Showing posts with label love. Show all posts
Showing posts with label love. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

a glimpse of love

The Internet has been filled with hate this week as examples of harassment and discrimination are documented, reported, posted, and shared. And with callous indifference as some Americans deny the veracity of these reports.

Some corners of the world are, however, filled with love. High school students in my county are stepping up with hope-filled chalk graffiti. It was an unexpected joy to ride across the Stafford St. bridge over I-66 today on my bicycle commute. 

When I got to campus, my office looked like this:


The messages extend down the hall:

Keep living love in your corner of the world, beloveds. 


Friday, February 5, 2016

"to make beautiful even the reckoning"

In a recent post about coping with a baby who doesn't sleep, Sarah Bessey wrote:
I think that when we are faced with something we cannot fix or control – however small or however big – it can break us wide open and we discover who we were underneath the comfort trappings of answers or affluence or health or even sleep or whatever it is that we’ve lost. And then when the underneath of us is out in the fresh air, I think it’s an opportunity to heal it, to strengthen it, to make beautiful even the reckoning.
And my heart wept. Bessey, even in her sleep-deprived state, eloquently expresses an idea that I have been circling around for months.

Tragedy and tribulations force us to ask whether we really believe what we say we believe, whether we have the courage to let our beliefs guide our actions. When ten schoolgirls were shot in 2006, the nation was shocked as the Amish community lived out the faith they profess, showing compassion to the family of the gunman. I admired them, but I thought it must be terribly difficult.

In 2013, I found myself in a similar situation. When a reckless teenager killed my husband, many of our friends wanted me to be angry, to exact punishment, to demand that she be tried as an adult. Beyond simply being too numb to be angry, I realized that I could not make those demands. I just could not, not if I believe that adolescence is psychologically and physiologically different from adulthood, not if I believe that the rehabilitative justice of the juvenile court is more effective than the retributive justice that dominates the American legal system, not if I believe that my faith calls me to compassion. That summer was, as Bessey describes, a moment in which I was broken wide open, and I had to discover who I was.

Right now, American society has been broken wide open. Domestic and international terrorism and the wars and military actions in which we participate strip away our collective sense of safety and security. We feel threatened, we feel vulnerable, and the world seems chaotic, but it is in our response to this loss of the sense of control that we discover who we are. If we respond to our broken-openness with fear, if we scramble to cover the underneath of us that has been exposed, we become not what we believe ourselves to be.

We Americans have long professed values of openness and inclusivity. Indeed, the symbol of our liberty invites to these shores the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. If we want to continue to profess these values, we must look to them to guide the decisions we make. Even if the poor and the tired do not look like us or worship like us or speak our language. Even when it is difficult. Even when welcoming immigrants and refugees may change us as much as being among us changes them.


Monday, December 7, 2015

promise



Once upon a time, we made each other promises: to love, to honor, to cherish until death would us part.

We kept those promises in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, joyfully and grudgingly, even when it was phenomenally difficult.

And then, one day, death did us part. And the terms of our promises were fulfilled.

My choices have reshaped my life into one unlike the one we chose together, but I make you new promises:

I promise to have your picture in the house where your children can see it.

I promise to use the things you created until they weather with age.

I promise to tell your stories, but I promise to tell all of them because I promise not to turn you into a saint.

I promise to learn from our mistakes.

I promise to remember.

I promise not to wallow.

I promise to honor your contribution to my happily ever after.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

a glimpse of family

At the aquarium today there was a manipulative that taught about how objects moving independently of one another may appear to be coordinated if they are following the same rules (as in the natural laws of physics), and this appearance of coordination is heightened when the objects look alike. The manipulative used black spheres on strings, but it was teaching about fish and schooling behavior.



I was visiting the aquarium with assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins spanning three generations, and we moved through the space with a minimum of coordination. But we all had the same goals:

1. Enjoy the fish.
2. Be with each other.
3. Keep track of children.
4. Avoid toddler meltdowns at all costs.

Sometimes we were all together in a clump, showing each other the same thing. Sometimes, we were spread out into smaller clusters. At the end, we left the aquarium, as we had arrived, in small, nuclear-family groups.

This evening we sat around looking at old family photos. Over and over again, we collectively marveled at how much we all look like each other, each of us resembling different others of us at different times in our lives.

Most of the time, we are fragmented into clusters by geography and the quotidian demands of our individual lives. Every once in a while, though, we gather, and there is some critical mass of natural law that helps us hang together.

Photo courtesy of Alison Griffin.

In those brief moments, we are a glorious school of fish dancing individually together.

Friday, February 13, 2015

all year long

Lately, in the corners of the internet that I inhabit, I've seen a lot of this sort of sentiment:

"We don't celebrate Valentine's Day in our house because my partner and I love each other all year long and give gifts when we feel moved."

It reminds me of the people who said things like, "December 25th is an arbitrary day. Even if Jesus was born, it wasn't in December, and we should work for peace on earth and goodwill towards men all year long."

Or the ones who said, "What's up with 'Giving Tuesday'? We should be generous to the charities we care about all year long."

How does that work, even? So, we should be nurturing our relationships with those nearest to us, reaching out in peace to the wider world, and remembering to support those who are less fortunate all year long? That's a lot to do every day. I'm not up to that task.

While I totally understand rejecting the consumerism that so often accompanies holidays in American culture, I'm having trouble following the logic of repudiating the holidays entirely.

I'd be lying if I said that the romantic rhetoric of Valentine's Day didn't make me feel at least a little bit lonely. I have a lot of love to give to a partner, and I hope to find someone who has love to return in equal measure, so I'll spend some of my meditation time tomorrow directing that love toward myself and also making space for a partner to step into. Then, all year long when the lonelies attack and I despair of ever meeting anyone ever again, I'll have this Valentine's Day meditation to remember, like a token in my pocket.

I will be celebrating love on this Valentine's Day, too.  Sofia and I are babysitting so that my best friend Erin and her husband David can go out to dinner. Because even though we all agree that going out to eat on Valentine's Day is insane, sometimes it's fun to embrace the insanity. I'm not sure what they'll be eating, but Sofia, Margaret, Blaise, and I will be having a pirate meal complete with octopus (hot dogs cut specially before boiling), doubloons (carrot rounds), seaweed (lettuce), and yo-ho-ho punch (sparkling juice). You should totally be envious.

If we reject holidays completely, consumerism wins. Subversion is a much more effective way to reclaim the values our holidays claim to celebrate.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

remember

This year is the centennial of the beginning of the First World War, and today is the annual commemoration of the armistice that ended that war at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remembrance Day and Veterans' Day commemorations have been more visible in the media this year as Europe marks the centennial and as the US grapples with issues in the Department of Veterans' Affairs. 

Some of my pacifist friends object to the wearing of the red poppy because of the way the tradition has become almost jingoistic. There is a compulsion to wear the poppy or make public thanks to veterans in social media as though one can not be a patriot if one does not. 

A peacenik myself, I understand the pacifist perspective, but as I was thinking about this today, it occurred to me that those who began the tradition of remembering on Armistice Day remembered not only the sacrifice of those who did not come home but also the horror of war for everyone involved. 

They knew that death for one's country was far from sweet and fitting.


Dulce et Decorum Est

BY WILFRED OWEN
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.


Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.


In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.


If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

For me, the poppy, this resilient flower that reclaims the scarred land, is a way to remember not only the valor of all those who have served, but also the horror of what it is we ask them to do. I look forward to the day when we have learned not to ask. 


Photo courtesy AU United Methodists



Sunday, August 31, 2014

still in love

This student meditation was delivered in the fall of 2000 at the Protestant Community worship in The American University's Kay Spiritual Life Center. The student meditation was then a new practice, and I was then a graduating senior. This text is almost arrogant in its simplicity, but when I found this brief meditation, the first sermon-like thing I had ever done, in a file recently, I was struck by the way it foreshadows much of what I have written since then. I am eternally grateful to the Reverend Joe Eldridge for the challenge and the inspiration. 

Nearly two years ago, my fiancé asked me to marry him, and I said yes. Shortly thereafter Joe got into the habit of saying, "So, are you still in love?" every time I saw him. This, of course, got me thinking about what love is. I searched out definitions and descriptions of love, and I found many:

God is love.
Love is one who lays down his life for his friends.
Love is patient and kind.
Love never fails.
Love makes the world go round.
Love means never having to say you're sorry.
Love is blind.
Love is when you care more about someone else's happiness than your own.
Love grows by works of love.

Joe's repeated questions made me think a lot, especially at a time when Adam and I were having problems, but my answer to Joe's question has always been yes.

I realized that the key to love is commitment. Love is commitment to being patient and kind, a commitment to persevering. A commitment to grow together rather than growing apart. This is the love we see in  lifelong friendships and successful marriages.

I think that I have this kind of committed love not only with my fiancé, but also with my friends, with many of the people here tonight. I only hope each of you can have it, too.

Joe continued to ask me the question in the years after I graduated when I visited campus first by myself, then with an infant Anna, then much later with Adam and both girls. The answer was always yes.

The last time I visited, Joe didn't ask. The answer would have been a complicated one. It is impossible to love an absence, and yet, it is out of love for the person who was that I care for his affairs and effects. 

So, no, I am not still in love with my late husband; I am, however, still in love with love.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

There’s Power in the Word

This sermon was presented at Marcellus and Wakelee United Methodist Churches (Kalamazoo District, West Michigan Conference) on Sunday, August 24, 2014. The revised common lectionary texts for Year A, Proper 16, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost were Psalm 138Romans 12:1-8Matthew 16:13-20. 

I think sometimes we underestimate the power of words. We teach our children to say, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” To tell someone to “put your money where your mouth is” is to say that financial support is more useful than spoken support.  To say that someone is “all bark and no bite” is to say that that person only talks, but never acts. To say that someone talks the talk but doubt that person can walk the walk is to doubt that person’s ability to act.  
It’s funny, though. The very existence of phrases like these, the way that we repeat them over and over until they accrue meaning greater than the sum of their parts is evidence of the power of words.  Repetition of the sticks and stones expression can bolster the confidence of a child being teased. All bark and no bite diffuses the power of someone else’s aggressive speech. Put your money where your mouth is and walk the walk challenge someone else to act directly. And really, if you’ve ever been bullied with words, you know that words have the power to inflict pain. They can leave lasting scars on our souls that inform the way we see ourselves, the way we interact with the people closest to us, and the way we live in the world.
            When I was looking over the lectionary scriptures for today, I was struck by two things. The first was the sheer quantity of references to speech acts via forms of the verbs say, sing, call and answer. The second thing that struck me was what speech acts accomplish. They create relationships, and they guide the way we inhabit those relationships
            In verse three of Psalm 138, the psalmist says, “On the day I called, you answered me” and this answer had the power to bolster the psalmist’s “strength of soul.” Throughout this psalm, speech creates a relationship between God and the people as speech and song connect the earthly and the divine. And in this psalm, the speech is reciprocal. God answers, the kings of the earth hear the words of God’s mouth, God’s name and word are exalted. In the same way that relationships among people depend on communication, our relationship with God depends on speaking and listening in prayer and meditation.
            In the passage from Romans, verses six through eight list eight gifts: prophesy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, diligence, and cheerfulness.  While each of these eight can make use of speech, three of them (prophesy, teaching, and exhortation) depend on speech to be accomplished. More than just valuing the power of speech in the work of the church, though, Paul puts words to work for him. With a particular sort of speech act, an extended metaphor, he shapes the way that members of the church interact with one another. We are, he says, members of one body, and each member has its function. This passage is reminiscent of first Corinthians chapter twelve in which Paul gives this body metaphor greater depth. “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” Human beings are often challenged by difference. We don’t know what to do with it; it makes us uncomfortable. This metaphor teaches us to value the contribution of each member of the community as we value the contribution of each part of the body.
In the gospel passage this morning, Jesus challenges the disciples to think about the power of words, names in particular. He asks, ‘Whom do you say that I am?’ And they answer, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ Now, Jesus, of course, knows exactly who he is, but in this conversation with the disciples, he is checking on whether what they say aligns with what he knows. Because Jesus knows that what people are saying about him shapes their relationship with him. To identify Jesus with John the Baptist or one of the prophets is to connect him to the past. To name Jesus as one of the prophets is to affirm the status quo, to continue an ongoing cycle of prophesy about a future not-yet-arrived. Peter’s answer that Jesus is the messiah, however, identifies him not as a reincarnation of one who has come before, but as the incarnation of Old Testament prophesy.  A prophet is not the messiah. To name Jesus as the messiah is a radical act that announces that the future is now. 
            All this thinking about the power of words has been timely for me. A friend and I have been engaged in a good-natured ongoing debate about the relationship of language and thought. Namely, whether our words and grammar inform the way we think or whether the way that we think informs the words that we have and the grammar that organizes those words. It’s been a lively debate for us and a sometimes contentious one among professional linguists. I come down somewhere in the middle. I don’t think that language is a rigid structure that prevents us from contemplating ideas for which we have no words, but I do think that our habits of speech become habits of thought, and habits, I’m sure we can all agree, once established, are difficult to change.
            Change is possible, though. As with Peter’s radical act of naming Jesus as the messiah in the gospel today, our speech acts can shape the way we experience relationships in our world. The passage from Romans uses beautiful words to create a vision of a harmonious body of different people, and this is a vision we are familiar with within the church. When we are doing well as a church, the body welcomes a variety of members and values their individual contributions.
            Words, however, also have the power to devalue the people with whom we come in contact. One only has to listen to the news to hear this in action. Conflict and violence can on occur when the aggressor views the victim as less than human. This is true in cases of personal violence like assault, murder, and rape; in cases of ritualized violence like political campaigns; and in cases of armed conflict like those in Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, and Iraq right now.
            I’m not going to make any judgments about who is right and who is wrong in any of these conflicts. I am going to challenge you to pay closer attention to the way you hear them described, though. Language that compares people to animals, language that labels people evil or bad, language that treats people as objects dehumanizes those people.

            When we use dehumanizing language we participate in the violence, we perpetuate the conflicts and we are complicit in the tragic piles of bodies that result. What would happen, though, if we took a radical step like Peter and changed the way we talk? When we change our language, we expand Paul’s metaphor from the church family to the human family. When we change our language, we recognize that all the people we share the earth with are members of the body and each of them has a contribution. When we change our language, we take the fist step toward beating our swords into ploughshares.

Monday, July 14, 2014

conflict

The news these days is dominated by stories of conflict. In Syria. In Gaza. In Iraq. In Ukraine. In the US Congress. On the steps of the Supreme Court. In Indiana.

In so many cases, conflict is perpetuated by misuse of religion. It is  beautiful when faith is the guiding  principle of discipleship and reverence for the creation. It is horrific when faith is twisted into a tool for violence and destruction.

It is unfortunate that in the midst of conflict, when we most need our principles to guide us, human beings are most likely to surrender to our emotions. We let anger and fear take control of our actions. We demand retribution instead of offering forgiveness. We forget that the Other is also a Self.

At Velveteen Rabbi today, Rachel Barenblat wrote:
I have been watching the news (and reading blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates) out of Israel and the Palestinian territories with a sense of unbearable heartbreak. It brings me to the brink of something like a panic attack: my chest tightening, my throat choked with tears, the embodied feeling that the grief will wash me away altogether. And I am aware that those who live there are experiencing something far more powerful.
The only thing which brings any comfort is poetry and prayer. Bethlehem Blogger posted A prayer in times of violence, which though it is explicitly Christian speaks to me nonetheless. Wendell Berry's poem The peace of wild things speaks right to my heart. I daven the oseh shalom blessing -- "may the One Who makes peace in the high heavens make peace also for us" -- with particular fervor.
To prayer and poetry, I would add music.




I have faith that one day will come. 

Today the news of conflict I've been reading has been accompanied by updates from a friend traveling through a region of the Democratic Republic of Congo that was ravaged by war in recent years but is now home to community and hope.

UMC Kyubo, DR Congo. Photo credit: Bob Walters, Friendly Planet Missiology




Monday, June 16, 2014

in the joy of fullness

There were eight extra people at Rambling Farmhouse this weekend, and it was glorious.

My friends being my friends, much of the long visit centered on the many meals we prepared and shared together. Even in the work of feeding five adults and six children, there was joy. The quotidian mysteries of prepping, cooking, and cleaning are a solid foundation for deepening friendships.


Today, we are back to three at Rambling Farmhouse, and I am tidying up, still so happy to have shared this time with Chris & Kendra and Erin & David.  These table linens on the line are a testament to friendships newly made and further deepened.

Monday, May 26, 2014

unniversary

Today is not my thirteenth wedding anniversary, and that feels strange.

With my wedding present, Adam gave me a fiftieth anniversary card because he believed we would see that day. Even in our rockiest moments divorce was never an option, but because of that card we used to joke that we'd renegotiate the deal when we made it to fifty years. These days, when I'm frustrated with the estate process, I grumble that he reneged on our deal.


This has been one of the more challenging days for me in this year of firsts without Adam because there was not a logical thing to do, no traditions to guide the choice of how to mark this day. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are all holidays which continue to be celebrated even without Adam because each of those days contains its own reasons and rituals. This anniversary, in contrast, commemorates a marriage that ended when death did us part.

Today may not be day to celebrate thirteen years, but it can become a day to remember the twelve amazing years and one month that we had. So, this evening, I pulled out our wedding album and tracked down the music Fellowship of Sound sang for us that day.

Fellowship of Sound (May 26, 2001): Nate, Stuart, Kate, Kate, Brad, Chris
Then, I opened the envelope of memories.


I am so grateful to the friends and family who took the time to answer my call for stories. For most of this year, though, I hadn't been able to bring myself to read them. As they arrived, I just slid them into their designated manila envelope, saving them for a nebulous 'later.'

I'm really glad later was today. Your stories capture Adam's boundless creativity,  his gracious hospitality, and his joyful laughter. Thank you for writing his portrait. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

a glimpse of cousins


She's waited a long time for a first cousin. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

turning chickens into quilts


I recently rehomed our flock of chickens, who are now happily clucking away at Bluebird Farm. They are also laying prodigiously, so we know they've settled in and are happy.

Back in March when Rachel and David took the chickens, I couldn't come up with a cash value number. I really had no idea what they were worth, on the market generally or to me personally, so Rachel offered me three Romney fleeces from the spring shearing. Sold!

Shearing happened last Saturday, and I spent a pleasant couple of hours this afternoon picking over the fleeces with Rachel, removing balls of lanolin and bits of hay. (Also poop. These are sheep, after all).

Thank you, Lady Baa Baa.

These three fleeces are destined to become quilt batts, the innards between the pieced top and the counterpane bottom, the innards that make the quilt warm. Adam's friend Jen offered to make quilts from his prodigious collection of interesting t-shirts for the girls and a quilt from his button shirts and some of my old clothes for me. There is enough fleece to make batts for these three quilts and also batts for Jen to keep for her own use.

I will have to pay the mill actual cash for processing, but the other exchanges in this chain are forged by friendship, trust, and the barter economy. Each trade is equitable because each party has a surplus of the other's need, and each is satisfied at the end. It's a pretty great way to turn chickens into quilts.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

a glimpse of remembrance

Your favorite film, your favorite cake, your favorite way to eat lemon sorbet.



Happy birthday, my love. Godspeed.

Friday, March 28, 2014

flannel hope

It was Monday in Chicago in July, and I had a terrible headache. I had just picked Jill up from Midway, and we were at Costco shopping for the food we would be cooking for my sister's wedding that weekend. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at a display of flannel sheets. (cream with red snowflakes, they were cute)

me: Jill, I can have all the flannel sheets I want!
Jill: Kate?
me: Adam always complained when I put flannel sheets on the bed. He said they were like sleeping in Velcro. But he's not here to complain anymore, so I can have them all winter long. I love flannel sheets!
Jill: Silver lining! Are we buying some?
me: Um, no. Who buys flannel sheets in July? Let's go find the pork loin.

I've described marriage before as balancing on a tightrope in tandem, but I think it's also like trying to fit two people into a space that's very snug. Over time,  each spouse learns to wiggle and bend to make room for the other's knees and elbows. The rather surreal conversation above was the moment when I began to understand that I didn't have to bend to accommodate Adam's preferences anymore.

In the days following that conversation, my crazy family embraced more such realizations with me. Melissa bought me a fuzzy steering wheel cover, because I don't think having one compromises my control of the vehicle. Gwen and Sean gave me a silver owl, which I hung from the mirror in my car, because it doesn't actually compromise visibility, and I'm not worried about a ticket. Jill, Kathy, Tony, and my mom went a little crazy in the lighting section of the d.i.y. store, and the ceiling fixtures at Rambling Farmhouse now sport a variety of interesting and decorative chain pulls, because I should be able to turn fans and lights on and off without a step-stool in my own home, and I am short enough to walk under them, and not matching is its own beauty.

In truth, these objects are all kind of silly, and none of them were things that I had regretting giving up in service to marital harmony. After all, Adam had bent to accommodate my preferences, too, and you can bet that, were the tables turned, there would be towels on his bedroom floor, and he would be frying fish and chips in the kitchen, in bacon grease, without turning on the exhaust fan.

Suddenly finding myself alone on the tightrope was terrifying in part because I had gotten so used to sharing it with someone else, so accustomed to being attentive to and adjusting for my partner's movements. Bringing these silly objects into my life was a first step toward realizing that I could balance on my own again.

These small realizations led to bigger ones. I can look for a job anywhere, and then I can move wherever I find something. I don't have to own and care for land if I don't want to.

I get a second chance to decide what my life looks like.

The awful tragedy that ended the first amazing life I had built together with Adam does not diminish the possibility of a second beautiful life yet to be built.

I choose not to wallow.

I choose to hope.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

the seeds and the flowers

The United Methodist student ministry at my undergraduate alma mater played a huge role in the second half of my college life. During the four semesters that I was involved, weekly attendance grew from the mid-teens to thirty-ish, and we built ourselves a pretty amazing choir. The growth was wonderful and remarkable, but it was also fragile.

As we were getting ready to graduate, my friend Taylor, who had helped the ministry grow from the single-digits to the mid-teens, was worried. Who would take over the leadership roles when our core group left? Would the congregation dwindle again? Would all our work be for naught? Young as we were, I don't think we recognized these as the concerns of any person who moves on from a beloved project.

I said something like, "We planted good seeds. And they will grow, but we don't necessarily get to see the flowers bloom."  This wasn't something I had thought about before speaking the words, but as they hung there in the air between us, I decided this was a philosophy I could embrace. As I recall, Taylor wasn't convinced.

On a recent trip to DC, I got to see the flowers.

Sunday evening worship is a lot like it was fourteen years ago when my cohort started leaving. The community is inclusive and caring. Fellowship of Sound is a glory to the ear (and "Siyahamba" is still in the repertoire). The hospitality is delicious. The building is round.

What today's community has that we lacked is a sense of tradition, the knowledge that the things they do are rooted in the things we did. They can go farther in exploration and innovation, key components of campus ministry, because of the structures we built and the support we continue to send through our prayers and our gifts, and occasionally our presence and our service.

Right now, so many areas of my life feel like sitting in the mud with a packet of seeds, and sometimes I'm overwhelmed by all the things for which my trowel is inadequate. My brief sojourn with this community was balm for the soul, a reminder that my contributions can lead to beauty.

Photo from www.aumethodists.org

Thursday, January 9, 2014

real

Social media comes under a lot of criticism for making us more isolated, for decimating the glory of English, for changing the way people interact with one another. This post is not about that. This post is about the power of social media to build and maintain community across time and space.

The first year of my married life was bathed in the rose-colored glow of being newly wed, but the second year I was really lonely. I desperately wanted to be back in Washington, DC, with my college friends, which was silly for two reasons. First, by then most of my college friends were leaving the District. And second because I had plenty of great friends in Michigan. My La Leche League friend, my grad school friend, and my friend I stole from Adam are all wonderful women, but something was missing.

After dwelling with the discontent for a while, I finally realized that what I really missed was interacting with a group of people who not only knew me but also all knew each other. Identifying the problem helped me to accept it, but satisfying the craving was more difficult. Gradually, the sort of interconnected tribe I longed for coalesced around us as Adam started inviting a more-or-less stable group of people to three parties a year: sledding for Anna in January, a cookout for Sofia in May, and his apple butter stir in the fall.  My world started to look rosy again.

Facebook's expansion beyond college campuses, though, gave me back my college tribe. Although we were in Michigan and Texas and Washington and New York and Togo and Indiana and the DR Congo, we could still interact with one another easily. The asynchronicity of posts and comments on social media ameliorate the difficulties posed by work schedules and time differences and eliminate the costs of international phone calls. Most recently, Skype gave us back the ability to see each other as we talked.

I don't mean to say that social media completely replaces face to face interactions. The best analogy I've come up with is to say that social media simulates working in the same building as someone else. You might not have a conversation over lunch with Sam every day, but since you pass him in the hallway and you have brief interactions at the copier or vending machines, you have a general sense that Sam is alive and well, and when you do make time for a tête à tête, you can skim over the preliminary stuff and get to the deeper conversation more quickly.

Facebook has allowed me to have a general sense of what's going on in the lives of a few close high school friends, my close-knit group from college, the extended families of both my parents, and my graduate school colleagues. For a long time, this was the only social media platform I used.

Then, having learned to knit in 2009 because Anna wanted to, I kept knitting because I liked it, and quickly exhausted my reference book. Looking for resources online, I found Ravelry, a social media network geared toward fiber artists, and within Ravelry, I found the Ivory Tower Fiber Freaks, "The Centre for Textiles and Conflict Studies: For academics of all stripes who knit, crochet, spin or weave." I have only met a couple of the members of this tribe in person, but the group as a whole has a significant role in my professional development as well as my adventures with string.

When Adam died, ITFF mourned with me. Not a single one of them had ever met him, so they were not grieving for him, but because they love me, they mourn with me, and that is a critical distinction. So much strength flows into my hands from around the world with the cards they send to make me smile.  They have lifted my spirits with flowers on the 26th of every month from that to this.
August's flowers
I have long since felt immensely blessed that I get to be a part of this amazing virtual-yet-oh-so-real community of scholars and friends, but today they have outdone themselves. Today they wrapped the girls and me in wooly warm hugs. 


Each square an individual contribution:



Each blanket a symphony of color
  
Anna's blanket

and texture:
Kate's blanket
The note said, 
We were all so sorry when Adam died, and if we could, we would have wrapped you all up in virtual hugs to help you as you learned to cope with his loss. We couldn't do that, however, so we decided to make these blankets so you would have something tangible to hold you whenever you need a hug, or some love, or just something to keep you warm!….This was a truly international gift, and is from all of us at ITFF.
Some of the squares had their own notes:

I appreciate every gift I have received from all of my community, every bit of chocolate, every cup of tea, every penny you have sent, every task you have helped me with tells me that you love me.  This gift of blankets from the ITFF community, however, amazes me in the scope of its organization and coordination. 

This, right here. This is the power of social media. 

My cup runneth over.


My wooly hug is also beautiful on the inside. Come join me ;-)







Saturday, December 28, 2013

a glimpse of community in winter

Someday, when I have sold Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse and begun my life over again,  these are the days I will miss the most.











Sunday, December 1, 2013

walk in the light

This sermon was delivered Sunday, December 1, 2013 at the Marcellus and Wakelee United Methodist Churches (Kalamazoo District, West Michigan Conference). The Revised Common Lectionary texts for Year A, First Sunday of Advent were Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, and Romans 13:11-14.

My favorite part of Advent is the candles. Seriously. I think we do not have enough holidays that involve candles. They’re pretty awesome.
In the storms a couple of weeks ago, we were without power at my house from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday evening, and I spent more time with candlelight than I have in a while. I was reminded that the flame of a candle is different from electric light. It’s more glowy, and it doesn’t penetrate as far. A single candle, like the one we lit this morning, or a small group of candles, like the ones we will light in coming weeks, can illuminate the space immediately surrounding them, while at the same time highlighting the darkness at the edges of the room, outside the circle of light. This limited range of candlelight draws people in, pulls them into the illuminated space. I suppose electric light works the same way, but on a grander scale, and the circle of light from one light bulb intersects with the circle of light from the next such that we notice the darkness less and we are not drawn together.
It’s no coincidence that Advent comes as the days are getting ever shorter, or that we celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of year. Have you ever noticed how many religious and cultural traditions celebrate a holiday this time of year? There’s Christmas, Hannukah, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice, African Kwanzaa, Buddhist Bodhi Day.
The common theme of all these holidays is light. Hannukah celebrates the light that lasted eight nights despite having oil only for one. Saturnalia and Solstice mark the moment that the night is the longest, the transition point from waning to waxing. Kwanzaa uses colored candles as a mnemonic device to remember the Seven Principles. And Bodhi Day commemorates the light of wisdom coming to the Buddah.
There is something wonderful about a light shining in the darkness, a candle pushing back the night with its wee little flame. This morning, as we lit our first Advent candle, we began preparing for our own celebration of the Light of World, the birth of the one prophesied in Isaiah, who will teach us to walk in his paths.
Isaiah 2:5 is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture: "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.What a beautiful vision. Imagine that for a moment. Imagine a world where everyone felt safe enough to transform their weapons into tools. That looks like a pretty beautiful place to me.
We often read this verse as an impossible pie-in-the-sky vision for the future. Something that maybe our children’s children’s children will see. However, this verse taken in the context of the passage from Isaiah and Psalm 122 and the passage from Romans does not have to be a vision for the distant future. If we accept the call from Isaiah to walk in the light or from the writer of Romans to put on the armor of light, we can work to realize this vision here, now, in this world where we live.
For centuries, Christian thought has regarded this present world as unimportant, an imperfect and broken world from which Christ will lift us on his second coming. This idea of the world as an imperfect shadow of the perfect reality elsewhere can be traced back to the Neo-Platonists, a group of Greek philosophers contemporary with the early church.* This idea, however, does not originate within the church. Rather, it is an example of secular culture overlaid onto the narrative of creation, fall, crucifixion, resurrection, and return. At some times in our history, Christians have argued that this world does not matter, that we should live our lives as a means to get to the Kingdom of God in the afterlife.
The passages from Isaiah and from the epistle to the Romans, however, each include an invitation for the present. They propose that we “walk in the light of the Lord” and “put on the armor of light.” But what does that mean?
Increasingly in recent years, there has been a movement among some Christians to live in the kingdom of god right here and right now. To endeavor to make this present world a better place by loving our neighbors as ourselves, turning the other cheek, caring for the creation, and working for social justice. A commitment to living the kingdom into fruition has broad implications for the way we live our lives and where we spend our limited time, energy, and resources.
We can join the Evangelical Environmental Network, which embraces creation care projects around the world. We can support missionaries from the United Methodist Church and from other denominations who lead the fight against disease in the world’s most poor and war-ravaged countries with projects like Imagine No Malaria. We can support organizations like Friendly PlanetMissiology who are working to aid the development of the United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Katanga region by riding their bicycles through jungles and war zones to pray with local pastors and offer their helping hands. We can support UMCOR’s relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters like the recent typhoon in the Philippines. [At Wakelee: We can support Ruslan and Olga in the Ukraine or the Alliance for Smiles as we did with our collection this morning.]
Organizations and projects that live the kingdom into fruition exist around the world, but they are also happening right here. My friends Rob and Kirsten Vander Giessen-Rietsma, whom you might know as the founders of the World Fare store in Three Rivers, are doing wonderful work of kingdom building. Their organization *culture is not optional and the related Huss Projectmodel and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ in Three Rivers and beyond” and “aspire to make culture that is loving, just and joyful.” ** Rob and Kirsten and their board of directors took a huge leap of faith when they bought the old Huss School building on Eighth Street with the vision of a community center that includes space for public use as well as studio space for artists. Their faithful work has made so much progress. At their annual FutureFest, people who attended Huss mingle with the young people involved in the community garden and local artists, and the neighborhood around that building is rebuilding its sense of community. In this town of Marcellus, the work of the kingdom is happening, too. As the Marcellus Area Food Pantry offers nourishment to the body, this church and especially the Kids Rock program offer nourishment to the soul.
The world is so big. The creation is so very big, and it is so very broken, and sometimes the magnitude is overwhelming. It can be hard to choose where to commit our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.  With limited resources, we can only do so much.
But I think sometimes our commitment to projects and organizations like the ones I’ve mentioned this morning become a way that we pat ourselves on the back. We say, “I am supporting the mission of the church in Marcellus, or Three Rivers, or the Philippines, or the Congo. I am doing good work for the kingdom of God.” The greater challenge, at least for me, is to walk in the light in our daily lives apart from projects and organizations.
When we hear that line about beating our swords into ploughshares, we think of peace at the level of nations, but I think we also need to think of peace at the level of daily interactions. A sword is a tool for punishment, for killing, for aggression, and for domination.  A ploughshare, on the other hand, is a tool for nourishment and for sustaining life.  For the past few years, I have been working to interact with people using a ploughshare rather than a sword. You may remember the last time I stood in this pulpit talking about living God’s love in the world. It has not been easy to break out of the patterns of aggression and domination and to build life-sustaining habits of love in interpersonal interactions, and I’m not always successful. I still sometimes lose my temper and yell, just ask my children. The effort I’ve directed toward living love, though, has made me a better parent, a better teacher, a better co-worker, and a better spouse and friend.
My commitment to walk in the light of the kingdom of god by living love in my world was sorely tested this year. In June my husband was killed in an automobile accident caused by an unlicensed, teenaged driver who had taken her parents’ car for a joyride. She raced through an intersection without stopping at the stop sign and struck Adam’s car, spinning it into oncoming traffic at highway speed. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
            A lot of people expected me to be angry. A lot of them were angry themselves. They told me to “sue the pants off” the teenager’s parents, to "take them for all they're worth." They told me to demand the harshest sentence possible, to make sure the driver was tried as an adult, and that she served time in jail. The people who were angry wanted me to take up the sword.
Friends, that’s not what I did. I bent the sword into a ploughshare instead.
I prayed for the driver and her family, and I asked those who offered to pray for me to pray for her, too. I have been wounded and frustrated, but I have not been angry. This girl has seen the results of her poor choices in a very real way. She can not unsee the carnage of the accident or unknow that her actions resulted in someone else’s death, and that is a powerful sort of punishment that she will carry her whole life.
I do think that this teenager should face formal consequences for her actions, and the mechanism we have for consequences in American society is the court system. In conversation with the prosecutor’s office, I agreed that some combination of home detention, probation, and restitution through juvenile court would be appropriate, and the judge will make that decision tomorrow afternoon. In reality, though, no amount of punishment in a court of law can restore my husband to me or replace his unique contribution to God’s creation. To destroy the life of the teenager with the harshest punishment available would be to rob God’s creation of her unique contribution, too, and that would compound the tragedy.
This is me living love in a broken world. This is me doing my best to walk in the light. This is me saying with the psalmist, “Peace be within you,” to the people whose lives intersect with mine.

Today, the first Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of the new year on the Christian calendar. We start our year in the growing darkness with time set aside to prepare to welcome the light back into the world at Christmas. There are many ways to answer Isaiah’s call to walk in the light, from the international to the interpersonal. I’ve mentioned several this morning. I invite you this Advent to join me in reflecting on what it means to walk in the light in our daily interactions with one another.

* More on this here.
** From *cino's mission and vision statements.

Correction: "Saturnalia and Solstice mark the moment that the night is the longest, the transition point from waning to waxing." This sentence has been changed. I mistakenly said that Saturnalia and the Solstice mark the moment that day and night are equal. I know better, and I appreciate the reader who pointed out my mistake. Thanks, Mel.

Update: This sermon has been reposted to the Spirituality Column at Spectrum in modified form.