Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Sailing from Byzantium: Process Notes
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
During yesterday's drive back from North Carolina, I marveled at how completely the trees in the mountains had lost their leaves in just one week. I was surprised, therefore, when I went on my walk around my seminary neighborhood after yesterday's drive, to discover that many of the trees in DC aren't quite done yet:
Of course, most of them have already dropped their leaves. But there are still these bright spots of color, which are totally absent just a bit further north, a bit higher up in elevation.
Actually, the color is there, but it's much more monochrome, in shades of gray and brown.
Here I went off to work on my sermon. Then I noticed the open tab.
I have limited time this morning, and in fact, I thought I had written this post. Let me
Monday, November 28, 2022
Headed Back to Seminary
Soon I will take the last loads of stuff to the car, the stuff from the fridge and freezer. Soon I will drive back along the mountains, back to DC, to my seminary apartment. Soon I will enter the rush of the last 3 weeks of seminary, projects in process coming to completion.
I will try not to think of how I wish it was a different time I was driving back to seminary: 2 weeks ago, with Thanksgiving still to come, or just after fall reading week with beautiful leaves all around. I am looking forward to what I'll learn in these last 3 weeks, and the tasks are doable. But this term has been so full of riches, and I don't want it to end.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and now it is over. Sigh.
And yes, I go through this every year, no matter what I am facing the Monday after Thanksgiving. I am grateful that I am not returning to the work of hurricane recovery, as we did in 2017 and 2018. I am grateful I am not returning to accreditation work, as I did in 2016. I am thinking of 2019, when the world was about to fall out from under us, but we didn't know it yet--I hope we're not at a similar hinge this year.
I am grateful for the goodness that life holds now. Let me remember that gratitude as I go forward.
Sunday, November 27, 2022
Thanksgiving Wrap Up
Yesterday, we loaded up the car, as we almost always do on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. But this year, instead of driving 12 hours back to Florida, we drove an eighth of a mile back to our Lutheridge house. We unloaded the car, and today, we need to make some decisions about all the leftovers that came home with us.
After lunch, I went to do some shopping--both of our households needed restocking. And then we relaxed. I confess that I did go to bed extra early, like 7 p.m. early.
Today is my last full day here at the house in the mountains of North Carolina. Tomorrow I drive back to seminary, and get settled in for the last 3 weeks of seminary. Last night I dreamed that it was my turn to deliver my sermon in my Foundations of Preaching class, and I didn't have it with me--hello anxiety dream 101.
Let me collect a few more recollections, while I still remember them.
--Today will be my 3rd Sunday in a row at my North Carolina church in person. What a joy that has been. Will it be strange to go back to streaming services?
--I sang with the church group that sings at the early service, with very little rehearsal time. The choir director church musician chooses pieces that we can sing as a group--no pesky parts. Last week was such a great experience that I'm going again today.
--I have spent much of the last half week sewing scraps together. My final project for class evolved into something different than what I thought it would be. I wasn't sure I would have the time to do what I did. Hurrah! I'll write more about that in the weeks to come.
--I didn't get much done on my big quilt project. The lighting was just too bad. But it was good to make so much progress on my scrappy project:
--On Monday, we went on a quest for a piece of wood for our hearth. We had planned to buy a much bigger plank than we bought. My spouse thinks it will look more like shelves than a hearth. I am OK with that.
--We have had great conversation. But it always leaves me wanting more. Let me be grateful for the time that we did have.
Friday, November 25, 2022
The Year We Didn't Get Salmonella
Overall, it was a good Thanksgiving:
I don't have any pictures of our Thanksgiving meal.
It was tasty, but it was served in parts, so we never had the whole spread on the table. This year, I am grateful for many things, chief among them our ability to pivot when the turkey wasn't cooked all the way through.
I was hungry, the bird had been cooking for longer than the time given as average cooking time, and the juices ran clear--that's my excuse. We did use a meat thermometer, so we knew that part of the bird wasn't temping high enough, but part was. We cut into the part that we thought would be done. The juices did not run clear. I told my spouse to keep going. As he put pieces of dark meat on the platter, which were moist, but not in a good way, I said, "We can't serve this."
So since the oven was hot and vacant--because the side dishes were on the table already--we put turkey slices back in. We ate our sides, then we ate turkey, then we ate dessert. We washed a load of towels that had cleaned up the turkey mess. We let the rest of the turkey keep cooking for several more hours, and we ate some more for the evening meal. As far as I know, no one has gotten sick.
In future years, we will remember that we had a feast, and that we laughed. I will remember everyone being good natured about it all--I know that there are families that would have had an ugly day with this kind of turkey mishap. Instead, we had a day of good food, good conversation, games of all sorts, competitions that didn't leave anyone in tears (the little ones are growing up, and the big ones are too smart to be mean to each other). We even had a Zoom call with the ones who can't be here in person--technology can be a wonderful tool.
Before the turkey mess meal, we had the annual turkey bowl, and while the players went to heroic (painful) lengths to score a touchdown, no one broke any body parts--hurrah. I made this Facebook post: "The turkey bowl is underway! It kind of reminds me of the football scene in "The Big Chill," except with a wider variety of ages and a less tortured history between the players. I will confess that "The Big Chill" football scene had a better cinematographer!"
There were other joys:
I stitched intently for part of the day. I am working on a project that's different for me, working on a smaller scale, working with scraps that I would have once thrown away.
I'm doing it as a final project for a class, but also because it brings me joy. I'll write more about the project in the coming days, but I am surprised that I am liking it so much. For so long, I've been working with much bigger pieces of cloth. Putting together intricate pieces has been such fun.
For decades, I've said that I didn't like working on such a small scale when it comes to patterns and fabric. This holiday, I have loved it. Yes, it does make me wonder what other decisions I might need to revisit.
Thursday, November 24, 2022
Thanksgiving 2022: So Similar, So Different
Early morning, Thanksgiving 2022, in some ways so similar to past Thanksgivings. Much of my extended family has gathered at the ramshackle house at Lutheridge, the Lutheran church camp where we've been gathering for a family holiday reunion for 27 or 28 years, only missing 1 year because of Covid. The turkey is defrosting in the sink. We have collected more desserts than we will be able to eat in the half week that we're together. I'm up earlier than everyone else, getting some writing done before it's time for family, food, and gratitude.
But in many ways this Thanksgiving is different. Let me count the ways.
--This year, my spouse and I own a house near by. So, last night, when dinner prep was under way, and we discovered we needed olive oil, instead of running to the crowded grocery store, we went back to our house and brought a bottle back. We no longer own a house in South Florida--our travel time has changed radically this year.
--This year, one of our family units has moved too far away to be able to come to us. We hope to do a virtual meet up tonight.
--It's still somewhat shocking to me to look around the room and see teenagers instead of little children. Happily, these teenagers are willing to be involved with us. We have played a variety of games. I still remembered how to play Yahtzee, but it took a lot of rule reading to remember the intricacies of Backgammon (and I'm still not sure we had it right). Apples to Apples is almost as much fun as a spectator sport as being a participant.
--I spent time yesterday learning how to turn my phone into a hot spot. It turned out to be surprisingly easy. However, I hope not to do this trick too often, because it really does use a lot of data, and we don't have an unlimited data plan.
--I don't have as much seminary work to do as last year. Part of that is a trick of timing, since Thanksgiving comes so early this year. I'll still have 3 weeks to complete work when I get back. Part of that is because I'm no longer working my full-time job, so I don't have to take advantage of every scrap of spare time.
--In the past year, I've been severed from my full-time job, and I've had my first bone break (my broken wrist). The idea that Europe will always be at peace not war has been shattered. Lots of breaking in the past year.
--But as I've reflected on the changes in my personal life, I do feel less stressed. I am so grateful to be able to focus on my seminary classes. I am so grateful that I'm not preparing for any upcoming accreditor visits, annual reviews, or the other minutiae that consumed my administrator life. I am so grateful that we sold our house in flood and hurricane prone south Florida. I am so grateful to be able to gather in this way and so aware that all our circumstances could be very different by next year's Thanksgiving, which enlarges my gratitude.
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
Thanksgiving Week Gratitudes: the Tuesday Version
Monday, November 21, 2022
The Joys of a Local Chamber Orchestra
Yesterday after church, we went to a concert, the kind of concert put together by a group of skilled musicians who live in the community and have found each other. My spouse knows two of the musicians because they all sing in the church choir.
Yes, there are days here in western North Carolina when I feel like I've fallen through a hole in time: "People still do this? How cool!" Of course, I went to many small symphonies and chamber orchestras in south Florida too. I love these examples of creative types who aren't trying to break into big time in the big city, that aren't posting TikToks of themselves in the hopes of getting the notice of huge masses of people.
I like a symphony orchestra that isn't afraid to put animal ear headbands on when they play Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." I like a symphony orchestra that's raising money for an animal rescue, and so they've chosen an animal theme that threads through the 4 pieces of music.
The orchestra led with "Peter and the Wolf," and I realized that I was hearing the first piece of classical music that I loved. I have a memory of a book with gorgeous illustrations, and I remember hearing the music while reading the book. Did the record come with the book or did my classical music loving parents make sure that I was aware of the music?
The last two pieces featured a special guest appearance by cellist Christine Lee Lance. Roughly seven audience members got up and positioned themselves to see better and make recordings. One seemed to act so enthralled that I wondered if she was someone famous, while realizing that I can only name 1 cellist, Yo Yo Ma.
Of course, seven people may have reacted with more enthusiasm because they are related to her or know her--or maybe they just wanted to stretch their legs. I was surprised by how many people came out on a Sunday afternoon in November to hear a chamber orchestra, which meant that the fellowship hall of the church was packed. Those of us who sat in the back couldn't see the instruments as well as those who were at the front.
The concert lasted 70 minutes, which is about the extent of my attention span for most concerts. I feel like that's a personal failing, but there it is. I prefer a concert that's shorter, made up of shorter pieces, even as I do appreciate/understand the artistry of larger pieces.
It's a blustery, cold period here in the mountains, so we came home to a pot of chili that we had started earlier. It was delicious, a satisfying end to a lovely afternoon.
Sunday, November 20, 2022
Winds of Metaphor, Winds of Change
I woke up in the middle of the night and realized the wind had picked up. I puzzled about the meaning of this wind in a night where no storms or weather systems were predicted. Because I am me, my brain went to instances of wind in the Bible, and how I find wind threatening, despite the teaching of the Bible. Holy Spirit as wind? Let's change that metaphor to make my hurricane scarred soul happy.
After an hour of not sleeping, I got up, as I often do when I can't sleep. I discovered that although I thought I had canceled my website, it seems to have billed me for more months of service. I went to the site, tried to cancel my account, and wrote some e-mails to be sure. Will it be canceled? Who knows. At some point, the credit card company will take care of it, if I keep getting erroneously billed.
As the wind howled, I thought about all the ways I have tried to make my way as a writer in the world: build a website, develop a presence on various social media sites, try to publish everywhere, try to have a series of readings/presentations, slog, slog, slog. Because it was the middle of the night, I wondered if I could have done anything differently, even though I know the stats about sales and who is making a living from their writing (not very many people).
And if we're being honest, in many ways, I'm glad I'm not relying on any of my creative endeavors to pay the bills. I am astonished at the ways that people hustle to try to sell their work, and I know all the ways that the various hustles would be hard for me. And statistically, it's hard these days to sell enough work to pay the bills. Lots of people out there competing for fewer readers. I'm glad that I can write what I want to write without worrying about marketability.
Of course, I might have written more in the last decades, had my finances depended on it.
Now it is time to turn my attention to more mundane tasks: the eating of porridge, the getting ready for church. I bought oatmeal on sale yesterday: 2 pounds, 10 oz. of store brand oatmeal for $5.84, down from $8.84. Yes, for oatmeal. In the past, the most I have ever paid for that size container of oatmeal, for a name brand, was $3.50, when the store brand that cost $2.70 was sold out.
In some ways, that's still a cheap price for a product that will make many breakfasts. I bought salmon for $8-ish a pound, which is the same price I've always paid for salmon. There are many things that I don't understand about our current state of inflation. Salmon should cost more than it does, while oatmeal should cost less--in terms of what it takes to produce the food, to transport the food, to pay the workers along the way.
There are many reasons why I'm glad I'm not relying on my creative output to pay the bills, and many reasons why I worry that my other options to pay the bills may be going the same direction. But for now, let me not worry too much about geopolitical winds I can't control. Let me eat my very pricy porridge and hope for the best.
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Thursday, November 17, 2022
Centuries of Creeds
I've heard many pastors say that theology courses in seminary challenged their faith, shattered their faith, and/or exposed them to ideas that changed their faith for better or worse. So far, I haven't had that experience, but I do come to seminary having read a wide expanse of theology.
But Church History I class has been an interesting window into the theological ideas that have split Christian communities/nations asunder, often in very bloody ways. And from the distance of thousands of years, some of those ideas seem like splitting hairs--the positions aren't really that different from each other.
At Quilt Camp, I walked up the hill from my house towards the Faith Center. I was thinking about Isaiah, because a passage from Isaiah will be the text for my final sermon in my Foundations of Preaching class. I had been doing reading for Church History I class, and I was also thinking about the slow decline of the Roman empire, about the controversies that divided people, about their view of God.
I thought of how often civilizations have embraced the idea of God as the ultimate judge, the one who will come to smite most of us. I thought of the view of many women that I've met on retreat, that God sends us experiences, some of them quite difficult, to teach us something and by this process, to make us better humans. I thought of my own view of God, as a Divine creator who loves us deeply. I thought of how our views might change if we DON'T see God as omnipotent or omniscient. Can we believe in such a God? Which God deserves our loyalty?
I had spent some time reviewing the Arian controversy, which led to the Nicene Creed, where we declare that Jesus is equal to the Creator/Father, not a part that came later. We could have been professing the Arian Creed for centuries, had disputes turned out differently (and yes, I am grossly simplifying to get to my point).
It's sobering to me, to realize how many different views of God we could have, and how we could justify many of those views with sacred texts, the work of theologians, and/or experience (ours or others). How can we be sure we're right?
So, should I drop out of seminary now? No, of course not. But I do think it's important to realize how hard it is to be sure of knowing anything. It's especially important for me, as I can get very impatient with people who have a view of God that I see as negative. They may be right. I may be right.
The Divine truth can probably encompass all of our negatives and our positives.
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Reasons for Giving Thanks: the Seminary Perfect Day Edition
Yesterday was a wonderful day at seminary. I went to chapel, as I try to do every Tuesday. Yesterday we celebrated international students, so 2 of our students, one from the Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Angola, led us in the singing of "Tambira Jehova." We had 3 readings, and each person read in English and then again in a different language. Then the Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope, a Wesley alum and the Provost in the Washington National Cathedral, preached on Esther, reminding us that we, too, have been called for such a time as this. It was a sermon that felt like she crafted it just for me. Throughout it all, the Sumi-e artist Yoshiko Oishi Weick painted on rice paper.
After chapel, most of us went over to the Refectory for a Thanksgiving dinner. We had what you might expect: turkey, green salad, yams, rice, mac and cheese. We had what you might not expect: iced tea punch (like carbonated iced tea), cake (no pumpkin pie alas), salmon. I ate 2 helpings and then took salad and cake for later.
This week's Pastoral Care and Counseling in Context class was easier than last week's class. Last week we talked about pastoral care in the face of natural disaster--lots of feelings and a deep, cleansing weeping after class. You might say, "I think you have some unrecognized grief about climate change and the decisions it forced you to make," to which I would reply, "No, I'm deeply aware of this grief, thanks." This week we talked about grieving, trauma, and responses.
Then I popped over for an in-person presentation on the round nave churches of medieval England:
Imagine this picture on a big screen, with all the lights out in the conference room--beautiful. The lecture by Dr. Catherine E. Hundley was fascinating. The lecture had a different academic vibe than much of my seminary work; it made my Brit Lit PhD self happy. I sometimes forget that my Brit Lit PhD self is still there--reading Mary Shelley and the Brontes while drinking tea, no doubt.
I had thought that the presentation was Thursday, but one of my lunch companions said it was Tuesday. I wouldn't have looked it up to double-check, so I was doubly thankful for lunch. I was the only student there, but I felt welcome. It was a small group gathered to hear the lecture, so I didn't feel out of place. On a day of dreary weather that turned into cold rain, I was glad that I didn't have to go far.
I finished the day by going to my Foundations of Preaching class. It was wonderful, as always, but towards the end, I was really struggling to stay awake. I thought about reading news articles about Trump's announcement that he will run for president again--but why ruin a nearly perfect day with that ending note?
Similarly, we got an e-mail from the Wesley president. It's ostensibly good news, with the announcement that building plans have been approved. But that news means that at some point, my campus apartment building will be torn down for the new building.
For now, I've got a cheap-ish place to live while I do seminary work. Should that change, I'll make a new plan. I sound very grounded and sensible, don't I? For now, for now.
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
Collecting the Scraps
In the first half of November, the eastern part of the United States was 10-20 degrees above normal temperatures for November. This week, in D.C., our forecast is the opposite: 10 degrees below normal. In some ways, it's similar to October, where we had a much chillier than normal first week and a half, and then much warmer subsequent weeks. In short, the temperature in my apartment is never quite right. I can't control the heat because it comes from the physical plant that provides HVAC to the whole campus.
Yesterday, as I headed away from my house in the North Carolina mountains, at the higher elevations (1000 feet higher than my house) I was treated to lovely scenes of trees, houses, and barns frosted with a light dusting of snow. I don't have much time left to get a windshield scraper for the car.
Of course, most weeks, the car just sits in the parking lot outside of my seminary apartment. But let me not digress into a meditation on which parts of winter equipment and clothing/shoes I really need. Let me write about yesterday's drive and any last impressions from Quilt Camp (last for now).
As I do each time I make the drive down Interstate 81, I think about how the view from the road has changed. I made the first drive in August, where everything was green and lush. Now, most of the leaves are on the ground. I routinely thought about what I could see now: houses and barns, a river running beside the road, apples still hanging on the limbs of trees, the town of Harper's Ferry across the river. The austere vista of bare branches, with its variety of grays and blacks and browns, pleased me. There were some places where the vista had such texture, with exploded fluffy seed pods still on stalks that were still furry-ish, and tree branches that looked like they had been chiseled with imprecise tools.
I was listening to various NPR stations, so I heard the news conference where the news came that the shooter at UVa had been apprehended. It was a day where there were 2 campuses impacted by deaths of students by gun violence. I struggle to make sense of something that makes no sense.
Let me turn to thoughts that make me happy:
Let me take a few minutes to collect some last thoughts about Quilt Camp. I came away with a quilt top completed and the top-batting-back assembled, pinned, and ready for quilting. I am trying not to feel superstitious about this quilt. I bought a lot of the fabric for it on the very day that I was laid off. I came to Quilt Camp in April and went home with plans--then I fell and broke my wrist. Is this quilt bringing me bad luck?
No--let me remember that I also bought some of the fabric back in January when I went shopping with one of my best retreat friends. Let me remember that another good retreat friend brought me a huge box of fabric to add to the quilt. Let me not be superstitious.
But I also want to do some work on other projects. I continue to be intrigued by people making quilts out of scraps that many of us would throw away. I first wrote about this type of project at the October 2020 Quilt Camp (read more here). At that Quilt Camp, one woman made a quilt from a pattern that required her to discard triangles cut away from the edges of the squares. Another woman took those triangles out of the trash, added some additional triangles, and this week, she finished the quilt and the two women posed for a picture with the quilt:
Here's a close up of one of them in assembly:
So, I collected some of my scraps in a sandwich bag, and I'll see where it leads me. Will I be able to assemble them without worrying about which colors go together? That hasn't been my strong suit in the past. Let me see what happens. Let me remember that it can work. I liked what the woman was doing with her log cabin pattern from scraps, as did most of us.
I also have some big swatches of cloth, along with a few panels from the quilt that I assembled this past week-end:
It's not unusual for me to end up with so much extra cloth that I make another quilt or two or three. So, let me also assemble another larger something when I need the soothing that sewing long seams gives me.
Let me also remember that I can do this sewing in the in between times during my seminary studies. I can't only rely on Quilt Camp weeks. I'll be happier if I do some of this work in the in-between times.
Sunday, November 13, 2022
Quilts and Bears and Progress
Yesterday was full of amazing events, but they break down along two lines: the work done on my quilt and a bear sighting. The political news came late, and I'll let others dissect the meaning of the election results. Let me focus on a smaller canvas.
It's not surprising that if I sit in a chair and work on a project for 12 hours straight, I'll make progress. It's something that Quilt Camp has taught me in the past.
But I didn't expect to end Quilt Camp with the top of my quilt assembled.
I had come to Quilt Camp with many panels already assembled. I started sewing them together and planning for more. When I left Quilt Camp in April, I didn't have nearly enough, and I assumed that not much had changed.
In fact, I still can't figure out how the situation changed. Several folks yesterday encouraged me to use the extra tables to lay out what I already had, and I was interested too, so late in the morning, I did. I haven't made that many more panels since April, so how did I have enough--more than enough--yesterday?
However it came to be, it was clear that it was time to quit stitching new panels--and that if I could get the top sewn together yesterday, it would be easy to leave Quilt Camp with the whole thing assembled--top, batting, and back, pinned together, ready for quilting. This morning, that's looking probable.
I thought about sewing deep into the night, but we do have time this morning, so I decided to quit while I still had feeling in my fingers. I walked down the dark road to our little house in the mountains. I watched the wind blowing and felt a bit fretful about the saturated ground and the swaying trees. I worried about trees falling down.
And then when I was almost home, I saw the bear. He looked at me, and I backed away. He was at my driveway, so I kept walking down the hill away from my house. I turned back to my house, he gave me one last look, and then he ambled up the hill across the street. I remembered Pastor Sarah's advice during our Lutheridge welcome meeting: "If you see a bear, just sing." I started singing the song we created during our time together at quilt camp: "Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this quilt square grow." I did think about trying to get a picture, but I didn't want to risk the flash making the bear mad.
I don't think I was in danger, but the bear did stare at me longer than I expected. Was he evaluating whether or not I was a risk to him? Was he hoping I had honey? No, that's Winnie the Pooh. Was he expecting me to run away?
In any case, it felt good to be inside, once I was in the house.
I just got a message that the Faith Center is open--so let me go and get my project closer to completion.
Saturday, November 12, 2022
A Quick Look at Quilt Camp So Far
I will soon go to the Faith Center so that I can spend the day sewing long, straight seams. But first, let me record a few impressions with a few pictures.
--We had feared a more ferocious tropical storm than the one we got. Instead, it was just a rainy day. Happily, we hadn't come to camp to go backpacking. We had planned to stay inside and sew. And that's what we did.
--I've been using the window shutters in a way that planners probably didn't anticipate. But it's a great way of seeing how my long panels work together.
--I've enjoyed seeing other people's projects. These Christmas trees speak to my soul.
--I have a vision of trees for each season, using this pattern.
--We've also been creating hearts, which we'll use in our closing worship.
--I like them because they're allowed to be imperfect. You may be familiar with these kinds of hearts, because apparently, it's a whole movement, creating these quilted hearts and leaving them in places, like hospitals and schools, where they will cheer the people who find them.
--What will today bring? More sewing! Will I assemble a quilt top before it's done? Stay tuned!
Friday, November 11, 2022
Veterans Day 2022
Pre-dawn of another Veterans Day, rainy remnants of Hurricane Nicole which will be moving through the southeast today. Before today was Veteran's Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that celebrated the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. In some ways, it's not a hard holiday to celebrate. Any event that restores peace in our time is worth some sober meditation.
However, those of us who know our history may be chastened by the knowledge of what was to come. The end of World War I planted the seeds that would blossom into World War II. World War I brought carnage on a level never before seen--but World War II would be even worse.
Why is it so hard for humans to remain at peace? There are whole series of books that address this question, so I won't attempt it here. Still, today is a good day to offer extra prayers for sustained peace in our time. World War I and all the other wars of the 20th century offer us vivid examples of the horrible consequences of the lack of peace.
Those of us lucky enough to live in a land that's not currently wracked by war might think about our luck. We might strengthen our resolve to quit wasting time and to start/continue/finish the work we were put on this earth to do. History shows us that we can't always or even often count on peace. The world plunges into war for the flimsiest of reasons: an archduke is assassinated, and the world goes up in flames.
So if we have stability now, let us seize the day. Let us not waste time on Facebook, bad movies, wretched television, or any of the other countless ways we've devised to waste our freedom. Generations of humans have laid down their lives to secure us this precious liberty; let's resolve that their blood hasn't been shed just so that we can fritter day after day away.
If we haven't always done a good job of shepherding our talents, let's declare an armistice. Let's forgive ourselves for every opportunity we haven't followed. Let's see if any of those doors are still open to us. And if not, let's rest easy in the assurance that there will be new doors if only we stay alert for them.
For those of us who are activists, we might think about how to use our talents to create a world where we practice war no more. Or maybe we want to raise funds for those who are damaged by war. On a day like Veterans Day, it seems appropriate. We can be the voices for those who have been cruelly silenced.
For those of us who teach, we might want to think about how artists and writers might speak to current generations, many of whom do not know any veterans. On Veterans Day, which began as Armistice Day, you might bring the work of Wilfred Owen into your classrooms. You can find some poems at this site; I particularly like "Anthem for Doomed Youth." Pair this poem with some artistic works, perhaps the works of Picasso that look at war, a work like "Guenica" (here's a site with the image). For this generation of instant access to facts and information, it would be worth discussing whether or not creative explorations enrich our understanding of war and its aftermath. Is photography and documentary film more worthwhile? Will there be another kind of art that will inform us about 21st century war?
For those of us who are spiritual, we could spend time today staying mindful of the older holiday of Armistice Day, and the modern incarnation of Veterans Day. We can remember to give thanks for the sacrifices of so many who have made my domestic peace possible. We can pray for the government leaders of all our countries, in the hopes that they'll continue to avert catastrophes of all sorts, from the economic to the armed conflict to the planet destroying variety.
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Journey Back to Quilt Camp
When I left Quilt Camp back in April, I had plans to get my quilt top finished and the quilt pinned together by the end of April. Then I fell and broke my wrist on April 15. It's only been in the last month or so that I could sew at all, and even a month ago, I had more trouble threading a needle than I did last night. It's been a slow recovery, but I'm grateful for the recovery.
Yesterday morning I left DC early and headed to North Carolina. Since I have a house at Lutheridge, I'm staying in it, instead of paying for guest housing. I got home, unloaded the car, enjoyed lunch and some time with my spouse, and then went over to the Faith Center to get set up.
My set up is much easier than some people's. I sew by hand, so I didn't need to bring a sewing machine. I don't iron much, so I left the iron and the ironing board--well, I'm not sure where our iron is. I did sort through the big box of fabric for my current quilt, and I wondered if I had a plan once upon a time.
I don't really need a plan, so I started putting strips of fabric together and sewing. It was so soothing. Later, I look forward to looking at everyone else's projects. Here's the view from my work table; there's a window behind me:
I will be doing a bit of seminary work while I'm here, but I got the bulk of what needs to be done for this week done earlier in the week. I just need to tweak my Isaiah exegesis a bit more before I turn it in, respond to a Church History discussion post, and write a journal entry for that class. I'll also do a bit of work for the weeks to come.
It's sobering to realize how little time is left--not because I have a lot to do, but because it feels like I just moved my stuff into my seminary apartment a week or two ago. It's also sobering to think about the last time I was at quilt camp and how much has changed since April: broken wrist, big move to North Carolina after purchasing a house here, big move to my seminary apartment, finishing some seminary classes, and almost done with others. Wow.
Tuesday, November 8, 2022
Rise and Fall, Eclipse and Collapse
I have been up for hours, listening to YouTube lectures on the collapse of ancient empires (the end of the Bronze Age, the end of Roman Britain). In both, people stop writing. Hmm.
Every so often, I've taken a break to head outside into the chilly dark to view the eclipse.
I don't have the best camera on my phone in terms of taking pictures at night. When I took this picture, the moon was actually just a sliver, while the picture makes it look much earlier in the eclipse. I got to see the full eclipse, but the moon slipped beyond the horizon, or maybe just behind clouds, as it came out of eclipse.
Every time there's a lunar eclipse, I think that I won't bother looking. It takes hours, after all. And then, if it's an early morning eclipse, I say, "Well, I'm up anyway." I go outside, and I'm bewitched.
I've been sorting cloth for the upcoming quilt retreat that will be the bulk of the rest of my week. I've been looking at storm predictions. While I no longer own property in Florida, and while I know it's not likely to form into something truly dreadful, I still feel a knot in my stomach. I'm blaming my anxiety on my childhood, hearing Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" on constant repeat, that warning about the power of November storms ringing in my ears.
It is election day, but this election season has felt endless, so it's hard to remember that this day might be decisive. Of course, we might not know it's decisive for weeks. I'm not giving in to the panic of some of my compatriots. Listening to lectures about the collapse of ancient civilization gives both comfort and pause.
Monday, November 7, 2022
Inspirations from the Labyrinth
Sunday, November 6, 2022
La Nuit de Temps, and Other Types of Apocalypse
Saturday, November 5, 2022
This morning, I tried something new. I usually listen to a podcast or an NPR episode or Timothy Snyder's Yale class on the making of modern Ukraine while I scroll through Twitter and/or Facebook, and I can waste a lot of time that way. Some mornings that's fine, especially if I've gotten a late start, and I'm feeling groggy or waiting for it to be time to do morning watch on my church's Facebook site.
This morning I hit the literal and figurative pause button and got one of my older purple legal pads. I've been enjoying having a document of abandoned lines that are 9-13 syllables, the document that I created back in the spring for a class project writing duplexes. Sometimes I start with one of the lines. Other times, if I'm in the middle of a poem and feeling stuck, I look through the pages of the document; some times it gives me an inspiration, either for the stuck poem or for a new poem. Even if it doesn't, I enjoy looking at those lines.
As I created that document, I realized I had good lines that fell outside of those parameters. But I haven't gone back to create a new document. This morning, it occurred to me that typing abandoned lines is the perfect activity for times when I don't feel quite ready to work on something that requires more of my brain, but when I want to do something more than mindless scrolling.
As I looked at a recent legal pad, I saw that some of the poems had check marks, which means that at some point I had typed them into the computer. I didn't remember seeing them. Happily, the Search feature found them.
You might ask why it was a problem, why I couldn't find them via my filing system. Well, I confess, I used to type poems into my work computer, and in an ideal world, I e-mailed them to myself and copied the poem into my home computer and vice versa. I also have several places where I tried to reorganize. Suffice it to say, I'm happy to have a good search function so I don't have to do the searching myself through all the potential file folders.
I'm also happy to discover poems that I had forgotten that I had written, poems that made me smile and/or say, "Not too shabby." Here are some closing lines from a poem about John the Baptist in older midlife (yes, he lost his head and died very young, so I suppose it's alternate reality John the Baptist in older midlife):
Once John the Baptist might have retreated
into the wilderness,
but now he prefers soft flannel pajamas.
As the light fades, he leaves
out food for the neighborhood
cats that linger in the shade
of the ancient oak.
Friday, November 4, 2022
Artistic Responses to Habakkuk 1: 1-4 and 2: 1-4
It's been an interesting week, a mix of writing for seminary projects and noodling on a more creative project for this assignment for Thursday's Creative Process, Spiritual Practice class: "You are to create an original visual art piece for next class inspired by the following scripture, Habakkuk 1: 1-4 and 2: 1-4. Create a visual art piece using whatever materials you like." That assignment was always bubbling in my brain, and yesterday, we all brought our creations in for evaluation.
I started by reading the passage. I interpreted the first chunk as a speaker complaining to God about how society has fallen apart and the second passage as God saying to be patient while God takes care of things. I thought about what I might collect, while collecting leaves and looking around my apartment. I thought about collecting newspapers, but quickly decided that would be too complicated, in part, but also, I made an artistic choice that I didn't want to be too didactic.
I decided that I'd use an oatmeal container as the structure for the base, and that I'd use the piece of canvas to disguise it. I had a vision of a rubber band attaching the canvas and holding spools of thread. I had in mind that I would sew cloth to the canvas, but in the end, I took an approach that was born out of both laziness and artistic vision: I would use safety pins.
I thought of the inside of the oatmeal container as the first chunk of Habakkuk and the outside as God's response. I thought about adding more items (like newspaper headlines) to represent the decay of society, but in the end, I thought that it would be better to let viewers make their own associations. I originally had more pine needles attached to branches and more red leaves visible, but decided not to rearrange when I got to class.
Instead of critiquing each other's talent, we did what our teacher calls a "liberatory critique."
We went through 3 statements one at a time:
I see . . .
I feel . . .
I think . . .
I found it revelatory, both to participate and to hear what people said about my work.
When I viewed the work of others, answering the questions (we took 3-8 minutes with each question) helped me to see deeply. Hearing others respond helped me see things I might not have seen otherwise.
The questions built on each other to help us think about the meaning of the work and the way the work tried to respond to the text without being ugly about the skill of the artist.
When I first arrived, I felt bad about my piece, that it looked like the work of a first grader compared to my peers. I've hung out with artists, and a traditional critique might have eviscerated me.
But this process allowed my peers to consider what I might be doing. They commented on the fact that the work looked impermanent, but that the impermanence might be intentional, that it looked hastily put together, but in fact, there was a method. My peers got the interpretation exactly right, which made me happy: the draping and colors of the cloth that suggested elements of the earth, as did the canvas underneath and the many colors of threads at the top. They noted that leaves and the acorn tops did suggest that new creation/life/growth was possible out of the decay of existence--hurrah. If I was creating it again, I'd add some needles to those spools.
Thursday, November 3, 2022
Spooky Season Snapshots
Let me capture some snapshots of a week of high festival feast days, the beginning of the last third of this semester of seminary, the start of the eleventh month.
--Last night I went for a walk, took a look at the moon hiding behind haziness, and thought, the spooky season isn't done with us yet.
--I have been listening to an interesting mix of music. On Monday, Halloween, a FB friend posted a link to Donovan's "Season of the Witch," a song I used to return to regularly in October. I haven't thought about that song in years, perhaps decades. Yesterday, a snippet of a November song came to me, and I spent time listening to Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
--We are not having gloomy weather. This week we are expecting highs 10-15 degrees above normal. Half the country is experiencing this, while the western half of the country is experiencing much colder than usual weather. I would say this is odd, but odd weather has become the norm.
--I have been looking for deals on Halloween candy at stores within walking distance. I haven't found any, but yesterday, I did treat myself to ice cream. My favorite, mint chocolate chip, is a seasonal flavor, they tell me. So I had a scoop of pumpkin butterscotch and a scoop of salted caramel. Yum.
--Walking back from the most understocked Target in the U.S. (not much candy of any kind, Halloween, Christmas, or regular) on Tuesday, I did find a hardcover copy of Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle in a little free library. Better than cheap candy corn!
--The little free libraries in this neighborhood are amazing. I've gotten Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette, David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars, and Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (I've already read it, but I'm happily revisiting it now).
--I was sad to hear about the death of Julie Powell, one of the first bloggers that made me understand the variety of ways that a blog could be used. She cooked her way through Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogged about it--which ultimately ended up in a book deal and a movie. She was only 49--it was sudden cardiac arrest.
--Yesterday morning I drowsed in bed, and then I realized I could lie on my back with both hands under my head, which I wasn't able to do a month ago. This morning I counted: tomorrow it will be 30 weeks since I broke my wrist. I haven't gotten full range of motion back yet, but I'm much closer.
--I have made a small pot of oatmeal--some for me and some for the bread dough. I am about to finish the 3rd bag of flour since I moved here. I am loving the way that I am eating: mostly vegetarian, mostly healthy, with occasional treats, like the applesauce cake that I made on Saturday. I thought about my bread dough and the remaining flour--if I want a pan of brownies, will I have enough flour? Yes.
--Yes, I could buy another bag, but it would take a car trip, and I will have enough of that in November. Of course, I could park in the garage at the nearby Wegman's, but I don't want to. I'm not scared of the garage, but I'm enjoying living like a European or a New Yorker, little trips to restock, only buying what I can carry.
--I have also cleaned the oven. I baked a sweet potato yesterday, which leaked onto the floor of the oven, even though I wrapped it in foil. I didn't discover the leak until it started burning when I turned on the oven to pre-heat it for the bread baking. Sorry, neighbors, for the scorched sweet smell!
--I think of this as a week where I haven't gotten as much done as I had planned--by which I mean, I haven't gotten as much written on papers due next week as I had hoped to have done by today. But I have written 2 poems (or is it more? less?) and made some submissions to literary journals. I have done some sketching. I have walked--most days, twice a day.
--It's been a good week.
Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Community Prophecy, Community Salvation
I chose Wesley Theological Seminary for just one reason: it had a track in Theology and the Arts, which very few MDiv programs offer. For example, no Lutheran seminary offers that focus for the MDiv. Maybe I won't graduate into a crowded career field. But I'm not terribly worried about my future career. I just want a chance to study the intersection of creativity and spirituality as part of my theological training, and I didn't want to have to create my own independent study. I've been creating my own independent study opportunities for over 2 decades now.
It was only later that I researched the academic training of the faculty and the approach to the Bible that the campus takes. Before I enrolled, I went to a Zoom meeting with the academic dean, who told us that Wesley took the Bible seriously but not literally; if we came out of a Bible literalist tradition, we'd be welcome, but we'd be expected to think about other approaches. I do not come from a Bible literalist tradition, and I took a moment to think about how I hadn't even considered the theology of the school I selected before the academic dean's Zoom session.
I thought of these moments last night in my Foundations of Preaching class. We spent the first half of the class getting ready to write a preach a sermon based on a New Testament passage. Now for the hard part--a sermon based on a Hebrew Scripture passage. Our professor uses the Revised Common Lectionary for the weeks we'll be preaching. In some ways, that's a great approach--we're not preaching on hand selected passages. This year, the timing makes for an interesting element: we'll be preaching on Advent texts.
Several times our professor reminded us that if we're preaching the Hebrew Scripture passages, the answer to the prophets' question is never Jesus. In other words, we think that Jesus is the Messiah foretold by ancient prophets, but those prophets would not have thought that. The first Christians knew that something earthshattering had happened in the ministry of Jesus, and to make sense of it, they turned to their scripture, which would have been the Hebrew Scriptures. They had to decide if they were at a hinge moment when they created a whole new approach to God that would require abandoning past scripture or if they could use what they had been taught to make sense of it.
So far, the conversation didn't seem terribly radical to me, but based on my professor's comments, I realize it might be very different for other students. And based on her comments, I'm guessing that some past students went ahead and preached Jesus as Messiah foretold by Isaiah, a mistake I would not risk making, even if I believed it, which I don't.
Our teacher talked about Jesus, who steeped himself in ancient scripture. She said that he lived into Hebrew Scripture so intently that first century Christians came to believe that casting him as the Messiah is the only way possible to see and understand him. Who else could he be with this behavior? He had so many opportunities to choose another path, and he stayed consistently on the ministry path that made sense to him and had a chance to change our sense of God at work in the world. [when the recording of last night's session gets posted, I'll go back to check and make sure I've captured what she said].
We also talked about what those ancient prophets were doing, which was not forecasting a distant future which is why I don't believe that Jesus is the Messiah foretold by Isaiah--a Messiah, yes, but the ancient prophets had a different agenda. Those ancient prophets were talking to a community. We tend to think of prophecy as about a certain individual, especially if we come from some church traditions.
The prophets were talking to a whole community, not a subgroup that needed to change. It was a whole society that needed to change.
I raised my hand near the end of class, and I said, "Maybe in a way that we've been getting ancient prophecy wrong, in thinking it's about an individual and not the larger community, maybe we've also been getting salvation wrong. We say that Jesus died for each one of us as an individual. But maybe Jesus didn't come to save my individual soul. Maybe Jesus came to save the community by showing us how we need to transform it."
My teacher was nodding as I spoke, and when I was finished, she said, "Absolutely right." After class, she said, in an aside to those of us still taking some extra moments to collect our things and file out, she said, "I can see it now--next class I'll have to reassure students that I actually am a Christian. The born again kind."
She is the kind of professor who gives lectures that I spend days thinking about, giving us nuggets of wisdom that I return to again and again. I know how it could have been otherwise. I know how lucky I am.