"Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises.... Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting."

Frederick Buechner

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Acts of Hospitality

A reflection on Philippians 2:1-13 and Matthew 21:23-32 for Proper 21A

A young woman approached the check out line at a grocery store. With a thick accent she asked if the person standing near by was in line. The person could not understand her and got a little exasperated. The woman was embarrassed by her inability to communicate. She left the store in tears and hurried back to her home. To soothe her sorrow she decided to make a cup of tea. Pulling a mug from the cabinet, she thought of her grandmother. Her grandmother was known for her hospitality, always offering someone a cup of tea. Why not invite my neighbors in for a cup of tea, the woman thought. And before she could lose her courage she went to her neighbor’s homes and invited them over. Six people were available to join her for tea. Before long her house was known as a place of hospitality, where a cup of tea was always offered, along with a listening ear, and lively conversation. 

Hospitality is an expression of gratitude. Hospitality is the key point in many Bible stories. Jesus’ entire ministry was about hospitality. Hospitality is the foundation of our mission. As a Community-Centered church our mission is to nurture and nourish people in all walks of life as we share our building and grounds. Among the many expressions of hospitality offered here are: AA, feeding the homeless and the hungry through our food pantry and Blessings in a Backpack, Chapel Day Preschool, providing organizations like the League of Women Voters and Creating Hope International with office space for their ministries. We provide space for music, voice, dance lessons and recitals, and martial arts and a stretching class.

In 2010 Christ Church was the recipient of large bequest - a portion of someone’s estate - given to the church without any restrictions. Undesignated gifts are allocated by the Vestry according to our policy: 25% is distributed between the operating budget, a property reserve fund, and the diocese. The remaining 75% is placed in a restricted fund called the Undesignated Gifts Fund. The policy invites parishioners to make proposals for the use of the money in the undesignated gifts fund. To date we have had a number of proposals approved. The criteria for granting a proposal states that the request must fit the mission of the church and be either a new project or an outreach project. Thus far we have used this fund to support “Opportunity Resource” an organization that provides loans for homes or small business ventures to people in SE Michigan who do not quality for a standard loan. We have used the fund to help build the school in Liberia. We have used the fund to provide each of you with the opportunity to Grace It Forward, by helping anyone you wish. And we are using the fund to help pay for the exterior plaza. 

I wrote to the executor of the estate for the family who gave us the bequest, to let him know how we are spending the money.  He responded by saying how pleased the family would have been  with how we are using the money - and -  if they had known that we would spend the money with such grace and hospitality and so expansively, they would have given us more money. 

We are Nurturing our Attitude of Gratitude with Acts of Hospitality that are transforming the world around us, near and far. 

No doubt the SCHOOL project in Liberia was a risky act of hospitality. We anticipated the construction of the school would take years, but now, only one year later, it is more than 50% built. In it’s partially completed state the school is already being used for Sunday School classes and community events. It is already transforming lives. Certainly it has had an impact on us, for we have tangible evidence of what can happen when we “Grace It Forward” and take a risk with God’s generosity. 

The exterior plaza may be our boldest initiative yet. At Christ Church we struggle with the idea of spending money on our selves. We tend to think that spending money on “outreach” has the greatest value. There’s truth in that thinking. We certainly do no want to become so focused on ourselves that we lose sight of the world around us. So how is the exterior plaza an act of hospitality and not just “self” focused? 

At the end of every funeral or wedding people pour out the front door and gather to greet the family or the couple. Have you tried to do this? Have you noticed the effort it takes to not lose your footing, to not trip on the uneven ground between sidewalk and grass? Offering hospitality during times of celebration and grief is a primary way we nurture an attitude of gratitude and grace it forward. 

The church grounds offer several beautiful spaces for people to come for respite. People walk the labyrinth, sit in the benches and read or reflect, spend time in the memorial garden, or wander around our community vegetable garden, admiring our crop. People come with dogs, letting their animals run the back part of the land. Our property is community-centered and offers respite and hospitality to many. The exterior plaza will expand and extend the acts of hospitality that come from our Community-Centered church. It will afford people additional places to sit, read, reflect, gather, and even provide a drink of water for humans or pets with an outdoor water fountain. The opportunities for gathering on the exterior plaza are endless - from music concerts to parties, to outdoor worship. The exterior plaza will be an act of hospitality to friend and stranger alike.

We all were strangers once, before each of us took a risk and found our way to Christ Church. Do you remember the first day you came to here? For some of you, that was not too long ago. For others, it was many years ago. And for a few, there has never been a time when you were not part of this church, born and raised in it. Regardless, God has welcomed each one of us into this place and through growing in relationship with one another we have been transformed from strangers into friends. 

The spirit of hospitality we form in this place, through our care for one another, spreads beyond these walls. The sprit of hospitality is shared with every person who walks through our doors and in this building. The spirit of hospitality reaches out into the wider Dearborn community as we fill backpacks with food. The spirit of hospitality reaches across the globe as we partner with our sister church in Liberia to build a school. The spirit of hospitality given to us by the family who left us the bequest reaches beyond their wildest dreams and ours, too. This spirit of hospitality is risky and transformational - it can be none other than the Spirit of God, working in and through us. May we continue to enable the same mind that is in Christ be in us, as Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, and may we be willing to go out into the vineyard and do God’s work in the world, offering acts of hospitality to friend and stranger alike. 

Nurtured by An Attitude of Gratitude as we Grace it Forward may we be the Community-Centered Church known for acts of hospitality whether a meal shared or a place to rest or a helping hand. 


Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Five: Applesauce and other fine fall treats!

Deb, over at RevGals offers this Friday Five, after canning applesauce and apple butter:
1. What’s your best homemade treat? Is it worth all the effort? (It doesn’t have to be something canned. ) I make a lot of food from scratch. I tend to be seasonal in what I make - potato salad, cole slaw, a mixed veggie sautee of zucchini, tomato, kale, onion and garlic, refrigerator pickles, and salsa have been favorites this summer. I have also made several amazing zucchini bundt cakes and layer cakes with dark chocolate chunks. I have a good recipe for a dark chocolate layer cake with zucchini that is a family favorite. Heading into fall I like to make oatmeal cookies with dried cranberries (or cherries) and white chocolate. 
2. At our house, applesauce and football are the harbingers of fall. What are they at your house? In the fall we cease grilling and begin to make roasts and pot-roasts, chili, and stews. I like to play around with chili and make it with different kinds of beans, seasonings, and meat (or no meat). Spicy white bean and chicken is a favorite or black bean with pork roast. 
3. Someone gave me an “automatic” apple peeler from one of those home cooking product shows. (It doesn’t work all that great.) What’s one kitchen contraption or tool you’d gladly trade me for it? I can't think of anything I'd trade for an apple peeler - although it would be really great if someone would invent a good, but reasonably priced apple peeler and corer and cherry pitter. 
4. Whose the best chef in your home? Why? Well, that would have to me because I do all of the cooking. My husband grills and assists me. 
5. Cider, apple juice, or hard cider? Discuss. None of them, all too harsh for my stomach, too acidic. My son does like a hard cider now and then but if I drink alcohol it's just a glass of wine. 
BONUS: Recipes! You know we love ‘em! I adapt this recipe for my dark chocolate zucchini cake

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Just the Basics

A reflection on Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16, 
Every day, all around us, on street corners and the exit ramps of highways we see them. People who are struggling, people who have deep needs for the basics, people who share a portion of their story in a few words: homeless, need money. 
What do you do when you see a man or a woman holding a sign at an intersection?  Do you pretend to fiddle with the radio or suddenly notice an interesting cloud in the other direction?
On a certain day in Oklahoma City, if you had turned your head, you would have missed Doug Eaton's birthday celebration.
Eaton turned 65 that day and decided to celebrate by spending 65 minutes handing out $5 bills to people driving by. 
He stood at an intersection holding a sign that said: "I have a home . . . and a car . . . and a job. Do you need a few bucks for some coffee?"
People didn't know what to think. One driver said, ”I think this is the craziest guy I've ever seen in my life.” Others said,  "It's fantastic. I'm enjoying the moment out here."
Eaton also described the experience as fantastic. "Some people who don't take the money just say, 'Man, I love what you're doing. I won't take it, but would you give it to somebody who needs it?’"
What do you when you encounter a person on the corner? More over, what do you do when you encounter people on every street corner, each one looking more lost and desperate than the last?
Here at Christ Church we have started a food pantry. It began a few years ago when we were still collecting food for Crossroads. The food would sit in the kitchen until someone was available to take it downtown. But in the meantime hungry people were coming to the church looking for money, or food. Some needed food that required no preparation, prepackaged protein food that they could carry with them. Others needed food to feed a family. Jan and I started giving away the food intended for Crossroads, along with our usual $10 Kroger gift card.
Last fall we designated a closet in the kitchen for food. We have tuna and mac and cheese, canned vegetables and fruit, cereal and coffee. We try and stock some high protein food that requires no preparation like prepared tuna salad or protein bars. 
Recently we acquired a second refrigerator that we use for staff and parish events. The other refrigerator has been designated for the food pantry and we’ve stocked it with milk and eggs. The first  day we added eggs we did this we gave away nine dozen eggs in five hours. We’re thinking of adding cheese and butter. 
Some weeks the food pantry empties faster than we can fill it. We have noticed a distinct up turn in need following the flood last month. The food is provided in part by a collaboration we have with Divine Child school, a project developed by Serge, one of our parishioners who works at Divine Child. The rest of the food is provided by all of us. Some of us have used our “Grace It Forward” money to contribute food. 
One person recently emailed the Stewardship Commission with this response to her Grace It Forward gift: “I am grateful for the opportunity the committee gave me to  give back to the community. I used the cash I was given in church to purchase tuna fish and canned chili for the food pantry. Now I plan to make a habit of contributing to the food pantry.” 
As a Community-Centered Church our mission is to care for those who come into the church and those who are in the world around us - a circular flow, in and out, like breathing, like grace, like nurturing an attitude of gratitude. Ghandi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” We are a Community Centered Church revealing God’s grace in and through our building, our Mission, our ministries, and our lives. We have much to be grateful for. 
There is a difference between feeling grateful and being grateful. Feeling grateful is a response to something that aroused the feeling. Being grateful is a way of life and influences every aspect of our being and our perception of life and the world around us. 
Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude takes practice. Perhaps adopting a daily Gratitude inventory is one way we might nurture our attitude of gratitude? At the end of each day recall the events of your day and see the day through the perspective of “Gift” - how is that the events of your day were a gift?
No doubt, if I wish to do so, I can find something to complain about, in every aspect of my life. I could complain about the constant need to sweep and dust dog and cat fur around the house. I could complain that summer is over, and it really wasn’t much of a summer anyway. I could complain about anything and everything, if that is how I want to view my life. I could be just like the Hebrews in the reading from Exodus or the laborers in Matthew. I could complain because life is not fair and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 
But, if I want to nurture an attitude of gratitude I might say, that my pets are a gift that fill me with delight. I might say that the cool, rainy summer has enabled the grass to be green all summer and restored the water tables of the Great Lakes.   And so on and so forth. 
Taking an inventory of my day and considering it through a lens that emphasizes gift and gratitude changes my perspective. Doing this regularly impacts how I live my life and feel about life. I live with less anxiety and less worry. I live with more hope and generosity. 
Nurturing an attitude of gratitude takes practice. Some things we can to help nurture gratitude in our lives in addition to a daily inventory can include writing things down. Keep a journal and make note of the times and events you feel grateful for. Talk about gratitude, share with others. Especially thank people for whom you are grateful. We don’t do enough of that - thanking people and acknowledging  our gratitude for the people in our lives.  Seek opportunities - look for things that make you grateful - the blue sky on a sunny day, a delicious meal, the kindness of a stranger, the compassion of a friend or family member. 
Robert Emmons, a prominent expert who works for the University of California, has conducted many studies on gratitude. He promotes the idea that gratitude needs to be nurtured and that when we do so we benefit physically, psychologically and socially. Nurturing an attitude of gratitude enables us to be happier, healthier, people. 
The message we hear in our readings today reminds us that we have a choice. We can nurture anxiety within and complain about life. Or we can nurture an attitude of gratitude and embrace life with hope, love, and compassion. Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude becomes infectious, influencing others in the world around us as we “Grace It Forward.” 



Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Five: New to me....

Jan, over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:
Only afterwards, do we realize that we have “found” something that we like–like a new way to look at something; a new (to me) author; a new song or hymn; a new food. Today share with us something that you like that seemed surprisingly “new” to you sometime in the near past. It could even be a RE-discovery.
Here is a list, but you can choose your own five items you would like to share! Please join us today in playing FF.
1. author - When I find an author I like I tend to read all of the books written by that person. Lately I've read a lot of Anna Quindlan. I also really like novel written by Amanda Eyre Ward. But mostly I am reading books for the Spiritual Direction Internship and the Family Systems workshops I am taking this fall. They are excellent books - Extraordinary Relationships, by Roberta M. Gilbert, for example, is fabulous. 
2. shampoo - My latest favorite shampoo is a brand I found at "Sally's" that does not use any of the usual sodium laureate, etc. to make the shampoo extra bubbly. It's a clean product with less stuff in it, a gentle fragrance and never leaves a residue on my scalp. I seem to be particular sensitive to shampoo and conditioner residue. For example as much I love the concept of AVEDA it's products are too rich. Other brands like Redkin require me to switch my shampoo every so often to give my scalp some relief. But this shampoo (I don't know what it's called) has not had that affect of me. 
3. food - Poblanaro peppers and Spanish smoked paprika are two of my favorite food items this summer. I've used them in a lot. Also, a colleague made a jar of jalapeƱo jelly (if you attended the RevGals Re-Group last week you may have tried it), and it is delicious on corn bread.
4. activity - I don't really have any new actives in my life - except working to make sure I find time to rest.
5. music - I don't listen to much music these days, either. I used to listen to music in the car, and spent a lot of time driving, but not so much these days. Now when I drive I listen to the radio but never really know the names of the bands being played. It's sad, I know. Some day I'll get back to listening to music again. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ministering to Ministers

Several months ago I volunteered to host a RevGal event called "ReGroup." This is the second time I have organized a RevGal event, and the first time I've hosted one. The first event I helped organize was the BE 2.0, held many years ago, when I lived and worked under very different circumstances. I was really sick that week - some crud that blew through the Arizona dust storm

Sun shining through a dust storm

and left me with a high fever and serious sinus issues that made me foggy-headed.

But it was still fun.

I met a lot of RevGals and learned much from Wil Gafney and her book, "Daughters of Miriam." The exercise I remember most from that event was "She-verbs" - replacing some Bible text with "she." (okay, maybe I don't remember that well, after all?).
Part of our worship space at the BE 2.0

Some of us went into town to a knitting store
We told stories around a bonfire

This was view of the retreat center grounds outside my room

The most fun of that week for me, however, was our after-the-event road trip to the Grand Canyon.

Dinner at the Bright Angel

Sunrise


This time the event was held at the church I work at and the focus was very different. We gathered to learn a tool to help us in our ministry, which by and large involves a lot of administrative work. Tending to the administrative stuff can keep us overly busy, we can use busyness as an ego boost, as a means to feel more important. But that can come at the risk of our own well-being and even our overall effectiveness as ministers.

We spent time reflecting, singing, praying, worshiping, and creating. It was a good day and half.

Opening worship led by the Rev. Martha Spong

Learning how to use the "Administry" tool

Some time to reflect on the "Administry" tool...

We got a little creative 

Closing worship

Sharing the feast of Christ

And, of course, the feet

And for fun, cookies decorated as feet made by one of my parishioners...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Five: Randomness Returns

RevKarla, over at the RevGals offers this Random Friday Five:
1. If you could sneak away anywhere this weekend, right now, all expenses paid,
where would you go and what would you do? If I could go anyplace in the world for the weekend? I've always wanted to go to Paris, but a weekend trip wouldn't be long enough. I'd settle for a quiet place in the country - high up in the mountains or near a body of water. A place where I could walk, sleep with windows open and feel the cool fresh air blow over me, have someone else make all the meals, drink delicious tea with cookies, and have a great glass of wine. I'd read, and sit. Oh, and having yoga classes provided, would nice too. 


2. What is for lunch today? (one of the very first FF I ever played asked this.) I'm not sure, but I do know lunch will be with Martha Spong, who I knew first as Songbird when she helped me launch this blog in 2006. Martha is in town for the RevGals ReGroup program called Administry - finding ways to be spiritual while be an ordained woman in the church. (It's harder than one would think).
3. Along that first-FF-I-ever-played theme, what are you wearing today? (Seriously Karla, you remember your first FF?....) I don't know what I'll be wearing today - comfy clothes that will enable me to be present for the ReGroup.....
4. Along the Today Theme, what are you doing today? First, having coffee. Then a little yoga. Then picking Martha up at the hotel and coming to the church to get ready for the ReGroup. Then participating in the ReGroup. Later, some social time with those who are attending the Re-Group. Excited to meet a group of RevGals I know only on Facebook and the blog.
5. Along the random theme, what is your favorite scent, and why? Freshly brewing coffee in the morning delights me. Lately I've made a lot of homemade enchilada sauce with my homegrown tomatoes using garlic, Poblano peppers, Jalepeno and Habanero peppers, onions, cumin, etc. THAT always smells amazing. But I think my favorite scent is the smell of the air on a summer morning that is not yet too humid, the sun rising, and a gentle breeze blowing. I also happen to really love the way my husband smells, is that weird?  Puppy breath is sweet, too. 
I guess I don't have one favorite scent. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Creatures of...love?

We are creatures, creatures of love
We are creatures, creatures of love
From the sleep of reason, a life is born
We are creatures, creatures of love
-Talking Heads


Walking to yoga I tend to keep my eyes aimed toward the ground, on the look-out for uneven sidewalk, fallen branches, and other potential trip hazards. Of course I am also looking around me, aware of bicyclists, other walkers, and four legged and winged creatures who inhabit the woods that border the sidewalk. The smell of the river, buried in the woods, but visible in places along the way, is usually potent. It’s a river under going significant cleaning from waste that has polluted it. Lately, however, the river does not smell, it must be the overabundance of rain water and fast moving current, keeping it clean?

Inevitably as I walk with my gaze toward the ground I see crawling creatures, and at least this summer, a ton of hopping tiny frogs. So many frogs on the sidewalk, in our backyard and in the garden that I’ve been on the look out for Moses and Pharaoh. The potential for a plague is not that far-fetched. 

Honestly, it seems like all the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. I live with a perpetual sense of existential despair, fueled by the state of the world and probably a little bit of God stirring up some kind of transformation within me. Really, God, now? You have my attention and I am listening, wondering how all of this is going to be transformed, like Israel after the Exodus. Forty years in the wilderness? I hope not. 

So I do my small part to ease the angst of creation. It’s weird what I do and I’m sure people driving by must find me a little nutty. Here’s the thing, I see a lot of crawly things on the sidewalk. Many of them are dried up and long gone. But some of them are struggling across the concrete, literally drying out from friction, no moisture, and hot sun. It bugs me, no pun intended, to just walk by a creature who, in its own way, may be suffering. So, when I see a still living crawly creature on the sidewalk, usually a worm, I pick it up with a stick and toss it back into the deep, moist, shady grass. 

I remember reading an article about a group of Buddhist monks who were building something and some of them were dedicated to removing worms from the digging process so none would be hurt. I don’t know if it’s true, that the monks did this. Maybe it was a joke. But it struck me, that our attention to life can include the smallest of creatures. Somehow that idea has stayed with me and over the years I’ve found myself unable to just walk past a worm that is struggling across the sidewalk, I always toss it back into the grass.

This year I’ve seen, and helped more than worms. (To the degree that I have a serious ear-worm in my head: “Little creatures all come out! We are creatures, creatures of love.”). One day I saw a very long slug, head up and antennae high, slinking its way down the sidewalk, headed to a sure and certain demise. No way was I going to pick that thing up. But I did find a good long stick that I used to pick it up and fling it into the grass. Another day I saw a tiny snake, so small it could have been a very long worm. I wasn’t about to pick that up, either, not being certain what kind of snake it was. Now, I am not afraid of snakes. But I am cautious. Poisonous baby snakes are more toxic than the adults. I found myself tapping my water bottle on the sidewalk near the snake which encouraged it to move along in a certain direction until it was once again in the grass and headed into the woods.

Obviously I am a little odd in this regard. I suspect that people who knew me in high school and college may not be surprised at this behavior. However, I am not always this considerate of human beings. Some people just stand on my last nerve and all consideration is blown away by that part of me that is made up of spit and vinegar. Which is, as I wrote recently, one of the reasons I walk, to have some time to examine what stirs up that side of me, before I react.

Tomorrow I start my spiritual direction internship. I will spend the next two years examining my interior prayer life, my relationship and conversation with God and how to journey with others who wish to do the same. I will spend time pondering more deeply the parts of me that are compassionate and the parts of me that get all knee-jerky and reactive. Add to this the upcoming nine sessions, three this fall and six next spring, where I will study my family systems: family of origin, family I have created with my husband, and the church family I work in, and consider all the ways these systems influence my compassionate side and my knee-jerky side. 

No doubt God is stirring stuff up inside of me. I better get my glasses and my walking shoes and hone my observation skills for the journey ahead.

It's okay to be afraid
When the blue sparks hit your brain
We can love one another
I've been told that it's okay

Doctor, doctor, tell me what I am
Am I one of those human beings
Well I can laugh or I can learn to think
So help me now to find out what I feel

We are creatures, creatures of love
We are creatures, creatures of love
We've been here forever, before you were born
We are creatures of love, We are creatures of love

- Talking Heads (Writer(s): Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, David Byrne

Copyright: Index Music Inc., WB Music Corp.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude


Several years ago a woman and her friend and their 5 children, all under the age of 6, attempted to go to the zoo. The friend had season passes, making for a fun, inexpensive day out! However, it was obvious from the minute she got in the car, that the friend was having a bad day.

They arrived at the zoo and it was packed! They had to park in the farthest parking lot, the one that wasn’t even paved. Then they trekked to the front gate pushing strollers overflowing with kid-stuff. After waiting in line for nearly an hour, the friend realized that she’d lost her wallet. She started to panic so they pulled the caravan over to the side and started looking through everything. The backpack, the diaper bag, the under the stroller storage area… nothing. She ran back to the car while the other mom watched the kids. Nothing. She searched her bags again, no luck. 

So they told the kids that they weren't going to the zoo. The kids started crying. Then the mom’s started crying. They were all disappointed and frazzled. 

Then a lady came over and took the mom’s hand. She said,  “Here, take your kids to the zoo.” When she walked away the mom saw a $100 bill in her hand. $100! She tried to give it back. She explained that her friend just lost her wallet, they’d changed their minds about the zoo, and they didn’t need any money. But the lady refused to take back the $100.

Eventually the moms and kids hiked back to their cars. While packing up the car the friend found her wallet in the trunk. With a sigh of relief, they decided to just go to the park and have a picnic lunch.

As they were leaving the park one mom thought about breaking the $100 bill and handing out $20 to people. How fun would that have been?! But she actually felt embarrassed to do that. Who would think it would take courage to give away money?

The moms agreed that they would spend the money doing something fun for the kids, but they never spent it. For two or three years the money sat in a sock drawer in the home of one of the mom’s. 

And then a friend’s husband got laid off and after six months of looking was still unemployed. The women knew that their friend had 4 kids to get ready for school, and a very tight budget. So they decided to give this other friend the $100, including it in a bag of hand-me-down clothes. They typed up a letter explaining the history of the money, put it and the money in an envelope and dropped it off along with the bag of clothes. Later that day the friend called to thank them for the clothes and the money. 

I wonder if the woman at the zoo, who gave the $100 bill in the first place, carries around a $100 bill so she can help people in need? Think about it. $100 is enough money to actually change someone’s situation if they are stuck. It will fill a tank of gas. It will get a room for the night. It will replace a flat tire. It will feed a family. It will take a couple of women and their kids to the zoo. Story adapted from Enemy of Debt

Today the Stewardship Commission invites us into a season of Gratitude, into an opportunity to nurture an Attitude of Gratitude.

Nurturing an Attitude for Gratitude takes practice. 

One way I nurture gratitude is through prayer and intentionality. Every yoga class begins with the teacher asking the students to sit comfortably, close our eyes, bring our hands to our hearts, and dedicate our practice. I always dedicate my practice to gratitude. I don’t always think more deeply about what that means, practicing gratitude. But I hope that the daily act of centering my yoga practice on gratitude infiltrates my being, like my breath, in and out.

Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude requires effort to pay attention to the small voice of God, to things that seem coincidental. As Americans we are taught that what we have is the result of our good hard work, we earned it through our own effort. It’s a challenge to see, however, that in reality, everything we have and all that we are, come from God. Life is a gift. 

Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude opens us to notice all the ways God is interacting with human beings, ways that can be overlooked unless we are paying attention with a mind for seeing God in all things.  Like placing a tea bag in a cup of water, and watching the tea slowly seep into the water, flavoring and coloring it; when we practice having an attitude of gratitude, gratitude will seep into the core of our being, enabling us to see God in the world around us, and turning us into grateful human beings who share their gratitude with everyone around them. 

When was the last time you received a free gift? Not a gift for your birthday or Christmas, but a gift just because?

God’s grace is like that - a gift, just because. God’s grace manifests in unexpected ways and can even go unnoticed if we aren’t paying attention. 

Have you ever been surprised by grace, by some unexpected blessing that could only have come from God? Would you know grace if it came your way? How about a beautiful sunset? Or, the delight we feel at being back in our church following the summer of outdoor services and chapel services, which are grace-filled in their own way? Perhaps you’ll experience grace during the amazing pot-luck that will follow this service? Maybe you were touched by the unbelievable work of many many people to clean up this building, or your home, following the flood? Do we notice the kindness around us? Or is it lost in the haze of violence and despair that exists in the world and fills the daily news?

Do you happen to notice moments of kindness or beauty, as gifts, as grace, from God? Or do you think they are just random events? What happens if you begin to see life as a gift from God, to be lived with gratitude, giving thanks to God who loves us? 

Gratitude is one of the fundamental aspects of our Christian faith. But it takes practice to form it inside of us. Gratitude needs to be nurtured and nourished by the way we live our lives. 


For the next eight weeks the Stewardship Commission invites us to nurture our attitude of gratitude. You will be provided with incentive to do this, and opportunities to share with others how this practice is taking shape in you. You’ve heard of the “Pay It Forward” concept? Well, think of this as a season of “Grace it Forward.” May it be a season in which we come to see the many blessings we are given by the grace of God, and may we, as the hands and heart of Christ, share the blessings with others as we Grace it Forward. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Walking

I needed to walk. I needed to walk a lot. 

It was one of those days when a snarky email got me going, interior-wise. That kind of interior work, choosing to not be knee-jerky, is hard for me. When my initial reaction is loaded with spit and vinegar, I know I need to move my body, but not my fingers on the keypad. It’s part of my on going effort to become better at self-differentiation, better at not responding to some comments or emails, better at letting the other person just sit with their words, not having my reaction to justify their immature behavior. 

So, I walked.

I walked to yoga, one of my favorite (almost) daily walks. The walk takes me along an urban forest that lines a small river. Looking into the trees I always see something beautiful: deer eating leaves, nestled safely behind the dense branches, but really only a few feet away; a red-tailed hawk standing on the edge of the grass, who looked me straight in the eye until I was a three feet away, and then it flew off; a family of beavers building their den; blue heron’s and of course birds and squirrels of the usual variety. I always see something that delights me and reminds me that there is much to be grateful for. 

Yoga class itself, was good - a long meditation restored some sense of equanimity and peace. Yoga serves to provide me with the time and practice to distance myself from any emotion I am feeling. It is particularly good when I am angry, it settles me and helps me gain perspective.

After yoga I walked across the street and had breakfast at the Panera Care’s. Panera Care’s is an experimental restaurant that gathers day old food from all the other nearby Panera’s and resells it. People are invited to pay full price, or any amount they can afford by dropping your payment into a box, so no one knows exactly what you do pay. If you are unable to pay anything you can have one free meal a day. People are also given the opportunity to work in exchange for a meal. So I had breakfast and then headed out on my errands.

I walked to a nearby market to purchase a large jar of raw honey. I use raw unfiltered honey in my coffee and in my protein shakes - good for seasonal allergies and the immune system - assuming one is not allergic to the honey itself. 

Then I walked home carrying my yoga mat strapped across my back, water bottle in one hand, and this heavy jar, (think two quarts), of honey in the other.

 This walk took along a different route, through a park and across the river. The park offers multiple covered pavilions used by groups and families for picnics and parties. On this particular day an Arabic group was using one of the pavilions. The air was filled with smell of hot dogs and burgers. Live sitar and drum music played loudly through a portable sound system.  The music echoed off the concrete sidewalks, asphalt parking lot, and the grass and trees, I could hear it blocks before I came upon it. The sound followed me home, reverberating off the trees in my backyard.

What a town I live in, I thought. Few places on earth enable a walk through such wildly diverse  terrain as this composite of land and culture. 

I needed to walk. 

I’m grateful I did.


Oh, and that snarky email. I never replied. Really, there was nothing to say after all. 



Saturday, August 23, 2014

Our Spiritual Foremothers of Justice

A radical Islamic militant group moves through Iraq and Syria killing civilians including American journalists, touting an extremist ideology and terrorizing a minority religious group in the region, forcing them to seek safe harbor on a mountain top.

A police officer shoots an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, and a week of riots erupt. News reports cite years of conflict between a black community and it’s mostly white police force are coming to the surface.

Hamas and Israel enter into open conflict once again in a fierce and seemingly endless battle over land rights. 

Russia invades the Ukraine in a play for power.

A woman runs into a hotel in Libya, begging for help. Government agents are captured on hotel video hauling her away. Mayhem erupts in Libya. 

Genocide - people killing other people because of race, ethnicity, or religion, from Rwanda to South Africa, to Guatemala and countries in South America. From the Holocaust to the war between Serbia and Croatia, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that it is not only okay, but a right, to kill people who differ from one another. 

Even here, in our country, we have open conflict over race, gun rights, and human sexuality. 

An Egyptian Pharaoh  grew worried about the increasing Hebrew population in his country. He started a campaign of fear and anxiety that soon infected other Egyptians. Before long the misleading information fueled enough fear in the people that Pharaoh garnered support for genocide. The Pharaoh ordered the local midwives to carry out the killings, intending that no baby boy survived the birth process. 

It’s not a far-fetched story. All around us are stories of similar atrocities. 

What is amazing, however, is how the five women in this story all conspire against the Pharaoh, each in their own way and without any preconceived intention of working together. First of all we have the two midwives who recognize that if they follow the Pharaoh’s plan they will lose all credibility in the community of Hebrew and Egyptian women. They will lose their integrity as professionals whose job it is to bring forth new life not end it. So the midwives develop a brilliant plan that saves their reputation and save the lives of the babies being born - they women give birth before the midwives can arrive.

So then Pharaoh insists that the baby boys be thrown into the Nile. One Hebrew mother takes a risk at saving her son, placing him in a basket near the water where Pharaoh’s daughter bathes. The Pharaoh’s daughter finds the baby and before she knows it the baby’s sister is there offering to find a wet nurse, who ends up being the baby’s real mother. As if that were not enough, Pharaoh’s daughter pays the mother to be the wet nurse. The baby grows up in Pharaoh’s own home, and thus defeats Pharaoh’s plan to rid the nation of Hebrew boys. It’s brilliant! What makes it even more amazing is that because of these five women, the rest of God’s salvation history is possible. The story that began with Abraham and Sarah, continued with Isaac and Rebeca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, is able to continue with Moses - a descendent of Abraham - from a family of Hebrew people living in exile as slaves in Egypt. Moses will grow up to leave Pharaoh’s house and lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and back to the land of their ancestors. 

A number of years ago a group of us in the parish watched the PBS series, “Women, War, and Peace.” The series told the story of women who worked together to bring about justice and peace in war-torn areas of the world: Serbia-Croatia, Liberia, Colombia, and Afghanistan. It was a powerful, eye-opening series that revealed the behind the scenes work and the up front and center civil disobedience that was being done by women in war torn regions of the world to bring forth justice and peace. Much of the work included an interfaith movement of women; Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who joined together as one voice to end the genocide and division.

Likewise, the five women in the story from Exodus all come from very different backgrounds. None of them plotted to work together. But each of them was wiling to do the right thing, they took a risk for justice. In the process they entered into God’s hope and desire for human kind and all creation. 

As Episcopalians we describe God’s desire for us through the words of the Baptismal Covenant, where in with God’s help we will: seek justice, respect the dignity of others, serve Christ in one another, share bread, resist evil, repent and return to God, proclaim the Good News of God’s love in Christ and each other, and strive for peace. 


The women in Exodus exemplify these characteristics of people of faith. They are our spiritual foremothers. May their wisdom, tenacity, courage, and  strength live on in us, fortifying and inspiring us into acts of justice. May we be the living hands and heart of Christ in this broken world of ours.