Thursday, March 31, 2022


I have been feeling in a bit of a melancholy mood--I've spent too much time on clunky websites trying to get my unemployment benefits, and I've been feeling sad that this beautiful weather will soon shift to summer heat.  I've been feeling bad about losing my job, even though it wasn't my fault.  And I'm sure I have some stress as seminary classes start to zoom towards the end, which contributes to my melancholy.

Tuesday morning, the moon startled me on my morning walk.  It was just before dawn, and the moon as it was rising looked huge in the very dark sky.  It's at the end of a waning phase, so it looked hollowed out.  As I walked, I came up with some lines for a poem, and I repeated them throughout my walk, so that I could remember.

Wednesday morning, I wanted to see if I could see the moon again, but because it's a day later, moonrise was later, 6:28 a.m.  So I headed to South Lake, where I thought I would have a better view of the moon as it rose.  South Lake looks out towards the part of the beach with fewer highrises.

I got there at 6:34, which I thought gave me a good chance of seeing it, but at first I didn't see anything.  I walked slowly around the lake, and just when I was about to give up, I saw it, a narrow sliver of a moon in a red-orange sky, just before sunrise.  It looked much more apocalyptic than it did when it was in a darker sky.  

I stood and stared for a moment.  If I hadn't been paying attention, I likely wouldn't have noticed the moon--it was just too close to sunrise and too cloudy.  I walked to North Lake where I could still see the moon, but it was barely visible as the sky had gotten much lighter.

I have all but ceased sending out poems just now, so let me post the poem that I wrote after my moonwalk mornings.  Is it done?  My younger poet self would have put in a lot of references to social justice issues.  My younger poet self would have made every connection glaringly obvious.

I may go back and tinker, but I am aware that poems about the moon risk all sorts of sins--the moon is such a symbol of so many things. Today it is enough to post the poem here:

The moon hangs low before dawn,

discarded bauble, hollowed out gourd

of its former glory,

holding the outline of what is to come.

Palm branches rustle,

a distant cough,

dim visions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Vaccines and Boosters and Other Vaccines and Death Rates

Last night, my spouse and I walked to Publix, our local grocery store with a pharmacy where my spouse needed to pick up a prescription.  We'd been meaning to get the Shingles vaccine for months if not years now, and we decided to do it last night, if the lines weren't too long.

There were no lines at all, and the pharmacy did have the Shingles vaccine, so we got our first shots.  So far, I have a sore arm, but not many other symptoms.  Is my tiredness this morning a symptom?  If so, of the vaccine or of not getting enough sleep?

We asked about getting a second booster, and the pharmacist told us she'd been getting lots of inquiries, but they hadn't gotten official guidance yet.  Now there's guidance that says we can get one, so I'll try to get that in before too much longer.  I've got a lot of traveling, which means it's harder to schedule a shot.  But I'll be seeing more people than normal, which may mean I need a booster more now than I will in May.

Many people are acting as if the disease has been vanquished.  It has not.  I am expecting some surges between now and the end of the year.  

I found this Twitter thread to be illustrative.  I haven't verified the numbers, but they sound plausible.

From Dr. Dan Goyal's March 28, 2022 Twitter thread:

The daily number of Covid deaths reported to the WHO has fallen. From 50K deaths a few weeks ago to 32K this week. For context, this is more than die each day of breast, bowel and prostate cancer COMBINED; higher than any other...

...infectious disease on the planet, and keeps Covid as one of the world’s top five killers. Indeed, Globally, Covid is currently killing more than the combined total of TB, HIV, Malaria, Flu and all the diseases listed as High Consequence Infectious Diseases!

More on High Consequence Infectious Diseases here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Registrations of All Sorts

Yesterday was one of those days when technology worked, but also when it didn't.  I got registered for Fall 2022 classes for seminary.  It was rather unremarkable, in some ways.  Back in grad school in the 1990's, when I first started, we first had online registration during my last year of classes, and I set my alarm so that I could be ready to register just after midnight when registration opened to everyone.  I wanted to be sure I got a seat.

Yesterday, I registered in a calmer way, at 8:30, and for all but 1 class, I was the first one to claim a seat.  I will take the first part of Church History, Pastoral Care and Counseling in Contexts, and Foundations of Preaching. I will also take Creative Process as Spiritual Practice (yes, that's my heart you hear singing) and Leading Innovation in the Church. There are so many good classes that it's hard to choose--what a delightful problem!

I will take 2 of my classes virtually, by way of Zoom session, Monday night and Tuesday afternoon.  I will have a Tuesday night class, a Thursday afternoon class, and a Thursday night class, which will be face to face.  I do wonder if I should take one more class, but I don't want to be so overworked that I can't enjoy them or enjoy D.C.  So I will probably stick with those classes.

I got registered and did some grading for the online classes that I'm teaching; I'm underemployed, but not unemployed.  Again, technology worked as it should.  I realized that I hadn't heard about my unemployment benefits, even though I applied over a month ago, so I logged on to see what was going on.

My case is listed as pending, which it has been since I filed.  I looked around the site, and as in the past, I found no information.  I decided to call.  And thus, technology failed me.  I was bounced from recorded voice to recorded voice, before being disconnected.  The instructional videos showed me views of screens and dashboards that I could never find.  I was told that my account had been disabled because I tried to log on too many times, but it let me log on again from a new screen.

Finally, I gave up, which is what the state of Florida hopes I will do.  I will keep trying.  I am lucky--I have resources of all sorts.  What would happen if I didn't?

I know what would happen.  I have heard the horrible stories.

This morning I realized that I had gotten so snarled up in the "re-employment assistance" hell that I didn't go to my lectio divina session.  My New Testament professor offered us extra credit for attending, and so I signed up.  In some ways, if I had to miss an appointment, at least it was that one, since it's a come as you can appointment.  I missed an earlier session of lectio a few weeks ago, so I've probably already forfeited the 2 points.  Still it irked me to be consumed with something so soul draining when I could have spent time with the lectio group.  Sigh.

My spouse came home from his on-campus requirement, and we looked online at some properties in South Carolina again.  We have a variety of possible approaches to investing the profits from our home sale, and buying a house within commuting distance of LTSS, the seminary in Columbia, where I am likely to have to do a Lutheran year when I'm done at Wesley.

And then we disconnected from technology altogether, joining good friends who once lived in the neighborhood, for wine and cheese.  It was one of the perfect outdoor nights that we so rarely get here, and we decided to enjoy time in their backyard, instead of going out.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Teacher Aura

Today as I took my morning walk, I got an interesting comment.  A couple sat on the bench overlooking the lake snuggled together to keep out the chill.  We nodded morning greetings as I walked by, and then when I walked back, one of them asked, "Are you a teacher?"

I stopped and said, "I teach English at Broward College.  And I've taught at a lot of other places."  One of them said, "We thought so.  You have that aura."

I said, "I'm going to take that as a good thing."  They nodded and said, "It is!"

That encounter cheered me, as I had been feeling like a limping, hunched over version of whatever I am or used to be.  I've had over a week of sore back and sore feet and sometimes sore knees and hips.  The one morning that I felt more pain free was the one where I only got 4 hours of sleep, so I was in bed less hours.  Sigh.

But the week hasn't been all grim news and pain.  I saw an ad for a teaching job that lasts just 6-7 weeks in the summer, either in Amherst, MA or Chicago.  It includes room and board and pays $15,000 which seems like a lot of money for part-time work.  It would be working with high school grads, improving their writing skills, before they went to college.  

I was about to keep scrolling, and then I thought, wait, I could do this.  I'm free--I don't have a full-time job, I'm not taking seminary classes, and my other adjunct work can be done from anywhere.  I plan to apply.

I like being in a part of my life where there might be multiple ways to keep my teacher aura burnished.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Beachside Foxes

Yesterday during my walk, I had several encounters with one of the neighborhood foxes.  As I write that sentence, I wonder if people still use the term "fox" to mean an attractive female.

I saw the fox from a distance of a block, as we both walked east.  As always, I wondered if I was seeing a fox, a coyote, or a dog.  But the head made me think I wasn't seeing a dog.  And it was a slender creature, which made me think it was either a baby coyote or a fox.  Plus, I've seen a fox in the neighborhood before, but never a coyote.

I continued east to the Intracoastal and then around by the marina, heading up to the route around North Lake.  A few blocks away from the path around the top of the lake, I saw the fox again.  This time, the fox crossed the street, stopped under a tree, and stared at me.

I stared back.  I didn't want to make the fox feel threatened.  Plus, I wanted a good look.  My spouse and I have a long running disagreement.  He often thinks he's seen a coyote, and I think he's probably seeing the neighborhood foxes.

Eventually, I kept walking, and the fox trotted off into a back yard.  I walked home, thinking of all the forest creatures that are here, in a beachside town full of concrete and high towers, very far away from any forest.  If I wrote children's books, I'd write about foxes and raccoons who live in the abandoned houses and go to the beach after everyone goes home.

At home, I looked at various pictures to be sure I was seeing a fox instead of a coyote, and I'm pretty sure it was a fox.  It would have been small for a coyote, but more than that, its face was more like a fox than a coyote.  And back to that slang--how did that become a term for a beautiful woman?  Foxes are cute enough, but other animals are much more beautiful.

I spent the rest of the day working on writing for seminary classes and meeting former colleague friends for lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  In later years, when I look back and wonder why I wasn't writing during this time when I was underemployed and a part-time student, let me remember that I'm writing thousands of words a week.  For my New Testament class, each weekly assignment clocks in at over 1,000 words, and that's just one class.  I'm writing a similar amount for Hebrew Bible and I'm writing 300-500 words each week for my Religion and the Arts class.  And some of it might be useful in other contexts--but the larger importance is that it keeps my writing muscles in use.

It's the kind of delightful life that I have to keep fighting back this fear that I might be punished later.  But what kind of punishment do I fear? Will I regret this time of not optimizing my earning potential?  I doubt it.

Let me remember the many delights of this time.  

Friday, March 25, 2022

Old Notebooks, Fresh Lines

My professor for my Language and the Arts class is open to the idea of a creative project for our end of class project/paper.  Since the class returns to the poems of Jericho Brown periodically, I proposed adopting his process/method for creating duplexes, and my professor agreed.  I will also be writing an essay on the theological implications that I uncover.

Yesterday I decided to get started.  Here's Jericho Brown, describing his process in this interview:

"With all my poems, and with the duplexes especially, but with all my poems, I really just try to use everything I have. I really want to imagine a world in which we have everything we need. And if I can imagine that world in my poems, I hope I can make that world come true in real life. People talk about what they do in their writing day or what they do with their writing time. One of the things that I’m doing is I’m really excavating lines that go back. There are lines in "The Tradition" that go as far back as 1999, and I’m going back and looking at all of those lines and trying to put them together, trying to use what I couldn’t use before because I should know now. I should be a better poet now than I was then, and yet, even then I was a poet and therefore, I had lines that worked. I just didn’t know how to make them work in a poem.

So that’s how the duplexes were made. I quite literally took every line that I had ever written in a poem that didn’t work, or every line that wasn’t yet in a poem that was 9-11 syllables long, and I put them all in a file. I printed them out. I cut them up. And I started working with them as little slips of paper."

I am not going to be able to take every line I haven't used in a poem.  It's not practical to go through 30 years of poetry notebooks, although the idea does intrigue me.  But yesterday, I spent several hours going through notebooks, typing lines into a Word document, and I only made it back to 2019.

I am impressed with these lines.  I think I now have enough lines to commence with cutting and shuffling, but I may go through a few more notebooks to add more.  My goal is to start cutting and shuffling during the parts of April when I'm at retreats and can leave the lines spread out if I need to.  Of course, if I do feel inspired to get started earlier, I will.  

Yesterday's process was different than the times when I look through poetry notebooks to evaluate poems in terms of whether or not they are ready to send out for publication.  Yesterday was much more fun, in many ways.  I was delighted in my lines without having to feel the frustration of a poem that didn't ever really come together.

I also see some throughlines in terms of symbols, themes, and images, but these were not surprising to me.  I'm aware of how my work repeats itself, both in good ways and bad.  Right now, I'm just happy to get anything on paper.  If I was further along in a poetry career--like if I was putting together a new and collected volume of poems--I would be worried in a different way.

I've always wanted to do this, to take lines from poems that didn't work and see what I could do with them.  But I've often been more compelled to work on new ideas, so I've never made it back to old lines.  I'm glad that I have a chance to do this for my seminary class.  

Thursday, March 24, 2022

On the Feast Day of Archbishop Romero

Today I have many things swirling in my brain; let me capture a few of them.

--Today is the feast day of Archbishop Romero.  For a more focused discussion on his life and why he's still relevant, see this post on my theology page.  I made this collage card more than a few years ago now.  When I made it, it seemed impossible that he would ever be made a saint.  Wow.

--I was happy to be able to "attend" the Romero lecture at my seminary--ah, the wonders of technology. And now, you can too, at the Wesley Theological Seminary You Tube page here.  Dr. Debora Agra Junker presented a compelling talk entitled "Collective Indignation-Imagination: The Prophetic Duty of Our Times." 

--I was sad to hear that Madeleine Albright died--what an amazing brain she had.  As I read this appreciation of her work in The Washington Post, I thought about what a different world we would have if more leaders had listened to her along the way.

--I was happy to hear that the Violence Against Women act was re-authorized.  Finally!  I realize the money was still being spent on these programs, but I'm happy for the official recognition.  Similarly, I'm glad that Congress passed legislation to make lynching an official crime--how hard can this be?  

--Today I will write a poem that begins this way:  On the feast day of Archbishop Romero, she feeds the cats.  I am hoping to write a poem that makes important connections.  We shall see.

--My poetry brain feels a bit shriveled.  I need to get back to writing more poetry.  I'm not doing much in the way of submissions either.  That process has gotten expensive and feels increasingly futile.

--It's also strange to hear about so many people heading to Philadelphia for the AWP convention that starts today.  At one point, I thought I might be living in D.C., where it would be easy to go in terms of travel--no plane.  But it's still a lot of money for the hotel, and we're still in a pandemic, where I thought lots of stuff might be cancelled.  And did I mention how much money it is?  I'm taking that money and going to several retreats, which will likely feed my soul in different and important ways.

--Yesterday, instead of travelling to Philadelphia, I spent hours on the phone this morning sorting out COBRA health insurance issues. Happily I was able to get the issues sorted out to restore our dental insurance--and I got our rental condo vacuumed while I was on hold.

--I want to make note of an encounter in my church's parking lot last night.  I was there to pick my spouse up after he went to choir rehearsal, and I grabbed a quick dinner with a friend and former student.  One of our church friends who also sang with my spouse in the Broward Chorale.  She wanted to tell me again about how moving my sermon was, how she continued to think about it, which was rare for her.  I preached that sermon on March 13, and it didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked, so I was grateful for praise last night.  It's really easy for me to get in a negative spiral when I had the perfect sermon in my head (and on paper--see this blog post for an idea of what I thought the sermon would be).  It's good to remember that even an imperfect sermon (and they're all imperfect) can be powerful.

--And today, it's time to get some food in the house.  Let me head off to get this done early, before the crowds arrive.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Ups, Downs, and a Hand Crafted Magazine

Yesterday was an up and down and up again kind of day.  In retrospect, I probably should have tried to get more sleep.  Much of the down part of the day was probably a result of tiredness from not getting to bed until 2 a.m. the night before.

We had to get up because my spouse had a dental appointment, the first with our insurance by way of COBRA now.  He took the new information and headed to the dentist, and when he didn't return, I assumed everything was fine.

Sadly, no.  I'm still not sure what exactly is wrong, but I'll spend some time on the phone this morning to try to get it sorted out.

I had been in a strange mood of self-castigation about losing my job.  It's a strange mood, because I'm not exactly sure what happened, so it's really strange to hear my self-talk full of criticism of me.  I'm good at recognizing it and dismissing it, but not so good at not letting my brain wander there.

While my spouse was at the dentist, I went to the Wesley Theological Seminary website, and I realized that the Fall schedule of classes was posted.  I spent an hour both pleasant and scary, looking at what was available, going to various parts of the website to remind myself of what's required, second guessing myself about choosing to go this seminary route, and finishing with a bit of panic when I couldn't find the web page that gave details about the specialization in Theology and the Arts.  Could the school have ended it?  Round and round my brain went.

By afternoon, I told my brain that we had to get some progress made on the exegesis midterm for my New Testament class that was due at midnight.  I settled in and herded my thoughts to school work.  And then, my thoughts shifted as I made progress.  I spent the afternoon looking deeply at 1 Corinthians 11:  17-34, reading back over course notes and textbooks, writing and revising.  It was delightful.

In the middle of the afternoon, there was a knock on the door, which almost never happens, since we have a desk where visitors must check in downstairs.  I opened the door to find two pre-teen girls.  They weren't unfamiliar to me--when the game room downstairs first opened, one night we took turns playing pool, ping pong, foos ball, and Pacman.  I see them around the building and the courtyard; they're usually on some sort of wheels, scooters, skates, and the like.

It took me a few minutes to figure out why they knocked on my door.  At first I thought they were selling magazine subscriptions, but they didn't carry the paperwork pouch that those student salesforces usually do.  Come to find out, they were taking orders for magazines they planned to make.  They would return with my magazine and I would owe them anything from one dollar to three dollars.

What a deal!  I requested a magazine that had to do with food or recipes.  And last night, they returned:

I am so enchanted!  The recipes don't really work, but of course, I don't need recipes.

I'd love to know what other residents ordered.  Did they get delightful illustrations too?

I don't know what delighted me most:  the entrepreneurial spirit, the handmade magazines, the can-do attitude, the enthusiasm?  Yes to all of those.

It also took me back to my childhood, where I would create The Berkey Bulletin, make copies, and mail them to my relatives who had subscribed.  I loved every part of the process.

By evening, my up and down mood of the day was up again.  I turned in my midterm exegesis and went to bed, grateful for all the ways my day had turned out to be a good one.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Flying by Night

Several times last night I thought about that phrase "fly by night," as in "that fly by night dental school," which means you would never let their graduates near your mouth.    But my experience flying by night was sublime, when it wasn't somewhat ridiculous.

Yesterday my folks dropped me off at the Richmond (Virginia) airport at 4 p.m., and I didn't get my checked bag off the Ft. Lauderdale carousel until 1:40 a.m.  Could I have driven faster?  I'd have driven 934 miles, so no, probably not.

I should also say that I didn't pay for a direct flight.  My departure/arrival time was more important to me than a direct flight, and it didn't hurt that the flights with the times I needed were cheaper than direct flights.

As always, the Richmond airport delights.  It would have been easy to stay spaced apart without having to be so far away from the gate that one might miss one's flight.  At the Atlanta airport, I found no respite from the throngs of humanity.  Where were we all going?  It was hard not to see that airport as a superspreader event. 

I brought 2 books with me, and I finished both of them before my second flight.  I read Detransition, Baby, which was interesting, but not the exploration of brave new families that book reviews led me to expect.  Then I read Send for Me, which was spare and beautiful in a spartan way, but not gripping in terms of plot.

I finished that book while the plane was still on the tarmac in Atlanta.  What would I do during the 90 minute flight to Ft. Lauderdale?

Stare at the moon, that's what.  Was it significantly different staring at the moon from a height of 30,000 feet?  Not really.  It didn't make the difference that a telescope would make, for example.  But I saw the sky turn reddish purple and then golden and then the huge mostly full disc of the moon emerged, not quite full, but not a half moon either.  I could see the land below, the glittering lights, the dark splotches.  I could see some long lines of clouds that looked more like surf, but I was sure they were not.

An added bonus:  for much of the flight, the cabin lights were dimmed, so the view was even more compelling.  Not having a book to read didn't bother me at all.

I realize that most of my fellow fliers weren't as lucky as I was--in addition to having a window seat with a view, I was in that 1 exit row seat that didn't have a seat in front of it, so I could stretch my legs.  At one point, I looked over to see if my rowmate wanted to look out the window.  At the beginning of the flight, he had been pecking on his phone so intently that the flight attendant said, "Sir?  Did you hear a word I said about your duties and this exit row seat?"  After the lights went out, he fell asleep.  I hogged the window, guilt-free!

I wanted to tell everyone to look out the window, to tell them what an amazing celestial show they were missing by sleeping or staring into their phones/tablets.  I'm willing to be arrested for many activities, but reminding my fellow travelers to look out the window is not one of them, so I stayed quiet.

Last night, I was the quiet mystic, staring out the window at the moon, not the prophet, shouting at people to renounce their false gods and realize how we can find God in nature.  Last night, I was the woman wishing I had a camera that could capture that beauty and realizing that sometimes (often), it's best to just let beauty wash over us as we fly by night.  

Monday, March 21, 2022


Today I pack up my stuff and head home--which makes me think about the whole idea of home.  Let me collect some odds and ends here:

--First of all, let me acknowledge how discombobulating it is to be thinking of "home" as a concept when we're in a time of huge dislocation for so many people.  As much as 25% of the population of Ukraine may be displaced, for example.  And although Ukraine is getting much of our attention right now, it's hardly the only refugee issue.

--I can't remember where I read the story of the Ukrainian woman who was on a business trip in a non-Ukrainian European city when Putin invaded.  She has at least one child in Ukraine, and she can't get back.  I've thought of her often and wondered how she's doing, and more specifically, what she's doing.  Did she pack the right kind of clothes?  The clothes we need for a business trip can be so different than the clothes we would need for regular life, and those clothes may be different than the clothes we would need as refugees.  How long was the business trip?  Can she access her money?  Can she get in touch with family in Ukraine?  Is she still employed?

--Her story is not what made me pack such a large suitcase.  I'm flying Southwest, so I can check a bag for free.  I brought clothes for lounging, clothes for church, clothes for cold weather (but no coat), and clothes for warm weather.  If I stayed here a day longer, I'd need to wash a load of socks.

--My parents moved to their current home in 2011.  They're in a continuing care retirement community, the kind of place where one can live in a separate house or an apartment or a room with more care, and there's a memory care unit where those with Alzheimer's won't wander away.  When I visit, I stay in a hotel-like room in the apartment building.  There's no wi-fi in the apartment, so I spend early mornings in the library downstairs.  There's a coffee machine in Archie's Tavern across from the library, and I drink latte after latte each morning.

--I will miss this routine.

--Because my parents moved a lot when I was young, I don't feel like I had an ancestral home, so there's not that sense of loss.  But they've lived here long enough that it does feel like a homecoming when I visit.

--I have been impressed with how all the residents here in my parents' community make their homes their own.  While I was here, in the apartment unit building, on the 5th floor, the St. Patrick's decorations got exchanged for Easter eggs and bunnies.  My parents' housing area has lovely garden spots and a wide variety of bird feeders and bird houses.

--From my parents' neighbor, I learned that chickadees make their nests out of moss, wrens out of sticks, and bluebirds out of pine straw.  It seems that there should be a poem out of all these images of nests and refugees and travel, but I worry it would seem trite in the face of the serious subject matter.

--I will be returning to our rented condo, a place that both feels like home, but is extremely temporary.  And it is strange to reflect how many of my South Florida friends have moved away and how different life in South Florida is.

--It's strange to be in a different place.  I haven't been sleeping well, and I'm not sure why.  I woke up yesterday thinking about the fact that my full-time job let me go without a real explanation.  From an HR standpoint, I understand why they didn't give me details.  From a Kristin perspective, it means I don't have closure, and my curious brain keeps wondering what happened.  I wasn't fired, exactly--I wasn't let go for cause, which means I can still get unemployment.  So it wasn't exactly my fault, but I can't really be sure, can I?

--This trip begins my 5 weeks of intense travel, which wouldn't be possible if I still had that job.  I've got 3 retreats planned between now and the end of April.

--I saw the Holy Week schedule for my home church, and I thought about the fact that my seminary gives us an Easter break.  I thought, well of course they do; so many of us are employed by churches, so we need to be available for Maundy Thursday onward to Easter Sunday.  That fact makes me feel a sense of homecoming in a different way.  No more sneaking away to Holy Week services!

--And now it's time for me to return to my room to put everything back in my suitcase--I'll spend the next 5 weeks taking these same clothes, or variations of them, in and out of this suitcase.  Then I'll head to my parents' independent living unit, where I'll have breakfast with my folks, my sister, and my sister's dog.

--Soon I hope to be living closer, as I do seminary work on campus in person in DC this fall.  That will be yet another homecoming, that is both a homecoming by traditional definition, and so much more.  

--I hope it means I can see my family more often and have this kind of homecoming too.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Spring Shifts, 2022

Today Spring arrives officially--Happy Vernal Equinox!  This morning I am writing in Williamsburg, Virginia, where one can see the shifting of the seasons more visibly than in South Florida, where I live.  In Williamsburg, some of the trees are still bare, while some, like the pear trees, are blooming.  There's a splotch of pink here and there in the branches of other trees, along with some trees studded with red buds.  Some of the ground is bare, but one doesn't have to look very far to find clumps of daffodils.

Yesterday, my mom, sister, and I went to the outlets nearby.  We wanted to get in and out before it got crowded.  In some ways, it was like falling through a hole in time--one could almost believe the last two years of pandemic hadn't happened.  Very few people wore masks, but I've gotten used to that, sort of.  But I've also been reading about a new, more transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19.  

We got our shopping done and headed home.  We had thought about taking my mom out for her birthday, but we decided to fix a celebratory meal at home.  We spent the afternoon taking it easy.  I worked on some seminary assignments, my sister did some work, and my mom and dad took a nap.  We took advantage of the mild weather and had our appetizers outside.

It was a lovely evening, and I know how lucky we are to have come through the past 2 years with our health more or less intact.  I know how lucky I am to have both of my parents still here.  We sat with our appetizers, and I watched people moving about:  headed up to the facility where they could get dinner, cleaning up from afternoon chores, getting ready for the day to end.

Today we will go to early church and then to brunch, back at my mom and dad's community where everyone is vaccinated and boosted, so the risk seems minimal.  But it will still feel precious to me, this chance to have brunch together, holding the possible ravages of life at bay, just for a few hours.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Writing a Psalm of Lament

Today I need to get started on my Psalm of Lament for one of my seminary classes.  Here is the assignment, which is a really cool way to help us understand Psalms, particularly a psalm of lament:

This assignment has 2 parts (Please post as ONE document):
1) Write your own lament, either individual or communal, following the structure of the lament psalm as discussed in the videos, assigned readings, and power points.
There is no specified length for your lament. 
2) In one paragraph, discuss why you would or would not preach from an angry lament in your ministry setting.
Due Sunday, March 20 by 11:59 p.m. No attachments please. Cut and paste a previously written Word document with both parts in it.

I've been thinking about the assignment for days, but I feel a bit of hesitancy.  My main hesitancy is that there are so many possible laments:  climate change (it's 70 degrees warmer than normal in Antarctica, an event which would have been declared as impossible, until it happened--see this story in The Washington Post), the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, various refugee crises, so many of my friends moving away, and that's just the immediate list.

There are advantages to each one, and disadvantages too.  Part of me imagines that all of my classmates will be writing about Ukraine, so part of me wants to do something different.  But Putin is such an easy subject for a Psalm of lament--too easy?  And does climate change have an obvious enough villain?  Could my Psalm of lament ask for a planetary reset?  That's probably not a good idea for humans, depending on how far back we go. 

I have a bit of time before the due date, and this is the kind of writing assignment that won't take as much time as the writing assignment that asks for secondary sources--so I'm not panicked.  But it is time to make some choices.

As I move through seminary, my student mind is most engaged.  But there's always in the background my teacher mind and my writer mind.  My teacher mind evaluates assignments, and happily, so far, my teacher mind has been pleased and impressed.  My writer mind is always thinking, how could I recycle this work into other kinds of writing.  Some assignments don't lend themselves to much else, but this one has potential.

But first, I must begin . . . 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Travel, School, Life: The Same and Yet Different

Here I sit in Williamsburg where my parents live, working on my computer, after a plane trip yesterday.  Once that sentence would not be remarkable.  But at certain points yesterday, I shook my head at how events were both strange and familiar.

I haven't taken a plane trip in 2 years.  In some ways, not much is different, although yesterday it seemed like more people were in the Ft. Lauderdale and Atlanta airports.  Yesterday, as I waited in the very long security line at 4 a.m., I laughed at the Kristin who thought the airport would be deserted at that very early morning hour.  Lots of people were returning from cruises, to judge from conversations I overheard, including lots of college students.  What a different spring break life I had as a student, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was happy to return home to my own bed and my bread baking equipment.

A major difference, of course, is the masks we all wore, some of us more correctly than others.  I was happily surprised that most people had something around their faces on the plane and in the airport once we got past the security line.  In the security line, all bets were off.  I thought of the crowds on Monday night as we walked to a restaurant and how I worried I might have been exposed to disease that I would bring to my parents.  Monday was the least of my worries as it turns out.  But I still felt relatively safe during yesterday's travel which may say more about my faith in vaccines, booster shots, and my own mask than it says about the accuracy of my safe feelings.

Although the flights and the airports were packed, yesterday's airplane experience was fairly easy.  There was a moment when we landed in Atlanta, where the full moon was setting and the fog was intensifying.  In some ways, it felt like we had landed on an alien planet, as the plane rumbled into the parking spot.  I thought I might end up stuck in Atlanta until the sun burned off the fog, but my layover was several hours, so it wasn't a problem.

I was traveling alone, so I used the time to get lost in a book, Jonathan Franzen's latest, Crossroads.  I understand all the reasons why people don't like him, but he knows how to spin a compelling story, and this one has the best elements of The Corrections, a book which thrilled me.  I'm not done yet, but I'm happy to be reading it.

The Richmond airport was comparatively empty, which was a relief, and I had no trouble getting my bag and hopping into my parents' car.  And then we were off, back to Williamsburg.  If I hadn't known that the temperature outside was in the 50's, I'd have thought that a snowstorm was blowing in.  Even with dark clouds, the rain held off.

We relaxed for a bit, made dinner, and then I was off--back to my parents' study, where I logged on to my seminary class.  What an amazing world we live in!

This morning, I'm thinking back to the last time that I was here, in January of 2019, and my plan was to return several times a year in a more concerted effort to see my parents more often while they are still in the healthy part of old age.  While I've always been aware of apocalyptic possibilities, I would not have anticipated a global pandemic disrupting my plans, along with all the plans of all of us.  Sigh.

And now we're looking at a variety of possible plan interruptions:  a new variation of this virus, a brutal invasion of Ukraine, chief among them. And then there's my own individual disrupters:  job loss, house sale, S. Florida becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Earlier this week, I woke up feeling a bit panicked about money--my last paycheck from my old job was March 15.  But I'm trying not to linger long in that panic.  Similarly, as I walked through the Richmond airport, I thought, we should have moved years ago--but we don't have a time machine to go back, so that line of thinking isn't useful.

There are days when I worry that I'm diving off a dangerous precipice by pursuing my seminary dreams.  But then I go to class, and I am so thrilled to have this opportunity.  I choose to see that through an Ignatian lens:  seminary is a space of consolation, and worrying about money while I have house sale profits in the bank is a space of desolation. 

Let me continue to move towards consolation.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Leaving on a Jet Plane

If all has gone well, by the time this piece of writing posts on my blog at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 17, I'll be on a plane that will be leaving the gate. My spouse is still at home.  When I made plans to go to my mom and dad's for her birthday, he was scheduled to teach more classes which have since been canceled.  And truth be told, he still has plenty of work to do, and leaving him at home meant that I can be gone a bit longer.

None of this would be possible if I hadn't been downsized.  The week-end after being told that my old bosses would be going their separate way from me, I found great plane tickets and made the decision.  A few weeks later, Putin would invade Ukraine, and I'll be surprised if we ever see such cheap airfare again in the next few months.

When I was at AWP in San Antonio in 2020, I saw great rates and booked a ticket to go up to celebrate my mom's birthday.  I knew that there were all sorts of rumblings about this new disease, but I was booking the ticket just 2 weeks in advance.  Surely the situation couldn't change that quickly, could it?

It could, and it did.  The ticket only cost $100, and I got a 2 year extension.  But I'm not using that ticket.  Since then, the airline has changed so much that it's easier to just give up the money and get a cheaper fare on a different airline.  And the real truth is that I didn't have the fortitude to deal with being on the phone to find out what how to find and use that ticket that I bought in 2020, as the online system wasn't recognizing me.

It's strange to think that I haven't been on a plane in 2 years.  I've gotten out of practice.  At one point, I could have packed for a trip in about 10 minutes.  I had a separate set of travel size cosmetics.  I knew which restaurants in which airports I hoped to find open and what food I hoped to buy there.

Now I mainly hope that my fellow passengers are healthy and masked.  I've always hoped for the health of fellow passengers, but it's different this year.  This year, I'm also hoping that everyone is vaccinated and in a calm mood.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Seminary Student Gratitudes

Last night was my first night of seminary class after reading week ended, and for my New Testament class, it was our first meeting in 3 weeks.  Two weeks ago, my professor was on a plane to lead a study tour in the Holy Land, so we had an online module.  As she opened the class, my professor noted how much has changed in those 3 weeks.  Then, instead of an opening devotion or lectio divina, she played a video that showed people reciting/praying Psalm 31 in Ukrainian.  Some of the people were definitely in a shelter of some kind.  Some were surrounded by suitcases.

I thought about how lucky I am to be part of this seminary community, where of course we will pray these kinds of prayers.  Our discussion of Paul's letter to the Romans circled back to Ukraine in interesting ways; after all, Romans 13 advocates submission to political leaders, saying that God has ordained them.

God has ordained Vladimir Putin?  Really?

It was such a good conversation that some of us lingered after the class began to talk about issues of predestination, election and grace--reading Romans 9-11 really triggered one of my fellow students who had gone to a more Calvinist/Presbyterian secondary school, although he is a more mainstream Methodist.  I thought about my own experiences in elementary school years in a private school run by Presbyterians.  But since it was in Montgomery, Alabama, they were closer to Baptists than to Calvinists.  Each Friday in fifth grade we had chapel with a hellfire and brimstone sermon and altar call.  Each Friday in 5th grade, I asked Jesus to come into my heart, just in case he hadn't heard me in previous weeks.

But I digress.  

One of the benefits of a virtual synchronous seminary class is that I can stay late but not have to drive home.  After 40 minutes of additional, soul nourishing conversation, we all logged off, and I headed to bed, where I had trouble falling asleep because it had been such a good class.

Yesterday was a day full of reminders of how grateful I am to be a seminary student.  Yesterday was the day that applications open for on-campus housing for Fall 2022, and I had some questions.  Once again, I called the very nice person in charge, and once again, she was so helpful.  We don't actually have to pay a deposit until we move in; unlike other places, it's not to hold our spot.  Our spot will be ours until we move in (and pay the deposit) or tell the housing office that we've found something else.  It's so different from some school experiences.  

I also did our taxes yesterday.  I had hoped that the tuition that I paid would lead to a bigger refund, and indeed, it did.  Hurrah!  Again, I was happy to be reminded of the advantages of being a seminary student.

Yesterday morning, it was rainy, and I made this Facebook post:  "Well, my current state of mind could be dangerous. I decided not to go for a walk, since it seems rainy. I'm enjoying tea and homemade bread that is toasted and spread with butter, and I'm realizing why people decide never to exercise/work again, when they could enjoy mornings with tea and toast and butter."

But part of what made it so delightful was that I had seminary work to do, and I had the time to immerse myself in it.  And what's even more delightful is that this situation will continue--it wasn't just a one day holiday from the office.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A Night Out with Quilt Group Friends

Last night, the member of our quilt group that moved upstate was back in town.  So I drove to Delray Beach, where another member of our quilt group moved, and we walked over to DaDa, a cool restaurant in an old house.  I gave myself plenty of time to get there, which meant I got there early.  When I leave and give myself precisely the amount of time it should take to get there, there's inevitably a slow down.

My Delray friend showed me the remodeled downstairs of the apartment building, and I got a coffee out of the upscale coffee machine.  We went up to her apartment to wait for our other friend.  The last time I was in her apartment, in 2019 just after she first moved there, I couldn't imagine doing what my friend had just done:  downscaled, sold her house, and moved to an apartment.  Now I have done the same thing.

The website said that the restaurant didn't take reservations, so we were surprised to get to the restaurant to find that they did.  Consequently, all the lovely outdoor seating was taken.  However, they did have seating inside, and luckily we got to sit way in the back, in a small room, and even more luckily, very few people were seated back there with us.  The front rooms were very crowded and noisy, and I am so glad we didn't have to sit there.

I was also glad that we didn't have to find another restaurant; they all looked full as we walked by them.  In fact, I was astonished at the crowds of people everywhere.  While I know that we're at the height of the South Florida tourist season, and while I know that many people have decided that the pandemic is over, it was discombobulating being around them all.

The meal was delicious.  I decided to order the special--yellowtail snapper, which is one of my favorite types of fish.  It was served with a citrus buerre blanc sauce, which would have made anything delicious.  We decided not to eat dessert there, in favor of the ice cream shop down the street.  The ice cream shop had candy too, but we didn't buy any.  I loved all the different flavors of ice cream, but I limited myself to one, the almond joy, which was exactly how it sounded:  coconut, chocolate and almonds, all woven together.

As I drove home, I thought about all the people we had seen.  As I drove by the restaurant district of downtown Hollywood, I didn't see similar numbers of people, although it was much past the dinner hour by then.  This morning I woke up thinking that perhaps I should use one of our COVID test kits in the coming days.  I'll have to research the optimum time.

It was good to see my friends in person, which happens much more rarely these days.  In some ways, I'm grateful we've had our monthly Zoom sessions--we didn't have to catch up on 2+ years in one evening out.

In fact, I keep thinking about how much easier Zoom is, in so many ways:  less driving, less noise, fewer crowds, less irritation (at least, as long as the technology is going smoothly).  I think about all the other settings where I've assumed that meeting by way of electronics is a pale imitation:  school classes, church.  I've thought they are a pale imitation, or something so different that we shouldn't compare them at all, like comparing apples to tricycles.  

But maybe, they're better in many ways.

I'm still grateful we had a chance to meet in person.  I'm still grateful that we have multiple options.  And I'm also glad that the whole culture is figuring out how to make connections when making connections is a challenge.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Time for Writing, Time for Travel

Most days I would have already been out walking, watching the early parts of sunrise.  Today, the first day of daylight savings time when a cold front has blown through, it is dark outside, and I'm staying put for a bit.  My spouse was up late, so he'll be sleeping for a bit longer.  Let me see if I can get some writing done.

I wish I had an idea for a poem, or ideas that seem to be coalescing enough that I reach for my poetry notebook.  But that is not my plan for this morning.

I have a variety of seminary class discussion posts that I need to get ready to post in the next 24 hours.  Some of them are already at rough draft stage, so I just need to revise them and figure out how to conclude them.

I am about to enter a different phase of being a seminary student.  In the fall, I began as a seminary student with a full-time administrator job plus a part-time teaching job.  Since early February, I've been a seminary student with a part-time teaching job.  Two of those classes just ended, but one more has started.  I am about to start travelling for the next five weeks, so in some ways, I've got more balancing to do.

But I'll be travelling to places where I'm expecting to be able to find wi-fi, so I can still get my seminary work done.  I continue to be amazed at how easy it is to access secondary sources from the seminary library.  Much has changed since the first time I was in grad school from 1987-1992.  

I am enjoying this time of underemployment when it has become possible to immerse myself in seminary studies and travel in a way that I couldn't have if still employed in my administrator job.  I didn't have enough vacation time, and I never would.

I am not doing non-seminary writing and submitting in the way that I would like.  But I've had times of less creative writing before, and I know that fallow times are normal.  And I am still writing.  It may not be writing that will lead to publication, but my poetry/fiction writing often doesn't lead to publication either.

All writing keeps us in practice, keeps us noticing, keeps us prioritizing writing.  Let me turn my attention to writing that is due in the next 24-48 hours.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Remain in Port

This morning, during my walk through our swampy morning, I thought about the fact that a gale warning is in effect until tomorrow morning.  Really?  There's not a breeze of any kind, I thought.  I do realize that conditions over the water may be very different.

I am guessing that conditions will worsen over the day.  Just because a gale warning goes into effect at 7 a.m. doesn't mean those conditions will spring up right away.

The ending of the gale warning has stuck with me.  It seems appropriate for so many areas of our lives today:

"Mariners should alter plans to avoid these hazardous conditions.
Remain in port, seek safe harbor, alter course, and/or secure the
vessel for severe conditions.

A sudden onset of rough seas may cause hazardous conditions,
which may occur suddenly at jetties and inlets. These conditions
could catch boaters by surprise. Boaters should remain in port."

I had no intention of boating, so staying in port is fine with me.  I've got lots of seminary writing to do, beginning with a paper on Micah.  The ancient prophets seem ever more relevant in these times.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Second Reading Week, Second Seminary Semester

My seminary has a reading week during Fall and Spring semesters.  It's a bit before the precise middle of the term.  In some ways, it feels like a disruption--we had just been settling into a rhythm, and now, no classes.  But my deeper feeling is appreciation for a pause:  a chance to catch up, the possibility of working ahead, a chance for rest before the next push.

In the fall, my first reading week felt different from the spring term reading week that comes to an end today.  In October, I was still working at my full-time job, so it was nice to have some breathing space.  I hadn't gotten behind, so I didn't need the time for catching up.  But it was good to have time to think about the tasks to come, to develop a plan.  And it was nice to spend evenings with my spouse, even if we did nothing more than watch TV.

Today, reading week for Spring term comes to an end, and it's been different from October, different and the same.  I no longer have an office that I have to go to for 9 hours a day; I no longer commute.  I had visions of getting ahead, but I haven't made as much progress there as I had hoped.

I teach online classes, and I had 2 of those classes end on Sunday, so I had lots of grading to do.  I also had a class that started on Wednesday, so I had a course shell to create.  It was good to have time to do that, without classes that I also needed to attend and work that I needed to do before the seminary class met.  It was good to have a break.

My spouse and I now have plenty of time together, so that aspect didn't change much.  Our ongoing challenge is to remember that we're not on vacation, that we do have work to do.  He, too, is teaching, but both online and in person.  There's been at least once each day where I've checked to make sure that I'm remembering correctly what day of the week it is.

In some ways, I prefer the weeks where my seminary classes are meeting--it gives me more structure, and reading week reminds me of the usefulness of that structure.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Food Pantry Portents

Yesterday morning, I headed over to my church to help at the food pantry.  Along the way, I stopped to get some peanut butter and jelly; the woman who runs the food pantry told me that of all the donations they get, peanut butter and jelly are the items they get the least.

I was amazed at how the food pantry has grown.  We now offer used clothing and other items (some toys, some backpacks, that kind of thing).  A local Girl Scout troop also runs a closet which offers trendier clothing for teenagers.

Our church has 2 fellowship halls, and the food and clothes pantry has taken up most of one of the fellowship halls.  Once, this would not have been possible--we would have needed that space for something else, like Sunday School classes and fellowship/outreach (like a women's group and a men's group).

As I bagged food, I thought about the news stories of people driving truck loads of supplies and food into Ukraine.  That is not our ministry.  We have people who come to our food pantry on such a regular basis that the woman who runs the food pantry knows about food allergies. In a way that makes me sad; we all want a food pantry to be a stop-gap measure, a response to an emergency.  In a way, this ministry feels like one of the more vital ones that we do as a small, neighborhood church.

We could also do some of the other ministries if there was interest and/or membership.  The other fellowship hall sits empty much of the week.  The larger implications are what might be more interesting to me:  how our individual church has changed in such a short amount of time.  Once we had more families with children; now we have almost none.  Once we had both a men's group and a women's group, then just a women's group, and now we have none.  Once retirees would have helped at the food pantry; now many of them have moved or are still limiting exposure to others or are in too poor health to help.

The pandemic is partly to blame, but these changes were in process even before the pandemic.  If I had more time, I might write about what these changes portend, but I have seminary work that needs my attention.  Some people might wonder why I'm bothering with seminary at all--the church is changing, and I might be preparing for a career that will soon no longer exist.

Or maybe we're about to enter a vibrant time of change, where the Church becomes an even better version of itself, and I can be part of what shapes direction. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Radio Free Europe and Other Places

Some random thoughts--can they make a loosely braided blog post?

--A Facebook post from late last week, one week after Russia's invasion of Ukraine:  "This afternoon I noticed the flag of Ukraine now flies above the Hollywood (FL) Arts Park. Two blocks away, there's a carnival "with modern midways" at the Little Flower Catholic Church and School. I'm just an ordinary poet and theologian, here to notice interesting juxtapositions on our Lenten Cold War II journey."

--A Facebook post from Monday, while I was listening to 80's music of my youth:  "Listening to REM sing "Radio Free Europe" and dreaming of being the poet theologian in residence of some sort of group that will give me a salary and health insurance. Our day job will be to get messages/poems of hope and resistance behind the front lines."

--We've been watching The Americans--yes, we're late to this party, although I read essays and reviews as the series aired, so I feel like I've seen parts of it.  I first started watching it a few months ago out of 80's nostalgia, and I had heard an interview on the NPR show 1A with Joe Weisberg, the man who created it.   I thought, if we're going to watch so much junk TV, maybe we should put some of it aside for some of the quality shows we've missed through the years, if we've got the right streaming service. Yesterday we watched another few episodes--interesting to watch this show about KGB agents with Putin never far from our minds.

--I also love the shots of DC--although as I read up on the show and realized how much of it was filmed in NYC, I realize I'm probably feeling nostalgia based on the wrong scenery.  So much of my heart remains in DC, and I'm feeling a bit breathless these days realizing that we are likely headed there very soon.  The breathlessness comes from hope and fear and anxiety.

--There is some part of me that thinks, of course you'll move to DC right about the time it becomes a target for nuclear weapons again.  And yes, I realize it is never not a target--its symbolism is too huge.

--And now, off to the rest of the day.  I made this Facebook post this morning:  "Back in my days of full + employment, Wednesdays were days full of dread and meeting after meeting. Now, because of underemployment, I can spend this Wednesday volunteering in my church's food pantry."  And I'll be making a stop along the way to help stock the food pantry with peanut butter and jelly--there's a constant need for it and very few donations.  I still have some microgrant money left over from a different feeding the hungry project, money that will vanish soon, so I'll use up the rest of the money this morning.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Making the World Better for Women--and All of Us

It is International Women's Day, and I feel like I should have something new to say.  But the reality is depressing, and there's not a lot new to say. 

If we look at basic statistics, like how much women earn compared to men in the very same jobs, we see that the U.S. has still not achieved equality. If we look at who is in charge in most workplaces, it's white men. If we look at violent crime rates, there are some years when violent crime rates have fallen--except for rape. If we look at representation in local, state, and federal levels, we see that members of government are still mostly white and male.

And that's in a first world country. The picture for women in developing nations is bleak.

This year, I'm thinking about Ukraine.  I'm thinking about all those women who assumed they were living in a European country, and therefore, they had some modicum of safety.  And now, most of the men in their lives are fighting off the Russian invaders, and they have sole responsibility for the children, and they have decisions to make about the safety of themselves and their children.

I wonder if we will someday feel the same way about climate change--everything is tentatively OK, except there's been a looming threat, and all of a sudden--or at least it feels like all of a sudden--the threat goes from looming to viciously upon us.

I think of pictures of packed train stations in Ukraine.  And I wonder about the pictures that I didn't see in past refugee crises.  I know that these are not the first packed train stations in the past 30 years.  During the hasty retreat from Afghanistan in August, we were in the midst of a big move--is that why I don't remember similar pictures?  Were there similar scenes in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea?

There are years when I could make the argument that we're making the world safer for women--not this year.  This year is the kind of time when I wonder if we ever make progress, if the idea of progress is just an illusion.

Yesterday I was in a parking lot, putting my purchases into the back of my car, trying to ignore the man standing by the car beside mine.  He was barking into his phone, spewing profanities, something about Ukraine, and what did people expect with who they voted for, and these people could just eat a sandwich made of excrement, they could eat a f*** sandwich.  I thought about the time not so long ago when most people would not curse like that in public, especially not when women were present.

Once I would have scorned the idea that we should change our behavior because women were present.  Now I wish more of us would change our behavior for the better, regardless of who is present.

Maybe in this way, we'd really make the world better for women and for everyone.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Signs of the Times: Gas Prices and Dolphins

Once I paid closer attention to gas prices.  When one particular gas station would change its price, I'd know it was an early warning indicator that all the prices would go up.  Sometimes I'd fill up the car, and other times I'd shrug.  After all, it was only a few pennies, and I'd remind myself we were only talking about saving a dime or two.

I've seen times when we couldn't get gas, primarily after hurricanes.  After Hurricane Wilma, for years I never let my gas tank drop below a quarter of a tank.  And then, that level of vigilance got to be too exhausting for a crisis that never came, and I let that practice slip.

Vigilance, relaxed vigilance, consequences, more vigilance--I see this cycle in many parts of my life.

I've seen gas lines come and go, and we're not at that stage yet, at least not down here.  But yesterday, driving home after church, we did see a gas station in the process of taking down the 3 in the price and putting up a 4 to start the price.  It's been awhile since I've seen gas prices that high.

We did stop to put gas in the car.  I headed to the station that is usually cheapest, but it was $3.99 a gallon.  Should we go back to the station that was $3.77 a gallon?  If the price on the sign was right, we'd save $1.40 by doing that--actually, we wouldn't, because I still had just under a half a tank of gas left.  My compact Prius has a gas tank that only holds 7 gallons, unlike every other car I've had that has a 10 gallon tank.

We filled up the tank at the station that has gas for $3.99 a gallon.  My car will tell me how much each trip costs, if I update the cost of gas at each refueling.  The last time I filled up the tank, gas was at $3.49 a gallon.  I tried to remember the last time I filled the car.  It was probably early February, just before being severed from my job, which means I wouldn't be using the car as much, but I didn't know that then.

Gas has gone up 50 cents a gallon in a month.  With war in Ukraine, I actually expected gas prices to go up more steeply in the last 2 weeks.

Yesterday on my morning walk, I saw another sign of the times, a more seasonal sign.  I walked over to Holland Park, which is on the Intracoastal Waterway and West Lake, and it's mainly boat ramps.  But it does have a wonderful board walk that allows people to walk or wheel their way over the water.  In the time just before sunrise, I stood staring at the Intracoastal and A1A, the road just beyond it.  And then I saw the powerful arch and fin of several dolphins as they made their way through the water.

I stood staring at the water for 10 more minutes.  Often one dolphin sighting leads to others, but not yesterday.  But still, it was magical, the kind of visit that made me understand those fairy tales where people hurl themselves into a harsh environment where they will not thrive, but they are so attracted to the mystical other that they can't help themselves.

It's normal to see dolphins this time of year.  There are more of them in South Florida because the waters are so cold further north, so we're more likely to see them now than other times of the year.  It's not unusual, but it's still not common.

In some ways, it was a comfort to see the dolphins--the world may be veering towards a war-torn reality that won't be pleasant and already is awful for so many.  But dolphins have not been extinguished; maybe we'll be lucky too.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

One Love, Loudly

It is interesting, having now lived in a rented condo across from an Arts Park for 7 months now.  We've seen, and more importantly heard, a wide variety of concerts.  I'm intrigued by the difference in decibels.

Last night, we were treated to the Maestro Marley Cup.  It actually started at 11:00 a.m. yesterday, but we didn't hear much of it until the evening.  I wish I liked reggae music more.  To be fair, I wouldn't like any music that was inescapable the way that the music last night was.  Even with the hurricane proof doors closed, the music was so loud that we couldn't hear the T.V.

Happily, not every concert is at that decibel level; so far, only the soca festival in August has been.  We've had the opportunity to hear other festivals and concerts at a much more enjoyable level, where if we didn't want to hear a concert, we could certainly do something else.

Even knowing how much people paid for the music we got to hear for free wasn't enough to ameliorate my mood last night.  Even knowing that I was hearing the offspring of musical legend Bob Marley wasn't enough to make me appreciative.

We knew that it might be a loud concert.  Throughout Friday afternoon and evening, we heard sound checks and felt that sense of dread.  We reminded ourselves that we didn't have to stay.  We could even spend Saturday night somewhere else--take a little trip.  

But we couldn't go too far away because we needed to be back for church on Sunday.  And then Saturday didn't seem too bad.  We had a mid-afternoon meal, and the noise level was hardly noticeable.  We decided to stay put.

By the time it was bad, we only had a few more hours of concert to endure--hardly worth the cost of a hotel room.  We went to the downstairs gameroom and played many, many games of pool.  I returned to the condo with a slight headache from the sounds of pool which quickly intensified because of the music.

At least it wasn't thumping music, the way the soca festival was.  And it did end right at 11:00, when it was scheduled to end.  And now that I'm underemployed, I'm not as grumpy at missing all the possibilities of a week-end day as I might have been.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Nuclear Flames

Here we are, a spring morning, a nuclear plant in Ukraine on fire (well, not exactly on fire, but not clearly out of danger either).  What year is it?  What decade?

Earlier this week, I made this Facebook post:  "Our COVID at home test kits came from the government. It seems so last year apocalypse. For 2022, I'd like some iodine tablets to protect our thyroids, some water purification tablets, a desk to crouch under, a textbook to protect my head and neck, the super expensive chocolate that I would only afford for myself in the end time."

As we drove to Ash Wednesday service, I asked my spouse if he was worried that Putin would use a nuclear weapon.  He said no.

I asked, "Are you not worried because you think he wouldn't do it or are you not worried because you think he would keep the nuclear strike small or are you not worried because you know we're far enough away not to be affected?"

We both snorted at that idea, and then we had a brief exchange about tactical nuclear strikes and the targets that Putin might choose.  My spouse focused on the kind of small, tactical nukes that one might carry in a backpack.  He thinks they've been used more during the past 60 years than we might think.

At one point, we both kept up with these sorts of nuclear developments.  At one point, I could have told you about the various ways that various types of detonations would harm us.  Now I rely on sites like this one, Nukemap.

I am just now realizing how luxurious the past 30 years have been, now that I'm realizing how much information has drained out of my brain.  I've worried about nuclear reactors, but more about hurricane hazards and sea level rise.  Now I'm thinking about them in the old ways again.

I am realizing, too, that not everyone came of age thinking about these issues.  One of my writer friends was surprised to hear about electromagnetic pulses and the fact that if a nuclear bomb detonated nearby, and if we survived, most cars wouldn't be able to operate anymore.  Of course, the nuclear war movies of the 1980's probably didn't stress the kind of tactical nuclear strike that we might see in coming days, so those kinds of details wouldn't have been stressed.

I think of those nuclear movies of my youth, and how dated the clothes, the interior design, the cars, the haircuts would seem to younger people watching them today.  I remember watching On the Beach, which I enjoyed much more when I read it than when I watched it.  As a book, it seemed like it could happen any moment.  As a movie, it seemed like something remote and far away, even though it was made in 1959.  I was watching it in the mid-80's, which means that college kids watching scary nuclear movies from my youth would be watching movies made 30 years ago, a similar time span.

So we've had a nuclear reactor in flames and the leader of Russia putting his military on the highest alert, all in the first week of this war between Ukraine and Russia, this cold war turning hot.  What will the next week bring?  One shudders to think.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Ash Wednesday Preaching and Altar Creation

Last night, I preached the Ash Wednesday sermon.  It didn't look/sound too different from the meditation/ blog post that I wrote yesterday.

What this picture doesn't show is my shoes.  I've had a few days of achingly sore feet, so yesterday I decided to wear running shoes with my black velveteen skirt.  It may be the most comfortable outfit I've worn in weeks.

I also wore my running shoes because I knew I'd be doing some set up before the service.  My pastor took care of a prayer station for Ukraine:

I did the altar:

During one of my morning walks, I picked up various sticks that I thought would add dramatic effect.  

I also used some of the cactus from a past Lent altar.

Underneath the altar, I used coils of barbed wire and a large, dried palm frond.  I liked the echo of Palm Sunday and Good Friday at the altar.

This sanctuary is frustratingly hard to capture in good photos, but I may try again as the season of Lent progresses.  Plus I plan to make some changes here and there.

I remember when I first went to Mepkin Abbey in 2004, and I was fascinated watching the sanctuary change throughout the 4 days that I was there, from the flower and plant arrangements to the art and icons.  It was one of the first times that I thought about how much more we could do than just the paraments and sad banners left over from the 1970's.  One of the benefits of being at my current church with a shrinking population is that there is no altar guild, and my pastor is happy to let me take the lead in this area.

Last night was the kind of service where I thought about how much I will miss this church when we leave.  I've had all sorts of opportunities that many lay people never get:  to preach, to lead the service, to set up the altar and the larger sanctuary space, and to lead in many other ways in pre-pandemic times.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Ash Wednesday in a Time of Plague and War

It is Ash Wednesday, and I will be preaching the Ash Wednesday sermon tonight.  My pastor asked me if I would like to do it, and I said yes--this was several weeks before the invasion of Ukraine.  Does the invasion of Ukraine change my message?

Maybe it will--I'll let us all know tomorrow, once I know what I actually preached.  I usually go into sermons with an idea of what I will say, but I don't write it all out.  If the Holy Spirit wants to say something, there's room.  It's partly that, but it's partly that I'm lazy and often crunched for time.

A lot of us approach Ash Wednesday as a kind of wake up call, a reminder that we all die in the end, and so we better get on with what we plan to do with our lives.  Because we live in a secular culture that wants us to forget this reality, in many ways the Ash Wednesday message that we're returning to death is an important one.

But the pandemic has driven that point home in a way that the symbolism and sermons of Ash Wednesday services never quite managed to do.  Almost everyone I know, from all walks of life, is making different life decisions than they would have made three years ago.

The eruption of war in Europe has shifted our attention to the ash part of Ash Wednesday.  We may be thinking of the futility of all that we do, when it will all end in ash and decay.  With nuclear saber rattling happening and mass bombings in Ukraine, do we need to emphasize the "Remember that you are dust" message of Ash Wednesday?

Our church will have a prayer table with candles to light as we pray for Ukraine, and to me, that's a potent Ash Wednesday symbol too. We are asked to remember that we are dust, but we are not told that our descent to ashes gives us license to forget the tribulations of the world.  Many of us are old enough to have seen that iron curtains can come down, that freedom fighters can emerge from prisons and go on to win national elections. 

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in dust and ashes, but we are heading towards a very different season, the season of Easter.  This season of ash will end at the high holiday, Easter, that tells us that death, decay, and ash will not have the final word.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Preparing for Lent

Today is the day before Lent begins, Mardi Gras, and it's also Shrove Tuesday. It's the day before Ash Wednesday, the day before Lent begins. Mardi Gras and Carnival, holidays that come to us out of predominantly Catholic countries, certainly have a more festive air than Shrove Tuesday, which comes to us from some of the more dour traditions of England. The word shrove, which is the past tense of the verb to shrive, which means to seek absolution for sins through confession and penance, is far less festive than the Catholic terms for this day.

Will this be the year that we go back to having pancake suppers on the day before Ash Wednesday?  Or did we give up on those long ago, even before the pandemic made it unsafe to gather in groups?  Most of the churches that I've attended wouldn't expect that people would come to church on both Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, no matter how delicious the pancakes or how meaningful the evening service.

Some of us will spend today thinking about whether or not we want to adopt a special Lenten discipline.  Some of us will give up something for Lent:  chocolate or gossip or sugar or caffeine or social media.  But there are different approaches to Lent that make for a more meaningful season.

Poet Kelli Russell Agodon had this nugget of insight in an exchange on Twitter: "I gave up sweets and chocolate for no reason for WAY too many years. Yes, I've switched things up--how can I be useful as opposed to 'how can I sacrifice.' The difference is huge."  She's decided to post a meaningful poem a day, by poets who are writing now and need some encouragement.

There are many ways of being useful.  We can donate time.  We can donate money.  We can resolve to go about in the world with cheerful faces.

Or maybe we've been so useful that we're burnt to a crisp.  Maybe this is the Lent that we want to add something; traditionally we would add more devotion time, more prayer.  Maybe this is the year we want to add some deep self-care:  a spa day a week, a massage, a retreat.

Or maybe this is the Lent where we finally believe that we are enough:  we don't have to do more, to be more, to give up more.  God loves us, just as we are right now.