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On a Sunday

Sitting in the worship service, looking around at others, I may only see ordinary people, but if I look closer, with eyes of gratitude, I may catch a glimpse of a higher truth. I am part of something truer than what my tired eyes are taking in. God has transformed his people into impressive examples of love and grace. I am not naive; I still acknowledge the pain and brokenness among us. We are far from exemplary on our own merits. There a few struggling with addictions among us. Some have been abused; some have abused others. Many endure profound grief. We stand and sing, however, grateful together.


Sometimes I may not sing. Most of the times I am not able to carry a tune, much less contribute to the four-part harmony our tribe practices. Sometimes I dislike the song. Yes, sometimes I am distracted by the unnecessary apostrophe floating on the screen, or the wrong homonym renders the lyrics confusing.

That’s ok, because I see she has made it to church today. She is up and down chasing crayons from under the pew, escorting wriggling legs down the aisle, and back up again, solo, but smiling. I wonder if she hears the sermon…if it is discouraging that she expends this much energy when she could have stayed home, slept in.

He gets up to say a prayer. He seems so austere at times, almost cheerless. We rarely see eye to eye on extemporaneous doctrinal issues. I have found him annoyingly conservative. But there he stands, wording a prayer of contrition so beautifully I am ashamed to remember a time his gentle words comforted me in a difficult moment last year.

We sing.

We pray.

We hear the words of God together.

It all adds up to greater substance than it would initially appear. Some of us are lonely. Some of us depressed. Some of us are struggling with sins we have dragged about as on “ponderous chains” for years. Some of us are just thankful, hopeful, eagerly leaning in to God’s promises. We live and sing and pray as if they are already true. And they are.

God transforms the ugly into something weak and fragile, distinctly vulnerable, but beautiful.

She bothers me sometimes with her abrupt manner of speaking, as if she has no time for being polite, for choosing grace over expediency. I don’t know it, but I annoy him with my stubbornness, forever asserting myself when I could have just let it go. All of these are examples of what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins meant by “dappled things.” Somewhere among the archaic language, the newly-hyphenated words, and melodic alliterations, we understand his message. We are a mess. We are freckled and plain, mundane, tedious, distorted and ineffective. We are hopelessly hopefully ordinary.

Pied Beauty

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow and plough;

And all trades their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who, knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers -forth whose beauty is past change.

Praise him.

We are, indeed, “all things counter, original, spare, strange.”

And not unlike Elisha and his servants seeing the LORD’s angel armies for the first time encircling Israel upon battle, we gather on a Sunday in pews nominally comfortable, with people who only appear ordinary, with “landscape plotted and pieced,” and we catch a glory-glimpse. And we praise him.

We gather each Sunday, for “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16).

Praise him.

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A Book Discussion (and a Sermon Quote): The Green Ember series by S.D. Smith

“The Green Ember burns; the seed of the New World smolders. Healing is on the horizon, but a fire comes first. Bear the flame.”

-S.D. Smith in The Green Ember, p. 364

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We could easily become discouraged. The world has become obsessed with hatred and bigotry and violence. Our public voice of dissonance has no hint of forbearance. Children’s problems are growing weightier, darker, and their literature is reflecting that in the name of “reality,” “daily life” and “awareness.” It is not any worse than previous generations have experienced, but it is certainly a marked characteristic of our current culture. For this very reason I am pleased my family and I have found S.D. Smith. Somehow, through a share on Facebook, or maybe a pop up on my newsfeed, we discovered The Green Ember series.

Building on the Christian fantasy genre, Smith has created an inspiring world of anthropomorphized animals who are attempting to battle the evil in their own world as it spreads throughout the Great Wood, and beyond, into all Natalia.

Rabbits with swords.

After wolves attack their village, set fire to their home, and take off with their parents and baby brother, Heather and Picket begin a journey. It is a coming of age story in which Smith seemingly draws on his love for C.S. Lewis. Not only are they seeking their family, but are likewise in search of a more peaceful world. After a previously unknown Uncle Wilfred and his adopted son Smalls rescue them from the wolves of Redeye Garlackson, they are sequestered in Cloud Mountain, a hidden community determined to preserve the old peace and order of the Great Wood. The rabbits live in true community as they prepare for eventual battle, and continue developing beautiful skills of creativity, artisanship and industry.

“Everywhere they looked, energetic work was underway.” p. 200

Smith utilizes a great deal of Christian imagery throughout the book.

“Of course!” Emma said. “Now, they do other work like everyone else: gardening, cleaning, teaching – whatever’s needed. But all the crafts are honored here. We’re heralds of the Mended Wood.”

The Green Ember, p. 155

We see similar ideas within the early Church.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…”

Acts 2:44-46

Endearing characters are introduced, such as the slightly bumbling, clay-flinging Eefaw Potter, or the sweet, grandmotherly sage, Old Mrs. Weaver. They slowly begin to help heal and strengthen  the aching hearts of Heather and Picket as they grow into the vision of Cloud Mountain. I won’t reveal what events transpire, but they are distressing to the rabbit siblings, and demonstrate how betrayal and true evil exist even in their fantasy world.

My boys and I completed the first in the series, and are midway through the newly published sequel Ember Falls. I love that even though there are many battle scenes and deaths, this is not too scary a read aloud for my six year old, and yet it has maintained the interest of my twelve year old. I love that family members within the book unabashedly profess their love and affection for one another, that there is not bullying among the allies, but a focused purpose in defeating the evil. To borrow an expression from Andrew Pudewa from the Institute of Excellence in Writing, this is not so much a “twisted” or “broken” story, but a “healing” story. It is a glorious tale of fighting evil in unison. Heather and Picket are fully aware they are still in the middle of their story. They are painfully unaware how it will all end, but the unity of Cloud Mountain has taught them of a greater hope. The Great Wood may have been razed by the destructive fire, but as they repeat triumphantly,

“It shall not be so in the Mended Wood!”

Yes, Old Testament concepts of the remnant  (Jeremiah 42:2, Ezra 9:8) resonate here as the rabbits huddle in their warrens awaiting eagerly for the heir of King Jupiter to appear. We can see the imagery of a broken or a cursed world becoming new and healed and mended.

He glanced at Smalls, then said in a strong , defiant voice, “It will not be so in the Mended Wood!”

Then the group, all but Picket and Heather, each struck the air with a fist and called out in an echoing reply, “The Mended Wood!”

p. 132

“Cursed is the ground because of you…”

Genesis 3:17

“…the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

Romans 8:21

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5

This past Sunday our minister chose the oddest text, three brief seemingly insignificant verses at the close of the epistle to the Philippians. You can listen to the sermon here if you like. He discussed several observations based on the fact that there were Christians in Caesar’s household. At this particular time, this would have meant the infamous Nero. Among the fact that these people had witnessed blatant evil, but saw themselves ultimately, defiantly as citizens in the kingdom of heaven, they all understood they were a proleptic community.

Proleptic. Living into our future reality as if we are already there. It is living in anticipation of the future promised or hoped for.

“Here we anticipate the Mended Wood, the Great Wood healed. Those painters are seeing what is not yet but we hope will be. They are really seeing, but it’s a different kind of sight. They anticipate the Mended Wood. So do all in this community, in our various ways….This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. We are heralds, you see, my dear, saying what will surely come. And we prepare with all our might, to be ready when once again we are free.”

p. 220

This is the inspiring image The Green Ember series provides us. Through Heather and Picket, Mrs. Weaver, Emma, the gentle doctor-in-training, Uncle Wilfred, Smalls and others, we see a group of rabbits wholly living out the vision of the Mended Wood, even in desperate times. S.D. Smith draws on the beauty of Christ’s church, working together, as if they have already fully entered the Kingdom of Heaven.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelation 21:4

Bear the flame.”

The Theology of Pooh

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In 1982 Benjamin Hoff published The Tao of Pooh, followed a decade later by The Te of Piglet. Both books were intended to familiarize Westerners with the Eastern philosophy of Taoism using the lovable “Bear of Very little Brain.” My intentions are nearly the inverse. That is, I hope to explain my delight at reading aloud through The House at Pooh Corner with my six-year-old G, and being charmed by the following passage.

The passage takes place on the heels of  a friendly game of Poohsticks at the bridge, the game in which the players drop  their sticks and race to the other side of the bridge to see whose stick is swept to the other side first. Eeyore, who wins more times than the others, claims you must throw it in a “twitchy sort of way.”The game is surprisingly interrupted by Eeyore floating down the stream on his back, feet all protruding up in the air. Eeyore insists he was bounced into the stream. The others very quickly begin to blame Tigger and attribute the most unflattering motives to him.

“Hush!” said Rabbit, holding up  his paw. “What does Christopher Robin think about it all? That’s the point.”

I think we all ought to play Poosticks.”

So they did. And Eeyore, who had never played it before, won more times that anybody else; and Roo fell in twice, the first time by accident and the second time on purpose, because he suddenly saw Kanga coming from the Forest, and he knew he’d have to go to bed anyhow. So then Rabbit said he’d go with them; and Tigger and Eeyore went off together… Christopher Robin and Pooh and Piglet were left on the bridge by themselves.

For a long time they looked at the river beneath them, saying nothing and the river said nothing too, for it felt very quiet and peaceful on this summer afternoon.

“Tigger is all right really,” said Piglet lazily.

“Of course he is,” said Christopher Robin.

“Everybody is really,” said Pooh. “That’s what I think, said Pooh. “But I don’t suppose I’m right,” he said.

“Of course you are,” said Christopher Robin.

 

And there was no more discussion or disagreement about whether or not Tigger had, in fact, bounced Eeyore into the stream. They had forgotten their arguments and differences.

I have titled this post “The Theology of Pooh,” but really that is a misnomer, for this really has much more to do with our good friend and spiritual leader, Christopher Robin. It was C.R. who so cleverly and surreptitiously diverted the animals’ attentions away from their disagreements and differences, and instead, encouraged them to play together. In the cheerful prospect of a game of Poohsticks, Rabbit and Eeyore laid down their need to ascertain Tigger’s motives, and simply joined in the fun. Couldn’t we learn from this? Would it be possible, as Christians, not to be troubled any longer by petty actions or motives or differences in others if we played together more often? Served others together? What if we gulped like Piglet might, held Pooh’s someone’s hand, and did something differently? This post should really celebrate the wisdom of C.R. in this instance. “The Theology of Christopher Robin” might be better. Wouldn’t our unity be stronger, our testimony more powerful as a flexible, focused, playful,serving Church? So, really this post should instead be titled “The Ecclesiology of Christopher Robin.”

Is there anyway for us to see that it doesn’t always matter if Eeyore was bounced into the stream intentionally or not, if we help him out of it in the end?

And as Christopher Robin himself would say, “Silly old Bear.”

Ode to the Sunday School Teacher

Unashamedly, I am still basking in the glow of my Prince Edward Island adventure. Upon returning home, I have read The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery for the first time, which incidentally, I purchased from the Site of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home. The paperback proudly bears the stamp.

And I have been re-reading The Story Girlsupposedly the author’s favorite of her novels.

Combine these readings with the fact that our church has been talking about our responsibility of reading for the sake of the community, and throw in the fact that I just completed Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith, have been planning Bible home school curriculum for this next year for my boys, and the fact that I have substituted teaching in children’s Bible classes a few times at church this summer, and it is not difficult to see why a couple of these passages spoke sweetly to me.

Montgomery, who married the Presbyterian minister Ewen MacDonald, was a theological thinker in her own right. With a knack for describing hypocrisies and frivolous loyalties to tradition and prejudices, Montgomery often snuck in satirical statements through her most upright and judgmental of characters. Remember the proudly outspoken Mrs. Rachel Lynde? In a letter to Anne in college, she writes,

“I don’t believe any but fools enter the ministry nowadays….Such candidates as they have sent us, and such stuff as they preach! Half of it ain’t true, and what’s worse, it ain’t sound doctrine. The one we have now is the worst of the lot. He mostly takes a text and preaches about something else. And he says he doesn’t believe all the heathen will be eternally lost. The idea! If they won’t all the money we’ve been giving to Foreign Missions will be clean wasted, that’s what!”

~from Anne of the Island, chapter 5 “Letters from Home”

Now contrast Anne’s enthusiasm for the young and lovely minister’s wife, Mrs. Allan.

“I never knew before that religion was such a cheerful thing. I always thought it was kind of melancholy, but Mrs. Allan isn’t, and I’d like to be a Christian if I could be one like her.”

~Anne confiding to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, p. 172

Wouldn’t we all want this to be said of us?

So, for those of you who are teaching a Sunday school class, who open the Bible in front of young minds and share words of truth and life, you are filling more than an hour’s void.

“The social life of juvenile Carlisle centered in the day and Sunday schools. We were especially interested in our Sunday School, for we were fortunate enough to be assigned to a teacher who made our lesson so interesting that we no longer regarded Sunday School attendance as a disagreeable weekly duty, but instead looked forward to it with pleasure, and tried to carry out our teacher’s gentle precepts- at least on Mondays and Tuesdays. I am afraid the remembrance grew a little dim on the rest of the week.”

~ from The Story Girl, p. 26

You are providing a vision of what it means to be part of a kingdom of grace and love. It is a great service in which the subjects are only coincidentally small. If nothing else, you are narrating a picture of God’s appealing beauty. May your story be consistently bewitching and inviting.

Breaking Bread

When we sit down at a table with someone to share a meal, we can pretend we are from a culture which no longer understands the ancient practices of acceptance and hospitality, but deep down we know this to be false.  We do understand. Even the most modern and hurried corner of our souls appreciates the act of breaking bread with someone, particularly if it is food made at home by hands we know.  Food is personal.  Food honors the one to whom it is given.  It not only meets a physical, daily requirement, it is spiritual.  In sharing a meal, we admit to seeing God’s presence in another person.

Although the term breaking bread in the book of Acts is used interchangeably both for sharing a common meal as well as the symbolic act of the Lord’s Supper, they were likely not as separate as we view them today.  Eating dinner with someone echoed the spiritual nourishment and confession that was part of the early church’s Eucharist practice.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread…So they prepared the Passover.  When the hour came Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table…After taking the cup, he gave thanks and broke it…”

Luke 22:7,13-14, 17,19

Bread and oil
Bread and oil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God.

Acts 2:42, 46

…the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food….Brothers, choose seven men from among you…we will turn this responsibility over to them.

Acts 6:13

raspberries, plums and peaches
Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.  He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Acts 9:18-19

..[God] has shown you kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.

Acts 14:17

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[Peter] became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance…Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter.  Kill and eat.

‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied, ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.

The voice spoke to him  a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’

Acts 10:10, 13-15

Pears and frisee with prosicutto

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Acts 14:23

When [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.  ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘Come and stay at my house.’  And she persuaded us.

Acts 16:15

The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.

Acts 16:34

Chicken adobo with saffron riceOn the first day of the week we came together to break bread.

Acts 20:7
Just before dawn, Paul urged them all to eat.  ‘For the last fourteen days…you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food.  You need it to survive…’  After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them.  Then he broke it and began to eat.  They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.

Acts 27:33-36

Luke’s emphasis in these quotes is on bread and fellowship. Through this  series of quotations, the first-century Christian physician and historian begins with Jesus to illustrate how a mundane, daily act signified something greater. Breaking bread is, in actuality, a healing, continuing thread, a holy rite. It is simultaneously recognizing our dependence on God and our love for one another.

 

 

 

 

The Village, The Family

Hillary Clinton has famously quoted a supposed African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Some homeschool groups and others have jumped on this, adding their own twist, “I have seen the village.  We choose to homeschool.”  Both quotes irritate me.  The former because it seems to fly in the face of my understanding of how the Bible describes my personal responsibility to my family.  The latter because of its disrespectful, condemning tone and sentiment.  Our boys began their school-aged years in a public school setting, yet now we are in our second year of homeschooling, and it looks like we might be here awhile.  Do I look down on families opting for public education?  No.  We were there once.  By and large, it seemed a positive experience.  Currently, the homeschool option just seems the best fit for us.  While the Bible charges my husband and me to train our children in matters of faith,  (Deuteronomy 6) I seriously doubt it has any commandments regarding English grammar or multiplying fractions.  We have just decided to tackle these lessons around the kitchen table, as well.

And yet, this post is by no means intended to be about homeschooling vs. public education.  Instead, I want to reflect on who is raising our children, whether we homeschool, send them to public, private or charter schools.

Clinton wants us to look to the ” village,” except  we don’t have a village.  We have a family.  I am often amazed at God’s design for the church.  While our love for Christ is to be lived out in the mundaneness of daily routines, and in our compassion for others, we need a sense of community.  We need a comfortable and secure place to relax.  We need others looking out for our best interests.  We need a spiritual family full of love, care and positive examples.  And He has provided one for us.  One we very much depend on.

We do not necessarily need others teaching our children manners, morals, or even Bible stories.  Our responsibility as parents is clearly written in scripture.

Never forget these commands that I am giving you today.  Teach them to your children.  Repeat them when you are at home and when you are away, when you are resting and when you are working…Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”Deuteronomy 6:6-7,9

However, for my children there is great value in someone they know and respect reiterating the same values and ideals that mom and dad try to teach them.  There is value in pointing someone to Jesus.  They need encouragement.  They miss grandparents being closer.  They need to be prodded and goaded and challenged.  They need to feel unconditional love and support.  It is particularly poignant if that encouragement comes from an unexpected source.  Not a call from the Bible class teacher, but a hug from a church elder.  Not a hello from a peer, but a high-five from one of the teens.

Unfortunately, there is no photo with this post, but I have a thousand in my mind’s eye: showing up unexpectedly for a baseball game, getting down on one knee to listen to the rambling of a toddler, an invitation to come over and play, an offer for babysitting, remembering a personal accomplishment.  You know who you are.  These are things a mom appreciates.

Who is raising A, S and G?  By the grace of God, my husband and I are.  And by the grace and love of some amazing people in his church, we are thankful for their help.  I honestly don’t know if it takes a village, but we do have a family working on it.