Friday, November 26, 2010

Urgency Hypnosis

Today, as I think everyone is the entire world must know, is called "Black Friday," as in the busiest shopping day of the year.  That's awful name for it--I saw somewhere that it should be named "Greed Friday" but that really doesn't make sense.  People are not being greedy today--they are actually being generous as most shop to purchase gifts for others.  Well, some of them are.  I just read that about 50% of what is bought today will be for the self, not someone else.

Anyway, I, with a real dislike of very crowded situations and with a growing dislike of having to get up particularly early, have not joined this madness since I was a teen and my mother, sister and I would head out.  Yes, Virginia, stores did exist back in the those ancient days--and cars filled the parking lots even then.  But what we didn't have then is electronic shopping, although print catalogs were great fun!

Yesterday, I found myself somewhat mesmerized by the deals periodically popping up on Amazon.  I managed to snag several toys for the grandchildren, but missed some real good deals.  By the time I got up this morning, I had already missed a few others that I would very much liked to have bought. So now, I've got my eye on something that will be available in about 38 minutes.  My timer is on, and I'm going to be ready to leap on it the moment it becomes available if the price is right.

I also know this is kind of silly.  It's not something I would have bought normally, and although I think it will make a nice gift, this is very much an impulse thing.  In other words, I've permitted myself to be nicely manipulated by the idea that I'm going to get a great bargain and simply MUST GET THIS or my life will be empty, formless and void. Hmmmm--if that is the case, perhaps God can get busy doing some re-creative activity in my life.

OK, 20 minutes now before my deal becomes live. My nervousness grows. Although some items have not sold out, others disappear in minutes.  I've put myself on the "waitlist" for a couple, but didn't make the cut.  In other words, scarcity is planned into this system.  Increase the urgency, decrease the thoughtfulness.  

That's the life most of us life. Filled with urgency, devoid of thoughtfulness. Get this done NOW!  Fix this system IMMEDIATELY!  Turn this gigantic, lumbering ship THIS VERY SECOND or off with your head!

Don't you feel it?  I see it with so much that I'm reading about the state of the church, especially what I'm reading about my own much loved denomination, The United Methodist Church.  We've got to make changes THIS INSTANT to keep from going under.  But we are dealing systems that have been in place for a long time, and we now face the repercussions of decisions made 50 or 100 or 200 years ago.  Life is just that way.  Quick decisions have long term consequences.  Thoughtful decisions do as well, and many of those consequences, however unintended, have devastating effects.  

Now, I'm down to twelve minutes.  I've got the window for amazon sitting open next to this doc window so I can leap as soon as the item becomes available.  A timer underneath it marks the passing of the seconds.  My breath quickens with anticipation . . . 

I tell myself, "As soon as I've snagged this one, I'll head to the garden for the post-freeze clean up."  But of course, I'll first check and see if something equally as tantalizing is going to show up in an another hour or so.  Just in case, just in case.

When hypnosis of urgency wins, the timeless quality of wisdom loses.

Ten minutes to go.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Musings

I spent an hour in bed this morning, looking out the window from the bedroom, watching the trees and plants dance from the increasing north wind.  I also spent that hour thinking of my mother, on this her favorite of holidays, and on my first Thanksgiving without her.  I am thankful.  Thankful for the years, thankful for her being gone now, thankful for all that I am because of who she was.  No melancholy, just quietness.  A good time.

Because I wasn't sure just how this day would affect me, I chose to spend it quietly.  Keith is fixing us a lovely meal.  I brought in the plants that are not freeze tolerant and have placed them around the house for the winter months.  I do wonder how many of them have toads living in their dirt.  It wouldn't be the first time that one has popped out later.  Always a bit startling, but nothing I can't live with.

Keith and I had originally planned to spend the morning re-doing the vegetable beds in the back yard, but both independently decided a day spent in a warm house was preferable.  We are definitely getting older!

And I have now managed to do most of my Christmas shopping, a very unplanned event.  Checked email as usual, noticed that Amazon was doing some specials for the day, saw some toys on there that I think my grandchildren would like, and managed to get most of what I wanted.  These specials are good only for a short period of time--nice marketing technique to keep someone on their site. Also very nice for me since I really don't actually enjoy shopping but did want to get something for the grandchildren.

All this brings up the usual bemoaning of the church about the commercialization of the holidays.  I admit to being somewhat troubled by so many department stores opening either later today or very early tomorrow.  I'm not troubled by the chance to shop; I'm troubled by the fact that a lot of employees who might have enjoyed a few unhurried hours with family will now not be able to do so.  Of course, in this economy, it also means a larger paycheck, perhaps.  

I was thinking today about how many different types of people must work on these holidays.  Yesterday, I went to the hospital to visit one of my church members.  Parking lot was full--illness just doesn't take a vacation.  And although the grocery store, where I also made a stop, was packed yesterday, I know many if not all grocery stores are also open today just in case, although I think some will close for the evening.  Law enforcement, fire-fighters, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, gas stations--all these are staffed and open on this day and on other holidays that most get off. 

It's one of those days when I wonder if we wouldn't be better off to go back to "blue laws" not for the sake of the church, but for the sake of humanity.  It really wouldn't kill us not to be able to shop one day a week.  Really.  How many of us would actually go hungry if we had to each just what is in our pantries that one day?  What would it hurt just to be home or outside hanging out with neighbors for the day?  But even as I write this, I know I'm thinking primarily of middle-class America.  What about people who live in packed-out and run-down housing projects?  Forcing people to stay home is not a particularly good option.  It has never worked, as far as I can tell from history, to legislate social morality.  People will always look for, and always find, the loopholes.

There was a period of time when the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in the colonies.  People celebrated anyway.  Thank goodness. As far as I can find, it has never been celebrated exactly as the religious authorities think it should be.  I find that as I mellow a bit, I like that.  I'm not sure those of us who call ourselves "religious authorities" actually know all that much about the mind of God or know how exactly how we are supposed to acknowledge God's intervention in the world. Very much a mystery, and one worth exploring. But, having written then, I know that people who are sure they do know the mind of God will very much disagree with me and just write me off as the typical female, deceived heretic.  Oh well.  It's Thanksgiving, and I can give thanks for that.

Meal nearly ready.  Table set with the lovely stuff.  My stomach in growling in anticipation.  The temperature is still above freezing outside, but not by much.  The house is warm and comfortable.  I am extraordinarily grateful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lessons from my Garden

1.  Six hours in the garden doesn't even begin to make up for three months of neglect.  Won't even touch what all has to be done.  Going to church twice a year probably is just about as effective.  We need a major tune-up here and regular attention.

2.  Flowers really want to reproduce.  Since I just let things go, all the annuals went to seed and I decided to save seed instead of buying it next spring for the simple flowers I plant.  Did you know that one marigold flower produces at least two hundred seeds?  That's one flower, not one plant.  If I were to harvest all the seeds off just one marigold plant, I'd probably have 10,000 seeds.  I think the church is supposed to operate the same way.

3.  Most of those seeds will not make new plants.  Some will blow away; some won't sprout; some will sprout and die; some will get eaten (I assume some bug just loves marigold seeds); some will just turn back to dirt.  But none ultimately disappear.  They are just transformed into something else.  Anyone besides me see some spiritual linking here?

4.  Bodies as old as mine should NOT spend six hours in the garden after three months of neglect and think I'll get off scott-free.  I can hardly move.

5.  Certified non-kink hoses still kink.  Sigh.

6.  Fire ants are still alive, hungry and love to bite even this late in the year.  Double sigh.

7.  Bermuda grass makes a wonderful lawn and is also the world worst weed.  Triple sigh.

Even so, what a wonderful day!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vote God Out

If the kingdom of heaven were a democracy, and if, we those created in the Imago Dei, could have a vote about who is going to be in charge, would we indeed vote the God we read about in the Bible, that we observe in the cosmos, and that we experience, or think we experience, in daily life, in prayer and in pain, back into leadership again?

After all, how many of us are getting what we really think we deserve out of this God?  Prosperity?  Bah, humbug--prosperity lands upon only for the very few, and generally the very unethical few, i.e., the Bernie Madoff's and Jeffrey Skillings of the world, and occasionally on a "name it and claim it" preacher who almost always turns out to be a scoundrel and scalawag. Easy living?  You've got to be kidding--I don't know one person whose life is actually easy.  Good health?  Well, sit down and name your ailments for a few minutes.  Bet you've got several, especially if you are a trained athlete or have passed the age of 35.  

What about salvation?  In truth, none of us alive really know if we are going to get that or not--assuming it does mean eternal life in the presence of God.  As much as we want to know, we really cannot come back from the dead yet and tell for sure what it is like on the other side.  And as many great "near death" experiences people have had, there have also been a lot of awful "near death" experiences which most definitely don't get the press.

I honestly think that if we could, we'd vote God out and vote in Santa Claus.  Really.  Just makes more sense.  A once a year toy, the mysterious disappearance of the requisite milk and cookies, and no demands except trying to generally be nice.  No calls to extreme holiness, to laying down our lives for one another, no longsuffering and painful patience, no entrance into anguished suffering to see if we can make a difference.  Nope.  Just believe, write out our lists, leak the main items on our list to willing ears, and wait with anticipation for wish-fulfillment day.

Just makes more sense.  We need a sugar daddy to take over.

A Disconnect For Me

In a New York Times article today about the naming of new cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church, the author wrote: "Dressed in heavy golden vestments, Benedict called on the new cardinals to devote themselves entirely to humble service to the church, whose force, he said, is “not the logic of supremacy, of power according to human criteria, but the logic of bowing down to wash feet, the logic of service, the logic of the cross which is at the base of every exercise of power.”

Does anyone besides me see a disconnect here?

Here's the photo from that story:

Now, I'm in agreement with the words about devoting themselves humbly to the church.  I am just wondering about being dressed in enough gold to outclass any earthly king while making such a pronouncement.  

It is a day where I'm wrestling mightily with the nature of the church.  I'm working on my message for Christ the King Sunday tomorrow.  What kind of a king is Christ?  The human experience with "kings" is not particularly holy or helpful.  Many, if not all, appear to be deeply corrupt, enamored with power, surrounded by sycophants, and protected from the vicissitudes and challenges of normal life, of trying to keep a family fed and housed, of concerns about health care and retirement, of seeking to keep a healthy soul in the midst of soul-destroying poverty.

So in my wrestling, I struggle with the image of church that I project and that is seen as a whole.  I just keep thinking, "we are doing this all wrong."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ready, Set, Go!!!!

It is now upon us.  The yearly craziness absorbs the nation.  We fight off the growing darkness of shorter days with glitter and lights and frenzied activity.  We shake off gloom with parties, food, drink.  Sated with sugar and calorie-laden eggnog, we lose control of spending and credit cards flame out with overuse.  

It really is a lot of fun.  Purchasing just the right gift, turning bland spaces into fantasies of light and music, sharing laughter and work in kitchens while cookies and breads send the best of all smells throughout the house.  Yes, we need this time.  

But before this all begins, even though TV and stores have, as usual, taken off before the signal is given, let's stop.  

For one day.  


Don't even walk up to the starting line yet.


Put aside the catalogues; let the ornaments gather attic dust for one more day.  


Say "thank you."

Make a list.  Not a shopping list.  Not a wish list.  Not a "letter to Santa" list.  Not even a to-do list.  Make a different kind of list.

A list of every single thing you can think of to be thankful for.

Little things.  Big things.  

Life. Breath. Skin. Hair. Fingernails. Farmers. Ranchers. Food processing plants. Flour already ground from wheat.  Manufacturers who create precision tools.  Electricity. Heat. Stoves. Natural gas. Engineers. Artists. Looms that create beautiful fabrics. Sweatshops that sew our clothes. Oceans. Tides. Fish. Eels. Stingrays. Stars. Comets. Space. Newspapers. Radios. Low energy light bulbs. Candles. Cars. Mechanics. Roads. Bridges. Governments. Police. Fire fighters. Social Service agencies. Volunteers. Flush toilets. Toilet paper. Children. Parents. Pregnancies. Diapers. Landfills. Trash collectors. Pets. Dust mites. Fleas. Mosquitos. Purple Martins. Bats. Robins. Earthworms. Friends. Hugs. Tears. Laughter. Fights. Sports. Teachers. Muscles. Fat. Romance. Heartbreak. Chairs. Warm blankets. Fuzzy socks. Washing machines. Fine china. Paper plates. Disposable napkins. Colors, especially the color green. Especially the color blue. Especially the color yellow. All colors. Hot tea. Freshly laid eggs. The smell of good dirt after a spring rain. Thermometers. Thermostats. Hospitals. Doctors. Nurses. Cleaners. Memories. Babies. Learning. Good hair products. Flat irons. Clotheslines. Computers. Text messages. The elderly. Nursing homes. Wheelchairs. Personal stationary. The US Postal Service. Airplanes. TIVO. Rebellious children. Good books. Bad books. Story time. Snow. Cold. Windows. Gloves and scarves. Space heaters. Friends. Enemies. Keyboards. Music. Oh yes, music. Organs. Guitars. Drums. Voices. Harmony. Symphony. Jazz. Piano. Nursery rhymes. Mouse: both alive and computer. Cockroaches. Concrete. Trees. Hammers. Nails. Lumber. Carpenters. People who know how to repair things. Disappointment. Challenge. Messy desks. Reams of fresh paper. Packages of pens and pencils. Crayons. Paint. Canvas. Wheels. Pulleys. Levers. Grass. Prairies. Forests. Snakes. Scorpions. Warm hands. Honest sweat. Skin creams. Itch remedies. Hay fever pills. Painkillers. Science. High-tech laboratories. Our Veterans. Ancestors. Letters. Books. Lampshades. Fresh tomatoes. Baked potatoes. Hot rolls. Creme Brulee. Chocolate. Hugs. Love. God.

It goes on and on and on.  Someone can begin the list and keep sending it around the room or table until it is pages and pages long.  I've only begun to list the things for which I am grateful. What about left-handed scissors and sharp knives? Indoor plants and freshly composted manure? Friends who tell me the truth and grandchildren who say, "I love you, Granny!" Soft beds and warm comforters? I've only just begun.

Say, "Thank You," to God.  Give thanks for being held together with the rest of the universe by that divine power that we can't even begin to penetrate with our limited understanding.  Give thanks that you can enter into the seasonal craziness in whatever way is right for you.  Give thanks for redemption.  The season of the Savior is upon us.  


Say, "Thank You."

Then . . . Ready, Set, Go!!!!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Truth and Nothing But the Truth

In a recent online advice column, the questioner wrote, "I'm a habitual liar, and it's threatening to ruin my relationship with my husband." She goes on to say that she is newly pregnant and that for some reason, her husband is in doubt about the parentage of the child.

Let's re-word the question: "I'm a habitual liar and can't understand why my husband doesn't trust me."

So, can this marriage be saved?  (Oh ye women of a certain age--do you remember the Ladies Home Journal column of that name?)  

About the same time I read that column, I learned of yet another marital break up. The couple had been married only a few years, seemed highly compatible, had an absolutely beautiful wedding ceremony, and recently became parents of a gorgeous healthy baby boy.  As is often true, what we see on the surface hides dark secrets behind closed doors. 

They had known each other well before the wedding with joint schooling, work, and habitat. Their relational patterns had been established long before the wedding. The unsolvable problems had already surfaced. They disappointed each other from the beginning, and managed to miss each other in almost every way. When the agonized husband was asked why he went ahead with the wedding, he replied, "I thought she would change."

"I thought she (he) would change" stand as some of the saddest words in the world.  It is another type of lie--one we tell ourselves, not others. I wonder if the husband of the habitual liar above thought his wife would also change after the wedding.  That a marriage ceremony would fix long standing issues of character, habit and integrity.  It doesn't.  It never has.  It never will.

A question that philosophers have struggled with for years is the nature of being fully human. What is it that characterizes real humanness?  As a theologian, I always return to the idea of the Imago Dei, that of being created in the image of God. It means we, too, are capable of powerful love, joyful creativity, satisfying work, intimate relationship with others. It means the capacity to think, to bring order out of chaos, to extend ourselves in the redemption of the world.

Yes, we are privileged to carry it, but so often leave it behind.  I wonder sometimes if our propensity to lie to ourselves and to others represents one of the biggest ways we compromise our humanness.

Yet I know the "little white lie" often helps social interaction and smooths otherwise uncomfortable or even incendiary situations. 

"How are you?" someone asks.  "Fine, and you?" we respond even when we are anything but fine.  Or the dreaded, "does this dress make me look fat?"  "Why no, it looks fabulous on you!"

These are normal conversational conventions, not the kind of lies I write of here. Those lies that compromise our humanity say, "It is OK not to be a person of integrity as long as I don't get caught."  Or, "I hate this part of him or her but he or she will soon change in order to lessen my discomfort."  Or even greater, "I am more powerful than God.  I can and will violate all rules of holy living and I'll still come out just fine."  That last one calls God the liar. That last one eventually destroys the soul.

Again, as a theologian, I ponder the nature of eternity and final judgment.  I wrestle mightily with the possibility that no matter how gracious God may choose to be--and I hope God is mightily gracious--those who have spent their lives lying about the true state of their souls will no longer be able to state truth and say, while bowing before real glory, "My Lord and my God!"  I wonder if the ingrained habit will so overtake the moment that the possibility of speaking truth will no longer exist. I wonder if we will have consigned ourselves to the place where the poet John Milton puts these words in Lucifer's mouth, "I'd rather rule in hell than serve in heaven."  This is the ultimate lie.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Valet, Hide My Clothes!

My laughter spilled over when I read this quote while putting off the writing of this article by reading another article on the pervasiveness of the tendency to procrastinate: "Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing."

Victor Hugo, a 19th century writer, penned one of the greatest pieces of literature ever: Les Miserables. Multiple film versions of that long and complex novel have been made. The musical created from the book is also the world's longest-running stage production. There have been over 10,000 performances in one London theater alone of this story of love, despair, and redemption. 

And the poor guy had to get someone to hide his clothes in order to keep himself at his desk so this thing would actually get written. 

Apparently even the most talented and accomplished have no immunity to the seduction of "I'll do it later."

Now, instead of having our valets, which unfortunately none of us have, hide our clothes, writers can turn to a program called "Dr Wicked." Signing on to it eliminates internet access and other distractions for a period of time and forces the writer to set a word goal to be done within a certain time frame or face consequences.  The consequences include the kamikaze--as in everything will be erased if the goal is not met.  Frankly, I'm terrified to try it.

I'm also glad I'm not alone in this tendency to put things off.  Misery most definitely loves company.  Misery doesn't lessen, but at least we know the rest of the world isn't deliriously happy while we pick our way through piles of guilt-producing undone tasks, neglected relationships and shriveling souls. 

The older I get, the greater my tendency to excuse my undone stacks with the "I'll get to them eventually" mantra.  The whole truth? There are some things I will never finish.  Why?  The practice of procrastination has taken on a life of its own.  I have so habitually looked at certain things and said, "tomorrow" that the present no longer touches their existence.

Another problem with putting it off until tomorrow is that there is always another tomorrow for added procrastination. At least we assume there will be another tomorrow.  In actuality, someday, those tomorrows run out for every one of us.  Some day, God will say, "This night, your soul is required of you."

Then what will be left of our lives? Acts of kindness, mercy and integrity. Children and grandchildren well-raised.  The giving and receiving of forgiveness so that society can actually continue.  Memories of pleasure, laughter and shared meals, touching conversations, games played, work well done, suffering relieved, and hope offered.

Perhaps when we have heavenly eyes we will be able to see that which is actually important.  We also might discover that moments of procrastination were on occasion holy moments, times of reflection and distraction that relieve pressure and free the soul.  The Gospels say that Jesus frequently went alone to pray.  I wonder how frustrated his followers were at those times.  "Lord, hey, there are people to heal here and hungry that need bread NOW!.  Your prayer life is getting in the way.  You are just putting off the inevitable.  C'mon, Jesus, get with the program."

When I started writing today, I thought about proposing a "no procrastination" day to see what would happen if we all quit procrastinating for one day.  But I've just talked myself into something totally different:  let us procrastinate on all our undone tasks until we are fully prayed up, rich in the presence of God, quiet in soul and peaceful in reconciliation.  I do believe this would be the better choice.  Then we can tell our valets to hide our clothes!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What If You Had To Campaign To Get Into Heaven?

A great question just came my way:  "What if we had to campaign to get into heaven?" 

So, what would we have to do in order to win God's "yes" vote that would fling open the doors to the equivalent of God's oval office?

Let's start with a campaign manager. Someone to make us look good while seeing how awful we can make others look. This way by comparison God will have to vote for us, especially sense elected spots are limited.

To keep up the image of electability, we need a personal wardrobe manager, a private hairstylist and make-up artist, a speechwriter, and a photographer skilled at manipulation of digital photos to make sure that we are seen only at our best.  A spin artist to whitewash any possible embarrassments of our past lives would be helpful.  Actually, that last one would be absolutely necessary for just about anyone.  Let's face it, we've all got stuff we'd rather not 'fess up to.  Best to figure out a way to hide it, or make sure the blame lies on someone else and we look utterly innocent--even when we know we are not.  

All interviews with God's representatives need to be carefully staged, with all questions submitted ahead of time.  It is essential that there be no surprises here. A well-rehearsed, controlled and choreographed interview session will help our chances enormously.  

We probably should also hire groomers and keepers for our spouses, siblings, children and other relatives, just in case God sends a delegation to interview them about our private lives and interactions with them. There's no sense in those heavenly investigators knowing that we take out our frustrations on those closest to us.  That's private, after all.  As for those extramarital indiscretions and certain financial irregularities and those tiny little issues with illegal substances, well . . . let's just say we need a well-financed campaign to keep certain mouths forever sealed.  God really doesn't have to know everything! 

Whew--what a lot of work to get in shape for this election!  What have we forgotten?  Oh yes, we're supposed to be feeding the hungry and visiting the prisoner and clothing the naked and tending to the ill.  Well, any campaign manager worth his salt can set up some great photo ops with brief visits to those smelly and untouchable ones.  In fact, some of those photos would look great in that mansion we'll be living in when God votes us in!

OK, we're spiffed up, our portfolio of nicely documented good works in an elegant presentation folder ready to display, the preliminary interviews safely and successfully finished. The time has come to shake God's hand, answer a question or two and win that vote!

Now . . . do you think you could win this election? Are you adequately prepared?  How many good acts, staged or not, will it take to open that door?  What do we need to make sure is well hidden so it won't spoil our chances? 

Some of the most wonderful words in the Bible read this way: " But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." It's not what we've done, or left undone, or hidden or pretended we never did. It's not our good works or our boasts of good works. It is the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ that starts us on the path in this life to becoming like Jesus and then ends with that final reconciliation, our winning election, with a gracious God casting the only and the deciding vote.  

It's a gift, folks.  A gift.  A gift to be received, not earned.  A gift to open, touched, taken inside, and experienced in life transformation.  A gift.  No campaign managers required.  No whitewashing necessary.  A gift, the most expensive one of all, and free to you and to me.  You win--if you will receive it.