We are the Bread.

I don’t think Jesus came for us to worship him, but to follow him. We are to take up where he left off. We are to be Christ in this world. We are to be the fixing, the healing for the world. We are to bring unity and love and understanding. We are to build bridges and tear down walls between people. We are to encourage and to lift up. We are to be a force for good.

So many people get stuck on the idea of Jesus as the Son of God. That whole miracle-birth thing really gets in their way. Now – don’t get me wrong. I believe that Jesus is God incarnate. But I don’t think that you have to believe that. I think that part of the message of the loaves and fishes is that we are to be the bread that is distributed. There was an amazing magic trick that happened in those two stories of Jesus feeding the multitude. Jesus is the starter – he shows us how to do it. He takes what is there – a few simple meager loaves and fishes. These were gifts that were offered. He blesses them – he gives thanks to God for the gift of them. And then he breaks them. He takes what is there – and he breaks it. This seems counterintuitive. But it has to be broken for there to be more.

Most of us like to hang on to what we have. We see our things as ours – our health, our jobs, our families, our friends. We don’t see these things as gifts from God. And we certainly don’t like it when they are taken from us. We certainly don’t like the idea of voluntarily giving them up – of breaking them.
But when they are broken, when we are broken, we get a chance to become more than what we were. In that time we can choose to give thanks. We can choose to see that they were gifts to us in the first place. We can choose to become more than our things that we think bring us comfort. We can choose to be the bread.

We can choose to feed others. We can choose to volunteer at Second Harvest. We can choose to raise money for AIDS prevention. We can choose to stand up to bullies. We can choose to be kind to the stranger. We can choose to not gossip. We can choose, every moment, every day, to be more than we are. We can choose to let Jesus work His magic on us and make us more than we were. We can rise with him and feed the world with love.

Predictive text poem/postcard two

Dear George,

The first time since the beach, boys are not allowed.
Kate reported that freedom isn’t the hours but the time.
Dear friend, to use the world you need to be loving.

The first place for beads in Israel is going to be in my hometown library.
The green building council and I don’t agree.
God bless the hours when I was there.

-Love, Fred

Prayer set one

—Upon taking daily medicine for chronic conditions—
Thank you Lord, for the gift of this medicine. Thank you for giving us the knowledge to produce it that I might be made whole. Help it to heal me, so that I might heal your world, through Christ who strengthens me, Amen.

—Supper prayers—

Dear God – Thank you for starts. Thank you for finishes. Thank you for being there in the middle as well. Amen.

Dear God – Thank you for all the blessings of this life that we notice, and for all the ones that we don’t notice as well. Thank you for being patient with us while we are ungrateful of the many blessings which you give us. Help us to see that everything is a blessing from you. Amen.

Dear God – Thank you for this food. May it nourish and heal me, and through me, may you nourish and heal the world. Amen

Dear God – Thank you for all who provided this food to us. We give thanks for the bees and the worms who helped it grow. We give thanks for the sun and the rain. Bless the workers in the field who grew it and harvested it. Bless the truckers who brought it to the store. Bless the grocery store workers who sold it. (If in a restaurant) Bless the chefs and waiters who prepared and brought it to us. May we be constantly thankful and mindful of the interconnection that we share that makes it possible for us to live this life that we enjoy. May we all work together as Your children. Amen

—-Daily prayers—-
May I always seek and serve You, God.

—A prayer upon leaving the house—

Dear God –
Please be with me today as I go out into the world. Help me to remember that You are always with me.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, Make yourself known through me. Help me to serve others as I would serve You.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, speak through me to others. Help me to hear Your voice in all of Your creation.
Mary, Mother of God, remind me to always desire to say Yes to God, and be willing to help bring forth His kingdom on this earth.

Predictive text poem 1

Dear Fred,

The hours of sleep and I don’t know what you need.
The waves are not allowed to use the beach.
Kate`s holiday in the world is going through my head.

I don’t know why you want to be in a yoga pose.
The hours of work are beautiful and long.

Change the world and the world changes you.
The waves are beautiful women.
I was there in the hours.

Reply to this post.

Love, George

(This was created using my new Kindle Fire HD. The predictive text sometimes does weird and amazing things. About 80 percent of this was it talking. I did some editing, and every now and then it wouldn’t come up with a noun so I’d type a random letter and go with what it offered then. This is from a new series I have created of letters between two friends – Fred and George. Hopefully I’ll learn more about them.)

On Ash Wednesday and Lent.

Ash Wednesday is the start to Lent, and it points to Easter. This is a penitential season – a time to pare down and strip bare. By giving up something we want, we get to take on something we need. The beginning is in darkness and mourning, and the end is in light and rejoicing. It is a time of dying to ourselves and being reborn with Christ.
But how do you observe Ash Wednesday and Lent? How can you participate in a meaningful way that makes it real to you, other than going to a service and getting a cross smudged on your head? One way is to wear black or other dark colors on Ash Wednesday, and to not wear any jewelry. Fast, or eat very sparingly – eat small meals that are simple. It is a day of mourning, so going through the rituals of mourning are appropriate.
Many people give up something in Lent. Chocolate, alcohol, and eating out are all common things that people will sacrifice during this time. It is a reminder of the time when Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil, and he was without food or shelter. Some people take something on during Lent. They will volunteer for some non-profit agency. They will commit to reading the Bible every day. They will raise money to help people in need. Either way, it is a change and a reminder that this is a different time and a chance to refocus your priorities.
Sometimes you have too many things in your life. Sometimes your hands are full, and you aren’t able to hold on to anything new. Sometimes what our hands and lives are full of is just stuff. We carry around the idea that if we only had this new Thing, we’d be happy. How many times have we said that we are looking forward to something, only to forget that we need to be grateful for what we have right now? Who is to say that we aren’t stuck in our own wilderness now, being tempted by the world’s enticements? We are called to be in the world, but not part of the world. Lent is a great time to see where your focus is – is it on the world and all its things, or is it on serving God?
Ash Wednesday is a chance to reset. I’ve heard that sometimes a house fire is a blessing in disguise. Everything is stripped away and reduced to rubble. All our trinkets and talismans. All our decorations and dustcatchers. All of the Stuff that clutters our houses that we keep around us to remind us who we are and where we came from are all reduced to ash. When the house burns down, everything is gone. There is just enough time to escape with your life. When you return to the house you realize that there is nothing there and you have to start again from the beginning. This is Ash Wednesday. Those ashes on your forehead are a reminder to you that all you have right now is your life. The stuff is meaningless. You’ve just escaped with your life. What are you going to do with it now? Are you going to rebuild it exactly the way it is, or are you going to use this as a chance to start again?
Ash Wednesday is a wake-up call. It is a time to resolve to live differently. It is the trip to the emergency room at 3 am thinking you are having a heart attack – only to be told it is anxiety. But what about next time when it is serious? What can you do to make changes in your life so that you can prevent that trip to the doctor? It is a chance to stop and think about what really matters. What is really important? What do you actually need, versus what do you just think you need? When we have that wake-up call at 3 a.m. we often promise everything. “ If you will save me God, I promise to do better. I promise to exercise and eat better. I promise to be a nicer person.” Then when the next day or the next week arrives, we are often back to our old ways because they are easy and familiar. This Lent I invite you to take the step of real change. I invite you to use this time as a way to change everything. You won’t be walking alone. Jesus will be with you every step of the way. He has walked this path before and is cheering you on.
I’d been through several Ash Wednesdays over the years. Something different happened a few years ago. Perhaps it was because I was serving as a lector and had gotten vested in a cassock and a surplice. Perhaps it was because I went up in the first group to get smudged. Perhaps it was because the priest used my name when she smudged me – “Betsy, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I don’t know what it was that did it but something cracked open inside me. Something changed. I’d heard those words time and time again, but this time they struck home. This time they were real. I cried a little kneeling there at the altar rail, partly mourning my own mortality, but partly because of the freedom that these words created.
I find it very freeing to be reminded of your mortality. If you know you are going to die, then you know you have to be more intentional about your life. Say you are going to go on a vacation for a week. You have 20 things that you would like to do, but only time for 10. You have to pick those 10 things carefully. What is really important to you? What do you want to do that will really resonate with you? Do you go to the art museum, or spend the day fishing? Do you eat at the fancy restaurant, or do you cook up a simple meal with food you bought at the local farmer’s market? Whatever you choose, do it because it is what is the most meaningful to you at that time. Life is like that – you only have so much time. What is your focus? What must be done?
Part of the meaning of Ash Wednesday is echoed in a quote by Carl Sagan. Sagan told us in his groundbreaking series Cosmos that “Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” Also, C.S. Lewis tells us that “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body. “ This body, full of aches and pains, isn’t the focus.
I find it interesting to note that Sagan was a confirmed atheist, yet his words help me in my Christianity. In a Parade magazine interview he said that he found no evidence that there was life after death and that he felt his mortality to be a impetus to live life more fully. “Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.” His point is that if there is no promise of an afterlife, then you need to appreciate every day you are given. But here’s an interesting part. As a Christian, you get to have your cake and eat it too. You are promised that you will live on through Jesus. You are promised a resurrection and eternal life if you are part of the Body of Christ. But – because of our mindfulness and our intentionality, we can also use this time right now to live more meaningfully.
Live now. Be awake now. Be fully in the moment, whatever it is. I wish you a blessed Lent, where you are prepared to greet the newly-risen Christ on Easter Day.

Broken? Perhaps it is an opening.

I’ve read that the Japanese like to take an old clay pot or cup that has chips and cracks and “aggrandize” it by adding gold to the cracks. This doesn’t hide the cracks at all – but it certainly makes the pot or cup stronger. It makes the item more beautiful as well. I’ve also read that they also have an idea called “wabi-sabi” where things that are a little “off” are seen as more beautiful than things that are perfect. The idea is that old, worn, slightly unbalanced or otherwise imperfect items have more charm than mass-produced, exactly similar items. I’m totally going by memory here on these things, so if you want more info, please look it up.
And I was also thinking about “Ephphtha” – “Be opened” that Jesus said to a blind man.

I feel that our burdens are the way for God to get in.

I’m reminded of the story of another blind man, one who was blind since birth. Jesus healed him, and his disciples said “Who sinned, him or his parents?” and Jesus said that “No one sinned. He was born blind so that God’s will
might be made manifest in him.”

I’m intrigued by the idea is that this guy’s weakness/disability/burden turned out to be a way for God to get in and show how awesome God is. Sounds a little weird – this guy suffered with blindness, and in those days most likely social ostracism, just so God could show off. This is something I am still working on.
However, where I’m going right now with this is that it also shows that weakness can be what gets us to ask for help.

I’ve read recently “When our burdens bring us to our knees, we are in the perfect position to pray.”
I’ve realized that we usually call for help when we are over our heads. We call when there is a big storm coming – a tornado threatening to tear down our houses. We call when there is a diagnosis of a chronic disease – that too threatens us in the same way. Our well-laid plans for our futures are looking a little shaky. Our goals and dreams that we built as walls against boredom and obscurity are about to be swept up like so much drywall and vinyl siding in a Tennessee summer storm.

We are really good at calling for help when we feel threatened. We often make promises while hiding in the basement during the storm, or laying on the hospital bed in the ER. I promise to be nicer to my neighbors. I promise to stop smoking and start exercising. I promise to be more generous.
When the storm passes and the diagnosis comes back to be not so bad, do we remember those promises? Do we honor them? How many of those conversations are we going to have with our Creator/our conscience that don’t result in change?

Then I see people who are really burdened. It looks like the weight of the world is on them. Obese, reeking of alcohol, angry at their children and spouse. Some people just seem like they walked off the set of Jerry Springer. I used to look at them and think “why can’t you just pull yourself together? “ I saw their “sins”, their weaknesses, as signs of a lack of willpower.

I had a lot of the same problems. I was not just overweight. I was obese. I smoked pot up to three times a day. I’d gotten to the point that I couldn’t fall asleep without smoking. I smoked clove cigarettes too. I ate fried foods and if I ate vegetables, they were fried too. Exercise? Hah! How could I afford that? How could I do it, when my knees hurt so much?

Then something happened. I’m going to say it was the grace of God. Somehow, in the middle of all that mess, God woke me up and showed me a new way. I discovered water aerobics at the Y. I figured out that if I ate 2 frozen dinners a week at work instead of eating lunch out, I’d have the money to afford to go. I decided to have organic vegetarian dinners, so that added to the benefit. Then I realized that the extra time I got from not driving to a restaurant meant I had a longer lunch. I started walking for 20 minutes at lunch. I’m grateful there is a nice little park just out the back door of my work. It has always been there – I just never took advantage of it. It is as if I didn’t have eyes to see it. I was blind too, in my own way.

Now I see the burdens people have as their way out.

They aren’t stumbling blocks, so much as stepping stones. They can trip us up, or raise us higher.

Epiphany: or why I think the Magi are the coolest characters in the Christmas story.

Epiphany is my favorite day in the church year. It is the 12th day of Christmas – the one of the 12 drummers drumming. That isn’t the reason I like it, but it doesn’t hurt. It celebrates the day that the Magi arrived in Bethlehem and saw Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us.

The birth of Jesus was unremarkable. It happened to two weary travelers, swept up in the hubbub of a random government mess. There was a census. Everybody had to go to their birth-towns to be registered, without any consideration of ability or inconvenience. Here were these two ordinary people, doing what they had to do. There was no place to stay for them, even though the woman was very noticeably pregnant. Nobody took mercy on them. They weren’t special. They weren’t anybody to look twice at. The child was born without any midwives or even friends around. The story could have ended here, with this tiny new family just doing their duty in a strange town, strangers themselves.

Mary knew something was different, and Joseph, her espoused husband had an idea as well. Both had been told in varying ways that God needed them to do something a little different than the usual. God had a habit of calling people in those days – Hey, Moses! Hey, Samuel! Hey, Isaiah! And the answer was “Here I am.” But for most of those people it made sense. There was a definite sense that this was indeed a call from God. Things clicked into place. Their army won. People listened to them. God was working through them to make His will happen in this world.

But this was different. Bring forth the Messiah? Wow. That was a biggie. There wasn’t a blueprint for that. And what if you were just imagining it? Gosh, wouldn’t you look gullible. I can only imagine the looks Mary got from her friends and neighbors when she became noticeably pregnant and wasn’t married to Joseph yet. Gossip spreads very quickly in small towns. That had to be hard on her. She knew the truth, but it wasn’t exactly something you could tell even your friends about. “That Mary, she’s crazy. Thinks she is pregnant with the Messiah. Right, pull the other leg.”

So there we have this tiny new family, jostled about, uncertain, helpless and clueless. They are going on the word of angels and dreams in the night. They have no proof that anything that they are going through is real. It could all be in their heads. Why would God choose them? Surely if this was the Messiah something better would be happening. Surely the Christ deserves a better place to be born. A dirty, smelly stable, filled with noisy farm animals? You have got to be kidding. This can’t be what we thought it would be. We must have been imagining things.

Then people start arriving. First, it is the shepherds. They were called out of their fields by an angel. They were sent to worship this tiny, helpless child, cared for by his inexperienced parents. When they told Mary and Joseph what the angel had told them, there is a really interesting verse. “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) This is her first hint to her that maybe she isn’t crazy. Maybe this is really real. Maybe everything she was told and everything she has been taught has finally come to pass, right here, with her at the epicenter of this Earth-changing event.

A little more time goes by, and then the Magi come. The Magi are sometimes known as the Three Kings. They were most likely fortunetellers, magicians, seers. They were good at reading signs and portents. They were learned. And from their studies, they knew that something amazing was about to happen. Magi were priests of the Zoroastrian faith – a faith based out of Persia. They believed that the Divine was about to become incarnate – to take on human form.

They have wandered through the desert, at night, following only a star. There was no map. There was no GPS. There was no guidebook. This was a new event. Like the pillar of fire at night that led the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, they had only a God-given phenomenon to follow. They followed it at night, most likely stumbling over rocks and small shrubs. They follow this star, this strange moving star that has led them to the unremarkable, backwoods town. When these strangers show up looking for the incarnation of God, they had to create quite a scene. I suspect their unusual clothing made them stick out. Perhaps they had odd accents. They certainly weren’t from around there. They certainly weren’t Jewish, either. When they arrived, bearing gifts for the Christ-child, they were a sign. They were proof that the visions and dreams pointed to something even bigger than Mary or Joseph could ever imagine. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, here to celebrate that the world had changed.

The Magi are a sign to us that God is real, that He is here with us. God loves us enough to come down to Earth and experience life from our perspective. This is a game-changer. The Creator, the Divine, the Godhead is no longer an impersonal, dictatorial Thing, but a very real, approachable person who loves us unconditionally and unreservedly.

The Magi are also examples of how to follow God. We all have our times of following God like the Magi did. Some dim star, far away, beckons. The only way we can follow it is to go on foot, in the dark. The way is slow and there are no guideposts. We walk in faith, following in trust and hope. We stumble. We get turned around. But again and again we re-align to the star, knowing that it leads us in the right direction.
May your Epiphany be blessed, and may you always follow the Star.

Beads and Writing

Writing had been an integral part of my life for many years before my parents died. I had written in a journal for longer than I’d known how to drive or cook. I was working on a degree in English so I was surrounded with words. Writing was how I thought. Writing was who I was.

But I stopped writing after my parents died. Full-stop, arrested, halt, “none shall pass” stopped. It was too hard. I didn’t have the words to process my grief. Every time I started to write, even something simple and not-journal-like such as an email, I started to cry with great wracking tears. The emotions overwhelmed me in huge waves and I didn’t know how to deal with them. I was drowning in grief, so I didn’t even want to go near the water.
Yet I still needed to create. I still needed to drink the life-giving water of creation. I think creating is essential to the human soul. I like Madeline L’Engle’s view in Walking on Water, her book about what it means to be an artist and a Christian. She says that to create is to be a co-creator with God. Essentially, we are created to be creators.

It doesn’t make sense now for me to have stopped writing. It was like another loss, another grief. I’d lost my parents, and then I lost my way of thinking, of understanding. I was untethered. My boat was unmoored. I had all these new, unpleasant and unfamiliar ideas and thoughts and I had no way to deal with them, no way to bring them back to a safe shore.

And then I remembered beads. I had started working with beads when I moved to Washington D.C. I’d made that first fateful foray into a bead store in Dupont Circle nearly half my life ago. I went with a student I’d met through the Cultural Consortium, a program that the Kennedy Center had to introduce inner-city kids to the arts in an active and participatory way. Thankfully for me, this student was kind enough to teach me a new way to be creative. That bead store trip was the beginning of a long-term love affair with all things bead, and a new way to think and communicate.

Beads have their own language and their own symmetry. I can say things in beads. I started to string beads together the same way I’d string words together to create a sentence or a paragraph. You can pick out a focal bead the same way you’d pick out a really cool word or a really interesting idea.

Recently I noticed that I had too many ideas. I was carrying around a notebook at work so I could keep up with all the ideas I wanted to write about. I was under the impression that ideas are like beads – when I come across them, I’d better collect them. I may never see them again. It was like I was on a bead-buying frenzy. After a while, it is time to sit down and start working with them.

Sometimes with beads I’ll start work on a project and not be sure where it is going. I’ll leave it in the saucer until I get some better clue as to what needs to happen next. Some saucers stay full. Some projects never get finished because I take apart the proto-necklace again and again until I realize that there is no way I can finish it. Maybe it wasn’t a viable project. Maybe it isn’t a project for me to finish. Maybe I don’t have the right kind of beads or the right mindset.

I now have “saucers” for my words. I’ve developed folders for note-seeds. I can return to them when I have time or inclination to work on/water them. I can revise/prune them later. I can add or subtract, just like with beads – but faster. If only beading had “copy and paste”!
Sometimes I have too many saucers, too many projects. This might be part of the nature of being creative, or the nature of being bipolar. Sometimes I think that the true essence of being an artist is knowing how to edit, and how to know when something is “done”. Sometimes I think another part is just being OK with the process and not worrying too much about what it is going to look like at the end until you get there.

Here are things I’ve “written about” in beads. When I learn how to post pictures I’ll update this post.

The Davinci code book.
The Griffin and Sabine series
A trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama.
What it is like to do water aerobics in the pool at the Y.
The history of the church, from Byzantine to Catholic/Orthodox to Protestant to now.