General News


We are home tonight, after a week-long road trip. We visited family while sitting along the Mississippi River watching the barges go by and the cold wind whip the river into white caps. At night, in our room, we could hear the low hum of the tug boat coming either up-or down-stream, pushing anywhere from six to fifteen barges. Some were riding high, obviously empty; others were low in the water, full of something we could only guess at.

We then followed the river north and went to a friend’s graduation from seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. We explored the Methodist church in downtown Dubuque, a magnificent structure full of Tiffany glass windows. With all the wealth made by businesses along the Mississippi in days gone by, Dubuque had a lot of money. It shows in their public buildings from that era. Their library, a Carnegie, is one of the most lovely libraries I have seen in a long time. They just don’t build them like that any more.

One our way from Dubuque back to I-80 West, we went through Scotch Grove, Iowa. There, my husband’s mother’s family used to have a world-renowned farm implement business. The son took over from the father but then after a while, the next generation was not interested. The business closed, with the warehouses stuffed with parts sold to buyers from all over the world. Scotch Grove is in danger of returning to the dust just as its hard-working and prosperous inhabits from days gone by have done. I am thrilled to have been given a large stoneware bowl from their wares years ago. I treasure it for its size, heft and history.

Traveling along Interstate 80, we listen to talking books. We heard all sixteen hours of Willa Cather’s “The Song of the Lark” and began “Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin” by Jill Lepore. Anyone who longs for this nation to return to its “Christian roots” need only engage this book. Though a preacher of the Gospel, Cotton Mather was not a great example of the love of Christ, from what I can discern. Benjamin Franklin, Jane’s brother, fathered a child out of wedlock and then moved into a common-law marriage arrangement with a different woman to cover up the deed. One can only fantasize about returning to some perceived “golden age” in this nation if you don’t know the Deist faith of Thomas Jefferson, who cut out the parts of the Bible he didn’t like and studied the lives of some of the other founding fathers, who were less than exemplary in many ways. From before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, there were scoundrels and people of integrity on both sides of the religious aisle. We seem to forget history so quickly.

In Jane Franklin’s day, many of her children died of what is now believed to be tuberculosis. Seeing Middle America, in motel breakfast rooms and even the graduation audience made me wonder if our obesity and poor eating habits will shorten the life of many adults and children alike, much as untreatable diseases did in the 18th century. Coming from a very fitness-minded area, I do wonder how the lack of care for our bodies will play itself out in the future. I came home with a renewed commitment toward healthy habits.

I also came home appreciative of the vast beauty of this nation. From its mountains, which I see daily, to its rivers, which I get to spend time on, the land is a beautiful gift from God. May it be well cared for as well.

 

Last year, it snowed on Mother’s Day. This year, it is predicted to snow on Mother’s Day again. We have had seven days of rain with two more predicted. While all rain in a semi-arid climate is good, I am feeling a bit “enough already” today. The University of Colorado held graduation this morning, outside, rain or shine. I will be interested to see if anyone showed up as it was pouring at the appointed hour. I feel bad that all kinds of graduation celebrations have been impacted by cold, wet weather all weekend long. So much for that backyard barbeque for 50 people!

Even the hummingbirds are cold and wet. I wish there was something I could for them. My feeder is under a small overhang so they can get out of the direct rainfall a bit while feeding. The cold has slowed the flowers and tree buds so I am glad to offer them a bit of sustenance to supplement their diet. During the historic floods in Colorado in September of 2013, a lot of birds died. They couldn’t get dry and therefore couldn’t get warm, setting up a vicious cycle that overcame many of them. That happens to people as well. We all know stories or have seen them on the news of people who were making it but barely. Then, a natural disaster or a personal health crisis occurred and the downward spiral was set in motion. It can be very hard to pull out of some of these tail spins, especially if one doesn’t have a good network of friends and family supporting them.

This brings me to Mother’s Day, that “land-mine” holiday for many. As J. K. Rowling said in her commencement speech at Harvard several years ago (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c, by age 18, 20 at the latest, we lose the “bad parenting card.” The trajectory of our lives is no longer our parents’ fault. The sooner we take responsibility for ourselves, the better off we will be, especially if we have come from less than “Hallmark card” backgrounds. Rowling herself is a living witness to this.

If the “best mom on the planet” cards don’t fit your situation, get over it. Stop driving while looking in the rear-view mirror of your life. Be thankful for the lessons of the past, even if they were mostly negative, but put your energies into creating your own happy. Don’t wait for someone else to rescue you. Women are especially vulnerable to this lie. The Knight in Shining Armor is a mirage, ladies! Pick yourself up. Do something with your life, even if it isn’t the life you thought you wanted or deserved. Go to work on Plan B. Stop being defined by fantasies and start working on dreams. If the backyard barbeque is flooded out, get creative with something inside! Stop dwelling on what isn’t and be thankful for what is. Move toward what is life-giving and seek to unload who and what is life-draining. Take a risk in a job, a relationship, a vacation destination. Be kind but be honest in all aspects of your life.

As Judy Garland said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” Even if it makes your mother unhappy.

Yo-vel has begun. This is the transliterated Hebrew word for “the Year of the Jubilee.” Leviticus 25 begins by telling of  Sabbath rest for the fields of the earth and then a year of rest and restorative justice for all people. While we are not sure how long our time of rest will be, we have entered a time of “not sowing.” John’s years of pastoral ministry came to an end today, on the date before he started 31 years ago. Back then, we were coming out of a duplicitous situation that was so challenging, I was ten weeks pregnant before I realized it wasn’t stress! John was hired for three months, asked to stay another nine months, and then asked to stay on permanently. As the line in Psalm 23, “He makes me lie down in green pastures” can be translated, God faithfully led us mouthful-by-mouthful in those early days. Today, as we concluded a weekend of celebration with family and friends, we left in benediction and abundance.

I continue to think about the idea of “peregrinatio,” the Celtic monastic tradition of loading up a coracle (small boat) and launching off into the sea with no rudder or oar, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and guide to a new land and calling. What would that be like? Taking water and food, a few books and possessions, saying good-bye to what and who you knew, and launching off into who knows where? Would a storm swamp your boat? How long would you be adrift at sea? Would the shore towards which the currents drove you be a friendly one or barren and inhospitable? What would you find to eat? Where would you live? What wildlife might inhabit the land? Would you understand why God had deposited you there even after you had been there for a while?

While we aren’t planning on doing in drifting on oceans, the questions for John and me aren’t that different? Will God call us to something here or will we have to move? Will it be something that is in line with what we have been doing or will it feel totally different? Will our response be like Jonah, not wanting to go where God is calling? At this point, we have no answers to those questions but we do have the experience of walking with God these past 31 years (and longer). We can honestly sing with the old Gospel hymn:

 

I will sing of God’s mercy
Every day, every hour
He gives me power.

I will sing and give thanks to Thee
For all the dangers, toils and snares
That He has brought me out.

He is my God and I’ll serve Him
No matter what the test
Trust and never doubt
Jesus will surely bring you out
He never failed me yet.

I will sing of God’s mercy
Every day, every hour
He gives me power.

I will sing and give thanks to Thee
For all the dangers, toils and snares
That He has brought me out.

He is my God and I’ll serve Him
No matter what the test
Trust and never doubt
Jesus will surely bring you out
He never failed me yet.

I know God is able to deliver
In times of storm
And I know that He’ll keep you safe
From all earthly harm.

One day when my weary soul is at rest
I’m going home to be forever blessed
Trust and never doubt
Jesus will surely bring you out
He never failed me yet.

I will sing of God’s mercy
Every day, every hour
He gives me power.

I will sing and give thanks to Thee
For all the dangers, toils and snares
That He has brought me out.

He is my God and I’ll serve Him
No matter what the test
Trust and never doubt
Jesus will surely bring you out
He never failed me yet.

Didn’t my God deliver Moses from King Pharaoh?
And didn’t He cool the fiery furnace
For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?

When I think of what my God can do
He delivered Daniel
I know He will deliver you.

Trust and never doubt
Jesus will surely bring you out
He never failed me yet.

I will sing of God’s mercy
Every day, every hour
He gives me power.

I will sing and give thanks to Thee
For all the dangers, toils and snares
That He has brought me out.

He is my God and I’ll serve Him
No matter what the test
Trust and never doubt
Jesus will surely bring you out
He never failed me yet.

The lyrics and music to “He Never Failed Me Yet” is by Robert Ray.

 

We are in the final week of celebration here at this old house. Yo-vel, the “year of the jubilee,” begins May 4th. We are being feted with meals and conversations. The family starts arriving mid-week. It promises to be a joyful yet bittersweet time as John transitions out of 31 years of pastoral ministry in one place and into the next step, still TBD.

Today, we were treated to a lovely lunch. It was a delightful time. Some of the conversation led me to reflect on our current society and a thought came to me. I welcome your feedback on it. It seems to me that many of our societal ills can be traced to a loss of what I am going to call “the basics.” That is, we have no idea where our food comes from nor how to nourish our bodies. We have little face-to-face relational time, especially around meals, and so have lost the ability to nourish our souls. We vilify work instead of seeking creative ways for all to bring in income. We glorify “toys and gadgets” to the exclusion of planning for a future. We have electronic conversations with people not present while ignoring those who are. We assume food, clothing, shelter all the while ignoring the reality that those things could be taken from us at any time. These attitudes and resultant behaviors remind me of a story I heard years ago. If any of you know this story, please contact me, as I can’t remember all the details of it clearly.

Basically, the parable tells how a town built a bridge. They decided that to protect the bridge, they would hire a night watchman. After a while, they decided they needed an accountant to handle the salary for the watchman so they hired one. Then, they were concerned about keeping the accountant honest so they hired an auditor. With all these people on the town’s payroll, they needed to hire a town manager. The town manager needed support staff to help him do his job well. The town then voted in a council to oversee the town manager. That council necessitated the hiring of support staff. One day, the town realized its finances were in dire straits. More was being paid out than was being taken in so they fired the watchman to save money.

After lunch today, I felt like we have a similar situation happening in our culture. We have allowed our food and water to become polluted and trusted that modern medicine would cure all our ills. We have become estranged from our wilderness spaces to the point of where we can even consider allowing them to be exploited purely for financial gain for a few. We have added in so many leisure opportunities, no one has time for anything any more. We insist on cheap clothing while ignoring the real cost of those items on human life and environments in places other than our own. We use violence as entertainment and then rue the fact that we must buy more guns and locks to keep us safe. We want quick solutions to complex problems and so find ourselves enmeshed in intractable wars because our “shock and awe” didn’t. In short, we have fired the watchman.

Despite this dire assessment, I have hop. I see people gently pushing back against pesticides and rampant exploitation of people and places. I see quiet movements springing up to eat real food in settings that foster conversation and relationship. I see people saying no to violence and the mis-use of technology and biology in ways that could bring wholeness and health back to sectors of society. While we can never turn the clock back, we can ask ourselves to define the basics required for a meaningful life. As David Brooks puts it in his new book, “The Road to Character,” are we focusing on resume virtues or eulogy virtues?

In short, what really counts at the end of the day. John and I hope to continue asking ourselves that question in this next season of life. Stay tuned.

 

It has been a week of some unsettledness here at this old house. The weather has alternated between rain or snow and sunshine. There have been some more adjustments to be made as John is now two weeks away from the start of Yo-vel, our time of “jubilee,” and discernment following 31 years of good ministry at First Pres. Finally, I have become aware in powerful ways that God may be calling me to a very different path than the one I have been pursuing in an area of my life. It has to do with a growing awareness of “my own voice” and the implications of that voice. Reading this morning in “A Spiritual Disciplines Handbook,” I was encouraged by Adele Calhoun’s words in her chapter on Examen:  “Perspective and direction for the future happen through listening to where and how God shows up in your day and then interacting with God in prayer. Awareness of the Spirit’s enlivening and enlightening presence puts you in touch with the kind of person God created you to be. When you begin to recognize who God created you to be, you have the raw material for discerning God’s unique call and design for your life.” God’s unique call, I am beginning to realize, may be not be the door I have been knocking on for a long time.

I have been struggling with some issues of loss in the last year related to vocational calling opportunities. As I have come to see over time, those “losses” may actually fall into the category of “being protected from” situations.  I have come to recognize the idolatry I had made out of some paths I was trying to drag God by the hand down. When those doors all finally shut, I came to realize that my dreams were too small, too short-sighted, too dependent on others and their approval. Sir Frances Drake’s prayer, which I have always liked, had been answered in some ways: “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, When our dreams have come true Because we have dreamed too little, When we arrived safely Because we sailed too close to the shore.”

This past week, I have taken the first step through a new doorway, a new sense of calling in my life, that, while consistent in theme is much broader in scope than before. Once again, I am being asked to risk moving out into the “frontier lands” of the Kingdom of God. This is all very freeing and exciting and absolutely unknown as to how this will play out at this point. Following a major faith crisis twenty years ago, I took a significant shift in my views of God, myself and the world. This week, I feel like I was asked to take another step along that path.

As I said, this is all new and uncertain right now but one thing I did that showed my willingness to God to follow was to write a poem. I do not consider myself a poet but several weeks ago, a crazy thought popped into my head while on one of my morning exercise walks. It was strange and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I was afraid of “what others might think.” I made myself share it with two people privately at first and then a bit more publicly. Now, I throw caution to the wind (otherwise known as the Internet). The initial thought became the title:

The In-Laws of the Virgin Mary

We liked you from the beginning!

You were our favorite, our first choice.

We are so glad that you said yes.

(We knew you would.)

We realize it has not been easy,

To remember how it all started.

We have grieved with you more than once.

But never forget: you are the favored one,

Blessed among women, Regina coeli.

The fruit of your womb, your Son as well as ours,

Is blessed to have you as his earthly mother.

Hail! The Angelus still says in ringing tones.

Valerie E. Hess copyright 2015

Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more adventures on the “frontiers of the faith”!Image result for free stock photos wagon train

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