Archives for category: Faith Hope Love

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When I think of ‘tearing open the heavens’ I imagine thick cloud cover roiling across the sky, hemming in creation, as lightning splits the frame. And then, rain. Rain and thunder that can move the Cascade ridges, slowly dulling their craggy facades; surely, that is a sign of God.

Clouds are amazing. They form soft veils or impenetrable walls, intimately hover over lakes in the morning, or scurry past the earth in another stratosphere unconcerned at what lies below. Clouds are another form of water. In the Puget Sound Watershed Basin, we are hemmed in by water on all sides. Even the summers, with fire seasons lapping at more days and weeks in the calendar, we are still surrounded by water of two kinds, fresh and salt. It is salt water that must become cloud and travel over the land before it falls back to the earth, desalinated, fresh. Yet it is also salt water that is closer to humans in chemical composition. Must we, too, become cloud? 

For some, clouds trigger claustrophobia–or, perhaps we should say, they loom with the threat of drowning. The hills, mountains and clouds can make a person feel contained, constricted, submerged. And yet, the water with its morphological powers can also feel like swaddling. There is such a fine line between feeling at one with, and feeling smothered.

. . .

Advent has begun, and we prepare our hearts for the coming birth of a servant, who is God. More than a servant, the Christ child is our very Font of Life. Jesus, as he tells the Samaritan woman, is Living Water. Jesus is the first human body to traverse the boundary of infinity and finitude. During his time on the earth, he enters water under the hand of John, and claims his flesh as nourishing bread. As followers, we are called to enter into, to partake of Christ in order to live–to drown ourselves in Christ and consume him. He is our sacrament.

On the first Sunday of Advent, we light the Hope candle. The times feel oddly apocalyptic, as they have before and will continue to feel until God comes. Hope can seem vain, or just out of reach. Like water, it seems to spill between our fingers when we grasp it. Last night, I lit the hope candle aware of how parched I feel. Is life on this earth still possible as earthquakes, fires and floods consume, and those in power deny life-giving channels to the margins? Yet, now is the time to enter Christ again, to partake in the life of the Triune God by remembering the first time Jesus came into this world, born of Mary, carried within her, sustained by water.

 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect of the Day from the Common Lectionary reading, Episcopal Church.)

Old Testament: Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm: Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel: Mark 13:24-37

 

I like the look of round tables. I especially like the idea of round tables, all the way back to Arthurian legends of benevolent, inclusive, leadership. But, I do not like working at round tables. There is a reason desks are linear; you can push books and plates of snacks off to the side to pull another resource close, and not worry about something immediately falling off due to the curve. The last thing I need when trying to meet a deadline is a broken plate of cookies to clean up.

IMG_0233My husband and I do not have a round table. Ours is long and very rectangular. Initially when we were moving into a space that required us to purchase a table, I had voted for a beautiful marble round table, one made in Vietnam. In the end we decided on one made in the states, with a range of options for the top. In five years of marriage, that was one of our more challenging decisions. Now that we’ve hosted friends and a few dinners, now that I’ve composed papers requiring piles of books on it, I cannot imagine giving up our six foot long, steel base dining table. I love it. And now, when we think about moving (which, really, we try not to) the space must accommodate our table. It might seem normal to need a home that has space for a dining table but, as we have learned when trying to find a place to live in a quickly growing city, new apartments are made for small round tables. They are made for young professionals on the move who do not cook for themselves. Some of these new homes do not even come with a full sized kitchen but only provide a stove too small to make a dozen cookies. That just doesn’t fly in our family.

Over the past school year, my husband and I have been living in two time zones. I attend school in CST while his work has kept him in PST. In anticipation of an adventure, we moved everything to an apartment near my school—sofa, tv, books, the table. However, that adventure got delayed due to exciting work prospects in PST and less than thrilling job openings in CST. It’s been a rough several months. At one point we thought we would need to just move everything back to the fast growing city we love so much. That’s when we started looking for an apartment or condo, a place that met the criteria of an architect, and found that there is no place for our table within our price range. Now, I am fully aware that a table is simply a material object, and that life is lived above the plane of physical things. However, as humans we imbue the objects of our home with significance. Some items, like a toothbrush, have purely functional value. Other objects—grandma’s quilt, a print made by a friend, rocks picked up at a beach on vacation—contain bits of memory and hope that set them apart from ‘mere’ showroom pieces. These are the things we make space for and that begin to place requirements on us for attention, for that space.

We have reached a point in our society where we have a very conflicted relationship with ‘things’. On the one hand, we claim a mastery of stuff. But then the space we live in feels cluttered, oppressive, so we get rid of or move stuff to ‘storage’ to clear the space, and start again. Our stuff makes demands on us: on our time for sorting or cleaning or clearing; on our mind/heart for making decisions about it; and ultimately on our environment once we’re done with it. We’ve even gotten to the point of creating a whole sector of the economy that deals with ‘used’ and ‘second hand’ stuff. Before we spiral into a tirade against the material world, I want to say that it is okay to love our stuff. In fact, it is necessary to love our stuff. When we don’t we are more likely to treat it like the trash it will someday become. When we love our stuff, there is no need to ‘master’ it. Instead, we can allow it to take up space in proportion with how we really feel about it.

Among the things that have moved with me multiple times is a collection of Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Yes, the very ones I played with as a child. At one point we had them lining the tops of shelves in our living room, but now they sit in a bag, easily identifiable by their stochastic odor. These dolls have spent most of their life packed away, but before that they were a vital part of my room, play time by myself and with friends. They exist in physical form continuous from the moment I took them out of their box, even when my memories have splintered and shuffled to the back of my mind.

What’s important to be aware of are the things we hold on to because our memories are tied up with them, and the things we desire because we can see ribbons of hope wrapped around them. Objects are not mere things—they help us with our identity. I want to invite friends and family to enjoy meals and drinks around our big table, sharing stories of the past and pointing toward good things for the future.

The week before my birthday, I received a bill in the mail from AT&T for phone numbers I did not recognize. Then a letter declining “my” application for a store debit card. Someone had gone on a spending spree in my name. Reviewing my credit report, four more stores were revealed—including a shop I had never heard of—and nearly $3500 spent on stuff I will never see. I am oddly grateful for the identitytheft.gov website outlining exactly which steps to take when someone gets a hold of your information. The companies, for the most part, made it easy to contest the fraudulent cards. The most difficult challenge was simply getting through to a human being. Truly, automated phone trees are a work of the devil.

In the pages and pages of forms that have since followed, there is one question that arrested my attention. It has come up twice already, and may come up again, causing me to really think about this strange ordeal. “Are you willing to press charges and/or work with law enforcement if charges are brought against the person(s) who committed the fraud?” Yes or No.

How am I to respond to this violation? Aside from placing additional protective barriers around ‘my identity’ am I willing to work towards prosecuting the culprit(s)? Put another way, am I willing to participate in churning another individual through an exceedingly broken system of (in)justice? What does it mean to press charges? I certainly do not want another person to be violated as I was, yet what assurance is there that if I were to press charges someone else would be ‘saved’?

In the midst of mind-numbing legalspeak, this question requires more exegesis—parsed out and reframed, it is more than a question of wanting to see justice. It becomes a question of active participation even beyond complicity. Parsed out and reframed the meaning emerges from a different angle. “Are you willing to work with law enforcement” is a very different question from “are you willing to press charges”. If I cannot say yes to one, how can I say yes? Even my willingness to provide what information I can prompts me to wonder to what extent am I now participating in the (in)justice system?

Receiving a bill in my name for merchandise I did not purchase is infuriating. I feel responsible, like I have somehow done something wrong. And while I have now begun the process for ‘correcting’ my information, I have no idea what all this will impact in the future. Will I regret not pressing charges? I don’t think so. I don’t know what hand life has dealt the perpetrators that incited them steal—which is not to claim them to be Noble Savages in today’s economy. I simply don’t know. So, I pray protection over others from becoming victims, and I pray that the thieves encounter Jesus in a life-changing way, and soon. In the meantime, I’ll continue to fill out forms and monitor my information.