Ordinary Time – Day Twenty-Five

ordinary time

The first time I ever cursed out loud I was about ten or eleven. I was hurt so badly by a friend, all I could think to do was use a phrase I heard others use—it contained nearly every curse word I knew. On the walk back home I repeated it over and again as a sort of incantation to purge the muck from my friend’s betrayal that almost threatened to choke me. By the time I returned home I felt even worse and I never repeated the phrase again.

The poet Marie Howe describes the force of poetry as like a counter spell to the mean girls’ curses and disparaging discourse. It is a way to use language to speak truth, but in a way that redeems the muck and discouragement that intrudes on our day. And it makes that reality accessible to others because it is human, it is lived experience, and my experience is not unique. Not really. There are millions of other women turning 50 this year. There are still more who struggle with purpose and identity and the exasperation that comes from feeling ineffectual, blundering through the day always feeling like I’m only keeping up. Hello everyone!

Howe routinely refers to Ordinary Time, the weeks that are not between the Holy days of the church. And while we currently reside in the 4th week of Easter, ordinary time teaches us to be present, to notice in the now, and be with it. So today I employ an exercise I’ve led others in, but always need reminding to do. This, with an added instruction from Marie Howe: notice 10 things today and describe them—not with metaphor, rather, see things as they are.

Ten Things On My Trip to the Pharmacy

A wasp dips and skitters back and forth under the eave overhanging my front porch.

A pleasant breeze, slightly warm but with a hint of chill, almost, but not quite comfortable.

Lining the street are trees just turned to leaf, each a faintly different hue—50 shades of green?

A car closes in on my rear, does my speedometer really display under the speed limit?

The branches on the side of a large tree bounce and sway, circular, as the wind swirls amid the bunches.

My eyes blur, a drop or two escape and slip down my cheek. I only just did my makeup. Well, good thing I have no appointments today.

Orange cones cluster around a large truck—in the very center of the intersection through which I must turn.

A car stops further back making space for my wide turn—my coffee sloshes close to the edge of my cup.

The church on the corner displays at the parking lot’s entrance a tall, thin, purple flag with the word “Welcome” in white—it posts next to a poll that last week displayed a sign with the words, “Church parking only. Violators will be towed. Strictly enforced.”

The clouds have made space for the sun’s rays making all the newly green places brighter, almost yellow. My spirit is brighter now, and if it were a color it would be this bright green.

Howe observes, “language is almost all we have left of action in the modern world.” With a majority of our discourse occurring in the stratosphere, noses to a smartphone, what we do is often not as morally substantial as what we say. I find this heartening. It is a powerful reminder the weight or influence my words might carry. Still, when all I really have right now is language, the words that flood my heart and convictions, it reassures me to think they might amend the worldview of another, if even a little.

So, what are ten things you notice today?

Put Your Record On – Day Twenty-Four

let your hair down greer

Around the time when I was born, in the late 1960s, James T. Russell invented the technology behind the Compact Disc. Russell was a huge music fan and wanted to enjoy it via media that recorded the music with better precision than LPs and cassettes. The writable CD comprises a thin layer of dye sandwiched between a layer of protective polycarbonate and a layer of aluminum. Lazar light passes through the (normally translucent) dye, bouncing off the aluminum and back out. A higher-powered lazar, then, will “burn” a dark dot that acts as a “0” and passes back to make a space – “1,” and so on, creating a binary code of information.

This first type of CD cannot be changed—the code is burned, indelible. Developers, then, drew from a fundamental premise of chemistry that atoms are arranged differently based on configuration and state (liquid, gas, solid): Replacing the dye with a layer of metallic alloy that can exist in two discrete solid forms and shift between the two, a lazar can alter a spot to crystalline (reflective “1”) or amorphous (non-reflective “0”) and back again. Now it is rewritable, a CD-RW. DVDs and Blu-rays work on the same principle. DVDs are forged with red lazar beams that produce light waves with a wavelength of 650 nanometers (less than 100th the width of a human hair), and Blu-rays use the still shorter wavelength emitted by blue light.

These days, on some days, I feel like an LP etched in unyielding grooves save the scratches that accumulate and distort the information stored within. I wonder if I’ve become too worn and scratched to play anything pleasing or beautiful that others might enjoy. Or will they tire of straining past the scratched bits and the places that repeat, and repeat, and repeat until someone lifts the needle past the rants and move it to the next spot. Some days I fear that I am become as irrelevant as that record, everything changing in nanoseconds around me as my body aches and groans, grooved and scratched, while infinitesimal nanoscaled wavelength’s of light dodge and burn unfathomable ideas and technologies. Some days.

And then my sons come home from school and plop themselves down on the chair in my office, tell me how they hate school . . . and then how this kid told him he would totally win the debate, or how that teacher plays math games on the chalkboard with him before school . . . . And I remember that we are much more like that Blu-ray – and really, containing infinitely more information because God’s word is written on my heart and is stored there where bits become alternatively crystalline and amorphous, rewriting my story, again and again and again . . . with the same infinite supply of information . . . .

And the Word became flesh . . . and dwelt among us . . . and in him is life and the life is the light of all people . . . grace and truth . . . God’s heart . . . unfathomable love. And love does not become scratched. It yields and heals and rewrites, perfects, never fails. Sometimes I am afraid. Things change – and remain the same. God never changes and I do. So, it’s all right. Today I’ll put my records on, go ahead and let my hair down.

Girl With a Book – Day Twenty-Three

girl with a book

Mrs. Dumas was my 6th-grade teacher. She was kind but not gushy, at once generous and restrained. She had a sort of regal quality in her posture yet I always knew she was for her students, wanted all of us to succeed. My 6th-grade teacher taught with the qualities shown in my research as most effective: gender-neutral style leadership that is accepted and best understood by the majority. It was also in my 6th grade year that my father died, and I am grateful it was in her classroom that I spent the better part of those days. Mrs. Dumas was my favorite teacher and a key motivation behind my decision to study education in college.

Today we celebrate teachers – and that we have the privilege to educate our children irrespective of family income, ethnicity, gender or aptitude. It is also an excellent time to evaluate the quality of what’s on offer in our country. Not to disparage or bash, rather, to challenge. Because if there is no challenge, the situation remains the same. And if a system remains the same, does not evolve and grow, it will decay, it is entropy.

Malala Yousafzai’s is a stunning illustration of the power education extends to all that engage it. There remain too many places where education is not extended to all children—girls, specifically. Yousafzai is an exceptional advocate for these girls, and her fight is righteous, just. In the US, all citizens are afforded education so it is easy to become placid, disengaged, to allow the more subtle nefarious features of the educational system to continue. Lazy is easy. And it is easy to be pacified in a country that doesn’t have to fight for anything, or thinks, Why bother?

But if our country can elect a man into its leadership who thinks nothing of tweeting gender prejudiced comments about women, or dismisses lewd banter with jocund indifference, equality is far from certain. When in the US test scores in STEM subjects have closed the gender gap but employ females in those roles 29% of the time. And when they do enter those jobs they leave at quadrupled speed and occupy only 11% of their executive committees.

Women comprise only:

  • 2 percent of chemists
  • 1 percent of physicists and astronomers
  • 8 percent of environmental engineers
  • 7 percent of chemical engineers
  • 5 percent of civil, architectural, and sanitary engineers
  • 1 percent of industrial engineers
  • 7 percent of electrical or computer hardware engineers
  • 9 percent of mechanical engineers

A major factor is the hostility women receive from the male counterparts. Another is, I believe, the most insidious factor: jokes and comments. We hear them. We laugh at them. We (seemingly) dismiss them. We internalize them. We MUST be more mindful of how we use our words.

Girls_Math

So, perhaps we might consider a nudge to someone who tells a sexist joke, or take a moment before relegating a certain behavior to an entire gender. Our words matter—commission. Our silence matters—omission. I believe in a God that creates, who loves all and without qualification, conditions. I believe that Jesus came to right wrongs, to elevate those laid low, and to bring back to earth the elevated. And I believe that this Trinitarian God commissioned me to be a part of that, filled me with the power to do something about it, and is with me to be in my space and time – to perfect it. But it cannot be accomplished in isolation. It is a communal enterprise. Who else believes this with me?

Concrete Cancer and Discrimination – Day Twenty-Two

concrete imperfect strength

Reinforced concrete was once called “liquid stone.” It is made of a combination of three main ingredients: 65% aggregates such as sand, gravel, crushed rock, recycled glass; 10-15% cement (calcium silicates and aluminates); and 15-20% water: and was invented in 1867 by Joseph Monier. The word “concrete” is derived from the Latin concretus that means, “grow together.” The crushed stone and gravel are mixed with the cement and water. And as the water hydrates the cement, the silicates grow and crystalize binding the strong rock powder, making it stronger than it was in the first state. By continuing to wet the mixture the binders grow further, strengthening the mass still more.

Interesting, the crystals are not crystalline as such, rather a more random structure (much like glass) that traps air pockets. In this way, this super strong concrete mass is also flexible. By adding twisted strands of steel—reinforcing bar, or rebar—the concrete already strong when compressed now maintains tension strength, reinforcing it against cracks. The composite consists of imperfect crushed debris, held together with a binder that strengthens in imperfect configurations, and needs to be watered in order to grow in strength. Insert chords of steel and it will take on pressure and stress with aplomb.

But sometimes alkalis in the cement will react to silica in the binders that cause the “crystals” to grow more slowly and leave the concrete more vulnerable to cracks. Water can more easily seep into the hardened concrete, reach the steel and promote rust. The resulting pools of rust are referred to as “concrete cancer.”

This process, as you might guess, reminds me of community, the Body of Christ. We are the imperfectly shaped crushed rock and glass that actually make the whole combination stronger. The binding agent is the relationship that builds between us, imperfect bonds, randomly formed, at once strengthened and flexible. God waters. A tri-chord rebar is Christ, or the Trinity – either works in this metaphor – supports the pressure and tension. But we react to one another and cause division, cancerous to a community. Cracks evolve and the concrete-community breaks apart, no longer useful—in fact, damaging to anything attempting to traverse it.

This week Lysander is performing his debate on the importance of Feminism. We worked on his slides this past weekend. It is just so aggravating to me that though the Equal Rights Amendment was first written in 1923, and the first feminist convention gathered 75 years before, in 1848 (initiated by two Quakers, James and Lucreia Mott), we still have no ERA to our Constitution. There is still a gendered wage gap (even after all confounding factors removed), the US is 1 of 4 countries (of 189!!!) that has no parental leave policy, and rape and sexual harassment has increased exponentially with new technologies!

paid parental leave

It only takes a tiny crack for water to seep in and begin the chain reaction that leads to concrete cancer, ultimately destroying the foundation. I believe inequality is an alkali-silica reaction that slows growth and weakens community, the Body of Christ. Whether or not you feel directly impacted by this malignance does not alter the reality of its existence.

on line harrassment

There are many things we do to promote justice, to make things right in this world. The easiest is to hashtag and tweet, share Facebook articles and heart an Instagram post. But not much of substance happens until real action takes place. One suggestion I found while helping Lysander with his research is that we need to hold our social media platforms accountable for inconsistently responding to sexual harassment complaints and failing to remove memes that champion violence against women. Another, is to just be way more involved in each other’s lives, particularly our children, and notice what they are posting, what others are posting to them on social media. Perhaps the biggest issue is that we don’t always know the extent to which harm is being done if we are not directly affected. And perhaps I do not always know how my split-second text might actually came across to the recipient.

So, here is a start: will you practice mindfulness texting (tweeting, commenting) with me?

Read the text (email, comment, tweet).

Breathe in the presence of Jesus.

Breathe out my first reactions. See it for what it is.

Breathe in the wisdom of the Spirit, the Love of God’s unending grace.

Breathe out a blessing over the sender of the note.

Write a response and maybe repeat the last four steps before sending.

Ever-Present Wonder – Day Twenty

be present bali

Yesterday my sister-in-law, Kristi, posted a note that described being outside under the night’s sky noticing the starry expanse, recognizing a constellation here, a cluster there. She was present, and knew it, and savored the timeless moments. Another sister-in-law, Rachel, shared a picture of her sweet Avery while taking a hike in Colorado’s hills, bird watching and sharing in each other’s presence, present to the beauty around them. I had two reactions: 1) they are powerful examples and reminder to notice – take time and notice; and 2) I am so jealous of their nearness to such landscape they get to enjoy being present to – I miss Colorado!

nx-dad-mts crop

When we were young, my father would often take our family up into the mountains for a drive after church, just to get out of town a bit, take in the loveliness of landscape. Sometimes, also, we camped with other families; other times hiked around a lake. As I got older I would go up with friends to hike, or fish, or retreat. One time my brother and I just took off and stayed in a friend’s condo for the weekend, to enjoy the peace . . . and watch Monty Python movies. The mountains were a refuge for me – a giant, expansive panorama, sometimes terrifying the gradient, always reminding me of the grandness of creation. But I never felt alone, even when there was no one close by. Indeed, it is exactly there – where there are no distractions of schedule or responsibilities – that I know the presence of God most keen. There I am sure of the reality of this More-Than, this Beyond-All, this Ever-Present Love.

And I miss it. Chicago weather is different from Denver’s. But really, it is that my illness often makes it more difficult to weather (so to speak) the climate here. And I too easily forget that enjoying beauty, being present in a space that does not distract, is healing. So I am grateful to my sisters-in-law (and my niece!) for reminding me to just make that time and space. How much I need to be reminded of this even though it is the substance of everything I preach and teach! I suspect we all need to be reminded to make space for presence-being, since our culture is so wired in every sense of the word!

So as I notice that today is especially lovely – 60° and sunny – I breathe, and notice and am present. Will you join me?

Breathe in the fragrance of budding branches.

Breathe out the toxic stress from the past week.

Breathe in the air perfumed by newly blossomed flowers.

Breathe out and notice the worries being carried away

            by the breeze

Cinco de Mayo (aka, 3 weeks before I turn 50) – Day Nineteen

cinco de mayo sam

A century before I was born, a noteworthy event transpired in another part of the world. It is directly related to Mexico’s victory over the French occupying forces at the Battle of Puebla that Cinco de Mayo commemorates. Though that battle did not give Mexico decisive freedom from Napoleon IIIs occupation, it was a significant turn toward that end. The Mexican army was outnumbered 2 to 1 and under qualified; still, they crushed the French army on May 5, 1862. It is speculated that if the French did win at Puebla they would transfer forces to aid the Confederate cause in the US. Instead, Mexico held on following the win, and after the Civil War’s end, the US offered political and military aid to Mexico ensuring they would wrest a final freedom from French occupation June 5, 1867 – cinco de Junio!

These Independent-Study history lessons continue a common theme: everything changes. nothing changes. Whether it is a significant incident in the year of my birth, or 100 years before it, when society does not collectively remember its history, hubris – or despair – catalyze a repeat. Friends are only friends until the friendship is no longer useful. Or, uncomfortable. Or, becomes embarrassing. Or, horror of all horrors, costly.

But friendship is inherently costly—whether between individuals, communities, or countries—because it is only friendship when each gives up the self. Voluntarily. Out of love. In solidarity with the other. And love does not come with conditions. Anyone who has ever been to a wedding has heard 1 Corinthian 13. But love is not just for those who marry. Indeed, marriage is symbolic of our relationship with God. It is symbolic of our covenant with one another to regard the other with dignity, as one created in the image of the God of all that is created – and not yet.

cinco de mayo nik

In (nearly) 50 years, what has changed because I exist in this world? What remains the same because I lack courage? My mother gave me a Bible at an important time in my life. She included a verse on the opening page – what felt to me as a prophetic blessing: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh1:9)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Or dismayed. I can – and must – be a part of making things right in this world. It is what makes me human. One of those ways is to stand in solidarity with my neighbors and friends from Mexico whose dignity is disregarded. Today this is what I remember to be, and that having lived (nearly) half a century I am not finished. But the courageous are only thus when in the company of others who do the same. Are you in?

Grace Forthwith – Day Eighteen

may the 4th be with you

When I was about to turn ten years old, the first Star Wars movie was released (May 25, 1977). Following the rejection of his Flash Gordon pitch George Lucas developed the idea of a space opera that included a hero that fought space creatures in foreign galaxies, by tracing the genres origins to the 1905 science-fantasy Gulliver on Mars, by Edwin Arnold. We would not see the movie until the next year when my Aunt Louise took my brother and I to viewing at a Denver theatre.

My aunt was with us because my dad had just endured an horrific accident related to his work. He was severely burned and would succumb to the injuries’ relentless tax on his body eight months later. So, as one might expect, my memories of the movie are mixed. It was a relief to be drawn into this galaxy far, far away—if only for a couple of hours. But watching the scene when Luke visits the aftermath of the attack on his home, the charred bodies of his aunt and uncle lying on the ground, was a bit of a jolt.

70s dad

My dad was the loveliest of human beings. His legacy strong. All three of my younger brothers are beautiful humans, loving husbands, nurturing fathers. My youngest son is now eleven and I have seen the other three live well past the age I last saw my father, able to enjoy growing up in a home where both parents live. For that I am unspeakably grateful.

I also know that my children are ever aware of their heritage. They express characteristics that remind me of my dad, I hear him in Lysander’s voice! We have pictures, I tell stories and together we visited his grave in the mountains of Colorado where they sensed his presence, quite profound.

So whatever it is that George Lucas meant to convey by the force that was to be with those who fought for the good, we know a force that runs deep in our veins. It surpasses DNA – my youngest son is of South Korean genetic makeup yet unquestionably bears the qualities of my father. All of my children follow the same impulse to love people, and go to distant lands to love more people—though my dad was never able to fulfill his dreams himself, his children and grandchildren are living them out. It is a force that is ever present, a bond stronger than death, sourced by a God who exists outside of time beyond the farthest galaxies.

And so may the force be also with you on this fourth of May! And may the Love that gives it power and the grace that makes it inviting and the peace that sustains it, draw you closer to those who surround you today.

Love is Faith is Love – Day Seventeen

enough love

A full century before I came into this world, Amy Carmichael was born in Ireland. Like me, she was the first-born in her family. Ultimately she would live 55 years in India developing a community that rescued children from temple prostitution, nurturing and enabling them to do the same. Her life story, journal confessions and poetry were my guide for many years, impacting my spiritual formation through college and beyond. And they challenged me to live out what I believed—faith moved and moving. It is a much-needed reminder for me today as I continue these meditations and work out how to move through turning 50.

Carmichael wrote, “We profess to be strangers and pilgrims, seeking after a country of our own, yet we settle down in the most un-stranger-like fashion, exactly as if we were quite at home and meant to stay as long as we could. I don’t wonder apostolic miracles have died. Apostolic living certainly has.” We do not own the land. Not really. And we are citizens of a country by accident of birth. Why, then, do we assume it is our right to close it off to others, or remain unmoved in our space while others are stripped of human dignity, the spark of their true mage as created in God’s? Perhaps it is fear.

And perhaps I am afraid, too. And tired. And maybe even a little apathetic. But re-reading some of these poems I memorized long ago, and the words that motivated me to leave everything for China after college, has flicked a spark. I am not sure what exactly is my next move. But I know I must move. And I believe God is. So, I’m stepping out (metaphorically, today, at any rate— on the computer, for now) bolstered by a familiar poem, recalling a familiar strength, trusting a God who deigns to be familiar with me.

Strength of my heart, I need not fail,
Not mind to fear but to obey,
With such a Leader, who could quail?
Thou art as Thou wert yesterday.
Strength of my heart, I rest in Thee,
Fulfill Thy purposes through me.

Act Human – Day Sixteen

Human kind and present

On May 2, 1967, the Black Panthers entered the California State Capitol building, guns at their sides. Theirs was a demonstration, advocacy for their right to defend themselves against racism in policing. They wanted to police their neighborhoods by being present (carrying guns in compliance with CA law), observe arrests and other law enforcement activities. Huey Newton, the Black Panthers’ leader, actually included a law book with his rifle to remind officers of their civilian rights.

This group of people were not encouraging violence. Rather, they meant to be informed eyes, accountability for what history proved to be race-motivated, and excessively punitive action on African-American communities. They were not afraid to assert their rights and encourage others to do the same. Indeed, the Panthers alerted journalists to their plans, so when they entered the CA Capitol building, journalists followed to record the proceedings.

I am absolutely in favor of gun control. The Black Panthers’ strategy in this instance is not one I would promote. At the same time, what they were about was precisely what all humankind ought to be about: that better personhood characterized by kindness, generosity, caring for those who need care, sharing with one who has none of that which I own two. It began as a wholesale resistance against white culture, but shifted to a more class critique of society. Still, the reaction of authorities remained extreme.

In January 1969, the first Panther’s Free Breakfast for School Children Program is initiated at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland. By the end of the year, the Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the nation, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school. In Chicago, Fred Hampton, leads five different breakfast programs on the West Side, helps create a free medical center, and initiates a door to door program of health services which test for sickle cell anemia, and encourage blood drives for the Cook County Hospital. A few months later, police enter his apartment and shoot him in the head as he sleeps.

I only knew of the Black Panthers as a militant and violent group. Nothing was included in my education to explain what they were ultimately about. And there certainly was no outline of the reasons behind why they assembled in the first place. It is important to recall history—especially since it often seems it is repeated while I remain naïve of past efforts to make things right.

So, today, I have a little more information on a movement that frightened a lot of people yet also did an enormous amount of good. I have little physical energy to start or promote programs that do goodness, rightness. I can write and research and try to get others thinking about and motivated to love mercy and to do righteousness in this world. I am at a loss as to how I can get this damn blog to a larger audience, though—the audience that needs encouragement to continue in their efforts, or motivated to begin something they are passionate about. Do you need that? Can I help you? How might I help? Be human. Be kind. Be present. Together.

Flowers That Work – Day Fifteen

flowers eternal

Happy May Day! When I was in primary school, we would pick a basketful of flowers, leave a bundle on a neighbor’s porch, ring the bell and run away. It was terribly exciting and I just thought it was such a lovely idea to leave flowers to brighten someone’s day – and not need to take any credit for the kindness. It is just what you were supposed to do. I always wondered why no one seemed to continue the tradition.

May Day is an ancient spring festival practiced in much of the northern hemisphere. Depending on the culture in which it is practiced, the day is marked by parades, dancing around the Maypole, and always features flowers. From all that I can gather from researching the history of the Maypole and traditional celebrations of May 1st, the entire community is always participant. It is true that we have a number of occasions that the community celebrates together. St. Patrick’s Day is definitely a community event in Chicago! Still, there is something so lovely and innocent about just celebrating the beauty of spring in all its pigmented luster.

flowers in haze

The first of May is now associated with labor unions and worker’s rights, initiated by the Haymarket affair in Chicago 1886. A protest was organized for the day to demand the institution of the 8-hour workday with a guarantee of no pay cuts. Three days later as demonstrations continued, a bomb was let and shots fired, resulting in the deaths of at least four civilians and seven police officers. Today, there are reports of protests in Greece and Moscow, a gasoline bomb and tear gas in Paris, more tear gas in Turkey, and competing marches in Venezuela for and against the government. The US is expected to see higher than usual protests protesting Trump’s immigration policies, among others.

Do not work for that which decays . . . For those who believe Jesus is who he claims to be, work is to promote and be motivated by God’s intention for God’s creation, and is eternal. When Worker’s Day was established May 1, 1886, laborers saw that Capitalism didn’t seem to be working for them. That is, the ones who garnered the bulk of the profit for their labors where the heads of companies and factories. It wasn’t that the common laborer valued money more than God. It is only that money is necessary in this world to provide room and board. Too, the balance of wages against working hours was nothing like fair—and often continues to be thus.

flowers in massive lilypads

Jesus is the ultimate example of what it looks like to do God’s work. Share with someone who does not have of that which you own two. Do not defraud your neighbor or cheat another out of wages deserved. And since these conditions are not universally enjoyed, it is our responsibility to be a part of making things right. Bombs are not the answer, though such displays uncover the despair that is too real for many. So what is a practical way that I can be a part of making things right in this instance? Writing letters to my representatives in government? Joining a march? Sharing my home? My food? Writing a blog to get a productive conversation going? Whatever the case, I would also like to do it with flowers! The ones I share here are from the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Enjoy. And please share how you are already – and your ideas of how we can – make things right together.