Nevertheless, it’s still summer

In the waning days of August, there’s a slight change in the weather. There’s a hint of autumn in the breeze, brushing my cheeks as I walk to the garden. It’s cooler today than it has been for a couple of weeks and I’m glad of the long sleeves on my sweatshirt. The smoke from the wildfires in British Columbia and central Washington that made my nose run and my eyes itch has cleared, thanks to a shift in the wind bringing a marine layer in the mornings and beautiful, deep blue skies in the afternoons.

Even so, the dry, hot weather of a couple of weeks ago, seems to have convinced the trees that it’s almost fall. The locust has been dropping golden leaves on the grass for about a week. Now, one of the oaks across the fence has joined it and the backyard looks like October. I hear the rustle of the leaves on the poplars, and it sounds more like the susurration of the surf than the wind in the trees. The grass on the big lawn is turning golden, as we try to save money on water.

Kids are outfitting backpacks, and breaking in new shoes. Throughout the South the first day of school has already happened.

At the farmer’s market, there’s still corn on the cob, and wonderful, vine-ripened heritage tomatoes. The peaches and apricots are at their peak, and my mouth waters at the smell. The cherries, bright red and golden, lure me to taste their tart-sweet goodness. It won’t be long before the new crop of apples and pears make their appearance.

I hear the chip, chip, chip of the sparrow, remarking that the birdfeeder is empty – oh, and by the way, there’s not enough water in the birdbath for a decent drink, much less, a real dive-in-and-splash bath. It seems like only yesterday that I was able to follow the sounds of the gentleman sparrows as they called for their mates before nesting season – “See, see, pretty, pretty me.” I trust they will be back next spring.

The dying of the summer brings with it nostalgia and a sense of loss. But we still have a few days to play in the sun, and travel, and enjoy ourselves before our world contracts into indoor activities of the winter.

Spiritual Discipline for the Week – Receiving

Today in church, Pastor Sarah challenged us to practice the spiritual discipline of Receiving this week. We looked at the story of the feeding of the 5000 in John’s Gospel. There are six versions of this story in the four gospels. Apparently the writers felt like it was important. There’s a theory that everybody really had food, but they were reluctant to share until the little boy offered his four loaves and two fish. This make sense. If you think you are the only person who has enough food for yourself, then it’s easy to be reluctant to share what you have with folks who have nothing. This is true today – the problem with hunger is not one of scarcity – it’s one of distribution. There is empirically enough food for every person on the planet to be fed. Just like there is enough money on the planet for every person to have $1,000,000.

But that’s probably not what this story is about. None of the writers tell the story that way. They tell the story from the point of view of the people who were hungry. They tell the story as a miracle. When we feel like we’re hungry or hurting or needing, we feel like we can’t possibly solve the problem by ourselves. We need more than we can provide. When despair overtakes us, we need more and we hide from that truth. It’s terrifying how much we need. There’s a miracle in asking for help. We have a lot to give, but we need to receive what’s being given first. What are you hungry for? What do you need to receive?

1.  Pray with your hands open and upturned this week. How does it feel? I’ve been doing this ever since I learned centering prayer. When I pray this way, I have learned not to want anything, not to ask for anything. I just open myself  to God, and to God’s working in my heart and soul.

2.  Say yes every time someone offers you help this week. I read this suggestion during church, and almost immediately I didn’t do it. I was carrying two plates of picnic food – one for my husband and one for myself – and someone offered to carry one for me. Did I accept the help? No! I said, “That’s fine, I can do it myself. Thanks anyway.” *Sigh* I’ve got a lot to work on with this one.

3. When you encounter a challenge, ask yourself: what am I being invited to receive from this situation? I’ll have to ponder this one. I know I am challenged to graciously accept thanks or praise. I’ll definitely work on that this week.


Spiritual Discipline for the Week – Rest

Today in church, Pastor Sarah challenged us to practice the spiritual discipline of Rest this week. With all the strife and turmoil in the world right now, it’s going to be difficult to practice REST. There are still people who are hungry, still people who are living in terror, still people who need all the help they can get, still people being injured because of the color of their skin, or because of their beliefs. How can I possibly rest when all that is going on in the world.

But she reminded us that when the 5000 were fed, it was Jesus who did it. When the blind man could see, it was Jesus who healed him. Jesus told his disciples to rest – Jesus himself rested. We all need to reconnect with our strength – God alone!

1.  Find somewhere where you can be alone. Sit and do nothing while you’re there. The picture is one of my favorite places to sit and rest. I watch the ducks (sometimes there are ducklings). I feel the sun on my face. I daydream.

2.  Say no to something this week. I’m entertaining my sister for a week, so I’m saying no to lots of things I regularly do. Church work is going to have to get along without me. My resistance work will still be here when I return. I’m mostly going to be unplugged from social media and the news.

3. Take a nap. Or, sit by a window and just stare for a little while. I already practice this every morning as I air-dry after my shower. This is my time to admire the flowers, the trees, and birds.


Spiritual Discipline for the Week – Faith

Today in church, Pastor Sarah challenged us to practice the spiritual discipline of Faith this week. She also taught us a new word – palimpsest. It comes from a manuscript (usually ancient) that has been erased or scraped away, but the old is still visible. It’s given its name to something in layers, whereby you see the most recent, but the older layers are still visible. Thomas de Quincy said this about the mind:

What else than a natural and mighty palimpsest is the human brain? Everlasting layers of ideas, images and feelings, have fallen upon your brain softly as light. Each succession has seemed to bury all that went before. And yet in reality not one has been extinguished. They are not dead but sleeping, there is none of passion or disease that can scorch away these immortal impulses.

That’s how God sees us – all the layers. Faith reminds us of the times we have been afraid and things have turned out well. God sees us as we were and as we will be. Faith is the opposite of fear.

1.  When you feel afraid, try asking Jesus or the Holy Spirit for help. Somebody asked me today “What are you afraid of?” I had to admit that as a pragmatist and as a woman over 70 years of age, I’ve come to terms with certain death, and possible illness, and potential loss of friends and family. I am terrified of North Vietnam right now, but I try to remember that in life and in death we belong to God. (For a peek inside my Existential Angst, listen to Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut. You can see the lyrics at the link, and hear the albums on you tube – note particularly “The Final Cut” and “Two Suns in the Sunset.”)

2.  Make a list of times you’ve been afraid. Make a list of times you’ve been full of faith. Remember that it’s not either/or. We’re both faithful and fearful, and God loves us all of the time. I’ve been fearful at times when we ran out of money before we ran out of month. I’ve been fearful when my loved ones didn’t check in on time – kids out with the car and late getting home, my husband on remote assignment with the Air Force, and no letter in several days. All those times thing worked out. I suppose faith is remembering that – in the past things have worked out.

3. Ask for help with something each day this week. I really don’t have much of a problem asking for help – although it’s usually something small. I am becoming better about asking for mental and emotional help.


The Details of an Unremarkable Day

Even noticing the details of unremarkable days is an effort, but one that is well worth while. Today was particularly unremarkable, except for the smoggy heat – the smoke from fires in British Columbia is blanketing western Washington and Oregon.

I was up early, 6:05 am to be precise. I did that because I knew I would have to drive to Olympia for a meeting at 9:30 and I wanted to have a chance to stop by the garden to turn off the water that I had left on the drip-drop irrigation system overnight.

When I went through the gate to the garden, the weather was soft and warm, but still cool enough to be refreshing – 68 degrees according to the car thermometer. The poor, scraggly tomatoes were looking happy to have had plenty of water overnight. I didn’t have time to stop by the green beans who were calling me to pick another handful, and “for Pete’s sake, give me a drink.” They will have to wait for later this evening, or maybe tomorrow.

The most eventful thing about the drive from far north Tacoma to Olympia was the ordinariness of it. I often run into stop and go traffic in the 12 miles I have to get on I-5, but everything sailed along splendidly this morning. I gave a quick prayer of thanks to God that I wasn’t going to late – in fact, I was 15 minutes early to my meeting.

When I got to the church, I was able to snag a parking place under the trees, so I knew I wouldn’t have to come out to get in a car that had been baking in the sun for 3 hours.

The meeting, originally scheduled for 2.5 hours, lasted a full 3 hours, but much was accomplished. About the only thing worth noting was that I got upset about some of the members of the council dragging their feet about spending money that needs to be spent, “in case we might need it later.” I’m afraid I called that attitude “sinful” and “untrusting” and did a bit of a rant about sitting on funds that we received for the express purpose of seeing that the work of the Holy Spirit was continued in the world. The nay-sayers then backpedaled, saying “But we’re just wondering what the rest of Presbytery will say.” I had to remind myself to breath. We were able to give grants to several churches who are practicing good stewardship, and wanting to expand their service to their communities, and we moved our Executive Presbyter to full-time, and gave 3-year contract to our Stated Clerk who has been working for 4+years in a Validated Ministry position on a year-to-year basis. We also heard a good report from our summer camp that was on the verge of closing a year ago, and who is having a fine summer this years after a change in management.

The drive home was uneventful and unremarkable which was a blessing since the temperature was climbing. The highest it got to on the way home was 88 degrees, but that’s high for the Pacific Northwest.

Big Al and I had a late lunch at Red Wagon – teriyaki burger for him and fried cod with onion rings for me. More than enough food, and very, very tasty.

Then we went to the County Auditor’s office to pick up our car license for the next year. I had ordered it and paid for it on-line yesterday, so I just had to run in and pick up the envelope. I could have had it mail, but I didn’t get the notice until 5 days before it was due, so I was afraid to count on Uncle Sam.

Tonight, we have a concert on the lawn here at Franke Tobey Jones. I still haven’t decided whether I’ll wander over there – it’s still smoky and hot (89 degrees at 5:30 pm), so I’ll probably stay here in the air conditioning. Tomorrow the winds are supposed to turn back around from the coast, and begin to blow the smoke away, over the mountains to eastern Washington, who are suffering with their own smoke from fires in Montana.



2017 Intentions – July

As I said here, I dumped my original Star Word in favor of COURAGE.

These are my intentions for the year. Let’s see how I’m doing showing COURAGE in each case.

I will resist hatred, prejudice, and evil, and speak out against all of them when I see/hear them.

  • I will resist evil, hatred, and reactionary government by signing up with Wall of Us. Each week you will receive a list of four actions you can take by writing to your elected representatives to ensure your values are being considered by the government. Some are local, some are state, and some are national. Often you will receive suggestions of products to boycott or hatred to call out.
    • I’ve consistently made phone calls – either in support of my representatives positions or to encourage them to speak out. I have both US Senators’ and my Representative’s number saved in my phone and I call, at least, weekly.
    • I’m still calling. Right now, I’m focusing on LGBT rights, global warming, and immigrant rights.
  • I’ve signed up with People Power – a grassroots organizing effort backed by the ACLU.
    • I’m on the local leadership team for People Power in Tacoma
    • I continue to text almost daily for People Power. I think partially because of our efforts the draconian push by the Congress to repeal Obamacare was defeated.
  • I have attended a City Council meeting where they were discussing eliminating fossil fuels from our port.
  • I attended a Washington Won’t Discriminate training, and will be working to bring Trans-101 training to groups I can influence. We were able to keep the “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people off the ballot.
  • I supported progressive candidates in the local city council elections.

I will exercise regularly and eat good, healthy food.

  • I will try to get 10,000 steps a day – so far, so good, for the most part.
  • I will log my food every day (and no cheating)  – I have lost the weight I put on since the first of last May. That includes the weight I gained while traveling to see the Alabama Watters and at General Assembly. Next milestone will be when I get back to where I was when we returned from our big 50th Anniversary trip in November 2015.
  • I will cook most of the food we eat from scratch, and will be careful of extra salt and additives in any packaged foods – check, check, and check.
    • I’ve also planted green beans and squash. The squash isn’t doing very well, but I’m starting to harvest the green beans.
    • I have planted the tomato and pepper plants. The peppers are in decent shape after being chewed by slugs. The tomatoes are not doing well. It was too cold and wet early, and now they aren’t getting enough water, even though I turn the hose on daily.
    •  I will continue to get Blue Apron meals whenever my schedule allows me time to prepare them. If you would like to try them, send me your email in a comment, and I’ll send you three free meals (I have at least 5 sets available).

I will make personal contact with at least half of the churches in the Presbytery.

  • I will meet the pastors for coffee and a “get-to-know-you” time. So far I’ve only connected at Presbytery meetings and events.
  • I continue to attend Leadership Council, and Administrative Council meetings, Trustee meetings, Taskforce for New Worshipping Communities meetings, and meetings of the Granting Team for distributing mission money to various churches. I’m also starting a temporary assignment at Treasurer while the fellow who has that job recovers from surgery.
  • I will try to meet with the sessions and invite more participation by Ruling Elders in Presbytery meetings and commissions and committees.
  • I’m working on getting some money from the Leadership Council to subscribe to Mission Insight for the Taskforce on New Worshipping Communities. We need demographic data to explore potential new church plants in underserved areas of the Presbytery.

I will work for more racial diversity and harmony in my city and church.

  • I will encourage a dialogue between Bethany and at least one historically Black congregation – no opportunities yet, but I’m working on it.
  • Our Interfaith Dialogue has continued through May. I have attended all four sessions, one at Bethany Presbyterian Church, one at Temple Beth-El, one at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and one hosted by the Mosque at the Library. We have studied how each religion thinks about Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohamed. In July we will met with all the other faith communities for a women’s tea.
  • I’m serving on the steering committee for the next Interfaith Women’s Conference sponsored by Associated Ministries.

I will pray for Big Al as he faces decreased mobility and increasing pain from his back problems. I will try to remember that he is hurting, and not push him to do more than he is comfortable doing – I’m doing pretty well with this one, but it means I often go places and do things that leave him at home alone.