Signs of the Eternal

I am drawn to the ancient ruins of churches, monasteries, holy places. I give thanks for those who find value in them and maintain them. A number of years ago, I found the deep joy of sitting in the gardens that now fill the ruins of the Augustinian abbey on the island of Iona. Then this past spring Dave and I spent hours in the ruins of the monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

I feel the presence and the life of those who lived in these sacred places. I experience God in spaces that once were, but are no longer the homes and centers of vital ministry. For some, these might seem to be places of the dead; no longer alive, no longer relevant. For me they are signs of our connection and continuity with the saints who have gone before us. And more, they are signs of the living, moving God whose work spans generations, centuries, and eons.

Time in ancient spaces reminds me that the work we do matters, is essential, but is not the last word of God. Like many before us, we will not see the completion of God’s reign on earth; yet we are always working and living into the kingdom/empire/reign of God.

Thanks be to God eternal!

What do our calendars say?

Having lost my appointment calendar this week, I knew I needed to pick up a new one.  I was on my way to the gym in the late afternoon and just ran in an office supply store.  I imagined a 5 minute stop to grab a new calendar.  I was there for over an hour and I am still wondering what exactly happened.

I first picked up a tiny little calender just like the one I’d lost; one of those pocket sized calendars that the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (DOC) sends us every year.  (Of course the ones at the office supply do not have all the church-specific information that ours have.)  Then I reached to compare it to one just a little larger, and soon I was looking at all the calendars.  There were the Daily ones with at least a whole page for each day divided into time slots.  They included room for notes and priorities for the day.    Then there were the Weekly calendars,  often with a week laid out across two facing pages.  Perhaps there would be a column down the right side with space for  notes related to the week.  Then there were the Monthly calendars, with a month spread out across the two facing pages.

The larger the calendar, the more additional pages it contained.  Some are blank or lined for notes.  There are Time Zone maps,  lists of 800 numbers for hotel chains, rental car companies, airlines.  There were measurement and equivalency charts in some.  Address and Phone Number pages in many.  Mileage and Travel Expense record charts.  Some were more geared toward Family schedules, with school and children’s activities helps in the back.  Others were oriented toward business people with interest rate charts.    The appearance and feel of the pages differed from calendar to calendar:  Some were bold and stark.  Others had a more subdued appearance.  Some were plain and others had flowers or some background design.

There were some underlying assumptions and perspectives in the design of each calendar.  One that always leaps out at me is the placement of Sunday.  I, personally, want Sunday to be placed as the first day of the week; but more calendars than not had Monday as the first day of the week.  In this case, very often, Sunday was a smaller block at the end of the week; sometimes even sharing a space with Saturday. Sunday was hardly there.

All of this dither about the design of these calendars seems silly; except that I spent enough time with them, to realize that I had different emotional and even physical reactions to different calendars.  A few observations:

The ‘daily’ calendars with lines for each time slot raised my stress level.  I felt anxious just looking at all those hours to be filled in with activities and expectations.

I also felt overwhelmed with spaces that were overly defined.  For instance there was a calender with the daily space divided into hourly sections and a shaded section that ran through the middle of each day saying “Remember to …”  I just knew I could not face that every day!  Made me nervous just to look at it!

I also responded to the font used and the boldness of the print.  Some felt sharp and harsh, whereas others met me more gently.

So I wonder … why, when there is so much in the world needing our attention, am I spending so much time thinking about a calendar?   God knows there are more important things to be done.   I suppose it could be because life feels so out of control and overwhelming:  we can’t fix Haiti,  people are out of jobs and are falling deeper into poverty every day,  and people who are completely out of touch with reality are trying to block health care reform.  That’s enough to make me crazy!

So my thought for the moment is this:

I do need a calendar to try to give myself some sense of order so that I can do what I can do in this world.

I don’t want my calendar to stress me out;  I’m capable of plenty of stress all on my own!

I don’t want to look at a day as a series of hours that must be filled, with every hour claimed by someone or something beyond me.

I still need Sunday to be the first day of the week.

I need to look at a day in the context of a week, and a week in the context of a month.  It gives me a sense of the whole.

I don’t want my calendar to scream at me; I just want it to be there.

I don’t need it to be fancy, but a little style and beauty isn’t a bad thing.

I want it to include space that is open and flexible for notes — notes about anything I want, not topics prescribed by my calendar.

So … I purchased one that is bigger than the one I lost.  This way I have enough space for each day, even though I chose a Monthly calendar (that ‘day in the context of week, and week in context of month’ thing that I’m feeling).  There are plenty of open note pages for each month and another group of open note pages at the back.  The font is gentle and the print is in a dark grey rather than a bold black.  Oh and I really like this:  at the top of each page the month and year are written, such as:   February/ Two Thousand Ten.  That’s nice.

God must chuckle at us and our calendars!

Where’s the outrage?

Yesterday, I took that bike ride with a woman in the congregation. It was beautiful day and we road 16 miles. It felt good. Today I talked with a colleague about the images of the shooting still in my head. The sense of anger and frustration at not being able to stop the violence. The very particular pain at not knowing what happened to this specific young man. We talked about the fact that so many in our society just shrug and seem to accept that young black men kill each other. It is as if it is somehow okay. As if this young man — any young man or woman — is dispensable. Where is the outrage? I know there is outrage in the Black community and in the Black Church. Where is the outrage in the white community, and every other community?

If a white kid had been shot in that spot two days ago, wouldn’t the neighborhood be shocked, outraged, looking for answers? I realize it is not about me or how I feel; it’s about the young man in the white t-shirt laying in the street. But I believe my inability to get past seeing him is precisely because I saw him. I don’t want it to be okay. I don’t want it to be normal. I don’t want it to be just “what they do” (as someone said to me). That is not acceptable. That acceptance is what grows out of racism.

I think of youth who have been active in the church — Some are still here or perhaps in another place, but doing well — in school, or working, or raising their own families. There are others who are or have been in jail and in prison. Two currently. Both young black men with families who love them. I remember specifically when one of these boys was young. It was during a “Children’s Moment” in worship when we asked what they children wanted to do when they grew up. This young boy said that he wouldn’t grow up. He already knew older friends and family members who had been shot. He accepted what others accepted for his life. I ached and raged inside then. We tried for years to instill an expectation of life and purpose and future. Today, I am painfully aware of our failure.

We have work — ministry — to do.

This morning when we were on the street for “Happy Friday”, we were meeting people and serving coffee and cocoa as usual. It was not “as usual” however; I kept looking at the spot when the young man fell and lay. It wasn’t the same. It could not be the same.

This afternoon I planted flowers. The Director of our Isaiah 58 Hunger Program came outside and with some amount joy described how much those we serve in the food pantry and clothing room are enjoying resting on the new benches in the garden before they walk or catch a bus with the bags they are carrying. Today was fresh produce day; I found a banana peel by one of the benches. I had to smile; it was a good thing. A little thing, but I’ll take it. A good thing.

Helpful Redirect!

I appreciate Bob Cornwall’s comments on the book UnChristian and his redirect to the book From MySpace to Sacred Space by Amy and Christian Piatt.  I’ll look forward to checking it out.

The Spirit’s movement was apparent this evening!  My spouse and I just attended the farewell celebration for a wonderful friend, Paul, who is moving from his position as Pastoral Musician at Trinity Presbyterian Church here to be come the Pastoral Musician at Park Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in New York City.  I feel privileged to witness the transformation of one congregation and to anticipate the transformation of another  through one who truly understands music as prayer uniting God’s people across our many languages, cultures, and experiences.  The language of music — It surely is a Pentecost thing!!

Strangers and “Ashes to Go”

Lent has begun with challenge and invitation.  On Tuesday night following a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper with neighboring congregations, I headed to the grocery store to pick up some leeks with an eye toward beginning Lent with leek soup.  It was pouring down rain.  As I walked in the store, there was an older woman sitting in one of the motorized chair shopping carts.  A couple of bags of groceries were in the basket, and she was looking out the window at the rain.  As I reached for a shopping cart, I commented on the buckets of rain coming down.  She indicated that she had been sitting there for a couple of hours and hoped her children would back and get her.  She said she had been released from the hospital the day before, having had problems with her feet because of her diabetes.    She looked so alone.

I told her that I was going to get just a couple of items and that, if she had not heard from her children, I would take her home.  She seemed grateful.  When I had gathered my leeks and tomatoes, and reached the checkout, she was still sitting there.  I brought my car up close to the door and helped her get in.  She only lived a couple of long blocks away, so the drive was brief.  I learned on the way that she has a daughter  “on crack” and that the state had taken away her daughter’s children.  She grieved the loss of her grandchildren, but is in no physical condition to care for them.  A son was just simply not around.  When I took her groceries up to her door and stepped in, I could see that she lived in a very neat apartment.  We went through the difficulty of her trying to pay me — a me refusing.  Then she became tearful. We talked a bit about her declining health, her absent children, and her sadness.  She said she’s tired of living, and I talked with her about God calling her to life.   I found out that she has a church and a pastor.  I asked her if she would like us to pray and so we did.  Then I left, she opened the door again and asked if I would please keep praying for her.  I assured her that I would.  I drove away ready for Lent to begin; ready to be in touch with my own and others’ mortality.  I also drove away grateful that again and again in our world the barrier of race is breaking down as it did between us that night.  I went home and made leek soup.

This morning I dressed to be outdoors for “Ashes to Go.”  This was the second year that our ecumenical group of congregations have offered “Ashes to Go” on a  busy corner of Grand  in the city.  A local coffee shop sets up a tables and small tent for us and provides coffee and hot chocolate.  The pastors (in vestments) offer ashes on the street corners.  We have brief liturgy for those who would like to participate in that, or we can simply talk a bit about Ash Wednesday, have prayer together, and impose the ashes.  Last year the weather was wonderful and about a hundred people came for ashes.  This year it was bitter cold and sleeting; still a good steady stream of folks who came.  I had a wonderful conversation with a woman who had parked her car and come over “because” she said “I need to find a church again”.  We talked for a bit and she left, expressing her need for God and Christ’s community in her life.  I hope she will try one of our congregations — or any congregation for that matter.

I confess that it was slow, there were four of us, and I was so cold that I did not last the two hours.

I preferred the warmth of tonight’s Ash Wednesday Service!  What a wimp I am!

May God be in it all!