Friday, August 07, 2020

Perspectives: Beauty



This is an image from Colorado.  I'm posting it solely because it was such a beautiful place to be.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Hopeful Language


We just helped our son move from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Henderson, Nevada.  The three of us each drove a vehicle - my son drove his car, I drove our minivan, and my husband drove the moving truck.  To get there, the three of us drove 1800 miles, eating in our car and in hotel rooms (trying to be safe).  The scenery out the window was usually fantastic (on the way back, there were just a few too many cornfields). 

Much of the drive through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada was through areas that were dry.  Dry dry dry.  And hot.  HOT HOT HOT.  I don't care what they say about a dry heat, it was 110 degrees when we unloaded the moving truck, and all the dry heat meant was that you got dehydrated faster.

Anyway, Dry and hot. But along the way, there were small bridges that passed over what were called "Washes."  Such as Rattlesnake Wash.  These were what I would call dry creek beds.  There must be times during the year when water washes through them.  And there are parts of Henderson named Green Valley and Spring Valley.  Lush, even green, names.  There were "rivers" where there was barely any water.  Tiny things we would not call a river - we would call them a creek.

What struck me about all of this was that the language used to refer to them was hopeful.  Even though a wash had no sign of water, the language suggests that it would, eventually.  Even though Green Valley didn't look very Green, the name suggest that sometimes it is.  Calling a small creek a "river' suggest that sometimes it is a river, or it suggests that even though we know this flowing water is tiny, we are so grateful for it that we will call it a river.  It is that abundant to us.

How does our language reflect our hopefulness? 

For example, I am usually annoyed by someone calling the period of time we are in, our "new normal."  To me, that does not convey any hope at all.  To me, it says, "This is normal.  This is what we expect in the future."  I would rather call it the "current reality."  This is what it is now, but nothing in that phrase says that where we are now is where we expect to be in the future.  To me, "Current reality" connotes that there will be a future reality, and it may be different. 

What hopeful language can you use today?

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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Walking

At John Lewis' funeral, Bill Clinton talked about John Lewis preparing to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday (as it would become known)Read what President Clinton said about Lewis' preparation:
Bloody Sunday, he figured he might get arrested. And this is really important for all the rhapsodic things we believe about John Lewis, he had a really good mind and he was always trying to figure out how I can make the most out of every single moment. So he’s getting ready to march from Selma to Montgomery, he wants to get across the bridge. What do we remember? He cut quite a strange figure: He had a trench coat and a backpack. Now, young people probably think that’s no big deal but there weren’t that many backpacks back then. And you never saw anybody in a trench coat looking halfway dressed up with a backpack. But John put an apple, an orange, a toothbrush, toothpaste to take care of his body ‘cause he figured he would get arrested. And two books, one by Richard Hofstadter on America’s political tradition to feed his mind, and one, the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic Trappist monk who was the son of itinerant artists making an astonishing personal transformation. What’s a young guy who’s about to get his brains beat out and planning on going to prison doing taking that? I think he figured that if Thomas Merton could find his way and keep his faith and believe in the future, he, John Lewis could too.

So we honor our friend for his faith and for living his faith, which the Scripture said is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. John Lewis was a walking rebuke to people who thought, ‘well, we ain’t there yet, we’ve been working a long time, isn’t it time to bag it?’ He kept moving. He hoped for and imagined and lived and worked and moved for his beloved community. He took a savage beating on more than one day. And he lost that backpack on Bloody Sunday. Nobody knows what happened to it. Maybe someone someday will be stricken with conscience and give some of it back. But what it represented never disappeared from John Lewis’ spirit.
Many days later, that passage of the speech still sticks with me. We are in ministry in the world.  What can learn that will strengthen our walk with Jesus from Representative Lewis' preparation for the March from Selma to Alabama?
  1. Preparation.  John Lewis thought he might be arrested; in fact, he was beaten severely.  He suffered a skull fracture and bore scars from the beating for the rest of his life.   He didn't know that would happen, but he assumed the march would not be without resistance, so he prepared.  He prepared to care for his body and his spirit.  We need to take both of those steps as we walk out to serve Christ.
  2. Courage. He didn't know exactly WHAT would happen, but he anticipated that it would not be good.  And he went anyway.  
  3. Faith.  You can see it in his choice of reading material.  "If Thomas Merton could find his way and keep his faith and believe in the future, he John Lewis could too."
  4. Perseverance.  He kept moving, in the face of strong resistance.  He kept moving as he walked across the bridge. He kept moving after the march.  He did not give up on what he knew was right.
This is all inspiring to me.  We need to prepare for ministry. We need to have the courage to start the journey, even when we see resistance, and we need to keep walking in ministry, all the time, knowing that God is with us.

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Friday, July 31, 2020

Perspectives: One view of Colorado



One of the images I took from the car as we traveled.  I think this is Colorado.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Correctness

I'm listening to a Great Courses series of lectures called "The Secret Life of Words: English Words and their Origins." The lecturing professor is Anne Curzan. She is the dean of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan. The lecture series is fascinating. I've been springing tidbits on Steve each evening - there are many ah ha moments regarding language. 

 Today as I was driving into work, the lecture topic was "Firefighters and Freshpersons." In this lecture, Curzan defines politically correct language as "language that respects all groups of speakers and respects what groups would like to be called. It also works from the premise that language matters." 

 Think about that for a moment. In my workplace, we spend a lot of time making sure that we spell people's names correctly - correctly being defined as how that person spells his or her own name. If Jayne Smythe says that is how her name is spelled, then to spell it Jane Smith would be wrong. I like this definition of politically correct language because it pulls its "correctness" from the subject of the language, and that makes sense to me. 

 Language does matter. How we speak is what people hear. What they hear has an impact on them, and on their beliefs about us, and about their beliefs concerning what we believe. It shapes what is acceptable behavior. And it shows our respect (or lack of respect) for someone else. The old adage that "words will never hurt us" is wrong. You know it, and I know it - both of us, I'm sure, have been hurt by words. Word choice is important. And we can't refuse the accept the responsibility for the impact our words have on someone else. Or even on society. 

 For example, it's been a very long time since I was a girl. Or a young lady. And there are still people who use those words when speaking to me or about me. To me, they denote a lack of respect for who I am. No one would come into our office and refer to the men (man) here as a boy or a young man. Because he isn't. And when someone uses them to refer to me, my image of that person is shaped by the disrespect I perceive. To say that I am being "overly sensitive" is to deny the responsibility for the impact of the words. 

 The truth is, I want people to be respectful of others, and I want to be respectful of others. Respect is a sign that you see the person in front of you as another human - not as an object. And if we can't sum up the change of heart to be respectful in truth, then we can at the very least, demonstrate correctness by our word choice. It's trite, but fake it until you make it. Our language can change the world, even if our heart has not been changed. And then, maybe then, our hearts will grow, too.

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Monday, July 27, 2020

What do we assume?


"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."  - The words of the original Pledge of Allegiance.  Actually, it is the second pledge, but this is the one that was changed a few times to become our modern pledge.

In God we Trust was approved by the President and by the Joint Resolution of Congress as the national motto of the United States in 1956.  It was first added to money in 1957.

The flag we think of as the Confederate flag was never the national flag of the Confederacy.  "Despite never having historically represented the Confederate States of America as a country, nor having been officially recognized as one of its national flags, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and its variants are now flag types commonly referred to as the Confederate Flag."  (Wikipedia)

Our national anthem is based on a poem written by Francis Scott Key, entitled Defence of Fort McHenry.  There are four stanzas - we commonly only use one of them.  It was adopted as the National Anthem in 1931.

The Bill of Rights were not part of the original Constitution.  They are the first 10 Amendments to the document.  Congress actually approved 12 amendments, but only 10 were ratified.  "Although Madison's proposed amendments included a provision to extend the protection of some of the Bill of Rights to the states, the amendments that were finally submitted for ratification applied only to the federal government. The door for their application upon state governments was opened in the 1860s, following ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment." (Wikipedia)

I list all of these snippets of information because it strikes me that sometimes we get defensive of something we value, assuming that it has always existed.  Some of us defend the items listed above as if they were adopted by the Founding Fathers in breakout rooms of Independence Hall. We defend something as if it is historical, when we don't know the history at all.  I value some of the above (not the "Confederate flag") but I am aware that they are products of change, not of set in stone 200 year old historical standards of our country.  

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Friday, July 03, 2020

Perspectives: Death amid Life

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1nFJZ93VgBMR1c7ar2BwD-cCAEb6qdnqx
We saw this tree as we were walking the other day. It was a harsh contrast with the green around it. 

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Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Context



As I've mentioned before, I am reading Short Stories by Jesus, written by Amy-Jill Levine.  I did read the entire Introduction, although I was impatientto get to the chapters.  I'm glad I did.  Here are three great quotes about context:
  • "...a text without a context is just a pretext for making it say anything one wants."
  • "In order better to hear the parables in their original contexts and so to determine what is normal and what is absurd, what is conventional and what is unexpected, we need to do the history."
  • "If we get the context wrong, we'll get Jesus wrong as well.  The parables are open-ended in that interpretation will take pace in every act of reading, but they are also historicallly specific.  When the historical context goes missing or we get it wrong, the parables become open to problematic and sometimes abusive readings."
Reading scripture carries responsibility with it, especially if we are teaching or preaching.  We have to take that seriously and do our homework.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving

 
A pastor in our Annual Conference posted on Facebook that she received an email the other day that said, "The *** Office is currently closed.  Happy Thanksgiving."  (I removed the name of the office intentionally to not point out someone else's error publicly).  It was a mistake, but it's a great one for June.

And then I started thinking.  And these verses from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 came to mind:   "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

What would it look like in our world if every day were a day of thanksgiving? Can you find something for which to be thankful today? Take a moment and think about it.  Send up a prayer of thanksgiving.  Hard to do? Then it might be even more important that you work harder at it today.  And then, find someone to thank for something.  Thank God and thank someone else.  

What would life be like if we did this every day?

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Perspectives: Quilted



Sometimes what shelters us is quilted together, and that is OK.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Initially Oblivious Owner

I'm working my way through the book Short Stories by Jesus, written by Amy-Jill Levine. In it, she takes parables of Jesus, and looks at them in ways we might not have considered before. She reviews each parable as it would have been heard by 1st century Jews, and then in a more modern context. Amy-Jill Levine is a professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and she is Jewish. I think her viewpoint is especially valuable. 

 Think about the parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:4-7. "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?" Levine reminds us that for a person to have 100 sheep presupposes a person of some means. 100 is a lot of sheep. If you had 100 sheep, would you easily notice when one is missing? Levine says, "Perhaps it is those who have who are more likely to fail to notice what is missing." She goes on to say, "... he reminds listeners that perhaps they have lost something, or someone, as well, but have not noticed it. Before the search can begin, we need to notice what, or who, is not there." Levine proposes that perhaps, instead of calling the parable a story of a Lost Sheep, we should call it the parable of "The Initially Oblivious Owner." 

 To hear that, we have to let go of the idea that the one guarding the sheep is Jesus. We have to consider that we are the ones who are tasked with taking care of the sheep. And aren't we? Have we noticed who is missing? Are we willing to pay enough attention? And do we confess that the one who is missing is worth the time and effort to find? 

 To once again quote Levine, "When was the last time we took stock, or counted up who was present rather than simply counted on their presence? Will we take responsibility for the losing, and what effort will we make to find it - or him or her- again?"

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Inadequate Words


From The Luminous Web by Barbara Taylor Brown
No one has ever seen a quark, for instance. These particles within particles were invested by Murray Gell-Mann in 1961 because he needed them to make one of his theories work. The word itself alludes to a line from James Joyce ("Three quarks for Muster Mark") in Finnegan's Wake. According to Gell-Mann, quarks exhibit such things as "flavor" and "color," There are "up" and d"down" quarks. There were once "truth and "beauty" quarks as well, but according to my friends Louis Jensen, "this was a little much for the physics community, so they changed 'beauty' and 'truth to 'down' and 'up'". But a quark remains a theoretical construct, leading Niels Bohr to say that "we must be clear, when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry."
Behr's point is that our language is not adequate to describe things we cannot see, much less understand.

We cannot see God. We certainly cannot understand God, and yet do you think that we presume to be able to use our language to describe God? To not only describe God, but to arrogantly state that our descriptions are complete and error-free, To say, "This is how God is!" 

Even when we state that our faith is based on what we read in the Bible, can the language of the Bible accurately and completely describe God? And that our understanding of what we read would also be error free and complete? 

 I think we would be wrong if we did.

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Friday, June 19, 2020

Perspectives: Peaceful Experience


I posted this today because riding the lift at Snowshoe is a very peaceful experience.  Enjoy some peace today, friends, while you remember that peace does not equate to quiet.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Leadership

I just started reading a book called Short Stories by Jesus, written by Amy-Jill Levine.  I'm making myself read the (long) introduction, because it seems to be full of great information.  I almost skipped it today, and then started reading. 

She was telling the reader about parables in the Hebrew Scriptures, including one from the book of Judges.  It is told by Jotham, younger brother of Abimelech.  The older brother had just slaughtered all of his brothers, except the youngest one, Jotham, in order to rule over Shechem.  Jotham hides, and then goes to Mt. Gerizim (where, eventually, the Samaritan Temple will be built) and tells a story (from Judges 9:8-15):

The trees once went out
    to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
    ‘Reign over us.’
The olive tree answered them,
    ‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil
        by which gods and mortals are honored,
        and go to sway over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the fig tree,
    ‘You come and reign over us.’
But the fig tree answered them,
    ‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness
        and my delicious fruit,
        and go to sway over the trees?’
Then the trees said to the vine,
    ‘You come and reign over us.’
But the vine said to them,
    ‘Shall I stop producing my wine
        that cheers gods and mortals,
        and go to sway over the trees?’
So all the trees said to the bramble,
    ‘You come and reign over us.’
And the bramble said to the trees,
    ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
        then come and take refuge in my shade;
    but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
        and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’

All of the "trees" who had something to contribute refused the role of leader.  The one who would take it on, who had nothing to offer, promised retribution on those who opposed him.

It reminds me of today.  Where are our leaders? Who among us, who has gifts and talents to offer, will step up, and lead effectively, with honor, sweetness, and cheer? And who have we to blame but ourselves when one who has no gifts of leadership steps into the role with anger and hatred?

It is up to us to choose wisely, and to use our own gifts willingly.

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