Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Soft Answer

I have this adorable little 76-year-old neighbor whom I call Ms. Julie.  She's a real doll with loads of personality, but I confess she can be wearisome at times.  She's needy.  An expert Worrier. And mostly...alone.  She's a retired school teacher who never married, so she relies on old friends, distant relatives and, of course…NEIGHBORS...to look out for her. 

For the most part, I look forward to my encounters with Ms. Julie…I even seek her out.  We share a love of books and music and culture, and she tells fascinating stories about her life and the people she loves.  She has a baby grand piano IN HER APARTMENT, and often on my way out the door in the mornings I hear her playing classic tunes from Broadway or The American Songbook.  It's delightful  really.  But she has this one little habit that simply drives me out of my head. 

Once or twice a week she shows up on my doorstep early in the morning and rings my bell.  Not so bad, I suppose.  Except...my doorbell?  Well, it's not exactly a doorBELL.  No ring.  No ding.  No chime.  It's more of a buzzer really.  Imagine how an old-fashioned buzzer on a quaint New York City brownstone might sound…and then fuhgedda-bout-it.  It's not like that at all.   It's much more like a basketball scoreboard buzzer…confined within 600 square feet…and  situated, generally speaking, RIGHT NEXT TO MY HEAD.  And, like a scoreboard buzzer, it continues to buzz as long as you depress the button.  There's nothing frail about Ms. Julie's 76-year-old fingers. 

Today was one of those mornings when she decided to drop by.  I wasn't immediately able to answer the door and so she continued to buzz.  And buzzzzz.  And buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  By the time I *could* have answered, I was so hot under the collar that I ignored her.  I pretended not to be home.  But she didn't give up easily.  She returned 5 minutes later and started all over.  I decided this has been happening way too often and it was high time I gave her a piece of my mind.  After all, I regularly and happily help her with chores and simple maintenance…I cook for her and calm her when she's anxious.  I will demand that she respect my boundaries and stop using my buzzer, not only in the early morning, but always.  NO. MORE. BUZZER. EVER.

On my way out the door to go to work, I stopped at her place to give her some much-deserved "what for."  I'll show her!

When Ms. Julie opened her door, she was genuinely delighted to see me.  I put my hands on my hips and towered over her shrunken 4-foot form with my best scowl and scolding tone: "Julie Clark!  Was that YOU ringing my buzzer this morning?!"  

"Oh, yes!" She very proudly took responsibility.  "We're getting a NEW NEIGHBOR…on Thursday!  I wanted you to know!"  Seriously?!?  That's IT?  All of that drama over a NEW NEIGHBOR?

Still indignant: "Next time you ring my bell like that somebody better be dead or dying, Julie!  Please don't  ring my bell ever again…you can KNOCK, but..."  

"Oh, I'm sorry…IT'S A MAN!  He's young…and a graduate…and he's moving in this week!" 

So much enthusiasm.  I obviously wasn't getting through.  Defeated, I replied flatly, "I KNOW, JULIE.  I met his parents.  He's 23."  It's just another neighbor…SO WHAT?

"There will be 2 men now!  I'm so glad.  Oh…23?  That's YOUNG.  I hope he doesn't have wild parties."  

"He's a computer geek who doesn't smoke or drink and is very quiet…it will be fine," I assured her.  Against my wishes, I felt my indignation evaporating.  That blasted incessant joy of hers refused to be doused by my sour-faced lecture. 

All told, those 15 minutes with Ms. Julie changed the tenor of my day and reinforced lessons I've probably "learned" multiple times before:

Lesson 1: 
Joy triumphs…even in the face of determined negativity

Lesson 2: 
People matter…even more than my ease and convenience

Lesson 3: 
Rejoice…even in simple gifts like new neighbors

Lesson 4:  
A soft answer really DOES turn away wrath.  Go figure.

So, thanks, Ms. Julie.  You may be retired, but you're still teaching!

Holy Sonnet VI

Holy Sonnet VI
by John Donne

This is my play's last scene, here heavens appoint
My pligrimage's last mile; and my race
Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace,
My span's last inch, my minute's latest point,
And gluttonous death will instantly unjoint
My body and soul, and I shall sleep a space,
But my ever-waking part shall see that face,
Whose fear already shakes my every joint:
Then, as my soul to heaven, her first seat, takes flight,
And earth-born body in the earth shall dwell,
So, fall my sins, that all may have their right,
To where they're bred, and would press me, to hell.
Impute me righteous, thus purg'd of evil,
For thus I leave the world, the flesh, the devil.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Morning Has Broken

Mornings like this - crisp, cool, clear - deserve the elevated tranquility of sitting on a deck with a cup of coffee absorbing the grandeur of surrounding mountains.  Rockies…Smokies…doesn't much matter which.  Somehow that setting seems worthy…it complements the largeness of soul that comes when the senses are overwhelmed.   Is it possible to be in that place without knowing the majestic goodness of the One who created and sustains it moment by moment?  The same exhaustive heart and mind who conceived, brought forth, and upholds the tangible glory all around me, watches over me with care moment by moment.  And then I know...

It's going be OK.  It's all going to be OK.

Grati-Tuesday: WCA

It's Grati-Tuesday and today I am giving thanks for Westminster Christian Academy.  I never actually expected those words to come from my  mouth…but there they are.  And they are sincerely spoken. 

When my sons began attending there 6 years ago, it was against all of my "better judgement."  I bristled against the "lesser" education because it wasn't the rigorous, classical Christian approach I preferred.  I despised the excess wealth.  I scoffed at the reputation of a culture of drugs and promiscuity.  I didn't think it would be the undoing of my sons, but I certainly didn't think they would gain anything other than worldliness and cynicism by being there.  

My damn pride rears its head way too often...and it dies hard in this stubborn heart.  Either that, or I'm awfully fond of the taste of humble pie because I seem to find a way to eat it quite often.

The fact is, my Senior son, whom I admit has encountered all the things I feared, has been well-served at WCA.  Maybe not so much by the "institution" per se, but by individual teachers…3 in particular.  A 9th grade teacher who let Eric and a friend invade his daily lunch hour just to hang out with him, had a profound effect on decisions Eric has made throughout the years.  This year, his Worldviews and Biology teachers have helped him navigate the waters of doubt.  They not only let him, but encouraged him to ask hard questions.  They set opposing ideas in front of him and weren't afraid  to let him wrestle with truth…and with the God of truth.  

But it's not just about letting him think…and doubt…and question.  It is primarily about leading him away from unbelief toward belief.   Eric recently confessed that he had entered this year unsure of the existence of God…not even sure he wanted to believe he existed.  But through the words and deeds of these teachers, he heard the Gospel in a way that struck a chord in his heart and turned him from unbelief to belief.  

It goes to show me - once again - that the Lord's ways are not mine.  I was sure that my son's primary influence toward trusting in Christ would come through the home and through the church.  Well…I was wrong.  Again.  For whatever reason, the Spirit of God chose to open his eyes through teachers at a school where I was determined he didn't belong.  That's not to negate the impact that either home or church have had in his life, but the primary means of grace and enlightenment came from outside either of those.

All I can say is, I am humbled and I am truly grateful for servants of God like Dan Burke, Jason Wilkins, and Dr. Winchester, by whose faithful lives and service  the Spirit stirred up faith in my son's heart.  

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Easter Sermon: Pope Francis

The Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ begins with the journey of the women to the tomb at dawn on the day after the Sabbath.  They go to the tomb to honor the body of the Lord, but they find it open and empty.  A mighty angel says to them: "Do not be afraid!" (Mt 28:5) and orders them to be and tell the disciples: "He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee" (v.7).  The women quickly depart and on the way Jesus himself meets them and says: "Do not fear; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me" (v.10).

After the death of the Master, the disciples had scattered; their faith had been utterly shaken, everything seemed over, all their certainties had crumbled and their hopes had died.  But now that message of the women, incredible as it was, came to them like a ray of light in the dark.  The news spread: Jesus is risen as he said.  And then there was his command to go to Galilee; the women had heard it twice, first from the angel and then from Jesus himself: "Let them go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began!  To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called.  Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets.  He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt 4:18-22).

To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory.  To re-read everything - Jesus' preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal - to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.

For each of us, too, there is a "Galilee" at the origin of our journey with Jesus.  "To go to Galilee" means something beautiful.  It means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new life from the source of our faith and our Christian experience.  To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God's grace touched me at the start of the journey.  From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters.  That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.

In the life of every Christian after baptism, there is also a more existential "Galilee": the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission.  In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him.  It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.  

Today, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee?  Where is my Galilee?  Do I remember it?  Have i forgotten it?  Have I gone off on roads and paths which made em forget it?  Lord, help me.

The Gospel of Easter is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his resurrection.  This is not to go back in time; it is into a kind of nostalgia.  It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled int eh world and to bring that fire to all people…to the very ends of the earth.

--Pope Francis, Easter Homily 2014

Easter Sermon: Chrysostom

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let nyo one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and disco
vered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

--The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)

Friday, April 18, 2014


Thanks to Jon B. for this little gem. 

by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


"This is absurd - it's just a dog!"

"Just a dog?  JUST?  Porthos dreams of being a bear and  you want to dash those dreams by saying he's 'Just a dog'?  What a horrible, candle-snuffing thing to say.   

That's like saying, 'He can't climb that mountain - he's just a man.' or 'That's not a diamond - it's just a rock.' Just…"

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Business vs. Pleasure

I spend many of my days in an enclosed space reading paragraphs like this:

In consideration of the mutual promises and undertakings set forth herein, and of other good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, X and Second Party, each as a "Disclosing Party" and as a "Receiving Party," may, but without obligation to do so, disclose to the other and receive from the other technical and other proprietary information, such as, but not limited to, business plans, sales and marketing information and strategies, technical solutions to client requirements, trade secrets, system architectures, proposal preparation techniques and pricing policies, know-how, software, methodologies, processes, and financial information related to X opportunity to provide the customer with the best possible combination of performance, cost, and delivery.  

Ya-da Ya-da Ya-da…for several pages.

That makes days like today, spent in a wide open sunny space with words like these, that much more enjoyable:

The man in the pink shirt stopped outside his house.  Four steps forward and he could be out of the pouring Parisian rain, sheltered beneath his stone stoop.  Instead, he took one step back.  The wet paper grocery bag he carried was disintegrating in his hands.  His shirt was plaster-pinking his shoulders.  Miniature rivers burbled and swirled around the cobble beneath his feet.

The man's eyes slid up his front door, up the stone wall, up past the gargoyles spewing rainwater, and settled on an attic window built into the roof.

In front of the glass, a broad spiderweb was bouncing and shivering in the rain.  It hadn't been there when he'd left that morning.  The spider had done her job--just like the girl had promised.  Someone, something was inside his house.

Down one floor, a curtain moved.

For the past year, he'd been afraid of this moment.  And now that it had come, he was frozen, weakly staring at the danger.  

The man turned and tried to move causally up his street.  Ten feet.  Twenty.  Then he dropped his grocery bag in the gutter and he ran.

Behind him, he heard his front door open.

For the first time in four centuries, Juan Ponce de Leon thought he might die.

--The Drowned Vault, N.D. Wilson

Monday, April 7, 2014

Music Monday: Ordinary Time

The folk trio, Ordinary Time, led us in a hymn sing last night  as part of Covenant Church's 75 year celebration.  They also performed some of their own compositions drawn largely from the Psalms.    

This piece is based on a portion of Psalm 139.

Holiday in STL