Monday, February 06, 2017

Sermon for February 5, 2017 Salt and Light

If today’s Gospel reading had a title it could be called “The Sermon on the Mount: Beatitudes Continued.” It is literally the continuation of the teaching from last week – there is no pause, no new chapter heading, it simply continues Jesus’ teaching his disciples (and us) about who they are and are to be as his followers.

As we heard last week, the essence of his message to the disciples was not to present instruction on how to obtain God’s blessing as much as it was to remind them (and us) that  we are already blessed by God and as such, called to be poor in spirit, relying on God; to be people who ”hunger and thirst for righteousness” longing for the peace and justice of God’s world to come on this earth,  who are merciful to others, “pure in heart, ” being ethical authentic and congruent in dealings with others, to be peacemakers, and to be willing to act on our convictions no matter the cost. 

So in today’s Gospel, this call to know and manifest our identity as followers of Jesus continues. “You ARE Salt and light”  he says– not as some kind of after-market add-on but as part of our very being and essential nature created in God’s image; a nature shared with Jesus who is defined as the “light of the world” and the “light the darkness cannot extinguish.”

Why salt and light? Well first the obvious - Salt flavors things. Even sweet things are better with a pinch of salt. It was the secret of my mother’s fabulous fudge, not to even think about salted Carmel, and we all know that not having some salt on food can leave it tasting kind of bland and flat. And light of course illuminates. Think about a time when you have been in that complete dark we rarely experience in our urban lives, maybe at camp or out in the country at night, we know that it is VERY dark, and in that situation it can be hard see the way forward or to navigate around obstacles in our path. It’s easy to trip and fall.

In addition to these obvious qualities salt and light both have another interesting quality. They purify and preserve things, and they both do it by acting as change agents on the substance and fundamentally altering the environments so that the harmful things that are present are either destroyed or cannot flourish!  Ultraviolet (UV) light rays (those just below visible light on the spectrum) can penetrate harmful pathogens in water and destroy illness-causing microorganisms by attacking their DNA, and salt purifies and cleanses by dehydrating the environment so that there is nothing to feed the pathogens.

Salt and light - Jesus says, this  is who YOU are as my followers, called to not only liven things up and make them visible, but to be fundamental agents of change in YOUR environments,  cleansing them and purifying them by making them places that are inhospitable to the growth of things that are harmful.  This, he says, is your true nature, what you were designed for, blessed for, called to by the God who wants you to be co-creators in God’s kingdom of peace, love and justice in this world. Called, he says, to cleanse and fundamentally change the structure of the environments in which dis-ease can flourish and grow.

The question then, of course, becomes how we might fully embody this identity, respond to this call and manifest this in our own lives and contexts; to be the agents of change and transformation that God calls us to and that the world, especially now, so desperately needs? How do we find ways to illuminate and purify the flat, dark places in our world? How do we create environments where healthy growth and life can flourish, where what is corrupt and decayed cannot live because there is simply nothing there that feeds it?

One thing I am pretty sure of is that we cannot do it alone. While we are each individually called to live out our baptismal promises, at least in our tradition, this call comes to us in and as part of a community. Just like one little grain of salt can’t really add flavor or beat back the growth of bacteria and one little flame cannot illuminate great darkness or purify very much, one of us alone, while we can do something, cannot do as much as many gathered and committed as one. I think about the power we saw manifested at Standing Rock, the energy that was generated and reinforced when peaceful warriors gathered supported by faith and constant prayer toward a single aim. In our own context, when we gather to do things like Harvest Packs, we can easily see how in a few hours, many people working together with one goal can make a difference. We can think of these as focused beams of light that shine from those gathered and that illuminate not only the unjust and concerning things that are happening in our world, but also light up the positive power of peaceful engagement and focused action.

Just like every point of light and grain of salt, each of us is unique, each of us called and gifted by God to participate in co-creating God’s kingdom here on earth. Each of us is issued the commission by Jesus himself – be salt, be light. Don’t get stale, don’t hide or cover your brightness. Use your gifted blessedness to Illumine, enliven, purify and transform this broken world to one that more closely resembles God’s kingdom.  Engage in whatever way you can in that work to which we  are called in the words of Isiah: “…to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke… to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin….and then, he says,…your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”          

The world needs us and God calls us to transform the world from dis-ease and darkness to God’s kingdom of love, peace and justice with every bit of salt and light that is in us. Can we? Will we? Our answer:  We will, with God's help.






Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Review of the CEB Women's Bible

I have to begin by saying that I am not generally a fan of "specialty" bibles; women's Bibles, men's Bibles, teen bibles, recovery Bibles, even Precious Moments Bibles. Often these seem to be simply a repackaging of some translation or another with a pretty cover or some cosmetic additions intended to appeal to a particular niche in the Bible-buying market. So it was with only moderate expectations that I began my exploration of the CEB Women's Bible. 

I am pleased to report that my expectations have been far surpassed. The Common English Bible translation itself is solid in its scholarship as well as being accessible and highly readable. To this foundation, the editorial board and contributors of the Women's Bible have brought a wealth of additional information and commentary that truly fulfills what the promotional material offers, that this is a Bible that "celebrates the fact that people engage scripture from their own perspectives."

The editorial board and all of the contributors to the Women's Bible are women. They come from a variety of denominational and theological backgrounds, and bring their unique voices and perspectives to the many resources in this bible which are introduced in the Preface. These include an introduction to each of the books in the Bible as well as reflections in every chapter. These are thoughtful writings that help the writer engage with the text and that could be useful, as the writers suggest, in a variety of worship and study settings. The Bible also includes sidebar articles throughout the book. These articles are wide-ranging and cover topics of interest to women.Another feature of the Women's Bible are the character sketches of over one hundred women in scripture, named and unnamed, and every single woman in the bible is indexed with a reference to where she appears.

I decided to test-drive the Women's Bible by reading selections from both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, I chose the Book of Esther. In addition to a very readable translation of the story, I found a thoughtful introduction to the story and its context, ten reflections on various aspects of the text, portraits of Esther, Vashti and Zeresh, and sidebar articles exploring how such things as appearance, race, eunuchs, and the confluence of race and religion impact not only the writing of scripture, but our reading of it as well.

In the New Testament I chose to read Luke's story about Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-41). In this short lection, the Women's Bible provides a reflection on how responses to a shared experience can differ, a portrait of Martha, and a sidebar on sisterhood. Again, resources that added to my reading and reflection on the text.

I found the layout as well as the content of each of these elements added to my reading in both of these instances, and I could see how they could easily be used in  a group study, worship or private reading of this Bible. The women of the Bible, named and unnamed, are all indexed by where they appear, and the sidebar articles are indexed both alphabetically and canonically, making it easy to locate both women and topics in the text.

In addition to all of these riches, the CEB Women's Bible includes a section of discussion and reflection questions arranged according to the three-year lectionary cycle. I checked out the questions on the readings for this coming Sunday (Luke 19:1-10) and found food for thought there as well.
The volume concludes with three different bible reading plans and sixteen color maps, all of which are indexed by the places named in the Bible.

In summary, I would recommend the CEB Women's Bible as a useful, well-designed and accessible resource for anyone who is interested in a deeper reading of the text, and especially from a context and perspective that includes and highlights the voices of the women who inhabit, infuse and enrich the scriptures.   

I received a hardcover review copy of the CEB Women's Bible from the publisher and was not compensated for this review.

Friday, May 01, 2015

A Mend

 "There is no future without forgiveness." Desmond Tutu

I sent off a little note to my brother today. Yeah, so what? People send off notes to siblings and other people all the time. Other people maybe, but siblings? In my history, that was another thing. In fact I once started a sentence with a group of women on a boat, "My brother, whom I do not know is dead or alive...."

He is, I am happy to report, alive. He is retired and living in a warm, sunny place. He has grown kids, and grands and great-grands. A whole passel of them. He has had sadness too. In the almost twenty years since we last spoke he has lost a son and a son-in-law.

I knew about the son, my nephew. In these connected days you can learn things about people and their lives without having to be "in contact" of course, and every now and again I would search the inter-webs for family names just to see what might be there. A few months ago I was on such an expedition, and I read on another nephew's Facebook page that his brother had died. I followed the trail to his obituary and found he was 57 when he died, and reading between the lines, I think there may have been some circumstances that made his early passing even sadder.

It hit me hard, that little piece of information about my nephew dying. I was kind of amazed by how strongly I felt the sadness and grief for someone I have not seen or had contact with since he was in his twenties, and for a whole piece of my family that I had been disconnected from since the 90's.

That disconnect had not settled easily in my soul for many years. Randomly, I would find my brother on my mind. In the early years it was anger I felt. Righteous anger and indignation towards him for his "bad behavior" concerning our mother. Our opinions about where and how she should be living and cared for in her later years had differed and I of course was right and he was wrong. It got horribly out of control, as these things do, words were said, feelings were hurt, and all contact ceased. In some ways I had "won" the thing, she came here to live, I had wonderful and precious time with her until her death. But it came at a very high price. We both lost my brother.

As time passed my anger and indignation had moved to an uneasy sense that this was probably not as clear cut as it seemed at the time, and that he was not the only person who had engaged in some "bad behavior" at that time. Perhaps there had been a little revisionist history on my part, and I was not quite as innocent, nor were my motives as pure as I had liked to believe.  I thought about trying to reach out to him many times, but then I would let fear creep in, or retreat behind the "fact" that I was, of course, right! And justified! Wasn't I? After all, I was not defending myself, but protecting my beloved mother.

But over time, even that began to grow pretty thin and I could see it for the excuse it was. Now time (a LOT of time) was passing and neither of us were getting any younger. And then I saw that obituary. He has lost a son, just like my mom had ultimately ended up losing both of hers at the time this whole nasty thing had started.

I started to notice that finally, my compassion was becoming bigger than my anger and fear. But still, I hesitated. At this point I still did not know if my brother was even still alive. What if I searched for him only to find that he, too, was gone? Would that guilt just be too much to bear? That final resistance was finally overcome largely because I was called to preach on forgiveness at my church's women's retreat. In preparing, along with the Scripture reading (Matt  6:5-15), I revisited the book Amish Grace and read Desmond Tutu's powerful book on forgiveness. At the retreat we talked about forgiveness, I heard other's stories of things forgiven and unforgiven and pondered my own. A few weeks after the retreat I asked my husband, the search-engine genius, to see if he could find an address for my brother. He did, and after I carried it around for a few days, I wrote a short letter of amends to him, admitting that I had felt justified at the time of our disconnect, and owning that I now saw that this was hurtful, that I regretted my actions and was sorry for that and the all that resulted. I sent it off with hope but no real expectation of a response.

About two weeks later, there appeared an envelope in the mail with a return address that I recognized as his. I took a deep breath and opened it to find a short but gracious note from him. He noted the saying that we grow "too soon old and too late smart" and commented that this accounts for a lot of the mistakes we make when we are young. He shared a little news with me, the grands and greats, and the losses. I wept with joy and relief to hear from him, to be forgiven with those simple words, that little note. It has been a long time coming.

So I dropped my brother a little note yesterday. I shared a little more about my life, marriage, a lovely step-daughter, no grands yet, but hoping someday, my job. I expressed my sadness that he had lost those two young men in his life and wished him and the rest of his family, my family, well.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

NaBloPoMo #5 Listening

Some days it is really hard to know what to say and what not to say. I had a patient today who had a lot to say. She had a need to talk, to get things out, and that certainly is one thing that people do in the therapist's office. Sometimes I feel a need to direƧt that flow, or respond in some way, sometimes people sem to be needing that. Other times they seem to just need to hear themselves say things, to verbally process something, work it through, digest it out loud until it makes more sense than it did simply chading itself around inside their own heads. And sometimes it is important to do this with someone elao rather than alone, and in that case often my job is simply to be there and listen as a witness to the process .And sometimes, they just need to vent, and in that case, my job is just to sit and listen as well.

It was venting time today for my person. She didn't really need to process, and I don't think she needed a witness, or anyone to help her direct the flow, or make sense of things. I think she just had some things she wanted to say that maybe she really dodn't have anyplace to say. A lot of the thingss he things she had to say were really hard for me to hear, hard for me to simply sit quietly and listen to. Her beliefs are not mine, in fact her thoughts about life and the world and just about everything in it are about as far from mine as one could get. She told me about her political beliefs, her thoughts on immigration, her thuoghts on a friend's niece who converted to Islam She shared at some length her own Christian beliefs (fundamental, literal, creationist). I sat quietly, just listening. It was not what I wanted to do. But this is my role in this place. There were things I wanted to say, and in other situations, other roles might have said, but here the point was to let it be and let her talk.

Because in the end, after she was done with her venting she got to talking about her feelings,  her sadness about too many losses, her fears about too much change (and some of those differences I had to wonder) And the only thing I really could say was "It sounds like this has been a hard few weeks, I am glad you could talk about it here."

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

NaBloPoMo #4 Food and Mood

This may be short as it's been a long day and I'm typing on a tablet simply because I am too tired to make the trip upstairs to get the laptop.

I was painfully aware of the food-mood connection tonight as I drove home at least an hour into a blood sugar low that left me cranky and foggy. This has been something I have been giving some thought to since I have been in this process, wondering not just for myself but for my patients, too, how what I/they eat (or don't) contributes to ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression. I know from some of our conversations that many of them do not eat well. sometimes this is because of habit or preference, sometimes because of a lack of good information about nutrition, and sometimesit is about economic circumstance.  It really does cost more to eat all this grass fed, organic stuff. But lately I have been asking a few different questions. Like  "do you ever notice a connection between your anxiety attacks and how long it's been since you have last eaten?" Or asking my really anxious folks about how much caffiene they really do consume, or if they see any connections between sugar and how they feel. It seems kind of simple now that I think about it, but it wasn't really on my radar before.

Monday, November 03, 2014

NaBloPoMo #3 Making Friends

"Our bodies are not our enemies, and we are not fighting a battle. Instead, we are investing our love and attention into the care and support of a beautiful creation—our selves." That was some wisdom this morning from Madisyn Taylor on the Daily Om. 

I spent a lot of my life not really living in my body. I clothed it, fed it and tended it after a fashion, but I don't think anyone was really home, and to a great extent I pretty much ignored my physical self for much of my adult life. This was, at least in part, how a chubby little girl became a seriously overweight woman who, until well into midlife had never seriously made an attempt at weight loss, or honestly even given it much thought.

It's also why when I finally did start "the decade of the diet" I think things went a little off the rails, and I was willing to do some pretty wonky things in the name of weight loss, that "battle" with myself, including being willing to "just not eat" if that was what it took. That is easier with a little help from chemistry to suppress your appetite, so I added that to my arsenal in the war against myself.

And I have won some of the skirmishes. From a high weight of near 300# I have been all the way down to 150, once, briefly. But it was not sustainable, and I bounced up again (though not all the way), and back down to a "happy place" in between-that I maintained for a while-this time through lots and lots and lots of exercise. And then I ran out of time for that, and up.....again to a weight that is more than I want to be and where I had been stuck and feeling really like I was in a constant war with myself, again willing to do whatever it took to "rid" myself of that weight-including restricting calories at a ridiculous level-and proud of it. 

So these, my nutritionist tells me, are the things that must be healed. These are the reasons that all the good things I see happening with my new way of eating have not included significant weight loss as yet. my body is a calorie hoarder, afraid to let them go as she doesn't trust that I will keep feeding her, nourishing her. She is making good use of what I am providing these days, building healthier skin and nails and, I'm sure cells that I cannot see. So I am trying to trust that this other healing will take me where I want to go in other ways as well. That we will eventually be friends and allies in the process, my body and I. That my body will believe that the nurturing calories will keep coming and she can release the stores as they will no longer be needed.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

NaBloPoMo #2 The Food and I Today

So having decided to write something about the "food relationship" the question is, where to start? The history? The context? The current situation? Any one could be a good jumping off place, and any one could give me pages and pages of things to say. I think for today I'm going to stay in the here and now and talk about why I'm thinking so much about my this whole thing right now in the first place.

In July of this year I started a 12-week program to learn about a new and healthier way of eating. Over the last year or so I'd been feeling kind of crummy on lots of levels. I was noticing more and more aches and pains, my energy was low, I wasn't sleeping well, and worst of all I was anxious pretty much all the time about pretty much everything, and nothing. It was just a low, grumbling, free-floating sort of thing, a kind of "doom is immanent" sense that infected just about every corner of my life. On a good day it hovered at a about a two, and it could get kicked into high gear, ramping to a seven or eight by just about anything - having to drive in bad weather, feeling I had done something upsetting to someone, worry about a job issue, random thoughts about things done and undone. And yes, it was definitely affecting my spiritual life as well as everything else.

Because of all this "meh" I had become pretty insular, isolating myself and narrowing life down to the "have-tos" pretty much. Work, errands, the occasional outing with Rick or a friend, the Sunday routine of church and breakfast at our usual spot, and otherwise you could find me on the couch with a book or a screen just passing time.

Sounds pretty dull, right? It was! And it got to a point that it even bored me. So bit by bit over the summer I started looking at ways I might start creeping back toward some kind of activity again, and I started at a place that felt pretty safe, with some yoga. I went back to some classes at the studio I liked, taking mostly restorative and yin classes, and then signing up for some individual consultations with a teacher I like to talk about her take on my situation from an Ayurvedic perspective. She was really helpful and gave me hope that there might be some answers in changes in diet if I was patient and persistent.

Right about that time I "happened" on the announcement that a local nutrition program was opening a branch in the very same yoga studio where I was going to class.  They were starting a 12 week program focusing on nutrition to level out blood sugar and heal metabolism for weight loss by eating real healthy food, and it started in a couple weeks, so I signed up.

So here's what's been going on. Since July 28th:
I have had no soda, diet or otherwise. I have eaten  almost no processed food (on purpose anyway). I have had very little sugar, no white flour, and since August no gluten to speak of. I am trying to limit oils to olive, coconut, or if others, to cold or expeller pressed if I have a choice, I AM eating grass fed beef, free range chicken, eggs, organic butter, lard, cream, lots and lots of vegetables and occasional whole grains in limited servings. I eat three meals and two to three snacks (the idea is to eat every three to four hours to keep a level blood sugar), I am never hungry, have had very few cravings and really don't miss the stuff I used to eat and thought I could not live without. I have been to a Mexican restaurant and watched people drink margaritas and eat nachos without a qualm, I've been to parties and not even been tempted by the cake and cookies (my former nemesis). One ounce of dark chocolate is a permitted treat so that is a go-to if there is a need for something that feels "treat-y." I have fallen off the program a total of three times in three months, once with an overindulgence in ice cream (which in itself is not off limits as a once in a while treat as long as it's the "good stuff" made only with cream, eggs, sugar and no chemicals and eaten in a very moderate serving) and twice with wine (which, well, has few redeeming qualities on a program whose goal is to regulate your blood sugar!) Otherwise my main struggle has been to eat enough protein (4 oz per meal and 2 per snack).

As a result of all of this, these are the things that have happened since July:
My aches and pains are reduced by a LOT!
I have way more energy than I used to.
My hair is growing and it's thicker and shinier than it has been in years.
My skin looks better.
Cuts heal faster.
I am not cold all the time and I even generate heat (for those who know me this is nothing short of a miracle!)
I am sleeping again. Almost every night for a good six or seven hours without even waking up! And then going right back for a couple more. When I wake up I am ready to get up and go.
The anxiety is almost negligible. And when it crops up I can use coping skills to deal with it.
My husband tells me that in general I am a much nicer person to be around. (That is BIG!)
I have lost two pounds and two inches. Yep that's all. In three months And yes this was a weight loss program. Am I disappointed in that part? Oh yeah, most definitely. I wanted the usual results one gets when "dieting," you know 1-2 pounds a week! Well, my nutritionist tells me to be patient, it will come, that I have a lot of "healing" to do. That was kind of a shocker to me. Healing? Yep, healing from the mean and nasty way I had been treating my body in the name of losing weight for the last several years.  I think I'll save that chapter for another day.

Right now, I need to make sure I have everything packed up for my week's lunches, have the fruit thawing for my smoothie snacks and generally have myself organized. That's been the biggest change in this whole thing-I have to THINK about food a lot, but not in the same way that I used to think about food when I was obsessing about having some. It's a mind shift that at first I wasn't sure I liked. I had to shift into thinking about all of this as a way of  nurturing myself, taking care of me at least as well as I took care of everyone else. And that, too, is probably a whole other blog post for another day. This is enough for today.