September 29, 2010

There are attic people and there are basement people.

      –Carol Waldrip

Many years ago, I was in a workshop on prayer with my friend, Carol Waldrip. Carol was a member of the little church I belonged to–Elizabeth UMC. She was also a counselor and..a very wise woman.

She made the statement, There are attic people and there are basement people. There are people who lift us up and people who bring us down.

Since then, my friend Carol has died. But her words remain in my heart as I contemplate encouragement and what it means.  

To encourage means to give heart to. To give courage to; to inspire with spirit or hope; to raise, or to increase, the confidence of; to animate; enhearten; to incite; to help forward; — the opposite of discourage.

I don’t know about you, but I need attic people. I need people who lift me up with words and smiles and a light in their eyes. I need people who believe in me and who show it on their face. I need people around me with courage.

In Paris, on top of a hill, the Basilica of the Sacre Coeur rises white and luminous. Many steps must be climbed to reach its doors. It is high and it is holy and it is beautiful. But it is not flesh and blood.

We need others–warm human beings–around us who don’t make us climb stairs, but offer them as they whisper, You can do it. I believe in you. It’s going to be ok. God is good. We need a brave heart.

You probably remember the movie Braveheart.  The main character, William Wallace has a line in the film which says, Every man dies, not every man really lives.

We are here to help each other really live.

One year ago, I was in France.

Isn’t it intriguing how a drop in temperature of a mere five degrees can elicit memory? The cooler weather, after the rain last night, tucks me into a cashmere shawl-a pashmina- my mother brought me from Prague.

I sit on the damp swing in the cool morning. The wood of the deck is carpeted with pinestraw and pinecones eaten down to the cob. I imagine squirrels sitting in trees–their teeth travel along the length of the cone, shear scales, before the typewriter dings and the head is returned to the next row. Perhaps I watched too many cartoons as a child.

But this is not funny: Last year I missed my flight from Paris to Trondheim. It cost me a new airplane ticket, two extra nights in a hotel, more expensive meals in France, and much wringing of my hands and my own neck.

I like to think of myself a s a savvy traveler, not a globetrotter, but one who can negotiate trains, planes, and foreign destinations. But at about this time last year, I was on a taxi headed to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, feeling very confident and proud. I had negotiated with the taxi driver to drive me–and my heavy suitcase and computer I was tired of lugging up and down metro steps–from the heart of Paris to the airport for the same price as a train fare. I was feeling very cocky.

Big mistake. Never feel cocky, for the saying is true: Pride goes before a fall. Somehow, even though the taxi driver checked in his book for the right terminal for Scandinavian Air, I still ended up in the wrong one. When I at long last found the Scandinavian counter, after winding my way around in the cricular design, I got in a long line.

When it was my turn to step forward, the woman smiled and said “You are in the wrong line. You need to be over there” and pointed me to the next counter. So..I got in line again with my little blue bag on rollers and patiently waited while the clock ticked away. I still had thirty or so minutes until my flight.

Imagine my crestfallen expression when I arrived at the counter and was told it was too late. They had closed off the checkin five minutes before.

At this point I knew my options were very slim. There was only one other flight that day and it was full. So was the single flight the next day, a Sunday. The helpful lady at the information desk looked online at other airlines and flights but none were available. I would have to wait for two days and then buy a new ticket at full price, money I just didn’t have.

Somehow, I made it to my destination: a fjord and monastery in Norway. I found a cheap hotel near the airport and rested and licked my wounds. I got a free breakfast and made it last throughout the day. I called the sisters and arranged for a new taxi at the train station. I purchased a second ticket by additional and sacrificial funds from home–after convincing the credit card company that no, the card was not stolen.

One thing I hope to remember if I am able to travel again. Take lots of money! No matter how frugal your spending and carefully you plan, something will always go wrong. It is not fun to travel on limited funds, period, and travel is just plain expensive, double period. Especially with the euro/dollar exchange rate last fall. A cup of coffee/cafe cost three dollars, a lot to pay even if it is au lait and tres bon.

Charles de Gaulle, the great military leader during WWII and former president of France in the 1960’s, spent time as a prisoner-of-war in Germany during WWI. He wrote his first book while there: L’Ennemi et le Vrai Ennemi ( The Enemy and the True Enemy). I haven’t read his book, and probably never will, but I know about the Enemy and the True Enemy. And I do not like his airport.

Sometimes the enemy is a complex system of terminals and confusing signs. Sometimes the enemy is limited rersources and long lines. But the true enemy is often

We are often our own worst enemy. We fuss and banter with ourselves, we doubt our judgement and douse our dreams. We plan too little or too much. We are slow. We are fast. We go back and forth in our convictions and wander through terminals unsure and looking for direction. We miss the damn airplane.

But the Good News is, there is always another.

The God of Grace is the God of Second Chances. The God who keeps pointing us in the right direction no matter how turned around we become. The God who always has enough funds no matter the exchange rate to see us home. The God who helps us forgive all our enemies–the hardest being ourself.

I will travel again. I know it.

And when I do, I will take an even smaller and lighter bag and a much larger and deeper pocketbook.

And I will fly direct to Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands..Prague–anywhere but the Charles de Gaulle Airport–and I will take a train to Paris.


September 27, 2010

Cannabis or Marijuana has psychoactive and physiological effects when consumed. The minimum amount of THC required to have a perceptible psychoactive effect is about 10 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. Aside from a subjective change in perception and, most notably, mood, the most common short-term physical and neurological effects include increased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, impairment of short-term episodic memory, working memory, psychomotor coordination, and concentration. Long-term effects are less clear (Wikipedia).

Recently, I have met many young people. Through work and associations, I count eleven, all under twenty-seven.

Eight of the eleven regularly smoke weed (i.e. pot), and I don’t know about the other three.

Several of the eleven have had or currently have more serious drug habits–cocaine, meth, prescription pills.

All of them drink and have frequent premarital sex, a few without birth control or protection from disease.

Several have been to jail and/or rehab. Most have serious financial problems. Half are not in college or any school.

For numerous reasons, this new knowledge makes me sad.

I’ll admit I have lived a relatively sheltered life in the past twenty-five years of so. I have worked within the arms of the Church where I have been rocked and cradled.

Granted, the Church is not free of the problems ‘out there’ in the world. I pastored persons who had drug habits, were alcoholics, victims of abuse, had filed bankruptcy, were unfaithful in marriages, got pregnant as teenagers, were bulimic, and who had spent time in jail. But..these were the exception.

Most of the people I was priviledged to serve were ‘together’. Their lives centered on Christ and through Him, found peace, direction, help. The adults had long marriages, functional families, good relationships with children and grandchildren. They worked hard and lived well. They contributed to society as volunteers in soup kitchens, mentors and tutors to the young. They went on mission trips abroad and built habitat hoiuses at home. They served on boards of womens-shelters and taught people to read. They organized community gardens and hiking clubs and quilting clubs and they recycled. They raised money and gave generously to help the poor. They read and traveled and went to concerts and were succesful in careers. They paid their taxes. They tithed. They went to Church. They prayed.

The youth I served made A’s, won scholarships, were presidents of student organizations in school. They made their own fun without drugs or alcohol and were committed to waiting on marriage to have sex. They lifted weights at 6AM, ran cross country, and played sports. They camped at waterfalls, had jobs after school and many friends. They participated in Youth Group and Bible studies, sang, played guitar, and sometimes led worship. They fasted to raise awareness and funds for world hunger and bowled at midnight on Lock-ins. They served as camp counselors and were interns in Washington. They were accepted into good colleges. They tithed. They went to Church. They prayed.

Now, my work is ‘out there’–out here–in the world. None of the young people I have recently been priviledged to meet attend Church (or Synagogue or Mosque) regularly. They might believe in reincarnation or the Mayan calendar which implies the world will end in 2012. They might have been raised in the Church or with no faith tradition at all. They probably all pray.

And..they are beautiful. Especially when they are not drunk or high.

Last night, I dreamed I met a family. I met them through one of the daughters– a beautiful young girl. She had light blue eyes. She left to tell her two older sisters–who also had light blue eyes–about me and said, “She’s got green eyes!”

I was invited into their home where I met their mother, also with light blue eyes. The girls wore long white dresses and were pretty. They played the piano and were home-schooled. The father came home angry and then came the shocker: They lit up a marijuana joint and began passing it around. I could not hide my dismay.

Yeah, long ago, I smoked weed. I inhaled and exhaled a substance which I thought was harmless. And I know many people my age who still do.

But I can’t hide my concern and dismay at the use of weed and other substances by my new young friends. I can’t help but be troubled by their lifestyle and where they are going and where they have been.


Hear my prayer. O Lord, and give ear to my cry: do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am a passing guest, a sojourner, like all my forebears.

      –Psalm 39.12

It is the Sabbath.

Here’s my fantasy:

A small group of people is on a train, and then a bus, and then on foot. We make our way up the hill to Taize. Or Assisi. Or the stone path in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port as we hike on the Camino de Santiago over the French Pyrennes.

We are in a beautiful church in Paris where we pray in harmony with the Jerusalem Community. We are in the San Bernard House in Vezelay gazing out the window at vineyards, hearing the church bells. We are in Norway on a fjord with Trappist sisters.

We are chatting. We are silent. Each is unto him/herself.

Later, we enjoy a good and simple meal with candlight and wine. We worship and we pray.

Those who want to rise for vigils, chant the Psalms, or just sit comfortably and meditate.

We write or paint or knit or take photographs. We sit on a rock and read or daydream. We go for a slow walk. We breathe. We nap.

We stay in guest houses, hostels, and monasteries. We meet other sojourners. We share a smile, a word, or a silent meal. We do the dishes or help outside or fold boxes for soap.

We come together. We move apart. We listen to God and one another. We honor the sacred space within and among us and all whom we greet. We enjoy and delight in creation. We are open to the Spirit. We experience divine and human love in authentic community. We are sojourners together with God.

What if these gifts of faith and experience were offered for a market price, with me–and a very practical and loving friend–as your leader?

What do you think? Would you invest your time and resources in a Journey for Lovers of God and the World? Would you go on a Spirit Trek?

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

            –MT 10.42

…they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

           –MK 16.18c

I am in Greenville.

I am in Greenville for one reason only: to tend to my husband.

My husband, David, had surgery this past week. They called it minor, but is sugery ever minor when it is your own or that of someone you love?

I am here to tend to the wound. To clean and repack it with gauze in a wet-dry combination.

I don’t really know what I am doing, but have received excellent instructions from the surgeon’s office, confirmed by my sister who is a R.N.

Thus, I smile and pray and try and act confident as I remove the old dressing and tenderly place a new one, complete with saline solution and lots of white tape.

David had a sebaceous cyst–thankfully non-malignant, we think, although we are awaiting results from a biopsy. It was very large and had become infected. It was located on his back, right below the shoulder blade. The place where it was removed has to be treated daily for eleven days.

I learned from the nurse the purpose of the ‘packing’ which is two-fold: 1. to wick the infection out of the wound (sorry if this is too graphic–but believe me, I am sparing you many details)  2. to make sure the wound heals properly.

I always do better if I can understand concept or theory. So, I went by the doctor’s office yesterday to have a conversation and a ‘hands-on’ demonstration of the technique. The nurse explained to me the purpose of the wicking–easy enough to grasp. But the healing portion was what fascinated me. Without the packing of the ‘cavity’ where the cyst was, the wound would heal improperly. The skin would simply close up at the surface, concealing the hole beneath, which would then lead to more problems and infection. The function of the packing is to prevent this from happening and allow the skin and tissue to be rejoined from the inside out, the only path to true healing.

Well, the metaphor is too obvious for any need to elaborate. We simply cannot cover up wounds and expect to heal from them. Healing must come from deep within.

But the lessons of this week remind me of another profound and practical truth: We need each other. There are some things we simply cannot do ourselves. Another set of hands is needed, another person.

David cannot reach the wound on his back and couldn’t, even if he was a contorshionist. I am needed–or someone else is.

Of course, he prefers me to help change his dressing for a host of reasons. For one, he says my hands can heal. I’m not sure his perception is reality, but when I lightly place my hand on his back, gentle and comforting, I hear him purr like a cat. I am glad I am here.

The laying-on of hands is the best medicine. We need one another for our wounds to heal.


September 23, 2010

Here are the two best prayers I know: “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

–Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

James 5.16 (NIV)

To Anne Lamott’s two best prayers– Help me, help me, help me and Thank you, thank you, thank you– which she shares in the book, Traveling Mercies, about her journey into Christianity and new life as a convert, I would add a third: “Please”.

Please let my daughter live. Please heal my friend. Please give me the desires of my heart. Please soften someone else’s and remove all fear.

I often sit on the back deck and pray. in every day, several times a day and sometimes for hours.

This outdoor meditative position is one I have been practicing for years, for most of my life. It has served me–and others–well, for it is where I offer prayers of petition and intercession. I have no reason to doubt the text in James which says in the version I memorized years ago: The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.

Before you conclude that I am calling myself righteous, let me assure you that you are correct. But not in the way one may think. I am righteous for one reason only: Christ has made me so by His death and resurrection. I have been forgiven, cleansed, and made whole and thus, holy-i.e. righteous.

I–perhaps like you–do not depend on any self-imposed or attained righteousness, and know by experience how futile a project that is. Instead, I know my weakness. My sin is ever before me like Paul’s. I am righteous by gift and sacrifice alone.

Thus, I know my prayers are effective. They change things in the Kingdom, in the universe. God hears and answers all our prayers, if they are offered in faith. The scriptures says so, again and again.

I really get frustrated with Christians who don’t claim as true or refuse as real the promises of scripture. Christians who don’t believe in a God who answers our prayers and who are unable or unwilling to practice the prayer of faith, a faith which is child-like and trusting. May I remind you of just a few of the passages which guide us towards this gift and vital practice?

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. MT 7.7,8

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. MT 17.19-21

Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. MT 18.19

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. MT 21.21,22

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14.12-14

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15.7,8

Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now, you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. John 16.23,24

So many more texts tell us of the importance of faith and its gift. Your faith has made you whole are Jesus’ words to so many who come to him for healing, for hurts and heartaches, for miracles of resurrection and restoration. Our friend and father, Moses, prayed to God not to destroy and the text says, God repented. God is compared to a parent who would never give a child a stone if he/she asks for bread, or hand over a snake if a fish is requested.

Christ said, Greater things than these will you do, speaking to his disciples, and rebukes them for their lack of faith as he calms the storm that overwhelms them with fear. He teaches his friends and followers that some  demons can only come out by prayer and fasting. Over and over we are taught to come to him with burdens, with desires, with petitions. To come as a little child–in trust and innocence. Our call is not to be simplistic but simple.

The writer of Hebrews helps us understand this faith and defines it: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. Hebrews 11.1 Paul speaks very strongly about faith’s absence and writes  in the letter to the Romans: .. for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14. 23b

I have always loved chapter 11 in Hebrews which is a litany of faith beginning with Abel. It is a powerful narrative of both human faith and the faithfulness of God. It serves to build up the faith and hope of believers as they recall their history and heritage and think of the giants: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph and Moses. The Red Sea is crossed, the walls of Jericho tumble down. The prostitute Rahab’s life is saved–all of these actions because of faith.

The writer continues in Hebrews 11 to share the names and incredible faith stories which would have been familiar to the readers:

2 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned[a]; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

On the Mount of Olives, before his arrest, Jesus prays for the cup of death to be removed (Father, if you are willing..) and then closes the petition with the words: Yet, not my will but yours be done. Luke 22.42, a version of the Lord’s PrayerOur Father–the prayer he had previously taught his disciples: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I don’t know everything there is to know about prayer–an understatement. But I do know this: God wants us to pray. God hears and answers our prayers. The prayers of the righteous are effective. Agreement with others in united prayer is powerful. Sometimes we need to fast. And faith is fundamental.

So…I will continue to spend time on the deck, praying for you, for loved ones and strangers, for the world. I will pray for people I meet in the store or drivers next to me in traffic. I will pray for myself and for God’s will to be done. I will remember our prayers bring God glory.

I will exercise and build on my faith and the faith of others throughout history until now. I will ask for forgiveness and repent regularly so I can remain close to God’s heart, so that nothing will clog up the “umbilical cord” as my friend Diane refers to our communicative relationship with our Lord.  I will listen. I will obey. I will know the only faith I need is a mustard seed and that Christ helps our “unbelief.” I will remember that when we cannot pray, others are praying all over the world and the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings that are too deep for words.And I know that our generous, merciful, amazing and good God cherishes all of our prayers–even those we cannot speak--and loves and honors them.

I will say “help me”. I will say “thank you”. And I will say “please”.

A Not-So-Trivial Pursuit

September 21, 2010

God is Love. Period.

      –Patty Ryle Clay

I was never good at the game that came out in the 80’s–Trivia Pursuit. I always figured the name said much about how important winning at it was. But perhaps, that was because I don’t have a mind for ‘trivia’. I can discuss ideas, theology, philosophy, literature, but if you ask me the star in a movie or characters’ names in a television show or novel, dates and details of historic battles, even the finer-tuned knowledge of geography, I crumble. I feel like an idiot.

My sister, Dixie, a very good teacher, has always told me there are different kinds of intelligence:

The theory of multiple intelligences was proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983 to explore and articulate various forms or expressions of intelligence available to cognition.

Gardner argues that, as traditionally defined in psychometrics, intelligence does not sufficiently encompass the wide variety of abilities humans display. In his conception, a child who masters multiplication easily is not necessarily more intelligent overall than a child who is stronger in another kind of intelligence and therefore 1) may best learn the given material through a different approach, 2) may excel in a field outside of mathematics, or 3) may even be looking at the multiplication process at a fundamentally deeper level, which can result in a seeming slowness that hides a mathematical intelligence that is potentially higher than that of a child who easily memorizes the multiplication table.

The theory’s nine currently accepted intelligences are: (Ref: Educational Psychology, Robert Slavin. 2009, 117)

  • Spatial
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic
  • Existential

Traditionally, schools have emphasized the development of logical intelligence and linguistic intelligence (mainly reading and writing). IQ tests (given to about 1,000,000 students each year) focus mostly on logical and linguistic intelligence as well. While many students function well in this environment, there are those who do not. Gardner’s theory argues that students will be better served by a broader vision of education, wherein teachers use different methodologies, exercises and activities to reach all students, not just those who excel at linguistic and logical intelligence (Wikipedia).

Gardner’s theory is debated and dismissed by many as lacking empirical evidence and by those who claim that he is really speaking about abilities and talents, not intelligence and his theory is more ‘hunch and opinion’ and rhetoric than science. However, his theory is taken seriously and applied in educational systems around the country with success, although the No Child Left Behind mandate ignores it. Perhaps some children will be Left Behind. (Don’t get me started on the book by the same name…)

I don’t know whether Gardner’s theory holds water in the academic understanding and definition of intelligence,  but I would like to add a tenth category: spiritual. I believe there is a spiritual intelligence which is beyond knowledge, reason, and language which even a baby, an animal, a mentally handicapped person, all creation possesses.

Mysticism throughout the ages and in various faith and religious traditions has acknowledged such spiritual intelligence. An unknowing which becomes a knowing. It is based on experience more than knowledge. But is is fact for many.

I am thankful that the Gospel doesn’t rely on the traditional concept of intelligence. God is love. Period. And our faith is not dependent on IQ.

When I was a seminary student at Emory, I was assigned to spend several hours a week in a ‘praxis’ situation, as were we all, which we then wrote about, discussed, and analyzed. My particualar group was given the formidable task of offering ministry in the Georgia Retardation Center, an institution off of I-285 for the severly mentally challenged. The persons we ministered to could not speak, dress or feed themselves. Many were not toilet trained and wore helmets to keep from hurting themselves with repetitive movements. And these were the brighter of the clients at the GRC. Others were housed in beds in the hospital, unable to walk, and with serious physical and medical issues. Many of them died at a very young age.

I remember the hard lesson I learned in that setting–as did we all–that ministry is not so much about what we say or do but is more about Presence. The clients we served couldn’t say the ABC’s or count to ten or tie their shoes, but they knew when someone loved them. When a person was by their side with a gentle touch and a prayer. When they were smiled at and received time and attention. They knew of a love which was intentional.

In this way, I believe these severely retarded individuals, with IQ’s barely discernible on the numbers scale, possessed a spiritual intelligence. And they knew what was important through the ministry of seminary students: that God is Love. Period.

I’m not sure there is anything else we really need to know…or pursue.


September 20, 2010

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.

         —Proverbs 16.31

Ageism: Prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly.

           –Merriam-Webster dictionary

Honor your father and your mother.

         –Deuteronomy 5.16a, Exodus 20.12a

I have been preaching and speaking against Ageism for a long time. It has recently become more personal.

Ageism–like all ‘isms’–is a potent and insidious reality in American  society. However, unlike racism, sexism, or classism, ageism is distinctive in that a certain amount of truth underlies the fundamental predjudice: the diminishment of faculties. This diminishment– a natural part of the aging process–makes older people quite vulnerable. The diminishment is double-edged, from without and within.

I know. I don’t hear as well as I used to or move as fast. I can’t see anything up close without my glasses. My memory is not as sharp as it once was and it takes me longer to learn new things. In short, I am past middle-age and my body is showing it.

In China or Viet Nam, this revelation would not be a problem, but in the US work force, and in a culture which idolizes youth, it is reason for concern. Thus, the tendency is to try and disguise or hide or downplay the effects of aging, as if they are something about which to be ashamed. Those of us who are getting up in years will smile and nod our head to what was said, when we cannot hear it, because we are tired of saying, “What?” and weary of making others repeat their story or sentence and look at us annoyed. We become self-conscious about the gradual development of our handicap or aging “challenge”.

How sad. How dreadful, that older people–that anyone!–would be discriminated against and treated as less than and inferior. It is past time for a revolution.

As usual, our Bible and Judaeo-Christian heritage offer an alternative, one based on justice and mercy. The commandment to honor your father and mother is really addressed to adult children with aging parents, not little ones to make them obey. It is intended to be an injunction against those who would throw their old overboard as if they/we are dead weight. And perhaps we are weight which doesn’t move as fast as it once did, or at all, but that doesn’t make us dead or invisible or unworthy of respect or ones to be patronized or dismissed. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

As in all just and humane societies, those who are weaker, for any reason, are the ones most cared for and become the marker by which the society’s ethics can be measured. How we treat those who are more vulnerable–the very young, the very old, the mentally or physically challenged, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the sick–gives us away: it demonstrates what we truly value.

So..this day, as I ask you to repeat yourself again, or take longer to go up and down the stairs. As I make a mistake on the computer or cash register or need you to remind me of what I have forgotten, please don’t see me as ‘less than’ but as more. More to love and respect in all my aging vulnerability and challenge. The exact opposite of diminishment.


September 17, 2010

Last night, I had a fall. Like Humpty Dumpty’s, it was great. I was on the ground, face down, before I knew it.

Thankfully, I wasn’t really hurt–except my feelings–but it shook me up.

Today I reflect on falling and just how quickly we move from a graceful upright stance to being prone. I believe the events which fell us are often cumulative and one small event –or spatula on the floor–can bring us down, like the last straw.

Over the past several months I have come in contact with a lot of people who have a lot of problems, serious ones. And, like many of you would, I have tried to help.

But I am not certain my efforts are helpful in the long run. I have to keep relearning the lessons of ‘tough love’ and boundaries. And of my own limits. I have to keep reminding myself that saying ‘no’ is often a way of saying ‘yes’. 

My sisters and friends in Norway, the women of Tautra, taught me the beauty of ‘No’. They could say it faster than anyone I have ever met. At first, I was offended by the one syllable negative which formed in their mouth– a no to photographs, to sometimes helping others in the community, to reading blogs. And yet, I have come to realize and appreciate the truth that in saying no to one thing they are saying yes to another.

Yes, I will remain in the cloister where I can answer my call to pray. Yes, I will focus on the tasks at hand–in my own sphere–which are more than enough for one day. And, yes, I will value and honor the autonomy of individuals and know I can’t fix them. It’s not my job.

So sisters, as I make my way to work this morning–where I have been referred to as the Chaplain of the Square–with a few bruises on my legs and heart, would you please pray for me, that I will remember your ‘tough love’ and the ease with which you have learned to say No?

To that prayer request, I know you will say Yes.


Prevenient Grace

September 16, 2010

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

     –Psalm 37.4

The desires of our heart; what are they? How do we know what is from God and what is otherwise?

I was with some Presbyterians recently, old friends of my mom’s, some from second-grade.

We sat together at a bridal luncheon for my sister at a very ‘ladies’ tea room called Sugarplums. You can guess the menu.

As we mused over the upcoming wedding and reflected on how my sister and her fiance met at this juncture in life, the word ‘pre-destination’ was applied. I smiled politely and swallowed my chicken salad.

I don’t believe in pre-destination, as if life were a bus ride with the stops already scheduled.

Instead I believe in prevenient grace–the grace that goes before.

Like a street sweeper, this grace cleans the road, removes trash and contents from the night before.  Inthe steady forward motion of brushes and water, it  scrubs the  pavement early in the morning. It prepares for a new day of traffic and pedestrians.

In that sense, it also follows. It follows nights of broken bottles and broken dreams. It washes away signs of sickness and decay. It removes the smallest afteraffects of indulgences and litter’s carelessness.

Somehow in both actions of cleaning–before and after–it is anticipatory.

Thus, our futures are not prescribed so much as prepared. It drives me crazy when I hear people state,  “It was meant to be” , as if we have no choice in the matter or option. As if what we do is  immaterial and predictable.  If one pushes this theorem to the limit, then we may as well eat bon-bons and wait. But perhaps that too is predetermined.

I believe in an open future. In opportunities ripe when we are ready. In gifts and graces offered like apples as we wander through the countryside. I believe in a God who anticipates with and for us, standing on tiptoe to peer over stonewalls into pastures  and who walks a little ahead to glimpse the  sunrise over the hill before the rays hit us. But then circles back to walk beside us as we amble up the road. This is not the same as determinism, which easily slides into  fatalism.

Wesley, as in John, spoke of synergism and the pairing of God and human effort to create the future.

This is what I believe. God will give us the desires of our heart but we must walk towards them.