Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Awareness

Ah, I awake again today with more energy than I’ve had for a long time. The sky still waits to receive the sun, the pine trees gently sway against the morning breeze. And the world is blue and gray and still. I think the sun will be hidden today. Yet, all is well, and the same for me.

I am currently a pastor without a church, so the days seem unbound, and I unmoored. But, the breaking away and preparing for new has given me a new gift: time. Without the expectations of my call, old realities emerge: child of God, husband, father. They are there all the time. All gifts, all blessings that can surround me if I let them.

On the steps of the back porch yesterday, while Wyatt held a miniature Nine-iron over his left shoulder, I held Elise in my arms. And, I thought, these are my children. All this has been given to me, this house, this daughter, this son, the delights of my heart. And, I am aware.

Not always aware, sadly. In fact, there have been many moments recently where I’ve fixated, where I’ve felt the need to squeeze out my own existence and security, to procure the right product. Needing to get more, to build my worth, to secure my happiness: these are the sins that bind me into a miserly life. Yes, miserly is the right word: small, narrow-minded, blind. And hoarding.

Let it be, Wes. Let it be.

We ate like king and queen last night, the brined bird sitting on our stove in regal display. Too much. And friends brought us the fruit of the vine and the blessing of knowing they still cared. So, I opened that bottle at the evening meal, remembering to celebrate life, to give thanks.

And in these past two days, Elise has learned to crawl in rudimentary fashion, to even sit up in her own way. I was here for that, thanks be to God.

And I have seen the most curious and delightful things in my son. He sits upon the bed when he watches Sesame Street, mom’s and dad’s bed. And while he watches the silly puppets, he reaches for a bottle of lotion, squeezes a bit of the cold cream onto his hands and softens his hands, and his arms. Yesterday, I came in and his sweatpants were up to his knees, and he reached for his feet, to bath them in the oils of calm and revitalization.

Who has taught him these things?

The world is teeming with the delights of unpredictable. I lift up my eyes to the hills, to see a world bigger than me.

Wes

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Get outta town...

We were shocked to find this article in the New York Times (!) about foreign-born priests in our little corner of Kentucky.  Owensboro on the front page...wow.
 

Christmas...we're still recovering.

A few pictures from the holiday at our house...

Wyatt trying out his new "whistle:"

...dressed in his new gear for those Indiana snow storms:

...and having fun with Grampa Joe:

Finally, the look most of us had on our faces at one time or another was most eloquently captured on Elise:
Given Wyatt's dependence upon routine, Christmas Day was stressful, chaotic, and draining.  Not exactly what Wes and I had pictured for this year, but we definitely learned a ton, and were reminded once again of just how selfless parenting has to be.  

~Anna

Monday, December 22, 2008

What I Am Reading


Invitation to a Journey:  A Road Map for Spiritual Formation.  Today:  the eighth chapter, "The Classical Spiritual Pilgrimage".  And on this journey there are - so the wisdom of generations tells me - four stages:  awakening, purging, illumination and union.  And in this ongoing process of learning to be "in Christ" is the ebb and flow of learning to trust ...

"This yieldedness to God is the 'trust' Groeschel describes as the deepest of the stages of purgation.  It is trust that rests one's being totally and completely in God's love and care without demands, conditions or prior expectations.  Even in the darkness of God's seeming absence, trust rests the weight of one's being absolutely in God.  The psalmist captures this deep inner posture of trust in Psalm 131:

O Lord, my heart is not proud
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
nor marvels beyond me.
Truly I have set my soul 
in silence and peace.
A weaned child on its mother's breast,
even so is my soul.

"The first affirmation expresses the absence of self-concerned anxiety.  Then, in the image of the weaned child at its mother's breast, the psalmist reveals the life of absolute trust in God.  The unweaned child is at its mother's breast for its own need, its own agenda - milk.  The weaned child, however, has no such need or agenda.  It is content to rest in the mother's arms and receive whatever attention she chooses to give."  

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's a Life ... Time Alone Tells if it is Wonderful

In 2003, I saw It's a Wonderful Life in its entirety for the first time in my life.  Anna and I had escaped Los Angeles for a mini-retreat up to Santa Barbara at my Aunt Lynel's house.  It just so happened that our visit coincided with the annual network television showing of the movie.  From that point on, Anna was hooked.  It has easily become her favorite Christmas movie, and it's not too far from the top of my own list.  

Today, there was a great article in the New York Times about this film.  The article is largely about how George Bailey's life is hardly "wonderful" in traditional movie terms, and the article included this humorous bit:

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation."

To read the entire article, click here.

Wes

Consumer Reports

As we prepare for our move, we are likely going to axe the land line and go entirely with cell phones.  So, what say ye, cell phone users?  Do you have certain phones or plans you would recommend?

Wes

Monday, December 15, 2008

Speaking of Faith - Parker Palmer


Krista Tippet hosted Parker Palmer on Speaking of Faith recently - inviting him to speak to the morality and meaning of the economic downturn (alright, let's just name it:  economic depression).  

Early in the interview, Krista brings up Parker Palmer's own personal journey with depression in the middle part of his life.  He - particularly in his book Let Your Life Speak talks about the epiphany that occurred when a counselor taught him to see his depression not as an evil, menacing force meant to kill him, but rather as a benevolent force intended to hold him closer to the reality of his true identity.  The actual interview is extremely valuable, so I will quote some of it here:

Ms. Tippett: You know, you and I have spoken before about your experience of depression, which came in midlife, and I have to tell you something interesting as this economic crisis has unfolded. You know, we've had these days and days where the stock market continues to fall and continues to fall, and the experts express such shock. And I will say right here that I don't understand much of this, which I don't think makes me that different from most of the people hearing the news, but somehow it hasn't seemed counterintuitive that it continued to fall, because one thing I do know is that it was at such an artificially elevated level.

Mr. Palmer: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: And what I kept thinking of was actually my conversation with you and you talking about how in the middle of a depression, a psychological depression, you had a therapist who said, "Parker, could you think of your depression as a friend, which is bringing you down to earth, ground on which it is safe to walk?"

Mr. Palmer: Mm-hmm. That's a wonderful connection. And in fact, I have had some of the same thoughts, Krista, the parallels between psychological depression and economic depression. I finally learned, with the help of this therapist, that depression didn't need to be pictured as the hand of an enemy trying to crush me, but rather the hand of a friend trying to press me down to ground on which it was safe to stand. And through that realization, I understood that part of what took me into depression was that I was living life at artificial heights, at untenable elevations, so that the elevation involving a kind of inflated ego or a free-floating spirituality or a detached sense of "oughts" and in that sense a false ethic, or simply living intellectually in my head more than in my feelings and in my body, that all of those things put you at such altitude that if you trip and fall, which you're inevitably going to do …

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Palmer: … you have a long, long way to fall, and it might kill you.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Palmer: But if you are in fact on ground where it's safe to stand, you can fall and get up and fall and get up again, which most of us do every day. And, yes, I do feel that we all knew at some level, if we took a moment to think about it, that there was a huge amount of artificial altitude, elevation, inflation in this society, that housing prices were ridiculous, that stock prices were way beyond value. And we now know in fact that a lot of that was a purposely contrived illusion.

Ms. Tippett: But in which we all happily colluded, because they were many of them pleasant illusions.

Mr. Palmer: Yeah, exactly. I'll give you a quick example. I spoke at a recent retreat I did with the CEO of a very, very large publicly traded firm. This was on the day after the Dow Jones first fell to its new all-time low, a year to the day after it set its all-time high.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Palmer: And I said, 'Help me. Help me understand what's happening here.' And I think this is a very interesting parallel. He said, among other things, all of the markets in which the U.S. operates primarily are what he called mature markets. He said 25 years ago they were not mature markets, they were markets in which real growth was possible. And during that 25-year period, stockholders became accustomed to rapidly rising rates of return and they kept demanding that, despite the fact that these markets were maturing to a place where no more growth is possible. I know what that means. I'm almost 70 years old and I'm starting to shrink.

[Laughter]

Mr. Palmer: I'm not growing anymore. But he said when shareholders continue to demand the same kind of growth in a mature market that they experienced before it matured, there are only two possible ways to create the illusion of growth. One is to cook the books. That's the Enron answer. And the other is to gobble up some portion of a competitor's market, claim it for a while, telling your stockholders that this is real growth, knowing all the while that sooner or later another competitor is going to gobble it back up from you. So you create the illusion of growth by in effect sort of eating your young. And those were among the market illusions that all of us bought into because why? We enjoy feeling fat and happy even if we really aren't? Because of the same reasons I guess that I allowed myself to get so inflated in various ways that a fall was inevitable.

You can read the rest of the transcript here.  Or, you can listen to the show here.

Wes

A Charlie Brown Christmas - Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Excellence from the Start

Several years ago, some of the key persons in the Presbyterian headquarters decided to do something about the alarming desertion of Presbyterian pastors from the ministry - especially relatively "new" pastors who migrated out of ministry at disturbing rates.  Truth be told, this was not merely a Presbyterian problem.  Research from the Lilly Foundation and the Alban Institute (two agencies committed to the health of congregations in America) showed decreased longevity and effectiveness in ministers' tenures.  

What eventually emerged from the Presbyterian Church were a few initiatives centered on three very basic practices.  First and foremost:  nourish the souls of young pastors by encouraging them to practice their faith, particularly through study, prayer and worship.  Second:  place them in a community of other pastors who can provide accountability and encouragement.  And, third:  place them under the care of mentors, pastors with many seasons of ministry under their belt who can provide perspective and guidance.  

The first such group begun by the PCUSA was a program called "Excellence from the Start", and the follow up initiative was called "Company of New Pastors".  By God's grace and some helpful encouragement from a few friends at Fuller, I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in this second initiative.  

Apparently, the issue of professional integrity and sustainability is not relegated to ministry alone.  I read today a wonderful article in The New Yorker titled "Most Likely to Succeed" by Malcolm Gladwell (click here to read the article), which looks at various attempts to measure and discern who are the best teachers, the best quarterbacks and the best financial managers.  For all three professions, there is no clear indicator of what will make someone competent, let alone excellent.  Even more perplexing, having specific, master's level training in all three professions does not seem to be a real predictor of success either.

Take for instance the opening anecdote about an NFL professional scout and his quest to find a good quarterback for some NFL team.  No position is harder to predict, and as the article points out many "sure thing" quarterbacks have been chewed up and spat out by the NFL.  The moral of the quarterback dilemma is that no one can tell if a quarterback can be an NFL quarterback until they play a game as an NFL quarterback.

Similarly, no one can tell if a teacher can teach, until you put him in a classroom with a bunch of "wiggly Janes, Lucys, Johns, and Roberts".

Towards the end of the article, the attention turns to the financial sector and Ed Deutchslander, the co-president of North Star Resource Group in Minneapolis.  You come to find out that Ed interviewed about a thousand people last year.  He selected forty-nine that he liked.  But, there's more.  To truly find out if they were qualified, he put them into a "training camp", which then weeded out another twenty-six people.  Then, the remaining twenty-three people were given an apprenticeship, an opportunity to learn this trade and to see if they could handle the responsibilities and demands.  Deutchslander hopes that he'll be able to hang on to "thirty or forty per cent of that twenty-three."

Interestingly, another new initiative within the PCUSA is to send freshly "degreed" seminary students into churches as apprentices - to learn the trade of ministry.  A long time pastoral influence in my life strongly encouraged me to consider one of these apprenticeships, which I did not opt for.   But, two and a half years into ministry, I can see the value of such an approach.  For, in truth, much of my experience in Owensboro has been something of an apprenticeship, of coming to learn this trade and to learn how I am qualified for it (and, in what areas I need to gain further training).

Ultimately, the search to find out predictors for success is quite important.  Ed Deutchslander says that "most financial firms sink between a hundred thousand dollars and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars on someone in their first three or four years."  I imagine that First Presbyterian Church has sunk the minimum of those two figures in my "formation" already.  As I prepare to step into another ministry position, similar investments are now being made in me.  But, bigger than the financial investment football teams, churches and schools make in their talent, there is the more important matter of finding the right people for the job.  Having a great teacher - one that can "teach a year and a half of material in a year" - is priceless, just as being able to work in a position that you truly enjoy is priceless.

Wes


Tis the Season

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Writer's Almanac

I happened to tune in to the Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor yesterday, which I always enjoy but rarely remember (Thankfully, I've now realized the Writer's Almanac is available as a podcast).  

Two things struck me in yesterday's brief airing.  The first was a poem written by Joseph Enzweiler titled "Christmas 1963", which you can read below.  The second was Keillor's signature sign-off:  "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."  There are many, many occasions when I come to an end of a letter or email, and I just can't find the right expression to close.  My customary ones are traditionally, "Blessings," and "Take good care," but I really appreciate Keillor's.  Of course, his is now a registered trademark.  But, nonetheless, I might confiscate his intellectual property every now and then.  

On to the poem ...

Christmas 1963

by Joseph Enzweiler

Because we wanted much that year
and had little. Because the winter phone
for days stayed silent that would call
our father back to work, and he
kept silent too with our mother,
fearfully proud before us.

Because I was young that morning
in gray light untouched on the rug
and our gifts were so few, propped
along the furniture, for a second
my heart fell, then saw how large
they made the spaces between them

to take the place of less. Because
the curtained sun rose brightly
on our discarded paper and the things
themselves, these forty years,
have grown too small to see, the emptiness
measured out remains the gift,

fills the whole room now, that whole year
out across the snowy lawn. Because
a drop of shame burned quietly
in the province of love. Because
we had little that year
and were given much.
 
"Christmas 1963" by Joseph Enzweiler, from The Man Who Ordered Perch. © Iris Press, 2004. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Places

Last night, we had a young man who has just moved to town come by to look at our house.  Our realtor came with him, and later on his father and mother showed up to look over the potential investment.  Since we were nearing Wyatt's and Elise's bedtime, we stayed at home while this cohort objectively labeled "potential buyer" moved its way through our home, or at least this place that we have called home for two plus years.  It is a strange thing to witness those who might replace you:  acknowledging that someone else will inhabit the space you've filled.

After the potential buyers had toured the home, and after we hoped that they were seeing potentials and not liabilities ... Anna called her family to discuss - largely - the hope of living into a new place.  There is the possibility now that Anna's family will procure another 27 acres of land to the east of their current property, and on those acres is a house that is not much too look at, but that may also be the beginning "place" of a family dream for her and I ... to live nearer the earth, to be bound and held more by the land.

Earlier in the day, I went to lunch with a friend I've been blessed with here in Owensboro, and I excitedly told him all about the prospects of this potential property.  He could sympathize with my excitement.  For the great majority of his adulthood, he has set himself the task of developing some land (not cruelly but carefully) away from his more urban space.  In fact, he now has a wonderful, rustic, yet modern cabin out on this land, and it could very well house he and his wife.  The question for him, though, is whether he is ready to be housed by this place.

Moving out of your current location to a new location always involves a type of dying, a conversion.  For this gentlemen that I had lunch with, the conversion involves not only a change of place, but also of pace - of learning to let go of the ability to access most things within minutes.  He would be moving to the country, and thereby would be learning how to live more in the rhythms of sunrise and sunset than minutes and hours.  He would be limited in his ability to hear from the outside world, which - while initially beautiful - is easier imagined than experienced.  No high-speed internet, no Target five minutes away, no coffee shops, no bumping into friends and strangers many times a day.  But, the possibilities are as advantageous as the losses are hard:  being held by a wide-embrace of tree and forest, creation at play in everyday, the ability to do some work that would never, ever change the land in dramatic ways, but would change my friend significantly.

As my friend drove me back to the church for the remainder of my "office" day, we got to talking about Wendell Berry.  My friend had the occasion to hear Mr. Berry speak once, and at the end of his lecture, someone asked him, "Mr. Berry, how do you actually begin living locally after you've lived in so many different places and in such contrast to the local lifestyle?"  My friend said that Wendell Berry minced no words, but said simply, "you just stop."

You stop.  You die.  You let yourself be consumed by a place.  Rather than trying to squeeze your own existence and happiness out of your community, you let yourself come to a place where you demand nothing of it and let it demand of you instead.

In the two plus years we've been in Owensboro, I have made the mistake of not "stopping" in this place.  I would like to say that I intended to be here long-term, but I know that is not true.  There has always been the subtle, but nonetheless imposing reality that this would not be my home.  No matter how much I try to deny that, it is like a bur in a saddle; it has kept me restless and never fully capable of being entirely in community.

So, in a few weeks, I will set out again.  This time for a new place, although it be something of an old home.  I hope - for once in my life - I can begin to let myself die somewhere.  I hope I can come to discover that I am housed in a place.  

Wes

p.s. - a few curiosities:  The land that you can see at the top of the blog ... that is land not too far away from the potential property we might get to live into.  And, irony of ironies, the potential buyer who walked through our home last night:  the very nephew of the friend I had lunch with that day.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Tugged

I am heightened in the recesses of my brain:  awakened, now.  Dizzy with explanation, every moment a puzzle to be worked, and I - the life - that is about to be rearranged and altered into a very new picture of profound similarity and difference.

As of November 30th, 2008, I have accepted the call to serve as the next pastor for the congregation of believers known as Greencastle Presbyterian Church (read the letter I wrote to the congregation here - click on "pastor's message").  On December 2nd, the opposite side of that "hello" was sent out to my current congregation.  Leave-taking and Home-making are now the realities that shape my mind and days.  We are in the process of disengagement and engagement.  It is not easy.  In fact, it is like the stringing out of my heart and mind - a tug of war of excitement and sadness.

For those of my friends that I have been scarce to, forgive my absence.  I - again - look forward to connecting with you as I move into yet another place of learning and life.

Wes


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Leadership at the Helm of a Storm-Tossed Sea

There is a wonderful article on Ben Bernanke and his handling of the economy as Fed Chair in The New Yorker (read it here).  It does an incredible job of giving a broad view to what has gotten us into this mess while also detailing Bernanke's personality.  It is a great read for a study of leadership in uncertain times, and the article closes with this quote from Abraham Lincoln that Bernanke now keeps on his desk:

“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right will make no difference.”

Wes

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Teddy

So I'm trying to read something that isn't environmental or political non-fiction.  My mom got this book for me and I hesitated.  I did do my fifth grade President's report on Theodore Roosevelt, and I vaguely remember being impressed at the time, but come on, Mom.  Why read about the guy now?  Plus, the cover had me skeptical...it looked sort of...fluffy.  

I started it anyway.  And now I can't. put. it. down.  Amazing.  Let me say, I'm a total loser when it comes to history.  I learned more SNL skits in that class is high school than anything else, so I usually leave the history stuff to Wes -- he loves it and has always soaked it up like a sponge. This is the first historical narrative book I've read and I'm finding it fascinating.  More than that, though, the book is scary.  I mean, I'm literally fearful as I put myself in the shoes of TR's expedition as they travel unpreparedly through a completely uncharted path of the Amazon. Since beginning the book, I've also found this NPR segment on it and a great (brief) summary of the expedition from PBS here

~Anna

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sad but true...

I have a bad habit: movie trailers.  I can't get enough of them.  True, I don't watch nearly as many since Little Two was born, but I try.  I have justified it by telling myself that as a stay at home mom, I don't have very many occasions to get out of the bubble that is my house, then out of the bubble that is Owensboro, and into the world at large; so I have to use whatever means available to me.  

As I routinely watched the most recently released movies a while back, I came upon The Lives of Others.  I immediately pulled up a new tab on my browser and navigated to our Netflix cue to add it.  Not too long later, I read a post about the same movie on my friend Danielle's personal blog.  Good confirmation.  Last night, we watched said movie; it was excellent indeed.  Afterwards, I wanted re-read Danielle's thoughts and so began backtracking on her blog to find the original post.  I kept going.  And going.  And going.  Finally, there it was -- I glanced at the date.  February 2007.  When the movie came out.  Almost two years ago.  I laughed in astonishment.  Unbelievable.  

All this to say two things: The Lives of Others is a great movie, and if it still happens to be floating around your Netflix cue, you should bump it up; also -- gone are the days of Wes and I seeing a movie in a timely fashion.

~Anna 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To Be or Not To Be ... That is the First Directive of Leadership

"The key to successful spiritual leadership, therefore, with success understood not only as moving people toward a goal, but also in terms of the survival of the family (and its leader), has more to do with the leader's capacity for self-definition than with the ability to motivate others." - Ed Friedman, Generation to Generation

The easiest thing to do is to do; the hardest thing in life is to be.  Lately, I have a had a hard time with both of them, and it is because I'm trying to figure out the "being" part.  I find myself transfixed at moments, searching, wondering ... "who the hell am I?"

A group has invited me to write an autobiography - including statements about my beliefs.   Only religious groups would have the audacity to demand such a thing.  Only egotistical, romantic idiots like me think they can actually answer their demand ... in a matter of days.  Anyhow, that invitation was the snowflake that has become an avalanche descending upon me - leaving me frozen in dread and seriousness.  

You know the damnable thing about being human?  No one can do it for you.  Only you can be yourself.  I have some really entrenched (and - obviously - valuable) opinions about who my wife, my children, my parents, my boss, my friends and my church should be.  But as for me, well, shoot, I can't really decide who I am.  Let's begin with this:  whoever God calls me to "lead", I will have to do so while using creative writing.  That will - at least - help stall that ever looming "being" question for a while.

Wes

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Among the...Masses?

This morning's New York Times had this article -- Baby, You're Home -- about the rise of home births, specifically in New York.  It also mentioned The Business of Being Born, a documentary I have yet to see, but has been brought to my attention by a number of friends.  Hopefully, hospital administrators and OB's will start to see these trends as well, and (given their position of condemning home births) at least start asking how they can change current protocol. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Listening

It's official. I have joined the ranks. I have adopted a paternal saying that falls deaf upon my son's ears. The saying: "Wyatt, listen to me."

I didn't even realize I was prone to this customary form of parenting until I said these exact words to Wyatt the other day, and before I could even get another word out Wyatt turned around and tried to ignore me. He knew what was coming: either correction or instruction. In this case, it was a correction - probably something about how he can't hit me with the zylophone mallet.

Seeing his indifference to my plea, I immediately played back a number of other times I had begun sentences, "Wyatt, listen to me." Usually, I try to turn him towards me, and I crouch down seeking to meet him eye to eye - hoping this will magically turn my son into Plato at Socrates' feet and will allow him to lap up my helpful counsel. To no avail. He is as persistent in his stubborness and sinful ways as a pre-exile Israelite. Or, at least that's how I choose to see it. The reality is much different.

When Wyatt misbehaves, it is usually because I have failed to listen to him, not the other way around. He usually hits me with the mallet after I have watched football for three hours and ignored him. So, when I sweep in and seek to put an end to his tirades, we are way past the point when Wyatt is ready to listen to me. Having listened to and watched me in my non-parenting, he is certainly not going to take my last-ditch attempts at parenting seriously.

This was all illustrated last night while I was watching the Colts play. Wyatt was sitting beside me on the couch, eating some popcorn (even sharing some with me). As I become more and more involved with the game, I became less and less aware of what Wyatt was doing. Anna - cooking dinner - looked over at one point and said I was staring straight at the television (Elise in my arms, mind you), while Wyatt was jostling the popcorn bowl to simulate a popcorn maker bouncing seeds all over the place. The result was popcorn seeds all over the couch, not popcorn. It also happened to produce one frustrated parent (me) and one "don't-you-ever-say-my-job-is-easy" parent (Anna).

That was a very long explanation to come to one conclusion: I am not that great of a listener sometimes. In fact, (when I'm watching sports) I am downright deaf - choosing to tune everything out except what I want to hear.

I've been reading through Walter Brueggemann's commentary on Jeremiah recently (thanks J for lending me your copy for now), and he is quick to point out that Jeremiah's strongest word is that the people of Israel have ceased to listen; the Israelites have gone their own way, theologically turning away from God as guiding-parent and choosing instead to see what life they may find on their own or with the other attractive gods (aka "idols").

Keep in mind: Listening is the central command given to the Israelites, the very action (nay, inaction) that is meant to guide them as a people (Deut. 6:4-6).

"... what is commanded and required is listening (shema', Jer. 7:23.) That is all ... Listening is readiness to be addressed and commanded, to have life ordered by Yahweh. Listening is to cede control rather than to retain control ..." (Brueggemann).

Reading this, I am once again aware of the need to listen ... not just to my son, but - just as importantly - to my God. Both are two people who could use more of my attention.

Wes

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Speedway

Wyatt has officially learned to steer and pedal a bicycle with training wheels.  Although mathematically his switch from the three-wheeled tricycle to the four-wheel bike seems a reversion, it is the only way he will eventually pedal on two, which may not be that far from now.  The dude can already cook.  

For the last two days, he's been tearing up a nice track in our backyard - a loop on the sidewalk/patio and through the yard with a pit-stop back to the grill area.  And, I've been tooling around with him on my own bike, practicing all sorts of neat tricks ... yes, that does mean I am once again setting a bad example for Wyatt to mimic.  Today, I was trying to launch over the basketball and somehow managed not to end-o.

Wyatt's bike happens to be a hand-me-down from a church member, and was a left-over after another child had her pickings.  The key word in the last sentence was "her."  As you can tell in the picture below, this bike is straight from the same people who designed LA Gear clothing and sneakers ... for females.  It is a sweet Barney-purple and hot pink with neon-sign lettering on the frame.  Radical.


One last thing about this picture:  Wyatt is looking more and more like boy and less and less like baby.  Seasons change.  Time moves in ways unimaginable.

Wes

PS by Anna: what Wes forgets to mention in this post is the fact that included in the speedway is a 6 inch ramp that Wyatt jumps.  Every time he passes me he says, "Bye Mom.  I love you, Mom!"  A good habit to get into, I suppose, if every trip runs the risk of being a "crash and burn."  :)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Two years later


These days I'm feeling about the Japanese Maple in our backyard the way I felt about the Jacaranda trees lining our streets in Pasadena... 

~Anna

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Change

So much whirls within my heart and head this morning. Yesterday was a momentous, world-changing day on several fronts: personal, communal, national.

I've been listening to Sam Cooke this morning, spurred on by a the song that came fresh upon me while watching the scene in Grant Park as thousands gathered to watch Barack Obama accept the presidency of the United States of America. The song: A Change is Gonna Come.

That "change" means several things on several levels. But one of the clear changes I witnessed was the shift from America as a white, Anglo-saxon, Protestant people to America as a multi-ethnic, multi-faith people. Actually, I think the idea of our WASP identity has been a myth we've tried to uphold for the last several decades. But, through the power of television, there was no doubt last night. You could see it in the two speeches delivered by John McCain and Obama.

McCain's speech - delivered in Arizona - was in front of a relatively small crowd of people that looked ... well, like me ... and not much different than a scene from an episode of Andy Griffith. Pan to the crowd gathered at Grant Park: diverse on almost perceivable level.

Perhaps this was the bias granted by the medium of television. But, I imagine that standing in both places would have generated the same realization.

The will of the people has been heard ... and the diversity of the people has been seen.

Wes

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

10.28.08

My daughter has succumbed
for now
but not without tearing this home
  apart,
taking my mind and pushing it
 full against my skull,
the ache of constraint.

Scream with all within you,
so it begins again.

"Are you not exhausted?"
I am dead
tired.

I hide behind speakers covering
my ears, to subvert reality,
to fill my head
that it may
  unravel.
Domesticity demands
exhausted lashings
to pierce my peace.
All has become a knot of entanglement.

And you, my wife, trapped and subjected with
me.
It is you
  and me
that have born this agonizing joy,
this relentless life.
You framed yourself against my fetal curl -
  the flannel sheets our shared womb.
We were together again,
laying silently
a hushed comfort
while peace pulsed in
our own ways
beneath skin.
Across my body came your hand
interlocked and interlocking
my own.

That too was a knot,
like the way years add
rings to a Maple
and seasons form fibrous callouses
upon those trees.
There is much beneath.

Now  silence
except distant fan
and small motor.
The refrigerator hums.
And the rocking chair creaks its
protest to pressure and weight.
There you sit with
my daughter - 
sucking from you, satiating soothe
timeless calm.
We are bound - hand in hand,
mouth to breast,
mind to heart.
Pressed one upon another with
the irritation of pleasure.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Self-Employed

Because when I file my taxes, I do so as someone who is technically 'self-employed', and ...

because I continue to discover that the best work, the most enjoyable work  is the work I feel called and gifted to do ...

I enjoy this quote from that wise sage, Wendell Berry:

"... working for the love of the work and to my own satisfaction - which are two of the conditions of 'self-employment,' as I understand it."

And, in that same manner of thinking ... a great song by B. T. Express.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Costumes

We had our annual "fall festival" at the church tonight (i.e. - our sterilized version of Halloween).  Here is Wyatt dressed as a pumpkin and myself as "an open book." ~Wes

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rowdy Cousins

Here's a riddle for you: When does my surname become Wyatt's playmate?

Answer: whenever Wyatt's cousin, Kendall, comes to town.

That has been the case yesterday and today.  My mom and her husband came down for the weekend, bringing my niece with them.  The result of their visit (today alone) has produced:
  • One billy goat eating corn out of Wyatt's and Kendall's hand
  • Six sample cups of apple cider consumed Wyatt
  • Two wonderful meals
  • Four donuts (three consumed by me)
  • Five dramatic falls requiring consolation from mom
  • One band-aid
  • Two stories (The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood)
  • Two paint jobs (a bathroom and a hallway)
  • One kid bottom brushing up against said paint 
  • Many "I almost bit someone's head off" moments by Anna
  • One trip to the Democratic headquarters leading to an encounter with a church member (to which she replied, "this is like being caught in a bar.")
  • One trip to the Court House (only to discover that Kentucky is the only state in the entire union where you cannot obtain an absentee ballot without written permission from your parents ... check.  Make that:  "only state or commonwealth ...")
  • One screwed up home accounting system and subsequent befuddled bookeeper
  • One bottle of wine
  • Two dark chocolate truffles from Donaldson's
And, to boot ... some great pictures of the orchard experience.

~Wes






Thursday, October 23, 2008

Celebrations


This past Sunday, Wyatt rode his bike by himself for the first time.  I was so excited for him, I could hardly stand it.  Since then, I've been trying to think of ways to celebrate special events in the life of our family...I read somewhere that in Europe they have a 'red plate' tradition where the recipient of the celebration gets to use a special place setting at dinner.  I love that idea and think it would be a fun way to celebrate "firsts," special occasions, etc.  I just wish I would have thought of it on Sunday! 

In other news, my 29th birthday brought a very exciting addition to the art room in our house. Wes commissioned the following work space from a guy at church, and helped out when and where he could. It's perfect in that it's highly functional, streamlined, easily dismantled for portability (something to think about these days), and every part of it is adjustable to achieve a custom fit for whatever happens to be my project of choice for the month.  The desk itself is about 5 feet long, but the 'wing' where my sewing machine now sits can be attached anywhere on the desk, and eventually another could made for the other side, ends, etc.  As you can see, I'm already putting it to good use!  


~Anna


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Professional Care

I had my six month check up today at the dentist, which afforded me plenty of time to think ... well, thinking is a relative term at the dentist.  It's hard to contemplate relativity or the general course of our nation's economic situation when the hygienist commands you methodically, "and spit," as he or she pauses for a moment only to delve back into your mouth with a miniature mirror and pick axe.  Yes, most of the time I simply think, "really this will end soon ... right?"  ... [several minutes of tongue gymnastics] ... "Please gums, just don't bleed" ... [crap, gums are bleeding] ... "Were you trained as a dentist or in the fine, persistent art of archaeological excavation?" ... [out comes the flouride football mouth guard with horrific suction device crammed into last remaining space] ... "I will do better at taking care of my teeth" ... 

But, the other thought that passed through my head many times today was this realization:  the dentist cares a great deal more about my teeth than I do.  Yikes.  This immediately put me in an uncomfortable position:  penitent nincompoop.  

As the dental hygienist methodically worked her way through the exam, I imagined her revulsion:  "Seriously, it's pretty simple, pal.  You wake up, walk to the bathroom, put a little toothpaste on a toothbrush and brush, brush, brush.  Do the same at lunch and dinner, and use some floss every once in a while.  We can train monkeys to do this."

And, if that wasn't bad enough, I knew she was just a minor minion in the hierarchy of blaming.  Soon to follow would be the dentist who would (in usual fashion) scald soberly and gravely, pointing out in detail what the hygienist already informed me of.  Isn't this some form of double jeopardy?  

They are right to call it an examination.  Inquisition may be more appropriate.

I think this is the closest thing in my life to going to confession.  The humiliation and embarrassment of committing wrongs and not doing enough good, the coaxing to attend more faithfully to healthy habits, the subtle, demeaning reminders to do better next time:  I'm paying the dentist to serve as my oral priest.

Which also makes me think ... anytime I (or you or we) start paying someone to overlook my own responsibility (whether it be dental hygiene or spiritual formation), I am stepping on a slippery slope.  It's very easy in our world to step right onto that dangerous place.  For it is the professionals now who have the knowledge and the know-how, the instruments and training, the classification and certificate to "attend" over us.  Besides, if we were interested in attending to our own health, where would we ever begin.  And, on top of that ... well, I am paying them.  And so it goes.

Anyhow, I've decided to start charging more for my pastoral services.  Maybe someone will wake up and realize that they're paying too much for something that they can exam themselves.

Wes

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Chemistry

I never completed my minor in chemistry.  I completed four classes in two years.  I have no idea how I got that far.  I think I wanted to prove that I could master something difficult once in my life.  But, when I finally realized that I would not become an expert in four years of undergraduate work, I left off the journey, deciding to replace the study of microscopic collisions for the more enjoyable and visceral collision of ball and pins at Alex Alleys on Friday afternoons.  Can you blame me?

I'll say this, though:  I have not stopped in any way trying to figure out how things work, how this affects that.  In fact, I'm back to the slow, methodical work of hypothesis and experimentation, of arduous note taking and occasional exam.  I want to learn the system, the system of relationships.  And the system teaches me this:  the laws of chemistry are an excellent basis for building a theory about God and humanity.  

There are three laws of chemistry particularly worth noting:
1.  In any system, conservation of energy is always sought.  Systems demand homeostasis.  This  is not damnable in itself, but is so given the second law ...
2. ... that all life includes friction and the dissolution of energy, what we call entropy.  Entropy acknowledges that without some kind of outside, generating force, things run down.  Because of entropy (i.e. - stress), all things begin to lock themselves up, which leads to the third law ...
3.  ... that even if a system has no generating source, it will resist becoming entirely inflexible ... that is, becoming frozen.  I would call this grace, that only by God's involvement do we resist becoming entirely frozen in the friction of our sins.

But what is really attracting my attention is how the basic assumption of chemistry - that reality is determined by how individual components react and are affected by one another - also holds true for human relationships.  I have been rereading Edwin H. Friedman's work Generation to Generation again, and he emphasizes this "systems" approach to life.  Friedman's work is particularly interested in how family systems influence pastoral work and relationships.  If you're looking for a foundational work on family systems, though, your best bet is probably The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory by Roberta Gilbert.  Or, you can go right to the source and read Murray Bowen's Family Therapy in Clinical Practice.  Good luck with that.

Wes

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Debates

I'm listening to the debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden currently.  I have not yet decided if this is the epitome of comedy or just plain sad.  Sarah just gave an answer regarding sub-prime lending, but (here's what worries me) ... it's the answer I would have given.  

I'm thinking this has got to be very hard for Biden.  You know what it's like to try and play basketball with a third-grade kid while your friends are watching.  You know you've got to win, but you can't just pull out your "Peyton Manning" (what a great SNL sketch that was) and dominate like this.  

But, I digress. Here's the real debate ... which Vice Presidential Nominee has a greater opportunity to be parodied on Saturday Night Live?  Now, I know many think this is a no-brainer with Tina Fey already hitting a home run doing Palin.  What about, though, a brand new sketch involving the great "Sam the Eagle" playing Joe Biden?  Check this out.



You see.  There are some good opportunities here for voice-overs.  Come on -- now that's a good idea.  Even better:  for the next Vice Presidential debate ... let's have Tina Fey and Sam the Eagle do the debate as Palin and Biden.  

America.  Listen, to me.  It's high time we "do" entertainment and politics together.  It's the only thing we do well anymore.  We can't make anything.  We can't even keep our banks open.  But, listen to me, we can entertain the world and we can talk politics until the cows come back to roost.  Er, I mean, we can talk politics until we go red, white and blue in the face.  I mean ... do you feel me?  Let's hear you if you do.  Okay.  Alright.  Good.  Let's go.

Wes

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Idiot

Here is a funny thing.  I love Dostoyevsky's works.  Well, that isn't quite the funny part.  The funny thing is that when I read his books, I really don't understand them until I'm probably two to three hundred pages into the book.  I didn't even comprehend Crime and Punishment until I read the last chapter!  Then it all fell into place, and I instantly loved it.

Not surprisingly, it has taken me a great deal of time to work my way into The Idiot.  In fact, I started The Idiot three years ago, got several hundred pages into it, then finally put it down because I was entirely lost.  Mostly, I couldn't keep up with the characters (the story introduces probably a dozen and a half characters in the first hundred pages, and each character has two or three different names).  

But, hearing someone else recently finished the book, I decided to give it a go again.  As I trudged into it, I was overtaken by vague remembrances - like I was walking through one of my childhood homes:  recalling bits and pieces, struggling to put the whole together again.  But, most of my memory was tied to one scene:  Prince Myshkin ("The Idiot") encounters a painting in a dark hallway.  It is the painting titled "Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb" by Hans Holbein, which is pictured here.


As Myshkin stares at this painting, an adversary (Rogozhin) declares that he likes looking at this very picture.  Myshkin responds:  "At that picture! ... At that picture!  Why, that picture might make some people lose their faith."

This line comes at a critical turn in The Idiot.  And in typical Dostoyevsky fashion, he uses art as an entry into theology.  

Dostoyevsky's writing - in total - is intent upon answering the questions posed by theology:  who is God, who are we, what do we have to do with one another?  Frequently, his characters are poised and created to answer those very questions, to determine who wins the conflict of life:  God or devil (anti-God).

Admittedly, then, it takes a certain type to enjoy Dostoyevsky, and not surprisingly many of his fans are pastors.  In fact, my search for the title of this painting also led me to a sermon given by a pastor in Wales during Holy Week, which you can find here.  The sermon has some wonderful quotes, including a classic one by Brueggemann.

Enjoy,

Wes  

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Overriding Wave

I've been reading through Jeremiah at night, entering again into covenantal drama, of basic things:  God, people, relationship, promise, behavior.  Ideally, they should all align like the planets in a solar system and produce the same:  harmony, order, beauty, life.  In truth, they often work as well as third grade science projects.   The variable is invariably the people.  Us.  We.  

While God remains faithful and steady, we teeter and lean, jump into speculation, run away from covenant, and seek the gods of security and power.  The lesser gods.  The lifeless gods.  And they fail us.

Papers and websites are teeming with reminders:  devastated beach front property, eight figure CEO's cutting bail-out deals, the Dow in decline, political pleadings.

And in the midst of this, I am drawn to two lines of lyrics:

"Was a long and dark December when banks became cathedrals." - Coldplay, Violet Hill

"I’m so bored of little gods
While standing on the edge of
Something large
While standing here, so close to You
We could be consumed" - David Crowder Band, How Great

Wes

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Come Along

Let it come into you:
this loss,
four hours of decimation
undoing two centuries of work,
this destruction of a thousand broken pieces
laid dying and bare at your feet.
A hundred piles of wood,
the harsh sacrifice of accounts due,
recompense. 
See to it that you notice it, that it irritates you,
that you stand over the wreckage
unnerved, distraught and taxed.

Nothing can make up the healing now
but time and work.
It will take much.  Much was extracted.

So it is in love and all things worth keeping.
It will be three generations now before it is as was.  
It may never be.
But know this:  you are bound to it.  
The loss, the land:  it's all yours, given to be tended 
and husbanded.

I know your desire.  To forsake, to move on.  To wash your hands of mess and life.
To that I say, take a saw and a rake.
Clear the ground of your hurt,
see the agony and affliction.
prune.
salvage.
discard the worthless.
Take up a shovel and plunge your hands back into the earth;
say again and again,
"This I will rebuild."

Not the whole world.  Not at once.  But, in some way, come along.
Let this plot, this land be cared for;
live into the promise and curse.
Let yourself be bent, humbly, to this earth - 
nurturing the soil,
your soul -
as it forces more out of you than you thought you had to give,
the sweat,
the reserved and untapped cistern of emotions,
the exhaustion and frustration.
Let it become for you as it was:
the garden of your salvation.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Curious Case of Toddlerhood

I just came home after a great day, and Anna tells me we've had another first:  the first child to fall out of bed.  It was Wyatt.  Thank goodness it wasn't a bunk bed.  Anna's best guess is that Wyatt was reaching for a football that was on the floor and tumbled head-long towards the ground.  What made matters worse for Wyatt was the constriction of the three blankets wrapped mummy-style around his body.  That's his latest thing:  wanting us to tuck him in with not one blanket (keep in mind that it's like 150 degrees outside right now and a cool 95 in our house), but three blankets.  Usually, he looks like a Turk in a steam room after about five minutes.

Anna did manage to coax Wyatt to give up one of the blankets, he climbed his way back into bed to "sleep it off."  

This is on top of my trip with Wyatt to a baseball game yesterday.  It was Labor Day and all, and I know Wyatt loves to watch sports - especially live ones, so I figured, "hey, who cares if it feels like molten lava could easily descend from the sky at any moment and consume my fatiguing body, it's a great day for some baseball."  

Well, we get there, and I fork over a small fortune for a bratwurst and a regular RC Cola and head into the stadium.  Wyatt is so excited.  I'm feeling like super dad.  Things are good.  

Now, remember this:  since I'm holding brat and cola in respective hands, I can't hold onto Wyatt's hand.  So, I'm telling him to walk this way and that, to stop lingering, to stay close by.  And, he's doing fairly well, trailing me like a little puppy.  Next thing I know, though, he goes berserk, yelling "Da ... da ... da," while also seemingly hyperventilating.  He makes his way over behind my friend to take shelter while still crying out my name.  About then, I realize what is happening:  Evan the Otter - the local misfit mascot - has appeared at the top of the steps like some horrible golem from the Ohio River.  The poor guy in the suit absolutely froze, uncertain whether to come closer or to flee the scene.  I maneuvered my way over to Wyatt, knelt beside my friend and tried to explain to Wyatt that this was just some guy in a suit, which I now know is probably not the easiest concept to explain to a two and a half year old child.  

In the end, I don't think Wyatt saw more three at bats in the game.  That dang otter.  Every time Evan would come out to cheer up the crowd, Wyatt would scream bloody murder and bury his head into my chest.  

Anyhow, if you see this otter, please make all necessary precautions with your children:


Wes

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Funny and True

"There was even a Transcendental commune, but it was short-lived (as communes filled with intellectuals usually are)." - from Our Gods Wear Spandex:  The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes (Christopher Knowles with illustrations by Joseph Michael Linsner), which I have been reading while watching Heroes at home with Anna.  Drew gave us Season 1 to watch.  Must say:  great television.  But, the overall premise of the show has been buggin' me.  So, now I'm into researching the history of comic book superheroes and trying (key word) to see connections (and disconnections) between superheroes and the global, dislocated economy.

But as I playfully pursue that relationship, I'm gaining all kinds of useless knowledge, like:  Did you know that Freemasons are supposedly derivatives of The Knights Templar and Egyptian mystery cults?  Whoa.  Me neither.

Wes

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tonight

Everything is complicated.  It is that simple.

Wes

Thursday, August 21, 2008

At Home

It doesn't get any more domestic than this, folks...

First off, a little sewing.  I've been having lots of fun trying my hand at clothing for the kids -- so far, some pj pants for Wyatt, and a kimono top that he sported at the Multicultural Festival this year, but that will get wide-spread use.  I got the pattern from Habitual, but changed some minor things and added the arm patch with that oh-so-cool plastic belt buckle from who-knows-when.  



Secondly, but perhaps more predominantly, lots of preserving.  Freezing, drying, and canning of the summer's bounty.  As much as I enjoy doing this and the feeling I get of being connected to generations before me doing the same, I really don't like preserved food.  Doing this work almost brings me to tears (seriously), thinking about having no fresh food in a matter of months.  I hate winter here perhaps for the sole reason that there is a period of time when there is NO FRESH PRODUCE.  At least not locally, which we all know by now is the only way to go.  If you have doubts about that, you can request an informational post from me in the comments section!  In any case, I do what I have to do.

Lastly, I really am getting the occasional moment in the "art room," which houses both my supplies as well as Wyatt's.  It lacks work space right now, but I'm just happy to finally have it organized, thanks to my mom's inspiration and reworking of her own studio space.  We have traded and repurposed many a storage container between the two of us, which meant I didn't end up buying anything new for the entire space!  Hooray for that.

All this combined with getting the daily laundry on the line, keeping Elise fed, changed, and slept, as well as filling in for Wes these last few weeks on the basketball court with Wyatt ("Airball, Mom...") has been keeping me busy...and aware of my limitations.

~Anna

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

By Popular Demand ... Well, if Ryan Were Popular

It's time to give the people what they want ...

Our first family venture out with the "dualie" Ironman.  This thing looks like a beast, and - so Anna tells me - it is.  I have yet to push the "45 pound carriage" for more than a few blocks.  Clearly, the kids don't know a good thing when they ride in it (see the picture).  But, seriously, Anna swears to me that they really do enjoy it.  Do you like the side-by-side sich-ee-a-tion?  We figured this would cut down on first child, second child stereotypes.
Elise laughed for the first time about a week ago (at me of course).  Here is a great picture of her in full facial stretch.  Love those dimples and the dress!
If only I were this happy in my own shoes all the time.  The picture I didn't post was of me in Wyatt's diaper throwing a tantrum.  "Yai-Yai" (as Wyatt refers to himself these days) just 's growin' like the proverbial weeds that are also running wild all over our yard.  Can't he do dad's chores when he wears dad's shoes? 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Honoring The Body

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and lived among us …” 
John 1 
"Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you …” 
Paul to the Corinthian believers 

Ain't Nothing the Matter with Matter

“Matter is real. Flesh is good,” the wise pastor tells us, “without a firm rooting in creation, religion is always drifting off …The Word did not become a good idea, or a numinous feeling, or a moral aspiration; the Word became flesh.”1 This is such an important point that both the beginning of the Old Testament (Genesis) and the New Testament (the Gospels) begin by telling us plainly God has blessed and honored the created world. We cannot practice our faith by bypassing our bodies and moving into our heads or our souls. We must begin where God begins: with the matter of creation, with our very bodies.

There is something incredible about our bodies … no doubt about that. The intricacy of nerves and synapse, the unbelievable complexity of all that our bodies do every minute to sustain and produce life, the coordination between eyes and hands: all bespeak of God’s amazing design. But, just as our bodies speak of life, when we truly consider them, they also teach us something else.

Our bodies teach us the sacredness of vulnerability, the holiness of finitude. We live as temples of flesh and blood, flesh that ages, blood that can spill. You realize that when you hold a baby, when you care for a dying parent. Stephanie Paulsell who wrote the article “Honoring the Body” for the book Practicing Our Faith emphasizes this sacredness in our vulnerability, a fact we frequently do recognize while holding babies. But, the sacredness of our condition doesn’t just end with swaddling blankets. Our bodies are at all times in need of care, of nutrition, of protection. Our bodies are at all times marching towards the cessation of life. From dust we came, to dust we shall return our ancestors remind us.

Many people, though, prefer to ignore that reminder and run from their vulnerability and finitude. Christianity itself has not been immune from such tendencies. In fact, in the 2nd Century a type of theological mid-life crisis occurred. Certain believers began to question the sacredness of flesh and blood. They tried to mask God-realities of blessed creation by dividing life into matter (bad) and spirit/wisdom (good). Gnosticism was its name, and while Gnosticism was declared heresy on several occasions that hasn’t stopped the same thought from creeping up again and again. It’s not all that uncommon to hear a devout soul exclaim the word “flesh” in a vile and repugnant tone. And we can’t forget that even the great apostle Paul opened the door to such division when he declared that terrible conflict between “spirit” and “flesh” (Romans 7).

But, despite all that, here we are. We are human beings. We have eyes and ears, limbs and organs. While we may prefer to have other materials to work with, there are none. As the poet Jane Kenyon tells us our life is a “long struggle to be at home in the body, this difficult friendship.”

Many of us don’t do very well with this friendship. We compare our bodies to the images we see on television or those printed in magazines. We wonder why God has given us too much of this or not enough of that. We curse our bodies for failing us, for straining against us even when we seek to do them well by exercising.

Learning to Honor the Body in Community

Perhaps this is why honoring the body is a practice that is best learned in community. In community we discover this paradox: often we learn to care and honor our body when we cease to focus on our bodies and focus instead on the needs of others. This is where the sacredness of vulnerability becomes essential again. 

Seeing Christ in Others … and In Us

When we take time to consider those around us, to see them as real, matter-of-fact people with real needs, real beauty and real blemishes, we begin to see the godliness in those persons. That even includes the sacredness of the wounded. In fact, the more we allow ourselves to see wounded or handicapped persons as human beings, the more apt we are to see the world with godly compassion. Paulsell explains: “The practice of honoring the body keeps these wounded bodies visible not as objects but as persons made in God’s image. The practice of honoring the body leads us to prophetic action by forming us as persons who love every human body and the ravaged body of earth itself.” It is this same prophetic seeing that Jesus invited when he encouraged the disciples to go out and feed and clothe those in need (Matthew 25).

Jesus’ words are especially important. They demonstrate that any gospel that seeks to divorce itself from the body (from real people with real needs) is empty. And just as important: Jesus’ very life proved God’s recognition of both the sacredness of the material and the necessity to redeem us fully—including our bodies. Christ came bodily and Christ was resurrected bodily. Christianity is, as Paulsell declares, an “embodied” faith.

The Body in Worship

The Christian Church has also sought to marry both soul and body in distinct worship practices.  In fact, Christian worship is itself intended to honor the body. Worship is corporeal: “in the meal of communion, we eat and drink, gathered together by Christ’s own wounded body; in baptism, it is our bodies that are bathed in cleansing water; in the passing of the peace, we touch one another in love and hope” (Paulsell, 16). But it is not just the Lord’s Supper, baptism and the passing of the peace that makes worship corporeal. All of worship demands our faculties. It is impossible to worship God without first recognizing the role our bodies play.  

So as you prepare to worship this Sunday, take a moment to consider those who will gather with you, the body of Christ. While you don’t have to stare, do notice them. Then, locate the baptismal font and the communion table. And invite the Holy Spirit to give you an awareness of God’s presence, to help you understand more fully the psalmist's expression: “taste and see the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). 2

1 Peterson, Eugene. The Contemplative Pastor. Pg. 68.
2
This article is heavily influenced by Paulsell’s article and the quote from Jane Kenyon also comes from her work in the book Practicing Our Faith.