Sunday, April 29, 2012

Just Fresh

      Our fridge is overrun with green things - the good kind! Don and I signed up for the CSA at Boone Hall Farms just down the road from us.  In a CSA (community supported agriculture), a farmer offers a certain number of shares to the public.  We bought our share (planted our crops, as it were) in November.  Now, we receive a share of whatever has just been picked at the farm in an overflowing green tub  - vegetables, fruits and even local free range eggs.  For the past few weeks, we’ve been feasting on strawberries, plantation onions, cabbage, romaine lettuce, and a mess of greens -  turnips and turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens.  Yes, we’re really eating green this spring.
     I usually grow a few veggies and herbs in a tiny corner in the backyard but I love this bounty of local food.  The CSA is a reminder that food really is seasonal - that just because I can buy apples or peaches year round at the grocery store  - they’re not in season locally.  It’s a reminder of times before big boxes when the evening dinner came from the morning picking.   It’s a reminder that there are farmers in our community working hard to keep food fresh and local.  It’s a reminder that weather matters and that we are truly connected to the earth we live on.   Last week, as I picked up my collards, cabbage, onions and strawberries, the farm worker commented.  “Yeah, we thought the squash would be in by now - but that cold snap last week slowed everything down.”   
     And I love the surprise factor.  What will we get this week?  What new recipe can I try with mustard greens?  It's a lot like life.  What will I find in my basket this week and what will I do with it? 
     And the most important question, what will I do with all this romaine lettuce?  You can only eat so much romaine.


       There are those moments in time when your perception of yourself changes. You hit 18. You land your first professional job. You become a mom. You have a store clerk tell you that the reason the fancy shoes don’t fit is because you have short, stubby toes.
     I was shocked.
     Not that I aspire to be a toe model, but I always thought I had lovely, feminine feet. Short and stubby sounds rather masculine. As an exercise instructor, I well know people’s subjective perception of themselves differs from reality. I’ll tell them to straighten their backs, and they nod from their hunched-back turtle poses as if I’m talking to others in the class. 
     I try to keep an open mind on the filters on my perceptions that may be keeping me from making changes for the good. But short and stubby? There are other body parts she could have attacked, and I would have agreed. I noticed a week after the shocking revelation, I was avoiding looking at my toes. I had to laugh at myself.
     Short and stubby or long and elegant, what did it matter? They help me walk, run and hold yoga poses. They have character and toenails that grow straight up on some toes. They bring me joy to wiggle.
     All I need is a little paint for the piggies.


     Last weekend, I had the chance to attend A [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant, held in Decatur, GA. I could write a whole book about it, I think -- how it wildly exceeded my hopes, how it was a remarkable example of the way Christians should be able to approach difficult subjects, how there was (at least in my hearing) no name calling or questioning of anyone's faith, how both the Bible and the Spirit who inspired it were engaged thoughtfully and prayerfully by the speakers, how respect was the guiding principle in our small group discussions even when there was disagreement.               
     But the most powerful moment for me was the worship service that closed the conference on Saturday. When it was time for communion, we formed a line to the front of the sanctuary where ministers held out the elements of bread and juice. Instead of the presiding ministers serving everyone, however, we served one another. After I took the bread and juice from the person in front of me, I then took the elements and offered them to the next person in line with the words we'd been told to say: "Accept these symbols of Christ's body and life, our oneness." At one moment I realized that most of the people there were strangers to me, and I didn't know how to fit them into many of the categories that so often determine how we treat one another -- liberal or conservative, gay or straight, clergy or layperson, rich or poor, educated or uneducated. And I was glad to be able to see them not in those terms, but as my sisters and brothers. 
     It must have been something like what Paul meant when he wrote in Galatians 3:28 that there is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." As I left the conference, my prayer was that we could all focus on that rather than the things that divide us.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Talking Technology

     From the beginning (of their Twitter existence), I loved Unvirtuous Abbey. A friend told me about these “monks” when they had just started tweeting, nearly two years ago, and I was immediately hooked. Their tweets often come from the intersection of pop culture and theology, which is where I spend a lot of my psychic time. Sometimes their brief
prayers, or popular quotes reborn as words of Jesus, make me laugh. Others make me think. Some do both. 
      Here are a few samples: “Jesus said, ‘Don’t stop believin’. Hold on to that feeling.’” “For people who think it’s gullible to believe in God, yet retweet messages so they can win a free iPad, Lord, hear our prayer.” “Lord, you who told Lazarus to ‘Come out!’, we pray for religious leaders who tell people it’s wrong to do that.” “Jesus said, ‘I am the app of life.’” “For people who say, ‘God has a plan for your life!’ as people die of disease, hunger, and war each day, we pray to the Lord.” “Jesus said, ‘I see your true colors shining through . . . and that’s why I love you. So don’t be afraid to let them show.”
     One recent tweet, the one in the screen shot above, hit me especially hard. When my old phone had broken that morning, my sadness was brief. Here was as good an excuse as any to upgrade to the iPhone 4S. I made my pilgrimage to the store, and listened with rapt attention as the salesman explained all its marvelous attributes. Wanting to ensure the safety of something so precious, I also bought the most protective case available, the one that was shock-proof, would keep out even the tiniest grains of sand, and had to be submerged in liquid for a few hours before I put the phone in it to verify that the seals were watertight. Nothing bad was going to happen to my iPhone if I could help it! After I brought it home, I spent hours exploring all its capabilities, trying out the camera, setting up iCloud, and getting to know Siri. I transferred all my apps from the old phone to the new one through my computer, then checked Twitter.
     That’s when I saw Unvirtuous Abbey’s tweet: “Jesus said, ‘The second greatest commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as your iPhone.’” Ouch! This hit way too close to home, as I read it on my shiny new iPhone screen. Do I love people like that? Would I spend hours learning about their unique talents, and spread the good word about them to all my friends? Would I do everything in my power to ensure they were protected against the inevitable dangers of life? Would I patiently take the time to try and understand them, even if their ways of doing things were very unfamiliar to me? 
     If I’m honest, I would have to say the answer is no. I may love some of my neighbors like that – the nice ones, the attractive ones, the ones whose approval I seek, the ones who like me, and the ones who are most like me. But the others – the people outside my circle of friendship and familiarity, the ones at the fringes of society, the ones with whom Jesus spent so much of his time – I have not done such a great job loving them. An occasional contribution to charity eases my conscience, or I tell myself that I meet a lot of those people through my work as a hospital chaplain.
     I know it’s not enough. This was a sobering reminder, a much-needed kick in the pants. Loving my neighbor as myself is one thing (I can be a lot less than nice to
myself at times), but to love my neighbor as my iPhone? That’s just not playing fair, Unvirtuous Abbey! Such an unexpected turn of phrase, such a reversal of expectations, is disorienting. It’s shocking. It’s too much like what Jesus did in his parables. It’s quite a sermon to preach in less than 140 characters, and it has infiltrated my heart in
a way few other sermons have done.

     I’m going to miss the “walking conversations.”  For the past seven years, I’ve received phone calls from one daughter or the other as they walked to class at Furman.  If no one more interesting was around to talk with, the girls would call me (or their dad) on their cell phone and chat for the few minutes it took them to walk from their dorm or apartment to class on the Furman campus. First, Alison, then Savannah, and one year, both!  
     So different from my lengthy scheduled Sunday phone calls from college with my parents, the walking call from my daughters was always a short conversation that offered a  snapshot of how the day was going - some days crazy busy with too many papers to write, others more relaxed with gossip about campus drama.   I could usually predict the time of the phone call based on their class schedule.  Savannah has been known to talk to the answering machine for the duration of the walk if no one answered any of the four numbers that should contact her with one of her parents. 
     Savannah graduates in two weeks and the walking conversations will cease. However, the connectivity will not. This generation will remain instantly connected with everyone. Alison does a google hangout on Saturday mornings with her school friends, from their various locations in DC, NY, MO, and CN.  Savannah and her roommate are already planning how to keep in touch.
     And I must say, I appreciated the connectedness.  With one daughter in St. Louis (but moving to Nashville) and the other considering graduate school everywhere from Los Angeles to New Orleans, Skype is my best friend.  I love seeing the pictures they share on Facebook,  looking at the craft ideas, home decor and humor they’ve tagged for me on PInterest, and even reading the never-ending tweets about British football from my son-in-law on Twitter.  I may not be a digital native, but I'm learning fast to stay connected in this new world.


     While walking on Edisto Beach, we ran into this character, aptly named Eddy Stow. She, or as I would find out later, he is decked out in a fancy lei, long dangling earrings and a ripped six pack, hard as wood.
     Eddy even is on FaceBook. A sign on his side says so. Even worse, he has more friends than I do.
     Now I know it’s not a competition. There are some people such as George Takei, “Sulu” of Star Trek fame, who has 1.5 million followers and hilarious posts. Then there are such extroverts as my minister, Don Flowers, who knows most everyone in town and boasts almost 900 friends. I haven’t quite hit the 200 mark, but it’s OK. I’m more of a private person, and don’t post much. I just spill my guts in a blog.
     Plus, FaceBook seems a bit narcissitic, as a writer with The Atlantic Magazine points out in an article titled,  Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?
     How many virtual friends do we need? I have a hard enough time keeping up with my in-person friends. 
     But, still, Eddy has 220 friends. Really? What can he have to say?
     Now I’m recruiting. Won’t you be my friend?


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring has sprung

Favorite moments from a weekend jaunt to Edisto Beach:
An early morning walk with an 8 year old, watching a starfish slip back into the sea.
A game of tag on the beach at sunset, finding the dipper on the way home
Watching a bluebird watch me
Waking a late-sleeping teen with a blue crab claw
Sitting on a dock in a tidal creek, syncing with the ebb and flow,
Napping and then napping more


     The finish line was not where it was supposed to be. I had been training for a race for months, working my way up from just about no running to running a 5K. That's five kilometers, 3.1 miles. It may not sound like much, but for a non-runner, trust me, it is. After all my hard work building up endurance, I could not figure out why I was feeling so tired already at the halfway point. I had my iPhone in my pocket, so on the return trip to the start/finish point, I turned on its GPS-enabled running application to keep track of my distance, time, and pace. When I felt my legs telling me I could not run anymore, I checked my phone. That's how I learned that this "5K" course was much longer than 3.1 miles. In fact, when I crossed that finish line, which should have been about 1.55 miles from the halfway point, I looked at my phone again and saw that it was actually 2.3 miles! That means that the race was about 4.6 miles in total, and I ran all but the last mile of it! Now I was plenty annoyed when I realized that (although it may have just been the fact that I was so grouchy from being sore and tired and hungry), but now I am almost thankful. I ran over three and a half miles, which is farther than I think I've ever run in my life. And I would not have been pushed to my limits and beyond if things had gone according to plan. I would not have learned what I was capable of if the finish line had been where it was supposed to be.


“Be tough the way a blade of grass is: rooted, willing to lean, 
and at peace with what is around it.” 
      On my run today, I noticed the grass in all of the yards I passed. The grass has greened up in most places, but it’s still brown and full of weeds in others.  Some yards, clearly over-seeded for the winter, have a lawn of fresh spring green grass.  The fertilized lawns look a deeper, richer green.  So many shades of green.
     Grass is tough stuff.  It gets stepped on day after day and springs right back up.  It dries up during a drought but freshens right up after a gentle rain.   I pull tough rooted runners of grass from my flower beds and even out of cracks in the driveway.   Grass is persistent, continuing to grow even though it's chopped down weekly with the power mower.   I find myself needing those qualities these days - a little more toughness, persistence, resilience.  So, if you're looking for me, I'll be in the back yard, sipping a nice cool drink and meditating on the grass.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

     High and holy moments happen in my life  - but very rarely during Holy Week and Easter. I can count on the holiest week in the Christian calendar being one of only partly controlled chaos.  After 28 years of being married to a minister, I know there will be extra sermons to prepare, special services to attend, and always a pastoral care crisis or two in the mix.  We usually have extra family and friends visiting - which just adds to the general sense of pandemonium.
     So, the traditions that blend ritual with family become holy for me.  We invite our family/friends to Easter dinner in the evening - not at lunch.  I gave up that craziness years ago.   We dye eggs at the last minute on Saturday so we can  “fight” Easter eggs on Sunday.  (There’s not enough room in this post to explain -you just have to experience it.)  And then there’s the annual Easter photo with whatever children and family are home.  This picture is from last year at Easter.  

     Throughout the crisis and the chaos and always on Easter,  the Holy is present -  in the laughter. 


Easter Sunrise 2011 Edisto Beach

       The kids humor me on Easter. It's our family tradition to rise early in the dark and go to the beach to watch the sunrise. No one is allowed to gripe or complain, though it's fine to stagger around groggy. We all get to the beach and spread out, and come together, and spread out, in waves, processing the scene in our own ways. I love watching the light overtake the dark in a quiet spot, the wind and waves our music, the sermon speaking in our hearts. I used to enjoy a fancy, Easter service, but I find at this stage of my life, in what is a period of healing, I need an intimate sanctuary on this day.
      We arrive at the tomb of loss expecting grief, and behold, comes joy, unbidden. It never ceases to amaze me.



     During this Holy Week, I have been doing a lot of reading and a lot of chaplaining, and the two have definitely affected one another. Earlier in the week, I read Diana Butler Bass's Good Friday reflection and it stayed with me. Bass quotes the ancient saint Julian of
Norwich: “Here saw I a great ONEING betwixt Christ and us: for when He was in pain, we were in pain.” The reverse is also true, Bass asserts. "Jesus on the Cross, naked and mocked, is with us all on every broken-heartened, betrayal-laden, blood-soaked day of human history.  That is God’s Passion; that is Jesus’ Cross.  And, in the tortured Christ, we find the hope to endure, a love for others and creation, the power to enact God’s dream of love and justice for the whole world.  We are with God.  God is with us."
     This with-ness, this ONEING between us and Christ was at the forefront of my thoughts during my nights this week in the hospital where I am chaplain. That was particularly true when I was with the family of a young patient who died. "Could you pray with the mother and offer her some words of encouragement?" another family member asked me. I spoke
to her out of the Christian heritage we shared, and the insight that Diana Butler Bass's words had renewed in me. Speaking her child's name, I told her, "_____ was not alone in this. Jesus has been through death before, and so he can take our hand and lead us through it when that time comes. _____ was not alone; Jesus was right there. And he
will be with you, too, in the hours and the days ahead. He was a man of sorrows --"
     "Acquainted with grief," she finished the quote from Isaiah 53, one of the Old Testament passages that New Testament writers later used to describe Jesus. I hurt for this mother, and wished that I could take her grief away, wished I could undo the death of her child. The best I could do was be with her, and testify to God's being with her as well, remembering that in the suffering of Good Friday, God became one with those who suffer. And that is no small thing.