Saturday, August 30, 2008

Prayers for New Orleans

I'll get to the autumn post later. Right now, I have a bigger concern. Hurricane Gustav is heading for the Gulf of Mexico, having already hit Haiti and probably hitting Cuba on its way today. It's expected to gain strength over the warm waters, and make landfall in the US anywhere between Florida and Texas. That puts New Orleans most likely right in its path. Needless to say, residents there are worried.

I am too. Not only because I know that three years is not nearly enough time to erase memories and anxieties of the trauma of Katrina (having lived in NYC the last four years, I am quite aware of the reaction to a low-flying plane or unexplained smoky air), but also because having spent time in New Orleans this past January, and engaged many of its residents, I feel a deep connection to that wonderfully unique city.

I also know from my time there that New Orleans has only begun to move from recovery to renewal, and the prospect of having much of that wiped away is just plain scary. This photo was taken from inside the home I was helping to construct for a family, of their street, lined with FEMA trailers. For many, FEMA trailers are the only homes people have now. They are certainly not designed to withstand a strong hurricane.

So on the anniversary of the day people woke up after Katrina hit and mistakenly thought they'd be made it through the worst of it, the people of New Orleans are in my prayers. May you be comforted, may you be protected, and may you be safe.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Sun, sun, sun!

Wow, we've had almost a week now of straight sun, which has been great for my garden after so much rain. My tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. I was beginning to think they'd stay green until the first frost! I've harvested maybe a dozen grape tomatoe--spread out over days so never enough for a salad--but now I've got bunches turning red. And a tomato that's been bigger than my fist for weeks is finally orange! Hurray!

On another garden-miracle note, I've got a zuchinni growing! Now, any of you who've grown zuchinni may not see this as such a big deal, as it tends to be the plant that just won't stop producing, leading to bags of thigh-sized zuchinnis left hanging on neighbors' mailboxes, but my squash got attacked this season. It got a nasty bug that looked like big fat maggots (ewwwww) which ate my plants from the inside out. I got one summer squash, and then it all went downhill. Out of four plants (two summer squash and two zuchinni), all that's left is this one, and it wasn't looking so promising a week or so ago. I had been trying to pull off some of the really wilted leaves when the whole plant tipped sideways--and broke almost completely off the root (the bug chews up the inside of the vine at the bottom, leaving a sawdust-like residue and little support for the plant). But I decided to give it another chance, tilted it back up, found the offending bug (hopefully the only one!) and covered the distintigrating vine with some mulch.

Lo and behold, it seems to have worked! The plant looks healthy and hasn't wilted at all, even after days without rain (first symptom of bug: wilt in sun), and I think the sun has kept the slugs from eating the flowers (yeah, it's been an interesting first-time gardening experiences with creatures!) so pollination actually happened and there's a lovely green zuchinni growing away.

So the tomatoes are ripening, I'm still getting lots of green beans, I've picked three cucumbers and have more than a dozen more growing (anybody have good recipes for cukes?), and a miracle zuchinni has appeared. So other than my fist-sized watermelon that rotted on the vine, the garden's great!

Next post: it's mid-August, but all signs point to fall....

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Don't Hold Too Tight!

What do we do with blessings when we receive them? Do we hold on to them tightly so they can't ever get away--like a small child might grab onto a chick, squeezing the life out of it? Or do we welcome it gently, coddle it, cup our hands around it and care for it, appreciating it with delight?

I am welcoming an unexpected blessing into my life at the moment, and like most blessings, it is exciting and a little bit scary too. Most of us just don't know what to do when presented with a Good Thing. We feel like we don't deserve it or haven't earned it, and maybe feel a little guilty for enjoying it.

So at the moment, I'm going to do the opposite and simply open my hands and my heart. I'm going to acknowledge that God has given me something Good, and that I DO deserve it. And I'm going to hold it gently and care for it and hope it stays around a long, long time. But even if it doesn't, I know I'll have been blessed all the same.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Why go to church?

I recently joined a dating website, and while many aspects of people's profiles have been interesting to me, one thing I've noticed in particular is how people describe their religious beliefs (when they do at all). Often it's a "I grew up such-and-such but don't go now except on holidays," but I've seen quite a few who say outright that they just don't believe in organized religion because they don't think one should be required to go to church in order to achieve salvation--or something to that effect.

Huh? Now, perhaps I didn't pay close enough attention to what tradition they said they grew up in, if they said at all. Maybe they all come from the same one, and that's where they get that idea.

I, however, am of the mindset that church is not for God. It's for God's people. I know there are many out there who will strongly disagree with me, call me a product of the "Me" generation, raised to be a consumer with all my wants and needs catered to. There's validity to that point, but perhaps that's another post.

What I'm saying is that I just don't believe in such a self-centered God who would require that everyone come and pay homage--aka worship--every week to stay in God's good graces. This is certainly how weekly services started, and obviously there are still many places that promote this, or people wouldn't be making these statements against it.

So why go to church at all then? Well, to be honest, there are plenty of Sundays I've asked myself that same question, and found plenty of things I needed or wanted to do instead of attend a church service. (In seminary, particularly my first year, I admit that after a week of classes and homework, the last thing I felt I needed was another day spent talking and thinking about God!)

But I think what it comes down to is community. Most of us live, work, and interact in places where living a Christian life is not a central focus. It is something that for the most part remains within the walls of our home, if not even further hidden in our own hearts and minds. In my experience those with more conservative beliefs tend to be more open about their faith, while those in more liberal traditions keep it to themselves. Think about how a typical day might go:

1. Get up, get ready for work-- Maybe there's some time spent reading the Bible or saying a prayer, but it's more likely it's rushing around to get out the door.

2. Travel to work--This may involve public transportation and/or a stop for coffee, maybe not. In either case, is the barista asking you how you'll be living out Jesus' message this morning, or are you discussing with the guy next to you on the subway how you feel God is calling you to a new place? Didn't think so.

3. Work-- If you're particularly close to co-workers, you may have at some point breached the subject of religion, or had it done for you somehow (Ash Wednesday is usually good for that). Even then, it's usually broad mentions of choir practice or an event, rather than theological discussion. Otherwise, religion (and politics) are usually taboo.

4. Travel home from work--See #2.

5. After work-- Gym, activities (kids' or your own), television.

6. Go to bed-- Perhaps you said a prayer before going to sleep. Good for you.

Hm, not much time for God in there! Perhaps, if you're like me, there are a thousand moments during the day when you turn to God. A quick prayer for someone's health, a petition for help in a stressful moment, a "what would Jesus do" reflection after being cut off in traffic, etc. But those are all internal and personal.

Church gives us the opportunity to follow Christ with others. We are not alone. It is a place to be held accountable, to be supported, to question and doubt and believe. That hour on Sunday is perhaps the only time in our week when we get to remind ourselves of the larger community of believers to which we belong. It is an opportunity for God to be not simply a fleeting internal thought in the midst of life's chaos, but the focus of our attention and outwardly expression in words, songs, prayers, laughter, and tears. The church began because individual believers gathered together in each others' homes (under threat of persecution, no less) to share their journeys.

I went to church for the first time in quite a while (since before I graduated if you don't count the two weeks I led the service) this past Sunday, a Catholic mass that preceded the baptism of my friend's baby boy. When a misunderstanding surfaced and it seemed we wouldn't get out the door in time for Mass, I became unusually upset. I needed church, and had been looking forward to it all week. We made it, a little late. The liturgy was unfamiliar, but God was present in that place, and it felt good to be surrounded by others on the journey. After the priest presented the four children to be baptized, he held them each aloft a la Rafiki in "The Lion King." I got tears in my eyes at the joy I felt as we welcomed these children into the community. I could feel the hopes and prayers for their lives and their relationship with God palpably.

Ah, THIS is why I go to church.

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