Archive | April 2014

The Virtue of Inconsistency

Hobgoblin sketchMy favorite quotation of all time was made by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I loved it the first time I read it, back when I was a literature major in college:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

I always thought “hobgoblin” was a fun-to-say word – almost onomatopoeic – the sound it makes suggests the meaning of the word. A hobgoblin is a mischievous elf in English folk tales, a hairy little man who plays tricks on you. Nothing mean, just pranks.

When I was a high school English teacher, I usually tried to work the quote into at least one lesson plan each year. Most of the kids were surprised by the quote. Consistency is what’s normally considered to be good, not inconsistency. The quote prompted some fresh thinking, I think.

I still throw the quote into discussions on occasion when someone is struggling for the courage to try a different approach to solving a problem, or just simply trying out something new.

AbrahamLincolnLast week I read something about being afraid to contradict yourself, afraid that someone might say to you, “But that’s not what you said yesterday.” The writer gave me a new favorite quotation. He quoted Abraham Lincoln’s response to the accusation of being inconsistent in what he says, “Yes, that is what I said yesterday, but I hope that I’m smarter today than I was yesterday.”

As I was thinking about these quotes, I decided to google “consistency quotes,” and came across one by Bernard Berenson, an art historian of the past century. “Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.”

Hmm. Is he suggesting that if I am totally consistent today with what I believed and what I said a year ago, that I am just as ignorant as I was a year ago?

Abraham Lincoln - wiser - brownI keep thinking that I’m learning new things and am actually becoming a little bit wiser every year of my life. The natural result of the learning process is that I should be recognizing some inconsistencies within myself. That’s good, and nothing to be afraid of. That’s progress. That’s something to pray for. Edward Hays wrote the prayer, “Daily may I grow smarter and change my mind, and so contradict myself…”

 

A closing thought… One of the best parts of the learning process for me is exploring new ideas on the Internet. However, Abraham Lincoln warned us to be careful with that.

 

Abraham Lincoln - Internet Quote - brown

My Grade on Giving up Hurry for Lent

2 geese 04-21-14On Easter Abbey spent about an hour out on our deck, watching two geese float back and forth on the pond. She said to me, “Mom, did you notice that two of our geese have finally come back home? Two years ago they were here at the beginning of Lent. This year they didn’t come back until Easter. Why were they so slow in returning?”

“I don’t know, Abbey. Maybe it’s because of how cold our winter was, and how long the cold weather stayed with us this year. I was beginning to wonder if they had decided not to come back at all.”

“I’m glad they’re back, even if they were in no hurry to get here. It’s fun to watch them glide on the water so gracefully.”

“Speaking of HURRY, Abbey, how well do you think I did at giving up HURRY for Lent?”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

Abbey-Marian“Remember, I said I was going to give up HURRY for Lent? You were the one who told me I was always in too much of a hurry to enjoy life. How do you think I did? Did I succeed in giving up HURRY for Lent? What kind of grade would you give me?”

“Well, you did stop saying ‘Hurry up, Abbey’ when we went out for our walks. That’s progress…  You let me take all the time I needed to sniff out the news about who’d been walking in my yard. I guess I could give you a grade of B. Sometimes you tugged on my leash a little, so you don’t quite deserve an A.”

“I really tried to stop living my life in a hurry. I think hurrying has become a habit for many of us. We schedule too many things to do, without really thinking about how much that will make us rush around rather than allowing ourselves to make the most of what we’re doing at the time.”

“Did you read that book you wanted to read during Lent?”

“Yes, I did. The book was An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling. There were some good thoughts in the book, but overall I was a little disappointed in it. The author focused pretty specifically on pastors, so quite a bit of the book wasn’t very relevant to me. What sticks in my mind most from the book is the story of The Good Samaritan. What if the Good Samaritan had been in too much of a hurry going about his own business to help the wounded man? That possibility was pretty easy to relate to. The discussion of that story reminded me of the Saturday morning prayer for Spring in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays:

… As this Earth spins around at thousands of miles an hour,
my mind spins with plans for this day.
At the same time as I use your gift of organizing,
grant me also the gift of openness to what you, my God,
may have in store for me on this new spring day.
May I be open to sacred surprises.
Grant me the readiness to set aside my plans when life proposes another agenda
or the needs of others invite me to unexpected service…

“You know, Abbey, the perfect ending to Lent this year came for me on Saturday night.”

“What happened Saturday night? I know you were gone for a long time.”

Messiah altar

“We had an Easter Vigil at church. This was a first for our church (MessiahChurch.com). Since we now regularly have a Saturday night service, as well as two services on Sunday morning, we had to figure out what kind of service to have for the Saturday night before Easter. We decided to do a somewhat abbreviated Easter Vigil. It didn’t last until midnight, like a traditional Easter Vigil would, but it was somewhat longer than a normal service.

“We gathered in the darkened community room of the church. In the middle of the room was a huge, beautiful centerpiece with dozens of candles of all sizes symbolizing a bonfire.  You would have loved it, Abbey. I saw one little girl, probably about three, timidly walk around some people to get a good look at the pillars of fire. As soon as she saw it, her eyes sparkled and she called back to her mom to come quick and see. She was beaming with excitement.”

“I wish you could bring me along to things like this, Mom. Tell me more about it.”

“After a couple short readings in the community room, the pastor lit the big Easter candle from the “bonfire” and then the fire was passed on to everyone gathered there, each person holding a small candle. The pastor led a procession into the church. When everyone was inside the church, the pastor chanted ‘The Exultet.’

“What did that sound like, Mom?”

“It was beautiful, Abbey. Hearing the chanting made me feel like I was a part of our long faith tradition, like I was joined together with ancestors going all the way back to the time of Christ, even back to the time of Abraham, way back to the time of creation.”

Abbey looking up colorized 2“Wow. If I had been there, I bet I would have been tempted to howl like my wolf ancestors!”

“I bet you would have, Abbey. To remind us of how God has been with us throughout history, there were several Old Testament readings. We sang a response after each reading. There was also a reading from Romans, which was followed by loud joyful singing to announce the reading of the Gospel. After all these readings there was a homily, an adult baptism and confirmation, and communion. The service ended with the congregation joyfully singing ‘Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.’ It was really fun to pull out the loud stops on the organ to accompany the congregation as they sang this Easter hymn. The whole vigil was dramatic and wonderful. And you know what, Abbey? It wasn’t rushed at all. We didn’t hurry through any part of the service. It was wonderful to be fully engaged in each moment of the Easter Vigil.”

“It’s a good thing you practiced not hurrying all through Lent, so that you didn’t feel antsy during the vigil.”

“You may be right, Abbey. But, it really felt good to just be in the moment, to be worshiping God, and to be remembering our history and God’s love for us throughout all history, and even up to today.

“It was also good to end the evening with a party, enjoying time together with our friends in church. We had just been reminded of how much God cares for us. That’s something to celebrate!”

Marian-Abbey faces bronze“Hey, Mom. I’m re-thinking the grade I gave you for fasting from HURRY for Lent. I think we both learned three good reasons for not hurrying through life, to not let HURRY become a habit.

  • First, we need to not hurry for our own good, so that we have time to fully experience the hidden joys in each moment of everything we do.
  • Second, we need to not hurry so that we can take time to respond to the needs of others we happen to run into – like the Good Samaritan did.
  • And third, we need to not hurry so that we can recognize God being present with us – like you experienced during the Easter Vigil.

“I think maybe I’ll give you an A-minus, Mom, for your fast from HURRY. You still need to learn to never tug on my leash, even gently, just because you’re in a hurry. But together, we’ve learned a lot these past few weeks.”

1 goose 04-21-14

The geese on our pond already know it’s best not to hurry.

Flipping Patterns

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

One of my favorite stories that my mom used to tell is about when she was trying to make a dress. She laid out the fabric on the table and pinned the pattern to the fabric. She carefully cut out each piece, but she was having trouble with the dress sleeves. She kept getting two left sleeves. Regardless of how she positioned the pattern on the fabric, she always got the same result – another left sleeve. Finally, my sister, a preschooler at the time, suggested that she turn the pattern upside down. It worked! She got a right sleeve. My mom was a very intelligent woman – she just wasn’t a seamstress.

Working with patterns is how we learn many things. Prayer, for example. Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, and he gave them a pattern that we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” or the “Our Father.” It has become a pattern for prayer that’s repeated weekly, or even daily, around the world. In my church, everyone in the congregation holds hands and sings the prayer together every Sunday morning.

When I was in eighth grade and taking classes to be confirmed as a Methodist, we were taught a variation of the Lord’s Prayer pattern to use when we prayed. It was a basic outline for personal prayer:

1)      Praise God and thank God for all the blessings I’ve received;

2)      Confess my sins and ask for forgiveness;

3)      Pray for the needs of others;

4)      Pray for my own needs.

(At least that’s the way I remember it.) I recall serious discussions about whether reading a prayer was actually praying, or if it needed to be completely personal and spontaneous to count with God. (Reciting or singing the Lord’s Prayer was an exception to the spontaneity rule.)

Marian playing BaldwinOver the last 50 years or so, I’ve tried several different prayer patterns. One of my favorite ways to pray is to sit down at the piano, sometimes with a hymnal and sometimes with just the hymns in my mind, and talk with God through music.

The actor Kelsey Grammer described this prayer pattern as, “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you’re listening. Playing the piano allows you to do both at the same time.”

This year I’m trying a new pattern, using a prayer book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, by Edward Hays. The prayer book consists of four sets of morning and evening prayers, one set for each season. Each set includes a morning prayer and an evening prayer for each day of the week.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s morning’s prayer:

Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim… As a planetary pilgrim,
I marvel that I have traveled over a million miles in space since yesterday morning.
My personal journey this day will be small in distance,
but I pray that it will be significant and sacred in my drawing closer to you.
As the Earth turns toward the sun, I turn my whole self toward you, my God,
as I now enter into silent prayer.

Period of silent prayer or meditation

Your Word is written large across all the universe,
in the wonders of creation and in holy books,
written by the pen of your Spirit.
Open my heart to your Word as I now pray.

A psalm, spiritual reading, or personal prayer
[Note: I’m working my way through a new hymnal in this part.]

May this morning prayer and all my prayers this day
be one with all this Earth, which you have ordained to prayer…

I dedicate this new day to you and ask that as spring unfolds before me
I may unfold according to your ancient dream.
As I reflect upon my personal needs this day,
I ask this blessing:_______________________

I ask that you look upon my work this day
as a sacrifice performed in solidarity with __________________
who is (are) in need of your grace and assistance.

Imprint upon my body, and upon all that I shall touch,
your sacred signature as I conclude this prayer
in your holy name
and in the name of your Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever, ages without end.
Amen.

Personally, I’m finding this more structured prayer pattern very refreshing this year, and a nice complement to my “piano prayers.” It’s kind of like Edward Hays has suggested that I flip the pattern over to learn new ways of talking with God. Just as my mom finally got all the pieces together for her dress, I’m slowly getting more of the pieces together for learning how to pray.

Philip Yancey, a prolific evangelical author, said it this way, “For me, prayer is not so much me setting out a shopping list of requests for God to consider as it is a way of ‘keeping company with God.’”

“Keeping company with God” – that’s something worth learning how to do! I’m thankful for patterns to help me learn how to “keep company with God.”

Lords Prayer

 

 

A 50-cent Thrill

lightning 9

 

I learned a new word last week – “mirabilary.” Well, it’s not exactly a new word – just new to me. The dictionary (if you can even find it in your dictionary) says it’s obsolete. The 101-year-old 1913 edition of Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defined it as, “One who, or a work which, narrates wonderful things, one who writes of wonders.”

I came across the word in one of Edward Hays’ books, A Book of Wonders: Daily Reflections for Awakened Living. The title of the reading for April 3 is “A Mirabilary.” Here’s the reading – it’s short, only a paragraph:

Another great book by Edward Hays. This may actually become my favorite of his books.

Another great book by Edward Hays. This may actually become my favorite of his books.

We are wonderstruck when we’re caught off guard by some amazing or surprising thing or person. Unlike being lightning-struck – which is lethal – being wonderstruck is life-giving and spirit-arousing. If God is the Wonder of Wonders, then to witness any wonder is to have a divine visitation. These are more common than is believed. Admiration is to wonder, to be awed when people act heroically, selflessly, or generously. Normally, we have low expectations of our fellow humans. The unexpectedness of such behaviors are visitations of wonder. We capture this by calling them a “bolt out of the blue,” linking them to lightning. Become a bolt out of the blue yourself by being a mirabilary, an uncommon synonym for wonder-worker. Today, surreptitiously plot to be a mirabilary by being a one-person divine visitation. In unexpected places and times, act in a surprisingly unselfish, noble, or heroic way.

The daily reflection ended with this prayer:

Inspire me to perform surprise deeds of unexpected kindness and generosity for strangers, friends, or family, and so be your wondrous bolt out of the blue.

So, last Thursday I plotted to be a mirabilary. This was even better than April Fools. Instead of trying to trick Mim and everyone else in our household with an April Fools joke, I tried to figure out how to be unusually and unexpectedly nice to them. After doing a couple of nice little things – complimenting Ann on how pretty she looked in what she was wearing that day and asking Mim if she’d like me to make Ann’s coffee for her – I told Mim what I was planning to do – to surprise everyone by being extra kind. Mim decided to join me, and we had a great day being mirabilaries together.

Much to my surprise, trying to be mirabilaries is becoming a habit, something we catch ourselves doing every day. The neat thing about being mirabilaries is that this habit is giving us as much joy as the “victims” of our kind deeds.

20 quartersOn Sunday afternoon Mim and I went to a Madison Symphony Orchestra concert at the Overture Center in Madison. We drove to the parking garage where we usually park, next to the Overture Center, but it was full. We drove around a few blocks looking for street parking – without success – so we tried another parking garage. This was the garage where you have to pay by feeding quarters into meters, ten minutes per quarter. Fortunately, I had a handful of quarters in my car. I fed the meter enough quarters to give us three hours of time. I had two quarters left in my hand. I was about to put them in my pocket when Mim said, “Why don’t you give them to those people.” The people in the car next to ours were scrounging through their purses and pockets to try to find more quarters. I walked up to the woman standing by the meter and asked her, “Do you want two more quarters?” I think she and her companions were shocked. She explained that they were going to the symphony but couldn’t get into their usual parking garage. They didn’t know they would need quarters. She gladly accepted my two quarters and fed them into her meter. Mim and I walked away feeling good about being generous with our left over quarters, and our “victims” were delighted to get a couple of quarters from complete strangers.

That was our “50-cent thrill” of the day. Oh, the joy of trying to be “a wondrous bolt out of the blue.”

Both Mim and I highly recommend trying to be “mirabilaries.” It’s fun! Try it.

2 quarters

Ashamed

I'm sure my baptismal dress is the fanciest dress I've ever worn.

I’m sure my baptismal dress is the fanciest dress I’ve ever worn.

I’ve never been as ashamed of my evangelical roots as I’ve been this past week. Although I am currently a Lutheran with fairly liberal leanings on social issues, nothing ever has been more important to me than loving God and loving my neighbors on earth as a demonstration of that love.

As an infant, I was baptized in a small Methodist church in Cambridge, Wisconsin. I went to Sunday school, church, Sunday evening service, and midweek prayer service every week of my life (unless I was sick) until I left Cambridge to go to college. I went to Malone College, a Quaker liberal arts college in Ohio for a year, after which I transferred to Wheaton College where I graduated in 1970. Billy Graham was our commencement speaker. You can’t get more evangelical than that!

Stitched Panorama

I’ve always been thankful for my conservative Christian upbringing. Even though some of my beliefs have evolved as I have grown in my faith – through life experiences, through relationships with people who believe differently from me, and through studying God’s Word and other writings, I still have a profound faith in the love and kindness of God. My conservative Christian beginnings provided strong roots from which I have been able to branch out and learn more and more about the love of God. I’m thankful for these roots.

World Vision - Great ExpectationsBut then last week happened. World Vision changed one of its internal personnel policies. World Vision is the largest Christian charitable organization in this country. It is the organization that has created the means that enables thousands of individuals to personally sponsor children, one by one, to provide some of the poorest children in the world with food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, and companionship – direct communication with a person who cares about them enough to provide for their basic needs. Thousands of caring people worldwide sponsor these children, one on one. My mom was among the sponsors. When she passed away, Mim and I continued to sponsor her little girl. More recently, Mim and I have periodically made donations to World Vision for some of their other humanitarian efforts, particularly after major natural disasters. Because World Vision already has networks in place worldwide to care for the needs of their sponsored children and their communities, they are particularly well-suited to provide immediate aid following natural disasters.

The personnel policy that World Vision changed is that they would no longer disqualify applicants for employment who were legally married to someone of the same sex – someone like Mim and me. In announcing this change in policy, the president of World Vision said they were not condoning same-sex marriage by this policy change. They realize the issue is very controversial, particularly among churches. The president said World Vision is not in the position to resolve controversial theological issues. They would leave that matter up to the churches. Some churches support same-sex marriage. Some don’t. World Vision would not get involved in a debate on the issue. World Vision is focused on uniting Christians to work together to address the needs of the poorest of the poor, not on resolving theological differences.

World Vision - Save a Childs LifeWhat makes me ashamed of being identified with evangelicals is the way many evangelicals reacted to this policy change by World Vision. Thousands of sponsors in the worldwide network of sponsors providing life-saving aid to poor children withdrew their monthly support because of this internal employee policy change. Apparently, standing firm on this controversial political issue is more important to thousands of evangelicals than keeping a personal commitment to a poor little girl or boy to continue to provide food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, and companionship to her or him.

World Vision - girl eatingMy heart sank when I heard of this mass exodus of support. I just can’t understand how thousands of evangelicals can be so obsessed with condemning “homosexual behavior” – something Jesus never even mentioned (at least nothing is recorded in the Gospels) – that they would allow a poor little girl or boy to starve rather than allow someone like me to work for World Vision to help feed these children. Clearly Jesus’ priority was to care for the children, not to judge our co-workers.

Mim and I talked about this, and then I went onto the World Vision website to make a one-time donation to be used wherever it is most needed to help them through this crisis. We’ve started to talk about sponsoring a child again, but we haven’t made a commitment yet.

Then we heard the news. The evangelicals have succeeded in bullying World Vision to reverse its employee policy. Rather than let thousands of children be abandoned by their sponsors, World Vision backed down on its policy change. The bullies made them choose between standing firm with their inclusive new policy and losing thousands of sponsors, or sacrificing their new policy for the sake of the poor children who would lose their sponsors.

My heart sank again. The evangelical bullies had won. I’m truly ashamed of evangelicals, at least the bullies among them. I feel so sorry for the leaders and employees of World Vision. If this story were in the Bible, I would describe it as another one of those awful Bible stories I wrote about a couple weeks ago, a story where a decision must be made, and there are no good choices.

World Vision - Typhoon help

World Vision responded with immediate aid to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

But personally, I still have choices. I can continue to support World Vision for its humanitarian efforts wherever natural and man-made disasters happen. They are God’s well-trained, efficient, and caring hands on earth for providing help in disasters.

However, I don’t know if I’ll choose to sponsor a child through World Vision again, or if I’ll look to another charitable organization for that, one that’s less vulnerable to bullying by evangelicals.

World Vision - Change a Life