Lately, my planet has been full of things that require choices and decisions and the choices/decisions on either side have not been great. Each side has the potential to put me in emotional, personal, or financial peril. Each option requires commitment to the choice and discipline to carry out the choice. It's not fun.
For some reason, I decided to call my old colleague Bill. His way of seeing the world seems to mesh with mine at times I need it. He said, "It's the two turkey choice again!"
"Remember when we were residents together?" he continued. "You were going home for Thanksgiving and it was always your job to bring the turkey...and every year your grandmother gave you hell because the turkey was either too big or too small. Remember what I told you? I said to buy two turkeys. Cut her off at the pass. Hold them both up and say, 'Which turkey do you want? The one that is too big, or too small?' Well, I think when considering all these choices, you just need to walk in with two turkeys every time and wait till THEN whether you need the one that is too big or too small."
Well, and you know, there is precedence for that in the book of Exodus, right after the plague of darkness...
21Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” 22So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. 23People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived.
24Then Pharaoh summoned Moses, and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Only your flocks and your herds shall remain behind. Even your children may go with you.” 25But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings to sacrifice to the Lord our God. 26Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must choose some of them for the worship of the Lord our God, and we will not know what to use to worship the Lord until we arrive there.”
27But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go. 28Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” 29Moses said, “Just as you say! I will never see your face again.”
Well, gee whiz...Moses chose to take two turkeys, too. Pharaoh got pretty testy about it, too, but Moses was adamant about the ability for his people to continue to choose.
In these choices I am pondering, it's not like there are distinct "right choices" or "wrong choices"--there are good and bad sides to all of it. I really AM picking between "the turkey that is too big" vs. "the turkey that is too small." That is sort of an emancipating thought, really. I worry sometimes that my choice is "the place that the Lord will choose for you" (a phrase that gets used repeatedly in the book of Deuteronomy). But the "two turkey choice" has liberated me to a degree. I am starting to realize that "the place that the Lord will choose for you" is usually not a matter of picking the right sized turkey. You can get to "the place that the Lord will choose for you" by picking EITHER of the wrong sized turkeys...it's the awareness and willingness to adjust, and to cook the turkey appropriately, choose the side dishes, etc. God will not chew me out for bringing the wrong sized turkey to the table!
I had remarked to a friend the other day, "You know, this summer is unseasonably cool...just like the summer of the '93 flood." That was an interesting summer, when NE Missouri became an island nation. Everyone on Highway 63 from the Iowa line down to the Hartsburg turnoff north of Jefferson City was literally living on an island, bounded by the flood waters of the Des Moines River on the north, the Missouri River on the south, The Mississippi river on the east, and the Grand River on the west.
The devastation in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City seemed too close to home and it certainly triggered old memories of 1993 for me.
So, in honor of the fact we had five inches of rain dumped on us in Kirksville (six in some places!) I dragged out one of my favorite jokes that emerged from the receding waters of the 1993 flood...
A curious fellow died one day and found himself waiting in the long line of judgment.
As he stood there he noticed that some souls were allowed to march right through the pearly gates into Heaven. Others though, were led over to Satan who threw them into the burning fire.
But every so often, instead of hurling a poor soul into the fire, Satan would toss a soul off to one side into a small pile. After watching Satan do this several times, the fellow's curiosity
got the best of him. So he strolled over and asked Satan what he was doing.
'Excuse me, Prince of Darkness,' he said. 'I'm waiting in line for Judgment, but I couldn't help wondering. Why are you tossing those people aside instead of flinging them into the Fires of Hell with the others?'
'Oh those . .' Satan groaned. 'They're all from Missouri. They're still too wet to burn.'
Hey, I found this free e-blurb that comes in my mailbox once a week that is “Hebrew word-a-week.” I am enjoying it a lot since I like to pick words apart.
This week’s word is ha-satan (ha-sah-TAN)...aka “Satan.”
It is interesting that ha-satan means, “the accuser”, “the adversary” or “the opposer.” I did a little work on some of the torah study sites, and discovered it is generally referring to the yetzer ha-ra, the evil inclination in mankind. Humans struggle between the desires of the yetzer hatov (our good inclination) and the yetzer ha-ra (our evil inclination) So this oppositional force, historically, is a force within us.
Ha-Satan is the title (like “chief accuser”), not the given name, ascribed to the angel in the book of Job that gets permission to “test” Job.
In the Greek, it gets turned into “diabolos”, aka “devil.”
But time and time again, in the OT, whether it is in the book of Job, or Isaiah, it plays out where ultimately, God has dominion over “the ha-satan.”
I think this is interesting both in light of our Gospel for this week because in Matthew 10:24-39 it asserts that our value to God is far greater than our value to the world. (“Sparrows are cheaper than dirt at the Farmer’s Market, but look how well I care for them and look how well I know you.”) Also when you look at the OT reading this week (Jer. 20:7-13) b/c it is like, “God, why are you dogging my ass all the time but simultaneously pulling it from the fire?”
Getting this as the “Hebrew word-a-week” this week certainly has a twilight zone characteristic to it. We struggle with our own value, yet God always sees us as highly prized. We look to external forces to define our value—money, looks, smarts, talent, our friends/relatives—and it is never enough, it never quite satisfies us, we beg and plead for more external validation. Ha-Satan is not a devil with horns, hiding behind the lamppost, waiting to jump out in front of us, he lives between our own ears and is composed of our own thoughts, talking trash to us and feeling every external slight and dig—and it is our own thoughts that separate us from that feeling of value that God gives us constantly.
I think about when I am trying to hide something that is bothering me from my closest friends. Eventually, they look at me and say, “Something’s bothering you, I can tell it, I KNOW you, so don’t try to hide it from me. Spill it.” Yeah, it feels like they are on your ass and won’t leave you alone. But when you do finally spill it, you feel better.
Well, it seems to me that ha-satan is the oppositional force that, even though we ascribe it to “evil inclinations,” it is also, oddly enough, the force that allows us to “feel the gap” between us and God and that, if we are aware to its oppositional qualities, is actually the thing that can cause us to “spill it” to God. Its ability to “oppose” allows us to recognize our yetzer hatov, our “good inclinations”, and in that, God does have dominion over evil. WHOA!
Then the phrase in this week’s text in Matthew pops in my head that shows up time and time again in the Bible--”Do not be afraid.” We should not fear ha-satan because God has dominion over our accusers, our mental adversaries, our opposing thoughts. (Now why does the Blue Oyster Cult song, “Don’t fear the reaper” pop into my head?)
Psalm 104 couldn't be more accurate. The sun knows its time for setting, and it's the time of year where it's a looooong way from the dawn! About six months ago I posted my dashboard widget on the shortest day of the year; it only seems fair to give the longest day of the year tomorrow some credit!
I don't know about you, but even with all this day, it seems like it is never enough. Summer is a time that I tend to feel refreshed, energized, and with a need to fill the daylight with as much as I can pack into it. I stay up late and wake up early. For me, winter is for reflecting, summer is for doing. But even then, there is a "time is fleeting" quality to it. The first part of Ecclesiastes 1 comes to mind:
1The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
4A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. 6The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. 8All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
9What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. 10Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us. 11The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.The sun hurries to the place where it rises, and I hurry to my next task. I grow tanner and fitter every summer, but with each summer, my hair becomes more salt than pepper, another line shows up in the beginnings of my crows' feet, and I realized that although summer makes me feel young and fit, in reality I'm middle aged and "pretty fit for middle aged." My summers seem a lot more filled with "screening exams" and fasting lipid panels, fasting blood glucose levels, and things like that than they used to be.
There is a part of me that says, "Enjoy these long days; enjoy my friends and loved ones; enjoy it all. But remember that this is temporary." I wonder: Will these days be as long and full when I'm 60? 70? 80? I hope so. But God gives us the long days of summer to bask in the light, and the dark days of winter to curl up and reflect. I plan to use mine to the fullest.
Well, after finding all those interesting church signs on the net, I ended up finding one a little closer to home, actually just a block and a half away from Trinity, over at First Christian Church here in Kirksville...
Then, while driving back from Memphis, MO I saw this one...(click on the image to see the whole sign better)
Ok, I'm confused...is Jesus coming for the sheep?
This morning, as I was drinking coffee and getting "up and around," doing my usual blogsurfing, I got intrigued about this post on Elizabeth Kaeton's blog. Partially because I like collard greens, but it turned out to be about "collared" not "collard." That was okay too. I started realizing another of those similarities between physicians and clergy. Both go through rigorous, but somewhat "rigamarole-ish" processes to get to where you want to go, and there are always all-knowing assholes in the way, who seem to know better than you do what you deserve. Don't get me wrong; constructive things sometimes happen in these processes that are for the better. But there are always some individuals in power who tend to inflate their importance in the process.
I see this on the admissions committee for the osteopathic medical school here. I listen to some committee members brag on their "pet formulas", "stock questions," etc. They are frequently the kind of people I describe as "always wrong; never in doubt." Sure, we all are supremely confident about some things now and then. But these particular kind of individuals make a habit of it.
I take a different approach. I figure they are "pre-screened" to a degree by their GPA/MCAT score/the fact they "wanted" to apply. Honestly, on paper, a lot of these all look alike. The letters of recommendation are bland, standard, usually without any real insight and always glowing. "One of the best I have ever seen..." types of letters. It's like Lake Woebegon; all the children are above average.
I try to ask open ended questions that bring out "who" they are...things like "When you sit around and fantasize about being a doctor, tell me who you see." "Tell me the incident in your life where you felt you were as close to feeling what it feels like to be a doctor." Stuff like that. I address their "yellow/red flags in an open-ended fashion also." "Tell me about this semester where you got 3 "C's". This semester does not look like the others, to me."
I watch for what I call "the sparkle." There is a moment, in an interview with a good candidate, that their face brightens, their eyes light up, and they become alive. I remember this incredibly shy fellow, big tall skinny guy. We were having a rough interview b/c he was so darn nervous. I accidentally noticed volunteer work with a local elementary school in their reading program. I just asked, "Hey, tell me a little about this program here that you did some volunteer work." It was like a light switch turned on. He lit up, started talking about the little kids, the tiny chairs in which he didn't fit, the short sinks and toilets in the john, and how the kids clung on his pant leg wanting him to hear them read. I finally could imagine this guy being any kind of doctor at all. This vision of pediatrician popped in my head. Before, there was just a blank spot in my mind.
I became a lot calmer as a med school interviewer when I stopped listening to the know-it-alls on the committee and decided that this is a matter of my awareness that I am just a vehicle for the natural forces of grace and discernment to happen. I decided that those who are supposed to get in, will get in eventually, maybe not with me, maybe partially because of me, but most of it was in the hands of things out of my control.
Whether we are talking about medicine or priesthood, I think the "calling" will take care of itself. I'm just sorry that difficult people have to get in the way of both now and then.
You can see even more of these on the Church Sign Generator website. You can make your own, but they have quite an impressive collection of real church signs, too! (I do have to wonder what "undies Sunday" is, though)...
Time for a little humor to break up the seriousness. One of my friends sent me the "purity test"...
You Are 54% Pure
You're not so innocent... in fact, you're quite unpure.
You have seen and experienced a lot. And you're no worse for the wear!
Yeah, yeah, so I'm not so pure--only 54% pure, in fact. Actually, I thought I ended up better than I thought I would turn out. I knew I was in trouble when I realized I had checked ALL the boxes related to cursing. (Yes, I have taught a small child how to curse.) That's why I need to write a spiritual blog--so I can overcome part of my past, present, and future, ok????
I just discovered this week that my wireless internet router reaches out in the yard a little way from the house, so now I can combine two of my favorite activities...goofing around on the internet, and sitting in "my sacred circle" in the yard.
I discovered "my sacred circle" about 2 years ago, even though I have lived at this house for eight years. It started when a bunch of people at Trinity got into contemplative prayer. I did not join the "centering prayer group" for one simple reason. I border on ADHD. I don't think I'd actually qualify for the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but I know I'm darn close. I have never been able to sit still. Monastic forms of prayer, work as prayer, is closer to my style when praying "out of the box" in some form other than spoken prayers or silent thought prayers.
I knew all I would do for a centering prayer group was serve as the "what not to do" model. But what I decided to do was find a "sacred space" at home and just be in it and see what shakes out of it. That space is in the southwest corner of my yard.
Let me tell you a little bit about my yard. I live waaaaaay out in the country, about 6 miles from Kirksville, in "the flatlands". You have to understand a little about the geography of Missouri. Highway 63 literally rides atop "the grand divide" of the state. Everything west of highway 63 drains to the Missouri river; everything east of it drains to the Mississippi river. West of 63 are woods and rolling hills covered with trees. East of 63 are flats, gentle hills, and pasture. I am a flatlander from childhood. The wide open green pastures are "my ocean", rolling waves of green. I enjoy the woods, but I love the flatlands best because of the expanse and openness. It is why traveling to the ocean fascinates me. To me, the ocean is "blue flatlands."
In the southwest corner of my yard, I have a rough ring of trees and bushes bordering the house and the corner of my pasture. If I sit in a reclining lawn chair in the northeast end of this circle, I can look up into the sky as if from a cylinder. The circle of trees does not obscure the pastures if I want to stand and look across. The house shields me from the dusk to dawn light in the driveway. I can see "my ocean" by day and this cylinder of stars in the sky by night. I found if I just sit in this place, in my reclining lawn chair, I can just "be" and I feel God sitting next to me.
I have never shown anyone my sacred circle. I have one person whom I've promised to show that circle, but we have both insisted we both have to be in the right mood to appreciate it; as yet the moment of sharing it has not happened. I am reticent to show off this circle because it is really quite ordinary, in a "touristy" sort of way, but to me it is sacred. It is the one spot that I can sit still and wait on God to show up. I have no clue why this is the case.
I have simply never been one to sit still. My whole life has been "I can't wait." I could never stand waiting for Christmas to open presents. I could never stand waiting for the big game when I played sports in high school. Waiting has always made me edgy, jumpy, grouchy, and curt, even if I was waiting for something good.
But in my sacred circle, I can ignore the phone, the world, the noise, and the clutter in my life. I can stare up at the night sky and marvel at the stars. I can melt into the night sky. By day, I can become entranced by the intricacies of the behavior of the birds in the trees, or look out acrosse the pasture, my ocean with real waves as the hay grows taller. I can lean back in my reclining lawn chair and feel the presence of God sitting on my chest. When I look at my watch, I am often amazed that a half hour or hour has gone by and it feels like a minute.
In my feeble worldy mind, this is how I envision the temporal nature of heaven. I cannot usually wrap my mind around "forever." But I can sit in this spot and get a tiny glimpse of it, because time moves in a fashion different than the laws of nature...at least in my own mind. Sure, real time passes...but "my time" becomes without boundaries.
To steal from "Field of Dreams"..."Is this heaven? No, it's northeast Missouri."