Hope at Hand

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A symbol of hope welcomes people to contemplative prayer at CGS

Bad news on the doorstep, every day. The Syrian peace talks are a shambles. Gun violence continues to take innocent lives. My very talented and thoughtful friend is still unemployed, after a year of diligent searching for work. My eleven year old daughter already asks, “How can I promise to live by the Girl Scout law, when the world is such a hard place?” 

This is a question too weighty to answer in a blog posting. But I think one piece of the answer lies in attending to particulars. I can offer hope and be offered hope in real relationships and by paying attention to what is at hand. Jesus modeled this really well. The hope he modeled attended to particular people: the woman at the well, two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Lazarus, and the bride and groom who invited him to their wedding but didn’t plan well for the reception. Jesus also told others to share good news. What did you see here? Go tell people.

My friend Julie heard about some neighbors going out of their way to help someone in need. She called a TV station to “share the good news,” and they told the story to all of Boston. You can see it here.

Retired Bishop of Alaska Steve Charleston recently shared this thought about hope on Facebook. I’ve been pondering it all week, and I pass it along here for you to ponder with me. Let me know if it changes your perspective or inspires you to action.

We hope for things unseen, but I also think we hope for things in plain sight. I hope for my family, for friends that I know are facing difficult times, for the community in which I live, for the corner of this Earth that I call home. My hope is rooted. It is grounded in reality. I hope for what I can touch and feel, what I share in every day, what I see in the eyes of others. Hope is what we have when we have little more. It has to be seen. It has to be tangible. So yes, I do hope long distance, but I also hope up close and personal, hope so near to me I never lose sight of it.

 

 

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This Blog Posting Will Not Go Viral

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Tuesday morning near the Boys & Girls Club, Watertown

No dancing dogs or flash mob liturgies. No heart-felt confessions, apologies, or twerking. No pistachios falling from the sky (although in my next life, I do hope to be as clever as Tobuscus, who is hilarious). This blog posting contains no solutions to the Syrian conflict, no clear moral statement on the appropriate price of a parsonage,  no analysis of critical dissent as a form of faith. I have not written a poem to share here. I will not quote Rumi. I could, but I won’t. I won’t even link to a Rumi quote.

This posting is simply to share that today I walked around Saltonstall Park and it was beautiful. The sun shone on the snow. The air was crisp. I ran into a friend, which made the walk even nicer. I took the photo above, which I now share with you.

So today, I shall let Tobuscus keep his 5 million followers, and I shall let others debate the aesthetic and theologial value of a nautilus pediment. I shall not strive for much. I’m just happy about the snow and the sunshine and the trees. That’s enough.

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One Voice, Calm and Clear

At Watertown's Unity Breakfast

At Watertown’s Unity Breakfast

I know you can’t see the speaker very well in this photo. I deliberately chose this photo to give you a sense of the size of the room and the fact that the speaker is addressing hundreds of people. She’s in front of the large (articifical?) tree by the window. She is speaking clearly and calmly. She is stating her frustration about the ongoing discrimination in our society against LBGTQ persons. And she is explaining how it is the witness and moral reasoning of Martin Luther King Jr that inspires her and encourages her to speak out.

And she is a middle school student. Wow. When I was in middle school (junior high school, in my case), I also gave speeches. The VFW and Voice of America sponsored annual “oratory” contests, and I participated every year. My speeches were sooooo tame. I had so little awareness of the depth and complexity of our society’s injustices, and I knew next to nothing about the Civil Right Movement, unfortunately. And if I had had an opinion, I doubt I would have had the courage to stand up in front of the good people of my hometown and tell them what for.

Decades later, while I am bolder and committed to speaking up and standing up for a better world, I still need role models for speaking truth to power. Don’t we all? I am thankful for this wonderful young woman (who is a minor, so I won’t ID her in my blog) for speaking so articulately to her community at Watertown’s Unity Breakfast.

 

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Gone, Gone, Gone

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Settle’s is gone.

The last wall of the old Settles Auto Glass building on Main Street was being torn down when I drove by recently. Gone, baby, gone. I never shopped at Settles and I don’t know anything about why it went out of business. Ever since it closed, I’ve been hoping something lovely would move in — maybe a bookstore, or a cafe or a co-op grocery.

But even though I had been hoping for change, it was a bit jarring to see the building gone. I’m not great at imagining new things. I’m better at imagining renovations to existing things: I have the urge to slap a fresh coat of paint on the wall, to move the furniture, or to get a group of people to brainstorm new purposes for existing structures. Clean slate-ism is hard for me, which is why I admire church planters, emergent community leaders, and entrepreneurs of all types.

Folks I know are talking about, writing about, yearning for or fretting over the “reinvention of church.” Everything must change, it seems. “Behold, I am doing a new thing,” God seems to be saying, again.  I’m curious to see what’s next. I’m not worried. But I know that there’s a part of me that wishes God’s pronouncement was, “Behold, I am slapping a new coat of paint on an old thing.”

God, open my heart to what is truly new. Let me respond to change with less fear and more wonder. Help me to know when to scratch my plans and when to simply adjust them. Let me know when to tinker and when to toss; when to renovate and when to help clear the site so that others may build something new. Thanks for putting me in a time and place where so much is emerging, and thank you for good companions with whom to sort things out. That’s all for now. Amen.

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This one’s for you, Mark Bronner!

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8:30 am view of Mt. Auburn Street

You know how you can have a momentary flashback to something you haven’t thought about for years? Well…..

I ventured out in Watertown this morning, in advance of the Big Snowstorm. Not many people out and about. The chairs inside the Starbucks were as empty as the chairs outside (featured above). I was thinking about how my kids’ school had been cancelled for two days, even before the first flake of snow fell. I was thinking about necessary preparations for the extreme cold forecast.

That’s when I thought about Mark Bronner. I used to teach at a school outside of Milwaukee, and Mark was a colleague and friend of mine. Mark is an enthusiast – he incarnates “carpe diem” and very little deters him from creating fun. In the deep mid-winter, when school was cancelled because of snow or, more often, because of extreme cold, Mark would call all the teachers and announce “Lunch at Chi-Chi’s!”

Off we went, skidding across Waukesha County in our Tercels, our convertible LeMans, our 13 yr old Civics. We generally had the whole restaurant to ourselves. And we had a really great time, celebrating just being together without having to rush off to classes, grade tests, or wrestle with the copier to get the readings ready for the next period.

I’m not saying that school shouldn’t have been cancelled today. Nor am I advocating that people careen around Middlesex County tomorrow, risking their lives. But I am thankful that Mark’s enthusiasm was a part of my life, and since one of my new year’s resolutions is to make more time for my friends, I salute him as a Friendship Mentor. He’s still teaching at that school, which is awesome – He’s outlasted Chi-Chi’s, which filed for bankruptcy years ago — and he’s probably seizing the day even as you read this.

Happy snow day!

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Waiting

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The patient #71 bus crowd

These people are waiting for the bus on a cold morning. We waited a long time.

The bus took me to a monastery in Cambridge, where I spent the day with monks. They are highly skilled at waiting. They are my mentors in the art of waiting. 

At lunch with the monks, one eats in silence. When finished, one does not leap up and leave the room. Rather, one waits until everyone is finished, and the superior leads a final prayer. 

I spent time that day preparing to speak a word of hope to people who are waiting. They’ve lost loved ones, and they are waiting for their souls to readjust, waiting to be able to continue life with a semblance of normalcy. They would gather in Storey Chapel at Mt. Auburn Cemetery and wait their turn to light a candle. I spend my day with the monks waiting for inspiration: what word do I have for them?

That evening, I waited again for the bus to take me back to Watertown. But it was snowing, and Mt. Auburn St. was dark, quiet, as muffled, though a blanket had been tossed over it. I didn’t mind waiting.

The next morning, I woke up later than I meant to, keeping someone waiting with whom I was meant to pray. I didn’t have to wait long to be forgiven for my trespass, which was a blessing.

What are you waiting for? And where? And with whom?

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At Peace with Grey

ImageI never attend to winter’s coming until the day – there is always a particular day – when the sky is, of a sudden, a singularly thick grey.  This greyness envelopes the day from morning till sunset. Ah, here it is: winter. Seeing this sky causes a kind of relocation in my mind and heart. It’s as if I’ve walked off an airplane in a new region of the spiritual world.

Although it generally takes me by surprise, I don’t mind this sudden arrival of winter. Grey is not black. It is not “darkness” but another kind of light.  Grey calls for a heavier coat, the turning on of lamps. But it also invites longer nights of sleep. Dialing down the activity level. Perhaps a cup of tea.

I walked along the Charles River yesterday thinking about all of this. The air was thick with the scent of old leaves and wet branches.  The water was quietly reflecting back the grey of the sky. I thought about how full and sometimes fraught this year has been in Watertown (and elsewhere). Maybe a time of quiet, a time of less-ness, and a cup of tea are just what we need. Rather than escaping to Florida or to the fluorescent lights of the mall, or to a “lite” theology of eternal sunshine, what if we accepted what grey skies offer us?

During this first week of Advent, we light a candle – just one candle – patiently believing that it is enough for now. We explore the world of just enough light. We watch and wait through the grey days, moving without hurry through the days at hand, which are blessing and in which we will be blessed.

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