Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Matthew 7:13-14

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

This was the meditation today in Forward Day by Day. It's another of those passages in the Gospels that folks tend to immediately glom onto "Good vs. Evil," as in "Wide gate=evil", "Narrow gate = good."

It's pretty simplistic to think of it in those terms, though.

You know, on the farm, narrow gates have purposes. Mostly, it's to bring one animal into an enclosure at a time, for purposes of vaccination, shearing, hoof trimming, counting, whatever. It has nothing to do with "good and evil," but everything with doing things one at a time.

What I think Jesus was getting at, with the narrow gate, was there are simply things in our lives we must take a lone path to get there. One where we can only enter one at a time. His own path was the ultimate "narrow gate."

Now, He might have already gone through the gate ahead of you, and has His hand out, encouraging you, but the gate simply only handles "one at a time."

When we go through the wide gate, we are going with the crowd. Nothing distinguishes us from the rest of the herd. It's easy to be lost in that crowd. The "destruction" comes from never being challenged to be all of what we're meant to be, or to be able to "hide from God" in the crowd and be separated from Him.

But when we go through the narrow gate, it is, in a sense, a "roll call." All eyes are on you. But that's not always bad. It's your chance to take all the good things about yourself through that gate, also.

The fact remains. Yes, part of our spiritual life is "in community." I'm grateful for it. But that doesn't make the parts where you are going through the narrow gate the antithesis to community.

When we choose the narrow gate, we choose OUR gate. The gate God picked out for us. Go boldly through it!

This was the reflection picture for my EFM class tonight. I've seen this photo many times in many venues.

Many of you know already that roughly only 10% of an iceberg is above the ocean surface, and 90% is below. What is hard in this picture is to "get beyond the obvious." I think for many, if not most of us, the inital reaction when we see this picture is to see all that dark water and that huge unexposed part of the 'berg, and immediately go to dark scary places. We are drawn to that dark, frozen water and the hidden dangers of that massive block of ice below the surface, and suddenly find ourselves stuck on "all the dark hidden parts of ourselves"--our shame and doubt, our regrets and fears--all the things we hope no one ever knows.

In short, we see Leviathan.

Well...the more I looked at that picture, the more I tried to step back from it and see it another way.

You know, an iceberg is not a "static" thing. It's dynamic. For one thing, it's constantly melting. Ok, in the North Atlantic, that would be um...SLOWLY melting, but it's still melting. But icebergs follow the currents. The current might take it to a warmer place, where it will melt faster.

Someone else in the group pointed out that the iceberg is also affected by things beyond its control, like the sun. The sun melts the top of it. I got to thinking how as the top melts, that iceberg has to shift or roll to some degree, and then a DIFFERENT part of the iceberg is exposed. It means that sooner or later, some of that stuff under the scary, dark, cold water is going to have to float to the surface, and the sun is going to beat down on it, and eventually melt it.

In that sense, that massive block of ice beneath the surface isn't quite so scary. In a way, what's below the water actually BALANCES the iceberg and exposes the top. The natural course of events is for that big ol' 'berg to roll, and expose something new that is "ready to be melted." Exposing these hidden surfaces is not something to be feared, but welcomed, as something once hidden and dangerous can now melt away. Then the iceberg rolls again, and this process keeps continuing until it is totally melted. Another thing the sun does is cause heat to collect in a fissure on the surface and, with a loud crack, split a large chunk off of it. Again, the end result is for it to melt more quickly.

In another sense, let's back up and think about the iceberg in terms of Leviathan. Our tendency is to think of Leviathan as a sea monster. But in reality, the word is actually derived from the Hebrew word for "whale." A whale is big, but it is not necessarily scary (although it certainly CAN be scary at times, a la Moby Dick.) Rabbinic legend even "defangs" Leviathan a little. The legend is that God created a male and female Leviathan, but then had second thoughts as they might multiply and destroy the world. So he slew the female, reserving her flesh as the entree for the banquet that will be held for the righteous, at the coming of the Messiah.

The more I read in the Bible, the more I am convinced that Leviathan was not really meant to be connoted as this horrifying sea monster, but merely something very big with the POTENTIAL for danger, yet not necessarily dangerous in its own right. Leviathan is just "the problem you always have with something big"--it's just too darn big, and you can't control it with your puny skills any more than you can control the wind.

Now, back to that iceberg. The trouble with that iceberg, I think, has more to do with what happens if we thwart this natural process of "rolling different parts of the stuff below" up to the sun.

Imagine hiring a fleet of boats to keep this iceberg exactly in the same position it is, presently. As it melts, and is kept from re-distributing itself in a natural way, it's going to create such pressure that when it DOES roll, it rolls violently. It might take all the boats out and drown their crews. Shades of Moby Dick and Captain Ahab! It's the delusion of thinking you can pull Leviathan around with a fish hook and ten-pound test on a Zebco 33 fishing reel.

So rather than fearing all that massive ice below, I'd rather think of the "sun" as being God, through His Son. Something we have no control over, but melts us all the same, whether we ask for it or not. That natural "rolling" of the iceberg is the wind (or in this case, current) of the Holy Spirit--constantly moving us, re-distributing us, turning the hidden parts of us up to the light to reshape us, so at the moment of our death we are completely "melted" and free, our molecules mixed into the molecules of a vast ocean we can't even begin to comprehend.

(Image from Advizory)

1 Corinthians 12:12-26:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

So many times, this text is used in context for the church and its different members. But when I read it this morning the part that stuck out for me was more about the section from verses 15 to 20...the body parts bemoaning what they are not. It gets me to a topic that creates great sadness in my own soul--people psychologically shaping themselves to be "what they think others want them to be", and people (especially women) spending billions of dollars in the name of "beauty." Some while back, Elizabeth had a marvelous post on attitudes regarding female body image and the impact this has on society.

Although this certainly affects men, too, the statistics bear out that the vast majority of cosmetic procedures are performed on women. I was astonished to find that 75%--SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT--of women in the United States color their hair--the simplest and most innocently benign of "cosmetic procedures."

As a prematurely gray (and proud of it) person myself, I have found that statistic staggering. Why is gray considered an unattractive hair color for women of the age who have earned it? I don't need the hair color of my youth to feel young or energetic. I am not interested in being attractive to people who are so shallow and superficial I must appear more youthful. That's their problem, not mine. I have nothing against those who do color their hair; I simply just don't get it. Feeling good about myself comes from within, and from God, and our relationship.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2008, roughly 307,000 women underwent breast augmentation in the U.S. THREE HUNDRED AND SEVEN THOUSAND. Roughly a good size city. Three hundred and seven thousand women thought their breasts could be "more attractive." What about the heart that beats beneath those breasts? Isn't there something in there that has a beauty far beyond what fits in someone's bra?

In 2008, over 1 BILLION dollars were spent in the U.S. on cosmetic plastic surgery.

I realize in so many ways, this is as much a symptom as it is a statement of outcome.

The bottom line is all this is a symptom of, "There's something people don't like about themselves."

Well, gee whiz. There are a lot of things I don't like about myself, but in all honesty, they are things that live between my ears, and things that live under my sternum. That's not to say I haven't felt the pangs of rejection over being a rather plain-looking person. That's not to say I haven't been dissed physically in the presence of someone more attractive. That's not to say I haven't suffered someone who was supposed to be talking to me, while staring at someone else's boobs all the time. I have. It irritates me and hurts me at times. But in the end, I always come to the conclusion that someone else is being shallow, not me.

But I know for me, it is far more important to feel that I have an "attractive soul."

I think about the people in my life that I dearly love. It's not about their looks. It's about the earnestness in their eyes when they say something affirming. It's about the way their hands hold something of reverence or the way they touch another person with them. It's about the way pure heat radiates off of them when they do a good deed. It's about the holy radiance of one of their most honest smiles. It's about the security of a bear hug when we need it the most. It's about all the surprises of this life that they bring to the table.

To be what we're not--to be an eye when we are a hand, to be a foot when we are an ear--diminishes not just ourselves, but all of God's kingdom.

If we spent that one billion dollars on learning to be our real selves in the way God made us, to have the resources and the desire to have as beautiful a soul as we could, what would God's kingdom be like in this world?

I just don't get it, and I weep over what could be and has not yet come to pass.

Job 1: 13-19:

One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, 14a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, 15and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, 19and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”

Well...(thanks be to God)...I finished the Gospel of John. I was glad I stuck with it, but I kind of feel about it like I did about my Neurosurgery rotation in medical school...learned a lot but glad it's over.

I decided to move on to a different "J" book--the book of Job. I have always sort of hidden from the book of Job. It's a big dose of "when bad things happen to good people." It's definitely a book for grownups. But I continue to be struck by the importance of steadfastness in hearing the voice that reminds us of the awesomeness of God and His abundance to us in both good times and bad. Job, to put it mildly, was one steadfast dude.

When I read this chapter, thinking about when Job lost his entire legacy in terms of his own DNA with the death of every one of his children, all at once, I couldn't help but think of the Sullivan Brothers. They are a story of a family who gave "all they had."

George, Frank, Joe, Matt, and Al Sullivan were all from Waterloo, IA, born to Alleta and Tom Sullivan from 1914 to 1922. They all enlisted on Jan. 3, 1942, less than a month after Pearl Harbor, with the stipulation that they all serve together. Although the Navy had a policy about separating siblings, it was wartime, and five brothers serving together with a family motto of "We're Sullivans, and we stick together," were, frankly, the stuff War Bond Drives were made of. They were all assigned to the USS Juneau.

On November 13, 1942, during the Guadalcanal campaign, the Juneau was torpedoed and sunk. All five Sullivan brothers perished. Not all were killed instantly; reports stated Al survived for a day and George, for four or five days. In another sad twist, although over 100 sailors on the Juneau survived the sinking, a search was not immediately mounted as a B-17 crew that witnessed the sinking could not break radio silence despite spotting survivors. They reported it in their report, but the paperwork was lost in the shuffle. It was several days before a search commenced, and by then, only a few survivors remained; the elements and the sharks had claimed most of the survivors. Only ten crew members were rescued.

The military adopted the Sole Survivor Policy as a result of the deaths of all five of the Sullivan brothers.

As I read the first chapter of Job, I could not help but think of the burden the three uniformed messengers chosen for the task of notifying Tom and Alleta had. I could imagine them trudging to the porch, dreading knocking on the door, to have Tom answer it:

"I have some news for you about your boys," one said.

"Which one?" asked Thomas.

"I'm sorry," the messenger replied. "All five."

I cannot even imagine the tears and pain that ensued.

Tom and Alleta were left with one daughter, Margaret, and mercifully, Albert left a wife and a son.

But let's go back to Job.

Job had seven sons and three daughters. We are not told in the chapter if there are any spouses or grandchildren. But it doesn't matter. This is a guy who, if you read earlier in the chapter, loved his children so much he was always making burnt offerings on his children's behalf "just in case they had sinned." Yet, poof...they were all gone.

But this is just the FIRST thing that will happen to Job in this book. Much more woe is in store for him.

Yet we sure do like to throw around the word "all" in our ordinary daily decision tree.

"I gave it my all."

"That's all the money I can donate right now."

"This is all the time I have at the moment."

"You are all I need."

"This is all I can stand."

But how many of these actions are really "all" and how many should be loosely translated as, "This is all I CHOOSE to do about this at the moment."

Also, sometimes we use the word "all" and its derivations to take credit for ourselves or shift blame.

"This is all YOUR fault."

"I ALWAYS take out the garbage."

"I did it all by myself."

"You ALWAYS ride me about that."

It begs the large question. When it comes down to the things God expects of us, or we feel He may ask us to do, have we really, truly given it "our all?" Every heart, even the most righteous hearts on the planet, has to say "no" to that question, even if it is only once in a while.

Or what about the flip side?

When God promises He will give us all we need, are we prepared for an "all" on the positive side that is as big as the negative "all" as the loss of the Sullivan Brothers or the children of Job? An "all" that is as magnificent in joy as these things we experience as loss?

Again, even the most righteous heart on the planet would probably have to say "no" now and then.

Really, I have a feeling when most of us ask God for a satisfying life, or happiness, or peace, or contentment, we're secretly only asking for a content, un-challenging middle--simply for things that happen in our life not to rock the boat. We certainly are generally not asking for pain that takes us to new levels of awareness, nor joy so intense we have to admit God's grace, rather than our own efforts, in it. We're not asking for anything so good nor so bad that it presents a challenge to our faith.

If you peek ahead to the end of Job (it's okay if you do--I did), Job, as a result of his steadfastness in obeying God, will come to experience the positive side of that "all." May each of us have the courage to come to yearn for that very same "all."

Some of you know that last week I started EFM. The big topic in the online class discussion was that we had to come up with a metaphor for the lesson in the three years of the course represented. Year one looked at how worship and ritual kept the ancient Hebrews in touch with their identity despite multiple moves and cultures. Year two was looking at how the stories are framed in the Gospel of Mark. Year three had a timeline of people, events, and rulers.

One very astute person in the group (NOT me) came up with the metaphor of the Slinky, and we all glommed onto it.

As the discussion played out, I thought specifically about the Slinky in liturgical worship, as well as how our spiritual lives play out.

If you think about it, the Slinky is both solid and fluid. It's made of coiled metal. (Well, at least the good ones are. We're not going to address the crappy plastic ones.) Yet stored energy resides in those coils, which stretch and compress.

Those of us who prefer liturgical worship like a solid "form." We know week after week, when we take that Slinky out of the box on Sundays, what it's going to look like. Yet, once the liturgy starts, it is "fluid."

If you think about the liturgy, there are parts where energy is compressed and extended. The processional and the earlier readings cause a compression to get to the Gospel reading, which literally, in the Episcopal Church, is an "extension" because we process the Gospel book down the aisle and physically bring the story of Jesus to the people.

We compress the energy during the Nicene Creed, the Prayers of the People, and the Confession of Sin to prepare for another extension, the Passing of the Peace.

We do some more "compressing" as the offering is collected, the gifts and the elements of the Eucharist are brought to the table, and the table is "set." This results in another extension when the bread is broken and Body and Blood are offered to the people.

Finally, we have one more compression and extension of that Slinky--we compress in the Post-Communion Prayer, and then in the recessional, we extend that Slinky, through ourselves, as sacramental people, to the world.

Then, in looking at the same Slinky as a metaphor for our relationship with God, there is ebb and flow of energy. Sometimes, it seems very compressed, at other times extended...maybe even OVERextended. We choose directions for our life based on the gravity of it, just like putting that Slinky at the top of the stairs. We don't choose the speed of descent, nor its angle. We might feel we are going down the stairs too fast or too slowly. The angle that the slinky starts its course may result in it making it down the bottom of the stairs, or falling off the side of the staircase, or maybe just simply running out of gas and it sits inert on a stair. It won't go anywhere until something gives it a shove.

In that "moving down the staircase", there must be compression and extension--maybe even so much extension that we feel we are free-falling down the stairs. In the inertness, we beg for a push--even the "wrong" kind of push. We might see ourselves careening towards the edge of the staircase and know we will surely fall, and then it will be a matter of how snarled our Slinky will be, or will it ever be restored "good as new?" Or perhaps people or circumstances come into our lives and seem to maliciously stretch our Slinkys until they are "un-sprung," bent, or even broken.

Yet, we cannot forget the times the Slinky goes down the staircase perfectly, and we rest at the bottom only briefly before we yell, "WOO HOO! What a ride! Let's do it again!"

We compress in our quiet time with God, or in prayer, or in reading Scripture...and like the liturgical parallel of the church recessional, we extend the Gospel into the world.

So where IS God in the dynamics of the Slinky? Where's Jesus?

For me, God is in both the stored, coiled energy, and the form that is bounded by the circumference of the slinky. Fluid in His ability to synergistically combine with our own personal energies to create smooth motion, yet solid in form and within the boundaries of His own dimension--God's reign, as it were. Never mind that His dimension seems boundless to us in ours.

Jesus is there in those moments that we seem hopelessly snarled. I think about all those times as a child I had to "unsnarl my Slinky." I was always taking my Slinky to fearful Slinky places, living on the edge of what my Slinky could do, and always ending up spending more of my play time than I ought to in the act of unsnarling it. It was a never ending story of frustration. I'd play with my slinky for ten minutes and end up spending fifteen minutes unsnarling it.

Yet Jesus can unsnarl any Slinky.

The problem, of course, is that this never seems to happen on "our" time, but His. Again, this is a frustrating process. We always want to be unsnarled NOW, but to properly unsnarl a Slinky takes time, and may well leave a bent coil here and there. Jesus doesn't always show up to unsnarl us when we think he ought to be showing up.

But perhaps the biggest shame of all is when we never take it out of the box. All that energy, ready to go, and not going anywhere. Maybe others in our lives are fearful of the potential of that energy, and in their fear, keep us in our box. Much of the control in abuse and codependency is to keep things in their boxes, and never allow them to roam free. Maybe we fear it ourselves, because to come out of the box on our own, means risk. Risk of over-compression and risk of over-extension. Risk of falling too fast or going too slow and being stuck on the staircase. Risk of being dependent on others to give us a push, or slow us down. Risk of trusting others to set us correctly on the staircase. But to never come out of the box at all denies others of the power of the Gospel as it plays out in our lives.

I was looking for something in the garage yesterday and bumped into one of the old wheel bearings that had been replaced in my truck a year ago. (Ok. Don't ask me why I had not pitched a worn-out wheel bearing.) But it got me to thinking about an illusion I had carried for several weeks around the time I got it replaced.

When you are a person who "drives vehicles until they wear out," like I do, you get very sensitive to all the "new" creaks and noises they start to make. I had started to hear a noise in one of my tires, and had decided that probably the tires were starting to wear. As a person who keeps vehicles going well past the 100,000 mile mark, I develop "semi-intimate" relationships with various garage folks, tire folks, muffler folks, etc., in town. So I bopped in to see my buddies at Hunter Tire. They looked at the tire, thought it wasn't wearing that badly, thought maybe it needed balancing.

Over the next few weeks, the fellows at Hunter Tire and I were seeing an awful lot of each other. I was convinced the noise was coming from the tire. My adamant-ness that it was the tire, was convincing THEM it had to be the tire. Eventually, I ended up buying a new tire.

Imagine my irritation when even with the new tire, that noise was STILL there.

So back to Hunter Tire I go.

One of the fellows there stood and thought a minute, and said, "You know, maybe it's the wheel bearing." He started dismantling the wheel, and suddenly, staring back at us was a wheel bearing so worn, it was on the verge of crumbling. In a few days or weeks, my wheel would have fallen off. But I was so sure it was the tire, and so insistent that it was the tire, that I had convinced the experts not to look at the big picture and keep them all obsessing about the tire, same as me. I couldn't let go of the illusion that the noise was in the tire. It was an illusion that could have killed me.

It got me to thinking, as I looked at that worn out wheel bearing over a year later, that, in our various ways, we often covet illusions to justify something in our lives. These illusions tend to be "all good" or "all bad." The reality, of course, is that there is both good and bad in all of them. I think about this recent debate about health care in the U.S. We put some politicians on pedestals and make Judas Goats of others. We blame insurance companies, poor people, people with poor judgment regarding preventive health care, people on the opposite side of the political spectrum as ourselves, and talk radio hosts or columnists.

In all this debate, so few of us ever stop and think that the things we are absolutely cocksure about are not quite right. In our own ways, we might insist it is the tire, and refuse to think something deadly is happening in the wheel bearing.

These illusions stretch over many aspects of our lives, not just in politics. We become absolutely sure "what it is, is the way we see it." It sometimes takes years before the reality of things are revealed.

In our relationships with God, we often have "expectations" attached to our prayers. We are so sure we know "what God ought to do," and then when "it" doesn't happen, we don't see the full measure of the outcome. We are coveting an illusion that we know better than God what ought to happen. It reminds me of the old phrase, "Man plans; God laughs."

We all have difficulties with "trusting authority." It is hard for me to trust people who are "over me" in an organizational ladder. It's easier, I think, to want to be "God's buddy" rather than accept that God is the boss. Yet it is only in that realization that we can really discern what God wants for us, and to let go of potentially damaging illusions of ourselves.

Some of you know that I have been scheduled to re-visit my friends at the monastery again for some time now. My first visit was more or less about just getting used to the speed of the place, and the sense that time "bends." I came with nothing, and I left with something.

I heard a line in my online EFM class that stuck with me--that many parts of our spiritual development are about "making bread for the journey."

So one of the things the spiritual director here and I talked about was "what that bread was about for me." As we worked through this process, I came to realize that because so much of my spirituality is "physical"--always connected to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures--that perhaps a good exercise would be to literally bake a real loaf of bread that would be representative of this journey, share it, and eat it.

One part of this was to list the ingredients in the recipe and reflect on their symbolism.

We chose a recipe for "Companion bread." What is interesting about that, of course, is that the word "companion" literally means "someone with whom you share bread." I also got to add a few "extra" ingredients to personalize it. Here's the list of ingredients and what I decided that they represent:

Whole wheat flour and white flour: The most interesting thing for me is that a batch of this bread had a ratio of 2.5 cups of wheat flour to 1.5 cups of white flour. Flour is the staple of bread; the "ground of its being," so to speak. I think it would be safe to say that I am made of more "raw, unpolished, rough husk" than I am "polished finely ground product." So, in this sense, the base of this bread is very much like the base of me.

Water: The obvious connection jumped out here. We are all connected by the waters of baptism. Water connects us to everyone else, whether we want to, or not.

Sour cream: If you think of cream as the "top notch, richest part of milk," sour cream may well be representative of all the beautiful hopes and dreams in our lives that have gone sour. Yet the "tartness" of sour cream makes bland things tastier, and even gives food a hidden sweetness. In the background of the taste of sour cream lies a memory of sweet things. These memories keep us from losing hope, even in the face of "sour-ness."

Butter: I mostly thought about butter in two ways. It, like sour cream also is a "transformed" cream product, but its transformation is more positive than that of sour cream. In one sense, it represents the things that turned out better than we expected. The other thing I thought about was the lubricant properties of butter. Butter keeps things from sticking and burning. Butter, perhaps, loosens up the things I have more trouble with "letting go" than I can do myself. Butter has aspects of the Holy Spirit, in this way.

Brown Sugar: I again nod to its more "raw, unrefined," nature. Its sweetness is not as "classically sweet" as white sugar. It has a background taste of molasses to it--a "raw, full body" sweetness as opposed to a lighter, airier one. I think my friends would say I am incredibly sweet in a somewhat surprising way, and that sometimes "the angel springs from the curmudgeon" when you might least expect it. My own tastes run that I generally do not like "sweet things" but I do like things with an earthy hint of sweetness.

Wheat Germ: Wheat germ is the most nutritious part of wheat, and the most digestible. It has the most value in terms of our body's well-being. Wheat germ is very much like that little tiny mustard seed in terms of faith--a little bit packs a lot.

Grape-nuts cereal: I added Grape-nuts because of its representation of the mystery of God. Grape-nuts has neither grapes nor nuts-- it is made of wheat and barley--yet in its cooking, it develops a sweet flavor and a nutty aftertaste. Something you might also have not known about Grape-nuts is that it is one of the cereals that is most resistant to spoilage--so much so, it was added to jungle survival rations during WWII. As we grow in faith, it becomes more resistant to spoilage, no matter what befalls us in life.

Applesauce with a drizzle of honey: This Friday is Rosh Hashanah, and apples dipped in honey, representing the fruits of the harvest and a sweet new year. I added them partly because so much of what I historically understand about my Christianity is grounded in Judaism. Another part of it was because every day of our lives, we take our harvest up to that point in time, and live each next day as the first day of a "new year." It represents constant renewal in our spiritual walk.

Salt: By itself, salt is an irritant. Think about the phrase "rubbing salt in the wound." Yet without salt, we cannot live. Every one of our body fluids and every cell in our body has a tiny bit of salt in it--it is what makes us "isotonic." Salt also is the main activator of yeast in bread-making. It is what makes the favorable pH for the water so that the yeast culture grows to its maximum potential. That tiny "pinch of salt" is what also maintains our balance for life.

Yeast: Obviously, you can have bread without yeast. That's what Passover is all about. But few people prefer unleavened bread to leavened bread. What gives bread "life" is a living thing--a culture of dormant yeast, activated by warm water and salt. There are so many dormant things inside of us, waiting for that moment that, with the right combinations of ingredients, can spring to life and grow and reproduce, causing the world around us to literally rise and come into being. Yeast is the little grain of the Creator in all of us.

Next, I was asked to consider the sensory experience of this bread. As it cooled, it smelled warm and earthy. Each slice was heavy and solid--maybe a little too solid for those who like "light breads." I laughed, because sometimes I am a little heavy for people now and then. I found the taste full and satisfying. One piece of this bread was enough at a meal, I didn't have to overeat it to "get my fill." I thought about how God provides us with "enough." It might look like only "one slice of bread" but that one slice was "enough." Since I knew everything that was in it, I realized I could not taste everything in it as individual things--but it had a taste all its own.

Much of this bread is "indigestable material." It will pass right through me, unchanged. Yet indigestable material is indispensible to our well being--particularly our digestive tract. The parts that will be absorbed will mostly, be very healthy. Wouldn't it be great if in our lives, we could simply extract the healthy things, and let the indigestable things go right through us, and not try to grind them up in our GI tracts and give us a belly-ache? What a prayer that would make. What lives we would live.

Some of this sharing of this bread is virtual--I can't feed my readers a piece, but somehow, I have managed to "share this bread" just the same, in the communion of the blogosphere. Thank you for letting me share it. I enjoy sharing bites of your bread, too!

Galatians 6:1-18

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads. 6Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. 7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

11See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. 17From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. 18May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Today is Holy Cross Day--a day for "recognizing the cross." The devotional in Forward Day by Day really caught my attention today. It talked about how we all see "The Cross" differently. Some of us see the risen Christ as the Cross of Glory. Some of us see the Crucifix, and the pain of the passion. Some of us see an empty cross, as part of the Risen Christ. This might even go down to things like our choice of religious jewelry, or what kind of cross we prefer behind the altar. The way the author framed the devotional made me realize that we probably recognize our own crosses fairly well, but probably are not so well attuned to the crosses of others.

I am starting to just begin to understand that listening carefully for others to tell what their crosses are, is a very important part of that. Not necessarily to agree, or judge or even help. But I am starting to realize that true compassion is grounded in "holy listening." I am getting ready to go off on another monastery trip, to learn some more about this "holy listening."

Many of you know that Harry Truman is my hero. Sure, I love him because he was from Missouri, I love him because he was plain spoken in that rural Missouri kind of way, but most of why I love him is because his plain spoken life allowed a window for me to see his earnestness and his crosses.

I often think about a letter and a Purple Heart that was found in Truman's desk in the Truman Library after his death. It was from Mr. and Mrs. William Banning of Connecticut and read as follows:

Mr. Truman,

As you have been directly responsible for the loss of our son's life in Korea, you might just as well keep this emblem on display in your trophy room, as a memory of one of your historic deeds. One major regret at this time is that your daughter was not there to receive the same treatment as our son received in Korea.

William Banning

On this Holy Cross Day, may we all better understand the crosses of others.

Job 37: 14-18:

“Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God. 15Do you know how God lays his command upon them, and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine? 16Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of the one whose knowledge is perfect, 17you whose garments are hot when the earth is still because of the south wind? 18Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a molten mirror?"

Perfection. God is making it pretty clear to Job in this passage that the only place around the joint capable of perfection is God. many times do we personally get hung up on "Being perfect?"

I will be the first to tell you that I spent a lot of my younger years shooting for perfection.

I wanted to be the valedictorian of my high school class. (I wasn't. I was #4 in a class of 113. This was because I had to make a value judgement a couple times in school to take the "harder" class because I needed it, vs. an "easier" one to pad my grade. I discovered years later that the "real" valedictorian in our class often deliberately chose the latter over the former. I at least had the satisfaction I had made the "gutsy" choice, even if I "lost" as a result of it.)

I wanted to graduate summa cum laude from college. I didn't. (Magna cum laude.)

In the middle of my family's codependent dysfunction, I strove to be "the perfect child," "the family favorite" to avoid ridicule, shame, and abuse. (It didn't work.)

Guess what? I survived anyway, despite being imperfect, sometimes even thriving despite imperfection living next to me.

Yet, I catch myself, at times when I am not feeling so comfortable in my own skin, trying to be "perfect" in an attempt to self-justify I'm okay. I still like being the first person to tell someone "Happy birthday/Merry Christmas/Happy New Year." I shovel the church sidewalks in the winter, and suddenly it's not about just shoveling the sidewalks, it's about ours looking better than First Methodist and First Christian churches. I still like making the "big diagnosis."

Now, sometimes I get that way just for sheer entertainment. But when I am not totally feeling up to snuff about myself, I catch myself doing it because I NEED to feel that way.

This is a tad paradoxical. I'm perfectly content with my physical imperfections. I don't mind my minimally chipped tooth (even had my crown deliberately chipped a hair to match the real one), being gray doesn't bother me the least, being a plain dresser and having very plain looks doesn't faze me. My attitude about these things is "Screw it. If you don't like me the way I am, you can just go to Hell."

But my PSYCHOLOGICAL imperfections or my COGNITIVE that's another story.

I confess I sort of like being "the smartest person in the room" or "the toughest person in the room," or the "most serious person in the room," or the "funniest person in the room," depending on the venue. When I am in a room full of people where there seems to be no real line of control or authority, it is my tendency to assume that control, or assert that authority.

These things are not all bad. The good side of it is that is what we sort of look for in "natural born leaders." But the flip side can be devastating. It can create lines of control when none is really needed. It can start the chain reaction to what I find is one of my most repeatable sins...the sin of how "pervasive perfection"--a need to control a situation in a way that conceals the secrets of our own flaws--takes over and replaces our true selves with a myth of ourselves--and we start to think we are "disappointing others." We can no longer live up to our self-imposed expectations. We often blame others for that imperfection within ourselves, when in reality we are mostly fearful of disappointing the myth we created for ourselves.

Those lines get a little blurry in the day-to-day of real life. We all do it. Something's not right about us, and our need is to be a little more loved by those around us. So we try to be "perfect" in some way, in the hopes that will get us noticed and positively stroked. Taken to an unhealthy degree, it's the currency of codependency. Even in a healthy venue, it's simply a way we create a persona that we think has the potential to be loved better than our normal flawed one.

But here is one of those Very Big Realizations I have now and then (that I never ever call "epiphanies", because, as you know, I don't have epiphanies, only prophets have epiphanies ): The people who love us--TRULY love us--love us not because of our perfection, but because of our IMperfections. The love comes from our flaws in our own secret hearts linking to the flaws in the secret hearts of others. When we are the angels in the lives of others, we are not loved for our wings and white robes. We're loved for our rusty, bent halos. We're loved for the things we did DESPITE our nature. We're loved for that moment of "Aw, shucks, you got me." We're loved for our changes of heart when we had no reason to change them but sheer grace.

This might be the part we never quite get, when we try to have a loving relationship with God. We get hung up on God's perfection and our lack of it. Sure, God digs it when we try to imitate him. But when we actually start to think we can actually ATTAIN it, that actually separates us from God. We forget that He comes to where we live, and to who we are--flaws and all. He MADE us flawed. He KNEW that from the get-go...and he's okay with it.

I always think about how we have the Genesis story all screwed up about that tree of knowledge of good and evil. The standard version of the story is we were all perfect till Eve screwed us all over because she was beguiled by a serpent. I think the story is more about the things we all know are inside ourselves and are going to take a bite of sooner or later--that this tree just simply represents a branch of our own humanity. We eat from a lot of trees. The tree of "self vs. others." The tree of "happy vs. sad." The tree of "hungry/thirsty vs. sated."

In that, God--and those who matter to us--love us for as much of what we're not as for what we are.

(Photo courtesy Dallas Arts Review)

I've been doing something this morning that is very atypical for me. It's Labor Day, not Easter, and I have been thinking about the Resurrection. For me, that is kind of like leaving my Christmas lights on the house until July. I basically don't think about the Resurrection much, although I would be the first to tell you we are "constantly resurrected people." But the truth is, my mind does not bend well in the theological sense of any of those words like "Transformation," "Transfiguration," "Resurrection," and "Ascension." Sure, I know their theological definitions, but I'll be the first to tell you that my brain can only deal with them when I see the effect of these words on the lives of others, or in my own life. True scientist that I am, I can only fully understand what I can put under direct observation.

Yet, that expanding mystic in me is becoming more and more okay with believing IN the Resurrection, even if I do not understand the wheres, hows, and whys of the theological details of it. Sometimes you smell it in the air, like popcorn at a movie theater. Sometimes you witness its effect in the answering of someone's prayer, or your own. Sometimes you only see a faint light at the end of a long dark passageway, but know that as you continue forward, the dark will fade and the light will emerge. But it does not change the fact that resurrection cannot be trapped like a lightning bug in a jar, studied for a while, then let loose to fly where it will.

But there is no doubt...for resurrection to occur, there has to be a trial, a crucifixion, a death, and a burial. You can't resurrect what ain't dead. You can revive it, but you can't resurrect it.

For some reason today, I thought a lot about the things in my life that fall under the category of Life's Big Uncertainties. It must be the synchronicity of the liturgical season again--we are now in the doldrums of the "long green season" of Ordinary Time/Time after Pentecost--with Advent still a good 2 1/2 plus months away--and it seems so many of my blogfriends are wrestling with one or more of Life's Big Uncertainties. Fran is answering all the hard questions of her life, Renz is trying to make sense of his recent onset of middle-aged medical maladies, Elizabeth is watching the gears start to shift in the progression of her brother's dementia, and Ruth continues to exist daily on financial manna, instead of the security of a regular paycheck. Mimi asks, "How did I end up here?", Jonathan continues to wonder if a parish will ever take him as their own, and Lisa seems...well...kinda quiet, which is not typical for a person who has a lot of passion about social issues.

I know I've left some of my blogfriends out, and I apologize if you didn't make the short list. (This is why I hate making lists--I always leave someone out, and feel crappy when I do.)

But with the concept of "thinking about rebirth" almost a season away, it creates a lot of room for us all to become enmeshed in our various funks. Mine, I guess, is just that I moved here nine years ago, with the idea that the move would make my life more "stable" (and believe me, in many ways it has) but with that stability, also came a running string of one after the other of Life's Big Uncertainties. The things you thought you knew, you didn't. The things you thought "would always be there" are not. The things you came with are not the things you leave with. People die, remarry, suddenly end up with custody of their grandkids, get dementia, move away, get divorced, or simply shuffle their decks and start to play different cards in the hands that make up the poker game of their lives. It's not even that they are all "bad" changes. They're just changes.

Figuring out where I fit in this grand shuffle is not always easy. I have a tendency to make sure everyone else at the table has enough to eat before I feed myself. Some of that is for healthy reasons, some of that is for unhealthy reasons. The healthy reason is because I really do have a desire "to treat everyone like Christ" in true Benedictine fashion. The unhealthy reason is because I was taught, a long time ago, to take care of other people's unhealthy, dysfunctional needs, so learning the borders of what "normal" vs. "dysfunctional" is, hasn't been one of my "Life's better lessons."

So, what tends to happen is, instead of being dormant and "revived", I end up having to go through trials, be crucified, die to it, and bury it in the hopes of a resurrection--not trusting in a "sure thing." Some of these things have, honestly, so far, remained dead. Sometimes, I have to wake up with the acrid taste of blood in my mouth, or smell the putrefaction of unburied dead things in my nostrils before I even recognize it's being crucified or has already died.

But here's what I have discovered: When I think about all the times in my life I have weathered Very Big Uncertainties, no matter what they are--life, work, love, family, church, friends, avocations--if a resurrection has occurred, it is almost always a surprise, and when it's least expected. You also will never recognize the resurrection if you are not visiting the tomb. The first emotion when people see resurrection is often not joy, but fear. It might take a while to realize it's a resurrection vs. a theft. We know what we have when something's dead. But do we know what we have when it is suddenly "gone?" Usually not.

It takes the recognition of that "resurrected thing" in its transformed state, to see it for what it is. It takes the prior tears of grief for its death. it takes the pain of its crucifixion, and it takes the time necessary for the trial to play out. In real life, the resurrections of these things seldom take three days. They might take weeks, months, years. Yet we time and time again short circuit the processes of our secret hearts by putting time clocks on our lives, and expectations of performance.

I watch the lives of my blogfriends play out on my computer. I watch my own life play out day by day, moment by moment. I so often want to hit either the "rewind" or the "fast forward" button on the DVD player of my life and theirs. But we simply don't have the access code to make our remotes work. Only God has the code. The buttons are merely placebos. We can only trust, pray, and hope. Yet we see empty linens and shrouded used facecloths everywhere. Miraculous.

Mark 24-30:

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

I have an odd visual in this story that is the parallel in my own life. My house, as you know, is a ways out. It is about a 15 minute drive from my house to church, about a 20 minute drive from my house to work, and about a 30 minute drive from my house to the south edge of Kirksville. Basically, people do not hop in the car and run over to my house without calling and first seeing if I'm home. When I lived in Columbia, I also lived a ways out of town, and it was a similar time frame to get to my house.

So, for the fourteen years I lived there, and the nine years I have lived here--a grand total of twenty-three years--I think back, and at most, there were probably no more than three dozen times anyone ever came out to my house unannounced. But when they did, it was almost always bad or stressful in some way. Someone had died, someone had left someone, someone had a financial crisis, or someone was just in a tremendous amount of stress and "had to talk to me." The other odd thing was, more often than not, I was not in the greatest of moods when it happened, or was tired, or half-sick, or busy with something. These episodes hardly ever happen when I am in a more "ready" or "receptive" mood. My first thought was more often than not, "Oh, man...why are you coming to ME with this?"

Yet, somehow, I always found the "where-with-all", as we say in these parts, to deal with it.

I look back on those times, and honestly, most of them, I did not do my best. I still can turn my mind back and fret that I didn't "do it as well as I should." Yet I have this odd feeling if you asked the people who had shown up unannounced, they might tell you I might have been better than I thought I was. Maybe I am not totally being fair to myself.

But I do know that when I think about those episodes as individual episodes, I can recall I felt myself becoming strangely calm in the face of these other people's desperation. I might have simply "known enough not to be harsh." Maybe it was merely the "lack of harshness" they were counting on in me...not advice, not affirmation, not agreement. Many times I could NOT agree with them. Sometimes my answer was, "yeah, you screwed up." But yet I became filled with the sense that, "for some reason, they've come to me, and I have to honor that act."

But when I read this part of the Gospel today in preparation for my worship at church, I can feel how Jesus must have felt. I also tag-teamed and read the Matthew version of this. I imagine Jesus and the disciples were tired. They were holing up and wanting to rest before heading out and about, down the road. So here comes this woman. I am betting money Jesus was"Oh, lady...why are you coming to me with THIS right now? I'm tired. I just don't have it in me to go traipsing over to your house or risk being seen by the crowds and dealing with all these friggin' people."

But the woman is so humble, so earnest, that she puts herself at the level of crumb-snatching dogs. She'd take a bread crust, a wayward scrambled egg-let, a crumb of bacon, a blot of jelly. I can kind of feel what must have come over Jesus--that very same quiet resignation I've felt when people come out unannounced with their crisis, that turned into a desire on my part to "simply be kind." In his turning around of his own resignation to kindness, her child is healed. I can see him kind of wearily saying, "Go home...she's fine," and maybe smiling and patting her shoulder or her face.

I think back to my own episodes like this. I almost always start out acting badly. I'm irritated, I'm annoyed, I'm fed up, I'm angry. But...eventually, I looked at the people who were so stressed and said something like, "It'll all work out how it is to work out somehow," or "I'm glad you came to talk to me about this," or "Yeah, you screwed up, but I'm not going to badger you. You're going to be your own worst enemy on this, and I won't add to that," or "I am mad as hell, but I'm not going to act on my anger, because you came to me because you trusted me, and we'll get through this somehow."

In other words, even the times I felt I didn't "do it right" in these episodes, I somehow still managed to "act like Jesus, at least a little bit." Maybe not as well as I could, me being a terribly flawed human being and all, but at least I was in the ballpark. That's pretty humbling.

I am starting to learn the power of just "simply being kind" when every part of me wants to blow up. There is no doubt, I'm a volcanic sort of personality at times. I have always had trouble "holding it in" when I reach my limit. But I am realizing a change in me over time. (My "conversion of life," perhaps?) In thinking back about some of the most desperate moments that other people have come to me, they seemed to know I possessed something I did not know I had myself. They were willing to "weather my storm" anyway to get to that good part.

But I am learning that part of the way to cool my own volcano is rather than rage against the forces that are bottled up inside me, to open the vent of "simply being kind." To try to hear their burden as best I can under the circumstances and be kind in terms of recognizing their burden, no matter how I personally feel about their burden or its impact on me.

Plato probably said all this better and more succinctly than I have..."Be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Ok, there is no doubt, come College Football season and College Basketball season, I bleed black and gold.

I grew up with Mizzou football in the Dan Devine era, and Mizzou basketball in the Norm Stewart era. Norm grew up one county away from me in Shelbyville, MO. If there is any "religion" that competes with my Christianity, it is Mizzou football/basketball, and St. Louis Cardinal baseball.

In fact, I chose Mizzou for medical school simply for that prospect of good season tickets as a student. My career in medicine had nothing to do with it. I turned down an acceptance where I presently work, the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, because I had also been accepted at Mizzou. Ten thousand dollars less tuition and season tickets won me over.

I dearly love the Mizzou fight song. It was also the fight song of my high school, Macon High. I bet if you cornered me, I can hum every part in the fight song--the melody AND the countermelody as played by the trombones (one of my high school beaus was a trombone player.)

So why post this on a blog that is mostly about spirituality?

My friends, it's all about LOYALTY.

Sometimes I think about the concept if I could be as loyal to God as I am to Mizzou football, I would not have half the worries I have.

You know, I know EXACTLY when the Mizzou football season starts and ends. I know every Saturday, for several weeks, my boys are going to be locked in conflict with another mortal enemy (Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma being the most mortal of them all.)

But when do I know God is going to show up? That's the hard part.

Back in the day, when I was a Lutheran, I used to joke that the song "This is the feast" was the "Lutheran fight song"....

We sing this once in a while in our church now, but I'm sorry, Episcopalians doing it...well, as they say on the LOLcats and dogs, "Ur not doin it rite."

It needs to be sung with a more "in your face, Devil!" attitude. We do okay, but we just don't quite "get it right."

However, I do laugh. You can look around the sanctuary and see who's "expatriate Lutheran." They don't look at the hymnal.

So....I ask you, dear readers...

What's your "fight song for God?"

Proverbs 16:16:

"How much better to get wisdom than gold!
To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver."

This morning, I took a nice quiet "weed walk" down my dirt road, and I weeds have now moved into "The golden season."

In July, my roadside was an ocean of blue, from the chicory, which gave way to a little white from the Queen Anne's Lace and the beginnings of gold from the sunflowers. But we are in full bore golden along the roadside now, which, in few weeks will give way to just a bit of purple as the fall New England Heath Asters make their annual appearance.

But both sides of my road this morning waved a brilliant golden path, and sang a voice that said, "Fall is coming...but not quite just yet. See me now, and feel rich. Take me in, before I begin to slumber for the winter."

So I got to thinking...

Where is the "gold" in my life?

OMG. I'm richer than Solomon, if we are not including bank accounts.

So here is my list of the "golden" things I can think of this morning...

I have never gone without my first cup of coffee in the morning for over a year. That first swallow is definitely golden.

I live in a place that is filled with as much solitude and quiet as I desire, should I choose not to invade it with noise.

I have views of open fields, green pastures, and a night sky in which I can still see the Milky Way.

I have two wonderful dogs, who frustrate me to no end at times, and turn around and shower love on me when I least expect it.

I have friends, real and cyber, who sometimes humble me with statements that I would never ascribe to myself. Yesterday, one called me "an angel with muddy feet." It is a little hard for me to accept being any kind of angel at all, but to call me an angel in that particular way, I can kind of handle, because it speaks to the flawed human-ness that dogs me at times. I so sometimes don't want to be quite so human. But that statement reminded me it is precisely my human-ness that makes me lovable to others. As we say in golf, "It's not your best shots that make a great round; it's how you play your bad shots."

I have a job I love, even though I realize at this point in my life, I will not have the stamina or the mental energy to do it forever at the level I am presently doing it. In some ways, I feel as "at the top of my game" in my job as I ever will. But I am starting to feel the loss of my ability to multitask, I am starting to feel the annoyances with "the system," and I know to enjoy this part of my career NOW, and begin to explore what "the next great thing" is for me.

I have a sense of purpose, even though I am not always sure exactly what that purpose IS.

I have enough money in the bank that I can live happily below my means and have money on the side to give away some to whatever or whomever I choose to help. It is a blessing to be able to write a $250 check "on a whim." When the Kirksville Tornado hit in May, a medical student I'm a little closer to than the others, lost all the contents of her house. I was able to whip out my checkbook, write her a check, and say, "Go buy some stuff. Don't say a word, except 'Thank you.' You don't owe me a dime, just remember this someday and do exactly what I am doing for you."

I have a sense of loss. Loss for those who have passed on before me. Loss for the things I wish I could have done differently. Loss for those close to me, who are still close, but moved away, and we don't have the same level of interaction that we used to. If I did not have that sense of loss, I would never know the things in my life that are the true riches in it.

I have a growing sense that time "bends." It teaches me what "living in the moment" really means.

I have the spectacle of a mini-microcosm of local nature--bugs, bees, hummingbirds, hawks, owls, possums, deer, raccoons, mice, moles, voles, butterflies, toads, and ticks. All I have to do is sit in my yard, be still, and let the show unfold around me.

I have the ability to "entertain myself" by observing. Being alone is almost never boring for me, unless I just get in "a mood." I crawl outside of myself and observe nature and people, and time can literally fly in those moments.

I am blessed with this strange "dual brain" of mine. One half of it is intelligent and practical. It analyzes, dissects, sees the world in a no-nonsense sort of way, and takes no prisoners when it comes to "real" vs. "fake." The other half is incredibly perceptive and absorptive. It is the dreamer, the poet, the imagineer in me. It finds the things that lie behind all the things the other half of my brain dissected. It tells me the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I think these halves of my brain often squabble, and the practical half might be a little jealous of the perceptive half. The perceptive half feels a little dependent on the practical half to make a living, and feels a little subdued now and then.

At this very moment, while I'm composing this, I'm in the yard, and above my computer screen, in the hazy sky, is a turkey vulture riding the drafts. No one is ever going to give a turkey vulture a blue ribbon in a beauty contest. But as it lazily rides the currents, it circles and glides and seems content with the beauty of its own ability to ride the wind effortlessly.

It's telling me that this weekend is not about packing as much activity as I can muster on this three day weekend, it's about simply riding the currents and only adjusting my wings enough to enjoy the ride.

This is as golden as it gets.

Once again, I have to tip my hat to our dear Elizabeth. She's done it again.

I have many blog friends, and I continue to marvel at their brilliance, their insight, and their intimate views of their world, as well as their ability to share these gifts with no fear. But Elizabeth seems to have the unique ability to throw a post out there now and then that reaches through my chest wall, grabs my heart, and twists and squeezes till the tears come out. She managed to outline the paradox of "Christian values," She lays out several examples that illustrate the dichotomy that has permeated my own spiritual quest--the quest to become "fully human" in spite of all the seeming "opposites" that exist in our world, each flanked by its own moral value.

In fact, go read her post first (linked above) and THEN come back and read me. I won't mind.

Okay, you're back. Thanks for returning!

You know, we tend to think that each moral value we know as a "good" value stands alone, that the only opposing value to a "good" moral value would be an "evil" value. Alas, such is not the case. "Good" values can stand in opposition to each other.

For instance, one could argue that releasing the "Lockerbie bomber" on compassionate grounds so he can die of his metastatic prostate cancer in his homeland is a good and compassionate thing. However, to some of the families, this is an insult, to allow the man who killed their loved ones to roam freely, despite his sentence. Each of those positions is flanked by something we Christians would call a "Christian value." Compassion for a dying man, no matter what his sins, on one hand. The understanding of the need for victims to have a sense of safety and reconciliation on the other hand.

There's no way, unless we chose to live under a rock, and never think, that we can live without this paradox of values. To quote Mark Twain, "There's a little bit of larceny in all of us." Truly good people episodically do bad things. Good people bend on their taxes a little, they cheat on their spouses now and then, they become hard-hearted when they shouldn't, things can make them feel mean, spiteful, and jealous. The list is endless.

We do a constant dance between our woundedness and our own abilities to wound. But somewhere in the middle of that are all our best qualities...our compassion, our ability to love, empathy, mercy, forgiveness...this list is also endless.

Often, as Christians, we sense that we need to "become more like Jesus." But we tend to be thinking of that in terms of "we think we should become more like 'divine' Jesus." We sort of forget about "human" Jesus.

"Divine" Jesus would never speak a cross word, would heal everyone he saw, would always turn the other cheek, and would suffer all the slings and arrows dealt him without even a peep of disapproval and with all the composure of a true martyr. We start thinking we ought to be like that guy.

But we forget this is the same Jesus who wept at the grave of Lazarus one day and opened a can of whoopass on the moneychangers in the temple on another. "Human" Jesus was capable of being fully sad AND thoroughly pissed.

I am learning in my own life, as I plunge headlong into middle age, the answer is NOT to be this spiritual version of Mr. Spock--human on the "good" human parts, divine on the "good" divine parts. It denies the fullness of "me." It's about accepting ALL my humanness--warts and all, as well as accepting ALL of my "spark of the divine." I, like a lot of people, tend to think I am not worthy of my own divine spark. Well, that is such bull, isn't it? It's denying my greatest gift from God!

It doesn't make this labyrinth of our values any less convoluted, but what it does do is teach us to accept the dead ends, the dark corners, and the blind passageways, knowing God is in the mystery of it, and we are as much a part of that mystery as He is.

This movie was on the tube when I was sort of "napping, laptopping, and TV watching" in intermittent bursts over the weekend. I had not seen it in some time. It's probably been a couple or three years. But one of the fun things about "not having seen a movie for a while" is having fallen out of your "usual pattern of thinking" during the movie. At least for me, it sometimes leads to new realizations about a movie you thought you "knew."

"Alien Nation" is basically a sci-fi twist to looking at racism. Earth now has a population of space refugees from the planet Tencton, politely called "Newcomers" but mostly referred to with a new racial epithet, "Slags." (They were slaves in the mines in their past lives.) Although "ordinary Americans" more or less accepted them, it bred a new sort of racism (planetism?), given the fact they look odd, are smarter and more adaptable than humans, and have the very interesting and laughable habit of getting blind stinking drunk on sour milk. James Caan plays a detective, Sykes, who loses his partner in a gun battle, and Mandy Patinkin plays his new partner, Francisco, the first Newcomer to make the rank of detective. They work together (and gain new insights about each other) while uncovering a Newcomer "drug ring". (The problem is, by American standards, it's not a drug. It's more or less detergent--and how do you regulate a "detergent cartel" with existing drug laws?)

When I've watched that movie before, I've always thought of it in terms of the way it presents racism. But this time, I found my mind reflecting more on "Seawater's effect on the Newcomers."

Seawater, you see, is like battery acid to the Newcomers. This becomes a key feature in the movie (WARNING! Spoiler alert!) because, in order to save Sykes, Francisco must perch himself on the runner of a helicopter and reach down into the water to save Sykes.

The movie shows a lot of views of the ocean in ominous tones. The power of seawater's effect is shown to the viewer when a Newcomer stoolie "gets his due" by being tossed into the ocean by the film's "bad guy." Its effect on the Newcomers is illustrated when we see Francisco, in one scene, stand on a hill and watch a crime scene near the ocean, that he really ought to be at, from a distance. Unbeknownst to Francisco, Sykes, while working this crime scene, sticks up for Francisco when other detectives start teasing Sykes about Francisco's fears.

Well, what got me to thinking about this facet of the movie is that the ocean, which we humans often see as a place of peace, mystery, and depth, is a place of fear, hellfire, and eternal damnation to the Newcomers. Touch it, and, like the Wicked Witch of the West, they melt.

That in itself is a point to ponder.

How many things in our life, things we connect with, trust, and enjoy, are objects of fear to someone else? It's kind of like how everyone seems to put either mustard or mayonnaise on a pile of sandwiches, thinking "everyone eats them like that", and for me, who loathes both condiments, the smell of even ten parts per million makes me wrinkle up my nose and suppress a gag?

I realize that even in myself, some of the things I now do on a regular basis--sit quietly and contemplate in my prayer time, be alone with my thoughts during long evenings or my "Silent Saturday Mornings," were once fearful things to me? I thought the only kind of prayer I could ever possibly do, was spoken prayer.

For me, the ocean is a place of wonderment and awe--so much so, I re-create it in the pastures I traverse through on my various local road trips, and make my "green ocean" in my mind. But to others, the ocean is a place of fear, unfathomable dark bottoms, a bottomless pit. to the Newcomers in the movie, it is a place of death and annihilation.

Learning to respect another's fear and not force your lack of it upon them is not an easy task. For some, even gently trying to lead them to it won't work, not if in their heart of hearts what you view as comfort they simply cannot move beyond "blind fear."

Then, there is the moment in the movie where Francisco knows, that to save his partner, he must stick his hand in the ocean. What he cannot do for himself, he can do to save another. Yet this act is not totally a "happy ending"--to do this means he WILL be burned, scarred, maybe even permanently disfigured. Yet, at the end, Sykes and Francisco are both changed, in their attitudes to each other.

Hmmm. "What he cannot do for himself, he can do to save another." "He will be physically destroyed in some way." "Yet--he is transformed, while still carrying the scars."

Ooooo, this sort of suspiciously sounds like the Passion, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection...doesn't it?

I think back and recall all the times in my life I have "walked through my own valley of the shadow of death". Many times, I could not have done it "for myself." It took the needs of others, or the powers of things bigger than myself to do it. Sometimes, I have been badly burned by it. I may still carry the scars--the nail holes of my own crucifixions. Yet, in looking back, I am transformed, in a good way. I cannot deny the joys of those transformations any more than I can deny my nail holes.

Perhaps this is the backstory of this movie--to respect fears but be aware of powers beyond ourselves to move people to plunge their arms into the battery acid of their own fears, and be transformed despite the scars. In that, there is no "wrong move" in life, no "bad decision", no guilt, no regret--only the hope of resurrection.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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