Friday, June 23, 2017

Road Trip!

A lovely civil rights memorial in Montgomery Alabama where we stopped for dinner the first night, then oysters in Louisiana for lunch the next day.

We stayed in Houston with a friend of John's, who had three kittens!

 Some interesting museum sights in Houston:

 We stayed with friends in College Station then visited John's grandfather's grave:

In Austin we met up with John's brother and his son by his second marriage 
and sprinkled a little of John's ashes on his parents' grave

 On our way out from Austin to Dallas we stopped at Waco Mammoth National Monument, which is well worth a stop
 A lovely water garden in Fort Worth by Phillip Johnson

This was one of the sights we found on the RoadTrippers app

 Two interesting chapels in northwestern Arkansas

And then one of our goals, the Crystal Bridges Museum


 The civil rights museum was closed on Tuesday but in Memphis we went to a scale model of the Mississippi river and the National Ornamental Metal Museum

We particularly enjoyed the Hampson Museum State Park in Wilson, AR
for beautiful artifacts from Mississipian Native American Cultures


 No pictures allowed in the National Quilt Museum, which was excellent, but then we crossed the Ohio river and made a stop in Metropolis
And then on to Olney Illinois


 We visited the grave of Aunt Florence's parents (John's maternal grandparents) 
and the remains of the bird sanctuary that had brought him to Olney

And then on to Louisville, where we walked on a footbridge over the river
went to the art museum, and did a Bourbon tour

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

#accompany me

I have been thinking this last year about building new kinds of community. One theme is the importance of organizations where we feel we belong. But another theme is how might we get away from the pressure our culture puts on us to be independent, either as an individual or as a couple.

After the election, when many vulnerable people feel so much more at risk, I wear a safety pin to say that I will walk with you or accompany you to the bathroom if you feel unsafe. But I would like to see this not as protecting the weak, but as a commitment to community, to being there for each other. How do we build communities where we can all show our vulnerabilities and be seen and valued?

I want to experiment with the idea of seeking someone to accompany me when I have a lonely task. We understand this already with difficult medical appointments, and we seek someone to accompany us. But could it be something we do more often, as a way of spending time with friends and as a way of not feeling so alone? I've posted on Facebook where friends will see that I am looking for someone to help me clear out and sort the papers in my husband's aunt's safe deposit box tomorrow. (She was obsessive about what she saw as important papers.)

The Advent meditation I am following gives this verse for today, from Matthew 24:31:
And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The featured meditation yesterday talked about the communion of struggle. How do we commit to valuing all lives? We do that by political work, but we also do that by building community where we know each other more deeply and admit that we are all vulnerable.

So what to do with those angels and their trumpets?  My first reaction is that we need to save ourselves, together, not wait for angels with trumpets to replace this world with a better one. I think that is more in the spirit of the word prompt: STFU.  But in the spirit of Advent when the Messiah is both coming and already here, we also need to understand that we are gathered, here and now, and that the people we don't want to see are part of the elect are with us as well. What steps can we take, in our lives as they are now, to make our communities more open and more supportive? We need that to get through the harsher times that are coming politically.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

a prayer I wrote for Advent

This Advent, as we prepare for the incarnation, we pray for all the troubles of the world.
  That the arc of history may bend towards peace.

As we prepare for the incarnation, we pray for the leaders of our nation and of all nations.
  That the arc of history may bend towards justice.

As we prepare for the incarnation, we pray for the leaders of all faiths.
  That they will be part of bending the arc of history towards hope.

As we prepare for the incarnation, we pray for our community in Clemson and the Upstate.
  That the arc of history may bend towards caring for each other.

As we prepare for the incarnation, we are grateful for all with which we have been blessed.
  That the arc of history may bend towards joy.

As we prepare for the incarnation, we pray for all who are hurting and struggling.
  That the arc of all our lives may bend towards love. 

As we prepare for the incarnation, we pray for all who have died.
  We entrust them to the arc of God’s love.

[closing collect from the prayer book]
Dear God, accept the fervent prayers of your people; in the multitude of your mercies, look with compassion upon us and all who turn to you for help; for you are gracious, O lover of souls, and to you we give glory, Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Fall bike rides

Tour de Tugaloo, Toccoa GA
  • 40.4 miles, 2,078 feet elevation gain, 12.3 mph
  • some flat, some parts of the ride had lots of short steep hills
White Squirrel Cycling Classic, Brevard NC
  • 40.7 miles, 1,115 feet elevation gain, 13.3 mph
  • beautiful agricultural land along the river valleys, only a few hilly sections
Ride for Research, Anderson SC
  •  32.3 miles, 1,622 feet elevation gain, 12.1 mph
  • windy
Shalom House Ride, Anderson SC
  • 43.5 miles, 1,513 feet elevation gain, 12.5 mph
  •  some lovely roads
Ride to the Rock, Pickens SC
  • 40.1 miles, 3,438 feet elevation gain, 11.1 mph
  • constant hills, mostly relatively short but some steep
 Preservation Ride, Chesnee, SC
  • 39.8 miles, 2,268 elevation gain, 11.9 mph
  • lovely roads the last two thirds, first rest stop at 25 miles

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Upstate Forever Preservation ride, 9/17

This was my first charity bike ride since I got back to riding in July. I was quick to sign up for it because it started from Strawberry Hill, where I like to buy peaches. I had worked my way up to a couple of 33 mile rides around Pendleton, so I signed up for the 40.

They started the 79 mile riders at 8 am and the 40 and then the 20 mile riders at 9. There must have been close to 100 in those two groups, looking more professional than the usual group when I was doing triathlons. I didn't notice anyone else with any kind of aerobars (used by triathletes but not by road bike riders--my bike is set up for both).

I put the cue sheet in my top tube bag, but I didn't look at it closely to know what to expect. For the first 5 miles I rode towards the end of the 40 mile group, passing people on the downhills and being passed on the uphills. But after 5 miles no one else was in sight. I saw a tandem fixing a flat tire and they later passed me, as did a few others who must have started late. By about 10 miles the sag car had settled in behind me, thankfully staying fairly far back but still making me very aware that I was bringing up the rear.

I fought with my feelings that they would be annoyed with having a slower rider and that I didn't belong because I had come alone and was slower than everyone else. The first 10 miles were on fairly busy roads with lots of sprawl, but after that it was beautiful. I didn't push too hard, I knew I was going farther than I had gone before and didn't want to wear myself out too early. I had folded the cue sheet in half and I finished the first half and so couldn't see what was coming up. It seemed forever to get to the rest stop--it was at 25 miles and I was running out of water. There were other people still there when I got there, which made me feel a little better--I wasn't horribly far behind everyone else. I filled up my water bottle and ate a banana.

There were times in the next 10 miles where I thought if there is another hill this bad (none were horrible) I will quit. I was struggling more mentally than physically; it was hard but not beyond what I was ready to do. I worried about things like whether there would be any lunch left when I got in. I was cheered by being passed by several groups doing the 79 mile ride, every one of whom said "good job" to me. Then the last 5 miles I caught up with three people, two of whom were waiting for their friend who was doing the ride on his mountain bike. I was so glad not to be alone at the end.

There was plenty of lunch left and it was excellent: green salad, chicken, corn and bean salad, and cut up melon. I sat down with some people who looked closer to me in age but didn't get into their conversation. Then they left and one of the people from the sag car sat down with me and told me how proud he was of me for completing the ride. Again I had to fight my negative thinking--was he impressed because I was overweight or looked like I was struggling that badly? There are plenty of riders my age and older, though the riders over 60 tend to look particularly fit. But I did hear the positive as well, that the people in the sag car had been thinking good thoughts about me and I was welcome even if I was slow. I averaged just under 12 mph, which is what I would expect on a long ride at this point.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

We are Strangers on the Earth (sermon)

I chose the passage from Hebrews in the lectionary today because the idea of being strangers on the earth seeking a homeland resonated deeply with me. But sitting with it led me to think about faith. So listen particularly for two things in the reading: what it means to have faith and the idea that at times we all feel like strangers on the earth, because we know that something better is possible.

Hebrews 11: 1-3 and 8-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV and RSV) 11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the ages were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. 9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
The chapter starts by describing faith. I struggle with what faith means--different people have such different ideas. I went to the funeral of a friend’s mother yesterday and the family’s faith that their mother is now in heaven greeting her husbands is admirable but foreign to me. I worry also that some Christians seem to be saying if only we have enough faith, bad things won’t happen. I believe that understanding of faith causes a lot of harm by encouraging people to blame themselves. The description of faith in this passage is more positive. The author of Hebrews says faith is first an assurance, something firm to stand on. Second, it is belief or conviction about things not seen. But we don’t have to do that without help--the author gives the example that the creation we see around us was made by God, by what we cannot see. We aren’t simply expected to believe in things we can’t see--we can see the results even if we can’t see the cause. 
A friend told me a story last week that I am carrying in my heart as an example of how the things we can see that testify to the things we can’t see. My friend grew up in Clemson, and his family had a house on the lake in the Calhoun area. One afternoon as a young teenager he went out on the lake alone in a canoe, and he came unexpectedly upon a peninsula that was full of orange butterflies, thousands and thousands of them, resting on the trees and getting ready to cross the lake. He had come upon part of the east coast monarch butterfly migration, which was following a path further west that usual that year. I imagine it felt like being able to see God. The kingdom of heaven is not something distant that we will reach after we die, it is all around us and in us. We experience the kingdom of heaven when we experience such things as joy, love, justice, mercy, and shared hopes. 
On the other hand, it can be hard to have faith that the kingdom of heaven is here when we see so much pain and hatred in this world. But that is where faith as assurance of things hoped for can help--faith is still there when our optimism fails. I’m not someone who believes that everything that happens is God’s plan, but I do have faith that God’s love is working in the world. What I can see is that the arc of history bends towards justice.[i] We have a long way to go, but we have seen such significant progress for African-Americans, for LBGTQ people, and in care for the environment in my lifetime. To take an even larger arc, forester and philosopher Aldo Leopold said that ethics originally included only how we treated people in our family, then only how we treated people in our tribe, then only how we treated people in our nation, then the whole human race, but now we include non-human nature as well. He called that the Land Ethic. It is in that larger arc of justice that I can see the world as prepared by the word of God and slowly and irregularly moving towards living into God’s love. It isn’t easy, but it wasn’t easy then either. 
Hebrews was written to a congregation that was tired and discouraged, as some of us feel today. Frederick Buechner, in his book, Secrets in the Dark, says this about faith in the midst of chaos: “By faith we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to last truth... It is God who made us and not we ourselves, made us out of God’s peace to live in peace, out of God’s light to dwell in light, out of God’s love to be, above all things, loved and loving. That is the last truth about the world.”[ii] Faith is a foundation that leads us into the unknown—the arc of history is not a marked path. Our discomfort with the way things are going leads us--we belong in a world that lives out God’s love, so with God’s help we do what little we can to bend the arc of history. 
I wonder in what ways the author of the letter felt how hard it would be to live out the teachings of Jesus. We don’t know who that author was--the Letter to the Hebrews is anonymous. It was accepted into the canon attributed to Paul, and the King James Bible lists it as one of Paul’s letters. However, modern scholarship thoroughly rejects Paul’s authorship. The style is different and the letter includes the author’s conversion story (Heb 2:1-3), one completely different from Paul’s. No early manuscripts name the author. 
Anonymity is very unusual for ancient letters, which like Paul’s letters started with a greeting giving the names of the author and recipients. In 1900, Lutheran theologian Adolf von Harnack proposed the explanation that the name of the author was suppressed because the author was a woman, Paul’s co-worker Priscilla. He makes a two part argument: the letter is clearly by a member of Paul’s inner circle but there is evidence that disqualifies the other members and authorship by a woman is the best explanation of why the author’s name was suppressed.[iii] The argument has been taken up more recently by Ruth Hoppin, who points out that the author of the letter also credits Ruth’s faith and names an unusual number of women as heroes of the faith elsewhere in chapter 11. [iv]
Scholars will continue to argue the point, but I like the idea that the author of Hebrews was a woman. I imagine that as an educated woman she felt particularly not at home in her world. She knew how difficult it would be to make the world more just. She has faith in a future she could not see and she could see similar faith in the heroes of past, which led them to not feel at home in the world they lived in. A world in which her writings could be accepted as sacred text under her own name would have felt very far away. 
The words that we live as strangers in this world resonate very personally for me. I remember feeling that so strongly when I was young, and yet the world has changed around us in ways that give me more hope for feeling more at home and more faith that the kingdom of heaven is present even when we have trouble seeing it. When I was in college, studying science and learning to repair bicycles, I wanted so much to be one of the boys. Feminism saved me from my dread of being a woman; I didn’t have to be limited by gender roles. It wasn’t what I had expected, but I ended up married, though only with the agreement that we would share household tasks equally. It helped that I was the better handyman. But I still felt a stranger to the women’s roles that others enjoyed. 
Years later, I read with great fascination several books on the history of hermaphrodism, what is now called intersex.[v] Perhaps 5% of the population is not biologically simply male or simply female. Can you imagine being female in all visible respects until you are tested, perhaps as an athletic competitor,[vi] and discover that genetically you are male, your chromosomes are XY, but you have a genetic defect that means your body does not respond to testosterone and so externally you developed as female. Or perhaps you have mosaicism and some of your cells are XX while others are XY. I have always wondered why I was so gripped by those stories, when I am not biologically intersex. I think they captured for me how strongly I felt I didn’t fit in to the categories around me, my sense of living as a stranger. And I think many of us have ways in which we have felt almost that strongly that we don’t fit. 
I have wondered whether if I had been a teenager in today’s world I would have decided I was transgender. I did know a transgender person in graduate school, but at that time it seemed a choice only for people whose feelings were much more extreme than mine. I don’t regret not having that path; I had a wonderful experience of biological motherhood. What I find exciting about today’s world is that we are moving away from having to fit everyone into rigid boxes—maybe someday everyone won’t have to declare themselves to be either male or female. I took a survey recently with some scholarly basis that characterized my gender role as 75% male and 64% female.[vii] And I had that feeling of momentarily finding a home, finding a description that fit. One place where I see the arc of history bending towards justice is the much wider acceptance today of all kinds of variations of gender and sexual preference. God loves everyone; it has taken western society a long time to catch up and we aren’t done yet. 
A more just world must have felt very far away to the author of Hebrews. The heroes of the faith desired a better country, a heavenly one. Part of what is going on in the passage is a reinterpretation of Jewish history to point towards a heavenly kingdom rather than a political one. Yet there is another theme in that re-interpretation, that even before the teaching of Jesus those heroes of ages past had faith there was something more, and so God is proud to be their God. I appreciate the writer’s hope that people of different beliefs share a sense of moving towards being with God, though we may understand that differently. 
In our UCC belief that God is still speaking, I will take the liberty to take that idea further than the author intended to the idea of Universalism. Bruce recently wanted to describe Peace Church as Universalist on a poster, but some of us worried that would be confusing and many people wouldn’t know what it meant. Universalism is the idea that God saves everyone, of all races and cultures and no matter what wrong they have done. Universalism rejects the idea that the only way to salvation is though Jesus. The author of Hebrews says of the visionaries of the Hebrew bible: “God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.” None of us see clearly, and we use different words, but we have faith that there is a better world inside this one. 
Another way of describing universalism is to say that if God’s law rules supreme then the forces of destruction will eventually be overcome and Hell will be empty. I was surprised years ago to hear an Episcopal priest say that a survey was done of Episcopal priests and the majority of them believed that everyone would go to heaven. For those of you who grew up in very judgmental churches, that may be a radical idea. And it is tricky, because most of us believe God gives us freedom, including the freedom to reject God. But we can also believe that God’s invitation to us is infinite, that everyone will eventually come to accept that invitation, if not in this life then after death. To me one of the greatest strengths of this belief is the spur it gives us to love our enemies. It moves us away from hate if we believe that everyone, however much we disagree with them, will ultimately be with God. This suggests another way of understanding faith, one that we can use immediately. We can have faith that everyone is loved by God. 
So why do we feel we are strangers on the earth, desiring a better country? In some ways we can see what we know by faith in the world around us, in other ways the world seems far from what God intends. The ideas in this passage used to be understood as a rejection of the physical world around us in favor of a focus on a distant heaven that we will see after the last judgement. I have been using different words because today many of us understand the kingdom of Heaven as something already present all around us and in us, if we can only open ourselves to embrace it. God has prepared a city for us not in some distant heaven but right here, if we can see it and live into it. 
If we are seeking a homeland, what would that look like? One answer is that it would be a place where we are not judged for being ourselves. No one is excluded in the kingdom of Heaven and that place is all around us and inside us if we can only embrace it. Faith is assurance of the things we need, a foundation. It is about trust in something more, while facing the difficulties of the present. We are restless, looking for a place where we can feel at home and at peace. We can do more than wander and hope; we can seek to envision and work towards the kingdom of God right here. We see the pain of the world, yet we also hold the conviction of things not seen. Faith leads somewhere that we don’t know, it calls us to move forward into the unknown to make more visible that God loves everyone.
Faith leads somewhere that we don’t know, it calls us to move forward into the unknown to make more visible that God loves everyone. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Spring Tangine

1 large bunch mustard or other greens, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 tblsp. olive oil
1 teasp. salt
1 large fennel bulb, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb (or stew meat would work also)
2 teasp. ground cumin
1 teasp. ground coriander
1/2 teasp. cinnamon
1/2 teasp. ginger
1 lb rhubarb stalks, sliced
2 tblsp sorghum syrup or other sweetener

Boil the greens in a large pot of water for 2 minutes for a milder flavor, drain and set aside.  Brown the onion in the olive oil, then when half cooked add the fennel.  Saute until the fennel starts to soften.  Add the garlic and saute a minute or so longer.  Set aside the onion/fennel mixture and brown the lamb in the same pan.  When the lamb is partly cooked add spices, then add the onion/fennel mixture, the greens, and the rhubarb, and stir.  Cook in 300 degree oven for 30-45 minutes.  Sweeten to taste.