few weeks ago you asked me why your parents wouldn't simply let you make your own mistakes. You were angry and anguished. I didn't answer you then: I knew you needed a loving heart and an open ear more than a quick brain. Here is what I might have said if you'd asked me and hoped for an answer.

Imagine that you've just gotten your driver's license. You found an old motorcycle on Craigslist and mechanically minded friend helped you rehab it. The bike has no sweetness, but it runs. Finally you have some freedom.

You read on the internet that running muriatic acid through your tank will flush out all the old built-up gunk. You don't read the whole article (especially not the part that says to remove the tank from the bike first, wear goggles, etc), and so you snag a big bottle of pool cleaner.

I see you standing there with the bike propped up and running and the pool cleaner in hand. Should I let you pour it in?

Suppose I did exactly the same thing when I had my bike, to disastrous results. How about then? Should I let you pour it in, knowing you really value both your bike and your life?

And if I love you very much, and know what it took for me to get past the whole muriatic-acid incident, and never ever want you to have to go through that...

And if I know that the cost is just too high, that the lesson you would learn simply isn't worth it...

My dear young friend:

I can't speak for your parents, but I know that I want you to make your own mistakes. I want you to learn from actually living. And, I want you to never, ever go through some of the things I've been through. Ever. Because the lessons learned just aren't worth it.

Because I love you, I will do everything I can to help you skip those particular lessons. Not because I don't trust you, or don't want you to learn, or think I always know better, but because I love you enough and have survived by the grace of God long enough to want you to not destroy yourself, or someone else.

Hope that helps. I'm praying for you, and my ears and heart are always open.

Pastor Elane

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Recently I FB'd* about being convicted but in denial. "Convicted", in evangelical-speak**, means "to feel guilty about something. You feel an uneasiness or restlessness in your heart.... It is your conscience,speaking to you, in the unsaved. It is the Holy Spirit speaking to you, in the saved." (Robyn, on ChristiaNet, 10-29-08) Well said, Robyn, whoever you are: uneasiness or restlessness in the heart. Spiritual dis-ease, a symptom of the Holy Spirit having slapped you upside the head of your soul. The lingering ache of a Simpsonian "d'oh".

I wax digression.

Remember when Wonderful Husband decided the economic world as we knew it was coming to an end and we should have a garden and chickens? I blogged at the time that he had unwittingly opened the Pandora's Box of my simple-living Scott-and-Helen-Nearing romantic fantasy of Right Living. Since then,
  • I've been accumulating books and blogs like Marion Nestle's What to Eat, and Walter Brueggemann's Prayers for a Privileged People, and Mother Earth News/Grit, and Colin Beavan's No Impact Man. Joel Salatin's You Can Farm came this week. They should all come in plain brown paper wrappers, unmarked, silently hand-delivered by someone wearing a hat and mask.
  • I got the church hooked up with a bulk food distributing company specializing in natural and organic stuff; that catalog is sitting on my church desk, sheathed in its Priority Mail envelope.
  • On Craigslist I found a guy a mile or so from me who keeps bees and produces honey; I've bookmarked the listing but have not transcribed his number onto paper or into my phone.
  • This week our church received a CIPL "oscar" for greening, and I signed us up to screen the movie No Impact Man during the Copenhagen climate change talks.
  • Canning this weekend (Note to family: you now know what you're getting for Xmas).
  • A friend is coming for drinks today and I'm trying to figure out where to get locally made vodka and olives.
I feel like a spy in the house of Wendell Berry, deep in the Small Is Beautiful closet, hanging on the hook of Luke 18:22-23. Sartre was wrong: hell isn't other people. Hell is living in denial of the Holy Spirit's head-smack.

*To FB is to write on your Facebook status update. When did we decide a website could become an acronymic verb? I guess when "google" entered the OED.
**Liberal Christians don't talk this way.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Soulation Exercise

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, consolation is "every increase of faith, hope and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly and to the salvation of one's soul, by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord." Desolation is "that state of interior disturbance which is caused by the devil: 'darkness of soul; turmoil of spirit; urgings to what is low and earthly; restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations, which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love."

Sat in the sun trying to identify the moments of consolation and desolation in my week. Individual instances were hard to picture: the ebb & flow seems almost constant.

We don't remember breathing, the intake and expulsion of breath unless we gasp for air and fear we may not get it.

Yogic breathing and singing both teach you to expel breath fully. You discover that if you do this, the air immediately flows in to fill the void. You may have to pay attention to get all that you can, or train to get all you can consistently, but when your body is empty it takes in air.

So it is with consolation and desolation. Consolation is the ensouled body filling with the Spirit and her fruits. Desolation is the expulsion of the Spirit and the experience of that emptiness.

In normal breathing, desolation and consolation ebb and flow according to their natures. We take notice only when we find ourselves gasping for air, or so full we float.

Our spiritual practice, then, is to expand our lungs, and to expel fully with the certain knowledge that we will breathe in when we are finally empty.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Simple pleasures

Roasted delicata squash with parmesan


1 part lavender liqueur (homemade last fall)
1 part French dry vermouth
dash Angostura bitters


a healthy chattering toddler

who unfortunately just poured out her water into her tray.

Have a kosher Easter!

Sugar Easter Charms (K)
Sugar Easter Charms (K)
( SKU Number: 5600-EA-AC-1 )

Charming is an understatement for these 1/2" - 7/8" miniature sugar charms. Your Easter treats will be too cute to eat!! A generous 24 pieces per package, includes 8 each of Chick, Egg and Bunny. Molded sugar. KOSHER - manufactured under the supervision of the Kashruth Division of the Orthodox Union.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why Mary didn't blink

This morning one of our chickens, Meg, flapped her way out of their run. I heard a squawk, and turned to see her walking alongside the others, outside the fencing, puzzled. I went to pick her up and she hopped a bit away, flapped a little, and then settled down against my chest as I stroked her. She's used to my giving her food and treats, picking her up, smoothing her ruffled feathers.

As the baby continued to eat her breakfast (or toss her breakfast on the floor. Whatever.) our cat Jamba joined the throng beneath her chair to collect whatever manna might fall. I reached my hand down to stroke him. He didn't flinch, letting my hand graze his fur as he continued his pursuit.

We are often mystified -- even incredulous --at Mary's acceptance of the angel's presence. Some reject it outright, explaining it as a patriarchal view of a simperingly weak woman. Or as just not what a young teenager would do. Or even as a rape of sorts -- Leda and the swan.

Perhaps our response to Mary's equanimity reflects our own experience of God's loving provision. We doubt because we have not spent our lives knowing we were being fed, loved, cared for. We are the feral cats, the factory-farmed food, accustomed to scrounging or gulping, lost or confined.

But for Meg, and Jamba, and Mary, the Provider is loving, trustworthy, and ultimately safe. And the only response to the assuredness of love is: Yes.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sixth learning

Sometimes you're the one doing the interviewing.

(No, not a job interview. Ignatian exercises.)

Fifth learning

I don't have to be blissed out to know I've been with the Lord.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Fourth learnings

The problem with greed is that the "too much" is never as good as the "enough", and lures us into believing that this is because it is not enough.

I can construct reasons for shame in the most benign of circumstances.

"At the end of the everlasting "why" there is a "yes" and a "Yes" and a "YES!" (poorly paraphrased from "A Room With a View")

My deepest, most authentic desire turns out to be what I thought it was: to be flooded constantly by the fire that burns but does not burn up, by the God who wants to know me even more than I want to know Them, by the unselfconsciousness that allows for the miracle of the intimate "I am the Lord's servant. May it be with me according to your will," and for the ongoing miracle itself. Yes, that's one desire.

Every day one must reopen the floodgates and keep the hinges oiled.

And the strangest learning today? Even me.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Third learning

If the distance is fuzzy, and you have to squint to see close-up, new lenses are the first step.

Second learnings

Eye makeup is useless on retreat, because if the tears don't get it, the sweat will.

If someone you trust and respect recommends a book, read it.

First learnings

Now I understand why people have spiritual directors and what they are supposed to do.

To do one thing at a time I have to intend to do one thing at a time. If I'm going to spend time listening to God's longings inside me, the annual-planning-books-and-readings have to go back in the box, back in the car.

My deepest authentic desire is also God's desire for me. God's desires and wills express themselves through my silently singing core.

Sleep is not a shameful act, or a sign of unbearable weakness.

What counts as "overwork" changes. What is "overwork" now might not have been 10 years or even a year ago. That's not about aging per se, but about circumstance and location.

That deep longing of my heart may be exactly what the church needs too.

"My" needs may be God's "needs" in me.

I like coastal weather: viva fog!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meat loafing

Have you ever seen meat emerging from the other end of a grinder? Pink mottled red and white, too thick to ooze, too broken up to be recognizably steer or pig or pullet. Or Lamb.

The thing about ground meat is you can shape it, make something different (if not new). Bound with starch, it can become a ball or a loaf. Spiced, a sausage. Browned and immersed, it is a ragu or chili. Carefully wrapped with the thinnest of pastry, it is a wonton. How ground meat turns out is in the hands of the cook.

Maybe that's why a soul can feel like ground chuck: broken, smushed, rent. I didn't realize that I'd been on the wrong end of the grinder until I got here. Parked the car. Checked in. Read a welcome note from the spiritual director I'm meeting, and sobbed. But I trust that the all-time most Creative Cook knows what to do with minced soul.

Mixed with plenty of Lamb, I should be something different when I leave.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Completely off-topic

Seriously, I could make a theological case for going here, but you're smarter than that.

Pesto is like sex. When it's mediocre, I'd rather have something else. It's not satisfying. It's a little flat, a little "last week". You expect it to be like that long ago summer you only remember in your nostalgic fantasies, but it's more like running into an ex-lover who has gone to seed.

But when it's right, pesto titillates every sense, and satisfies beyond its components. Basil, olive oil, toasted nuts, cheese. Individually all are good. But when they come together, well, you remember that God does love us, and that She made us sensual, physical beings.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Jesus, PhD

Sometimes when I read the gospels I hear Jesus talking in Dr. Phil's voice. "How's That working for ya?"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lately I've been fascinated with the speed at which Baby is learning and using words. More on that later. But here's the goodie: we're sitting down to lunch and I close my eyes and hold out my hands to bless God for the food. I feel her little hand take my finger, and hear her "amen" at the end. Wow.

So the word list as of today:
shoes, socks, o's, Tanqy, apple, banana, "I see you", mama, dada, more, cheese, flower, airplane, truck, bus, car, go (when the light turns green), help, up, down, dirty, chickens and duck (and their voices), outside, inside, brush teeth, purse, keys, phone, spoon, milk, glasses, water, bottle, cup, toast, cookie, bar, strawberry, blueberry, cracker, goldfish, cold, hot, hat, Ellen, yay!, hands, feet, belly, eyes, ears, nose, on, please, yes, no, pacie, blanket, mine, you (although which one of us "you" is, is stil in question), cat, Jamba, church.

And Amen.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thank God for Sam. Really.

Who knew that we hit a trend? Or that Everyone with a table saw would start making chicken coops (starting at $450, thank you very much)? And that there's serious peer pressure to build your own out of really anything -- doghouse, shed, VW van, pallets. I considered a bookshelf, an ikea cabinet, doghouses, sheds, shipping crates. Found a rabbit hutch for $50 (just like a small chicken hutch without a perch) but couldn't make firm contact with the seller. Found an Everyone making coops I really liked , but I'm cheap.

Finally returned to the Wizard, Sam pf Sam's Downtown Feed, who has been my sage throughout this. He cut me a deal. So here's the coop that's coming home Saturday.

Now we have to figure out a paint scheme. I'm headed toward maroon and lime green, but I suspect I'm in the minority.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Back on the farm

I haven't been sleeping well -- up too late, congested (and seriously snoring, poor Husband) -- but I have been getting up early. The dark is still, cars are sleeping. I go off with my Bible to Peets, chat a bit with the Peets peeps, then sit down to strong coffee and Job. Pretty ideal.

Tonight Baby went to bed without a struggle. The chickens did too -- not one pooped on me. Unlike this morning.

Evening chores took longer than usual because one whole tomato plant blew over, cage and all, and I had to string it up. But it left behind two tiny orange tomatoes, along with the cucumbers that seem to grow overnight. Cut the last of the chard, which I'll cook with some other greens then make stock with the stems. Figs from TJs, but strawberries from the farm. Ditto the first corn of the season -- picked yesterday, shucked and cooked today, with just a little bit of butter and barely simmered through -- and tomatoes that are darker red than blood.

Now, if you don't know me well, you don't realize that every phrase after "ideal" belongs on Amazon's list of "statistically improbable phrases". Okay, the line about making stock is more usual, but the rest was unimaginable even 3 years ago. I love my high heels and proper glassware. Buses and subways are good. Cafes on every corner should be a law (no, I'm not talking about Starbucks here. Cafes.) And if you can't catch up on all the news worldwide by walking down the street overhearing, it's a sorry city.

We plan. God laughs, and gives eggs.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What are friends for?

It's astonishing that even when God offers to help, I can manage to gratefully decline.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pandora didn't know how good she had it!

When the economy first started to tank, Wonderful Husband, decided it would be prudent to landscape our backyard and our front yard with edibles, to have chickens, maybe a goat. I balked: I've had goats, and a greenhouse, and I've been around a lot of chickens. I really wanted a Mediterranean, low-water landscape -- lavender and rosemary as far as your nose could smell. Plus I knew that when push came to shove, both the garden and the chickens would become lines on my to-do list.

But it mattered to him, and heck, I like fresh food as much as the next person, so here we are, backyard gardening and six chickens. (The front yard is still under discussion.)

Unfortunately, Wonderful Husband had no clue about the beast he had just let out of its box. I blame the bookshelves, really: they're still in fiction/nonfiction arrangement, rather than topic/author/date as they used to be. If our library was in order, Wonderful Husband might have noticed my "most precious" bookshelf. Some fiction, some religion, but mostly sustainable living, housebuilding, the gardens of Vita Sackville-West.

For many years, I treasured Scott and helen Nearing as much as I did God. Maybe more. I used Kloss' book on clean living until the pages wore out. I've read umpteen books on alternative building (such as straw bales, rammed earth, domes, yurts), and can tell you how to cook a meal on your car's exhaust system as you drive cross-country. A decade ago I drew up full plans for a Craftsman-style bungalow with stove heating. And have I mentioned to you the pilgrimage to Arcosanti? More recently, I've chewed on Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and put up many pints of apricots, jam, and syrup.

And now the beast is loose. I'm dreaming about leaving paid ministry for rural homesteading, and house church planting, another kid, a bunch more dogs, co-op schooling. And the goats, because I love them and cheese is so easy. I'm wondering if Wendell Berry needs an assistant, or if Barbara Kingsolver has land near her.

God trumps the Nearings these days, by far. But I'm not sure I'd still be honoring God's call by choosing a road less taken. Or, that we'd survive financially. But the box is open and the tomatoes are starting to ripen.

Poor Husband. Better finally update those shelves.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Going back

I had the privilege of officiating at a memorial service today. Officially I am on vacation through midnight, but the deceased was a longtime and very active member of our church community, so my being there mattered. 193 people attended, more than we've had before, and though the room was sweltering, the breath of the Holy Spirit moved like a breeze among us.

Perhaps the greatest gift of this profession is being Christ for people in their most important moments. It is the priestly role: from Aaron to Jesus to each of us, standing in the breach between God and God's people is an extraordinary honor. I guess it is also an extraordinary responsibility, though I've never experienced it as a burden.

Protestants of the low church varieties like to pretend that priests are at best irrelevant, and at worst sacrilegious. But every culture at every time has had those people, or those roles, in which God was formally made present through a single human being. There is something about someone "holding the space" -- that is, actively parting the veil between the mundane and the divine-- that we need. In our times of trial or tragedy or triumph, we look for a priest, if not for a word then for a symbol of the thin line between God and the rest of us. So officiating is a privilege, for not only do we say the words and do the gestures: we are the eternal, undying, love of God, incarnate if only for an hour.

Certainly worth going back early for.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

... and God laughs

I'm on vacation, right?

Sunday, 2:48 a.m.

My eyes spring open as my brain engages. The house is soundless and dark, but I am awake as if an alarm bell were clanging. Reluctantly look at the clock, expecting the blue glow of five-colon-zero-zero.

Ha ha.

So I turn over, thinking that I should get more sleep. Around 3:30 I give in, and within seconds Child begins to cry. I wait a while So That She Learns to Self-Comfort, but she's got that flat crying sound that says something's up. A few minutes in the dark with her and a clean pacifier and she's back in the crib. I put the coffee on and slice Susan's bread for toast.

Ha ha.

Once again I hear the dulcet tones of Child, this time it's a bottle cry. Pour, warm, feed, shhhh. Back into crib. Sit down in chair with Bible, toast, coffee and cat. The dog's collar begins jingling.

Ha ha.

Happily, he settles himself down, but by now I'm mentally writing a sermon, planning worship, selecting new pillows for the living room, reading a You book, working on a Rule. All in my head; all before 4:15. So I get up, get more coffee, come upstairs, and start looking for a church to visit, since the plan to go to the evangelical contemporary church near our home church looks less and less appealing. The plan changes.

Ha ha ha giggle snort.

We plan; God laughs. Sunday morning on vacation before 5 a.m.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fantasy and reality

Got back last night at 10; got to bed around 2. Child slept in, as did dog, as did I (8:30 which is some kind of record for me). Had a couple of errands that needed doing today, and managed those.

Fantasy: I don't sleep for the 16 hours of travel, get to bed at roughly normal time.
Reality: Slept no more than 1.5 hours during travel. Hang out with Child's caregiver until maybe 11, then gaze at tv until less wired.

Fantasy: House is roughly clean and tidy, then I put in 2-3 hours making it right.
Reality: There are no piles, and Child's clothes are clean, but the compost bucket under the sink is truly horrifying, and I realize what counts as "clean and tidy" for me is not necessarily what counts for others.

Fantasy: After Child goes to bed, I have a grownup cocktail out on the patio then enter a gleaming house for a nice nibble and some well-written words.
Reality: Manhattan in a cracked Bushmill's glass while watching TLC, recorded. (A perfect Manhattan, it should be said.)

Fantasy: nice bath, then bed by 10.
Reality: Fall asleep while reading. Out loud. To Child. Several times between 7:30 and 8. Now re-energized but without desire to do anything productive or holy.

Home. Really.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


(Or however it's spelled in Serbian.)

Quiet suddenly pours over the worshippers standing in the church. The Holy Spirit (or is it merely light?) streams through the nave windows, first on the people then, as time passes, on the faces of Jesus and Mary, Mother of God.

In the last few minutes before the Divine Work of the People begins, a priest and two young men stand in a side chapel, blessing bread and candles before wrapping them in bags and taking them out. The young men are good humored, in jeans and tees, beautifully incanting the prayers. They leave with their packages, then return and slip through the door of an angel into the hidden altar room. When they reappear, gold robes cover their jeans, their hair is pulled back, and they bear large sienna candles, pure beeswax.

Men stand on one side, women on the other. Only the frail sit in the chairs so close to the altar, and only when their ancient legs can take no more. For the next hour and a half, the priests and the choir of men sing the liturgy, their voices mingling in deep and dancing tones. (How I've missed this sound!) Throughout we cross ourselves and bend at the waist, over and over, at every mention of every holy name. Some touch the ground; others gesture toward it. The half-room of men sing the responses. Men singing, consistently, confidently. From time to time, mostly on the alleluias, the chorus sprouts higher voices. All sing or speak the Creed -- at least it sounds like the Creed -- that 1600 year old statement of unity and faith, sung in the heavens and on earth.

Over and over we and the altar and the bread and wine are blessed with incense, rising up as prayer into the dome vault, and perhaps beyond. Everyone puts money in the offering, as the golden young men weave through the crowd. We don't put in much (I am extravagant with 100 dinar, or $1.35) as this isn't when tithing happens, but everyone responds to the blessing we've received.

As the baptized faithful move forward to take communion, others step to the "store" to buy candles to light at the various niches. Mary the Mother of God, St. Michael, Jesus, perhaps others receive prayers, kisses, flowers. Even apples, below the Mother of Tenderness.

Outside there is a breeze, and gentled voices, except for the occasional squeal of delight from a playing child. The Roma women sitting at the gates have also received today, both money and acknowledgment, like the beggars at the temple in Luke.

In an hour and a half of a foreign language, with the waves of voices lapping and the Sun illuminating all dimensions, your mind has room to move. From the words to the sound to the mosaics, from the mundane (what shall I make for dinner?) to the divine, to plans and regrets and hopes, God is in the details, all of them, including the monkey mind and the vast transcendence.

Sabbath. Finally.
Alleluia. Amen.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Random thought #3: Roma

I made the mistake of forgetting for a too-long moment about the Roma.

I had been thinking that Belgrade is remarkably level. Not topographically: like SF, it is built on 7 hills. But the years of wheelbarrows of paper money to buy bread are long gone. The chasm between poor and middle class is bridgeable. In general, Serbs run the gamut from antique white to beige to tan. Most are Orthodox, with some Muslims and Jews thrown in. People are well-fed, but few are fat. Houses are similar in kind and value (say what you will about Communism). Food is cheap; imported clothing expensive. I had been thinking that the standard of living varies, but if there are truly rich here, they/we have the decency not to stand out.

But I had forgotten about the Roma, until a little boy stood eye level urging me to buy candy. I was on the bus, taking a seat after standing with a heavy bag for a while. Other seats had opened, but I was too slow and too laden to reach them in time. Tired, and a little cranky, I quickly took the seat vacated by a 20-year-old on her way to the fair. When I looked up, a little boy was looking me in the face and offering me "candy". He wasn't offering whatever the Serbian word for candy is, but "candy". He was brown skinned, like well-steeped tea, and small. He might have been 4, or 8. I knew before looking that he was unaccompanied. He offered me candy, spoke a few words, and waited. His cutoff sweatshirt was filthy, his face stained with sugar and dirt. And my money was all buried at the bottom of my backpack, and safely in an account somewhere. When I responded with grimaces and "um-hmm"s, he got off at the next stop, squeezing through the legs of the beige adults around him.

A stop later there were two children crossing the street, the elder carrying the younger. "Elder" here being relative: maybe 7 years old. The younger? Perhaps my daughter's age: 18 months. No adults. Dirty. Determined.

Just an hour or two before I had been asking a OB nurse what happened to unwanted children here. If given up at the hospital they go to orphanages, where they will, with God's help, be placed with family members. If not they stay in orphanages until, well, until something else happens.

Of course, the Roma children are not unwanted. Though the Roma (the ones we tend to call Gypsies) are desperately poor, they love their children too. And their children are often the only ones who can bring in any money. Brown-skinned teens lane-split on foot, asking to wash car windows. Little ones wander the streets selling candy or asking for money. Elders sit by the churchyard gates or near the ATMs, pleading, their bowls and boxes empty.

My wonderful husband and I have been talking about adopting another child. But the difficulty of it -- the cumbersome process -- stops us. Then this one looks me square in the face, and though I want to pick him up and carry him home, I have nothing to give him. Nothing of use, anyway.

Serbs don't cry on the bus, but you know how Americans are.

Never forget about the Romas, or the others, wherever you are.

During the Reaganite cold war, Sting sang:

"There is no monopoly in common sense/ On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology/ Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too"

I hope we love the Roma children too. And the Black foster kids. And the Mexican kids. And our own kids.

"Suffer the little children to come to me." Says our wise and sometimes too-distant Savior.

Friday, July 10, 2009

2 thoughts (with more alighting)

1) The national language of Serbia is graffiti.

2) ""The way I see it," he said "You just can't win it... Everybody's in it for their own gain You can't please 'em all There's always somebody calling you down

I do my best And I do good business There's a lot of people asking for my time They're trying to get ahead They're trying to be a good friend of mine

I was a free man in Paris I felt unfettered and alive There was nobody calling me up for favors And no one's future to decide You know I'd go back there tomorrow But for the work I've taken on Stoking the star maker machinery Behind the popular song

I deal in dreamers And telephone screamers Lately I wonder what I do it for If l had my way I'd just walk out those doors And wander Down the Champs Elysees Going cafe to cabaret Thinking how I'll feel when I find That very good friend of mine

I was a free man in Paris I felt unfettered and alive Nobody was calling me up for favors No one's future to decide You know I'd go back there tomorrow But for the work I've taken on Stoking the star maker machinery Behind the popular song.

Thanks to Joni Mitchell.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The dog park KOG

Tanq, our French bulldog, is tumbling with a weimaraner cross and an Aussie cattle dog puppy. In the next run, a boxer and a lab run from one end to the next, leaping and dancing together.  Old and young, small and large, shy and bold, they're out there together.  When one tires or gets hurt, the others check in then let her rest.  When outsiders arrive, the welcoming committee greets, introduces, then incorporates him into the play.  If one misbehaves, the others let him know he's out of line, and then invite him back into the fold. 
The Kingdom of God isn't fluffy clouds or an endless harp concert, to be sure.  But maybe it's a neighborhood dog park, right around the corner from where you live.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Really? More input?

I just got off amazon, having finally ordered the compost bucket and filters that have been on my wish list since my last paycheck. I also purchased a bunch of copies of RF4RL for our basics class attendees. All good. And, I got yet another book on organizing your spiritual life/disciplining/discipling/overcoming acedia/etc. Nora recommended it, and I trust her judgment. Still, I have to wonder whether overcoming acedia is best achieved by reading about other people doing it. After all, genius is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. Could following Jesus have an easier ratio?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

May newsletter column

I've had Pentecost on my mind. Pentecost isn't until May 31st, but two events this past weekend got me thinking about that glorious day, fifty days after Jesus' crucifixion when His church was born.

Not that it seemed much like a church at the time: the apostles had returned to an upper room in Jerusalem, probably a lot like the room where they ate the last supper. In that room were the remaining 11 apostles and the new guy, Matthias. With them were the women followers, Mary His mother, and His brothers. Of the crowds that had acclaimed Jesus' name, there were maybe 120 male believers left, plus women and children. They had spent the last few days in serious and constant prayer, first selecting the new apostle, then attempting to discern the will of God.

Meanwhile, outside the window, Jerusalem was once again teeming with pilgrims who had come for the festival Shavu'ot, which recalls God's giving of the Torah -- the instructions for living righteously. All of a sudden, the Apostles were given a gift for foreign language by the Holy Spirit, as well as an uncharacteristic desire to talk to the crowds. Leaning or stepping out of the room, they spoke to the people in the crowds in their own languages. Then Peter told the crowds the whole story of Jesus the rabbi who had fulfilled all the instructions of God completely, and whom God made both Lord and Messiah. That day, the number of believers swelled from 120 to over 3000, and they began to live in the beloved community that characterized the church. (Check out Acts 2, if you want to read more.)

That day is called Pentecost, and on that day the Holy Spirit gifted and empowered the apostles, others heard and experienced the gospel, and they began to live in a new way. That's church, you know -- the gospel lived out among a community of believers, who have been gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is on my mind because last weekend the Holy Spirit got an early start:
  • Last Saturday, our friend John Rodgers officially began to live a new way. John has been gifted by the Holy Spirit with a desire to talk to the crowds in their own languages -- what we now call "sharing the good news" or "evangelism". On Saturday, you, the Silicon Valley Gay Men's Chorus, our Conference Minister Mary Susan Gast, and other local pastors laid hands on John and asked God's blessing upon him. We celebrated with amazing music (thank you Cheryl, Susan, and the Music Ministry!), inspired preaching, and great food -- just like the first church did. It's a shame if you missed it, because it was a once in a lifetime experience for both John and the rest of us.
  • Then on Sunday, our "confirmation class", known as "[insert identity here]" led worship. From hosting to praying to preaching to playing, from planning to agape meals to cleanup, it was their day, and Jesus was in the house! With an uncharacteristic desire to talk to the crowds, the youth of [iih] led us right into the presence of the Holy Spirit. God is at work in our kids.
So I've been thinking about Pentecost, remembering the birth of the church all those years ago. But I'll tell you: if you were here this past weekend, you know that right here at Campbell, the church is getting born all over again.

Pastor Elane

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Blogging Theology, pt 1

I was a terrible writing student. At the beginning of every paper, in nearly every class, through a bachelor's degree and three master's degrees, teachers required a thesis statement and an outline prior to beginning research. I would get stuck there, because I didn't understand how one could research anything with the outcome firmly in mind. If I came across data that contradicted my original thesis, could I change the thesis? And would I recognize the contradictory data if I did? Needless to say, both my teachers and I were often frustrated, and unable to see the other's position.

All human beings have limited perspective: we can never have a God's-eye view of anything. That perspective is the lens through which we view the world. We can learn to change lenses, even modify our particular lens, but we the world we see is always framed by our place and person. Being a "situated knower", as this philosophical problem is called, is both Suchocki's strength and her weakness. It is her greatest strength, because it leads her into concern about the effects of a pluralistic world on Christian ideology. It is also her greatest weakness, at least in Divinity & Diversity, because, like all my frustrated writing teachers, her lens is limited by the thesis she must prove.

Suchocki, like her colleague John Cobb, is one of the great explicators of process theology ["PT"]. Process theology (more on that here) has served to bend and puncture the boxy framework of
modern theology, as well as providing a wholly different understanding of substance (of God, of us, etc.). How does all that happen? By understanding everything and all that is, including God, as an interactive set of what I have elsewhere called "matter-moments" whose action and response is dependent upon other matter-moments' action and response. PT makes God necessarily changeable and changing, at least in part (which is really tough on some people). In PT everything is somewhat interdependent on everything else, including God.

Process theology, like Doug Pagitt's quantum physics, saved my life, and paradoxically made a personal relationship with God possible.

As it happens, I agree with Suchocki's strain of argument : the lens of process theology can help Christians take a different look at our ideology of exclusivity (Jesus as the "only way") because
1) "the image of God is not reducible to ... any individual human quality alone...God is... a complex unity that can only be expressed through irreducible diversity(67)"; and
2) God continually calls us into deeper and richer modes of incarnation.
From here, Suchocki argues that the "deeper and richer modes" of incarnation depend necessarily upon ever increasing depth and breadth of community. This leads her to her main conclusion (the one which "solves" human plurality"): God is calling us to a new and more intense form of mission... not to convert the world to our own religion, but to convert the world toward friendship."(109)

And that's where Suchocki, like all those writing teachers, frustrates me. The first three-quarters of her book, in which she explains PT through the lens of pluralistic culture, is clear, thoughtful, transparent. It should be mandated introductory reading for everyone entering seminary anywhere. (So should Henri Nouwen's Creative Ministry, especially if it replaces The Wounded Healer, which metaphor has by now become a sorry excuse for permanent brokenness. But that's another entry.) But that last quarter, where Suchocki applies PT to global relationships and Christian mission, is utterly clouded by her "situated knower"-ness as a 20th century liberal: her image of Christian faith, of mission, of Jesus himself is so limited that it is rendered a straw man.

In other words, the Christianity she is arguing against is a political effect, not a living faith. It is static and hardened, a cigar-store Indian rather than a creation in which God is and moves and has God's being. It is the mid-century bogieman against which the now-irrelevant ecumenical movement was fighting. The Christianity she portrays is dead or dying: there simply aren't that many churches sending missionaries out to convert the heathen through coercion or force.

More importantly, when Suchocki portrays the new Christian mission as no more than friendship and understanding (even highly relational and rarified friendship and understanding), she reduces the transformative (and essential and unchanging) nature of God's grace, as revealed and incarnated in the person and purpose of Jesus, to simply another tenet of simply another faith and culture. At our best, followers of Jesus are living witnesses to the very process Suchocki argues everything is anyway. Transformative community (of matter-moments or of people) cannot be about "why we believe this or that" (113) or "shar[ing] oneself with another so that the other might know who we really are, and how and why we understand God as we do." (113) By her own sense of PT, transformative community cannot be about "the Methodists [host]ing the Muslims for a church supper"(114) even if it leads to the mutual discovery of and action upon the critical need of their shared geographic community(114).

Godly transformation, the morphing of individuals and communities into the image of God -- into Christlikeness -- is not just about intellectual understanding or shared causes. Godly transfomation is not simply holding hands around the globe. It is beyond global and beyond cellular. It is nothing less than the complete transformation of the very matter and moments of all existence into unity with and incarnation of God. That's what we're about. That's what Suchocki's own process theology is about. But it's not where the book leads us, because retaining the thesis trumped the research and theology.

Which, as writing methodology or Christian ideology, still frustrates me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ellen feasting

There is a young girl -- five or six years old -- who comes with her mom to the table for the Eucharist. She is a good bit taller than the communion table; from my vantage point it just barely covers her chest. She arrives at the table ahead of her mother, and takes a nice piece of bread. It's not the biggest piece, but it is sufficient. She has to lean to see into the eye-level chalice. Standing a bit away from the table, she carefully dips her bread into the juice, just halfway, which is enough.

Then, rather than cupping her other hand underneath the bread so as not to drip, this child of God stretches out so that her whole face and a good portion of her body are above the table. Then with eagerness and precision, she bites the juicy purple bread, sparing no drop, no crumb.

She chews the body and blood thoughtfully and with obvious pleasure, relishing its sweetness, and remains on spiritual tiptoe until the last bit has been swallowed. At this meal, nothing has been wasted: no food, no opportunity.

This happens every time we feast at the Lord's table: the joyful, thoughtless approach; the careful taking; the delicious bite; the poignant swallow.

We should all take communion so well.

Friday, April 10, 2009



that's how our church campus is now. Quiet.
The traffic outside sounds like ocean waves set far apart. This keyboard is the only sound in here, besides my breathing. And the last sigh of Jesus of Nazareth.

Last night we celebrated Passover/communion. More people than ever came. We set up for more than had rsvp'd, and we still had to add chairs, with people squeezing a leg and hand in so as to be actually at the table. The first year we separated Holy Thursday from Good Friday there were, oh I don't know, maybe 30 at one and 15 at the other. Last night we had something like 45-50 people, and at least 12 baskets leftover.

Today, hubbub to set up the stations of the cross: fires, 100-lb crucifixes, crossbeams, candles, sound, ecce homo (by Reni), Gethsemane, a prayer room, journals. All the musee it takes to do what we do. Crazy madness. I got home at 5:20, showered, dressed, picked up the baby and the baby's Chris, and was back by 6. Run, run. "Set" changes. Prayer, lots of prayer.

And then, at some point, maybe after the thunder and His death, it grew quiet. Quiet through the vigil, quiet through private absolution. The sounds of those sporadic ocean waves, and tears. People not really ready to leave when It Is Finished.

Then hubbub as staff gathered for debrief. Then a little food, a little more prayer.

And now, quiet.

And a lynched rabbi, a dead savior, an executed king, and two days of waiting and hoping that new life indeed comes.

Quiet. Thank God.

Monday, April 06, 2009


I woke up this morning excited about diving into the Easter texts. Each gospel account is so similar in event and so disparate in style and focus. Mark (minus the longer, probably added, ending) ends at the edge of a cliff and the disciples wearing hang gliders. In Matthew's gospel, the women worship the risen Christ -- a stark change from the pre-Easter relationship -- and Jesus takes authority for all that is and hands a chunk of it to the disciples. Luke shares post-Resurrection experiences, most notably the Emmaus story, and the disciples are told by Jesus to wait for their authority and power. (Plus Luke includes the ascension, which is always a visual treat; see here and here and here.) Then John, God love him, with Christ's appearance to naked Peter (an attempt to discredit, perhaps?) and the disciples return to their old lives after the crucifixion. It's all so rich and layered, and such an excellent reminder that Jesus does not appear to all of us the same way, regardless of all those paintings of him as Scandanavian, and that resurrection itself lives into our lives differently, that is, in accordance with our lives.

Yippee! What a wonderful thing our God's word is!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palms and passion

This year I'm preaching on atonement. The sacrificial kind. And this may be the first year it's ever really, truly made sense to me. Funny what the Holy Spirit and a heck of a lot of reading will do.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To lay aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

Monday, March 23, 2009

So long, Tim

Does anyone want to chip in on a goodbye gift for Timothy Geithner? Yes, I know he's still at Treasury, but after his refusal to support the TARP bonus tax, I suspect his days are numbered. If we buy the gift now, we can avoid the rush.

Look, Geithner has been cornered since his confirmation hearings. He's got no staff, and has inherited a truly stupid bailout plan. Not just unpopular, not just unregulated. Stupid. (Feel free to quote me on that.) He's working on some good stuff, including small business loans and the joint lending program. But his constant defense of propping up the banks with taxpayer money, and the pervasive "too big to fail; too valuable to tax" attitude inside the Beltway may mean his days are numbered. Obama is not looking good in the reflected light; he might do well to give Geithner his own payout and wish him well.

I'm thinking that "The Saturated Society: Governing Risk & Lifestyles in Consumer Culture" due to be released next month, could be exactly the thing, and timed just right too!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why I hate books.

Some years ago I made the mistake of reading a book about a new church community in Minnesota called Solomon's Porch. The book confirmed some of the things I had been thinking about church -- that it's relational, praxi-cal, Spirit-ual, communal. Other aspects of that particular church were Great for Them, but they Wouldn't Work for my community. I read the book a couple of times and put it on the shelf. After that I spoke to the pastor at a conference, did yoga with his wife, blogged a bit about his late night talk on the life-saving dimensions of quantum physics. Read a few dozen more books.

Time passes, including maybe 18 months spent in a fog. Maybe it was a pillar of smoke, but it sure felt like a fog.

On my desk since last September has been another book from Minnesota, this one by the pastor, Doug Pagitt. At some point it moved of its own free will to my nightstand. This morning I woke up at 4:20, feeling like I needed to read it today. I went back to sleep.

At 5:20, I had no other choice. Off to Peets with book.

Now I'm halfway through, and know why I had to read it today. Darned book. Should've gone back to sleep.

Please include my church community and their pastor in your prayers: God is changing something, and I think it's me.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Reading food

For some time now I have been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and her family. "Some time" in this case means "some months." I generally read quickly, so my slowness is markable, and attributable to at least two factors. 1) There is rarely enough quiet in our home (and in my brain) to read. 2) I don't want this book to end too quickly. I'm trying to exercise a restraint in reading that is elusive in cookies -- a savoring of prose, image, and idea. The last (narrative prose) book I read that slowed me like this was Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.

You might notice a pattern developing. Your skills in observation are admirable.

I have always liked food. I have often also depended upon it to assuage hungers it cannot approach. I am a passibly good cook, having been alone in the kitchen since I was 7 or 8: food that is generally edible, and, rarely, inspired. But it has been only, oh, the last 17 or 18 years that food has provided pure joy, sensual adventure, and soul satisfaction.

There had been portents before. I was an exchange student in Greece right after high school, and discovered the bitter herbal buttery unctuous savor of good olive oil. I learned sherry (cream and fino) when I was living in Amsterdam. But it was a full decade later that I began developing a palate and a terroir-ized imagination.

I remember the first tomatoes I really tasted (a green zebra, followed by a brandywine), and the woman who aroused the tasting. I remember realizing that bread needed salt -- not to rise or brown, but to have been worth the trouble. (At that time I was baking 5 loaves of bread a week for our intentional household of three, plus the man who lived in the park next door. Discovering salt delayed the meltdown of that living situation by a good month.) I remember cooking with my foodie poet lover my first multicourse, wine-paired dinner, and that for exes and chefs and one besotted wine merchant.

As much as I can enjoy food (including a glorious cheese plate taken when dining alone in Minneapolis), I have a secret crush on food writing. I devoured MFK Fisher, nibbled at Elizabeth David, blackened pizza with Jeffrey Steingarten, and hoarded Babette's Feast (a movie, but someone wrote it). I have lolled in typeset restaurants with John Birdsall, and just occasionally simmered in the fatback prose of John T. Edge. And if we're talking Food Network then we're talking Alton Brown's Feasting On series, more literary than televisual, hence naked, somewhat guilty, pleasure.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a food book, but, like Omnivore's Dilemma, it is more memoir and cautionary tale. A good writer helps you taste the soil and caress the rough hands that held the hoe or the cleaver. There are moments of sheer joy in the reading, satisfying to mind, heart, and soul. So it must go slowly. Thoughtfully. With relish.

Soon I'll take a break and go back to Marjorie Suchocki's new book Divinity and Diversity, which so far might be retitled "Process Theology for Dummies". This is certainly unfair and undeserved, yet next to descriptions of the first spring asparagus and the soil that produced it, how toothsome could it be?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Virtue and hope

Virtue. What an antique and antiquated word. How long has it been since we have heard the call to virtue from the dais, indeed, from the pulpit? How long has it been since the I has bowed down to the We? How long has it been since we condemned greed and praised sacrifice? How long has it been since we have called every people of every nation our friends?

Hope is the nonrational belief in a reality greater than this one. Hope is never fulfilled by will, or by power, or by intelligence. Hope is only fulfilled in the presence of that reality, coming and come. Hope is only fulfilled when we know that we live for something greater than we are: a home, a neighborhood, a city, a state, a nation, a world. And not merely a world, but a reality that is not only concrete, but real and lasting. Hope is the nonrational belief in a reality greater than this one: the reign of the heavens, of love, of justice, of mercy, of enough, on earth and in our hearts.

God bless you, Barack Hussein Obama, our president and our reminder of both hope and the virtue that is needed to maintain and fulfill it.

Power to the people!

The Latina housekeepers just came in and plugged in cable. Woohoo!

In the neighborhood

Can't find cable or satellite inputs for the beautiful flat screen that's in here. Nor a vga cable to plug a computer into it. But even on my little Dell e1405, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

This country has been blessed so often and with so much. May we live like it.

May God have mercy on our incoming President, his staff, and Congress.
May the Holy Spirit lead all of them into humility, wisdom and trust.


The challenge of scarcity

I awoke at 4:50, having slept. Fine mood. Ready for coffee.
Lay in bed for a few minutes in prayer and thanksgiving.
Suddenly thought, "if I don't get in there and make coffee I won't get any". Not that articulately, but...
Then thought, "I should check out what rooms those noisy women from last night are in and put notes under their doors how can they be here for Ignatian exercises and be that unaware that others are here in silence why are people here anyway this is my mercy center my floor my time with God."

Hoo boy.

By 4:58, God decided to stop this nonsense: Elane, what ever happened to loving? Mercy is big enough (I think God meant Mercy Center but the abbreviated version was even better). Don't you know yet there is enough of everything, including My love and My time to go around?

The hard part of the great commandment isn't the loving. It's the deep realizing in those dark lizard brain moments that there is enough time, enough stuff, enough room, enough God, enough me, to go around.

Good morning, everyone.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Reducing clutter

Last night my Wonderful Husband, once again abandoned to solo Baby and pet care, sent me off to Mercy Center by saying, "I know you need to get away from us and rest."

I was angry, and insulted, and saddened by the accusation that I was coming here simply to be away from them and to rest from them. As if I were going on vacation. That anger and injury and sadness so fueled me for the evening that I was able to sustain my resentment all the way until bedtime. Powerful stuff, the inference of insult.

This morning, after 5 a.m. reading, 6:30 a.m. meditation, 8 a.m. breakfast, the fuel has been exhausted and I am in a more ruminant mode. (Feel free to think "holstein".) Time away and rest? What a selfish idea! How dare he accuse me of wanting self-care?

Haha, the heavenly hosts chortle. Practice what you preach, sister, Wisdom proclaims from her streetcorner.

The truth: I do not come here to get away from them, or to get away from my church, or to get away at all. I come to get to: to God, to internal silence, to the present.

On a daily basis, the clutter in my own head threatens to pour out my ears, and I live in the next thing, rather than whatever thing is the thing now. I'm planning meals while reading Scripture, writing prayers while feeding Baby, pondering the dirty bathtub while eating dinner. Not having a next thing for a few days helps me to return to the thing now. My church as it is now. My health as it is now. My marriage. My relationship with God. My child. After a couple of days of silence, of reading, of meditation, of meals I don't have to make happen, clutter evaporates.

Two questions (or prayers) arise: 1) How do I bring this now into my regular now -- how do I arrange my life and my brain for more present silence? 2) How do I humbly accept the possibility that yes, perhaps I do need some time away in order to love better, and that spending quiet time with God is, in fact, a kind of vacation for my mind and soul?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

On retreat, entry one

Sometimes peace may be found in the unexpected appearance of ice cream.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pro-life, finally?

Skye Jethani posted (and syndicated at Out of Ur) on an evangelical redefinition of "pro-life". The one comment so far (besides mine) states that "pro-life" has never meant only "pro-fetal-and-embryonic-life-and-anti-choice" to most evangelicals.

Coulda' fooled me, and about 200 million other people. If that's true -- if pro-lifers have had a broader vision in mind -- then the public rhetoric, and political platforms, and funding, and governmental focus, and judicial litmus tests, and protestors, and, (being a little unkind) domestic terrorists killing doctors they don't like, have been co-opted or duped by an itsy-bitsy fringe-y whisper at the edge of "Christian" faith.

Um. Probably not. It's certainly a lot easier to raise funds (and blood pressure) with pics of babies and aborted fetuses than it is with pictures of convicts, hungry mothers, welfare "cheats", and truants. I have never once been spammed, individually or through our church website, by someone imploring me to come to a public pray-in in front of City Hall, demanding higher taxes for better school funding. Not once. But during the last election season I was forced to create a new spam filter for all the emails I rec'd labeling Obama (and others) as "babykillers" and "not really Christians."

So good on you, Skye. Even if it's not quite yet true -- even if for most evangelicals, valuable life ends at birth -- saying life is life may make it so.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

on the premise that whatever one does on New Year's Day one will do all year

We reviewed the year last night, as everyone else did:
  • We didn't move, which, for a while in the beginning of our marriage, was the annual dislocation.
  • No one started a new job, though my wonderful husband left one. That was bigger than we knew.
  • Dear friends moved across the country just as the market was crashing: accidental but fortuitous timing, given the state of things in CA.
  • Revelations abounded -- of health, marriage, friendship, matterings.
And, oh, yeah, we had a kid. Bug turned one year old the day after Christmas, so officially she was an event of 2007, not 2008. But, really.

The world was just as...unsuspecting? as we were. Though how anyone didn't expect the crash is beyond me. I'm no economics whiz, and I saw it coming years before it happened. But I don't think we expected to elect a brown man, and I don't think we expected the banks and the automakers to be the big welfare recipients of the year. (BTW: you wanna talk socialism?) Israel's bombing of Gaza was a matter of time, as was Pakistan's rebellion against "the war on terror" on its borders and in its mountains. Prop 8's passage was a function of a truly lousy and lazy strategy on our side. People seem surprised by all this, and just a little Disappointed (by everything except the election, God have mercy on the President-Elect). Apparently the pony wasn't under there after all.

No. The pony and the rest of the treasure are peeking out through the silt and ash, way over there. Complain if you must, but:
  • Rick Warren is a bold move as Invoker-Select, since traditional evangelicals don't like him any more than liberals do, and he's a Boomer (hence elder generation) par excellence;
  • The barbarian hoards attacking the castle walls of common wisdom are finally the environmental version of flat-earthers, rather than the Gores among us; the lifeboaters; the antiseasonal produce-purveyors; the black/whit-ers; and the IwantitNOWers.
  • In the religion conversation (at least among my threads of X'y), Third and Fourth and Fifth Ways are being discovered, as we realize the Holy Spirit is less bound by either-or than we are.

Last night, my wonderful husband also asked: so how is your relationship with God these days? And I was able to answer, confidently: peachy. God and I are doing really well, like comfortable old friends who occupy a room together, occasionally chatting, doing things together and apart. When I feel distant, I know it's just me -- that I need to pick up the phone and call.

And that's a pretty good place to be with the Alpha & Omega & Everything-In-Between.

So on the premise that what one does on New Year's Day one will do all year, I'm not rushing, am blogging, am seeing my Renovare sisters, calling the right-coast friends, enjoying Bug and WH and the four-leggeds, drinking champagne, and hanging with the Big G(al/uy).

Happy End Of 2008, everybody.