Saturday, November 15, 2008

Communion Cartel, An Act of Faith

It was about half past midnight, and the chilling rain that had gushed and gusted most of the evening was falling softly, silently, coating the trees that glistened like spider webs against the street lights in the Central West End in St. Louis.

We got out of the car just as a small group of young white men began verbally sparring with a larger group of young black men. “I know you didn’t say that,” said one, turning around to head back toward the others.

As we went to the back of the car to get the bread and juice and the table, other people, white and black, came from buildings toward the young men to stop the fight that was brewing. Words were exchanged, bodies were shoved, voices were lifted as we made our way across the street to set up our little communion table in front of the Coffee Cartel, and all night coffee shop and refuge for college students, homeless people and the urban crowd.

As we set up the table, placing the cups, the juice, the bread, in their places, droplets of water covered everything. I shoved my hands into my pockets to keep them warm. I looked at my fellow seminarians and wondered briefly if this midnight Eucharist on a cold, wet, city street was a good idea after all. Would anyone notice us in this eclectic, boisterous setting, much less stop and join us?

The fight across the street broke up and two of the white men, young, almost boys, really, swept past us. One of them muttered, “f’king a-hole” as he nearly ran into George. Undeterred, George said to them, “Hey, how ya doin’ tonight?” and got a quick, “f’ you!” for his efforts. The other young man apologized for his friend, and they both went into the coffee shop.

No one accepted our invitation to join us, so we communed with one another--Carla, George, Carolyn, Lori and I. We sang softly into the rainy night, “Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” People walked by swearing and laughing and holding each other up as they left a nearby bar that was closing. Most moved on without a glance at us.

Carla prayed and blessed the elements. We recited Psalm 23 as best we could from memory…”you prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies…” The words took on new meaning for me. Perhaps enemies are not always those who would harm us. Maybe they are those we fail to understand.

Perhaps we call them enemies because we don’t want to understand, because in understanding them we could more fully understand ourselves. In understanding ourselves more deeply, we run the risk of exposing ourselves to our deepest fears, our most feared weakness, our own sense of abject helplessness.

We continued through our homemade celebration of the Eucharist, tearing off chunks of bread and dipping them into the juice--serving one another. “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit in This Place,” we sang into the din of voices raised in laughter and shouting, the swearing, racial epithets and singing of popular songs with obscene lyrics. A man double parked his car nearby to get to the ATM behind us without giving us a glance.

We finished the service by sharing what we thought about this experience. I had thought, along with the others around the table, that we were the truly vulnerable here., exposed to the elements, both human and natural. But who is the more vulnerable, really? The five of us in our raincoats, huddled around a wooden table covered with dripping glasses of juice and plates of bread? The few homeless men inside the coffee shop who had found a warm dry place to stay for awhile against the harsh reality of their everyday lives? Or were the young drunk men and women wafting past us in the saturated midnight air the most exposed?

We had decided to pack up the elements and head in for a cup of coffee and a moment to share further this experience that had already impacted our ministries in ways we could not yet fully fathom. Suddenly, a young man, obviously drunk, bounded out of the shop and stood looking at the bread on the table. We offered him some, George saying it would help him feel better when he woke up in the morning. He took a large piece and then asked for more.

His friend soon joined him and took our offer of juice. I immediately recognized him as the man who had been so angry when we first arrived. His name was Eric; he was the one who swore at George’s cordial greeting…his friend, John, eating the bread, turned out to be his cousin. John was the one who had apologized for Eric.

John started singing songs from his Catholic upbringing. I recognized one--“Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?…” It’s the hymn every Protestant Seminarian puts in her ordination service. It’s about being called by God and boldly answering that call. I found myself wondering how this child, this drunken, wayward soul, who would probably remember very little of this early morning encounter with a small band of seminarians outside an all-night coffee shop…how did this child know this song?

Then he sang the words wrong. Instead of, “I will go Lord, if you lead me,” he sang out loudly and confidently, “I will go, Lord, if you feed me.” I will go, he said, if you feed me. Is it really that simple?

We did finally pack up our makeshift communion table and made our way to the coffee shop. George made sure Eric and John were with their friends who could get them home safely. It was about 2:30 a.m. when we pulled back into the parking lot of the seminary, shared hugs and made our way to our individual apartments.

That image of the five of us around the table on a busy sidewalk, the air strong with alcohol, profanity and desperation, stayed with me as my everyday life came back into view. I remembered the chaos whirling around us as we stood in the calm, quiet center, acting as surrogates, consuming the body and blood for those who could not or would not accept the invitation to the table.

Did the atmosphere seem calmer, less violent when we finished, or was that my own wishful thinking? Did we do enough? Did we do too much? Did we really do anything at all? I don’t know. But I do know that in performing this act of faith in the wet chaos of the moment, we were fed.”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jesus collection grows again...

I'm terribly late in sharing these images of the most recent acquisition to my Jesus Collection. I posted my original article here about my collection of Jesus images.

Up to that point, I had bought all of them myself through various sources. I even said in the article that no one had yet given me something to add to the collection.
Well, was I wrong! Shortly after I posted the article, my dear friend Mel in Illinois sent me this wonderful Celebriduck Jesus! It's part of a line of celebrity rubber ducks.

She had been holding onto it awhile--she and I are members of the same procrastination club...thing is, no one in the group has yet to calendar a meeting. Ha!) Anyway, she read my article and mailed it to me.

What's especially sweet about this is that Mel knows I also collected ducks when I was in DC. There is this great HRC store where they sold rubber duckies with an American Flag design, say, or the LGBT rainbow, camouflage, flowers, stripes, etc. I have four of them on the back of my toilet right now. Sadly, they don't sell them at the store's new location.

Obviously, when it came to putting Celebriduck Jesus with the Jesuses or the ducks, it was no contest. I couldn't have Jesus living in my bathroom.

"Just a closer walk with thee," doesn't mean that kind of intimacy.

So he's in my office with the others. Come by and see them some time--it is quite impressive. People are actually starting to take notice of them.

Blessings and hope,
Arlene

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I received an email this morning that brought me to tears, overcome with the emotion of generations of women who have been foring the trail of eqity. I had already heard the story and even watched the movie mntioned in the story below. But I was reminded of their great sacrfice, and moved to sharethis with a wider audience.

I don't know who wrote the original email and put the photos in as visual reminders. I am greatful to her, whoever she is. Below is my edited version.

WHY WOMEN SHOULD VOTE

This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.
Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.


(Lucy Burns)

And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.




(Dora Lewis)



They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote.

For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

(Alice Paul)

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

Much of this is depicted in HBO's movie 'Iron Jawed Angels,' which is now on video and DVD. In the movie, Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. The doctor refused, saying, 'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What a friend we have in Jesus



I have a Jesus Collection--shown here and on this blog’s front page. I keep it in my office as a conversation piece, but people rarely comment on it. I think they’re not sure what to say.

· Should they be offended by all these "toys," these possibly idolatress images of Jesus, not all of which are flattering and some of which are clearly meant to be satirical?
· Should they be concerned they’re in the presence of a "Jesus Freak" who takes all these figures seriously?
· Or should they laugh and smile at the vast array of Jesus products and "get" the joke as it is intended--a gentle poke at the sometimes Jesus-obsessed Christian culture?

I'm hoping most look at my collection and take the third option, even if they never laugh out loud or say a word to me.

I hadn't intended to collect Jesus figures. You know how these collections get started. You buy one, then you find another that's similar, but with a twist. Then you find things that are related, but not exactly the same. Sometimes, people know about your collection and give you something to add. “I saw this in a little store in Suchandsuch, Iowa, and I thought of you!” they say.

So far, no one has bought me anything to add. However, those who do notice and talk about the collection ask me where I found various pieces. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember where they all came from, or which came first.

I think it started with the "Buddy Christ" from the movie Dogma. If you saw the movie, you know exactly what I mean. It’s the figure of Jesus (complete with immaculate heart and nail holes in hands) winking and doing the thumbs up.

In the movie, a priest, played by the late, great George Carlin, introduces it to the crowds. The authorities in the Catholic Church want to create a more welcoming image. So they replace the traditional crucifix—where Jesus is hanging perpetually on the cross dying—with this happier, friendlier Jesus.

I couldn’t resist it when I found it in one of those generic record stores you see in every mall in the US. I’ve even given some away as gifts to my Christian friends with a sardonic sense of humor.

That Jesus statuette was quickly followed by

· Action Figure Jesus, with moving arms and rollers on its base.
· Bobble-headed Jesus, which seems self-explanatory to me.
· Dashboard Jesus, which has a spring base that you can attach to your car’s dashboard so he’s watching over you all the time.

I got them all from various sources, and they’re made by different companies, as far as I know. So I found it intriguing that all four Jesus figures, including Buddy Christ, are dressed in the same outfit, even the same colors. Each is wearing a white robe with a maroon sash and matching sandals.

Later, I found a package of Jesus Pencil Toppers. And guess what? Same colors! This time, he’s wearing a maroon outer garment over a white robe. No feet for sandals, though; the pencil has to go somewhere.

I was in a novelty store when I discovered the Deluxe Miracle Jesus Action Figure. I was salivating when I took it off the shelf. The box comes complete with:

· Jesus, this time dressed in off-white and maroon;
· Five loaves and two fish to feed the 5,000—or 3,000—after the sermon on the mount—or on the level place—depending on which Gospel you’re reading.
· A jug for turning water into wine. It’s designed so you can set it down one way as a water jug and turn it over to be a jug of wine.

His hands glow in the dark, although I’m not sure why. And the back of the box gives a pretty balanced description of who Jesus is in the wider context of believers and non-believers. I haven’t taken him out of the box, because I’m afraid of losing the tiny miracle pieces.

Then there are some Jesus-related items I found online from the same company:

· Jesus Adhesive Bandages
· Jesus Packing Tape
· Jesus “Funky Fresh,” hanging air-fresheners for your car
· Last Supper After Dinner Mints

The bandages, tape, and air freshener are replete with icons of Jesus—glowing halos and all. I think the air-freshener is supposed to smell like frankincense. Of course, the mints have a rendering of DaVinci’s Last Supper on the tin.

I wonder if Leonardo had any idea his mural would be copied, in so many media centuries after his death? I’ve seen it as a latch-hook wall hanging, on throw blankets, purses and now after dinner mints.

Friends of mine received a Christmas gift one year that was a large chocolate bar with the image of the Last Supper on the face of it. Apparently, someone they knew owned a Last Supper chocolate mold. As the family and their guests nibbled away at the chocolate that holiday season, everyone ate around Jesus.

I thought that was humorous because, as Christians, we “eat” the body of Jesus Christ—either literally or symbolically—every time we take communion. So why were we all so squeamish about eating Jesus in chocolate?

I’m not sure if anyone finally ate the rest of it. It may still be preserved somewhere in the house. Hmmm. Maybe I should ask them. I haven’t added anything to my collection for a while, now.

Probably the most recent Jesus item added to my collection is Huggy Jesus, a doll I found online. It was being sold at a cut rate because it had failed as a product for children. It was intended to be used by kids as a comfort, kind of like a divine teddy bear. But when the product came out of the manufacturing plant, it had a wild head of hair, a scraggly beard and scary eyebrows.

Dressed in a red robe with gold trim and a blue sash, this time, he looks angry and frightening, no comfort to children of any age. I actually place it behind the deluxe action figure box on my shelf so he’s hidden a little bit from full view. I don’t want to scare people away, after all.

I have seen a different Jesus plush doll that has been more successful—more attractive and huggable. And, of course, there are plenty of other Jesus items out there. When I add to my collection, though, I look for the unusual item, not the everyday.

As a whole, the collection reminds me that Jesus—and by extension, God—has a sense of humor. It’s in the scriptures, although often subtle. But it’s also in my relationship with Jesus, usually in the form of serendipity. How often have I found myself doing that very thing that I most resisted and experiencing it as an opportunity rather than a challenge?

But, finally, the collection recalls for me what it means to follow Jesus’ path in the first place: To be more Christian in my behavior, but less pious in my attitude toward others.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I am organizing a women’s retreat at Bethany Beach for the weekend of July 18-20. It will be held at the Christian Church Conference Center, where I am the manager.

And we're two blocks from the beach!

With a longing for the wonderful retreats I attended in St. Louis, called Sarah’s Circle, I’ve designed this retreat to be a time of physical relaxation, emotional rejuvenation, and spiritual renewal.

Very little will be planned. Aside from meals and a few optional activities, nothing will be scheduled. You aren’t required to do anything you don’t want to do.

But I have found that just being in the presence of caring women who desire the same thing—time for self-care—can be uplifting and affirming in and of itself. You are welcome and encouraged to bring games, music, musical instruments, worship items, etc. to share. This retreat will be what we make it.

Contact me for more info and registration form.

Rev. Arlene Franks, Manager, Christian Church Conference Center
Website: www.cccadisciples.org/bethanybeach
Email: confcenterbb@verizon.net
Phone: 302 539-7034; or toll free at 866-539-7034

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Handwriting is on the Wall

Here's an interesting article about the handwriting of the three major presidential candidates.

I don't think any one system/process/school of thought can reveal everything about a person. I think, instead, we can learn a lot about ourselves and each other in myriad ways.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Riding the Storm Out





I experienced a nor-easter last week that was unlike any storm I've ever been through. I'm accustomed to thunderstorms that go through the night, and I've experienced tornado weather, where we keep watch for an afternoon as the cluds blow and twist. But, where I come from, storms are supposed to hit then blow over.

But this storm started on a Sunday afternoon and didn't let up at all until Tuesday morning. It never stopped to take a breath! I stayed inside watching it wreak havoc. The only times I went outside were to take pictures from my front porch and to run next door to my office to get some things that I could work on in the house.

It wasn't anything compared to Myanmar, but fierce enough to do some damage to roofs, signs, trees, and even boats. Here is a photo of a wrecked ship that came to shore at Bethany Beach.

According to the local paper: "The Coast Guard rescued two people by helicopter Monday [May 12] when the research boat they were on broke apart and took on water about 14 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach, Del. One crewman was pronounced dead Monday after reaching the hospital. The abandoned vessel later beached itself on the shore in Bethany Beach, off Parkwood Street."

Now, why they were out there during such a big storm, I have no idea! They were doing research for a wind farm one of the towns here wants to develop off the shore somewhere. I'm obviously fuzzy on the details of that.

When I went to the beach that Tuesday to take pictures of the waves. I could see the boat from way down shore. I took a shot with a telephoto lense from maybe a block or two away, then I cropped it to get in even closer. So it might be a little grainy. They had the boardwalk roped off so you couldn't get closer. They also had the beach roped off.

Here's what the waves looked like that day:



You might not be able to tell from these pictures, but the waves were so big and ferocious there was almost no beach left. One girl was in the water on a boogie board. More than one local took a look at her out there and grumbled about how stupid that was. There were a lot of people in town and on the boardwalk. A lot of gawkers--like me--looking at the boat.

Well, so much for my first nor'easter...I'm sure there will be more to come. Never a dull moment here at the beach.

Take care,
Arlene

Monday, May 5, 2008

Magnetic Poetry

I was organizing my computer files when I came across this piece of 'magnetic poetry' that I wrote several years ago. I found a childhood photo to offer a visual reference of what I may have looked like as that child in the poem....


Shall I remember me
as a tiny loving girl
who played in wet river soil
and danced dripping from the music
under our cozy full-moon night
plump with rhythm after a rain storm?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tag, you're it!

A Delaware blogger named Mike 'tagged' me for a 'blog-memes,' which I had never heard of.

The challenge is to write a four-word memoir. Actually, it started out as a six-word memoir and he got his down to five, so he asked those of us he tagged, "Who can do it in four?"

Well, I can do it in three!

"I'm a believer."

So there.

Thanks for the tag, Mike. And for introducing me to other Delawarian bloggers.

I'm supposed to link back to the person who tagged me, and then tag five others. I'm tagging my Midwestern blogger friends for the original challenge of a memoir of six words or less.

Pastor Beetle
Abject Conjecture
Riding the Bi-Polar Express
Salt for the Spirit
Mah Two Cents

Have fun! And don't forget to tag me back...

Blessings,
Arlene

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Feminist in Her Youth

People have often asked me how long I've been a feminist. I probably slid out of the womb that way. I've always fought for justice as I understood it. But I can remember identifying with the women's movement at a young age.

In fifth grade, I had an arguement with one of my teachers about the significance of the Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King tennis match. He said Bobby was old and past his prime, that it didn't mean anything. I said that wasn't the point. Riggs had said any man could beat any woman at any time under any circumstances. Billie Jean had proven him wrong.

Of course, I found out later that Riggs was a showman and most of his bravado was for the cameras. Riggs and King were actually friends. Ironically, I met one of Bobby Riggs' sons when I went to seminary at Eden in St. Louis. He's a professor there.

But I digress. The photo above is evidence that I was pushing the cause for women's equality early on in my life. It was the mid-70s, and we'd had a typical Indiana snow fall. My sister Carolyn and I decided to build a snow woman complete with breasts and a curly hairdo, instead of the usual snowman.

That's me on the left with my 'woman-power' fist in the air. I'm guessing I'm about 12 there. It was a mighty blow for womankind everywhaere! Well, at least snowwomen everywhere.

Blessings,
Arlene

Cinquain

I've tried my hand (and mind) at another 'formula poem.' Just a break from the Haiku. It's called a 'cinquain,' and it gives a little more wiggle room than the Haiku. Here's the stucture of the modern 5-line cinquain:

line 1 - one word (noun) name of the subject
line 2 - two words (adjectives) describing the subject
line 3 - three words (verbs) describing an action related to the subject
line 4 - four words describing a feeling about the subject or a complete sentence
line 5 - one word referring back to the subject of the poem

Here are my first attempts:

Music
Energizing, uplifting.
Dance, float, fly.
Frees my mind of the daily.
Melody.

Sand
Squishy and soft.
Dig your feet in.
Ten minute adventure.
The beach.

Water.
White-capped, blue.
Swim, splash, spray.
In awe of it’s vastness.
The ocean.

Reality TV
Pervasive, invasive.
Crawl, bawl, brawl.
Energy spent wastefully.
TV cruelty.

Politics.
Strategic and cunning.
Speak beautifully, debate brutally, deny mightily.
Tired shoulders, weary head.
Public service?

Icons of culture
Bedazzling but broken
Inspiring, motivating, yet faltering
Even they succumb to human frailty.
Our Heroes

Election campaigning
Contentious, dubious
Shouting, strutting, pointing
Can you tell I hate it?
Bi-partisan

Blessings,
Arlene

Saturday, March 15, 2008

How Healthy are your Feet?

Here's another Lenten meditation, this one for Maundy Thursday, first delivered in 2004:

Scripture reference: John 13:1-17

It was an ordinary meal, as meals go. They had eaten with Jesus on many occasions—in the homes of the faithful, like Mary and Martha; at table with tax collectors and other undesirables, where they always managed to raise many an eyebrow and the ire of the religious authorities. They remembered well at least one meal on a crowded hillside dense with the smell of sweat and the sound of murmured confusion after an afternoon of sermons and storytelling. They were able to feed themselves and the crowd with nothing but the meager offerings of a young boy’s sack lunch, and still have food left over.

At first, it seemed extraordinary that they would be called by name to leave their boats, their accounting charts, their family homes, and follow this extraordinary man who looked like an common carpenter but said and did such uncommon things.

They knew that their lives, their deaths, the joys and struggles in between, didn’t mean a thing to those who held the power and status in their society. They were used to it by now, though. It was part of their everyday lives. Many among their peers had become complacent, some cooperative even complicit with the ruling Greco-Roman culture.

And then comes this man whose message and mission change everything. He interrupts the everyday-ness of their lives—walking out to their fishing boats on the very water into which they cast their nets, drinking from the same cup as a Samaritan woman, eating with expendables like them.

Extraordinary!

That he would invite them to dinner, be a guest in their homes, allow any unclean, untouchable, unlovable character in town to interrupt their important work just to comfort and heal them, teach and challenge them, at first seemed quite odd.

But by the time Jesus and his closest Disciples came to this meal, shortly before the observance of the Passover, they considered it quite normal to eat with their teacher, the Messiah, the One called by God to deliver them from their sufferings, just as God had delivered their ancestors from captivity in Egypt.

Yes, it was all quite ordinary…until something extraordinary happened. In the middle of the meal, Jesus got up, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around him and knelt before them, intent on washing their feet.

How strange…the master serving the followers. Once again, he had turned everything upside down…all the accepted thinking about social structures and status and power in their culture. They were awakened once again from their complacency.

We live in extraordinary times, but it has all become quite ordinary to us in our day-to-day living. We’ve become complacent, even cooperative with the social structures that confine us, complicit with a power structure that oppresses many in order for a few to rise in stature. Wars and rumors of wars blaring at us from wide-screen TVs; the faces of people living in abject poverty and desolation clouding our peripheral vision and obstructing our straight path down our neighborhood streets; forms of child abuse and exploitation that seem to become more horrifying and devastating by the day jumping out from the headlines and sound bites over our morning coffee…these all could seem out of the ordinary, if they were not so common.

We have technology that gives us the power to destroy the world several fold and the delicate touch to repair the tiniest heart inside the tiniest little body, even before she leaves the protection of her mother’s womb. It’s really quite extraordinary.…But it has become just part of the ordinariness of our ordinary lives.

I am reminded of a recent doctor’s appointment. It was pretty ordinary, as doctor’s appointments go. By now, I am used to living with diabetes, although at first, it was anything but ordinary. I was diagnosed on a Good Friday over 10 years ago. I spent the weekend feeling sorry of myself, staring pathetically at the chocolate bunnies, longing to bite their heads off one by one, saving their feet to nibble on later.

But counting carbs, pricking my fingers to measure my blood sugar, having every part of my body—literally from my eyes to my toes—poked, prodded and penetrated had become routine, as had the bevy of doctor’s numbers I kept in my appointment book.

It was my first visit to this particular doctor, the first doctor I had seen since moving to DC. Everything about the exam was familiar, no surprises in the questions, the warnings, the referrals to specialists, the cold stethoscope against my breast bone with the request to breathe deeply.

“I see you managed to mangle your feet,” she said, glancing down at my bare heels cracked and dry and my exposed toes, the cold skin peeling on the sides. I was used to that kind of comment. There was plenty of evidence to reveal my bad habit of pulling and tugging at the cracks and crevices instead of treating the tough, dry skin. But I wasn’t expecting what came next.
(Smacking sound with hands)

Suddenly, she hit the soles of my feet and admonished, “Don’t do that!”

What a strange thing for a doctor to do. And I had just begun to like her. But before I could object to her shocking gesture, she did something even more extraordinary.

She took my feet in her hands and cradled them gently and murmured “Don’t do that” in more soothing tones. I had the impression of gentle hands cupping an injured bird to protect it from the elements and its own bad judgment.

She didn’t say much more, just referred me to a good podiatrist and recommended a home remedy for dry skin. But what I heard her say clearly in her actions was, “Arlene, you are worthy of love and capable of loving, even loving yourself.” I heard her say, “Allow me to care for you. I want you to be well and whole.”

As I got up from the exam table that day, I thought about how radical her care for me was against the backdrop of what most of us have come to experience—and accept—as assembly line healthcare.

Do you see a parallel here in this story of Jesus washing the feet of his Disciples? Have I made my case that Jesus’ ministry was radical—bringing the extraordinary to bear on the ordinary? Well, let me make it plainer: the radical nature of Jesus’ ministry was not in turning water to wine, or healing the sick. It wasn’t even in his raising the dead. What was radically extraordinary about Jesus’ ministry was the way he cradled the hand of the Samaritan woman at the well, redefining her relationship with God and to the world—you are lovable and capable of loving.

It was how he cradled the faces of the children who flocked around him, telling the disapproving adults—these are my children, they are not expendable; they are precious.

Jesus offered his Disciples something extraordinary in the midst of an ordinary meal when he cradled their feet redefining their relationship, asking them to be the servant and the served.
At a meal described in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus cradled the ordinary bread and the cup and redefined his relationship to God and ours to one another. “When you eat this bread and drink from this cup, we are one, I am in you and you are a part of everyone around this table. There is no longer separation or alienation one from another.”

What a radical, extraordinary message. It’s not about the occasional miracle, but about plain, old, every day, ordinary relationship! Jesus’ ministry, his life and his death, his resurrection…are all about relationship. Defining relationships, challenging our concepts of them, showing us how to nurture them, was his ministry, his gift to us.

It is in the way Jesus cradles us…each of us, calling us by name, inviting us home to dine, redefining who we are by reminding us of whose we are. Imagine, just for a moment, that Jesus is cradling your feet in his hands. Feel the warmth, the gentle touch of his fingertips. Don’t worry about how your feet look or smell. If your feet hurt, let the cool of the water and the rhythm of the massaging carry the pain away. Don’t even look at your feet just now, but into the eyes of Christ, who loves you. Listen. What’s he saying? It’s a message just for you, calling you out of the ordinariness of your life into a new life, one that is quite, quite extraordinary.

Conspicuously Claiming the Story

Here's a Lenten meditation I first gave in 2004:

I started going to Sunday School when I was three or four years old, and I loved it. I remember the corner classroom with all its sunny windows; the toys; the big board covered in soft, velvety blue felt where we placed the figures of Jesus and all the people from Bible times when the teacher told her stories.

I loved to sit in front of the little worship center and listen to My Sunday School teacher tell the bible stories. She told us about Zacchaeus climbing the sycamore tree to get a better look at Jesus, and the woman at the well offering Jesus a drink of water. And remember the one about the children gathering around Jesus? The disciples wanted to send them away, but Jesus said, “no, let them come.” I loved every story, but my favorite one of all was about Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey and all the people waving palm branches in the air and spreading them on the ground as he passed, shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”

I wasn’t sure what exactly “Hosanna” meant, but I knew it was something good, something joyful. I was right there in the street with the crowd as, each year, a different Sunday School teacher told the same story. I heard the crowd, felt the excitement, as Jesus approached on the little donkey. I could see myself shouting “Hosanna!” Right along with the grown ups. and waving my palm branch. I would lay it on the road as he passed and reach out to touch his sandaled foot or a piece of his robe.

And, you know, no matter how many times I heard the story, no matter how well I knew it by heart, I always wished…well, it’s kind of embarrassing to admit it now, but I always wished it would turn out differently. As the season of Lent unfolded in the Sunday School room week after week, I would wish that each subsequent story would be different—that the fig tree would bear fruit for Jesus, the people would realize that selling things in the temple was not right, Judas wouldn’t take the thirty pieces of silver, Peter wouldn’t deny Jesus and the other disciples wouldn’t run away and hide. I wished, oh how I wished, that the crowd and religious leaders would ask for Jesus to be released, not Barabus, and that the cries of “Hosanna!” would be louder and more powerful than the cries of “Crucify him!”

But, despite my fervent imagination and my wishes to the contrary, the stories always unfolded in the same way and Jesus was always put to death. Like Jesus’ followers, I had to wait until Easter and the resurrection story to feel joy again.

Looking back on my stubborn, wishful thinking, I can see it as more endearingly innocent than foolishly embarrassing. As a world-weary adult, I no longer look for the story to change to suit my wishes, but re-read and re-live the story every year to find nuances and gather new insights that escaped me in past readings. As part of my Lenten journey one year, I went to see Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” with some church. I admit, I wasn’t anxious to see it because of the controversies surrounding it. But I was able to experience the story in a new way by watching someone else’s reliving of it. That is what the movie represented, after all. Mel Gibson was putting himself into the story.

As I watched the graphically violent and intensely emotional movie, I started thinking about how bizarre this story really is. I wondered, not for the first time, what others must think of us Christians, following this gruesome story that invariably and inevitably ends in the death of our beloved leader and friend. Kind of weird, don’t you think? Doesn’t make sense, seems foolish. As Star Trek’s Mr. Spock might say, “It is not logical, Captain.” As I watched the character of Peter insist, “I don’t know the man,” it occurred to me that the reason Peter denied knowing Jesus may not have been based solely on fear. It might have also been from embarrassment!

This story that we claim as pivotal to our faith in the resurrected Christ is, on the surface, embarrassing. When we agree to pick up our own cross and live in Christian community, we are agreeing to live our lives out loud, to be conspicuous, foolish, exposed. We know the story won’t change into our fantasy of a happy ending; we know it doesn’t get any easier. We can’t claim that suffering will no longer enter our lives or death will not take the lives of those we love. What we get in the claiming of this story is suffering, pain, brutality and death…even after the resurrection has taken place! Why in the world, then, would we continue to claim it?

That’s a question we each have to answer in our own hearts and minds. However, I think Paul gives us good answer, at least a starting off point for discussion and contemplation. In essence, he says “I can’t help but be compelled by this story…it is just part of who I am; it’s in my blood.” He says, “This is personal.” He tells us he wants more than the world can offer. He’s going for the bigger prize of eternal life, where death does not have the last word. Listen to part of his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 8-10, in the contemporary American English of the Message Bible:

“Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ - God's righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.”

Why do we cling to the Passion? Because even as we are repelled by the violence and degradation that the cross recalls and represents, we are even more compelled by Jesus’ compassionate love and grace—shown even in and through the very suffering and tortured death he was forced to endure at the hands of a cold, constricted humanity. It is a passionate compassion that lives and grows far beyond our meager abilities to name and express it. I’ll tell you one thing, though. There is nothing conservative about this compassion!

No, God’s compassion, expressed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is messy, contradictory, controversial, unpredictable and incomprehensible. It’s a compassion that led Jesus to teach his followers such ridiculous notions as “love your enemy,” and “turn the other cheek;” “walk an extra mile,” and celebrate when one who was lost is found, even though you already have 99 in the flock at hand.

When we claim this illogical, shocking, complex story, we run the risk of looking foolish, of being caught out like Peter. “You are one of them, aren’t you? Yeah, I’ve seen you going into that church.” What are you going to say? “No, man, I just go in there for a meeting. I’m not one of them.”

What about when they say, “That stuff you all believe, that turning the other cheek stuff, and loving your enemies, what’s that about? You know that’s not the way the real world works.” Will you look them in the eye and say, “You are absolutely right. It’s not the way of the world, but let me tell you a story. It’s a strange story, an ancient tale about one who was so close to God, he was able to live in the world and shine above it at the same time….”

This story we claim as ours, as our heritage, our legacy, our gift, is not an easy story to tell. It’s painful at times and sometimes I still wish I could just leave out parts of it,…or at least change them to make the story prettier, tidier. But that wouldn’t do it justice. It is the whole story we claim. We claim this story—we enter and re-enter it over and over again—just so we can walk with Jesus, even into death. Because we know, that in doing so, we share in the new life of Christ’s love and grace.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

More haiku

I've been writing a lot of Haiku lately, mainly as a writing exercise to get my creative juices flowing. I've found some different 'formula poems,' however, so I think I will try my hand at them for awhile. So this may be my last set of Haiku for the time being. I wrote these while watching the older folks dance at a Valentine's Day dinner dance. Hope you enjoy them.

Little Emma says,
bouncing along the boardwalk,
"The Ocean is Big!"

This one really happened this past summer when my friend, Roxanne, and her daughter, Emma, moved me to the beach. Emma was five at the time.
____________________________

Cutting quite a rug,
dancing to our old love songs.
"You've still got it, babe."

This one is dedicated to Wayne and Sue, who make quite an attractive couple on the dance floor.
____________________________

The frigid wind stings,
despite my turned up collar--
icy wonter walk.
____________________________

Would you catch the moon,
on a starry night like this,
if I asked you to?
____________________________

The snow-covered beach
an unexpected pleasure
on this frigid day.

Wonder Woman


You are a wonder,
woman, with your brave, soulful
heart, your brilliant mind.

Dedicated to all my wonder-full women friends and relatives.

Blessings,
Arlene

The 'I Am' Poem*



Arlene
Compassionate, Passionate, Giving Forgiving
Resident of the Universe
Daughter of God
Lover of Life’s Mysteries
Who Feels Everything
Who Needs Nothing
Who Fears Some Things
Who Gives as Much as She Can
Who Would Like to See More Generosity in the World
Franks

*Here's something a little different from the usual surveys we send each other on email. It's a formula poem I've used in workshops. I've given the formula below. Above, obviously, is my poem. This is a neat exercise to do once in awhile. It comes out differently everytime you do it, because it's where you are right now.

A Poem About You
Line 1: First name
Line 2: Four traits that describe your character
Line 3: Resident of
Line 4: Relative (brother, sister, daughter, son, etc.) of
Line 5: Lover of: (list three things or people)
Line 6: Who feels: (three things)
Line 7: Who needs: (three things)
Line 8: Who fears: (three things)
Line 9: Who gives: (three things)
Line 10: Who would like to see: (three things)
Line 11: Last name

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Three Haiku

I am what you’d call
a presumptuous woman
I presume love wins
____________________
Oh Presumptuous
And Voluptuous Woman,
You are Sumptuous.
____________________
Her eyes unfocused,
She stares past the red balloon,
Wide awake, dreaming.

Dad's Taking the Picture


Line up all the kids
Another family photo
Everyone say cheese.

Alan in the Duck


Hey little brother,
Amazing spirit-filled soul,
I still miss your smile.

Daydreaming


All smile except one,
Profile to the camera,
Butterfly gazing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bundle of Joy


Wonder of wonders
She comes into this world
abundantly blessed


Monday, January 14, 2008

Six Haiku

All the white horses
dancing deftly on the lawn
make my blue eyes cry.
_____________________
Wounded soul falters
on the way to healing past.
Must recuperate.
_____________________
Rain splashes pavement
I am caught in it again...
wet, shivering bones.
_____________________
My sore eyes see red
and sometimes white flashing spots.
Laser aftermath.
_____________________
All is white outside--
snow sprinkled with fine sieve.
Pull the covers up.
_____________________
The vast world out there
beacons me from computer:
"See me for yourself."