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.