Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Feast Day of St. Luke

On October 18, we celebrate the life of St. Luke, a creator, an evangelist, and a healer. Some churches might have a healing service in honor of Luke’s role as patron saint of doctors and surgeons. But St. Luke was so much more: he’s also the patron saint of artists, students, and butchers. He’s given credit as one of the founders of iconography. And of course, he was a writer--both of one of the Gospels and the book of Acts. As we think about the life of St. Luke, let us use his life as a guide for how we can bring ourselves back to health and wholeness.

The feast day of St. Luke offers us a reason to evaluate our own health—why wait until the more traditional time of the new year? Using St. Luke as our inspiration, let’s think about the ways we can promote health of all kinds.

Do we need to schedule some check-ups? October is perhaps most famous for breast cancer awareness month, but there are other doctors that many of us should see on a regular basis. For example, if you get a lot of sun exposure, or if you live in southern states, you should get a baseline check up from your dermatologist.

Many of us don’t need to visit a doctor to find out what we can do to promote better health for ourselves. We can eat more fruits and vegetables. We can drink less alcohol. We can get more sleep. We can exercise and stretch more.

Maybe we need to look to our mental health. If so, Luke can show us the way again.

Luke is famous as the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts, but it’s important to realize that he likely didn’t see himself as writing straight history. He was maintaining a record of amazing events that showed evidence of God’s salvation.

It’s far too easy to ignore evidence of God’s presence in the world. We get bogged down in our own disappointments and our deeper depressions. But we could follow the example of Luke and write down events that we see in our own lives and the life of our churches that remind us of God’s grace. Even if it’s a practice as simple as a gratitude journal where each day we write down several things for which we’re grateful, we can write our way back to right thinking.

As we think about St. Luke, we can also look for ways to deepen our spiritual health. In popular imagination, Luke gets credit for creating the first icon of the Virgin Mary. Maybe it’s time for us to try something new.

We could experiment with the visual arts to see how they could enrich our spiritual health. We might choose something historical and traditional, like iconography. Or we might decide that we want to experiment with something that requires less concentration and training. Maybe we want to create a collage of images that remind us of God’s abundance. Maybe we want to meditate on images, like icons, like photographs, that call us to healthy living.

St. Luke knew that there are many paths to health of all sorts. Now, on his feast day, let us resolve to spend the coming year following his example and restoring our lives to a place of better health.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Last night, I did some packing for my Lutheridge retreat this week-end.  I moved some clothes out of the cottage closet where they've been since July.  I thought about the clothes that aren't in the closet yet, a few items I put in a big suitcase back in July because they are more wintry, but I decided to leave them in the big suitcase in the cottage.

All along, I've said that I hoped we could get the home repairs done by Halloween, but I'll be happy if they're done by Christmas.  People reacted as if I was joking.  I was partly joking, but partly serious.

The home repairs will not be done by Halloween.  But we are chugging along, so that's good.

I pour my coffee at the coffee station that I've set up in the bathroom.  Once, I'd have needed a microwave to heat the milk.  Now the microwave is in the bedroom, where it's been since late August.  I haven't had a special coffee beverage at home since then.  Once I bought a gallon of milk a week.  Now I haven't bought milk in weeks.  I used to drink hundreds of calories before leaving the house.  Now I drink my coffee black.  I wonder if I'll continue to do this once we have the new kitchen.

I know that some people are switching out their closets.  I'll do that too, when I return.  We will need the big suitcase for Thanksgiving.  And who knows--maybe we'll finally get a cold front by then.  In the past, we sometimes get a cold front by mid October, but not this year.  The heat is beginning to wear me down.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Subtle Seasonal Shifts

As I've been driving home, I've been noticing more houses decorated for Halloween.  I remember last year, amidst hurricane wreckage, seeing a house decorated here or there and feeling like we had lost a whole season, post-Hurricane Irma.  This year we have yet to have our first cold front make its way down here, so it's disconcerting to see the Halloween decorations and to reflect how late in the year it really is.

And yet the light is shifting.  Yesterday morning, as I walked up the outside parking garage stairs at school, I realized that the sun is rising more to the south now, and the building blocks the light.  In the summer when I climb the stairs, the sun is blinding.

The shift in seasons is VERY subtle this far south.  Some years, it's the scent of a cinnamon broom in a grocery store that first alerts me.  Other years, it's the arrival of pumpkins that transforms a church yard or a scarecrow keeping watch, even though there are no crops or crows.

This week-end, I will experience a much more wrenching seasonal shift.  I am off to a retreat at Lutheridge in the mountains of North Carolina, while my spouse stays here to take care of teaching responsibilities.  I hope to return with mountain apples and other goodies.

Once, I made this trip more often, but it's been a few years since I made an October trip--so I'm really looking forward to it.  The retreat is a 50 Forward retreat--a series designed for people in their 50's as they think about midlife and what's beyond.  Each year there's a different theme--this year's theme is "Simple Enough:  Living More with Less."  At the Create in Me retreat back in April, I saw the theme and had a pastor friend tell me that I should really attend this one--and so, I am!  I'm happy for all the help I can get, as we make choices about this house and about the future.

As I move about my mostly normal life, I'm deeply aware of all of those who have been disrupted during this severe hurricane season.  I feel more than a bit of survivor's guilt--it could have been me, and I'm so glad that it hasn't been so far.  As I make coffee in the bathroom each morning, I reflect on how much my mostly normal life continues to be disrupted by last year's severe hurricane season.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Poetry Monday: "Blistered Palms"

Before we get too far away from last week, and the week before that, let me record 2 publishing successes.  I got my contributor copy of Gather, which published my article "Praying with Medieval Mystics."  In it, I explore Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich--longtime readers of my blogs know that I've explored the lives of those women before, but I like the ways I wove the ideas together.

I also got my contributor copy of Adanna, which published my poem "Blistered Palms," which I wrote in the aftermath of last year's hurricane season.  It was one of those strange moments, reading the poem, when I recognized the inspiration for some of it, but not the rest; I don't remember the writing process, the way I do with some poems.  I remember driving by the huge piles of brush which had shreds of trash blowing in a breeze.  It was close to Halloween, and at first I thought I might be seeing a Halloween decoration that had migrated, a ghost in those branches.  I remember the time when it seemed that every morning, a different piece of jewelry broke.

Do I see this poem as hopeful?  Yes, in a way.  I also see some of the spiritual elements of my Christian tradition, that direction to try fishing again, maybe from a different side of the boat.  And of course, there is the title, which talks to me of both the palms of hands, whether they be crucified hands or hands blistered from clearing away hurricane damaged palm trees.

Blistered Palms

When the last china cup cracked,
we found the courage to face
the future. The oracle couldn’t tell
us, but we knew.

We needed no tea leaves; the blisters
on our hands gave the palm
reader all the information needed.

In this month of broken jewelry
clasps and missing wedding rings,
tattered ghosts haunt the hurricane wreckage.

Branches claw the debris piles of our hearts.
We see the water marks even though the floods
have receded. The decaying mums
keep watch.

I have dined on stinging nettles
before sunrise. But I am ready to jettison
this suitcase of loss and longing
that I’ve been lugging
through the fading autumn light.

I will steal a sailboat
and glide to the place
where the deep
waters of the ocean meet
the mouth of the Bay.

I will cast my nets again
into the depths.
I will wait for new fish.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Romero and Me--and All of Us

Oscar Romero is now officially a saint.  I've written about him many times before, but I can't resist writing about him again.  When I made this collage card, I couldn't believe that he'd ever be canonized:

I was alive when he was martyred, but I didn't hear or read about it.  I remember reading about some of the more famous murders, particularly of the nuns, and wondering why people would murder nuns or missionaries who were there to help--I had yet to learn of the horrors of colonialism throughout history.

In my first year of college, I was asked to be part of a service that honored the martyrdom of Romero, and this event was likely how I heard of him first.  Or maybe it was earlier that semester when our campus pastor took a group of us to Jubilee Partners.

Jubilee Partners was a group formed by the same people that created Koinonia, the farm in Americus Georgia that most people know because they also created Habitat for Humanity--but they were so much more, in their witness of how Christian love could play out in real practice in one of the most segregated and poor parts of the U.S. south.  In the early years of Jubilee Partners, when I went there, the group helped people from Central America get to Canada, where they could get asylum in the 1980's, when they couldn't get asylum in the U.S.

My consciousness was formed by these encounters and by other encounters I had throughout the 80's.  I met many people in the country illegally, and I heard about the horrors that brought them here.  Then, as now, I couldn't imagine why we wouldn't let these people stay.

At the end of my undergraduate years, just after Platoon came out, my college had a screening of Oliver Stone's Salvador--what a powerful movie.  Stone does a great job of showing the importance of the Catholic church in that war-torn decade of that country.

Many of us may think that those civil wars are over, but many countries in Central America are still being torn apart by violence.  The words of Romero decades ago are sadly still relevant today:  "Brothers, you came from our own people. You are killing your own brothers. Any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says, 'Thou shalt not kill'. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you obeyed your consciences rather than sinful orders. The church cannot remain silent before such an abomination. ...In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression."

But his teachings go beyond just a call for an end to killing.  His messages to the wider church are still powerful:  "A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — ​what gospel is that?"

And even those of us who are not part of a faith tradition can find wisdom in his teachings:  "Each time we look upon the poor, on the farmworkers who harvest the coffee, the sugarcane, or the cotton... remember, there is the face of Christ."

If we treated everyone we met as if that person was God incarnate, what a different world we would have!

But for those of us who are tired from the work of this weary world, here's a message of hope and a reminder of the long view:  "We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own."

On this day that honors a man who was not always honored, let us take heart from his words and from his example.  Let us also remember that he was not always this force for good in the world; indeed, he was chosen to be Archbishop because the upper management of the church thought he would keep his nose stuck in a book and out of politics. 

In these days that feel increasingly more perilous, let us recommit ourselves to the type of love that Romero called us to show:  "Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world."

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Self Help from Saints and Others

Yesterday's leadership conference simulcast was about what I expected:  lots of self-help "you can do it" talk, with some nuggets of usefulness, with inspiring stories, with very little here is how you do it plans.

It was interesting to start the day by thinking of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who will be canonized on Sunday, Oct. 14, and then go to the leadership conference--such different leadership styles.  I thought of how much I would have to pay for the leadership simulcast, if I hadn't gotten a free ticket because of my faculty status at Broward College.  I thought of Romero, who broadcast his homilies on the radio so that all could hear.  I thought of John Maxwell, who feels we should invest in ourselves so he doesn't offer scholarships to his conferences.

Such different leadership styles.

I thought of Oscar Romero who used his platform to become a voice for those who had no voice.  I thought of his pleading for us to be better, his insistence that the killing must stop.  Romero had a vision of how his country could be a better place.  I thought of the presenters at the leadership conference who explained how they had become better, and how we could all be better--but not much talk of societal transformation.

Such different leadership styles.

I thought of Oscar Romero, who was chosen to be archbishop because he seemed like the bland kind of priest who wouldn't make waves or find trouble.  I thought of Romero, who could have had a fairly cushy existence as archbishop, but who couldn't ignore the call to do more.  Some of the speakers in yesterday's simulcast had a somewhat similar trajectory, most specifically Tyler Perry, who could have retired long ago and spent the gobs of money that he's earned--but he feels a responsibility to all the people who work for him.  There was a hint of the larger world, and I wondered what he might say if he was speaking in a different environment.

Such different leadership styles.

As I watched the simulcast while thinking of Romero, I thought I might be too judgmental.  Maybe the many people watching the speakers would transform their leadership styles, which might make the world a better place.  Maybe if we had hundreds of workplaces that were more "transformational" and "leadershift" styled, maybe that would be enough.  After all, at this point, most of the U.S. doesn't find itself facing the kinds of challenges faced by Romero's El Salvador.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

Friday, October 12, 2018

Leadership Trainings

Another week has zoomed by.  Today I will be away my main campus to go to a leadership event at the beautiful Bailey Hall of Broward College.  I saw an opportunity for a free ticket, and I asked my boss what he thought; in my last performance review, he had noted as an opportunity for growth that I go to management and/or leadership development.  He approved, and so off I will go.

I'm not sure what to expect; the event says it will "breathe new life into your leadership" by way of "a leader development experience designed to equip you with new perspectives, practical tools and key takeaways."   Although some of the names are familiar to me, I don't think of all of them as leadership teachers.  I'm thinking most specifically of Tyler Perry.

It's been an intense few weeks, both in terms of my work life (start of Fall quarter) and in the larger communities of my life.  While I expect that the retreat I'll attend next week will do more to rejuvenate me, I'm also looking forward to today.

If my boss had told me that I needed to do more to get training in pedagogy, I'd know how to do that.  If he had said that I needed to get some updates in my field of study, that, too, I would know where to seek out those opportunities.

But for leadership and management training, I've been a bit stymied.  I've seen a few conferences, but been astounded by their prices.  I've thought about working on an additional degree, which I could do for the price of those conferences.

To be fair, if I had to pay for this ticket, I'd be asking the same questions about the worth of the training.  But I'm an academic in outlook.  I want to know that what I'm learning is backed up by research, not just by the experience of the speaker.  The promotional materials for many of these workshops don't really stress that aspect of what we'll learn--how do we know what we know? 

Today is Columbus Day, the day in 1492, October 12, a lookout on one of Columbus' boats saw land after almost 2 months at sea. I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can't imagine sailing up the coast to the next harbor in it, much less across the Atlantic. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was.

It's interesting to think about leadership on this day when we celebrate that vision of Columbus, the day when some of us will think about who and what Columbus had to trample to accomplish his goals.  What kind of leadership do we need today?

We've had some interesting discussions of leadership in various communities of which I am a part.  How would our worlds be different if we praised kindness and compassion--not traits for which Columbus was known.

On this week-end which will celebrate the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero, I'll be thinking of these leadership questions.  What happens when leaders think about the bottom-most rungs of societies?  Does that path always lead to martyrdom?