Better Butter

They say that no good deed goes unpunished.  I say that sometimes no bad deed goes unrewarded.

It began last week when I came home from camp.  Apparently, unbeknownst to me, my black dog, my  big bad boy Blue had found socks in my suitcase while I was unpacking.  We have had this problem in the past so I am usually on sock alert.  You see Blue eats socks.  He doesn’t chew socks or hide socks.  Blue eats socks.  But poodles are smart and Blue is sneaky.  He snuck in and got some.   Needless to say, the next few days were I spent lots of worry and lots of money making sure he was okay.   Although it took several days in the doggie hospital surgery was avoided.  And so, I promised will socks.  Be avoided.

True to my word I unpacked my bag from  my quick trip to Santa Barbara to perform a wedding carefully,  in the bedroom, with the door closed.  I took the laundry out and put it immediately in the middle of the table out of reach.  No socks available.  No fiber available.

But my dogs are tricky, and I got careless.  So worried I was about socks I didn’t think twice about leaving the butter on the counter so it could reach room temperature in case I wanted to bake (see blog “Cookie Dough).  And sure enough when I walked into the living room there were Rookie and Blue with butter still on their noses.  Bad Dogs! I yelled.  They politely cringed.

And I sighed.  I knew that this meant that sometime way before I wanted to get up, the boys would have to go out.  So we went to bed a bit early, and slept quickly and well.

Until 4:45.  A.M.  Between the butter they ate and the water they then had to drink (it was the salted kind of butter) it was inevitable.  Out we went. 

And there, above me, was God’s artwork.  There as bright as could be, shining with wild brilliance in a perfect line stretching across the sky  were Venus and the crescent moon and Jupiter.  Couldn’t have seen it so clearly any earlier.  Couldn’t have seen it at all any later.   By the grace of God and two naughty dogs I was there at the right time just before the breaking of dawn.

As I stopped and simply gazed I suddenly thought how incredible is our world.  Here I was seeing what we tiny humans have seen for millions of years. The far away planets and the stars and the sun and the moon connect us from the past to the present and into the future.  And at the same time  we are getting close up pictures of Mars, sent from the inquisitive Curiosity rover which landed on the red planet in perfect precision and which will unveil even more mysteries of the universe   All because of the intelligence and insight and imagination that God has given us and which and allows us to marvel more deeply at the intricacy and beauty of God’s creation.

The Psalmist wrote:  When I look at you heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor…O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

And I saw it all because of a stick of butter.   Amazing.



Three never works very well.  As they say “three’s a crowd,” and as soon as there are three there are really two and one.  We chuckled about it when I was visiting my friends a few weeks ago at their beach cottage as we watched their three dogs try to adjust to the weekend space.   It was Molly and Polly.  It was Polly and Biscuit.  But it was never, never,ever Biscuit and Molly.  And never the three of them playing together at the same time.

Which really shouldn’t have surprised me.   In junior high there were three of us who were ‘best friends” until two of them decided that my honest answer to their questions about how we could improve our friendship (include me more often I suggested) meant that suddenly I realized that one really is the loneliest number.  I see it in families all the time, including my own.  Anytime all three boys were together, no matter what the circumstances there was a constant dynamic and competition to see which two were close,  which two would gang up, which one dad liked best .

But then there was last week.  Every year Pilgrim has a camp at Cedar Lake which is just outside of Big Bear.  There are children and youth in cabins, and adults in the lodge.   The schedules are busy for both groups so I usually do my run/walk/waddle early early in the morning. 

And I usually head for my sanctuary.  We call it “Windswept.”  It is a large formation of rocks and boulders with pine trees as a backdrop and an almost aerial view of Big Bear Lake before us.  For over half a century campers have scampered up the rocks for their evening vespers and despite the number of children it is always so quiet that soft spoken prayers of wee voices can be heard. 

It is a sacred place as the sun begins its setting and the worshippers end their praying and their singing.  They leave just as quietly as they came, their voices silent until they turn the corner on the path and head back for campfires and skit nights and dances.   Then on the last night  a smaller group arrives much later, when the only light comes from twinkling stars and however much light the moon has decided to shine.  High School students walk silently in flashlight procession, climbing to the top of  Windswept where they receive Holy Communion in profound reverence and deep and faithful silence.

But this time for me was early in the week and early in the morning.   The sun was just stretching its waking arms in a colored streaked dawn.  I sat and looked.  Sitting quietly is not my usual style but I can silence myself in that place.  So I did.

My mind took a while to slow down and quiet.  But gradually that mountain top world captured me.  Lost in thought and no-thought I almost didn’t hear.  A slight movement.  A wee rustle.  I turned to look behind me and saw a deer.  The first deer I had ever seen at Cedar Lake.  The deer stood absolutely still except for a slight turn of its head, looking around, not at me but further through the woods.  Then suddenly it scampered away towards the other two deer who had suddenly appeared. Watching them I realized that  the three of them together were complete as they ran along the trail in perfect rhythm. 

Suddenly I found myself laughing at my threesome superstitious sayings.  It was the vision of those three graceful deer and the words that came back to me:  “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”   So if two’s company and three’s a crowd maybe that crowd isn’t so bad after all.  For we pray “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Amen.


The Power of The

When I was growing up in the safe and sweet city of Madison, Wisconsin life seemed pretty simple and secure.  We could run out and play and not worry about strangers.  We could line up for Red Rover in the middle of the street and not worry about cars running us over.  We could wait til it got really dark and take the peanut butter jars with candles inside and go “lanterning” without wondering what evil lurked in the night.

And we kids on Hillside Terrace  had defined our world and its boundaries pretty well.  If mom needed milk, we would walk to “the store,” as long as we were headed to the A & P.  If they wanted us to go to Piggly Wiggly then we would walk to “Piggly Wiggly.”   When we had a long summer day we would bike to “the park” as long as it was Lucia Crest.  If we were on our way to Hoyt Park, we would go to “Hoyt Park.”    When I was going to see Barbie and Patty or Mary Frances I was going “across the street.”   If I was going to Joanne’s two streets over then I told Mom I was going two streets over.

I realized the other day that some things never change.  Now I still go to  the  store as long as it is Von’s.  Otherwise I am on my way to Trader Joe’s or Stater’s.   I have no park in my current claims, but I take the   car as long as it is my Rav  and not Paul’s Metro. I do go to the  drycleaner’s as long as it is the one next to Sprouts.  If I go to lunch  is often the hotel as long as it is the Sheraton and not the Shiloh or the Doubletree.

So The has a meaning, at least for me, that  one wouldn’t expect the word ranked most common (at least by Wikipedia)  in the English language to have.  “The” speaks what those in my world can leave unspoken.  It assumes what we share as an assumption.  It gathers my most familiar places together and roots me and brings me home.

Then I also realized that when I am going to work I am going “to the church.”  But when I am going to worship, I am simply “going to church.”  Without any the.  Which leads me to believe that there is at least one place that belongs to all of us, at least one place that roots all of us, at least one place that brings us all home.

And then I remembered the words of my son when we were thinking of selling our house,  or changing his school.  He grimaced as he thought about how so much he knew might change.  Then, after a few moments he suddenly relaxed.  “But Mom,” he said, “My church will always be there.”

God willing, a fair wind, and the work and prayers of all of us and his church, our church, your church will, always, be there.



Freedom's Light

It is her day.  Even though she certainly isn’t anyone you would expect could such an impression.  First of all, she is old, so old that she has had to have various body parts replaced and the work and recuperation have always been quite lengthy.  And she is big, really big—in tune with our new worry about obesity but at odds with fashion magazines and high end models. But, as I always used to say about myself, it isn’t so much that she is fat, she is just “big boned.”

More worrisome is her skin color which  is not good.  Not good at all.  She has a green tinge to her which must indicate a disease or condition of some sort, though most diseases and skin conditions end up being yellowish or rosy.  None the less, there she is.

She isn’t real “girly” either, at least in the traditional sense.  So statuesque is she that she is known well on the football field, called upon in moments of desperation.  She wears a long flowing robe, for sure, but she has her hand up all the time as if hailing a cab or waiting to be called on, or, in for the sports minded, ready to catch a pass from the quarterback. 

Still, surprisingly perhaps, , there are few as beloved as she is, few as cherished as she is, few as well know as she is.  Indeed millions upon millions know her by sight, have stopped to visit, have shed tears in her presence.  She has been the subject of painters and poets, of dreams and desires.

I suppose it is appropriate that she is an immigrant, of French origin.  And to further her value she lives on waterfront property, in New York no less, prime real estate for sure, though perilously close to the horror on 9/11.  Though undamaged in the attack, there are those who swear they could hear her weeping across the city that day.

She was named after a Roman God, Libertas.

We, though, have named her ourselves.

She is, of course, the Statue of Liberty.  She stands in New York Harbor holding her tablet of law in one hand, raising her torch of freedom in the other.  She was the one Emma Lazarus wrote about in her poem “New Collossus," its  words etched on the statue’s base: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, send these the homeless tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the  Golden door.

We sing of her and her welcome to the millions who journeyed to our shores, who became our people, whose names are written on the walls of Ellis Island.  

Today we celebrate her  as a symbol for  all those whose lives have enriched our heritage, whose hands have built our foundations, whose shoulders have borne our burdens, whose hearts have loved us with the patriotic passion which explodes throughout the sky every 4th of July.  

But her light is not only the beacon of liberty for those who crossed the ocean,  those who came from far away places.

Her light shines upon us too.

Her light shines from New York Harbor to the Pacific Ocean.

The Statue of Liberty is not only a symbol for freedom, but as I discovered just the other day, she is freedom itself.

Since I was flying out of LAX to go to our Congregational meetings in Minneapolis, I took the airport shuttle.  We only had one stop on the way, and at a Holiday Express Sabrina climbed on the van.  Just being the two of us we started chatting.  After a few predictable remarks about traffic in Los Angeles and gloomy morning weather I asked if she had come to LA on business.  She had.  And she explained her work for an organization called “Niche” which partners with the Federal government to find work for people with disabilities.  In order to qualify at least 75% at any particular job site must be disabled.  She mentioned some of the places that participate in the program and then she mentioned one which stopped my heart.

The cleaning crew at the Statue of Liberty is part of the Niche program.  That means that 75% of the people who work there are persons with disabilities.   A heart reaching organization has freed them from the captivity of their disabilities.  They work in the very cradle of freedom, and there they have become free themselves.

It is that freedom we celebrate these days, the freedom to discover who we are as God’s children only so that we can become a compassionate community with one another bound by deep and abiding love.

As the hymn “America” sings in its last verse: “Long may our land be bright with Freedom’s holy light, Protect us by thy might, Great God our King…..






cookie dough


The other morning I was standing at the kitchen counter, finishing up a few things and feeling, well self satisfied.  No, more honestly, I was feeling…smug.  I was thinking about what a good, loving, sacrificing mother I was.  After all, I had taken a vacation day on Monday to help my son get his car that wasn’t running well from downtown LA to a garage in Upland.  I was prepared to take more time off that day because as I was driving home after having picked up the car for him, I couldn’t shut the window.  It wouldn’t go up.  Only on the driver’s side.  And while I pitched a pretty good fit to the mechanic when I talked to him it wasn’t that bad.  Just another star in my crown. Just a little more shine to my halo.

And as I stood at the counter the other morning I thought about all the sacrifices I had made for him throughout the years.  The times I spent baking and watching and standing in line to buy things  that every kid had to have.  I thought about often I went to see Muppets movies instead of my movies, how many trips I took on crowded freeways to baseball practices where I sat on cold bleachers watching 10 year olds play catch and run laps.  I moved thought the years to the crazy schedules I created so I could pick him up at school just for a few minutes of car conversation time if it was a day when the teenager felt like talking.

As I was standing at the counter the other day, smiling smugly at my sacrificial motherhood I took one more lick of the beater and savored the freshly whipped sweet cream. 

Suddenly my face darkened.  I remembered the last time I had licked a bowl and a beater just a few weeks before.  Teddy and I were sitting on the couch watching television.  I had just put cupcakes in the oven and I had the bowl in my lap.  There was still some batter on my mouth from the beaters and my son commented on it.  I wiped my lips and then took a nice big swipe of rich, buttery, sweet uncooked cake.  He looked at me with horror.  "Mom, you are eating right out of the bowl!  That's disgusting!"

The gig was up.  As sacrificial as I have always assumed myself to be, the truth is I had never introduced my son to one of life's great pleasures.  And not to protect him, but to protect me.  I wasn't worried about him eating raw eggs.  I wasn't worried about him having too much sugar.  I wanted it all  for myself.  I wasn't about to share.  So Teddy Bingham has never licked a bowl or a beater and didn't know that anyone else did either. 

I am not sure if it says in the Bible that pride goeth before the fall, or if the Bible says that confession is good for the soul, but I am certainly remembering the Beatitudes these days, feeling as meek as I do:  "blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth."  But I fear that my son might also be remembering the Beatitudes:  "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst....for they shall be filled," but just not with cookie dough or cake batter!