Friday Five – Halloween

Over in the RevGalBlogPals Facebook group, Monica Thompson Smith brought this week’s Friday Five questions: Halloween Candy

1. What is your favorite Halloween candy?
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

2. What candy lingers in the bowl because it most definitely is not your favorite?
Good & Plenty, or any black licorice

3. Will you participate in trick-or-treating this year?
I’ll be giving out candy and glow sticks.
Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids that I’ve never heard of the Teal Pumpkin Project. It’s a movement to offer allergy-safe Halloween treats, instead of or in addition to candy. A teal pumpkin is a sign that you have allergy-safe options to give out. I overheard a woman in Target talking about it last week, as she put a teal pumpkin in her cart. I tried to be subtle as I swooped over to the shelf she had just left; but there were only orange pumpkins left. But thanks to Target’s website and their free Halloween delivery, I now have two teal pumpkins to go with the orange ones on my front steps.

4. Do you like to decorate your home for Halloween?
Not extensively. I have a few things by the front door to welcome trick-or-treaters.

5. What was your favorite costume when you were a child?
Honestly, I don’t remember what costumes I had as a child. So I really hope my parents didn’t spend much time or money on them.

 

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Friday Five – Change of Season

20131102_174437 (3)Over in the RevGalBlogPals Facebook group, my friend Julie Woods Rennick offers today’s Friday 5:

It’s mid October. In the northern hemisphere the days are shortening, leaves are falling and the earth is getting ready for a winter sleep. The season of comfort foods and bedding down is here! What are the things that qualify for comfort and ease in your life? Are there routines that you look forward to at this time of year?

Here are my five. Please share your responses in the comments below, or on your own blog (with a link here in the comments, so I can go read your five).

  1. The feeling of crawling into bed the first time I make it up with flannel sheets.
  2. The morning air, cool enough to give energy, and not yet cold enough to bite.
  3. A Crock-Pot simmering with soup or chili and sending its tempting aroma throughout the house.
  4. Sitting in my favorite chair with a quilt on my lap, and watching the first really big snow storm swirl outside (as long as I don’t lose power). And then my dog Sadie’s sense of amazement the first time she steps outside and the snow comes almost up to her belly.
  5. Cold weather foods from the cookbooks and kitchens of my Swedish relatives: potatiskorv (meat and potato sausage, homemade when i was growing up), rice pudding (the baked custard kind, with raisins), kringlar (think of it as a Swedish bagel in the shape of a pretzel), and julglög (mulled wine with brandy and vodka for extra anti-freeze properties).

Those are my five. I’d love to read yours, either in the comments below or on your blog.

The Tears of the Children

templo mayorWhen I was a student in seminary, one of the requirements for graduation was that we take part in a cross-cultural experience of some sort. There were rural immersion experiences for “city kids,” urban plunges for those who grew up on farms, and opportunities to visit many places in the world.

I chose to spend two weeks in Mexico, not in the gated resort communities where people go to spend their vacations, but in the neighborhoods where the poor lived and worked and improvised in order to get from morning to night every day, where they supported one another in prayer and in action, where they knew that their only hope was in Christ, because all other hope had been snatched away.

On one of our first days in Mexico, our group traveled to the historic central area of Mexico City. One of our stops was Temple Mayor, an archaeological site of an ancient Aztec temple that had been destroyed by the conquering Spanish forces in order to build their own cathedral on top of the ruins. One of the shrines at Temple Mayor was to Tlaloc, the rain god. Worship of this god involved sacrifice of children, in order to persuade the god to allow rain to fall. Dozens of children were sacrificed, many of them sold by their own parents. On the way to the top of the pyramid where the killing would take place, the children were threatened and physically hurt so that they would cry and scream, the louder the better. It seems that children’s tears, in addition to their lives, were demanded by the rain god.

What was your reaction as you read that last paragraph? Did you have the same reactions I did, that this was horrific, brutal, barbaric. What kind of parents would allow their own children to be subject to such inhuman practices! Who would allow their children to live in fear and to be killed because of the fears of their parents? How much progress we have made!

Progress indeed. We have progressed to the point that our children’s cries and screams are heard at country music concerts. We have progressed to the point that our children fear going to school because there might be someone with a gun. We have progressed to the point that we sell our own children into fear and even death because we are afraid to stand up to the tyrannical rain god known as the NRA. Just as we know that Tlaloc didn’t really need the death of children in order to send rain, we know in our hearts – in those parts of our hearts that know the truth, beyond the reach of all the propaganda – that the NRA’s predictions of calamity will not result from common-sense measures like background checks and limits on magazine size. And still, we knowingly send our children into the line of fire, into the heart of danger, in order to convince ourselves that the NRA-god will smile on us.

Progress indeed. We have progressed to the point that our children’s cries and screams are heard on city streets as they are shot to death. We have progressed to the point that our children of color fear going to the store, driving their cars, or walking home at night because there might be a police officer with a gun who is afraid. We have progressed to the point that we as a nation sell our children of color into fear and death because we are afraid to insist that their lives matter. Just as we know that Tlaloc didn’t really need the death of children in order to send rain, we know in our hearts – in our hearts as parents and friends and coworkers – that the danger the police claim to fear from young men of color is not real. And still, we knowingly send our young men into the line of their fire, into the heart of danger, in order to convince ourselves that we will somehow be safer if their lives do not matter.

Progress indeed. We have progressed to the point that our children’s cries and screams are heard as they are forced to deny their gender identity an orientation. We have progressed to the point that our children fear going to school, naming who they are, or loving whom they love because we won’t try to understand any experience but our own. We have progressed to the point that we sell our children into fear and death because we are afraid to stand up to those who would tell them that they are beyond the bounds of God’s love. Just as we know that Tlaloc didn’t really need the death of children in order to send rain, we know in our hearts – in our hearts as parents and siblings and friends – that these children are every bit as precious to God as we are. And still, we knowingly send our children into a world that would hurt, shame, and even kill them, in order to convince ourselves that we are worthy of God’s love.

Progress indeed. In so many ways, we are no different than the parents who sold their children to be tormented and killed to ensure their own comfort and prosperity. When we fail to defend our children from gun violence and hatred and abuse, we look in the mirror and see the brutal, barbaric, and inhuman parts of our souls.

We no longer worship the got Tlaloc. We have replaced him with an array of gods that try to demand bullets as the price of peace and conformity as the price of safety. Perhaps it is time to consign those gods to the history books as well. Perhaps it is time to remember that rain comes from a loving God who wants all children to thrive.ray

This is the prayer I wrote for our final worship on that Mexico trip. Much of it could still be prayed today.

We have been called to this place to see clearly, to think deeply, and to act boldly.  Let us join our hearts in prayer for the church, the world, and all those in need.

Two-thirds of the people in Mexico try to earn a living in the informal economy, including a third of children under ten years old.  Children sell Chiclets on the street and men lie on broken glass in the subway.

For those who must struggle each day to earn enough money to feed their families, that they might receive daily bread…  Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…  Our real task is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.  [George Kennan, for the U.S. State Department, 1948]

For those whose self-interest blinds them to seeing the needs of others, that they might be awakened to their place in the family of creation…  Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.

Solo:  Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ, v. 1

Each year, over 4,000 people die attempting to cross the border from Mexico to the United States.  Each of these people has a name, a home, a family.

For those who have died, for those who mourn, and for those who wait for news that will never come, that they might be comforted…  Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.

As a condition for making loans, the World Bank imposes Structural Adjustment Programs that lead to reduction or elimination of social services.

For those with power and influence, that they might be guided to use their authority in ways that build up the body of Christ…  Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.

Solo:  Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ, v. 2

I would like to make a special appeal to the members of the Army… In the name of God, in the name of your tormented people whose cries rise up…  I beseech you, I beg you, I command you:  Stop the repression!  [Bishop Oscar Romero, the day before he was assassinated while leading a worship service in 1980]

For those who take a stand in support of the poor and in opposition to ruthless power, that their voices might be heard and heeded…  Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.

Across the country, base Christian communities gather to pray, to study the scripture, and to take action to accompany those who are struggling.

For those who care for others in your name, that they might be strengthened through their service…  Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.

Solo:  Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ, v. 3

We have experienced the radical hospitality of home visit hosts, who give up even their own beds so that we might have a place to sleep.

For those who, in the midst of their poverty, evangelize us, that both we and they would grow in our sense of community with one another…  Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

For those who wait upon the promise of your favor, that their souls might continue to magnify your name… Lord, in your mercy… hear our prayer.

In the silence of this moment, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts to stir up faith in us and to pray for us those prayers that, right now, we cannot pray for ourselves…  For all that you see your children need, we pray, in the name of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

 

Escaping the Echo Chamber

Escaping theEcho Chamber (1)I have a lot of friends whose views on political and social issues are pretty similar to mine. I am neither apologizing nor feeling guilty about that; it’s natural for all of us to want to spend time with people who have similar outlooks and ideas. The problem is, we can too easily get caught in an echo chamber, where the only voices we hear are those that sound just like ours. If we don’t have a chance to engage differing opinions, it becomes too easy to stereotype those who disagree with us. We start to imagine ourselves as the Good Guys and the “others” as the Bad Guys. And if we happen to cross paths on Facebook or in the comments section of a blog or media article, the dialogue quickly degenerates into name-calling and character assassination.

This is not a new problem. Jesus’ disciples were convinced that their Samaritan neighbors were completely evil and untrustworthy. They were shocked – scandalized – when they saw Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman by a public well. And the familiar Bible story is called The Good Samaritan because that’s what made it news. Samaritans were rarely thought of as good. When we only associate with people who think like we think, say what we say, we can start to think of that as reality, not as the echo chamber it really is.

One of the remedies is to intentionally seek out people from different places in the social-political landscape and to listen to them. Listen… not debate, argue, or try to convert… but listen deeply and respectfully. I have friends who have tried to create spaces for conversations that cross the red and blue political lines. Sometimes they work well, other times not so much. In my own associations, I have some people who might be good conversation partners, except that they won’t put in the time and effort to craft an original contribution to the discussion of any issue. Instead, they lurk around Facebook pages and blogs and wait for someone to make a statement about a news event or current issue. Then they jump in with (verbal) guns blazing and engage in all the bad behavior. Those aren’t thoughtful contributors to any conversation; they are what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians as noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. They simply generate noise and ill will.

Fortunately, I also have some thoughtful conversation partners. One friend with whom I disagree on many issues but whose voice I appreciate is Rebecca Florence Miller. She and I met nearly 15 years ago in seminary. She has a blog on the Evangelical Channel of Patheos (here), and she frequently offers opinions on the day’s events on her Facebook page.

Rebecca is significantly more conservative than I am. But I am enriched every time I read one of her blog posts. She does not paint issues with broad-brush simplistic strokes; she is attentive to the nuances of a situation. She is a strong believer in accountability and will challenge those who try to dodge their ethical responsibility, regardless of their political stripes. And she seems never to forget that even those who are acting the worst are children of a God who loves them and wants better for them.

I am grateful to Rebecca and to the many other people in my life who are thoughtful, ethical, and willing to hold me and others accountable for our own words and actions.

Khaleesi Chronicles – We Have a Truce!

20170618_104057

For those who have been following the adventures of my furry little Mother of Dragons, this will be a quick update.

 20170618_104146My 7-foot-tall cat tree sits in a corner of the living room, right next to my couch. Russell has peacefully napped on one of the couch cushions ever since we moved here, without ever noticing the cat tree (unless I loaded it with treats; then he would consent to climb on it, until the treats were gone). Now that Khaleesi has claimed the top three levels of the tree as her domain, suddenly he wants to push her out and take over the space. As I’m typing this he is on the back of the couch, looking longingly at the spot she has claimed (and that isn’t big enough for two cats).

The two of them have reached some sort of armed truce… most of the time. He sleeps on the couch, she sleeps in the cat tree, they take turns sitting by the patio door to supervise the birds, they have a schedule for who is at the food dish when, so they never have to confront each other.

They are still negotia20170618_104148ting the finer points of their agreement, complete with hissing and howling, usually accompanied by Sadie barking her encouragement from the sidelines. But that seems to be a little less each day. So I think we’re in pretty good shape for her having been here just over two months.

The best news of all, though, is that she is finally acclimated to people enough that I can pet her and even brush her. And this time I have pictures to prove it! The brushing is only good for a few minutes each day; then she gets restless and swats my hand away. But compared to how she was when she first arrived, this is huge progress. Not a lap cat just yet, but I’m confident we’ll get there.

 

Khaleesi Update – Lots of Progress

In so many parts of life, progress comes unevenly. For quite a while, it seems like nothing happens, and then there’s a big jump. The last few days have seen a big jump in progress for Khaleesi.

20170611_192643 - croppedA couple of days ago, I told you that I had noticed Khaleesi up on the second floor in the middle of the night, a few feet outside the bedroom door. This morning when I came downstairs, I noticed that she was up on the cat tree. As soon as she saw Russell, she jumped down and retreated to the basement. I was pleased that she had found her way up to the cat tree, at least while the rest of us were out of the room.20170611_192555

This afternoon, it was as though Khaleesi and Russell had suddenly decided that fighting was too much work. (Maybe it’s just too hot.) I was sitting in the living room, and Russell was in his usual spot, asleep at the end of the couch. Just a few feet above him, Khaleesi was in one of the top bins of the cat tree, seeming very calm as she enjoyed the view out the patio door.

Eventually they both started moving around the living room, in the cat tree, behind the couch, under the coffee table. They carefully kept their distance from one another, and there were a couple of very quiet hisses if someone got too close. But overall they were astonishingly calm.

I am hopeful.

A Tiny Khaleesi Update

My time is limited today, filled with a list of things I hope to complete yet this afternoon. So this will be just a tiny update on our newest family member.

Khaleisi 2 (2)

Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom. That’s not unusual, but when I was on my way back to the bedroom, I happened to glance at the stairway. There at the top of the stairs on the second floor was Khaleesi. She was settled in comfortably, as though she had been napping while the other two critters were sound asleep in my bedroom. Of course I didn’t get a picture. I don’t normally take my smart phone with me to the bathroom in the middle of the night. But I was awake enough to know that it really happened.

The most amazing thing was that she didn’t bolt down the stairs or into a hiding place when she saw me. She watched me carefully, ready to move if I came toward her; but I didn’t, so she stayed right there. I had the feeling that she had been doing that every night for quite a while, coming up to the top floor, settling in a few feet from the bedroom door, and spending at least part of the night

For some reason, that made me over-the-moon happy. I’m imagining that in a few days or a few weeks, she will settle in the doorway to the bedroom, and maybe eventually on the bed with the  others. But for now, the fact that she seems to want to be where we are is enough, and I fell back asleep with a smile on my face.