Rabbit! Rabbit! Welcome to May!

Altars, apples, art, Civil War, coronavirus, exercise, Family, flowers, Food, greek myths, grief, Healing, Health, holidays, Holy Spirit, Love, Memorial Day, Ministry, ministry, pandemic, purpose, rabbits, renewal, Retirement, righteousness, shadows, sleep, Strength, Stress

We’ve made it to May, the official door to summer, picnics, swimming pools, backyard cookouts, and slower paced lives. Or so we hope, as the temperatures warm and the pandemic wanes. Of course, this last is dependent not just on our individual responses, or even on our citizens’ cooperative actions, but it also depends on the developed nations of our world sharing our expertise and resources with the larger world’s need. If we ever thought we could build a wall and isolate our people and economy from the outside, our need for imported goods and our desire to travel on cruise ships seems to trump our need for isolation. India’s ongoing coronavirus catastrophe results from an inadequate health care system and a lack of vaccines, oxygen, and PPE. Less than 10 percent of Indians have gotten even one dose, despite India being the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer.

Matisse: Swimming Pool, paper cutouts, 1952, MOMA

As we come out of our enforced hibernation, like bears we shed our winter coats and start foraging for foods in an ever widening territory. We’re looking for reasons to celebrate and tantalizing foods to taste. The yum factor and new environments suddenly become sirens singing irresistible songs, which have the opportunity to dash our small bark against the rocks if we’re not careful. Like Ulysses, the ancient Greek hero, we travel between Scylla and Charybdis, hoping not to wreck.

J. M. W. Turner: Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus, 1829, Tate Gallery, London.

Fictional heroes make a big splash in May. On May 1, 1939, Batman, the caped crusader, made his first appearance in Detective Comics Issue #27. Star Wars Day is “May the 4th be with you.” On May 5, 1895, Richard F. Outcault published the first ever cartoon, The Yellow Kid. Since all those years ago, cartoons have seeped into our lives through every media outlet possible. If it weren’t for The Yellow Kid all those years ago, we probably wouldn’t be watching Iron Man and Captain America slugging it out on the big-screen. May 25 is a tribute to author Douglas Adams, who wrote the famed novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It’s a rather easy day to celebrate and it’s done by taking a towel with you wherever you go: to work, school, or just to the shops. This way you can celebrate such gems of wisdom as, “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.” The only thing that’s truly important on this day is you don’t forget to bring a towel!

Don’t Panic: Carry a Towel

Oh, and the answer to the “Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything” is “forty-two.” In the 1979 novel, the supercomputer Deep Thought takes 7.5 million years to calculate the answer to this ultimate question. The characters tasked with getting that answer are disappointed because it isn’t very useful. Yet, as the computer points out, the question itself was vaguely formulated. To find the correct statement of the query whose answer is 42, the computer will have to build a new version of itself. That, too, will take time. The new version of the computer is Earth. To find out what happens next, you’ll just have to read Adams’s books. For a math geek discussion of the significance of 42, read the link “For Math Fans” below.

Salad of spring greens and edible flowers

Having dispensed with heroes, we can move onto the significant May Days that truly appeal to me. “April showers bring May flowers” is a saying I’ve heard since my childhood ever so long ago. Historians believe this phrase may date back to a 1610 poem, which contained the lines, “Sweet April showers, do spring May flowers.” A longer phrase, “March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers,” has also been traced back to 1886. Of course, this tidbit of wisdom depends upon your geographic location, for folks inland and north may wait until what we southern folks call “early summer” before they get their “springtime.”

Rabbit and animals dancing around a Maypole

“The month of May was come, when every lust heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit,” wrote Sir Thomas Malory in Le Morte d’Arthur. The early Greeks called this month Maia, after the goddess of fertility, many of the early May festivals relate to agriculture and renewal. May Day, celebrated on the first with the Maypole, is one such festive event that was more debauched in earlier times, but now survives as a chaste minuet of colorful ribbons woven around a tall pole by children dancing in an interweaving circle below it.

Maypole dance patterns

Other modern May festivities include No Pants Day on 5/1, originally an end of the college year prank at the University of Texas, Austin, which spread to other realms needing release, and World Laughter Day, celebrated on the first Sunday of May. This holiday helps raise awareness about the benefits of laughing and promotes world peace through laughter. Laughing can instantly help reduce stress and brings us closer to other people, as we share our happiness with them. Those who take part in World Laughter Day can help spread positivity and cheerfulness to help change the world for the better. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What potent blood hath modest May.”

No Diet Day is May 6, a good day to remember our good health isn’t based on a scale number or a pant size. Instead, our health is dependent on nutritious foods, adequate exercise, and sufficient sleep. Extreme weight loss, except under a doctor’s supervision, usually leads to yo-yo weight gain, with the body gaining back the lost weight and more after severe deprivation. Slow, long term, weight loss is more likely to be permanent loss, since we aren’t “dieting,” but changing our habits. May 11th is Eat What You Want Day. I suggest we don’t follow Oscar Wilde’s habit: “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four, unless there are three other people.”

Speaking of breaking a fast, May 12th ends the month of Ramadan, the holy month of observance for Muslims. It was during Ramadan Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, received the revelations from angel Gabriel that allowed him to compile the holy book of Quran. Upon arriving in Medina, Muhammad announced Allah had established two days of celebrations for Muslims, Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. The purpose of Eid Al Fitr was to commemorate the end of the fasting of Ramadan, and mark the start of the Shawwal month, as well as to thank Allah for giving Muslims the perseverance to fast during Ramadan. The customary feast day greeting is “Eid Mubarak,” which translates to “blessed celebration” or “Happy Eid.”

Wayne Thiebaud: Bakery Counter, Oil on canvas, 1962, Private Collection,
© 2019 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The dessert of May is apple pie. Originally invented in England, the earliest apple pie recipe dates all the way back to 1381. The original recipe is very similar to the one we currently know, but it also included figs, raisins, pears, and saffron. The Dutch also created their own version of the apple pie, and the first recipe was published in a 1514 cookbook. This recipe is very similar to the apple pie we know and love today. Apple Pie Day is May 13th.

English and Dutch settlers brought the apple pie recipes into the colonies of what would become the United States, during the 17th and 18th centuries. They had to wait until the apple trees they planted grew and bore fruit, so at first apples were mainly used to make cider. It was only in the 18th century, when the first apple pie recipes were printed in America, that the dessert quickly grew in popularity. Following this came the 19th century Legend of Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman. He crisscrossed the expanding American frontier to bring seeds for apple orchards for homesteaders. He also brought news and the gospel for fifty years.

Apple Pie 5 cents a slice and Homemade

Chapman, or Appleseed, lives on as a barometer of the ever-shifting American ideal. Some see him as a pacifist, others as an example of the White Noble Savage (so remembered long after the settlers drove indigenous peoples from the land), and others see a mere children’s book simpleton. Some see him as a frontier bootlegger, since he helped expand the hard cider industry. Others see Johnny Appleseed as the patron saint of everything from cannabis to evangelical environmentalism and creation care—everything, that is, but the flesh-and-blood man he really was.

Our heroes are too often cardboard cutouts, and we don’t spend much time reflecting on their shadow sides. Of course, much like a Flat Stanley, a two dimensional character doesn’t have enough density to cast much of a shadow, unless the light is just right. This is why continuing Bible study is so important: most of us stop in grammar school and never get an adult insight into the scriptures. When we meet grownup problems, we have to wrestle the questions of faith that we once easily accepted trustingly. Or we walk out the door and never come back.

A Single Rose in Memory

One of the most difficult sermons I ever preached was on the first Mother’s Day after my mother died. One of my best clergy pals, who was a mentor in my ministry, had arranged for a single rose to be on the pulpit beside me on that morning. It was a gift of grace and an empowering symbol, for roses were my mom’s favorite flower. Every time I thought I might cry, I held on tight to the polished oak wood and inhaled the fragrance of the rose. Even now, nearly two decades later, I can clearly see this rose and pulpit, and while I remember where I was, I recall the congregation’s faces were a blur on that day. It’s always the second Sunday in May.

I talk about my fresh grief from years ago, for during this current Pandemic too many of us have had present grief and stress, but either have no words for it, or perhaps have no safe place to express it. Then again, we may be “managing the grief of others,” and don’t have time for caring for our own needs. I call this Deferred Maintenance Grief. If you have an old, leaky faucet, you can keep turning the handle tighter for only so long. You can keep the leak stopped for a while, but soon you’ll strip out the insides of the faucet. Once it’s stripped down, it both streams steadily and needs a completely new fixture to replace it, instead of a minor repair.

I experienced this DMG once after a spate of ten deaths in a week, or maybe it was seven in ten days, followed by the death of one of the old, beloved black clergymen in my community. As I lay on the parsonage couch watching a rerun of Babylon 5, I was crying as if old E.D. were my own daddy. I then realized I’d been too busy caring for others and doing the “work I was called for,” to do the grief work I needed to do for myself. I needed to honor my loss and give myself dedicated spaces to deal with my feelings, so I could be present for others. That’s Deferred Maintenance Grief in a nutshell. If I were eating Cheetos by the bucketful, I’d be in a deep hole of DMG and digging it deeper!

Most of the churches I served had a “Don’t fix it unless it’s broke” policy. I grew up in a Depression Era family, so I was familiar with this attitude. However, these same people didn’t live this way in their own homes. We usually had a long list of deferred maintenance projects in the church property to finish in my time there. Then I’d go to the next place and do it all over again. “Always leave a place better than you found it, both structurally and theologically. Teach people the law of love. As we learn in Romans 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Most of us human beings have “deferred maintenance projects” also: days off, doctor visits, exercise, healthy meals, quiet times, and family times. Taking time for ourselves means we’re refreshed and eager to serve from the quickening power of the Spirit. Without this resting or love for our own embodied image of God, we end up working from the dying embers of our body’s frail resources—burnout calls our name.

When we get this broken, our families and our ministries both suffer along with us. We know better than to drive our vehicles with the gas gauge on empty past every filling station on the road of life. We aren’t called to die on the cross to prove our worth to Christ or to anyone else. He’s our savior and we claim his work on the cross. Anything else is workaholism or salvation by works. We need to name and claim this.

For clergy moving to a new appointment, this is an opportunity for a reset. For those who remain in place, I suggest a planning book. Mark off in advance quiet times, office hours, and visitation times. Take educational events, even if zoom is the only offering. Read for pleasure. Take a day off out of town. Don’t answer the phone after 9 pm unless it’s an emergency. Boundaries are blessings. I always told people up front, “I take my brain out of my head and put it inside a brain box at 9 pm. I put it back in at 9 am. If you call me between those hours, somebody better have died, be on the way to the ER, or the church is burning down.” They laugh, but I’ve had friends who wanted their pastor to be their bedtime Bible expositor. Boundaries keep us from burning out.

Speaking of burning, the official door to summer begins with Memorial Day Weekend. This holiday celebrates those who gave their lives in the great wars of our nation. It began after the Civil War in 1865 as a way to deal with the shared grief of a nation, which lost 750,000 people, or 2.5% of the population, in the struggle. If we were to translate this to today’s world, the number would equal 7,000,000 deaths. War is a pandemic all its own.

An engraving of The Dying Soldier – The last letter from home during the US civil war, circa 1864. (Photo by Kean Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

As a parting commentary on Memorial Day, the Pandemic, and Extreme Care Giving, I leave you with a portion of the 1865 Walt Whitman poem, “The Wound Dresser,” which he wrote after serving as a hospital volunteer in the Civil War.

But in silence, in dreams’ projections,
While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand,
With hinged knees returning I enter the doors, (while for you up there,
Whoever you are, follow without noise and be of strong heart.)

Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground,
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital,
To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss,
An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail,
Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d again.

I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,
One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you,
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you.

Remember to wear sunscreen to protect your skin if you plan outdoor activities on the first three day weekend of the summer and watch the temperature of the grill. We don’t want anything to burn if we can help it. Charred meat and burned skin are both indicated for cancer risks. Be safe and continue to mask up in public. Get vaccinated as an act of love for your family, your neighbors, and the world community. Since we’re all wound dressers, as well as the wounded also, we want to give as much care to healing our own wounds as we do to the wounds of others.

Joy and Peace,

Cornie

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Wound Dresser, by Walt Whitman.
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35725/35725-h/35725-h.htm
This contains first source material from Whitman’s era as well as his works from the Civil War period.

Do April Showers Really Bring May Flowers? | Wonderopolis
https://wonderopolis.org/wonder/do-april-showers-really-bring-may-flowers

As Covid-19 Devastates India, Deaths Go Undercounted
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/24/world/asia/india-coronavirus-deaths.html?referringSource=articleShare

For Math Fans: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Number 42 – Scientific American
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/for-math-fans-a-hitchhikers-guide-to-the-number-42/

42 Of The Best Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Quotes | Book Riot
https://bookriot.com/the-42-best-lines-from-douglas-adams-the-hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy-series/

No Diet Day (6th May) | Days Of The Year
https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/no-diet-day/

World Laughter Day | May 2
https://www.calendarr.com/united-states/world-laughter-day/

National Apple Pie Day | May 13 – Calendarr
https://www.calendarr.com/united-states/national-apple-pie-day/

Johnny Appleseed Planted Stories Of Myth, Adventure : NPR
https://www.npr.org/2011/04/17/135409598/johnny-appleseed-planted-stories-of-myth-adventure

Statistics From the Civil War | Facing History and Ourselves
https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/statistics-civil-war

Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk – National Cancer Institute
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cooked-meats-fact-sheet

Listening to Flowers

adult learning, art, coronavirus, Creativity, Faith, flowers, grief, Healing, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Painting, pandemic, Reflection, Stress, vision

Listening to God is one of the hardest tasks most of us will ever undertake. How can we hear God’s voice, which has been described as the sound of sheer silence, when we live in the midst of the furious cacophony of our frantic world? If we do take time to be still, our own thoughts jump around inside our skull as if they were so many monkeys in a tree. We also find obstacles to our being still enough to listen to this silence, for there’s people who need us, work to be done, cattle to rustle, and snakes to kill. Even in the midst of a pandemic, life goes on.

Listen to the Flowers

The pandemic has also added extra levels of pain to our lives, for we’ve not only lost the support of our communal practices and our social experiences, but many of us have lost a friend or loved one to the coronavirus. We grieve for the life we used to live before social distancing and we grieve for the lives we’ve lost to the disease itself. Then there’s doom scrolling, the unfortunate habit too many of us find ourselves drawn to when we can’t draw ourselves away from the latest post on social media or update on breaking news about the latest indignity or harm this virus has done to humanity. All this wearies us and as we grow more tired, we lose our sensitivity to the small and quiet things.

It’s alright to admit we’re struggling, for then we can truly live out the verse,

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
God chose what is low and despised in the world,
things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,
so that no one might boast in the presence of God”

(1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

As I’ve continued my painting in my own studio, I recognize I have ebbs and flows of energies. This is normal in every creative person’s life and work. We work through the rough times so if inspiration happens to fall upon us from on high, we’ll be there to receive it. If this doesn’t happen, the canvas can get painted over, cut up and rewoven, or eventually destroyed altogether. It’s a painting, an object from which to learn and to listen as we gain skill in our craft.

When I was younger, however, I treated my works as if they were precious and alive, like a child. Perhaps I hadn’t made enough of them, and I also hadn’t had my own flesh and blood child. Once I had a child, I learned I couldn’t do what I thought was best for her, but I needed to listen to her and figure out what she needed. Since babies cry and don’t talk right away, this took some doing. But there were signs, of course: if I’d just fed her, she might need burping or a diaper change. If she woke up from a nap, nursing and rocking was a good choice. Later as she got older, I had more to learn, but it was a while before she said words.

Our paintings never speak out loud, yet we need to listen to what they tell us, just as our subject matter never communicates a word to us, but we hear it calling to us, “Paint me!” In class this week, Tatiana brought flowers from her gardens for us to paint. She focused on the tiger Lilly and got a good rendering of it. She had some new paints, so she laid the color down thick. It would have to dry before she could straighten up any details.

Tiger Lily

Gail was finishing up the carrot flowers. She had roughed in the shapes with lights and darks last week. This week, getting the lacy details of the flower heads needed a plan. We looked at Seurat, the French pointillist painter, who set dots one beside another to make the shapes and to mix the colors. This was a new technique that she modified for her own.

Carrot Flowers

Glen was painting a violet flower, and had a tender rendering in pink. It was quite well drawn, with good highlighting. I suggested he put a light blue wash on it. He must have enjoyed the blue, for he painted out his beautiful flower. I’ve done this myself. I keep going until lose it, and then I regret it. When an artist is learning a new technique, he or she will often over do it until the painting feels dead. This happens to me when my blood sugar dips and not enough energy gets to my brain. I can even feel it coming on and I have to stop myself before I begin to lose my fresh hand.

Blue Violet Flower

This is why an artist always has to be listening to the flower, if that’s the subject matter of the day, and also to the artist’s own self, as well as the painting. I think of this as a lesser trinity. Just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all listen and commune together, so the artist, the subject, and the art work need to listen and communicate together. If we would quiet ourselves so we could hear the voice of the flower speaking to us or our art work telling us what it needed, we might be more likely to hear the still, small voice of the God, who is Three in One.

Flowers in Vases
adult learning, art, beauty, Creativity, failure, Faith, garden, Holy Spirit, Icons, Imagination, incarnation, Meditation, ministry, mystery, Painting, poverty, purpose, Reflection, salvation, Spirituality, Stations of the Cross, Strength, Work

PRAYER: Listening to an Icon

Most of us separate our lives into doing and being: we are creatures of comfort at times, and then we expend energy doing chores or work at different times. We live bifurcated lives, even if we’ve heard the admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), we work without prayer and pray without working. Then again, some of us have little connection with the spiritual at all, so we miss the mystery and the awe of the dimensions beyond this mundane world. We’re unable to see even the glory and beauty of the creation, since we aren’t connected spirituality to a life beyond this world.

Christ Overcomes the World

The iconographer is more than a painter or a writer: he or she is one who connects this material world with the spiritual world beyond. The icon is a window through which the heavenly and the earthly worlds communicate. It’s like a wormhole, of sorts, in sci-fi language, or a portal passage for direct communication. Of course, we can directly communicate with the Holy Spirit, but not being able to see the Spirit, we can see the icon’s representation of the image of Christ or a saint, and this helps us to focus our thoughts and prayers.

Golden Christ

Some say a candle would suffice, or a text from Scripture, and I agree. Yet not everyone is able to live such a spare life, reduced of images, color, and beauty. Minimalism isn’t for everyone! This is why we have zen gardens as well as romantic English gardens. Some of us need architectural modernism and others like quaint country clutter. The icon tradition comes from the ancient church, for Luke was traditionally ascribed to be the first iconographer, as well as one of the first gospel writers. He painted Mary “the God-bearer” and Jesus.

Mary Macaroni

Our art class is moving out of its comfort zone in the painting of icons. We can learn about the spiritual life in the art class every time we meet. In fact, every time we try something new or challenging, we learn about ourselves and the spiritual life. A close inspection of the gospels shows a Jesus who was always challenging the status quo. The only time he was comforting people was when they were dispossessed, marginalized, or disrespected. “Blessed are the poor…” was his first choice, not blessed are the rich or powerful!

When we are weak and powerless, when we struggle and fall short of success, and that will be. Every. Single. Day. In. Art—We are then most able to lean on the one who for our sakes became weak so we can become strong. Then we’ll come back and fail again and remember the times Christ stumbled on the rocky road to the crucifixion. What seemed like a failure to everyone gathered about, and didn’t make logical sense to wisdom seeking people, nevertheless served a higher purpose. By uniting all of our human failures and faults in one person, God could experience all of them in God’s own image, the icon we know as Jesus Christ.

Crucifixion

If there’s any reason to attempt a Holy Icon in this modern world, we paint and pray to unite our work and spiritual into one. Usually only the clergy have this privilege, and they can too easily burn out if they do too much and pray too little. Lay people underestimate the amount of prayers necessary for effective work. The older I get, the more prayer time I need. Of course, work takes more out of me now, but I’m a refugee from the dinosaur age. I used to be an energizer bunny back in my fifties, but working thirty hours a week painting and writing is enough for me today.

Any art work, whether a landscape, portrait, or an icon, can be alive or dead, depending on how the artist approaches the work. If we draw the lines, fill in the colors, and never pay attention to the energy of the art itself, we’re just filling up time. If we’re thinking about our grocery list, what to make for dinner, or the errands we have to run, we aren’t on speaking terms with our artwork. On the other hand, if we’re paying attention, sharing in the conversation, listening to what our work is telling us, we can respond to the push and pull of the conversation. Our work will tell us what it needs if we’ll only listen to it. If we trust and listen to the Holy Spirit, we’ll paint a true icon, and the window into heaven will open for all who want to listen.

Christ Blessing the World

McTemples and Lonely Prophets

Creativity, Evangelism, Family, Food, generosity, Health, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Meditation, Ministry, ministry, photography, poverty, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

~~ Matthew 6:21 

Driving home from a retreat in north Arkansas, I made a pit stop at a local McDonalds. I called a friend, for I missed an opportunity to help publicize a group of homeless veterans’ art works.  One of the road riding prophets of the Christian Motorcyclists Associations heard me say, “Let me leave here and we’ll pray,” so he followed me outside. I’d seen his colors as I exited the building, so I wasn’t afraid of his rough looks. Women traveling alone don’t normally want to engage in conversations with strangers because it pierces our bubble of security. The rest of us just want to be left alone so we can get on with our lives. CMA riders share their witness whenever and wherever they can.

This was Ron C, bearing fruit for the weary traveler, sharing that his life now with Christ has been much better than it was before, when he was briefly confined to a mental institution. Now he has a purpose when he rides the road.  He shares Christ with all he meets, for Christ is the seed buried in his heart. I thanked him for his witness and we parted.  I wondered how many Christians have a Christ treasure to share from their heart, or whether Christ is their means to gain earthly treasures.

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of Harold Camping’s prediction of the End of the World (5-21-11).  Many folks cashed in their pension plans to pay for advertising to warn people of the impending doom/judgment/rapture. They were disappointed, but like true believers, unshaken. Perhaps they should have read the text, “no one but the Father knows the day and hour of the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:36). How can we witness to our faith, if we aren’t given to selling all that we have or riding the roads as a lonely prophet?

Jesus says, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:20).  We can’t exactly make a deposit in the First Heavenly Bank & Trust: it doesn’t have a drive through or an ATM. There’s not an app for that for your smart phone. However, we can care for ourselves, since we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 3:16). We can also care for others as well as for God’s creation. Caring for ourselves means not burning our candle at both ends, choosing fewer processed foods/more fresh foods, making exercise and sleep a priority, and finding our quiet time with God for prayer and meditation. Two days away for a golf/spiritual retreat with my clergy pals was a way I could honor this need to store up treasure in heaven. When 42% of American adults are predicted to be obese by the next generation, we are building McTemples by the millions! This excess weight adds $550 billion to our medical bills in preventable disease costs, for obesity related costs now outrank those caused by smoking.

Caring for others means we value them as we value them as we value ourselves, for we are all made in the image of God. To care for others means not only means to do good to their bodies and souls, but also to refrain from doing harm. People in caretaking professions and customer relations tend to put others first, and themselves second. Years of doing this will diminish our healthy sense of self, until we no longer can stand up for what is true and right. We will do for others exclusively, and fail to take time for ourselves. For some reason, we think we are Superman or Superwoman, and we can fly forever doing mighty deeds. We don’t see the kryptonite until it’s too late: Doing no harm means caring for ourselves. The truth is not one of us is yet under the complete Lordship of Jesus Christ, for none of us are entirely perfected in love: we are still going on toward perfection! We yearn for our hearts to be so full of love of God and neighbor that nothing else exists, but we still are riding the road, making a way on that journey to perfection.

I may laugh about our McTemples of the Holy Spirit, but that’s only because I come from a culture of eating. I grew up in a Methodist Church and went to a Methodist Seminary. I told folks I had a course called  “Preacher 101—Follow the Food.” It’s a good way to understand the dynamics of the local church, which does run around food: donuts with the pastor, men’s breakfast, ladies’ luncheons, Wednesday night choir supper, potluck dinners, senior club dinners, youth night dinners, spaghetti fund raisers, valentine suppers, potato bakes, etc. I sometimes ate only two meals at home in any given week. All these folks know how to cook, and they all want you to eat their food.  No wonder their pastors have big round bellies, and their insurance is so high! But then, we are just like they are, so we are all going down the same road to illness together.

It’s not that we don’t have access to decent food. Most of my churches have been in small towns, not in the urban jungles of decay that are designated as “food deserts.” They aren’t in rich neighborhoods by any means, but we do have access to a variety of food.  Since I’ve been on health leave, I’ve become more conscious about caring for my body, soul, and mind. I’ve learned that our food industry makes cheap food palatable by layering fat, salt, and sugar together in a heavily processed form. These products are heavily packaged, highly advertised, and subject to extreme couponing offers.  They are not the best foods for you.  The best foods are on the outer perimeter of the grocery store: fruits, meats, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products.

The food deserts are in the poorer neighborhoods that have more fast food restaurants and fewer grocery stores. They also have less access to transportation and higher rates of metabolic syndrome diseases plus less access to medical care. A good project would be a community garden and cooking classes. Neighbors helping neighbors by improving the little patch of the earth on which they live makes a whole lot of good for God’s kingdom, or “storing up treasures in heaven.”

Our spiritual practice will be an inventory of our heart: what are our treasures? Begin to list them one by one, beginning with all the things and all the people you hold dear to you. Then list all the powers and strengths. Now list all the pains and sorrows, weaknesses and failures.  See how God has used these also to bring treasure into your life.  As our art project, try building a treasure box: If you have an old box, you can paint or decoupage (cut pictures & glue designs) it according to your taste.  This can be a place to keep the treasures from the years gone by. You can also fold a box of scrapbook paper using the ten step directions found at

http://rubberstamping.about.com/od/techniquesandtutorials/ss/Box.htm

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

 

Crayola Crayons and the Secret of The Cross

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“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”                                                    ~~ 1 Corinthians 2:1-2

When I was in kindergarten, I wanted more crayons in my 2012 time icondrawstring bag, so I put my little five year old hands into the darkness of this hidden place, found the larger crayons, and broke them in half.  I did this in secret, to have “more” when I spread them out on our table during coloring time. I didn’t understand that I didn’t have any more “colors,” but only had more pieces of crayons. This “mystery” of “numbers and more” was lost on my undeveloped five-year-old mind.

In the first grade, we had individual desks, so we kept our colors in their original boxes.  This is when I first noticed that while my teacher required us to have the Crayola standard eight color non rolling crayons, these magic colors came in boxes of many more colors! As soon as I was allowed to bring more than a set of eight colors to school, I begged my parents for the biggest box my teachers would allow. The beauty and secret joys of all the mysteries of the universe were there in all these colors as I opened my first large box.  It may have had only twenty-four colors, but I thought I had all the secret knowledge of heavens before me.

There are secrets and then there are mysteries. Secrets are things that can be known and understood, but for some reason we want to keep the information “sub rosa.” Mysteries, however, can’t be understood and are beyond knowing, so they are often hidden, even if they are in plain sight. Such is the mystery of God and the reality of the crucified Christ.  We cannot see the invisible God, but we can see his visible evidence in Christ’s broken body hanging on the cross: God’s abounding love, his radical forgiveness, and his amazing grace in the gift of his son’s life to bring us into a new life and a new relationship with the Father.

Death, especially a hideous and tortuous demise, doesn’t seem the avenue to life. A criminal execution isn’t noble or brave. The people around the cross jeered,  “Save yourself, as you saved others!” (Luke 23:35) But he did not.  This is a mystery to us, for he could have called 10,000 angels down at any time! Surely the heavenly host who filled the skies at his birth would have rescued him from this horrible fate at the last. This is why “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Lately secrets have been much bandied about. Our straight arrow University of Arkansas football coach seems to have had a secret life, one that only came to light after his motorcycle accident with a female passenger on board. This young university employee was in a “previous relationship” with the head coach. My gut tells me that the “previous” became “active” the moment the motorcycle went off the road, for the coach at first failed to mention to the University authorities that he had anyone with him. This lie and the multiple refusals to come clean over a period of time broke the bond of trust between him and his employers and supervisors. He was placed on administrative leave while others decided his fate.

Over the Easter weekend the true colors of our theology began to show. The Facebook page “Save Bobby Petrino” held a rally Easter Sunday. In the spirit of the season they said, “Jesus saved Bobby Petrino, now Jeff Long can save him too.”  Wow! Never thought that our Athletic Director would get elevated to the second person of the Holy Trinity! That’s usually reserved for winning football coaches like Petrino. “Forgive and Forget” for this crowd really means, “Let’s get back to winning games.”

I wonder how they would have reacted if Coach Nutt had been caught—oh wait! There was the text message scandal and the comely media lady.  This was the final straw, as I remember, that caused us to buy out a losing coach’s contract. It seems we treat the indiscretions of losers differently than those of winners.  In a like manner, consider the realm of politics and two men, both of whom “did their wives wrong.” One we continue to faun upon and the other we still love to hate. I speak of Bill Clinton and John Edwards. In truth, the first has redeemed himself and changed his ways, devoting his post presidential life to good works around the world. John Edwards is too fresh in our minds for his cover-up of his relationship with his pregnant mistress and paying hush money to her family while his own wife was battling cancer.

This sort of self-destructive behavior happens to people who rise to great power, have many “yes men” around them, and have pressures from all sides pushing them constantly. They become isolated from their families and from the ordinary world’s give and take. They live in an unreal universe in which they are the sun and everyone else is a mere planet that revolves around their light and glory. It can happen to doctors, lawyers, CEOs, clergy, teachers, managers, principals, or any one in supervision over another person.

What we forget is the “other woman,” the young “planetoid” that gets sucked into the gravitational pull of this bright shiny object. Some would say that she’s an adult and could say “no,” but when the power is unequal, and especially when the person is her boss, “yes” is more often what she will say.  Men of power usually survive, but the “other woman” is marked for life, especially in her home state.  “Why did you leave your last job?” Spin that one, honey. Ask Monica Lewinsky how life has treated her these last seventeen years: no steady job, no home of her own, no love life, people still taking her photo as “that girl,” and she still has the trophy black dress hidden at the back of her closet. She hasn’t exactly moved on and thrived.

We tend to respect power and strength. We want a winner at the helm, whether we are speaking of a football team, a church, a business, a family or a volunteer organization. We want a “messiah” who walks and talks like Tim Tebow and looks like him if possible! If he has the purity, power, and passion of Tim Tebow, that’s even better. What we don’t realize is that his character comes from understanding the mystery of God in Christ: power is found in weakness! Only when we set aside our human strength can the strength of God be brought to bear in the tough times of our lives. When we are standing on our own two feet in when we are at our weakest. When we are driven to our knees, when all our powers have fled, this is when God takes over! “I give up” means “God, take over.”

Any one of us would trade $1 for $10, an act that results in a1,000% no risk return.  Yet every day, people play the lottery in hopes of more payout with a lesser opportunity of result. Giving up our puny power for the power of the Almighty God is a no brainer trade! This is why Paul came knowing only Christ and him crucified. This is why the “tebowing” move is on one’s knees. It is the attitude of a humbled soul, who recognizes that while God’s mysteries may be beyond our understanding, the gift of Christ’s body on the cross, broken for us, is the key to unlocking all the wisdom and knowledge of God.

The ancient Jews practiced the “whole burnt offering” as a gift to God. Nothing was left for them to consume, enjoy or keep. As a practice of self-examination, we need to discern what we have kept hidden in the closets of our minds and in the secret places of our hearts. God already knows these things, but we are keeping them hidden from the world, from our friends, and our families. We don’t need to spill our guts to everyone, but we do need to admit these to ourselves and to God. Write your secret on a piece of paper: anger at (name) who raped me, my substance abuse, workaholism, fear, sadness, perfectionism, my idiot boss, etc.  Find a place on pavement, patio, or rock and set this paper on fire. As you burn this paper up, watch the smoke lift up to the sky above. Know that God is burning this pain from your life.  Pray that God strengthens you to live a new and intentional life, depending upon the love that held Christ to the cross.  When the road gets hard ahead, go down to your knees, and let the power of God hold you close, moment by moment.

You might have many hidden objects that you can’t get rid of because they have meaning to you. They are in boxes or drawers, tucked in the back of your jewelry box or in your storeroom or garage. One day you’ll get around to it, do something with them, but you just don’t know what yet.  I have many small crosses people have given me, some small pieces of broken jewelry that have lost their mates, and some odd items that I’ve found and for some reason I can’t throw away. I have seashells from the beach vacation I took 20 years ago and old necklaces that are no longer in style. I finally pulled these all out and made an icon of the cross from found objects.200? found object icon

Find an 8 X 10 inch frame at the craft store that you like and get rid of the glass carefully (wrap it in newspaper and throw it away). Cover the backing board with fabric or scrapbook paper. You can also use an 8 X 10 canvas panel painted gold.  Use gorilla glue or a glue gun to attach the objects, beginning from the center outward. Make sure to leave 1/4 inch or more outer margin so that the frame will fit! Do NOT lift the panel up to look at it or the heavy items will fall off! Leave panel flat to dry for 24 hours. Insert it into frame and display.

May your New Life be one of Joy and Peace, Cornelia