Friday, May 31, 2024

A Dinner with Camp Counselors, A Feast Day that Celebrates Possibility

Late yesterday afternoon, something happened that gave me renewed hope for the future.  No, not the return of guilty verdicts in Donald Trump's NYC hush money trial; I'm still processing that bit of information, which will leave me with a huge mix of emotions.

No, for renewed hope, I highly recommend having dinner with a group of college students who are about to spend their whole summer as camp counselors.  In some ways, it will be idyllic, spending a summer in nature, around campfires, singing and talking about God and the best ways to live life.  In many ways, it won't be idyllic.  They will live in rustic cabins and even more rustic platform tents.  They will eat foods like corndogs and other food that is beloved by 8 year olds, but less so by grown ups.

And they are so excited.

Many of them come to this summer of camp counselor employment because they, themselves, were campers.  That's a great testimony to the power of camp.  Half of them have been camp counselors before.  

The group of people who live in the houses at Lutheridge and the camp counselors have dinner a few days before the first campers arrive on Sunday.  Many of us will live here will volunteer through the summer in a variety of ways.  But I don't expect the counselors to memorize our faces.  Similarly, it's a huge group, and I'm not going to recognize a non-counselor college student, should one appear during the summer.

No, the reason we do this is so that both sides can remember what a team effort camp is.  I like having a chance to talk to the next generation.  We had a great dinner conversation about musical theatre, about fairy tales, about feminism, about Shakespeare.  But even better, I got to hear about an even wider variety of interests that they all have.  One student is a double major in equestrian management and drama, for example.  It was interesting hearing about her typical day.

Today is the feast day of the Visitation, which adds an additional layer to my thoughts this morning.  This day celebrates both Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and their time together, both improbably pregnant, both facing the future that will take them in places they can't fully imagine.  And so, they spend time together, in solitude, yet together.

I love this view of community, the one offered by Mary and Elizabeth, the one offered by our dinner last night.  Some of us are older, but we are not yet finished with our glorious lives.  Some of us have the enthusiasm of those just starting a journey.  Some of us have prior experience, which may or may not equip us for what is to come.

But together, we can make a better world for the generations that are coming behind us, both the generations that we can meet, and those yet to be born.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Living in Language Is Enough

I never got to my writing tasks yesterday.  There was some internet disruption, which I tried to troubleshoot for 45 minutes, and which cleared up suddenly, probably due to nothing I did.  Very frustrating.

Sure, I could have written some blog posts, but instead, I wrote in my offline journal, since I could be sure I wouldn't lose that writing.

And to be honest, I'm not writing as much in this strange time of not taking a class and not teaching a class.  It was an intense six weeks at the end of spring term, and it's good to take a rest from writing.  I'm trying to trust that this break is not a permanent break.

I'm doing more reading, and I'm doing more piecing together of quilt tops.  I'm doing some blogging.  I'm writing sermons.  In short, it's not like I'm just lying on the sofa watching low quality TV.

I also wonder why I feel a need to justify myself this way.  It's my inner guidance counselor voice, telling me I'm not living up to my full potential.

But let me fill my head with different voices.  In the past week, I finally picked up and finished Carl Phillips' My Trade is Mystery:  Seven Meditations from a Life in Writing.  He talks about "the silence that others call writer's block, when whatever inside us that allows us to make art falls silent, or a silence settles in around it, preventing our usual access to power, the muse, creativity, imagination" (p. 33).  He says that he prefers to see writing as invitation, and just because a writer doesn't have an invitation that needs immediate attention, it doesn't mean "we've been shunned" (p. 34).

He reframes a writer's life as one that is spent living in language, and he says, "As long as I am living in language, as I like to put it, I count it as writing" (p. 35).  So reading counts, and not necessarily just quality reading.  He even counts scrolling through a Twitter thread as reading.  He sees all of it as important:  looking up a recipe, overhearing conversation in a farmer's market, humming song lyrics (p. 36).

It's a refreshing way of looking at the writing life, and one I hope I hang onto.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Last Thoughts on Holy Trinity Sunday 2024

Before we get too far away from Holy Trinity Sunday, I wanted to capture a few thoughts.  

--I wrote a blog post about various metaphors, but that was not the only high point of the day.  The experience with dry ice that happened during the transition from Sunday School to church, however, was probably the most memorable.

--We had sparser attendance, which is probably normal for a Sunday on a 3 day week-end.  But we had two new children who were visiting their relatives, who are church members.  One was the little boy that I baptized last year.  What a treat!

--When the family came up for communion, I asked the mom if the boys could have communion.  She said they could have the bread.  When I held the bread out to the older brother of the boy I baptized, he was so excited that he ate the bread right out of my hand, putting his mouth around most of my fingers.  

--Feeding bread to a small child (I'm guessing he's 3 or 4 years old) felt like an exquisite metaphor for Holy Trinity Sunday too.

--On the Saturday before Holy Trinity Sunday, I went to go fill up the car with gas.  I noticed that someone had taken out a marker and written this beside the dollar amount on the pump: "You are so worth it." At first I thought, I am worth so much more than a tank of gas. And then I continued thinking about worth and messages of support and how we are all so much more important than most of us realize.

--That, too, is a good message for Holy Trinity or for any Sunday--or any day of the week.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Memorial Day 2024

Today is Memorial Day, and through the years, I've come to realize how many different things this holiday can mean to people.  I've met people who won't celebrate it because of its roots in memorializing the Civil War Union dead.  My dad was an Air Force officer in the Reserves until he retired, so Memorial Day was personal for him.  I don't think I know anyone who was killed while on active duty, but I do want to honor those who died.  Some people I've known seem to have no inkling that the holiday has anything to do with soldiers at all--for them, it's about getting a good deal on a holiday sale or opening up the vacation home or having a cook out.

I remember feeling desperate for Memorial Day, for a day off, but during my days of working as an administrator, I was always desperate for a day off, a day off that didn't require me to use up any of my paltry allotment of vacation time.  For the past several years, Memorial Day as a three day week-end was not top of my mind.

I also know that many people don't get to have time off.  All of our grocery stores are open today, for example.  When I taught in community colleges in South Carolina, we didn't have Memorial Day off.  Our nursing students needed every scrap of time in the summer, so that holiday had to be sacrificed so that we stayed in compliance.  Or maybe it was because of the Civil War; I got different explanations. In past years, I've used the day off to catch up on grading for my online classes.  This year, my summer classes don't start for a month, so I'm not teaching at all this holiday. 

This year, I'm thinking about past years, when war seemed far away.  Could we really be at a place where peace was the norm?

This year, that doesn't seem to be the case.  This year, I'm hoping for containment of threats, for dictators to be defeated.  When I say that, I'm thinking of Putin.  This year, of course, the war in the Middle East is the one that most people are contemplating, if they are contemplating war at all.  This year, I am willing to admit how much I do not know, while trying not to dread what may be coming in the next year or two.

But let me circle back to the intent of this holiday.  On this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue, let us pause to reflect and remember. If we're safe right now, let us say a prayer of gratitude. Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places.

Let us remember how often the world zooms into war. Let us pray to be preserved from those horrors.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war. We pray for those who mourn. We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten. We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil. God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this Memorial Day, we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Photohaiku and College Composition

When I think about my ideal teaching job, in some ways, my ideal teaching job time is in this liminal space.  We are between semesters at Spartanburg Methodist College.  I have plenty of time to think about what I want to accomplish in a class, to reflect on what's been going well and how to make improvements.  I'm finding readings, not by active searching, but by what's coming across various inboxes and sites.  I'm seeing other people's posts and comments on social media sites and thinking, I'd like to try that.

And what makes my SMC teaching job ideal is that I have the opportunity to try different approaches.  The department has a list of what must happen in a Composition class, but it's fairly short, and we have wide latitude to meet those goals in ways that work for us. 

I like adding more creative writing to my classes, even though they aren't traditional creative writing classes.  I think it helps prevent boredom, and best case scenario, it gives students a richer way of expressing what they're trying to capture.

Yesterday Dave Bonta posted his latest photohaiku latest photohaiku, and one of his Facebook friends said it would be great to try for students in an Adventure Lit class.  My first thought was, I want to teach Adventure Lit.  And then I thought, this could be great to try with a Composition class.  

I'm going to have my students adopt one tree on campus for the whole term.  It's not the only thing we'll do, but we're going to do some close observations of the tree.  Creating a photohaiku could be a great way to see in a slightly different way from a typical observation log (we'll do that too), a slightly more complex way than just taking a periodic photo.  I also love this one this one of Dave's, but the cool thing is that students will have a whole site to explore; and I'm seeing a short assignment that has them pick their favorite and explain why it's their favorite.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how all these ideas work, even though I know that some of them will work better than others--my ideal teaching time!

Saturday, May 25, 2024

The End of Spring Term 2024

In some ways, this week has been the first week of summer break.  In some ways, it's felt more like the end of spring semester.  I've been waiting for grades, and this week, the last of them finally came in.

I've had some grades for several weeks.  My internship class was pass-fail, so once I completed the assignments, it was easy for my instructors to submit the passing grade.  My paper for Systematic Theology was graded a day or two after I turned it in, and I was happy to get my grade of A.  Even after 9 months of Systematic Theology class, I still wasn't completely sure that I was creating Systematic Theology.  And in fact, creating a complete systematic theology, in the way that the best systematic theologians have done, would mean I'd be writing multiple volumes of books, not just a paper or two.

This week, I got my Foundations of Worship class grades.  I had gotten grades throughout the term, so I was fairly sure all would be well.  But it was a relief to get grades for the last assignments I turned in.  I had to go back to the assignments to even remember what I wrote, so that I could fully appreciate the comments, that's how long it had been for some of them.  I was happy with what I had written, and so was my professor.

I turned in my last big paper three weeks ago.  It was for Environmental History of Christianity (EHC) class, and in some ways, I was covering some of the same territory as I did for my Systematic Theology class.  I wanted to talk about the ways that Substitutionary Atonement Theology has failed us.  For the EHC class, I talked about how our ideas of salvation leave us willing to let the planet die, since we're just waiting to go to Heaven.  I got an A on that paper.

But more important to me, I restored my hope.  In my paper, I talked about our failure of vision, but I reminded the reader (and myself) that we worship a God who takes the worst kind of brokenness and transforms it into beauty.  I found myself asking myself if I really believed in the possibility of resurrection--not the specific resurrection of Jesus, but resurrection in general.

The answer:  yes, yes I do.  Here's how I concluded my paper:

Throughout the centuries, Christians have declared their faith in a God who can work miracles and bring redemption to the grimmest of situations. We are facing such a situation now. Christians have looked at the history of the planet and pointed out the places where God takes brokenness and transforms it into beauty. Our faith is built on those stories of transformation, and the world is desperate to hear these stories too. Christians have preached and proclaimed that they believe in the powers of God and the powers of resurrection, and the coming century will test that faith. Christians can create the rituals and theology that will help explain and guide humanity through desperate times. Christianity is a religion that has supported humans through the biggest challenges throughout history. We are called to do likewise now.

We may feel like we’re too late. N. T. Wright assures us otherwise. In Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N. T. Wright says, "What you do in the present--by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself--will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether . . . . They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom" (page 193, emphasis in the original). Wright goes on to reassure those of us who are prone to apocalyptic thinking: " . . . what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff" (p. 208). Jesus, too, issues this promise in John 8: 31-32, 35-36: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (NRSVUE). We are resurrection people, free indeed. Let us move forward in faith, developing a new theology for this time, trusting in God’s promise that the forces of death and destruction do not get to have the final word.

Friday, May 24, 2024

First Week of Summer Break

In some ways, this week has been the first week of summer.  Last week, I turned in my last short paper for Environmental History of Christianity class and went to the quilt show and waited to feel like I was on break.

I rarely feel like I'm on break, and I'm never on any kind of break for very long.  Even when I was "unemployed," I wasn't really unemployed.  I didn't have a traditional full-time job for awhile, but I still had my adjunct job, teaching college Composition classes online.

In the past, I've had summer classes to teach that started just a few days after the grades for Spring term were due.  This year, I have two classes to teach, but they don't start until the end of June.  There have been a few days this week when I've said to myself, "Oh, so this is what it's like to have a summer break!"

I've always envied public school teachers their summer vacations, even as I didn't want to do the public school teaching to get that break.  In South Florida, the cost of living was so high that I couldn't conceive of a way to ever have much of a break.

I am so grateful not to live in South Florida these days, even though I have friends there whom I miss.  As we move into hurricane season, as the days heat up in record smashing ways, I am so happy to be in the mountains.

Last night, we watched The Birdcage.  I have wanted to see it again, but I worried that it might make us miss South Florida, since it is set in South Beach, Florida.  Perhaps the week just before hurricane season is the best time to see it.  I'm happy to be here where the nights cool off, and we don't always have to keep anxious eyes to the east and south, on the lookout for swirls in the atmosphere and thunderstorms that move off the coast of Africa.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Unbroken Arm

I didn't have much writing time yesterday.  In addition to the arrival of the tile team, I wanted to get to the walk in clinic when it opened.  No, not because of my cold, which was on the wane.  No, I wanted to get to the EmergeOrtho clinic, where I knew they had x-rays machines and would use them.  I could have the answers I needed in the same day, without a reference.

This may be the most beautiful picture I will ever have of my body:

An hour later, I texted my spouse:  "NOT BROKEN!!!!"

You might wonder why I thought my arm was broken.  Wouldn't I know?  But since I broke my wrist and so misjudged the injury, I haven't exactly trusted myself.  I shattered my wrist, but it didn't hurt much, so I assumed it was O.K.  On the contrary, it required a difficult surgery; my hand surgeon said, "I expected it to be difficult, but it was even worse than I thought."  Happily, I am mostly recovered from that injury.

Two weeks ago, I slipped and fell down a few stairs.  I felt it in my hip and hindquarter, but it's well padded.  I also knew that I had thwacked my arm in a hard, hard way.  A lump the size of an egg immediately swelled up, but no bone was poking through.  I could move my arm in every direction.  I decided to wait and see.

The next morning, I still had a lump with a skinned patch and a ghastly bruise.  But I still had full mobility, so I thought I was O.K.  Two weeks later, I still have a lump.

But what really concerned me was the bruising that kept changing shape.  Each morning, I had new bruising up and down my forearm, which made me wonder.  I knew that this kind of bruising could be a symptom of a break.  Of course, it could also be a symptom of the body taking care of a hematoma or a bruised bone or a sprain.

I started waking up in the middle of the night because of arm pain.  I spent an hour or two in the middle of the night, feeling anxious, which often spiraled into a meditation on all the stupid decisions I've ever made, all the ways I've screwed up my life.

These are 2 a.m. thoughts, not rational thoughts, and I know the difference between the two.  It's still hard to silence my brain when it heads down that spiral.  I woke up yesterday knowing that I wanted some answers, the kind that comes from an x-ray and a person with medical training.

I went to EmergeOrtho when I broke my wrist and ignored it for a week, hoping it would get better.  They were kind and professional.  They were kind and professional 2 years ago, when it was clear that I should have gotten answers earlier, and they were kind and professional yesterday, when they didn't make me feel stupid for wanting to know for sure that my arm is healing.

I'm also grateful for my insurance.  I had insurance two years ago, very expensive insurance that I had to COBRA from my old job.  That insurance was changed by my former employers, and they didn't tell me.  When I fell, I didn't have an insurance card because I still didn't have the right people making the right affirmations that I did indeed have insurance.

Even with that insurance that cost me $1200.00 a month, my broken wrist ended up costing me at least $8,000 in co-pays and the amount I had to pay before insurance kicked in.  Staggering.

Yesterday's walk-in clinic experience cost $75.00--money well spent.  Last night I slept a full 8 hours, in part because of exhaustion, in part because my cold has finally left me, but in larger part, because I didn't wake up anxious in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The TV World of Home Repairs

In the early years of our marriage, before we could afford cable, my spouse and I watched PBS on Saturdays.  We both loved The Frugal Gourmet and other cooking shows that came later, like America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country.  When we watched in the late 80's and 90's, there weren't as many Julia Child reruns, so we didn't watch those.  Home repair shows like This Old House and Hometime made us believe that we could restore houses too.  They showed the work as challenging but not impossible.

Our Roku stick brings us many channels of home repair shows now, and their approach is different than those old PBS shows.  There is usually a discovery of some sort of disaster, which upends the remodeling plans:  old wiring, water where it shouldn't be, asbestos.

When I was a child, for awhile I couldn't read books written in first person.  It created too much anxiety.  Eventually my coping strategy was to look up from the book and remind myself that the first person narrator was not me.  Over the week-end, with a steady stream of these shows on, I had to look up periodically and say, "Not my house, not my house."

We've restructured several houses, and not one has been as well-made as our current house.  I realize we're very lucky, particularly since this house was not designed to be lived in year round.

I do find my mind going back to other houses we weren't able to bring to full potential, particularly the cottage at our last house, less than a mile from the beach.  The first renovation was largely successful, but after Hurricane Irma flooding, it was hard to get the mold under control.  I think of the shows we've been watching about people carving out space from their basements to become rental units.  Just after the remodel, they looked perfect.  I wonder how they look now.

Those repairs and renovations make sense to me.  There are also plenty of shows where perfectly good rooms are transformed for no good reason that I can see.  People walk in to the house at the beginning of the show and proclaim about how dated it all is.  And then they spend so much money on new appliances and ripping out walls and moving rooms from one end of the house to the other.  Those decisions are hard for me to watch.  We have never had that kind of money with our house remodels.  Even with this one, with more money in the budget, we're being careful.

At least with these shows, I can read a book while my spouse watches the show.  I can look up for the reveal, which is the only part of the show that's really interesting to me.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Apocalyptic Inspirations

Our house is sounding very 19th century, very tubercular, lots of coughing, as we are both fighting off colds.  This week-end, I've often thought of John Keats, who got up every morning, coughed up a bit of his lungs, and then went to work writing the poetry that he knew he didn't have much time to write.

I've spent part of the week-end reading, since it was a low energy week-end, with both of us fighting off colds.  When the Booker Prize was announced back in December, I wanted to read Paul Lynch's Prophet Song; I'm all in for a good tale of dystopia.  But I knew the library wasn't likely to have it in time for me to read it before my fall semester kicked into high gear, so I promptly forgot all about it.

I'm not sure what reminded me that I wanted to read it, but I was able to get it easily from my public library.  At first I thought I wouldn't be able to tolerate the lack of publishing niceties, like paragraph breaks and quotation marks.  I adjusted to the very long paragraphs much more easily than the run together dialogue.  

There were parts of the book that I skimmed over, in part because it was difficult to follow, in part because I was ready to get on with it, to find out how it all turns out once the building dread is done.  Perhaps at some point I'll go back to see what I missed.  But life is short, so probably not.

I know that I will be thinking about the ending in the weeks and months to come.  I was expecting something devastating, and I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that I was not disappointed.

The book is poetic in places; I am not the first to recognize the similarity to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, about which I said that it was the most breathtakingly beautiful prose about the apocalypse as anything I had ever read.  In terms of plot, though, Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is the best dystopian novel I've ever read.  In so many ways, Butler's book is the best book I've ever read.

I woke up this morning wondering if someone could create an apocalyptic narrative in poetry form.  I know the answer is yes.  I don't think it will be me, but wheels are turning.

So far, those turning wheels are producing lines, not sustained poems, and certainly not a sustained narrative.  But I'm happy for poetry inspiration of any kind.  There are so many days when I do not feel like "a real poet" anymore, whatever that means.  It seems the publishing world is collapsing on many fronts, and poetry has always had a precarious perch in the publishing world.

So let me celebrate my inspirations where I can.  Let me close with some lines that came to me this morning, lines that may become a final poem--or several different poems!

One stays near the coast,
freedom in the form of a boat.
One disappears into the mountains.


You have placed your faith
in tangerines, bright baubles
in a battered, wooden bowl.


Your house has several heating
sources but who will purify
the water raining down from a sooty sky?

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.