And the Maple Leaves Float On By

Foot in water     Maple leaves the size of dessert plates floated lazily down the Little Miami River near Milford, Ohio.  I stood in several inches of water watching them drift by.  From the nearby shooting range I heard the sounds of target practice.  It reminded me of recent shootings …, and sadly, aren’t there always recent shootings?  I remembered reading an outraged Facebook post demanding to know why we had “forgotten” a particular shooting in the wake of other tragedies.  I reflected wondering if such things might be like the leaves on the river.  Some seem far away; others actually brush our skin as they go by.   Several look as though they are sure to hit us, but they catch a current and float on by.  Others sneak up from under water and wrap around our ankles.  Tragedies strike far and near.  They can entangle us or float on by with little fanfare.  We can be sure we will experience them in one way or another if we hang out in this world for very long.

It seems to me we are not designed to live in a tragedy forever.  As I think of the tough times in my life, I am not physically capable of experiencing the height of their intensity day after day, year after year; and I certainly do not want them to forever define me.  Who wants to be known as Floating Leaves 2“the relative of the one who_____” or “that person with ______ disease” or “the poor woman whose ____died.”  These tragedies most assuredly shape us.  They change us forever in big ways and small ways.  But they do not own us.  After a while, the intensity fades and they slip from the center of our lives.  Like the leaves, at some point they need to float on down the river.  Not forgotten, but also not bound around our legs in a globby mass.

As I stood in the river, leaves clinging to one of my legs, I realized that there were several ways to remove the leaves.  I could reach down and pick them off, or I could shake my leg a few times … if I could balance on the other foot in the current.  I found that by far the easiest way to remove leaves was to turn one way or the other and let the flow of water wash them away.  Sometimes just a slight turn did the trick.  Other times bigger turns were needed and maybe even a helping hand.  In the same way, tragedies take varying amounts of turning, in the form of work and/or time, before we can move on.  Still, I think we must move on.  If we were still living all the tragedies of all the centuries of human existence, we could not stand.  Mercifully, we cannot even know all the tragedies of human existence.  Hopefully we learn from the tragedies we do know about, but are not perpetually stuck in them.

We can all expect a few tragedies in our lives, either up close or from a distance, and probably some of each.  Still, I hope that we do not waste a lot of time anticipating every tragedy that could possibly occur, or clinging to those that do arrive as if afraid to let go.  May we find good ways to work with the tragedies that come our way, learning their lessons, and experiencing resulting healing.   This may take time, friends, music, words, professional healers, and any number of other avenues.  Then, may we allow, and even encourage those tragedies, to float on down the river when their time comes.  For some reason, it seems that letting go can be almost as difficult as the tragedy itself.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  (Romans 8:35,37)

Pastor Ann

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Porcelain Berry

Porcelain Berry 1The berries ranged from blue speckled to magenta to deep purple.  They were beautiful and grew on vines, much like grapes, in the wet climate of Ohio.  What little survival training I had told me that blue colored berries were the most likely to be edible, but I was not ready to take that chance.  I thought it prudent to learn what they were before partaking, so I did some research.  It is hard to “google” a plant based on “blue berries” and “jagged leaves”.  Finally I hit upon “blue speckled berries” and found their picture.  Porcelain berry, also known as creeper.  Hmmmm, with a name like that, I should have known to be wary!  I learned that what had been so lovely to my eyes turned out to be a weed!  It came from Asia and has disturbed the indigenous plants of the United States so much that some states are declaring war on it.  Furthermore, reports are that the berries are edible, but bland with an odd aftertaste, and with a slimy texture.

What I thought seemed so wonderful turned out to be a weed!  But, this has happened to me in life as well.  I think about the man who seemed so outstanding when we interviewed him, but did not work out at all well as an employee.  He ended up in federal prison.  Or the “perfect couple” who seemed to have it all together but ended up in divorce court.  Even clergy people are found not to practice what they preach on small and large scales.  How easy it is to become enamored of the wrong things.  Porcelain Berry 2Those beautiful blue speckled porcelain berries that are so lovely to look at, turn out not to be life giving or tasty at all.  They do not even play well with other plants.   Glad I checked it out before trying them!  Likewise, employees, couples, and clergy may not be what they seem either.  Any time we deal with humans, there is a high degree of complexity and changeability.  We have to cultivate discernment and use it day by day to avoid being entangled by charm, or surface beauty, or lies veneered with feigned credibility.  Hopefully discernment can help us see truth where truth my not be immediately apparent.

“The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools id deceiving”  (Proverbs 14:8 ESV)

Let us be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16),

Pastor Ann

Just a Glimpse

Sangre de Christo 1        A band of fog wrapped itself around the waist of the Sangre de Christo Mountains near Westcliffe, Colorado  I had never seen anything like it.  I tried to figure out how to capture it on my phone camera to show my friends.  Miles and miles of high peaks, speckled with yellow splashes of aspen leaf color.  And there it was, that low strip of fog, not quite big enough to cover the subject.  Mountains peeked their heads out above, and the feet – and probably even the ankles of the mountains defiantly showed themselves below.  I was not satisfied with the two dimensional pictures I was taking at various angles and with various foreground props.  They were pretty, but did not really catch what I was experiencing. The majesty of mountain after mountain for miles could not fit into the frame, not to mention the dampness of the air, the smells brought out by the recent rain, and the sounds of the valley.  Every second the clouds shifted, or the light filtered differently, or in some way the scene changed.   All I could hope to capture was a glimpse.

Sangre de Christo 2        It dawned on me I was trying to catch something vast, three dimensional and multi-faceted in a small two dimensional, “visual only” media.   What I apprehended was merely a hint of the real thing.  How many dimensions can God see, I wondered.  Are there colors and depths and objects that I cannot even detect with the senses I have?  (Put on your scuba gear, this could get deep! 😉 ) Then I realized that my understanding of God and God’s ways is like those inadequate two dimensional snapshots of the mountain range.   What I think I know of God is just a taste or a sample; merely a dim shadow of the whole.

Jesus taught with parables, similes, and metaphors with various levels of meaning.  These are not exacting descriptions, but instead, representations of who God is and what God’s kingdom is like, more expansive than exacting.  They are rich and intriguing, with room for us to explore, to get some valuable glimpses, and even to dare bring our playful heart; yet they do not give the entire picture.  Still, these “snapshots” are one of the vehicles God uses to reveal himself.  They are what we have, so let’s continue to share them with one another.  Let’s continue to take our own snapshots on our individual journeys and pass them around as well.  In the end, the hope is that we recognize God more and more as we learn more and more about God’s person and kingdom.  At the very least, we can enjoy together the slices of beauty we each manage to capture, limited though they may be.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:17)

Keep on capturing and sharing those glimpses,

Pastor Ann

Creamed Tomato Blanket

Blanket-creamed tomato color       I do not like the creamed tomato colored blankets passed down through several generations to me.  I never liked creamed tomatoes, so maybe that explains part of it.  Add to that the fact that they are made of itchy wool.  And of course, one time I vomited that color … could that be a factor?  So why do I keep them?  Well, I guess they come in handy at our mountain cabin.   I put them on the guest beds – but have to put them between other blankets to avoid the itching.  They go under sleeping pads as an extra layer of insulation when people sleep on the deck on chilly Colorado nights. But mostly I think the reason I keep them is that I have trouble getting rid of certain things, especially items that once belonged to an ancestor.  Unfortunately these blankets wear like iron, so my great grandchildren will probably still be using them long after I am gone.   Unless (hopefully) they have the detachment I lack, and simply donate them to charity.  “Have what you want, but want what you have,” they will say.  And this will make them just that much wiser than I am.

When it came time for my Mom to pass down her huge antique china cabinet with curved glass doors, loaded with treasures, my home was one that could have held it.  BUT … as much as I loved looking at the treasures inside as a kid, I really did not want the responsibility of maintaining those fragile antiques.  Finally I said I would take it, but my Mom sensed my hesitation and stepped in.  She very kindly said,  “Don’t take it, Ann, if you don’t’ want it.  It will just be an albatross around your neck.  You have to dust it and clean things and you probably don’t want that much work.”  Right she was, and “permission was granted” for me to trust my heart.  The cabinet went elsewhere.

Creamed tomato blankets and a china closet full of dishes point to a certain kind of greed I struggle with.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with owning these things.  But for me, the line comes when possessions own me and I serve them instead of the other way around.  Maybe we could call it “hoarder greed.”  this problem pops up for me especially with things that come down through the family.  I may not particularly need, want, or even like some of these items, but I think, for some reason, that I “should” keep them.  Perhaps the time has come to rethink.

“And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

Anyone want some creamed tomato colored blankets?

Pastor Ann

Alone After Dark

     It gets dark early in Taos in January.  I was walking back to my motel after dinner and heard footsteps behind me.  It startled me, and in an uncharacteristic move, I swung my head around to look.  Usually I make it a point to be aware of my surroundings, but I try not to act scared or make sudden moves.  I spun my head back and began walking faster, knowing that my fear was evident.  The footsteps behind me were gaining on me.  I couldn’t see anyone else around. Then I heard a calm voice, still several paces behind me, call out, “Hello, I don’t want you to feel nervous.  I’m just walking back to my motel up there.”   A man soon passed me and continued on to his motel, just as he said.  I’m certain he saw the fear in my body language, but he very kindly attempted to diffuse it with well-chosen words, giving the message that I would not be harmed.  I realized that I do not expect to hear truthful words from men behind me on dark streets, but this man, thankfully, did exactly what he said he would do.

But wait, the story does not end there.  The next day I was walking on the streets of Taos and a man, with a rather slight build, who did not look threatening at all, approached me and said, “Excuse me, were you walking on the street up there last night?”  He indicated the place where the stranger had passed me.  “I recognize your walk but I didn’t see your face in the dark.  I hope I did not startle you when I came up behind you.  I know it can be scary walking alone at night.  My name is Brian.”  I introduced myself too, and thanked him for the courtesy he showed me by calling out to me while still at a distance, and for giving me plenty of room as he passed me that previous night.  It was very clear to me he was not being inappropriate in any way as he spoke to me.  He was simply concerned that he not appear to be a creepy guy, and maybe, just maybe, he also had some concern for my well-being.

It is a simple fact of life that people, and probably especially women, need to be careful when they are alone , and particularly after dark.  We are taught that from the time we are tiny.  Then again, (and I have no statistics to back this up) I suspect it is also true that the vast majority of people  have no intention of harming those who might be in vulnerable positions.  As a matter of fact, I have stories to tell of people who went an extra mile to help me when I was in a bad spot; but those are stories for other days.  In this story, Brian gave me the gift of safety, and he gave me a chance to consider how I treat vulnerable people when I am in a position of power or privilege.  I pray that I will be a “Brian.”   “Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.”  (Psalm 41:1)

May the Lord bless us with “Brians,” and may we be “Brians” to others,

Pastor Ann

 

photo credit: Hello Turkey Toe <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7298413@N06/416240205“>PA14821238631</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/“>(license)</a>

Holy Ground

AspenI stood on an aspen-lined gravel road high in the Colorado mountains.  A friend had asked me to scatter some of her husband’s ashes in a place of my choosing.  I chose this place because it is frequented by bicycles.  He loved to cycle.  The mountain view is breathtaking.  He was an artist.  There are wild currants, gooseberries, and rose hips for the picking in the fall.  He was a cook and I am sure would have made creative sauces or preserves from them, given half a chance.  I sang a song for him.  The second verse was probably the reason I chose it.  “No more sickness, no more sorrow, since I laid my burden down.  No more sickness, no more sorrow, since I laid my burden down.”  He had suffered with a rare form of cancer that sapped his life bit by bit, till finally it was gone.  That was three years ago, and it was now time to scatter the ashes “everywhere” as he wished.  This was one of those tasks that in some ways, is not easy, but in others, is a “holy ground” experience.  I removed the baggie of ashes from the envelope that contained them.  They were, to my surprise, gray.  Why did I think they would be black?  I opened the baggie, judged the wind, and shook them out.  Even so, some of the ashes drifted back onto my jeans and shoes.  It seemed right.  There is a part of him that will stick with me for as long as I have my wits about me.  I brushed them off knowing it was impossible to remove all of the tiny particles.  I was fine with that.

Grieving, remembering, letting go when the time comes (I held onto these ashes for a while before scattering them), getting messy and laughing about it in the process.  All these things are part of this holy ground experience.  Is it perfect?  Is it pretty?  Is it easy?  No, not really.  But is there something bigger going on in the midst of it?  I think so.  I am working through my loss, which is nothing compared to the loss his wife is experiencing.  Yet hopefully I am also helping her carry a small part of that load.  I am glad to have known this man who is now gone, a portion of whose ashes are now part of the Colorado Rockies.  I will continue to enjoy the gravel road where I left his remains, with its  bicyclists, its breathtaking mountain views, and the wild fruits that ripen there in the fall.  And I will, time and again, remember him in the process.  I am so grateful that his wife chose to share this holy ground with me.

May we embrace the holy ground that life presents,

Pastor Ann

Aunt Lizzy’s Cookies

Molasses Cookies    Great Aunt Lizzy had seven kids, was a widow for forty years, and she made the best molasses cookies ever.   I do not make cookies often, but when I get a hankering, it is usually for those tasty molasses morsels.  I tell myself that molasses has iron, and I dunk them in milk, which is rich in calcium, so there is some redeeming nutritional value involved.  And of course, I do avoid a pile of saturated fats by not using the lard that the recipe calls for.  My Dad swore that the lard made a much better cookie, but then, I never saw him refuse one made with vegetable shortening either.  I guess in some sense I’m making a variation of Aunt Lizzie’s cookies.  Still, the recipe came from her and I think of her each time I use it.

The Christian faith has been passed through generations just like Aunt Lizzy’s cookie recipe, although certainly through a lot more generations.  A seminary professor of mine said that one reason we preach is because each generation must do the work of interpreting the bible for their context.  Jesus never spoke about cars or electricity.  He never let us know how he felt about TV or video games.  He did not weigh in on environmental issues or social media.  We have to evaluate the principles taught in God’s word, combined with learnings from other saints, and our own assessment of the situation to determine how we will embody Christianity in our own context.

I’m sure Great Aunt Lizzy expressed her faith differently than I do.  For example, I know for a fact that she was not an ordained minister.  The possibility probably would not have crossed her mind.  Of course in those days, the opportunities for women, especially a mother of seven, to attend seminary, would have been slim.  This starts me wondering about how different my expression of Christianity must be from women of the first century.  Still, the basic ingredients are the same.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matt. 22:37-39).

May we keep passing the faith, and the cookies, from generation to generation,

Pastor Ann

 

photo credit: Ruthieki N00/63778658″>Soft Molasses Cookies (Recipe) via photopin (license)