BETH'S BLOG

Friday
Jun192015

We weep

 

When I was in fourth grade my best friend Tudy and I had an idea.  We were bored.  It had been a long summer.  Madison, Wisconsin is a cool town but by August we had pretty much done everything that there was to do. So we decided that we would have a “speech supper” and invite our parents.  We would cook the food and then each of us would give a speech to our parents.  We would have it in the basement where we could set up chairs for our audience.

 We carefully planned a menu and were somewhat disappointed when our moms volunteered to prepare a lot of the meal, though I am sure they did a better job than we might have.  After all, we had speeches to write.

 Being a 5th grader, and having an older brother, Tudy could see what lay ahead.  So in preparation for adolescence her speech was about parents being too strict and making too many rules.  The applause was strong, though you could see some nervous looks on the faces of our parents who did, after all, have a lot of rules.

 I got up and opened my speech with a question.  ‘Do you think segregation is right?   I paused an then exclaimed, ‘Well it isn’t!”

 Now I was no specially gifted or saintly child.  I didn’t come up with that on my own.

 I learned from my family.  I learned from my church.  I learned from my community.  I learned that segregation and racism were wrong.  Just plain wrong. 

 I remember that now and hold on tightly in the wake of the horror in Charleston.  I remember that in 4th grade I had already learned from my family and from my church and from my community that segregation and racism and hatred were wrong.  Just plain wrong.

 So as I think about Dylann Roof I cringe and weep.  I will never know what psychic fog led him to decide that killing 9 people was necessary.  I suspect that there will be lots of speculation about his mental state and his mental illness. 

 But somewhere he learned who should be the target of his attack.  Somewhere he learned that being an African American was unacceptable.  Somewhere he learned that he had the right to take lives simply because of the color of their skin.  And to make his murderous ravaging evil more dramatic, he chose a church where the people were studying the word of God.

Clearly all of us have a job to do.  It may be the most important job before us.  Somehow we have to speak and live in a way that tolerates no such hatred.  No such racism.  We have to remember that all life matters and in this time and this place…#BLACKLIVESMATTER.

So I pause in prayer to honor and remember and weep for those who were killed:  Rev. Clementa Pinckney.  Rev. Sharonda Singleton.  Myra Thompson.  Tywanza Sanders.  Ethel Lee Lance.  Cynthia Hurd.  Rev. Daniel L. SimmonS, Sr.,  Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor.  Susie Jackson. 

May they rest in peace.  And may the rest of us not rest until there is peace.

 For we are the ones who know the truth of the words from my friend Louis who himself has been the object and target of racism…..

 NO MATTER HOW EVIL THE BEHAVIOR, GOD IS A GOOD AND AWESOME GOD. EVIL CAN NEVER OVERCOME HIS LOVE.‪#‎GODHELPUS

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
May132015

NONES too soon

 

 

The first time I heard the expression was when we were on a telephone call making plans for a conference about how to live in a multi faith world.  We discussed the various faiths that might be represented in various workshops and on panels.  And we talked about who might be interested in coming.  Church people, we agreed, and clergy.    Seminarians and religion majors, of course.  Those who had been church people but hadn’t been lately and those who were reconnecting with a church or a synagogue or a mosque or a temple.  Naturally. 

 

My friend the college chaplain then added, “And we need to think about the nuns.”  I startled a bit.  "The nuns?"  I asked.  “Yes,” she said, “they are increasing in numbers all the time.”   “Really? Why that’s quite hopeful,” I said, having thought all along that religious vocations were rapidly declining.  “Hopeful?” She asked incredulously.  “Yes,” I said.  “The Catholic church has been struggling finding priests and nuns for years.”

 

I heard a giggle from her hone.  I heard a chuckle from her boss.  I heard a loud guffaw from the other committee member.   Soon enough they were laughing so hard they couldn’t speak.  Finally someone explained.  “not N U N S, Beth.  N O N E S.

The “nones “ are the ones who are increasing in numbers.  The “nones” are the ones without religious affiliation, and they come in a bunch of different varieties.  There are the atheists and the agnostics, though they are a smaller number.  There are the “Spiritual but not religious,” who are numerous enough to have their own category on internet dating sites.  There are the “I believe but I’m not involved.””    And there are those who “are just not into it.”

 

All of which suggests that those of us who are something instead of nothing have a job ahead of us.  We have in myriads of ways connected ourselves  with an organized community of faith.    It matters to us.  That connection in turn connects us with each other and connects us with God.  We are gather to worship the God we know and seek the God we don’t know well enough.  We do what we can to share God’s love by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and visiting the imprisoned and giving the thirsty something to drink.   We listen to each others' sorrows and we jump with each other’s joy.  And we pray for each other, carrying each each upon our hearts and seeking God’s  presence with that person.

 

And we know that our lives are richer for this.   We don’t have all the answers to anything but we have a place where we can safely answer the toughest questions.  We aren’t the best behaved of all people, but we know where we can find forgiveness so that the guilt that tortures us can be thrown away and we can begin to live our lives again with new meaning and new purpose.   We have a place we can come where we are welcomed and where in some way God feels close to us.  We have people we can turn to for help when the world seems to be turning away with disinterest.

Now we simply figure out how to speak and live and work in a way which is convincing, and which offers all those “NONES” the same deep sense of purpose that we hold.  We need to talk about the One we follow who takes us down tough paths that require great things of us as we commit ourselves to bring God’s goodness and love to people who have been trodden upon and ignored and oppressed for too long.  Our lives might not be perfect but we must have the courage to live so authentically that even our blemishes are colored in truthfulness and we can be trusted as someone who cares.

 

So join me in thinking and wondering and praying, join me in sharing and living in loving and compassionate ways.  Join me in seeking justice and mercy not only for myself, but for all those around the world—no matter how they know God or whether they know God.  Because after all—God knows them.  Let us simply make the introduction!

 

Tuesday
Apr282015

Magic moments

Sunday nights have always been special for me.  When I was growing up, in the olden days, we went to church and had our dinner at noon with meat and potatoes and all the fixings.  Sometimes we even went to the Madison Club with my grandparents where we had meat and potatoes and all the fixings including sherbet between courses.

Which meant that Sunday night suppers were even more fun.  We visited Grandpa and Grandma in the afternoon for an hour or so, whispering while Grandpa watched golf and quietly passing the candy dish which was always filled with chocolate bridge mix.  Sunday supper was sandwiches and potato chips and ice cream treats.  Then we watched Lassie and Disney and the Ed Sullivan show.  It just couldn’t get better than that.

When I got older the ritual changed but only for the better.  Sunday nights were our church youth group nights.  We would study and pray, of course, but we also sang and laughed and made friendships that have lasted for years.  Bethany Methodist church made its mark. 

Even in seminary there were good times on Sunday nights.  The dining hall was closed so we would gather in someone’s suite for dinner, or go to a local pizza place and giggle our way through the evening for our last breath of relaxing before a tough week of class began.

Once working in the church Sunday nights have meant nothing more and nothing less than a chance to totally relax after a day of worshipping and meeting and greeting.   The hardest part is deciding which of my favorite TV shows to watch since it seems that they are all on at the same time.  I manage.  

But now Sunday nights mean even more.  Now Sunday nights  mean prime rib.  Now, it isn’t that I have prime rib every Sunday night.   But the Sunday nights when I have, are, well magic.

Because it isn’t just any prime rib.  It is prime rib at Fleming’s Steakhouse.

It all started in 2009. The only red meat my dear husband would eat was prime rib. Flemings only serves prime rib on Sundays.  Our anniversary was on a Sunday.  We had a gift card for Flemings.  Really, a no brainer.

And we had a wonderful wonderful evening.  We could not have known then that it was our last anniversary before he became ill but I don’t think we could have enjoyed it any more than we did no matter what. 

The first anniversary after he died Teddy was wise enough to know it would be hard for his mom so he took me to Disneyland and out to dinner.

But that second year I remembered Flemings.  As luck would have it, I had another gift card.  So I went there –on a Sunday night--for a prime rib dinner.  It might have looked as if I was eating alone but Paul was there every moment and those moments were sweet and sad and wonderful.

Another year passed and I knew it was time to go back on a Sunday night. This time, I took old letters and anniversary cards and  lots of pictures .  I brought my journal to write down random memories.   When I was seated the server asked if I was celebrating anything.  At first I said no, and then I told her my story.  And proceeded to have my Caesar salad and sautéed spinach and prime rib (medium rare) with crème brulee for dessert. 

Once again, it was a wonderful evening.  I remembered good times and bad times and love times and mad times.   I stared at pictures and laughed at letters and wrote down things I was afraid I might eventually forget.   Then when I was finally ready to leave the server asked me if I needed anything else.  ‘Just the check” I answered. 

And she said ‘Oh, this meal is on me”  I stared.  “This meal is on me,” she repeated. In that moment I realized that she understood.  I wasn’t needy.  I wasn’t pitied.  But she understood.  She got it.  And in her few words my lovely evening became sacred.  For the first time that night I began to cry.  I was, as I said in a sermon, transformed.  I was transfigured.  And I may never fully understand how or why.  But I will never be quite the same. 

A few weeks ago I went back to Flemings.   I had my Caesar salad and asparagus and prime rib (medium rare) and, of course crème brulee.   As  I finished my meal I called the manager to my table.  I told him what had happened the last time I had been there.  I thanked him.   This time he was the one with tears in his eyes. 

So Sunday nights are still special to me.   And you can be sure that every now and then you will see me sitting in that steak house with prime rib on my plate, gratitude in my heart and a deep sense of the mystery and wonder of the divine. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Sep302014

Magic Moments

They don’t happen often but when they do we hold on and cherish.   They don’t happen often but when they do they sparkle our lives for quite a while. 

I’m talking about those magic moments--the magic moments which blindside us with a joyful surprise or an unexpected visit or a treasure that once was hidden. 

It was just last week at the Fairplex Child Development Center annual auction.  My son Teddy started at the CDC when I started at Pilgrim Church so I have been attending auctions for the past 21 years.

And they are really incredible events.  There are usually around 500 items in the voice and silent auctions and the proceeds often exceed a quarter of a million dollars.   Needless to say the bidding is serious and the bids are big.  But every now and then I get something special. 

Our first year there was a patio table with an umbrella and four canvas director chairs donated by Pepsi—with a life size cardboard cutout of Shaq O’Neill thrown in.   The early interest was obvious but we really really wanted it so we wrote down our name by the minimum bid, and then sat down in the chairs. Could we help it if people thought the table was part of the room instead of part of the auction?   And it still looks very nice on our patio…. 

But it was this year when I truly had my “magic moment.’  I had helped set up all day and had scoped out everything pretty well.   So I knew there wasn’t anything I couldn’t live without but there were a few things I liked.  My chances of getting a Dodger baseball ticket package worth $1000 seemed remote.  But when I arrived I went to see where the bidding was.   It was amazingly still within reach. But while I was on the phone with Teddy to see if he wanted an early birthday present I watched it being bid way beyond my limit. 

As I turned away something on the same table caught my eye.  It was a face I knew very very well, a face I had known since I was a young child in Madison, Wisconsin.  The eyes looked at me with the same gentle look I remembered.  The bat looked just as impressive.  And there was the autograph I would have recognized anywhere.

It was a signed picture of Milwaukee Braves third baseman and 512 career home run slugger Eddie Matthews.  

I had loved Eddie Matthews.  He was my first hero.  Though I could recite the statistics for all the greats on the team he was the one I loved the most.  The first hardcover book I bought with my own money—and I could barely read it—was The Eddie Matthew Story.  When we played house he was my husband.  I even wrote a song to the tune of “Davy Crockett” which I sent to him care of the team.  It didn’t even hurt my feelings that he didn’t answer.  After all, I still know the words and sing it sometimes in the shower or in the middle of a fit of nostalgia.  (Eddie, Eddie Matthews, king of the best baseball.  Eddie, Eddie Matthews, king of the best baseball.  He plays third base he’s best of them all.  Boy watch him clobber those balls o’er the wall.  Eddie, Eddie Matthews, king of the best baseball.) 

So I put a bid in on the picture.  And from what I hear I got a pretty good deal as far as the value of baseball memorabilia goes. 

But I got a  better deal than any amount I could get selling it on EBay.   Because now Eddie Matthews is in front of me, reminding me about hard work and great promise.  He is in front of me, reminding me of the love of baseball I got from my mom, and the bemused generosity of my dad who gave me a chore to earn the money to buy a book he would have wished had been about opera or history or anything but sports.   Now he is in front of me taking me back to a time when  ball games were on radios and players didn’t do drugs and baseball was indeed the national pastime.

Yup, his picture is right here in front of me.  And it is next to the picture of another third baseman  who has the same kind and gentle eyes, the same love of the sport and the same passion to work hard and to do well.   He didn’t play in the pros but he did darn well for the Claremont High Wolfpack and the Pomona Pitzer Sagehens and even the Brussels Kangaroos. 

Both of their pictures are in front of me because Eddie and Teddy are my heroes, reminding me that legacies last a long time and love lasts forever…

 

After all, God so loved the world…that he gave us his only son.

 

Monday
Nov252013

Breaking News

I haven’t blogged in a while.  It isn’t that there isn’t anything to say, it’s just that well, life happens.  Stuff gets in the way.  But despite the coming Food Fest on Thanksgiving, despite the preparations for Advent,  which is appropriately the season of preparation, despite the Bible  to study and the prayers to write and the hymns to choose and the house to clean and the groceries to by for the Food Fest on Thursday…

The headline on the back of the sports page in the Daily Bulletin cannot be left without comment:

“Rousing Sermon wins On Trust.”

Who would have imagined?  And reading the headline, what could it possibly mean?  Is preaching now a sporting event?  Are sermons rousing because somebody simply trusts that they will be so?  Is it the re-dawning of a new age when people actually know what a sermon is and/or have heard one recently that is “Rousy” rather than “drowsy”?

The first paragraph explains it: 
“Rousing Sermon won the $100,750 On Trust Handicap on Sunday at Betfair Hollywood Park”  (Inland Valley Daily Bulletin Monday, November 25, 2013)

So Rousing Sermon is a horse.  And the article continues to describe the details of his victory.

Which only asks the next question—why would anyone name their horse “rousing sermon?”

And the next question—if I preach a really rousing sermon will there be a check for $100,750 awaiting me? 

I suspect those are questions that will remain unanswered.  But once I get past the thought of making so much money in just a few minutes it does cause me to pause as I realize that….

Somebody thinks hearing a rousing sermon might be a way to win a race.  Somebody thinks preaching a rousing sermon might be a way of leading a stable full of people to a victory .  And the prize for that victory might be more than $100,000.  It might even be priceless.

You see…

Horses that win races are well bred.  They are trained carefully and relentlessly.  They are ridden by jockeys who know their every move, can trace each muscle, can tell immediately when their animal is caught in the middle of a pack, or is limping at the end of the line, or is, as in this case, racing towards the finish line ahead of everyone else.  The jockey is the one who guides and nudges, encourages and compels  his horse.

So just maybe, all of us, whether we preach the Word, or teach the Word, or hear the word should take heed.   We need to make sure that we train ourselves carefully and relentlessly to know the truth of God and follow the path of his son.   We need to  be so strong we don’t end up loping along at the back of the pack.  We need to be so confident  we don’t get stuck in the middle of the pack.  We need to be so brave that we can wisely and steadily move to the front of the pack.

As we prepare for the race we need to pay attention to our trainers so that we not only hear the Truth but live the Truth of the God who claims us and owns us.   As we enter the race we need to pay attention to the one who knows our every move, who can trace every muscle of our soul and  count every hair on our head.  And as we finish the race we need to pay attention to the One who guides us and nudges us, encourages us and compels us.  For then we will discover that when the race is over, we are standing in the Winner’s Circle where the prize is a love that never ends and a life that lasts forever.

 

For as 2 Timothy 4:7 proclaims   I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith!