Archive for February, 2011

25
Feb
11

In the Bulb there is a Flower

In December you read about the Christian Peacemakers Teams, my friend Mark Frey and his friend Glenn who has been on death row for 25 years. The post was titled,  Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas.

Today Mark writes to say:

Glenn called this morning, saying “It’s a bad day, brother. They gave me a date: March 31.”  That’s when Alabama (but really it’s our society) will kill him at 6:00 pm.

He was task-focused, trying to figure out what he needed, and wanted, to do before the end of his life. He was filled with regrets about all the things he’d wanted to do and letters he’d wanted to write before the end, but just wont have time to do.

He asked me to call his “soul-mate” in England, so that she’d find out about his date from a friend rather than through the internet. She took the news well: “We knew this was coming.”

“Yes, but it’s real now,” I said.

She and Glenn are devout Christians. She responded, “He’ll be with the Father, in a much better place.”

“Yes, I know that……” I said. Her voice full of emotion, she emphasized for me and herself, “He’ll be having a party, talking to old and new friends….He’ll be in GLORY!”   Amen!

Later in the day Sara and I shared with Glenn the hymn text from, “In the Bulb there is a Flower.” (The composer Natalie Sleeth dedicated it to her husband who was diagnosed with cancer soon after she wrote it.  And a few years ago Sara and I participated in a memorial service choir for a close friend’s father who was taken very suddenly by an aggressive cancer.)

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads and hearts around this news that we knew was coming.

We are trying to arrange things so that we’ll drive as a family to visit Glenn the days before his execution, and hold a prayer vigil while the execution takes place.

Please pray for an end to the death penalty.

If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

24
Feb
11

not a piece of cake

A week ago I had cataract surgery on my right eye. The left eye has not deteriorated enough to qualify for Medicare coverage so just the one eye had its fuzzy lens replaced with a manufactured model (an intraocular lens). I was nervous and apprehensive with memory recall of past medical encounters and uncertainty about the visual future. Despite all of this, and because I had covered all my bases of obligation, I displayed very good vital signs. That was a welcome surprise to me. No one panicking over heart rate and blood pressure. No need for IVs and consultations. The power of prayer and supplication!

While waiting for my 5mg of Valium I had a strong sense of the presence of both my deceased, adopted daughter, Bettina and my sister Florence, there in the cubicle with me. It was a thin place experience. At first their presence was comforting, but after a few minutes I had to ask them to leave and they did. Shortly afterward the nurse popped in with the Valium and there was no turning back. Within a few minutes of swallowing the tablet, I experienced a strange two tiered effect: mellow on the top with an underside of lingering apprehension. Took a while for these two to merge into one, but once they had, I was a lovely patient—agreeable, humorous and trusting.* Even the shower cap was an occasion for joviality. (Those who know me well will know this is not my most common persona.)

*Tip from experience: you get better treatment in the medical system if your doctor/nurse likes you. But if you don’t like them, get the heck out of there.

The doctor poked his head in, greeted me and made some notes. He asked if I was ready and I countered by asking him if he had said his prayers that morning. He replied he had, and since I had as well, we were ready to roll. I believe he said something like rock and roll? To which I most likely replied in the affirmative. (You gotta love that Valium.)

Being wheeled down the corridor to the operating room is a trip in itself, but I was lively and witty and amusing. (I should have been paid minimum wage for this performance.) Once in the OR, lying there like a cadaver waiting to be explored, my apprehension returned. Within moments I felt my sister at my side saying she would stay with me and hold my hand.  Scoff if you must, but this is exactly what I experienced and it was comforting. Do I believe it actually happened? Yes. I believe it truly happened just as the disciples believed they saw Jesus on the Emmaus Road. It may or may not have been factual, but I believe it was true.

The doctor sealed something large and roundish over my right eye and draped the left. I found the whole procedure to be a very strange experience of color, light and sound. Once finished, sight is immediate, but uncomfortable because the dilated pupil lets the light flood in as it hadn’t for several years. I returned home with dark glasses, a Valium hangover, and a number of medications to be dropped into the eye every two hours.

As the Valium worked its way through my system, I felt a bit lost between the thin place experiences and the real world. I lay in an abyss of suspended awareness…neither here nor there…until evening when a good friend came by to take over the eye drop regimen for a few hours. As I talked with him, an avowed, left-brain, linear thinker, I came across to reality-land as though stepping off a boat and onto the dry land we call reality.

The next few days were devoted to recovery and rest. The procedure is essentially painless, straightforward and without serious risks—a piece of cake, people say. The same people do not mention the follow-up weeks, which if cake, definitely are without frosting. Today, 8 days past the procedure, I am counting the remaining several weeks until new glasses sit on the bridge of my aging nose, hopefully loving their new home like crazy and relieving my eyestrain.

In my freezer is some left-over chocolate, chocolate cake with raspberries, walnuts and frosting. This is what cake looks like folks. I think I’ll have a small piece right now.

15
Feb
11

a note on another note:

Before my valentine salutation yesterday, I wrote about my search for an visual enhancement for our church lectern, appropriate to our Lenten theme. (See posting, on another note for February 10th) For those who wonder how it all worked out, I can happily say that, 1) I have relearned my laundry lesson and 2) my intuition about the burlap being appropriate did turn out to bear fruit.

After cleaning up all the mess in the dryer, I spread the burlap out on the ironing board and pressed it as flat as I could, then hung it up to dry overnight. The next day I looked in on the piece, which had acquired approximately 1 to 1-1/2 inches of fringe on both sides of its 48 inch length.  It hung there in its ugliness for most of the day while I set about searching in fabric stores for a piece of cloth that would speak of homespun, and be a naturally neutral color. After hunting high and low, I came home with 1-1/2 yards of unassuming linen, but no sparks had flown from this selection. I left it alone on the table and read another chapter of Taylor’s previous book, Leaving Church.

I could not get the burlap out of my mind, despite its menacingly ugly color and stains. By evening I wove a plan to color it with fabric spray, and began rolling through a number of color choices, settling on a variety of interlaced of tones. It is winter here and there is a ton of snow outside where I would have to do the spraying, so I went to bed with a plan to start the next day.

The next day was Saturday. Although the sun was out and the air beginning to warm up, I still couldn’t open the back door. Resourcefully, I devised a plan that would allow me to suspend the 48 inches of ugly burlap outside in front of the garage door. It took only a second to realize that my plan for multi-coloring was off the mark, so I just started spraying with ivory, then quickly switched to flat white. Each swish of white spray brought me joy. I knew this was the way to go. It took a heap of spraying to bring this remnant to a visual semblance of human/humble. While it was drying I flew back to the fabric store for the piece of purple I saw in my mind, draping along the left side of the human, humble, now whitened, burlap. I flew back twice. The first time I chose two beautiful fabrics based on color and texture that turned out not to fit the bill at all. On my second tour I found a dark purple, plain-knit jersey that spoke to me: Take me home, I’m the one! I was skeptical and concerned about all the money I’d already spent, but determined to listen to the intuitive voice over the, let’s just get it done, voice.

So I brought it home, set up the whole thing and there it was, like magic: the human/divine connection creating yet another altar in the world. I am pleased and relieved this is done. I am ready for my cataract surgery tomorrow. They say I will see instantly, but the following several weeks could be a bit of a trial. If I’m lucky and receive perfect vision, I won’t need glasses anymore. If I am not, I will have to hobble along for the 3 weeks it takes before receiving a new prescription and the additional week or two before new glasses are sitting on the bridge of my nose.

******

The surgical center just called. My appointment time is 7:45 am. By 9:00 the doctor will be making a small incision in my right eye, removing the failing lens and slipping in a new model straight off the assembly line. I don’t like to think about that. I prefer to think about the 5 mg of Valium I will get before, and the lovely nap I will have all afternoon long. After that…I throw myself on the mercy of all that’s good and holy.

14
Feb
11

st. valentine day

Some of my friends express disappointment along with disbelief when I tell them that I am not a romantic. I don’t exactly know what I am, i.e., what popular category I fit it into, but romantic is not one of them. Maybe it happened in high school, that most horrible of horrible times. Or maybe it happened later on in my twenties when the road under my feet started swaying…or perhaps it was a gradual shift away from what I came to feel was a box of chocolates. In any case, the world needs its romantics, so I tip my imaginary hat to all who are, and send this quirky little valentine today, with lots of gratitude for your faithfulness in repeatedly clicking back to Called by Name even when the named one has not been answering the phone! (Ah, that’s a bit of my weird humor…you gotta be here…body language and facial expressions go with it.)

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to one and all. This valentine came to me from one of my dear romantic friends. Where she got it, I don’t know, but suspect it has traveled some from screen to screen, so this funny valentine has miles on her. Of course I had to take it into Photoshop, change it and make it my own. How else would it be from me to you?

Thank you so much for visiting my blog. Your replys are always welcome.

10
Feb
11

on another note…

We, at the little church at the edge of the city, are using themes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, An Altar in the World—A Geography of Faith, this Lenten season. It has been a bit of a challenge to come up with visual art that communicates the breadth of content in this work in a simple, non-literal manner. The bulletin covers,  altar arrangements and lectern will be our main focal points, since the full sanctuary installation will be done by our host-church congregation. Ours would appear to be a fairly self-contained project, but not so, since we will not be relying on traditional purple, but instead, variations of warm sepia.

Once I had all the art finished for the bulletin covers, I turned my attention to the lectern, which will be consistently visible throughout the whole Lenten season. For the last two days the lectern has been running through my consciousness, like a steady hum from some outside electrical source one wishes to high heaven would stop. It has not stopped and is niggling around in my brain, because next week I will have cataract surgery and don’t know when I will have again reliable vision for artful details. Yesterday, ideas came and vanished as I visited several shops looking for something, but not sure what. I was getting discouraged. My God conversations went like this: “Hey, this is your thing! Help me out…give me an idea…bring it forth…please!”

Then I went home and waited. I was discouraged and began thinking again. Suddenly an idea popped into the camera of my brain: Jewish prayer shawl…homespun…something simple and naturally colored that I could enhance somehow with sacred purple. It was a cold evening and I was not going out again, so I looked through my boxes of fabrics and found a length of burlap. It was a little rough and a rather unpleasant ochre color, but I am resourceful. First thing I did was to soak the whole thing in bleach water. Ninety nine percent of the color remained and so did the smell. What next? Keep the cats out of the laundry room and ponder the situation.

While pondering, I served a rather unsatisfying dinner to my dear partner and myself, then returned to the unsolved problem in the laundry room. The burlap was hanging over the tub looking very unpromising. I decided to wash it with soap in the machine. Not to be wasteful of water, soap and energy, I added all the dark clothes in the laundry hamper as well, and looked ahead to a virtuous conclusion.

While waiting for the washer to finish, a recollection came to me that I’d done this before with a bad outcome, but I pushed it to the side of my head. The sight that greeted me upon opening the washer brought the recollection back again, somewhat more forcefully: the burlap was a tangled mass and the dark clothes were covered with its furry mess. Now what?

Like a mother quickly pulling her babies out of harm’s way, I dumped the whole thing into the dryer along with an anti-static cloth that I was sure (!!) would cause all the mess to leap from the fabrics and into the lint trap. I waited, opening the door a number of times to empty the trap, and saying a little breathy prayer as the recollection loomed larger and larger. I knew I had done this before and I was beginning to realize that the price for dumbness was my road ahead for the rest of the evening. I trimmed and ironed what was left of the burlap, hung it up and prayed that it might turn into something useful by morning. Then I began the laborious task of de-furring socks, T-shirts and pants inside and out with strips of silver tape. I was penitent for not waiting faithfully for God’s inspiring thought—for zooming ahead with me-power. Then I went to bed just a little bit doleful.

This morning I surveyed the scene. All the clothes are hanging nicely in the closet with nary a sign of misdeed and stupidity, but the socks called to me and I had to give them a third silver tape massage. Now everything is out of sight and out of mind, except for that drat burlap still hanging mockingly in the laundry room.

I’ve re-learned my laundry lesson, but there are still a couple more fabric ideas to try. Will wait for noon warmth and maybe try a few other retail sources on my way to the grocery. God knows my every need. It will happen and it will be glorious when it does. In the meantime, I have to confess that artful problem solving is a lovely bit of fun and I do enjoy the hunt. So, God be with me—show me what to pick up and what to put down.

Let not my heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

08
Feb
11

longing for home – part 2

I have been longing for home since I first experienced what the mystics call the thin place, during my *cancer treatment and recovery (2006/7). I cannot describe this experience in words. I would need to sing it, chant it, dance it. It was life-changing. Since then I long for home from time to time—the place from which I came and to which I will return. I long for it the way a tired child longs for comfort and rest.

Two years ago I walked with my sister Florence, to her last breath. A year ago I walked, talked and sheltered my adopted daughter Bettina, to her last breath. The first and the last breaths of life are the most sacred moments of life—God given at birth and God received at death.

I was privileged to do this, yet it all leaves me feeling stranded sometimes—alone with unnameable yearnings. Since my cancer experience I have become highly aware of the transience of life on this planet, and have sought to live respectfully of the time I have remaining. Since losing Bettina, I am also becoming sensitized to the losses that pile up around us as we age. People die and leave us one person short of a full deck! As my mother aged, I remember her saying so wistfully a number of times: “Everyone is gone now…I feel so lonely.” She lived to be 91 and truly was the last survivor of her clan. We were not close. I did not understand her sadness then, but I do now.

My respect for time, which has taken the form of a desire to participate meaningfully in the life of the church, waxes and wanes as I realize how much more urgency I feel for change than does my Mennonite Church denomination. The disparity can be stultifying and sometimes quite painful, especially regarding the hot-button issue of inclusion, an intrinsic extension of our peace and justice values.

I am a catalyst by nature…one of those annoying people on the side-lines who are always urging the assembled majority toward more. I do not yet know how to carry this attribute without it becoming cataclysmic! I live and breathe in an ethnocentrically based denomination with cultural leanings toward cautious introversion. This profile contrasts dramatically with my own background and personality and I feel like an outsider for a number of reasons. I don’t really know where I would fit, or if there is a fit out there for me. Probably not, given my idealism. Certainly not in either the Armenian Apostolic or Armenian Evangelical churches. I am an anomaly.

*****

It has been a difficult couple of years for living without dying. Now, as I face into the anniversary of Bettina’s last weeks, I hold memories in one hand and the present day in the other. There are days when I could really use an extra pair of hands to stir all of this into a drinkable soup.

(Curiously…just a few minutes ago, an extra pair turned up via email. You’ve just got to love this electronic age every now and again.)

Yes, I am a cracked jar and a ringing bell. I have walked through many storms, received and lost many oars and paddles. The ancient river bed is indeed muddy. I want to dance when my denomination, with all its goodness, prefers to stand, pensively waiting. Why would I not long for home?

(*For an account of this see Dying to Live on my website.)

03
Feb
11

longing for home

I’ve been away too long. My last posting was nearly 7 weeks ago on December 20th. Not sure what all happened in that time to keep me from writing. Seems like a dark time in many ways, nothing to do with Christmas, but a lot to do with the intricacies and vagaries of church polity. Whether it’s broadly denominational or narrowly congregational, the church world is a complex one where I simply do not find the promise of the Gospels all that often. What is wrong with this picture? Is it me? Some would say yes. I have said yes on far too many occasions. In fact, for most of my lengthening life, I have tended to come to this conclusion. Now in my 7th decade, with some degree of history to call upon, I know that I am a very small cog in a very large wheel. I am not the elephant in the sanctuary.

What I am is a cracked jar—a crystal clear, cracked jar lying in an old river bed, muddy with the millennia of human misdeeds—some of them mine, some of them yours. I am not alone, everyone is some sort of a cracked or broken jar, and yet I feel quite alone way too often. I long for a community of caring where, when necessary, friends lay down their lives for one another (John 15:13). This does not mean standing in front of a Mack truck so your friend can saunter across the street. But if the truck is an offensive ideology, bias or untruth that causes great harm to your friend, and you can do something about it, do it! Stand up, speak out. Risk your comfort zone for your friend’s safety, dignity and well-being. That is what Christ followers are called to do. I do not see it happening very often in the church world. What I see is self-interest and a lot of maneuvering for a slice of some kind of store-bought pie.

I am a cracked jar, many times broken and many times packed back together, forming glue seams and stress points that never quite forget themselves. I am a cracked jar standing open, filling with rain until the weight of it overturns me into a bell ringing its song along the river. Some days the sound is clear and resonant. Some days not, and I am once again standing upright in the river bed. Inevitably, I fill with rain and it seeps out through my seams and cracks onto the mud in which I stand. I long for home.

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, Only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

God in me and me in God, passing through the narrow gate together. It is harder than the righteous would have you believe. It is Home.




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