20 April 2019


I was working in my garden and set a tool down near me and got up to take my bucket of weeds to the compost bin. When I returned, I realized that while the tool was easy to find when I was nearby, it became nearly invisible when looking at the entire garden.

That shift in perspective was dizzying.

As we move from Lent into the events in Holy Week, we enter one of the busiest times in the church year. Between the plethora of church services that lead up to Easter and the packed lectionary that includes some of the most powerful and exciting scriptures there is a lot going on physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Add to that social and cultural Easter events such as Easter egg hunts, making Easter baskets, and brunches with family and friends and it can be easy to be caught up in running from one event to another.

I see bits of this in the scriptures as the story moves from last Sunday's triumphal entry into Jerusalem with palms waving to the upcoming crucifixion, death, and resurrection stories.

There are the details of two disciples who are sent to get a specific colt for Jesus to ride. It is not just any old colt; it is one that in a particular location and that has never been ridden before. There are the details of the crucifixion story that give us the Stations of the Cross.

It is easy to get caught up in the details of day-to-day tasks; just like when I am weeding, all I see are weeds, and I feel that there is no way I can lose my tools. However when I stand up and take a moment to stretch, those details fade quickly into the new perspective of the garden as a whole. The tools and the weeds are in there somewhere; but, for the moment they are no longer the focus.

As we move through the story of Jesus in this Easter Season, it can be good to take a break from the details of the story, the services, and the events.

Look up, and see the wholeness of the Easter story and the grace we receive through it.

15 April 2019

Righteous Anger

Then Jesus entered the templeand drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written,

               ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
               but you are making it a den of robbers.”

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heardthe children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

               ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
               you have prepared praise for yourself’?”

He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
~Matthew 21:12-17

Throughout the gospel readings we see the story of Jesus play out; and, while he often seems to be vexed or frustrated at the disciples and other followers who don't seem to understand his message, we only see him incandescently angry once, and that is in today's reading where he confronts the money changers in the temple.

As a Christian, I frequently got the message, both explicitly and implicitly that I wasn't allowed to be angry and that I was supposed to love everyone and not be confrontational.

I don't think my experience was unique, but I do think it was amplified by my being female. There was additional societal baggage that said that girls should be quiet and well behaved and never, ever angry. So even if I was angry, I should never show it and I should, in particular, neverconfront someone* with my anger.

Due to the two-fold message, from the church and from the world, that it was wrong for me to feel anger, I spent much of my teens and early adulthood mistaking anger for sadness. I didn't even really know how to identify anger as separate feeling. Over time I went from identifying anger in myself, to realizing that anger was just a feeling. It was not good or bad in itself, it was what I did with it that mattered.

Eventually I learned that there was a place for expressing anger and for confronting others. That place is in standing up to oppression and injustice.

When Jesus confronts the money changers. It is with the righteous anger of one correcting an injustice. He overturns the tables of the money lenders and drives them away using anger and fierce confrontation; but that is not the end of the story.

The confrontation, in driving out the money lenders, has made space for the blind and the lame to come to the temple. Jesus welcomes them and heals them. They can come to him freely without the need to change money to buy a sacrifice. Jesus has removed a barrier between an oppressed and disadvantaged group by using his anger to confront an injustice.

Like comedy and workplace gifts, anger should always flow upward. If I'm going to use my anger as fuel to confront a person or an institution, they should be more powerful than me or the group I am trying to get justice for. 

I see this in the reading. Jesus directing his anger at those who have monetized worship and who are profiting, in particular, off of the poor and disadvantaged. He then directs his service and compassion to the blind and the lame who come to him for help. Jesus does not spread his anger about or explode in a rage at the person nearest to him. He channels his rage at a specific target, and to effect a specific result.

Anger, when used as a motivating force to act for justice is not bad-- any more than pain motivating one to go to the doctor is bad. Anger is a sign. Anger can be prophetic.  Anger, when used a tool, can be a powerful force for positive change. 

*Just to be clear:  the 'someones' I shouldn't confront were usually white, male, and authority figures.

Bible citations are from Bible Gateway using the NRSV text.

06 April 2019

Scarves for All Seasons

Seven years ago, my mom, daughter and I went to France. It had been on mom and my list of places we wanted to visit, and mom suggested that my daughter should come with us. 

Overall it was a great trip—especially considering we had a 13-year-old, a 43-year-old, and 70-year-old travelling together. We were there in September so Paris was not as crowded as it might have been. 

There were many highlights (and a few lowlights) to our travels together. One of the great things was that mom had arranged for us to stay with an American friend of hers who was living in Paris. Thanks to her generosity we were only a bus-ride away from central Paris. Each day, we would get up and see the sights while the friend was off at work. We had to stick together because mom had the key to the apartment, I had the cell phone, and my daughter could speak French. 

September in Paris is a lot like September in the Pacific Northwest. It can be rainy and cold or bright and sunny; but there is always an undercurrent of cool air, even on the warm days, just to remind one that winter is not far off. We had packed accordingly, but once Mom's friend saw our gear, she suggested that we get scarves to keep ourselves warmer. Apparently, the French wear scarves a lot more than we do (or at least my family). We wear scarves in the winter when it's really cold, but it hadn't really occurred to us that they could be worn year-round andthat they would make such a difference.

It was a revelation. If I was chilly, I could wrap my scarf around my neck and suddenly I would feel much warmer and more comfortable. If the wind was blowing, I could wrap the scarf over my head and ears. 

By the time we left France, all three of us had acquired the scarf habit.

Since that time, I have acquired more scarves.

It is a tiny thing, but it has made my life more comfortable. Just today, I was feeling chilly, so I wrapped up in a small silk scarf a friend gave me for Christmas. It is a wisp of a thing, just perfect for a spring day where it's not quite warm enough out unless I was working vigorously in the yard. Even so, it kept the chill off easily.

A regular spiritual practice can be like wearing a scarf. It doesn't have to serve the same purpose throughout the year (or even throughout the day). 

The habit of doing it regularly makes it easier to adapt to changing conditions. It also doesn't have to be a big production. A ritual of prayer can be as simple as pausing for a moment to be fully present, or it can be a habit of giving thanks for the little joys of life. Like a scarf it can be warming and comforting, and can help take up the strain of daily life. 

I know I have sometimes fallen into the idea that there is a right way to have a daily spiritual practice and evolved complex rituals and rules for myself. What I found, over time, was that those rituals and rules got in the way of daily contact with the divine. Now, instead of waiting until I have time to get out my prayer book and a candle (and whatever else I felt was necessary at the time to pray properly), I pause and pray in the moment. I give thanks for the flowers that are opening on my apple trees, or I share my worries and concerns with God. 

In the past, I limited my use of scarves to very cold winters and didn't see a use for them during the rest of the year. Then I learned how much better life could be if I embraced them year-round.

As with my scarf use, I learned it was comforting to connect with the divine every day. I didn't need to wait until Sundays, or the and the big seasons in the church, or follow a complicated prayer ritual a home. I could wrap myself in God's love and grace and be comforted.