Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pentecost Sermon 2024

 May 19, 2024

By Kristin Berkey-Abbott

Pentecost Sermon

  • First reading
    • Acts 2:1-21
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
  • Second reading
    • Romans 8:22-27
  • Gospel
    • John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Pentecost is the 3rd great festival of the Church, and as most of us know, the other two festivals are Easter and Christmas. Pentecost has been the overlooked festival, in most of our churches. It never slips by without notice, but it’s not a church festival that comes with traditions that we anticipate for months. We don’t have gift giving traditions or special foods—at least most of us don’t. We don’t necessarily go out of our way to get together with far flung family members. We don’t have time off.

For all these reasons, we may assume that Pentecost isn’t the most important of the Church holidays. But consider what we are celebrating. At Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation, God coming to live with us, alongside us, or, as The Message version of the Bible says, “Moving into the neighborhood.” But as a specific person during a specific time, God can only be with a few of us at a time. Pentecost celebrates a new possibility, a way that God can be with all of us, all at the same time, all part of a large community.

When we think of Pentecost, we may think of it as the beginning of the Church, where the Holy Spirit takes control and those hapless disciples are transformed. The Church spreads far and wide, despite the differences in cultures, language, and beliefs. Books have been written dissecting all the reasons for the success of Christianity. Even more books have been written explaining to us modern disciples how we, too, could harness the power of the Holy Spirit, if we just believed enough. We may have been told about how the book of Acts is called the book of Acts, not the book of waiting, not the book of sitting on the sofa, so we, too, should go out and act.

As I read the texts for this week, I’m struck by how differently people experience the Holy Spirit are in today’s collection of texts. I had a similar reaction during my 9 months of Systematic Theology class, a sense of wonder about the different ways that we understand the different aspects of the Triune God. Today, we focus on the Holy Spirit.

Our reading from Acts ( Acts 2:1-21) is a traditional understanding of the Holy Spirit. There’s wind, tongues of fire, the ability to speak in languages previously unknown. It’s a reading that shows us that the arrival of the Holy Spirit can be more chaos than comfort. This chaos may explain why the Church has focused on the other two big holidays, Christmas and Easter, and not focused on Pentecost. Our reading from Acts shows us that the Holy Spirit loose and moving in the world can be both transformative and scary, putting us on a collision course with people who like the status quo. But that’s not the only depiction of the Holy Spirit that we have, even if it’s the one we hear most about.

In the Gospel of John, the arrival of the Holy Spirit is a much more intimate happening. In the twentieth chapter, Jesus breathes on the disciples, and that’s how they receive the Holy Spirit. In today’s reading, which is a few verses earlier, before the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples what to expect. It’s a comforting kind of relationship, a way to move beyond the grieving that comes with the loss of Jesus and his physical presence. Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit as a guide, the one who will lead us to the Truth.

From there, if we didn’t know the complexities of the story, we might assume that everything ends happily ever after. Jesus rises from the dead, showing that God doesn’t have to be constrained by the powers and principalities of our current world. Jesus gets to go to Heaven and the Holy Spirit stays behind to lead us all to Truth and having the right words to say. We may assume that we’ll be like Peter, with the courage to confront those who were besmirching the disciples when they spoke in different languages.

But what about those days when we don’t have that courage? How do we keep going when we don’t have visions to sustain us? It’s in the reading from Romans that we get a Pentecost message that feels most life affirming to me in our current day and time. Here we have an image of the Holy Spirit praying the prayers that we do not know how to pray.

I don’t always feel like Paul’s letters are written for those of us in the twenty-first century, and indeed, they were not. Paul was writing to specific groups of believers about specific local problems. But what makes his writing continue to be relevant is the way that he captures the human condition. This week, I’ve been thinking about creation groaning in labor pains. Creation groans, and we groan. We have hope in that which we have not yet seen. But it can be tough, these times of pain and hope.

We have to remind ourselves that we are not the Messiah, that we do not have all the answers. We may not even be asking the right questions. In these times, when we’re not sure what to pray, how to pray, it’s a comfort to think of the Holy Spirit as a kind of intercessor.

Our reading from Psalms reminds us of the larger picture. Humans have a tendency to get snarled up in any number of ways, and most of them won’t matter when we’re dead. They don’t even matter now. Like so many of the Psalms, our Psalm for today, reminds us of the glory of God’s creation, of how humans are just a part of that glory, and often a small part. Here we see the Holy Spirit as a co-creator, working with God to renew the face of the earth. In this Psalm, we’re reminded that we are not the ones in charge. I touch the mountains, my own little piece of them, and nothing happens. God touches the mountains, and they smoke. The open hand of God fills us all with good things—not only humans, but all of creation. The Holy Spirit working in the larger cosmos is a much larger manifestation of the Holy Spirit that the disciples experience as tongues of flame and rushing wind.

Pentecost is a more varied festival than I had been trained to expect. We’ve got Holy Spirit as life giving force in the Psalm, Holy Spirit as transformative force in Acts, and the Holy Spirit as a comforter and a coach in John. And when we don’t know what to do with all of this, Paul promises that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us, will pray the words that we can’t quite figure out.

The future of this new creation doesn’t depend on us having the right words or the right answers. Thank God for that.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

A Report from the Western North Carolina Quilters Guild Quilt Show

Yesterday I made my way to Flat Rock, NC for the Western North Carolina Quilters Guild quilt show.  It was held at the Youth Activities Building at Bonclarken Conference Center.  Since it was at a Youth Activities Building, I thought it might be a very small show.  I assumed the Youth Activities Building would be too small for a show that had dozens of quilts.  But to be fair, I had no knowledge of the conference center until I arrived yesterday.

Lo and behold, it's a church camp run by/associated with Associate Reformed Presbyterians, a very conservative branch, judging by their statement of beliefs. on a page on their website that says this:  "We require that our guest groups do nothing by word or act while using our facilities that will in any way detract from or be contradictory to our beliefs."

I did not explore the website before I went, but I assume the quilt show and the people who came to admire the quilts didn't do anything against the beliefs that the website page proclaims.  But I digress.

The quilt show was huge, but it was arranged in a cozy way, with quilt display racks put in a variety of 90 degree configurations.  It was easy to move through, to duck between racks when the amount of people became too much in one square of displays.  Exhibitors ringed the periphery.  If I had wanted to spend time looking through the fabrics for sale, I'd have found it claustrophobic.

I got there just at 10 and had no problem getting to the admission table.  Twenty minutes later, the line was long.  When I left at 11, the line had dwindled again.  I was surprised by how many people came to a quilt show on a Friday morning.  I am assuming they were mostly retired; no one trundled along with a baby stroller, for example.

We were allowed to take pictures, so one of the disadvantages of the set up was that as one backed up to take a picture of a quilt, it was hard not to back into someone.  In the past, I've taken pictures because I was inspired or because I wanted to capture a pattern to try.  Yesterday I took pictures mainly to send to people in past quilt groups of mine with a text that said I missed them.

I did want to capture this quilt, with its variety of strips and shapes that inspired me about how to put small pieces together, even if they are not symmetrical squares.  I'm not sure that you can see it in the whole quilt, but here it is:

"Butters' Improv" by Christina Allday-Bondy

I loved this quilt with the colors that reminded me of both the ocean and the late spring mountains in my Southern Appalachian range, which take on a blue-green haze this time of year:

"Happy 50th Anniversary" by Joanne Shafer

I also loved this quilt because it was based on rectangles, not squares:

Here's a quilt that does something interesting with rectangles and squares to create windows, with a very different effect on me than the above (above is restful, below is a bit more chaotic):

"City Windows" by Teresa Spohn

But I couldn't resist a quilt like this one, which has some of my favorite autumnal things, a quilt done all in wool:

"Posies and Pumpkins and Puppy, oh my!" by Linda Lou Harris

And here's one of just pumpkins:

"Pumpkins Galore" by Debbie Griffin

This post is getting long, so let me make a list of things I noticed; I made a similar list after a quilt show in November of 2011, and I found it interesting to revisit it today.

--Lots of mentions of various artists' patterns and fabrics that the quilter had chosen.  I've been to quilt shows where you couldn't submit quilts made from a kit, but that was not the case yesterday.  I am agnostic when it comes to kits and patterns.  I would likely not buy one, but that's because I know myself, how easily irritated I am by trying to figure out a set of directions--and because I'm cheap.

--I saw no hand quilting of any kind.  Not much evidence of hand work, very little beading.

--Similarly, there was very little in the way of embellishments of any kind.

--There were more large quilts (throw quilt or bed size) than small quilts.

--There was a traditional pattern here or there, but often, when there was a traditional pattern, there was something non-traditional about it, like wild fabric patterns or a border that did something more modern.

--That said, I also didn't see much in the way of experimental quilts.  I'm not even sure how to define that idea, but most of the quilts, perhaps all the quilts, would appeal to large parts of the population.  There were a few displays of small, art quilts, clearly a challenge taken on by quilters in a guild, like creating a small quilt that tried to embody (enfabric?) a work of art.  I didn't see any larger quilts that I would define as an "art quilt," although there were plenty of large quilts that had qualities that I could call artistic.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Writing Later in the Morning

So, here I am, blogging at a later time than is usual.  I've been up for hours, but I decided it was time to write in my offline journal, so that was my pre-dawn writing.  I'm done with both the classes I've been taking and the classes I've been teaching, but home repair has moved right in to take up the time that semester endings freed up.  

This morning I went back to Lowe's to get more of the tile we got last night.  I was happy to do it.  We've changed the design of the second shower, and these tiles will look better for the small corner bench.  Soon I will do the daily grocery run.

A quick zip to the store is so different here than in South Florida, although the distance traveled is similar.  The wait to check out is shorter, and the parking feels easier.  Of course, I'm also not in an office 45-60 hours a week, so maybe it's my perspective that has changed.

I've been hearing about heat indexes in South Florida this week:  115 at Key West yesterday.  Yikes.  And the ocean temps are the same as they were in mid-August last year, but it's May, now, not later in the year.  I just looked up the weather for Hollywood, and the heat index is 95 right now, at 9:42 in the morning.

I am so glad not to live there.  If I lived there, I'd be dreading hurricane season, and with good reason.

I got up this morning after having a series of apocalyptic dreams, needing to get to a safer place, trying to make sure we'd packed what we needed.  I had a similar dream 4 times, and in each dream, I was trying to remember to take the baking sheets.

Really?  Not the computer or the guns but the baking sheets?  My baking sheets are not that special.

Well, as a first attempt of blogging later in the morning, I'm not thrilled with this entry.  But I'll post it anyway.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Music Men and Women Writers

It's the kind of morning where I have a variety of much shorter thoughts.  Let me record them and maybe a pattern will emerge.

--I am not one of the people on social media talking about how much the stories of Alice Munro meant to me.  I remember reading her short stories long ago and being impressed.  But I don't read them now.  She's not one of my touchstone authors.  I am sad that she's gone, but she was in her early 90's, so it's not unexpected.  She did win the Nobel Prize in Literature, so it's not like she was as unknown/unappreciated as some of those social media posters make it sound.

--I feel similarly about David Sanborn, who also died this week.  I have several of his CDs, or once I did.  I might have seen him play at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival.  But he's not a musician who provided the soundtrack of my life.

--On Sunday, we started watching The Music Man, the movie with Shirley Jones and little Ronnie Howard.  I was surprised by how many of the songs I could sing from memory.  I remember watching the movie long ago, in elementary school, when it aired on TV.  I probably went to an amateur stage production along the way. Why do I know this music?  It is a great soundtrack, and I do remember that my parents owned a copy (on vinyl).  But I don't remember them playing it often.

--Yesterday, we started watching Station Eleven, on a DVD copy I got from the public library.  Was the sound quality this bad on streaming?  We watched two episodes, and I don't know that I can keep watching.

--I wanted something easier to watch last night, so we watched The Blues Brothers, which I've only seen once.  I enjoyed it more this time, but I still wasn't blown away.  The music was great, but the plot was a bit thin--and so much destructions of police cars and plate glass windows!

--We are both fighting off colds.  Mine wants to take root in me, and my spouse has been under the weather for almost a week, with lots of rib rattling coughing.  I'm mainly congested, but I've been stuffy for weeks, so mine may just be allergies.

--Happily, most of my work for Spring 2024 term is done.  I've still got one paper to turn in, and I'll do that later this morning.  I'll also do some errand running; I checked out two physical books from the Wesley library, and now I need to mail them back.  I did use them in my final paper, so that's good.  I remember when I was first accepted to Wesley back in 2021, and I imagined having the library send me books by way of mail on a weekly basis.  But this term has been the first time I needed to take advantage of that perk.

--I hope I still see it as a perk when I find out how much I have to pay to ship the books back.

--The tile guys will be here soon.  Let me get ready to move the bigger car out of the driveway.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Blogging in the Anthropocene

My blogging has dropped off a bit, but I'm hoping that will change, as I shift into summer.  I turned in my last big paper on Saturday; I still have a small one to write, but that shouldn't be a problem.  I could blame my drop off in blogging on all the end of semester stuff I had to do (endless grading, lots and lots of papers to write), and that would be partly true.  My blogging drop off is also in part because of housing renovations.  We get up early to get everything ready for the tile team that appears at 8 a.m.

Yesterday, it occurred to me to wonder why I feel that I have to get my blogging done by 8 a.m. or wait until the next day.  It's probably because I started blogging in 2008, where each week day I needed to be shifting to getting ready for work by 8 a.m., if not earlier.  So, now I am resolved to feel free to blog even if the morning has gotten away from me.

It's also occurred to me to wonder why blogging continues to feel so important to me.  After all, my poetry writing has dropped off, and my fiction writing is non-existent right now.  But I've been doing that kind of writing longer, and I recognize cycles.  Blogging has been a consistent form of writing for me, and the cycle has been that I get up and write before the day gets underway.

I like having an online journal and an offline journal.  Keeping a record of what life was like in the 21st century feels essential to me.  I've always loved the journals of other people, particularly women (particularly Dorothy Wordsworth), and their writing inspires me to do something similar, just like the writing of poets and novelists and short story writers inspire me to want to do something similar.

In pre-blogging days, I used to wonder what would happen to my journals if I died before achieving literary fame.  In these blogging days, I wonder what will happen if Google decides to charge a fee.  I like having an online journal, but what is it worth to me?  And why do I like having an online journal?  I like the idea that it might outlive me, but more importantly, it makes it easier for me.  It's much more searchable than my offline journal.

I've always been a person who goes back to my journals to see what was happening x years ago.  I like my blog because it's a bit more polished, a bit more edited.  I realize I'm biased, but it makes for good reading if I just have a bit of time to kill.  I often go to look up something, like a recipe or what was happening in my work life or a poem, and I find myself reading through a whole month of past posts.

So I'll keep blogging, and I'll look for ways to be more flexible with myself.  I'd like to get back to blogging once a day, and I'd like to get back to working on poetry daily too.  I have some weeks before my summer classes start, so it's a good time for a re-set. 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Mother's Day Sermon with Julian of Norwich


May 12, 2024

By Kristin Berkey-Abbott

John 17:6-19

For many reasons, I’m always intrigued by depictions of Jesus praying. My brain first goes to Trinitarian questions: who does Jesus pray to? Himself? As we say the Nicene Creed later, let your mind think about the Trinity—really think about what we proclaim. And then next week, we’ll talk about the third aspect of the Trinity as we celebrate Pentecost.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent time with a friend who is creating a progress report for her department chair, but today I’m struck by the HR aspect of this final prayer of Jesus. Just before his death—and in the Gospel of John, more than any other Gospel, Jesus knows that death is coming for him—he reports back to the boss. He explains how he’s trained the disciples and now they are ready to be on their own. Our first reading from Acts has the same kind of effect, with Peter explaining how the ministry came to be.

But today is Mother’s Day, and I’m also struck by the idea of Jesus taking a nurturing role in praying for those he would leave behind—it’s definitely less an HR document than a parental kind of tone. As he prays to God as Father in the Gospel of John, it’s intriguing to look at Jesus as a mother.

I’ve spent many decades contemplating God as Father images, and trying to enlarge the concept we have of God. I’ve searched the Bible for images of the Creator that are female, and they are there, but they are fewer than images of God as male. Often when we get a female image for God the Creator, it involves mothering, like a bird sheltering little baby birds under her wing.

I haven’t ever thought about Jesus as a mother. He has a definite gender, after all. It’s harder to expand our metaphors for Jesus—at least it is for me. For some of our mystics, it hasn’t been.

This week on May 8, we celebrated the life of Julian of Norwich, who lived in the 1300’s. She was an anchoress, which meant she lived in a small cell attached to a cathedral, in almost complete isolation, spending her time in contemplation. She had a series of visions, which she wrote down, and spent her life elaborating upon. She is likely the first woman to write a book-length work in English.

And what a book it is, what visions she had. She wrote about Christ as a mother--what a bold move! After all, Christ is the only one of the Trinity with a definite gender. She compared Jesus’ agony on the cross with the agony of bearing a child, lots of bleeding and ripping of flesh. When she talks about the Eucharist, she uses imagery of Jesus breast feeding us.

She also stressed God, the creator, is both mother and father. Her visions showed her that God is love and compassion, an important message during the time of the Black Death.

The idea of a deity that is mothering goes back even further than a 14th century mystic like Julian of Norwich. Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson traces imagery of birth in the book of John, and she traces words that evoke birth imagery, and she looks at words that derive from the word from “womb” and how these words are used both to talk about God in the book of John and the birth process of becoming a believer.

I do realize how problematic the imagery of God as parent of either gender can be. Our own human relationships are complicated, and that can affect how we see these metaphors. Not all of us have a good relationship with our parents or with our children. Some of us have pain surrounding our parenting choices or our lack of choices. Happily there are other options for metaphors for how we see God. There are other lessons for how we are to live our lives as believers. If not children, if not subordinates, then what does today’s Gospel teach us?

Let’s return to today’s Gospel text that shows Jesus praying. This passage reminds us that we are sanctified, consecrated, and sent out into the world. The not yet message of the Gospel reminds us that we have work to do. And this Gospel passage reminds us of the stakes: Jesus prays that we will be protected from the evil one.

In many ways, our most basic task is to confront evil. Everything we do, everything we create, needs to be a challenge to evil. Perhaps it is evil, the way that horror movies show evil, as a force that is out to undermine us or even kill us. Perhaps it is a more mundane evil, the kind that whispers in our ear that we don’t really need to concern ourselves with the troubles in the world that we see. Perhaps it is the soul sapping evil of despair that tells us that nothing will ever be different.

But Jesus tells us over and over again, we are not to go through the world with our business as usual selves. We are not to have a self that we bring out on Sundays, in church, and our week day self, and our Saturday self. Our task is to live an integrated life, a life that lets the message of the Good News shine through us and our actions.

How do we do that? Here again, Jesus shows us the way. We are to care for everyone, and we can start by praying for them. If we read the Gospels, we see Jesus modeling many types of prayer, from the familiar Lord’s Prayer that we’ll pray just before communion to the less familiar prayers that he offers as he withdraws into solitude.

Here we have another prayer, one that we can offer too. Each day, pray the prayer that Jesus prayed so long ago, that his joy may be fulfilled in you (verse 13). Each day, look for ways to bring that joy to others. Each day, work for beauty and peace and the defeat of evil. In this way, you’ll be a force that helps create the new world that Jesus proclaims is arriving, the Kingdom of God that is both here and not yet born.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

All of Our Cells

Yesterday's thoughts about Julian of Norwich made me think about her small space, called a cell, which then made me think about other uses of that word, which led me back to a poem that I wrote years ago. It holds up well. It first appeared in The Innisfree Poetry Journal, an online journal.  I included it in my third chapbook of poems, Life in the Holocene Extinction.
I got the idea for this poem when I was at Mepkin Abbey. I read a brochure that asked us to consider turning our cell phones off--not just to vibrate, but completely off. The word cell leapt off the page, and I immediately thought of the biological definition. Since I was at an abbey, I also thought of the definition associated with monasteries and abbeys. At the time, I didn't think of Julian of Norwich.  But I still like the poem.


Some monk once said that we should return
to our cells, that our cells
would teach us everything we need to know.

She thinks of that monk
every time a cell phone interrupts
her class, that jarring, reproduction
of a ring tone, the student's rush
to return to the hall to take a call,
leaving the class behind to try to gather
the fragments of their scattered attention
to return to the task at hand.

She thinks of that monk
as she tries to declutter.
She chooses a different closet
each month. She tries to be ruthless
as she sorts, but she lapses
into sentimentality and maudlin tears.

She thinks of that monk
each month as she returns
to the doctor to do battle
against her own traitorous cells.

The doctor shows her scans of her invisible
insides. She sees the clumps that will kill
her. She thinks of terrorists plotting
their dark revenge, of a coven practicing
dark arts, of all the ways a cell
can go bad and destroy all it touches.

She returns to the church lit by candles.
The smell of wax and chant
of Psalms sends her back to childhood,
that original cell, still so much to learn.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Feast Day of Julian of Norwich

Today is the feast day of Julian of Norwich, at least for Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Anglicans; Catholics will celebrate on May 13.  I thought of her today as I maneuvered around my tiny writing space, my grandfather's desk wedged in between house remodeling supplies and tools, a drying rack, and the contents of a closet that's under reconstruction.  Of course, once I get around the desk, I have significantly more space than Julian of Norwich did, in her small cell off of a cathedral, where she was an anchoress, a type of monastic.

I've been interested in Julian of Norwich for a long time.  When I first started teaching the British Literature survey class in 1992, the Norton Anthology had just added her to the text used in so many survey classes.  Why had I not heard of her before?  After all, she was the first woman writing in English, at least the first one whose writing we still have.

My students and I found her writing strange, and I found her ideas compelling.  She had a series of visions, which she wrote down, and spent her life elaborating upon. She wrote about Christ as a mother--what a bold move! After all, Christ is the only one of the Trinity with a definite gender. She also stressed God is both mother and father. Here in the 21st century, we're still arguing about gender and Julian of Norwich explodes the gender binary and gives us a vision of God the Mother, God the Wife--and it's not the Virgin Mary, whom she also sees in her visions.

Her visions showed her that God is love and compassion, an important message during the time of the Black Death.  She is probably most famous for this quote, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," which she claimed that God said to her. It certainly sounds like the God that I know too.

Although she was a medieval mystic, her work seems fresh and current, even these many centuries later. How many writers can make such a claim?

A few years ago, I read her complete works, which I didn't enjoy as much as I thought I would.  The writing seemed circular, coming back to many ideas again and again, with lots of emphasis on the crucified, bleeding Jesus, lots of focus on suffering and sin. The excerpts that most of us read, if we read her at all, are plenty good enough.  I was both disappointed to discover that, and yet happy.

Not for the first time, I wonder what's been lost to history in terms of writing. If she was thinking about some of these explosive ideas, might others have been even more radical? What happened to them?

I'm grateful that we have her work--at least there's something that gives us a window into the medieval mind, which was more expansive than we usually give credit for.  And I'm grateful that so many people have discovered her in the decades since the Norton Anthology first included her.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Paper Progress

I did not expect to start writing my last paper for the term yesterday.  I thought I would read/scan a few more books and then start.  But yesterday morning during my walk, I had an idea for how to start, so I did.  And then I kept going.

I'm far from done, but I have time; it's not due until Saturday.  I'm in that phase of writing where I'm scared to go back to read what I've written, for fear that it's all gobbledygook.  Of course, I've been writing long enough that I know that even if it is gobbledygook, I can revise it into something workable.  And it's rarely all gobbledygook.

A few weeks ago, on a Monday walk, I had an idea for how to organize my final paper for Systematic Theology, and I came home and got right to work.  And it turned out to be very good--I got an A.  I looked at four church doctrines:  Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, and Creation.  I did look at them somewhat systematically, using texts from the Bible and from theologians to help understand a new approach.

My last paper, the one I'm currently writing, is for the Environmental History of Christianity (EHC) class.  I'm looking at some of those church doctrines as being part of what got us to this climate crisis.  I'm trying not to repeat what I wrote for my Systematic Theology class, and when I was writing for Systematic Theology, I was also trying not to go too far into the topic that I planned to write for the EHC class.

Often my scholarly writing does not delight me in the way that poetry writing does.  But last night, I created this paragraph, which had inspired the kind of reaction that I usually only get when writing fiction or poetry:

How different our lives would be if we had a faith focused on the beginning of Christ’s life, not his death and resurrection. In some ways, the incarnation is more miraculous than the resurrection. A God who creates a cosmos out of chaos would find resurrecting a body to be ridiculously easy. But a God who chooses to come and experience human life alongside of us? That’s rare enough to be a miracle.

I liked the way it sounded, the repetition of c (cosmos, chaos) and r (resurrecting, ridiculously).  I was surprised by the idea:  resurrection is easy for God, but going through a human life is much more miraculous.

I've read enough to know how the idea in this paragraph borders on heresy, or maybe it's outright heresy, the idea that incarnation is more important than resurrection.  I will likely keep the paragraph in the essay.  It fits with what I'm trying to say.

I'm intrigued to continue with this writing.  Will I find more surprises?

Sunday, May 5, 2024

World Labyrinth Day 2024

Yesterday was World Labyrinth Day, a day when we were encouraged to walk our local labyrinths at 1 p.m. local time in hopes of unleashing a "a rolling wave of peaceful energy."  A few weeks ago, I thought about organizing something, but my various semester endings submerged me, and before I knew it, it was Saturday.  

So, even though it was too late to invite others to walk with me, it wasn't too late to walk it myself.  So up the hill I headed to the Lutheridge labyrinth, created on an old tennis court where my mother played tennis when she was a counselor in the 1950's.

I thought there might be others, but no, I was on my own.  But that was O.K. too.  It was cloudy, the kind of cloudy that means rain is coming soon.  But that, too, was O.K.  I walked, thinking about labyrinths I've walked, people who have walked them with me, and the times I've walked them alone.  

As I walked home, I thought about the first time I read about labyrinths and yearned to walk one.  It was probably 2000 or 2001.  One of the earliest books was Nora Gallagher's Things Seen and Unseen.  Back in the early years of this century, I wasn't able to find as many labyrinths; there was only one in Broward county, at the local U.U. church.  It was a beautiful outdoor labyrinth, but I didn't walk it much, because it took me over half an hour to drive there.

Now I have a labyrinth in my own neighborhood, and in the past year, yesterday was the first time I've walked it.  In the coming year, I'm going to walk it more often.  What a gift it is to have a local labyrinth!

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Sowing Seeds

Yesterday after my walk, I went to the library, where I picked up two apocalyptic books:  Parable of the Sower by Octavia Buter and Five Years After by William R. Forstchen, the fourth novel in the series that started with One Second After, about an explosion in the earth's atmosphere that creates an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out electronics, electricity, and most of the conveniences of modern life.

Part of me just wants books I know I will enjoy, which is why I return to books I've already read and enjoyed, like Parable of the Sower.  But yesterday, I started Five Years After, which is not a book I've read before.  I did read the other books in the series and enjoyed them immensely.

I went back to the 105 pages of my own apocalyptic novel.  I started it in summer of 2019 and picked it up again in winter of 2021.  I stopped writing it for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I wasn't sure where it wanted to go.  I still don't--but I do think it has a lot of potential.  Maybe I'll play with it this summer.

As I'm thinking about the novel today, I see that there are 3 characters from the protagonist's past, and each one will offer the protagonist a choice about the future--and because it's an apocalyptic novel, the future is rather bleak already.  Will she choose creativity or love or working to overthrow the government?

I came across this line in the manuscript:  "Older feminist activists kept records about which doctors would help, back when abortions weren’t legal."  I wrote that line in 2021, back when I thought the abortion question was mostly settled.  It makes me wonder what else I think of as mostly settled that might be suddenly restricted.  Sigh.

We're supposed to have more rain in the coming week than we've had in the past month, so I decided that yesterday was a good day to sow the quarter pound of wildflower seeds that I bought last year.  For the most part, I simply scattered them across the yard.  When I say yard, I really mean our patch of dead leaves and pine straw and forest floor.  Some parts get more sun than others.  We'll see what happens.

As I sowed the seeds, I thought about the parable of the sower, both the one in the Bible and the one by Octavia Butler.  I thought about seeds and soil and the fact that most wildflower seeds swept away by the wind aren't going to land in perfect potting soil mixes.  

I'll be intrigued to see what develops this summer:  with seeds, with reading, with writing an apocalyptic novel.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Semester's End (Almost)

I have turned in my paper for my Systematic Theology class--one more paper left!  It's due May 11, and I have some ideas, but I haven't started.  Yesterday I took some of the books for that paper out on the deck to read.

The class is the Environmental History of Christianity (EHC), so I was reading a book on climate change and Systematic Theology.  Happily, my idea for my paper hasn't been done to death, based on my research.  It was a bit surreal feeling, reading about the death of the planet, while I was out on the deck in the bright May sunshine, with birds singing, and all the trees in various shades of green.

It is strange to be close to being done, but not quite done.  I will be doing the last grading for 2 online classes this week-end, in addition to working towards the end of the EHC class.  The EHC class I took through the Consortium (a Wesley requirement), and it won't be done until May 17.  I'm done with my Spartanburg Methodist classes that I taught and with my Wesley classes that I took.

Still, I'm glad for staggered endings.  I wouldn't have wanted to finish everything in the same week.  Now it's off to the library to get some pleasure reading, which is a way that I celebrate semester endings from way, way back.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

A More Welcoming Church--The Methodist Edition

Long, long ago, during grad school days, one of my friends came home quite angry.  "Do you know that you can't be gay and be a Lutheran pastor?"

I replied, "You do know that I'm not in charge of that, right?"  At that moment, I would have described myself as non church going, even though I was part of a Lutheran group that met on the campus of the University of South Carolina.  That student group was more inclusive than I imagined the larger church could ever be.

Decades have passed since then, and the Lutheran church, the ELCA variety, is more inclusive, although there is still a way to agree to disagree.  Pastors who are not white, male, and heterosexual may still find it tough to find a church willing to have them as a pastor.  Individual churches still have latitude to discriminate, and that doesn't make me happy.

I thought of these decades of changes that seem impossible and then seem to happen in a flash.  I was paying some attention to the national gathering of United Methodists in Charlotte, NC.  I knew that they hoped to resolve the issues that have been tearing them apart for the past several years when they couldn't meet in person.  And so, yesterday, I was happy to hear that the UMC voted to become a more inclusive church.

I know a bit more about the background because I go to a Methodist seminary, and last year, I attended an information session that occurred after chapel during lunch.  A year ago, as some of my fellow seminarians were graduating and taking calls in Methodist churches, I listened to their fears of what would happen if this vote went a different way.

I am so glad that my former classmates aren't waking up this morning with difficult decisions to make.  I am so glad that the United Methodist Church voted to become more inclusive.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Happy May Day!

Happy May Day!  Or Happy International Workers' Day!  Maybe we should dance around a Maypole singing "Solidarity Forever."

I imagine that most of us will go to our jobs on this fine May Day. Well, those of us in the U.S. will go to our jobs, if we still have jobs. May Day is a holiday in many other parts of the industrialized world.

In my elementary school in the 1970's, we had a May Day celebration that focused on flowers and Maypoles, not on workers. Looking back, I'm amazed that our teachers were able to rig together a Maypole. We spent weeks practicing the weaving of the ribbons in the Maypole dance. We had a whole Mayday festival. Parents came. There was a Mayday king and queen.

Ah, those good old pagan school days!

When I was a child, I liked the idea of leaving flower bouquets on people's front porches.  These days, I'd be hesitant to do that, even though I am up before the dawn.

I have rarely lived in a place where May was more springlike than summerlike.  But the nights cooled off, so May has often been the most tolerable month of the year, regardless of where I've lived.

Here in the mountains of North Carolina, we've had a fairly mild winter and a normal spring.  We're moving from flower season to green season.  I keep thinking of the strawberries that I bought last week on my way back from Spartanburg, and I'm fighting the temptation to drive back to South Carolina to get some more.  Maybe next week, when I don't have quite as much to do.

But perhaps I'll buy some flowers today when I go to the Fresh Market.  It's not the same as a surprise bouquet, but it will bring me joy.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Anxiety of Home Repair

I am trying to enjoy some quiet before the construction begins.  I think that today's work includes dismantling the old shower, before we have the new shower ready.  We thought the new shower was ready, and then my spouse took a shower last night, and I noticed water on the floor in the adjoining room.  Grrrrrrrrrrr.

Oh, how I hate plumbing work.  But really, these days, all home repair sets my nerves on edge.  Yesterday, the construction crew was installing doors while my spouse installed plumbing, and I fought off anxiety all day.  I was doing a passable job until the water in the floor in the evening.

I do wonder what it would be like to have a normal response to home repairs and remodeling--instead of thinking of all that could go wrong, what would it be like to visualize best case scenarios?  That will never be me alas.  We've had a lifetime of fixer-uppers, and my capacity to visualize best case scenarios is completely zapped.

Yesterday was not completely stressful.  I polished some poems and wrote a bit more on another poem, the one about Noah's wife buying strawberries.  I got a lot of grading done.  I helped by going to Lowe's and doing a bit of grocery shopping.  I submitted grades for two classes.  I took a walk in the glorious afternoon weather.

One of the most enjoyable things was going up to the camp office to help with a project for summer.  We're gluing popsicle sticks into squares that will frame a drawing the campers will make.  The frames will be fastened together to be a lamp shade.  The group of people from the residential area of Lutheridge (the camp) sat and glued and chatted about a wide range of things.  It's a strange kind of service, but it made me happy.

It's the kind of thing I envisioned doing for so many years when I thought about moving up here.  I'm glad there's still a chance to do it.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Three Funerals, Greening Branches, and Revisions

I am feeling a bit fragmented this morning, and I really need to be grading--but of course, most mornings I really need to be grading.  I am tired, the way I am on most Mondays, a good tired from having done fulfilling activities during the week-end but also the not so good kind of tired from getting up a bit too early.  Let me capture some fragments, which I may develop into full-blown blog posts later.

--On Saturday, I officiated (led?  Not sure what the proper term is) my first funeral.  My mom's cousin entered hospice earlier this year, and when he asked if I would do it, I didn't hesitate.  We had time to plan what he wanted, which made being part of the process a good first experience.

--On Saturday, one of my good church friends from our Florida church had a funeral for her husband, followed by a funeral on Sunday for a choir mate from the Florida church.  We had not seen the choir mate since pre-Covid times, but we did see his wife, who plays the flute.  Three funerals in one week-end feels sobering.

--My mom's cousin had a green burial, which means he was buried in a bamboo casket in a place that was more a forest than a cemetery.  It was beautiful and peaceful.  Of course, it helped that we had lovely weather.  I wouldn't want to go to a green funeral in August in South Carolina.

--As funerals can be, it also functioned as a mini family reunion.  I always think, I should see these people more often, at least once a year!  But there are only so many travel dates in a year, and thus, the years slip by.

--The years slip by and children become adults with children of their own.  I attended the baptisms of my mom's cousin's children, and I spent some time on Saturday remembering how delightful elementary school children can be.  As always, when I am around delightful children, I wonder what we've missed by making the conscious decision not to have children.

--Yesterday's children's sermon went well.  I took the only mostly dead hydrangea bush to church with me.  It does have two living shoots.  I said that some years, we feel like the dried out part of the plant, but if we hold on, we'll see living shoots in our lives again.  It was much more compelling when I preached it than when I wrote about it.

--Oddly, my sermon about abiding with Jesus being a better translation than believing in Jesus was more compelling on the page than when I preached it.  Or maybe it was compelling.  It's hard for me to know.  I knew I didn't want to preach on how we must bear fruit so that we're not thrown into the fire.  I loved the idea of abiding with Jesus who will nourish us and letting God be in charge of fruit.

--Speaking of branches coming back from the dead, everywhere I look, the trees have leaves.  I know it's not remarkable.  It's late April, after all.  But it feels sudden.  I looked out the window in the pre-dawn light, and leaves block the light from the solitary streetlight, which hasn't happened since October.

--Driving across the mountains yesterday, a similar feeling as I looked at the rock faces, now covered with green trees.  The bare branches of trees don't make the same kind of contrast.  And I can see the progress of the green up to the higher mountain ranges, which are barely green at this point.

--I love the drive across the mountains to Bristol, Tennessee to preach each week.  The view never fails to take my breath away.

--We spent time yesterday on the phone with loved ones that we didn't see on Saturday.  I forget how satisfying a phone call can be.

--I also spent time stitching scraps together, another satisfaction.

--And this morning, I put the finishing touches on the rough draft of a poem.  It is now in the final drafts folder, and occasionally, I'll submit it to the few publications that don't require an exorbitant entry fee (exorbitant = anything over $2).  I rarely finish the rough draft to polished part of writing these days, and I wonder if it's because I'm not submitting much.

--The part of poetry that's most valuable to me is the seeing something with fresh eyes and making surprising connections.  The polishing is important because I can sometimes get a new insight, but that happens more rarely.  It's fun to polish, in some ways, but not as full of delight.

--Today may be the day that our open floor plan comes to an end.  For part of the year, we had no interior walls and no interior doors except for one bathroom door.  Today, we get doors hung to go with the drywall that got hung last month.  

--When people on design shows go into houses with perfectly good kitchens and natter on about the open concept they prefer, I think, "You have no idea what you're requesting."  And if I didn't have to live in the house while it was being remodeled, I wouldn't either.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Abiding with Jesus, the True Vine

I made this Facebook post this morning:  "In a few hours I will preach on John 15: 1-8, and instead of focusing on fruit and the fire that non-producing branches face, I will preach on the idea of abiding with Jesus, the true vine. Abide is a word that the writer of the Gospel of John uses frequently, and perhaps even more than we thought. The Greek word often gets translated as "believe," but "abide" might be the truer translation. How would our approach to faith change if we had heard "Abide in me" instead of "Believe in me" through the ages?"

I am thinking of all the scraggly plants I've known, plants I've been sure had died, but suddenly sprouted new leaves. I am taking one of those plants with me for a sermon visual.

Here are the closing paragraphs of my sermon on John 15: 1-8:

The Gospel of John uses the word “abide” more than any other book in the Bible, and there’s reason to think that often when translators have used the word “Believe,” that a better translation might be “Abide.” And this bit of translation goes even wider. Think about one of the more durable ideas of Heaven that we find in John, John 14: 2 where Jesus says, “ In my Father's house are many mansions”—a better translation might be dwelling places, not mansions. The Greek might be key here: Mone—dwelling places; meno—abide—same Greek root.

I am not a Greek scholar, so I’m relying on the work of others. But with that idea in mind, we could also translate the verse this way: “In my father’s house are many abiding places.” I love that language, abiding place. Even though I don’t think of vines and branches when I think of abiding places, they are images meant to convey a similar concept. One Gospel commentator puts it this way: “So the vine image is another way of talking about abiding places (places where one is deeply at home), and both the vine and the abiding places are ways of talking about love.”

These images remind us that there are many ways of being deeply at home with the Divine, in whatever incarnation we envision God. Maybe it’s centering prayer. Maybe it’s Sabbath time, where we turn off our electronics and settle in for a Sunday afternoon with the Creator and the birds. Maybe the Holy Spirit calls us to take the Good News to new places. Maybe it’s spending time returning to the parables of Jesus, thinking about what they mean for the twentieth century.

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus calls us to abide with him, and that process of being deeply at home with Jesus is ongoing—and it will be incomplete. At some point, we will die, and there will still be work left to do. But when we die, it will be a homecoming, not a withering, not a burning. Jesus promises that if we abide in him, we will bear good fruit. We don’t have to spend time trying to decide what kind of good fruit to bear. We don’t have to evaluate the fruit. There’s no need to judge the fruit of others. God, the master gardener, knows the needs of creation, and does the pruning, the fertilizing, the watering, the nurturing to keep the vineyard fruitful. Our task, our mission—to abide with Jesus, to let Jesus nourish us.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Baptismo Sum

When we were experimenting with glass etching cream on Thursday, my spouse wanted me to look up the Latin phrase "Baptismo Sum."  We've both been taught that Martin Luther used it as he washed each morning, saying "I am baptized" in Latin so that he remembered this essential truth each day.

So I Googled it and said, "Look, there's my poem."  It was published in Sojourners in 2005, and I am so delighted that it comes up first or second in a search for the Latin word.  True to Google form lately, I couldn't find out what I wanted to know.  But instead of my usual frustration at how bad search engines have become, I had the happiness of being bounced to a poem of mine--a poem that holds up.

I'll paste the poem below, since Sojourners does limit how many articles one can view.  But if you want to see it at the Sojourners site, go here.  Sadly, the artwork that originally appeared with it is not there, but the poem is preserved.

Baptismo Sum

In this month of dehydration,
we keep our eyes skyward, both to watch
for rain and to avoid the scorn
of the scorched succulents who reproach
us silently, saying, "You promised to care."

And so, although we thought we could stick
these seedlings in the ground and leave
them to their own devices, we haul
hoses and buckets of water to the outer edges
of the yard where the hose will not reach.

The idea of a desert seduces,
as it did the Desert Fathers, who fled
the corruption of the cities to contemplate
theology surrounded by sand
and stinging winds. My thoughts travel
to the Sanctuary Movement, contemporary Christians
who risked all to rescue illegal aliens.
I admire their faith, tested in that desert crucible.
I could create my own patch of desert in tribute.

Yet deserts do not always sanctify.
I think of the Atomic Fathers
who hauled equipment into the New Mexico
desert and littered the landscape with fallout
which litters our lives, a new religion,
generations transformed in the light of the Trinity test site.

I back away from my Darwinian, desert dreams.
The three most popular religions
in the world emerged from their dry desert
roots, preaching the literal and symbolic primacy
of water, leaving the arid ranges behind
as they flowed toward temperance.

I cannot reject the religion of my ancestors,
who spent every day of their lives
remembering their baptism before heading to the fields
to make the dirt dream in colors.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Eschatology: Protests and End Times

It is a strange moment in history--or maybe it won't be at all.  Let me capture some thoughts, so that in later years, when I wonder why I didn't write about _______, maybe I can reconstruct.

--It's been a week where more campuses across the nation join the protests that have been happening at Ivy League campuses.  From what I can tell from a distance, these protests are pro-Palestinian, but some of the protestors have tipped into ugly, ugly antisemitism, some of it tinged with misogyny (and some of it dripping with misogyny).

--I think of anti-apartheid protests on campuses during my student days.  No college commencements had to be cancelled, not any that I remember.  The demand to divest from South Africa seems more doable than the demands that today's students are making.  I do realize that I'm biased.

--I think of my history of teaching, and how few radicalized students I've had.  Far more common was the discussion that we had during the Iraq war in 2004, where a few male students decided to join legitimate companies that would send them abroad as mercenaries--what did we call them then?  Why can't I remember?  They didn't want to join the military because the pay as a mercenary was much, much better, and the time period required to commit was far less.  They were aware of the danger, and they were aware that their ability to earn really good money in a short period of time was very limited.  They saw it as an opportunity, and some of them took it; I have no idea if they survived.

--As I heard about various administrators at campuses making a variety of decisions, I have been so glad that I am not an administrator anymore, even though I've never been an administrator at a college where students were going to demonstrate and shut down parts of campus life.  As with the students who went off to be mercenaries, most of the students I've known have had to work multiple jobs and juggle family commitments.

--Last night, as I saw the news that USC (the USC in California, not my alma mater) had cancelled graduation, I was attending my last class meeting of Systematic Theology.  We were all on Zoom, and I thought about the fact that we were talking about the doctrine of Eschatology and all the ways we've interpreted the End Times both as Church and as individuals as the U.S. seems to be inching closer to all sorts of End Times.

--I was already expecting this summer to be full of bad news, but I was expecting hurricanes and other types of bad weather.  We've had about 420 days (13 months) of record breaking ocean temperatures, with 2023 being off the charts, and 2024 being even higher.  I am so glad that I don't own a home in a hurricane or flood zone anymore.

--I am also glad that I don't live in Chicago.  I am glad that I'm not going to be at the Democratic National Convention this summer.  Will it be a repeat of 1968?  Or by then, will we have issues with China taking all of our attention?

--Perhaps I have China on the brain because I just finished 2034, a book which has a confrontation with China as the apocalyptic trigger.

--My spouse wanted to experiment with glass etching paste and the tiles that we're using in our bathroom.  So yesterday we went to Michaels, got supplies, and spent a fun afternoon seeing what the supplies can do.  We did some experimenting with strawberries, creating a sauce for our grilled chicken.  It was delightful to have some creativity time on a sunny, Spring afternoon before my last Systematic Theology class in the evening.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Strawberries at the End of the Semester

Yesterday was the last day of in person classes at Spartanburg Methodist College; we still have final exams, but I don't need to be on campus for those.  It was strange to say, "Have a good summer!" on April 23 as we left each other.

It was also strange to hear about all the various pro-Palestine demonstrations on Ivy League campuses, who are on a similar schedule.  My campus was very empty, with many students not coming to campus.  It's hard to imagine them protesting.  Back in the fall, about a week after the October 7 Hamas attacks, I asked one of my classes if they felt distress.  Most of them had no idea what events I was referring to, and one of them wanted to know who was making money from it all.  We talked about war and munitions and who makes money, but we didn't spend much time on the historic conditions underlying the conflict.

I got to campus feeling frazzled yesterday morning.  I usually zip down the mountains and get to campus early.  Even if there's road construction early, it doesn't lead to the kind of congestion early in the morning like it does later in the day.

Yesterday was different.  Something had happened the exit before the one where I usually exit to get to campus, and the whole interstate was shut down for awhile.  Happily, I had phone numbers plugged into my phone, so I was able to call the office to alert them.  I got to campus minutes before class was to start.

I spent the day feeling tired and a bit off, in part because of the morning traffic troubles and in part because of the time of the semester.  Happily it was not a day that needed me to be my high energy self.  

As I drove home, I noticed the signs by the highway advertising fresh from the farm strawberries.  I decided to stop, and happily, the roadside stand was right at the exit.  

I bought a big basket of berries, along with some onions and sweet potatoes.  Today I'll make some sweet biscuits to go with them.  My grandmother always made a yellow cake to make a  strawberry shortcake, but I prefer biscuits or pound cake.

I haven't emptied out the basket yet.  Hopefully I won't discover they're all moldy.  I did ask the woman in charge of the farm stand about pesticides:  "Could I eat a few berries on my way home?"

She answered, "Yes, ma'am.  I eat them all day, every day, straight from the field."

I love having farm stands on my commute, even though my commute is done for the summer (summer!).  I love buying a big basket of berries for $16.00 and figuring out what to do with them.  I thought we might have berries alone for dessert last night, but we did not.

We will have berries today, as I move from into the grading portion of semester's end.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Systematic Theology Rough Draft Process

As is usual on a Tuesday or a Thursday, I have less time to write.  Soon I need to get ready to head down the mountain to Spartanburg Methodist College--but today is the last day of face to face classes for me this semester.

Yesterday, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I knew that the tile crew would return.  I knew that I had plenty of tasks to do at my desk, and my spouse has a wide variety of home repair tasks to choose from each day.  I sat at my desk and got to work.

I got grading done and e-mails done and a bit of writing revision, the tinkering just before a paper gets turned in kind of revision.  I went for a walk in the chilly Spring air--chilly, but in a crisp way, not in a kill the plants way.  The sky was so blue, and the landscape is filling in; soon we won't be able to see much beyond the roadside but green, green, green.

As I came to the end of the road by the lake, I had a vision for how to write my final paper for Systematic Theology.  I've had lots of ideas for what I want to say, but no idea for how to organize it.  I came home knowing what to do, and I sat down to do it.  I organized it by doctrines of the Church that have worked together in a less good way than they could have:  Soteriology (salvation), Ecclesiology (the Church), Eschatology (end times), and Creation.  To sum up:  our focus on salvation for individual sin coupled with our belief that we're just here as a holding place before heaven has left societal "sin" running rampant, putting all of creation at risk.  

I have a complete rough draft!  I just need to go back to add some quotes, and do some polishing.  I didn't think it would come together that easily.  I expected to have a skeleton at the end of the day, 4 pages that could be expanded later.  But I have nine full pages, so getting to the 15-20 page requirement will not be a problem.  

It's a relief.  In some ways, this should be an easy paper to write; we have a lot more latitude since it's our final paper for the two semester Systematic Theology paper.  But that latitude made me cautious.  I also have a paper to write for my Environmental History of Christianity (EHC) class, so I don't want to use similar ideas and get flagged for plagiarism--that, too, made me cautious.  

The paper I just wrote is not likely to overlap with the paper I will be writing for my EHC class, which is due May 11.  I'll be using different outside sources for each.

It feels good to have a rough draft.  I still have much work to do;  with all the classes that I'm teaching and taking, I have at least 5 deadlines to keep in mind, with smaller deadlines along the way.  But in some ways, that's easier than if they all came crashing to an end during the same week.  Steady, steady, and it will get done.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Hearing Voices--Or Not--A Children's Sermon Success Story

My day is quickly filling up as the various ends of semesters all come into sight.  But let me record a moment from yesterday's worship service at Faith Lutheran that went really well.

Yesterday's Gospel was John 10:  11-18, which talks about the sheep hearing the shepherd's voice.  For the youth sermon, I wanted to demonstrate how hard it can be to hear individual voices when there's so much noise, and how hard it can be to hear God's voice in the midst of all the noise.

Before the service started, I wrote statements on paper slips, like "Hey, sheep, come here and I'll make you a star."  "Hey, sheep, I can make you rich."  At a moment in the sermon, I orchestrated the adults in the background to say all their lines at once, and if they didn't have a line, they could say, "Hey, sheep, over here."  The youth would listen and try to decide which voice to follow.

I was surprised by what a cacophony happened when everyone spoke/shouted at once.  When I had the congregation stop, I asked the youth which voice they would follow, and then I asked if they could hear any individual voice.  They could not.

It worked beautifully to demonstrate my message.  And then, we were able to talk about how we hear God's voice:  in silence, in church, in songs, in reading, in being in community with people who want the best for you, in prayer.

I felt like my adult sermon went well too, and what makes me happier is that I was feeling very stymied on Saturday morning.  By evening, after much prayer and thought and writing and discussing with my spouse, I had two sermons that worked.

It won't always be that way, I know.  But I'm always grateful when inspiration comes, even if it's at the eleventh hour.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Spring vs. Autumn in the Mountains

The weather has shifted a bit here in the Southern Appalachians.  We had summerlike weather for much of the week, where I went for a walk amidst the dogwood blooms and azaleas and returned home dripping with sweat.

Today we're back to chilly rain.  It's much more autumnal than spring.

I went for a walk with a neighborhood friend, and we talked about which we preferred, autumn in the mountains (me) or spring (her).  We're both artists of varying types, so we have an eye for color and texture.  She loves the various flowers and so many shades of green.  I am partial to autumnal leaves.

But I love every season here so far.  I like the austere grays and browns of winter too.  Each Sunday as we've driven across the mountains, I've enjoyed seeing the face of the craggy rocks left behind when the interstate was created, the face that is often obscured by trees in other seasons.  It's wonderful to enjoy the lushness of summer without sweltering heat or fear of hurricanes.

Speaking of driving across the mountains, it's time to put on my church clothes and make that drive to Faith Lutheran, in Bristol, Tennessee.  If you want a sneak peak at the end of the sermon, head over to this post on my theology blog.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Communal Poetry Project

Two years ago, I was part of a seminary class that studied Jericho Brown's duplexes.  As part of my final project, I wrote some duplexes of my own.  I went through my poetry notebooks looking for lines that didn't make it into a poem, and I created a Word document of them.  I ended up with lots of abandoned lines in a big document, and I return to the document periodically when I need inspiration.

This week, I used those lines in a different way.  I needed something different to do with my English 100 class.  I decided to celebrate National Poetry Month with a communal poetry project.  Along the way, I talked about how doing different kinds of writing can make us feel refreshed when we return to academic writing, so it wasn't only a diversion.

I took the document that I created a few weeks ago as part of my internship.  I was trying to create a Mad Libs kind of thing to prompt people to tell their spiritual stories, and I modified it for the poetry project.  I knew that these students needed something to get their creative ideas flowing--or to have something to use in case they didn't get any creative ideas at all.  I created a fill in the blank document that would prompt them to make a list of nouns, verbs, emotions, and then a different fill in the blank document with words missing from lines from famous poems ("Hope is a thing with ______"), hymns ("Oh for a thousand tongues to _____") and pop songs ("You turn me round and round like a _______").

Before class, I cut up the lines from my abandoned lines document and put them in a bowl.  We had a time of taking those lines and adding lines.  If nothing came to them, they could use one of the items from the Mad Libs documents.  At one point, I collected slips with my line and the student line and gave them to a different student to write a new line.  Students ended up with 9-15 slips of paper on their individual tables.

Before class, I had rearranged the tables (I love a classroom with tables that are mobile!).  On the back tables, I taped blank paper, which created 9 blank documents for my analogue cut and paste.  I brought tape with me to class, and I gave students a piece of tape and had them go tape a slip to the longer sheet of paper.  It wasn't as chaotic as I thought it might be. 

We ended up with pieces of paper that were fairly full, but still had space.  I mention this because I wasn't sure how many blank sheets to create.  And as students walked back and forth, they had plenty of room.  Ten students participated, so I'm not sure how this would work with larger groups.  I'd probably have a few more blank documents.

I then read each of the communal poems out loud.  It was interesting to see how the lines spoke to each other.  I talked about the kinds of academic papers we might write if we were asked to write about poems like these.  I also asked about their process.  Only three students read the slips that were already there as they thought about where to tape their own slips.  The process for most students was fairly random, and I was amazed at how the poems held together.

At the end of class, I had students write about the process to tell me what they thought.  Three students said that their favorite part was when I read each poem; that made me happy, because I felt a little unsure of that part.  And the best part--one student talked at great length about how amazing the experience was, the whole process.  Hurrah!

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post confessing that I was failing National Poetry Month.  Yesterday, I feel like I succeeded.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Internship's End

Last night, my internship experience came to a close--it was a natural end, nothing dire.  But it does feel like an event worth noting.

First, some background.  Wesley handles internships differently than some  schools.  It's a part-time job coupled with a class where we meet each week to process our experiences together as a group.  The part-time position can be in a church, the typical learning to be a parish pastor kind of job.  But it could also be in any number of other settings, from prisons to hospitals to non-profits.  If a seminarian has a specific vision, as I did, she can file the paperwork to have her site considered.

I was lucky to have this flexibility.  When I was thinking about possibilities, I wasn't sure where I would be living.  The campus housing was slated to be torn down, and I was mulling over options.  I decided that an internship that I could do remotely made sense.  I had been impressed with the way the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA offered online options for spiritual growth, so I reached out to them.  They were agreeable, and happily, the paperwork was not too onerous.  I know that Synod staff are busy folks, and I hated making paperwork requests.

During my seminary journey, I've never been too worried about traditional classes:  I know that I can write, and I can read rigorous books and journal articles, and I have little problem meeting class deadlines.  But the internship process worried me a bit, with its additional parts:  class instructors, internship staff from the school, and Synod staff.  Happily, everything went smoothly.

When I first started at Wesley, the internship stretched over two years, with the class meeting every other week.  I prefer the more intense model that I just completed.  Much can go wrong over two years, and I would hate to have to start over.  Much can go wrong over one year, and I'm glad to have this requirement completed.

When I talk about much that can go wrong, I know that may sound like I'm being a bit of a drama queen.  But I've seen classmates derailed by events, like the death of the mother who was providing childcare or a pregnancy that turned problematic or any number of other health problems.  I know that internship sites that seem fantastic can change.  I feel fortunate that I didn't have any stumbling blocks.

I also feel fortunate that my internship journey has been filled with wonderful people, people I worked with directly and indirectly at the Synod level, faculty, classmates.  I have felt supported and nurtured at every turn.  I know that not everyone gets that experience, and I am so grateful that I have had the experience that I just completed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Wednesday Wanderings: Spring Air and Step Counting

Another day of feeling a bit fragmented now, but better than past mornings.  Let me record some thoughts and see if I discern a thread:

--Last night is the first night where I didn't wake up congested and unable to breathe in the middle of the night.  I am a bit more rested today.

--I am also a bit more rested because I didn't go to Pub Theology last night so that I could go to bed early, and then I did go to bed early.  I was sleeping before the sky was dark, around 8:15.

--When the Indiglo feature of my watch failed, I decided it was time to buy a new Timex.  I got the one that counts my steps.  I am hoping to use that feature to get my health goals back on track.  I am still a bit distressed and depressed over how much weight I've gained in the past year, somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds.  In one year!  In some ways, it's a genetic gift, this ability to store calories.  But it's a genetic gift that would be useful in a very different kind of environment, one where food wasn't secure.

--I need to buckle down and just count calories.  I hate tracking calories.  I've used various apps.  This morning, I was thinking about giving myself permission not to keep track of calories if I hit 10,000 steps.  Of course, I don't hit that step goal until late in the day.

--This morning, I'm feeling less fractured because I have been hitting my step goal consistently for a week.  I have also made it up to the weight room twice each week, which is my goal.  But I've been wondering if perhaps I should just pop in during each walk that I take by myself.  Not worry about reps particularly, just do a round of arm exercises.

--I am intrigued by how many students don't come for conferences they signed up for.  In all my years of teaching, that hasn't happened.  Of course, the last time I taught face to face when I could cancel classes and have conferences was thirty years ago.  Still, it's odd.

--I did get a lot of seminary work done yesterday while waiting in my office for students.  That, too, has helped me feel better this morning than I felt Monday morning.  Even though I know that I can crank words out, I feel better for having done it.

--It's been so warm this week that we've slept with our bedroom window open.  There's a fresh, spring smell in the bedroom that I never had in South Florida, even when I opened windows, on the rare weeks that the temperatures were cool enough to open windows in South Florida.

--The tile work in the hall bathroom is going well.  We have spent some time wondering if we've chosen tile that replicates that linoleum that we had in South Florida that tried to replicate Moroccan slate.  It's beautiful tile in the same way that the linoleum was beautiful.

--Speaking of tile work, time to get ready for this morning's arrival of the tile guys.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Cutting Paper for the Process Project

Before we get too far away from a teaching success story, let me record it.  First, some background.  Long ago, to teach the process/how to essay, I had students create something out of Legos and then write instructions so that others could make the same creation.  It was never easy creating those directions.  Was it better than the typical process/how to essay experience?  I thought so.

Years went by, and I moved from teaching to administration.  The Lego bucket took up room in my closet, and I gave it away.  But now I'm back to teaching in person.  So, instead of the typical process essay, I returned to the variation of the Lego project that I documented in this blog post.  It involves cut up paper shapes.

I was feeling weary thinking of all the paper I would need to cut.  And then I thought, no, let the students cut the paper.  They would retain a bag of shapes for themselves, and with the extra shapes they generated, I required them to choose two more shapes.

It was meditative, watching them cut paper.  And I had them create a daily writing assignment about the process of cutting paper, so there was some writing involved.  It wasn't just a day cutting paper.

They didn't realize it, but the cutting of the paper was the easiest part of the project.  This batch of students isn't great at creating instructions that anyone can follow.  Maybe nobody is.  But it's a good experience for them, good to wrestle with language at its most basic level:  take this shape and put it in relation to these other shapes.

Today we will wrestle with the language of the trees, in advance of Arbor Day, and Thursday we will wrestle with the language of poetry.  Classes are winding down, but there are still a few days left.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Failing at National Poetry Month

Once again, I am failing at National Poetry Month.  Once again, it barely registers.  Occasionally I see that someone is hosting a reading or actually doing a reading--or just reading extra poetry.  Or any poetry.  People weigh in with their wonderful news of books being published or books being accepted for publication, and I feel like I'm in a distant country thinking, oh, yes, I used to do that.

Part of the problem, as I have said before, is that National Poetry Month is in April, which is not a good month for me, and probably for many academics.  All of the classes that I'm teaching rev into high gear as we race to the ending.  I'm taking classes too, and similarly, those classes will be over at the end of April.  And I usually have at least one retreat.

But I do want to remember that I haven't actually failed.  I have been revising one poem, "Cassandra Keeps Her Own Counsel" and drafting another, "Good Friday at the Mammography Center."  I am trying not to remember past years when I might have been creating a poem a day.  Most of those poems from past years, created in a daily rush, weren't very good.  I feel much better about the two I've been working on.

Once I filled sheet after sheet in my purple legal pads.  I wonder if I'll ever go back to composing that way.  When I broke my right wrist two years ago (two years ago this very day), I had to experiment with composing a different way.  I no longer speak my poems into a Word doc, but I'm still drafting them that way.

So, maybe I'm not earning an F for National Poetry Month.  Maybe a D or a C-.  

I am kidding, of course.  There are no grades.  The poetry and process--those are the rewards.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sunday Snippets to Capture a Week in Home Repairs and Fiber

I am not sure what my writing morning looks like--but there are hard deadlines ahead, like needing to be on the road by 7:30 to drive across the mountains to preach and preside at Faith Lutheran in Bristol, TN this morning (the service starts at 10, and all are welcome).  Let me record some thoughts before they slip away:

--Yesterday for two of my online classes that I teach, I sent out an e-mail reminding them of their last assignments.  Their last day is Friday, April 19.  As always, when we get to the end, I think about how it feels like just yesterday that I was entering dates into the syllabus thinking about how far away April seemed.

--Yesterday we went to the big box home repair stores early-ish in the morning, around 8.  They were eerily deserted, very unlike South Florida stores would have been on a Saturday morning.  I'm relieved, don't get me wrong.  And I still had to wait to get my paint color mixed, but it wasn't because there were 10 people ahead of me in line.  The paint guy had gone off to do something else, and it took awhile to find him.

--We are making progress on the house.  We go in a spurt, get things done, and then progress lags for a few weeks (or more).  We could blame this cycle on all kinds of things:  supply chain issues, shortage in dependable workers for things we can't do.  But as I look back over our whole lives, it's always been this way.

--On Friday, I made this Facebook post:  "Carl is distressing paint, the tile crew is listening to salsa music, and I have workplace training videos about workplace discrimination and harassment playing through my earbuds. These laws are not new to me, although this year, it's a different company that has created the training videos--listening to them with salsa music playing is surreal."

--And then two of the training videos wouldn't load.  Sigh.  I tried not to think about the fact that the last time I had completed these kinds of training videos, it was for a different school (same group of workers though, working on a different part of the house), and I got paid for my time, and I was able to access the videos and take the quizzes.

--I am so tired of being subjected to these videos that show all the ways that humans can be awful to each other in the workplace.  But I am glad that I am no longer the administrator who must make sure that everyone has done the training.

--I have been feeling stuffy for weeks:  is it because of drywall dust or allergies or a cold or paint fumes?  Yesterday when my throat started feeling scratchy, I took a Covid test, just in case.  It was negative.  So that's good.  This morning I'm back to feeling stuffy, but not throat scratchy.

--I went to the computer this morning wondering if we were at war with Iran, if the electronics would be working.  Or maybe this week-end's confrontation between Israel and Iran will be that kind of little thing that looks like it will lead us all to apocalypse but doesn't.

--I was sad to hear of the death of Faith Ringgold, but happy that she had a long, productive life.  And I am so grateful for all the work that she did to make people take fiber and fabric arts seriously.

--I was lucky to see her work periodically, and once, in a small gallery, where I could get close.  But what I remember most about that trip is the Art Appreciation instructor telling her students to pay close attention to the work and saying, "And Dr. Berkey-Abbott is a fiber artist too."