Poem: Ladies of the Church

I posted my piece on the ladies of the church last week, and my friend and former colleague Mary McElveen and also former Poet Laureate of the City of Alexandria, put this on her blog.

She wrote, I wrote [this] for a friend who was asked to say a few words about a lady at the church who died of cancer. Gloria was one of those indefatigable volunteers, and probably has heaven organized and running like a top.

Thank you for letting me post your poem, Mary. Every church has its church ladies.
They are legion,
the church ladies:
the hands that smooth the tablecloths, brew the coffee,
bake the cookies, make the sandwiches,
arrange the flowers.

They think of everything,
then do it.
They are the voices on the phone
the fingers on the keyboard,
the gentle nudge
reminding, recruiting,
reorganizing and regrouping—
doing the things no one has time for,
for the people no one has time for… and for us all.

They are all things good:
secretary and sorceress,
chauffeur and counselor,
teacher and student,
greeter and galley slave…

And I can’t help thinking that if Jesus is among us,
He is cleverly disguised
as a church lady.

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Raindrops and Blessings

Raindrops and Blessings

I don’t know if you have ever considered that there are indeed silver linings to dark clouds. I have always admired people with positive attitudes and an optimistic faith that everything will work out for the best, and try my best to have such an attitude and such a faith, although I would have to say that I often fall short. Lately, though, I’ve been connecting problems or shortfalls with blessings and opportunities. I don’t want to be unrealistic about losses and grief and suffering: they are real and they cause hurt and distress. But, if we look for the blessings that come with raindrops, I believe that we will be blessed.

Last week, I was not feeling well, and, making my usual round of errands, could not find a parking space anywhere I went that was, as we like to say, in Centreville. I was mentally grousing to myself when suddenly I thought, “Hey! I can get a few more steps toward my 10,000 for the day! This cloud has a silver lining.”

And, as some of you know, I have been doing small repair jobs around the church. And it seems that most of these become unnecessarily complicated and difficult. I’ll try to think of the tools and materials I need and bring them, but invariably it seems that I need something else. So, I have to go home and get it or force myself to go to Rice’s Hardware and buy it from them. So, there’s a blessing already. In addition, I have learned how to deal with paint that won’t cover a previous coat, how to unfreeze rusted nuts and bolts, how to replace a fluorescent fixture without shocking myself too badly, and how to adjust an automatic door closer, among others. As the kids say, it’s all good.

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned some important principles from my experiences that make life easier and help preserve sanity. One is, a job takes about twice as long and costs twice as much as you expect. Count on it. Another is, take every tool you own to a job. You’ll need them. And, know when to quit for the day. If you force yourself to forge onward, you ruin the project or break something, which might just be yourself.

I know that many of you bear heavier burdens than I will ever know. My wish and prayer for you is that you see rainbows and blessings among the raindrops. They’re out there. You can count on it.

Finding What We Seek

Seek and Find

 

Jeremiah 9:12-13: Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

I don’t know if you’ve ever looked for something and it turns out it was right there all the time, but not where you expected to be. Let me explain. I was rehabbing the screen door on the Rock cafeteria at our church last week, and wanted to replace the hardware cloth that protects the screen portions of the door. If you don’t know what hardware cloth is, it’s neither hardware nor cloth, kind of like the children’s string figure game, cat’s cradle. I did that for a child once, and she said, “I don’t see a cat or a cradle.” In truth, it doesn’t look much like either one. I’m pleased to report that Jacob’s Ladder does look like I imagine the real one did, except it is made of string. Not much climbing on that ladder.

Anyhow, hardware cloth is a kind of minor-league fencing material, made from wire (the hardware part) which are welded together in a lattice pattern (that’s the very loosely woven cloth part). It’s used to present a barrier to small things like rabbits or ducks. It won’t stop a tank, but few things will, other than another tank. Mercifully, we don’t have too many of those coming at the Rock kitchen door.

So, since hardware cloth comes in rolls, my first task was to unroll it. It’s very stiff, and the roll is held in place by a wire wrapped around it. I could see the wire, and surmised that it had a beginning and end somewhere (most things do, except for those that are eternal, which wire is generally not). I further supposed that the ends of the wire were twisted together at one end of the roll, which was a reasonable supposition. It was also incorrect. I couldn’t find the closing at either end. So, not wanting to take all day to open the coil of hardware cloth, I started cutting the wire at various places with some metal shears. Soon I had bits or wire flying through the air. ( I was wearing safety glasses while I was doing this, and so should you when you are cutting wires or using a striking tool. Everyone loses when we play games with safety.) As the hardware cloth, freed of its restraining wire, started to uncoil, I noticed the juncture of the wires was in fact not at either end, but in the middle, where I had not been looking for it.

All this, I thought, had to have a spiritual dimension. And it doesn’t. Sometimes we are looking for fulfillment or happiness or meaning and we think we know where to look while, as I found out, we don’t. It is when we are engaged in the work of the Kingdom that we find what we are seeking, and that is the presence and spirit of Jesus Christ. As Albert Switzer famously wrote near the end of his book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus,

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

Amen. Seek and you will find.

The Pride of Man

explosion

Ezekiel 28:2: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.

Now, normally, I am not an apocalyptic sort, either sociologically or theologically, but this week there seems to have been some reminders that all our achievements and all our accomplishments as humans (which are many and marvelous, have no doubt), and not the be-all and end-all of our existence.

There was the woman whose car was forced off the Bay Bridge after being rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. This in spite of safety laws and measures on the bridge.

The nose wheel on a Southwest 737 collapsed on landing at LaGuardia airport. Southwest flies this aircraft exclusively and probably there are more of the type flying than any other passenger jet today.

And then there was the terrible derailing of the Spanish high-speed train with at least 78 lives lost.

Each of these tragedies involved some amazing engineering. Each involved a failure of some sort, probably a combination of human and technological factors.

This is indeed a beautiful world in which we live, fully of marvelous things. But it is also a fallen world, prone to accident and danger and harm. We are not gods, and when we act as if we were, we find out differently. Praise to the one true God who reigns on high!

 

A Child Shall Lead Them

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Isaiah 11:6: And a little child shall lead them.

I met a mother yesterday who told me heartbreaking story of her daughter’s illness, painful decline and death at age 10 from bone cancer. She told the tale and recounted its effects on herself, her younger daughter and her husband and their lives with honesty and courage.

Alyssa died on New Year’s Eve of 2012, and her mother Lynn and sister Lexie have told her story on the CaringBridge website. Here is a link to her page (you might have to sign up for an account, but it’s well worth doing so): http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/alyssadivers

God bless them all.

O Beautiful

O Beautiful 2 Chronicles 7:14: If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

America

 Founded by eighteenth English colonial aristocrats who used seventeenth century British philosophers and classical figures and forms of government as their guide

 Whose signature foods (frankfurters and hamburgers) are named after German cities, even if they didn’t necessarily originate with German immigrants

 Whose educators educate (or attempt to educate) every child, regardless of origin, status, position, ability or income

 Whose national anthem originated as a poem written under fire by a detainee during the War of 1812 and then set to the tune of a popular British club song

 Where most people welcome diversity of race, culture and religion

 One of whose most beautiful patriotic songs was written by a poet after seeing the vista from atop Pike’s Peak.  She rode up on a mule.

 Whose citizens sacrifice their sons’ and daughters’ blood and lives for the cause of freedom and justice around the world

 Whose troops, once the war is over, do not permanently occupy a land but return home to resume their lives

 Whose people reach out and help rebuild countries they have defeated in war

 Whose political process most closely resembles a free-for-all but which results in progress for the common good

 Whose society has social, cultural and political problems but works to solve them

 Whose people give generously to those in need, no matter who or where they are

 Whose citizens do not live in a utopia, an Eden or even a city on a hill, but who are making progress toward that ideal

 Whose national music was created by those brought to these shores out of their suffering, pain and hope

 Whose music is diverse, energetic and ever fresh

 Whose music was taken in by a bunch of young British kids in the ‘60’s and brought back to these shores in the British Invasion, changing the face of popular music forever

 Whose military serves the people and the President and not the other way around

 Whose system of justice works to guarantee rights even to the dispossessed, the powerless and the unpopular

 Whose people enjoy unparalleled freedom of expression, association and mobility simply by virtue of living here

 Where people come from all over the world for opportunities that do not exist in other places

 Where the airplane, the light bulb, Velcro and Post-It notes were all invented

 Whose scientists and engineers sent men to the moon, not to claim it as territory, but in peace for all humankind

 A place where rags to riches stories do come true

 Whose writers have produced a literature that is profound and authentic, drawing on unique American experiences

 A place of deep faith, hard workers, incredible resources, incomparable natural beauty, and immeasurable blessings

 What a country! God shed his grace on thee!

Gone Too Soon

Photo courtesy of the Blue Ridge School

Photo courtesy of the Blue Ridge School

Revelation 21:6: He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

I don’t know if you have as much trouble as I do when a young person passes away suddenly, either from an accident or illness or, worse yet, senseless violence. Maybe it’s because I taught high school for long, or maybe it’s because we had children of our own or maybe it’s just a human reaction to the suffering causes by such losses. I have a hard time with it.

Such is the case with the brutal murder of 21-year-old Andrew Pochter, who was stabbed in Alexandria, Egypt, while he was witnessing the riots there and taking video of them on his cell phone. He was mistaken for a protester and died soon after in a military hospital.

Young Andrew was there teaching English to children and improving his Arabic. He was raised in a combination Christian/Jewish household and had come to embrace the Jewish aspect of his life recently. Here’s a link to a story about his faith journey: http://forward.com/articles/179578/slain-college-student-andrew-pochter-driven-by-jew/

And here’s one about his murder in general: http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/30/us/egypt-pochter-profile

The death of a young person for any reason or by any cause is tragic: it is worse when the young person is young, idealistic, and trying to do some good and help others. I pray comfort for Andrew’s friends and family, and that the Great Comforter will embrace him and say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”