The Constant Motion of Life

As a pastor, I often see how people respond to change. Of course, I see it in myself, as well.

For a long time, I have thought of myself as a person who is fundamentally oriented toward change. I like change. When somebody shares a new idea with me, my initial response inclines toward excitement and a positive reaction.

Of course, there are exceptions, as anyone who knows me well will attest. But overall, my self-perception is as someone who likes, and is energized by, change.

Cells dividing

I do know of a time when that was not true. In the early years of my pastorate, I often reacted negatively. Eventually, I recognized this as a danger signal, a clue that something was not right. It helped me see how scared I was, how worried that others would see how little I really knew about what I was doing. I had become scared of losing control, so I just said No.

I think I have pretty well moved beyond that. I will leave it to others to either validate or challenge that claim.

Accepting change is about giving up control. Such control can be mostly in our mind–if they change the words to this hymn or prayer or change the way we do something in worship, how will I know what to say or do?

And of course change can be very, very real, and concrete. If they stop printing the words of the songs and instead project them on the wall, I will have to look up if I want to sing.

Not all change is good.

But the fact that it is change is not what makes good or bad. Change, as change, is actually neutral.

And of course, change is the way of the universe. If something is not changing, it will die. A plant, a tree, an animal or bird or fish, that is not changing, cell by cell, will die. The same is true for humans. Our cells are in constant motion, being replaced and renewed.

Now that causes me to feel a little unsettled . . . .

Priming the Pump

There is a huge difference between our human economy and God’s economy.

When the economy is bad, we pull back, get cautious, stop spending money. Businesses stop hiring. With fewer jobs, folks have less income, so spending slows down even more, which means fewer jobs, less spending, on and on, in what seems like an endless cycle. Everything contracts. This cycle can haunt us, as it is doing now.

When my heart is hurting, when something bad has happened to me in my soul, I often contract, too. Emotionally, I pull into myself, erecting a barrier against emotional engagement with others. Perhaps that is where you are today. I pray not.

God is different. In my experience, at moments of our smallness, times of our contracting, God primes the pump. God does not contract. God does not become more cautious.

It has taken me 60+ years to realize that the biggest problem in my life is not what is happening to me at any given moment–that I don’t have enough money or time or energy or whatever is the latest sad or difficult thing to happen. The biggest problem of my life is how little I let God into my life.

Of course, in that problem lies an opportunity to change everything. When I let God prime my pump, it is amazing how much things improve.

Prayer is the pump of God. God is praying for us already before we ask. It is the nature of God to pray constantly for each of us, to never cease priming the pumps of our lives.

When we meet God at the pump, and share in the priming, there is no telling what wondrous things will happen. But I can tell you this: life will be better.

I don’t know if any of that works in the human economy, but it works in my life. And maybe if we all let it work in our lives, the big human economy–which is so much smaller than God–would be transformed, too.

An Unlikely Place

God often sends gifts in what seem like unlikely packages.

Jonathan and I have been going west in Virginia for weekend excursions for some years now. We went in that direction early in our time here because both of us had romantic visions of Shenandoah. What we found did not disappoint. There is so much beauty in the mountains and the valley.

We began by going to a gay-owned B&B outside Luray, and it was fun. The two men who own it are gracious, and the breakfast superb. The caverns aren’t bad either, if you like that sort of thing (I am less enthusiastic than Jonathan).

But when money got tighter, we found a less grand place to lay our heads, the Blue Ridge Inn in New Market. For about $50 a night, you get a cozy, clean room. Wendy, the English woman who owns the motel, is delightful.

Then, we found The Southern Kitchen, also in New Market. We have only eaten breakfast there–we are always going about during the rest of the day–but the biscuits are as good as my mama’s and the home fries satisfy even Jonathan’s discerning palate. This last trip, we discovered there is now a veggie burger on the menu, too! There also is a pretty good Mexican restaurant in New Market, and an excellent Italian restaurant in Edinburg, 20 miles to the north.

The reason our affection feels unlikely is that New Market and environs still carry considerable feeling about the civil war. There is a battlefield memorial as well as a privately-owned memorabilia shop, the local softball summer team is called the Rebels, and you can see some Confederate flags around. The next town north is Mount Jackson, and it may have been named for the former president when it was founded, but its hero is plainly the Confederate general. Neither town is especially beautiful, and both suffer from some economic slowdown.

So–although we may find ourselves a bit out of step with the politics of the place– the people are simply good, the accommodations are excellent without being grand, the food is good and reasonably priced, and the scenery close by is refreshing and inspiring.

Richmond is home, but New Market is home away from home. Thank you, God, for guiding us there.

Virus, Be Gone!

Call me a dreamer. Call me a cockeyed optimist. Call me irresponsible.

But don’t take away my hope.

Lately, what I call the virus of negativity–some people call it the Devil–has been eating at me,  telling me things at church are stalled and aren’t getting any better, that our nation is in such deep trouble that we can’t dig our way out, that the world has gone mad with dictators massacring their own people without much more than a peep from the rest of the world. Even stupid congressmen can’t tend to business they’re so busy making fools of themselves. More than that, people who want to be president–and even the president himself–get tangled up in policy debates that seem utterly removed from the lives of real people who are hurting on the ground.

I think a lot of this is true.

But I refuse to let that bug get any more of my flesh, or my heart.

I am always hopeful, and here I stand–on the ground of faith. The hope does not come from me, it comes from God. Faith is not a series of propositions, but the certainty that God is always available, that God helps and saves and heals, no matter how badly we muck things up. I know that is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Oh things are a mess alright.

They might even get worse. Or at least seem to get worse.

But  . . .  and it is a big But–God is alive and well, and loving us all. Everyone. Even the stupid ones, and the massacring dictators and the soldiers who do their dirty work.

And you, and me.

So, be gone, bug of negativity. I haven’t got time for you.

Sometimes a Weiner Is Just . . .

I know I am going to get in trouble with this post. So here goes.

The behavior of Congressman Anthony Weiner is disgusting. And then lying about is even worse. The whole thing stinks.

And he should resign from Congress.

But I think the reason he should resign is more about fixing himself than what he did. He needs time to grow up, to find out what drove him to behavior that is simply wrong, and then lying about it. And then he needs time to fix those things and heal from them. That does not allow him much time to conduct the public business.

And we as a society need to get over our national obsession with the peccadilloes of our leaders. We are getting off on this as a nation–it is as if we are having a national group orgasm.

At the same time, we do not allow adult conversations about sex and sexuality in our culture. Instead, we are titillated by the misadventures of others. We can get all sanctimonious and feel good about ourselves because WE did not do THAT.

Some of the woman he bothered may well need help. They should receive it. But providing adequate mental health services is not high on our national priority list. We would not really want people to develop healthy sexual relationships.

So, instead of tabloid-style journalism and public breast-beating and finger-pointing by politicians and opinionators, we should make sure they get help.

And we should ignore the man and move on. We have far more important national issues than the pathetic grade school behavior–I’ll show you mine–of a grown man.

Sometimes a weiner is just . . . .

One of the Times When Red Is Better than Black

I enjoy writing. It is one of the great pleasures of my life.

That is one of the reasons I enjoy blogging. I have things to say, and I like doing so in writing (and that is why I am enjoying preparing full sermon texts again).

I do most of my writing at a keyboard, and the product is saved on a flash drive (or on this site). But the most important writing I do is different. For that I have a book and a pen.

I write in my journal almost every day. I feel off-center if I do not write in my journal.

The pen is cheap–the cheapest house brand pen that Staples sells–but the journal book is more pricey. Last year, just as I was going on sabbatical, I found Moleskine journals, and I fell in love instantly. It costs about $17, but it last me 3-4 months (240 pages), so it does not cost much per day. I am on Moleskine journal #4 now, and can’t leave home (or begin the day) without it.

But there is something special about #4. It is red. Numbers 1-3 were black. The color was the only thing I did nto like about them. Black is a fine color for many things, but I wanted something brighter for my journal. There is so much life in it.

I don’t know if the red one, which I just found, is new from the company or not, but I am thrilled. I can already see how glorious it is going to look on the shelf with the three black ones. And I can imagine already how a dozen or more red ones are going to look in a few years.

Thank you, Moleskine, for getting more bold, and thank you, God, for inspiring me each day to write.

Simpler Living

We didn’t watch television last night–except for the PBS NewsHour. Perhaps another way to say it is that we did not depend on television to entertain us.

I had almost forgotten the joy of evening reading. I learned more about Iran’s nuclear capability (maybe it is not what we have been told), the sad state of mental health services in our country, and what Greg Mortenson has to say about the criticisms leveled at him and the Central Asia Institute. I enjoyed some funny political cartoons, and was impressed by Mitt Romney.

Not once did I have to see Sarah Palin, or any of the other fluff that passes for news these days.

Plus, Jonathan and I made soup together. And Cocoa lay at our feet in the kitchen while we did it (that was not always so easy to deal with, even as it was sweet).

During much of the year, our Tuesdays are built around Linda Hunt and NCIS LA at 9:00 pm and Juliana Margulies and The Good Wife at 10:00. But during rerun season, we can return to more simple, less worldly, pursuits.

What a relief . . .  to be quiet together, to share tidbits of our reading, and to engage in intelligent conversation. And fewer commercials.

Crisis? Drama?

When is a crisis just drama?

If you had asked me last weekend how I felt about my new phone  . . . well, just be glad you didn’t.

On Friday, I realized that my treasured BlackBerry was not working properly. I took it into Verizon Wireless near our home, hoping it was a simple fix but knowing in my heart that probably I would need a new phone.

Of course, a new phone was the only real solution–most companies make it so difficult to repair anything that getting a replacement is the only sane course. We are a throwaway society.

Ah, but what phone?

I trust the woman who owns this particular franchise, so I followed her advice. She suggested an android device, an LG Ally smartphone. I could get it for the same price it would cost me to send my BlackBerry in for repair (plus the actual cost of repair and parts, not to mention not having the phone for weeks). 

So far, so good. But then panic. We could not offload my calendar or contacts from the Blackberry to the new phone. When I got home I tried some online things she suggested (the calendar and contacts also were in Outlook on my PC), but no luck.

I spent Saturday and Sunday in a stew of anxiety, and mounting anger. Why did this have to happen to ME??????? What would I have to do–recreate my ENTIRE contacts list?

By Monday, I was so desperate that I decided to read the owner’s manual (the reader may chuckle here). I was able to bring my calendar from Outlook on my PC to Google Calendar and my phone. Hooray!

But my contacts? No luck.

So, Tuesday I dialed *611 on my phone to get help from Technical Support. In 10 minutes, the very helpful support staffer had my contacts on my phone. (Note to reader: my ever-helpful husband had suggested this on Friday; you may chuckle again).

Do I like my new phone? Mostly. It has good features, and some to which I am still adjusting.

But crisis . . .  what crisis?

Drama, yes. Crisis, no.