Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Lovely Trees

Last weekend, I drove from my home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania to visit my mom in Ellwood City. Williamsport is in the middle of the state…. toward the north. Ellwood City is about an hour from the Ohio border so the trip involves driving across a big chunk of Pennsylvania on Interstate 80.


Interstate 80 is bordered by mountains almost the whole length of the drive. The trip is scenic in any season, sometimes breathtakingly so. Usually  my attention is honed in on  driving defensively….checking my mirrors, keeping an eye on the trucks and the hot shots trying to drive 20 or 30 mph over the speed limit. But on this trip, my eyes were repeatedly drawn to the hillsides.


They were varying, blended shades of a dark, rusty, tannish, blackish brown. They reminded me of the color of sienna, umber and burnt umber crayons; drab colors that made a  perfect background for the few trees whose leaves are still almost shockingly vivid and aglow. Bright, bright yellows; the crayon  you might pick to draw the yolk of an egg. Almost illuminated. Glowing...shimmery.  And the RED ones.  Capital letter red. Just the most breathtaking shades of red. I shook my head and exclaimed  “wow”a time or two, amazed at the splendor. And really….the colors could only be described with words like splendor.


It was raining a lot of the way but even the dark mistiness served as a contrast to those iridescent trees.  




There is a message there someone. Some spiritual implication.  Keith has always been fond of saying that things in the natural are reflections of profound spiritual truths. As above, so below. I can’t quite put my finger on it...but something is there hiding. It’s nagging at me like a name I can’t remember, the words to a song, a memory that is almost, but not quite clear.


Some things that come to mind….


The quote from Ann Voskamp, a blogger/author I've been reading lately. In one post she said she told her husband, the Farmer


…..that it was brave, the way the trees made dying look glorious.




And the controversy in the news and Christian circles recently about the young woman with incurable, terminal, late stage brain cancer. She chose to take her own life before the ravages of the disease plunged her into a real living hell. Some folks say she is brave. Other folks say she is a coward.


I’m inclined to say that it’s easy to take the high road when it’s not your path to walk.


And then another thought that is a game changer, a different perspective on this process we witness every fall as we sigh and lament that “winter is just around the corner.” Leaves do not just fall from the trees. The trees actively shed them.


Apparently, when the days start getting shorter and colder, trees start to seal off the place where leaf stem meets tree branch with a row of cells called "abscission" cells. The tree could not survive the winter with leaves attached because of moisture loss and such so the leaves have to go.

So really, it is the leaf that dies….not the tree. Come spring, the tree is good to go and sprouts new leaves. The leaf that fell in the fall is gone. Hmmmmmm….


If the natural hints at the spiritual, what do the trees and their colorful, dying leaves tell us?


We have one of those trees with tenacious leaves that hang on and on (and on) in our front yard. It is an ornamental pear tree that we planted when it was about the same height as I am now.  They are slow growers but  it is probably 20 feet tall….and a lovely, sturdy (yet elegant) tree. Our neighbor has a much bigger one in her front yard. They seem to be in sync and their leaves are still there late into the fall.


Our pear trees are still all green with only the tips of a few leaves showing some reddish tinges at the edges. Keith grumbled the other day that he will be raking leaves in mid November.  


The world is tired, the year is old,The faded leaves are glad to die...~Sara Teasdale, "November"

Not the leaves on our pear trees..... 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

More about Prayer....

I was going through the list of prayer quotes I have stashed away in Evernote. I came upon a quote that I wanted to include in this series of posts. I hadn’t saved the source of the quote. A quick copy and paste into Google provided the answer right away. The source was Richard Rohr. He said:

The traditional and most universal word to describe a different access to truth was simply “to pray about something.” But that lovely word “prayer” has been so deadened by pious use and misuse that we now have to describe this different mental attitude with new words. I am going to introduce a different word here, so you can perceive in a fresh way, and perhaps appreciate what we mean by contemplation. The word is “resonance.”
Prayer is actually setting out a tuning fork. All you can really do in the spiritual life is get tuned to receive the always-present message. Once you are tuned, you will receive, and it has nothing to do with worthiness or the group you belong to, but only inner resonance and a capacity for mutuality (Matthew 7:7-11). The Sender is absolutely and always present and broadcasting; the only change is with the receiver station.

Or as Anne Lamott wrote in her book, “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

....when you pray, you are not starting the conversation from scratch, just remembering to plug back into a conversation that's always in progress.

One of the sites that popped up in the Google search results led to a blog called “Progressive Redneck Preacher.” He published a post about a week ago entitled “Tuning into the Sacred Song: Our Week in the Living Word.” He included the tuning fork quote in that post.

He mainly wrote about a type of prayer called Breath Prayer. (and his experience with it over the course of a week) A breath prayer is a short phrase uttered soundlessly to the rhythm of our breathing….inhaling and exhaling. Examples that I particularly like…..

Inhale – “Peace”
Exhale – “Be still”

Or how about this one….that fits well with this type of prayer
Inhale – “Closer is He than breathing”
Exhale – “Nearer than hands and feet”

You get the idea. There were several links in the post that led to some websites that went into this prayer (and others) in more detail. I looked around a bit online and couldn’t find any sites better than two of the ones he listed;


and



The effectiveness of this prayer (in quieting our body and mind and in honing our listening to God skills) seems to be a blending of the physical and the spiritual. We all know that deep, slow rhythmic breathing calms the body. Take a deep breath. Calm down. Take ten deep breaths. Calm down even more. Sometimes when I am very, very stressed I realize I am barely breathing at all. Short, shallow, hardly there intakes of air. No wonder I feel anxious. I’m suffocating.

I have a thing about the dentist. Not a good thing either. It isn't really about the pain. It is more about the claustrophobic feeling that comes with tubes that suck and spray, grinding drills and all those hands in my face. Keith reminded me once to take deep, calming breaths. It was one of the methods he used to help his scared silly skydiving students stay calm enough to focus as they jumped out of the airplane.

The slow, steady breathing involved with this kind of prayer coupled with a calming phrase from or about scripture seems a perfect combination. On the site that talked about various ways to pray, they recommended using your ten fingers to count…yep…ten deep prayer breaths and then pausing to offer a praise or a petition or even just a moment of silent contemplation. 

And in one of the articles I read, they used Anne Lamott’s simple prayer from Traveling Mercies as an example of a Breath Prayer.

Here are the two best prayers I know:“Help me, help me, help me” and "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Turn that into a Breath Prayer....

Inhale – Help me, help me, help me
Exhale – Thank you, thank you thank you


More coming about different ways to help us pray....

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Max and Anne - Views on Prayer

While scrolling down through my Facebook feed, I came upon a snippet of an interview on the 700 Club with Max Lucado. Max is my all-time favorite Christian author. His book, He Still Moves Stones, was one of the first Christian books I ever read. I love his writing style….I love how clearly he expresses the love of God for his children. 

They talked about two things in the interview:

His support of Husain Abdullah in a recent USA editorial where he said:
Which is why the sight of Abdullah, a Muslim who sat out the 2012 season to go on a pilgrimage, being penalized was hard to watch. Tim Tebow brought gridiron prayer to the forefront with his iconic kneeling in gratitude. And countless other professional football players have been seen kneeling in an end zone prayer. 
For decades competitors have bowed their heads, crossed their hearts, kissed their rosaries and lifted their eyes to heaven as they sought favor on the fields of competition. Is a little petition or gratitude so bad? If the act is sincere toward God as opposed to insincere, for show, what is the harm?
Indeed, what is the harm? And while so many evangelical Christians got themselves all worked up at Tebow’s critics, where was the outrage about Abdullah’s fifteen yard penalty? Oh yeah…..he was bowing to the “wrong” God.  I think it was quite gutsy of Max to come out in support of Abdullah.   
         
And anyway, the story had a happy ending because the NFL apologized and said the official was wrong and that players can, indeed, pray.

The other topic of the interview was his new book, Before Amen. Max admits to being a prayer wimp. He’s mentioned his difficulties with prayer in other books he's written. He said “doing something for God” comes more naturally to him that “praying to God.” (That is a paraphrase, by the way) Through the years he’s developed what he refers to as the pocket prayer. He studied all the prayers in the Bible and summed them up into six short sentences.

Father, You are good. I need help. So do they. Thank you. In Jesus' name, amen.

I love it. He succinctly sums it all up in those short sentences.

I rarely say a traditional prayer. I truly believe I always have God’s ear. I feel like he is paying attention as I go about my day….typing reports, checking my email, eating lunch, going to the bathroom.  Doesn’t “pray without ceasing” mean that I thank him for small blessings throughout the day, tell him I love him, ask his to watch over my children or let him know I am quite miffed at the way he is allowing some things to play out.

Anne Lamott (another of my favorites) also has a book out about prayer. In my next post (no, not an empty promise) I’ll talk about “Help, Thanks, Wow: The ThreeEssential Prayers” by Anne Lamott.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Good Guy With a Gun? Bad Guy With a Gun?

On FB recently, I came across this tongue in cheek comic book style drawing from boingboing.net. Ruben Bolling is the artist. 

Good guy with a gun

Good question, huh? How CAN you tell from a split second glance if the guy with the gun is a good guy or a bad guy? If he is a bad guy, a split second is about how long you have to react.

Open carry has been in the news a lot lately. The topic has been popping up more and more on Facebook. Businesses like Target, Starbucks, Chili's, Sonic and Jack in the Box have all been been involved in the open/concealed carry controversy.

I googled "open carry" and was surprised to learn that the state where I live (Pennsylvania) has very liberal open carry restrictions. In fact, many states have pretty liberal open carry restrictions. Most gun owners that I know do not strap an automatic rifle across their shoulder to pick up a few items at the local Target but more and more zealous 2nd amendment proponents are doing just that. They are exercising their 2nd amendment rights and scaring the crap out of employees and customers. 

We live in crazy times. If I bump into someone in Target with a rifle my first thought is going to be RUN….RUN fast! And I think it is rude and crude; inconsiderate and unnecessary to terrorize people. Just like freedom of speech does not allow for screaming “Fire” in a crowded theater, the right to carry should come with some common sense restrictions. 

Even a staffer at the NRA came out against the behavior of the open carry guys but unfortunately they recanted a day or so later.

When a group of heavily armed men from Open Carry Texas came into a Jack in the Box for lunch, the employees locked themselves in the freezer and called police . The Mr.Conservative” website blames the "over reaction" on the demonization of guns by politicians and the erosion of the right to bear arms.

It seems Attorney General Eric Holder’s attempts to “brainwash” the public into thinking guns are automatically bad is unfortunately working.

The employees saw guys with long guns and they were in “save my ass” mode. Can you blame them? Really?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bigger Fish to Fry


The most recent "in a huff" (over)reaction by the American Family Association showed up in my Facebook feed last night. Since I am always a little skeptical of stuff posted on FB by the far right OR the far left, I went to the AFA site to check the validity of the posting. Yep....sure enough. ssdd. The AFA is always mad about something. This time they are mad about a postage stamp; a postage stamp dedicated to Harvey Milk.  

I don't know a lot about Harvey Milk.  I think the AFA's main beef with him is that he was a practicing homosexual. They claim he was promiscuous, a terrible role model and has no business with his face plastered on tens of thousands of envelopes traveling to and fro across the country.  Like everyone else, they are entitled to their opinion.

They suggest two ways to take a stand on this (non) issue. First, no one should actually BUY the stamp.

"Refuse to accept the Harvey Milk stamp if offered by your local post office. Instead, ask for a stamp of the United States flag."

Okay...that's cool. You don't like the stamps with Harvey...don't purchase the stamps with Harvey. It's doubtful that anyone who works at the post office will insist.  The last time I went to buy stamps, the very friendly postal clerk spread three different books of stamps on the counter for me to choose from. I picked the one with several  varieties of pretty spring flowers.  Different strokes for different folks.  

They should have stopped right there but did they? Nope. 

"Refuse to accept mail at your home or business if it is postmarked with the Harvey Milk stamp. Simply write,"Return to Sender" on the envelope and tell your postman you won't accept it."  

That's the fast track to the mailman's PITA list. And seriously, don't Christians...followers of Jesus....have bigger issues than this to express our outrage about and take a stand on...? Does this issue really deserve our time, attention, resources and effort?

With mass murder occuring so frequently it doesn't even shock us anymore, children starving, drone strikes, government snooping, pain, suffering, poverty, war, man's inhumanity to man etc. etc. is this really where Christians should focus their attention? Boycotting a stamp? Don't we have bigger fish to fry than this?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Not All Like That....

I came upon the N.A.L.T website today, via Facebook. N.A.L.T is the acronym for Not All Like That. It is a joint venture of Truth Wins Out  and John Shore, progressive author/blogger. It is inspired by the  It Gets Better Project.  In videos, gay affirming Christians tell why they believe the way they do. They don't want to be lumped in with the loud evangelical voices going on and on about the erosion of the family, the gay agenda, and the slippery slope that will lead to laws ensuring all kinds of perversions, including the right to marry your dog if you have a mind to. 

There are too many Christians who feel it is their right...even their duty...to defend themselves against what they perceive as Christian persecution. The gay marriage issue is one of the venues this view is heard loud and clear. The annual war against Christmas is another great example. Every year countless Christians get all worked up about trees and parades and greetings that don't specifically use the word C.H.R.I.S.T.M.A.S.

 As if Christmas was a Christian holiday to begin with...! I've written about the Christmas wars here on this blog several times.

 I commend the  folks (54 or so and counting) who've put their beliefs out there for the world to see. I communicate best in written form. I trip over my own tongue when I try to talk..out loud..about sensitive issues. I haven't been shy about proclaiming  I've got a problem with street preachers who show up at pride events to shout about hell fire and damnation or those who espouse the dog-eared cliche "love the sinner, hate the sin." I've got a problem with the "put Christ back in Christmas warriors" and with every Christian who thinks it is their right to force their beliefs and interpretation of scripture on others. I've seen it said on Facebook (so I know it has to be true) "Disagreeing with your beliefs is not persecution." 


And to those who have been hurt or bullied by mean-spirited, self righteous Christians, I can only affirm that we are "not all like that."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Like an onion…


I recently began a new Bible reading plan that I found on a website called Ransom Fellowship. (I found it via my new favorite "research" tool…Pinterest)

According to the article, the plan goes back to the time of the Puritans but it was repackaged by Margie Haack as the 


Bible Reading Program for Slackers and Shirkers


(A similar plan can be found HERE)


Basically…the plan assigns a reading from a different part of the Bible each day of the week.


Sunday - Poetry
Monday - The Pentateuch
Tuesday and Wednesday - Old Testament History
Thursday - Old Testament Prophets
Friday - New Testament History
Saturday - New Testament Epistles

There are two key benefits to this plan. 
You can see the interconnectedness of scripture. And since there are no specific dates assigned to the readings, there is not as much pressure....or guilt.....when life gets in the way and you miss a few days of reading. Missed this Monday's reading? Tomorrow is a new day....so simply move on to Tuesday's reading and pick up next Monday where you left off.

I also found a very simple bible study method (again thanks Pinterest) called the SOAP METHOD.

SCRIPTURE
OBSERVATION
APPLICATION
PRAYER

I know there are many ways to study the bible. In fact, while researching for this article (No not Pinterest this time…google) I came upon a website that talks about some of the methods with links to "worksheets" for each of the different types of study.

The Bible Study Methods

Method One – The Devotional Method
Method Two – The Chapter Summary Method
Method Three – The Character Quality Method
Method Four – The Thematic Method
Method Five – The Biographical Method
Method Six – The Topical Method
Method Seven – The Word Study Method
Method Eight – The Book Background Method
Method Nine – The Book Survey Method
Method Ten – The Chapter Analysis Method
Method Eleven – The Book Synthesis Method
Method Twelve – The Verse by Verse Method

The word study method piques my interest because I have found that, oftentimes,the English word does not really do justice to the meaning of the word in the original language. But even though the detailed worksheets appeal to the OCD aspects of my personality, for now I'm going to KISS and use the SOAP method.


So anyway...the inspiration for this entire post was a quote by Emmet Kelly that I happened upon this morning. I love the diamond mining analogy he uses. I've heard scripture compared to an onion....layer upon layer upon layer of meaning. When you "dig" a little deeper, things are not always what they appear on the surface.


The study of the Bible is not unlike the search for diamonds in South Africa. At first people found a few diamonds in the yellow clay, and they were delighted with their good fortune, even while they supposed that this was to be the full extent of their find.
 Then, upon digging deeper, they came upon the blue clay, and, to their amazement, they then found as many precious stones in a day as they had previously found in a year, and what had formerly seemed like wealth faded into insignificance beside the new riches.
In your exploration of Bible Truth, see to it that you do not rest satisfied in the yellow clay of a few spiritual discoveries, but press on to the rich blue clay underneath.
 The Bible, however, differs from the diamond field in the sublime fact that beneath the blue clay there are more and still more and richer strata, awaiting the touch of spiritual perception—on and on to Infinity. Emmet Fox