General News


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

There are life lessons to be learned in dealing with major computer problems. Continuing from last week, I am still spending time in India, otherwise known as Dell Tech Support. If I had a dollar for every time one of my two computers, a PC and a mini, had been restarted, I would be able to go out for a nice dinner! The good news is, we are nearing the end of the malware and file corruption issues, though I still have a gremlin or two here and there. Hopefully, those can be resolved in the next phone call.

One of the life lessons I have learned from dealing with these computers is that sometimes all that is needed is a reboot, a time to let the system sort itself out or “defrag.” Defragmentation is defined as “to consolidate fragmented files and folders on (the hard drive of a computer or other electronic device) in order to make it run more efficiently.” In human terms, a “defrag” might occur through sleep or a restful, creative play-time. It may mean a big glass of water, a walk, or a nutritious snack, organizing your living environment or clean clothes. I know that after Holy Week and the concurrent endless hours of dealing with the computer mess, I felt completely defragmented! This week has certainly allowed my system to “reboot” and restore itself. With the computers both mostly fixed and with a less intense work schedule, I have been able to gather up the lose ends of my life. “Down time” has been a big part of that restoration.

Also, the hummingbirds are back at this old house and we have a mini Keukenhof (the famous gardens in Amsterdam with all the tulips– http://www.keukenhof.nl/en/discover-the-park/inspirational-gardens/) at the bottom of our back steps. The miracle of spring is always restorative for me. The smell of the blooming Oregon grape and the wild plum on my daily walk is intoxicating. The tulips are reaching their peak on the Pearl Street Mall and it is a banner Pasque flower year. Named after the alternative word for Easter, Pascha, the flowers were actually out on Easter this year. They never fail to delight me.

When I am consumed by work and problems, I forget to look up, to notice the miracle of spring happening all around me. Nature is one thing that can keep our lives in perspective. When I think of the millenia of blooming Pasque flowers in spring, it puts my computer issues in perspective. It reminds me that it is a first-world problem, one of luxury and not of ultimate necessity.

Tomorrow, the Church reads the story of “Doubting” Thomas from the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John. Thomas, who vowed he would follow Jesus to Jerusalem and die with him if necessary, cannot bring himself to believe that Christ is really alive, despite all that the other disciples share with him. It makes no sense! Jesus honors Thomas and his kinesthetic learning style by appearing and hosting a “show and tell.” Thomas falls down in worship in response. I am sure at that moment, there was a major “system restore” going on in Thomas’s life.

Moments of wonder can do that for us. We simply have to stop long enough and look up from our consuming issues to find that there is usually some kind of resurrection happening right in front of us. In might be the earth or it might be the realization that we have made some progress in patience after a long bout of frustrating computer problems.

 

We are shifting into the fifty-days of Easter here at this old house. The eggs are boiled and waiting to be dyed. The gluten-free hot cross buns are made and the ham is waiting to be served tomorrow. Tonight, the first service of the Resurrection happens with the Easter Vigil, the oldest service of the Christian Church. It is such a different service from what we will do tomorrow morning. Those services have brass and bells, liturgical dancers and choirs. Tonight, we will sing the Exultant, the ancient chant that opens the Vigil service in a darkness lit by candlelight. The service is the re-telling of the Story of God’s work in the world from beginning through Resurrection and beyond. Reinold Niebuhr once said that at Christmas and Easter, he wanted to attend services that were full of liturgy and art with less preaching because in those instances, we need to focus on the Story and not on a preacher. The Easter Vigil certainly fits that criteria! The full service has 12 Scripture readings, though many churches, including mine, pare that down.

One of the unexpected focuses of Holy Week for me has been major computer problems. I have spent hours (like 14 and counting) on the phone to India, otherwise known as Dell technical support. The young men I have been working with have been wonderful, knowledgeable, and patient with my “you want me to do what?” kinds of questions. The fact that someone halfway around the world can take over my computer remotely and work on it is a miracle nearly on par with that of the Resurrection of Christ, in my mind. One computer has been rescued from the ravages of a major malware invasion, two computers now have anti-viral programs “with teeth” installed, and one computer is still on life-support. I was to watch while it did 177 updates after being wiped clean and reloaded to factory default mode. However, it has been stuck on update #129 for 24-hours now and I fear the prognosis does not look good. However, unlike the disciples at the foot of the cross, clueless about the coming Resurrection, I am trying to remain hopeful.

Meanwhile, we know the ending of the Story we will re-tell through readings, song and actions tonight at Easter Vigil.  That Story means we can live in hope even when things in life seem as bleak as a corrupted and fried computer.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

What makes a week “holy”? Here on this Lazarus Saturday, when the Eastern Church especially celebrates the raising of Lazarus from the dead, followed by Palm/Passion Sunday tomorrow, the ending of Lent and the beginning of  The Three Days, or Triduum, Maundy Thursday evening through Easter Vespers on Sunday night, it might be useful to reflect on what makes this week Holy. No other week in the year has this designation.

The dictionary definition of the word “holy” is “dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose; sacred.” The focus of these next eight days certainly are religious and sacred for those who follow Christ. Yet, in North American culture, one can find any number of concerts and events scheduled for the evenings of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The Easter Vigil, the oldest service in Christendom, is little known even among regular church attenders and, unlike Christmas, fewer stores close for Easter. Clearly, for many people, the days the Church in the West enters into are not holy. In fact, they are no different than any other day in their life.

So, then, what makes Holy Week holy? Because Easter is the apogee of the Christian liturgical year. Easter is what makes Christianity unique. The instituting of the Lord’s Supper, which we remember on Maundy Thursday, the Crucifixion of Jesus which we re-participate in on Good Friday, the earth holding its breath and we with it on Holy Saturday, and the final victory shout over death that we begin to celebrate in the dark hours between Saturday and Sunday are the central tenant of the Christian faith! Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again we say in the Eucharistic liturgy.

Each year, we who claim to follow Christ walk with him as he wades into the whirlpool of popular misunderstanding regarding what the Messiah was to be and do. As the week progresses, we join those who go from shouting Christ’s praises to calling for his crucifixion as a fraud. They assumed the Messiah would be of a political nature and overthrow Rome, returning Israel to the glory of its King David days. A Messiah who suffers and dies did not fit their idea or desire. We watch with  the confused disciples as Jesus shifts the liturgy a bit during the Seder meal for Passover. We run in fear at Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, hiding behind closed doors, realizing that all the eggs we had put in his basket were now destroyed. But then comes Sunday and all those broken eggs turn into Phoenix-like manifestations of our wildest hopes and dreams.

Oh, yes, this will be a Holy Week here at this old house. May it be so for you as well.

 

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