Time to Get Treatment

What do we do when the decision is made, when the uncertainty is over, when our hopes and dreams or our greatest fears seem realized? Almost three years ago, when I was dealing with the unanticipated death of a dear friend who was also a co-worker, when changes in our music offerings, our congregation’s celebration of Christmas, had to be altered from “normal,” I got a phone message from my brother-in-law. He doesn’t call to chat, so I knew it was something important. He wanted me to know that the day before, as they were putting up the Christmas tree, my sister broke down, and admitted she was afraid she was dying. After a trip to the emergency room, a diagnosis of metastasized breast cancer was made. Her worst fears were realized.
 
My nephew flew home from Saudi Arabia, and his brother was already “on duty.” She expected to have the doctors say there was nothing they could do for her. Instead, they announced a course of treatment that had a good possibility of success in containing, not curing, the disease. And her family insisted that she move forward with radiation and chemotherapy. She was fortunate to have a treatment center within blocks of her home, with a support team for every aspect of life, and with access to trials and new treatments. She discovered that, disease or not, she was blessed. During this time, she’s had the opportunity to visit her family in Saudi Arabia, enjoy Christmas in Austria and Germany, spend much time at their beach condo, and make trips to Arizona to be with our brother when his wife died unexpectedly. Now we’re looking forward to my nephew’s marriage next summer. The treatments are not easy or pleasant, but each time she receives a check-up with no evidence of the disease, their value increases.
 
As a result of a global pandemic, a pandemic of violence that seems to be sweeping our country, and the anticipated change of leadership in our country, many of us may wish to refuse treatment and let the disease run its course. Like a dog severely wounded in an auto accident, we may want to bite the ones who would come to our rescue. Angry words have severed families and friends, and we don’t have the will or energy to forgive, let alone do the hard work of reconciliation. Even if we think we’ve “won,” we are afraid that those with whom we disagree will continue to attack with name-calling, threats or fear-mongering comments. Yet our hearts ache with the loss of loved ones, and our better selves long to reunite in many ways. We are fractured, broken, and pain and fear are our constant companions. But there are treatments available – treatments of compassion, hope, rebuilt trust and common causes.
It will be some time, depending upon our willingness to undergo treatment, before we know whether the diseases that are destroying our peace are being contained, and even longer before we know if they are being cured. There will be unpleasant side effects as we negotiate actions to address the issues that threaten our well-being, such as economic and educational inequalities, racism and other prejudices, climate safety and access to health care. Sometimes we will achieve our goals, but most of the time we will fall short, able to make only slight improvements in our condition. But if we continue the treatments, the possibilities of containment and, ultimately, cure, will increase. We may discover that we are not as divided as we seem to be, since we all want a world that provides peace and possibilities for us and for our children. Our goals are the same. Health, prosperity, contentment, peace can be ours. We will be blessed, if we are willing to do the work of reconciliation and progress to which we are called.
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


Cleanings up Messes

As I was leaving the recreation center after my morning swim, I saw two disposable face masks on the sidewalk. Because there was a trash can near by, I suspect that the masks were thrown there to send a message: you can make me wear a mask in the rec center, but you can’t make me wear one now! (I hope I’m wrong, and that the masks were simply the result of persons who throw all kinds of trash on the ground. That’s a message, too.) I thought about picking up the masks, but decided that wouldn’t be the safest thing to do. I also thought about taking a picture of the masks, and posting it on Facebook with a snarky comment about “those kind of people.” Instead, I drove home and here I am, still pondering how to respond.
 
I admit I don’t understand the defiance about mask wearing. It seems a sensible and simple thing to do in a time when so many people are infected with a virus that we are still learning how to fight. As I entered a facility with a sign that said, “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” plus one that said “Face coverings required,” I was grateful for both! No one is likely to die from people who enter businesses without shirts and shoes (other than the person who steps on a nail or other dangerous object), but it makes for a pleasanter environment for all of us if clothing is not optional. Though we may not know exactly how effective face coverings are, the videos showing droplets and aerosol spewing through the spotlight are enough to convince me it matters! A minor inconvenience to protect myself and others is a small price to pay to avoid a potentially deadly or permanently debilitating disease. So, I start from a different point than many who are insisting upon the freedom to infect and be infected.
 
On the other hand, I must admit I sometimes have defiant responses to other situations. I have been known to have more than the maximum number of items at the checkout station in a grocery store. (Don’t three identical items count as “one” in those lines?) I am not patient at stop lights when the person in front of me could easily make a right turn on red and doesn’t. (Honk! Honk!) When there is a long line, and one person stops to have a conversation with the clerk, my body language expresses my disapproval just as much as the tossed masks. And let’s not talk about the semis on the highway who pull into my lane just yards in front of me, when there is no traffic behind me whatsoever! And I wonder if my defiance leaves a mark just as easily read as the masks on the sidewalk.
 
No matter what the results of today’s elections are, no matter when the results are final, some people are already planning defiant actions in response. Many businesses are concerned about looting, and some individuals are fearful of responses that threaten their safety. Undoubtedly, some people are hoping to gloat and continue to call others derogatory names if their candidates or positions win. Masks. Thrown defiantly on sidewalks, sidewalks that lead to a public facility designed and operated with public funds to encourage the health and enjoyment of all citizens. We may receive the messages proclaimed in such ways, but those messages damage the community in which we live.
I’m sorry, now, that I didn’t pick up those masks this morning. I think it would have been worth the minimal risk to myself to clean up the statement someone else unintentionally or intentionally made. And while I’m cleaning up messes made by defiance, I might as well clean up those I make. Perhaps, after I’ve cleaned up after myself, I’ll realize it’s better not to make the mess in the first place.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


Tough Times Never Last

I pass a sign on my way home from work that states, “Tough times never last. Tough people always do.” It’s a well-meaning sign, hoping to offer encouragement to those who pass by. There’s little doubt that most people would say we are living in tough times. The pandemic we thought was hitting a plateau has risen up with a vengeance. The weather in the northern part of our country is turning colder, signaling the end to outdoor gatherings, activities, and patio dining options. The news media is full of reports of violence, unrest, rude behaviors, and general unpleasantness. People are being labeled “Karen’s,” “snowflakes,” “antifa,” and “libtards.” In addition, many people are dealing with stress from changes to work routines, unemployment, child care, illnesses and grief from the loss of family and friends. Mental health concerns, child abuse and domestic violence are on the rise.
 
On the other hand, many people are encouraging and engaging in acts of kindness; stories of people helping people are also in the daily news stream. Positive thoughts, beautiful outdoor photos, pictures of loving families and friends, and enchanting music, are out there as well. Those who have secure incomes are donating to organizations that supply basic services, support the arts and educational opportunities. Many are “paying it forward” in awesome ways. These behaviors are not generally thought of as the acts or attitudes of tough people. Of the nine definitions offered by the on-line Merriam Webster dictionary, only one comes close to describing what the sign might have been suggesting: “capable of enduring strain, hardship, or severe labor.” The rest of the definitions for tough use words such as “stubborn,” “unruly,” “severity,” “hard to influence,” “marked by absence of softness or sentimentality.”
 
I am often amazed by what is destroyed in a hard wind storm, and what survives. Trees with branches strong enough to climb break, while daffodils and tulips bounce back from being bent over. Light-weight chairs may have to be retrieved from the neighbors’ yards, but are none the worse for their travel. Maybe it’s not the tough people who survive, but those who are flexible or resilient. On too many occasions when I have been “tough,” as in stubborn or hard to influence, I’ve created tough times rather than survived them. What could have been resolved through conversation or compromise has become a battle of wills that causes harm not easily forgotten. When I’ve insisted on doing things “my way,” only to discover that the plan doesn’t work, I’ve had to start over, apologize, or give up on an opportunity. But when I’ve been open to possibilities, relied upon the wisdom of others, or been able to zig when I thought I should zag, the results have been surprisingly good.
 
These are tough times, and we pray that they do not last. But so long as they do, I think I’ll try to be flexible and resilient, rather than tough. We’ll see how that works out.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


What a Cute, Colorful Bag

Because the pool at which I swim regularly is only a few minutes from my home, I am a minimalist in my “every day carry.” In warm enough weather, I wear my suit with a cover-up and flip flops, and take a towel, swim cap, goggles and a comb. I go home to shower and prepare for the day. When swimming became part of my regular routine, I carried those few items in a plastic single use grocery bag. It worked well, and cost nothing. And if the bag got holes, or the handles tore, I could easily replace it. The bag lived in my car, so that I didn’t risk forgetting it when setting out at 6:15 a.m. The only concern I had was that someone might think the bag was trash, and throw it away!
 
The food pantry at our congregation accumulated plastic bags at an alarming rate – too many to use, too many to store. Some of the craftier volunteers looked for ways to “recycle” plastic bags, and discovered they could be turned into useful items, such as slippers, backpacks, water bottle holders, and waterproof mats for homeless people sleeping outdoors. The work required cutting the bags into strips, which took time to smooth, fold and cut. After the strips were prepared, they had to be tied together to create “plarn” for the crafters. Only then were they ready to crochet the projects.
When I mentioned what I was using to carry my pool gear, one of the crafters said, “I’ll make a bag for you.” She wanted to know if the bag needed to be large enough to hold my towel (no), along with whatever else I carried. Then, in addition to all the steps above (smooth, fold, cut, tie, and crochet), she searched for the colors she wanted to use to create a pattern. That’s not as easy as one might think, because the majority of single use bags are tan and white – boring! At last all the pieces came together – and I received a pool bag that is one of a kind! Very few people have actually commented on its uniqueness, but quite a few have looked at that bag with . . . amazement, admiration, curiosity, or some unknown emotion. It’s not quite as startling as Joseph’s coat of many colors, but it comes close! That is the bag that now resides in my car, waiting for me each morning as I head for the pool.
 
My bag of multiple colors is probably not envied by many people. Some may wonder why I can’t find something better to carry. But to me, that bag represents love. Love for creation, that seeks ways to prevent plastic from cluttering landfills and affecting the health of the earth. Love for me, that turned tedious tasks into a gift that fulfills a need. Love for all the people who donated those bags rather than throwing them away, and who would (if they knew) be delighted that they helped create something of value. As long as I swim, I will carry that bag as a sign of my love – for creation, for the woman who created it, for the people who provided the materials. Considering what we know about the life of single-use plastic bags, this treasure will undoubtedly outlast me. And I will make sure that whoever inherits it knows it most definitely isn’t trash.
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


An Examination of our Responses

A twelve year old boy in Colorado was suspended from virtual school, and police were sent to his home, after the teacher saw him move a toy gun from one side of his computer to the other during a virtual art class. The suspension was imposed for violating “‘district or building policies or procedures’ and was guilty of ‘behavior on or off school property which is detrimental to the welfare, safety, or morals of other pupils or school personnel.’” His future may be adversely affected by this incident. Though his suspension has ended, his parents are seeking other educational options for their son, who has been traumatized by the incident. No one is collecting money for this boy’s education or treatment. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, a 17 year old boy was arrested and charged with possession of a dangerous weapon, crossing state lines with said weapon, and, sadly, with multiple homicide charges. A Christian crowd funding site has raised more than $275,000 for his defense. These are but two of the more prominent examples of the pandemic of violence that is attacking our children and our communities. The list could go on. A mother called 911 seeking help for her autistic child, who was shot by police officers and is in serious condition. A twenty-year old woman died in crossfire while stopped at a traffic light in Philadelphia, with as many as 19 bullet holes in her car. Just as COVID19 seems to take the lives of older citizens, violence is claiming children and youth at an alarming pace. While some seem to be related to hate groups or clashes of protestors, some may be crime-related, some may be the result of mental illnesses, and some may be inappropriate use of force by police, the result is the same. Lives that held promise are damaged or lost.
 
While access to guns and other weapons is an important component of violent behavior, limiting access will not solve the problem. So long as we feel it is our right and all right to curse or threaten anyone who disagrees with us, so long as we feel free to turn opinions into factual data, so long as we bully one another with words and deeds, our children will learn violence is an acceptable way to resolve problems and get what we want. Political signs are being snatched from yards and destroyed. On-line posts are hijacked and turned into rants and threats against people we do not know and are unlikely to meet, causing harm not only to those who are attacked, but to the attackers as well.
 
For the sake of those for whom we care, we wear masks to limit the spread of the corona virus. For the sake of those for whom we care, we reduce violent responses, eliminate hate speech and rants. We refuse to bully or be bullied by others, and we respect those with whom we are not of one mind. Little or no progress will be made in stemming the pandemic of violence through changing laws, training officials in ways to interact with possible suspects, bystanders and persons suffering from mental illness, without a change in values and behavior by the community. If we all do our part, we will end the COVID19 pandemic. If we all do our part, we will end the pandemic of violence. We can do this – if we do it together. Wear a mask. Be kind. Seek justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


Looking Backwards

Many years from now, when the world looks back on 2020, will they wonder what all the fuss was about? Will they think of us the way we think of people who believed the world was flat, and if a ship sailed too far, it would slip off the earth? How crazy was Galileo, to think that the earth orbited the sun, when we could all see that it was the sun that moved! Penicillin is a mold – a cause, not a cure – for illness. The Clan of the Cave Bears by Jean Auel, makes a strong case for the survival of early ancestors of today’s humans, and the extinction of Neanderthals because one could combine information and create new patterns, where the other could only remember and repeat what had been.
 
Orville and Wilbur Wright were not the first to attempt enging powered heavier-than-air flight, nor were they successful immediately. It took years of engineering, tinkering and trying to achieve that first flight, and even more effort before it became truly workable. [Yes, I know that there are some who insist that another person beat them to it, but the Wrights were the first to publicize what they had done. Besides, I’m from Dayton, Ohio!] Thank God others continued to develop planes and systems to operate them which has changed our world significantly. Thank God for those who continue to improve the safety and reliability of planes that are essential to our economy, our safety, and our personal lives.
Almost every human endeavor develops over time. When flaws become apparent, solutions are sought to improve performance. When additional information becomes available because of verified results, we affirm what is working. When something becomes obsolete due to advances or changes in our world, we replace it. A few people hold onto their records and players, but most of us listen to digital music on cell phones that are not connected to the wall by wires and screws. I haven’t replaced my Presto pressure cooker with an instant pot, but the day will probably come when I can no longer buy replacement rings to maintain the seal. Are there any among us who haven’t opted for a “new, improved” product at one time or another?
 
So why, when dealing with information about how to protect one another from transmission of the coronavirus, are we insisting that masks aren’t effective because at the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t have enough information on how the virus spread? Now that we have ample evidence that it is airborne, that it does not live indefinitely on hard surfaces, but needs a living host, and that transmission occurs most often through sustained interaction with an infected person, why are we still fussing about maintaining physical distance and wearing masks that limit the particles we breathe in and out? As for those who cite their faith in God as a reason not to be compliant with safety regulations, remember that Jesus, when tempted by Satan, who asked him to throw himself off the tower and let God’s angels save him, replied, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
 
How I hope that we are not latter-day Neanderthals, doomed to become extinct because we cannot or will not learn to adapt when new information becomes available. How I hope that there are generations to follow us who will say, “What were they thinking??” How I hope that we will accept the wisdom that comes from additional information and experience, that we will care for and about one another, and that we will not put God to the test. For God will pass the test, but we may not.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


Our New Normal

One of the things that is most difficult about our “new normal” since COVID19 is our ability to know what time it is. I am writing this on a Sunday morning. I know it’s Sunday, because I received invitations to worship at Memorial United Methodist Church and Fairview United Methodist Church. [And I did. Worship, that is. But it seemed rather odd to watch myself leading worship at Memorial UMC while sitting in my kitchen. The service was recorded Thursday, which felt like Sunday – not really. I had to be ready, but there was no congregational gathering, and we recorded in pieces, whenever the participants were able to arrive.] Other people are having similar difficulties, looking at a computer or calendar to verify what day of the week, what date it is. It doesn’t help that in 2020, maybe because of it being a leap year, holidays seem to be earlier or later than expected. For example, it feels like this should be Labor Day weekend, but it isn’t. Tomorrow is August 31, and Labor Day isn’t until September 7. School starts – and closures – virtually or in person – are all over the calendar, and shifting so fast we’re having trouble keeping up.
 
Our confusion is about the chronological divisions we create to keep our lives on schedule. The divisions are logical, based upon scientific observation of light/dark patterns and seasonal variations. Never mind that climate change is at work affecting our seasonal assumptions, and that human decisions have created daylight savings time (as if time can be “saved” by changing its designation). We have created “work weeks” of eight hours for five days, but hardly anyone works that way any more. Other countries prefer four day work weeks of ten hours per day, with three days off to regenerate. Some professions require twelve hour shifts, scattered in weird patterns that fluctuate every week. Remote working has eliminated lengthy commutes for some people, which has encouraged them to spread work hours throughout a time frame that is convenient for their work and their personal life. This season of confusion may lead to new ways of thinking about time becoming permanently different or at least more flexible.
 
In ancient Greece, there was another concept of time, Kairos, meaning the right, critical or opportune moment. In archery, Kairos referred to the moment when an arrow could be fired with sufficient force to penetrate a target. In weaving, Kairos was the moment when the shuttle could be passed through the threads on the loom. Perhaps while our Chronos time is confused, we might consider how this might become a Kairos moment. On a personal level, what have we delayed doing “for lack of time” that might create personal satisfaction? On a communal level, what issues might we address that have been put on a back burner for a more favorable time? Is this time when we are dealing with a global pandemic, economic shifts with no clear concept of who will be the “winners,” when racism, unequal women’s rights and other -isms are rearing ugly heads in communities and institutions a Kairos moment? Could it be this is our opportunity to re-evaluate, reconsider, renew our commitment to a new way of living together? Might we show our strength and courage by taking this Kairos moment and creating a monument to justice and mercy as our individual and collective response to the chaos and confusion of our time?
 
Sy Miller and Jill Jackson wrote a song in 1987 that is a pledge of allegiance to a way of living that will lead to a new world. Their composition begins and ends with the words, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Now is the time to renew that pledge, to take it seriously, to live it openly, so that we might honestly say, “With God our Creator, children all are we. Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.” Kairos time. The opportune moment. Let it be so.
 
Stay safe and be blessed.
Pastor Barbara


Selfies

I’m not a big fan of selfies, which probably puts me in a minority, based upon what I observe on the internet. Maybe part of the problem is that I’ve reached a stage of life when close-ups are too revealing. These days I prefer mood lighting in the bathroom, not wanting too much information! Having said that, a selfie with people who are important to me, or an occasion to be remembered, might be okay. Even then, I’d be inclined to hand the camera/phone to a bystander to get a better perspective. But a selfie of me eating dinner, reading a book, or watching television – nope.
 
I wonder if selfies are a modern day version of the magic mirror into which the evil queen gazed each day, asking “Who’s the fairest of them all?” When the mirror named Snow White as fairest of all, mayhem ensued. Are selfies the way in which we reassure ourselves that we are okay, that we have a place or status in the world? And when selfies are posted on the internet, is it a way to receive feedback from others that we are “fairest of them all”?
 
In this time when we are keeping our physical distance from one another, and electronic communications are the primary source of interaction, we may all find ourselves in need of reassurance that we are okay. Zoom meetings are helpful for “taking care of business,” but too often, technical glitches or the presence of too many people trying to talk at once may limit the personal connection. Facetime and phone calls with another person or family are a better option for connecting, especially when the distances are significant. (My nephew and family live in Saudi Arabia, which makes video calls essential to watch the children grow “in wisdom, stature and in favor with God and humans.”) Small, distanced gatherings on porches or in safe spaces are life-giving and spirit-lifting. And I am truly grateful for Facebook posts that let me know what friends are doing, and how their lives are being enriched.
 
But there is a way, a very low-tech way, that I’ve rediscovered is a real treasure. My mother and grandmother exchanged letters frequently during their lives. Each letter was a serial version of life. A plain tablet of paper resided on the table, and they would add to it the events of the day, which might include the menu for dinner, who stopped by (yes, people did that!) and what chores were done. When the letter reached several pages, it would be placed in the mail, received and read several days later, and savored until the next installment arrived. How I wish we had saved those letters, but they weren’t written with any sense that they were more than a report of “being okay.” As we said farewell to a congregation after serving there for 16 years, many cards and notes were offered to us. We received additional cards and notes for my birthday and our anniversary, and they are a treasure that I will keep – for now, if not forever. My granddaughters made my birthday cards, wishing me a happy birthday and a good vacation (with them), and I will definitely keep the one signed “Sincerely, Isabelle.” Though the messages are slower to arrive, the written word lasts longer than the phone call, text or Zoom agenda. Reading them – over and over – reminds me that we truly know one another. And as a way to reassure myself that I’m “okay,” I think they are way better than a selfie.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


Milestones

Milestones – markers of significant points of development – come often and easily in our early years. First smile, first laugh, first time to crawl, first time to stand, first word, first step, mark the early months of an infant’s development. A little later comes the first day of school, the first baby tooth falls out, and we read our first book all by ourselves. Driving and dating follow before we realize it – at least for those who are watching (Not necessarily for those who are anxiously awaiting the “privileges” of adulthood.)! In time, the milestones change from anticipated achievements into anniversaries of past events, both happy and sad. Birthdays become “just another day,” even when the age includes a “0” marking a new decade. Sometimes, the milestones seem more like millstones, weighing us down with regrets that another year has passed, and we have not yet achieved what we hoped.
 
As I observed my 72nd birthday last week, and look forward to observing our 50th wedding anniversary this week, I am reminded that I have now outlived my mother by more than three years. I remember others, whose marriages were cut short by death or divorce. I am grateful for the milestones that remind me of the gifts received through years of experiences. The faults I hoped to eliminate are still with me, but they don’t seem to interfere as much these days. Not finishing a book that isn’t as good as I hoped doesn’t make me feel guilty. Taking a nap in the afternoon rather than taking on a chore isn’t that bad. Sometimes, I can even overlook the faults of my spouse (not often!), recognizing that his faults are no more likely to be changed than mine.
 
What is true in our individual lives is also true of our common experiences. We remember the tragedies and experiences that have made us who we are as a nation. We benefit from the ways in which we have created safety nets for troubled times. Though many people are struggling right now, during the great depression, there were no unemployment benefits and there was no social security. The affordable care act, Medicare and Medicaid have allowed more people to receive medical attention and services. Voting rights acts and other non-discrimination policies have removed some barriers from our common life. But like each of us, these programs have faults and failures.
 
There is more work to be done to protect all the vulnerable people in our world. The death of George Floyd and other people of color at the hands of law enforcement has stirred our nation in a way that reminds us of the 1960’s Civil Rights era. We must admit that changing laws is not enough to protect people from racism that is too often built into or ignored in our systems. Even as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, we must admit that prejudice against women continues to blight our nation. Too many people still receive inadequate health care resources. Milestones are important, but millstones are still wearing down the bodies, minds and spirits of those who are “less than.” It makes little difference to anyone but me if I take naps, do fewer chores, and am less critical of myself. But it makes a difference to all of us if we fail to do what must be done to lift the burdens of our brothers and sisters. The millstones of -isms that destroy human dignity must be removed from our institutions, our governments, our communities, our world. As we celebrate milestones, either personal or communal, let’s also remember the work yet to be done to create the beloved community God intends us to be.
 
Stay safe and be blessed.
Pastor Barbara


Mini-Vans and Other “Stuff”

It was a blustery cold January day, too cold to do anything but stay indoors, when I watched Lee Iacocca on the Phil Donahue show. He was introducing a brand new vehicle, a mini-van that was marketed as the Plymouth Voyager and the Dodge Caravan. I announced, “I want one of those – as soon as possible!” As the mother of three sons and the owner of a picture framing business, I saw that this particular vehicle was made for me. It was far more functional than the small station wagon I was driving when I had to carry children and supplies at the same time. I did get a Voyager shortly after that, and replaced it with newer versions through the years. At one point, parking lots were full of mini-vans of all brands and colors. It was a brilliant design that met the needs of many families and individuals.
 
We still see mini-vans in parking lots, but their popularity has been replaced by compact crossover SUVs such as the CR-V, Rav4, Escape and others. When I go to the rec center in the morning, the parking lot is full of these vehicles, with a few pick-up trucks, larger SUV’s and just a few sedans. Aging bodies with tricky knees find it easier to get in and out of higher vehicles, the driver’s viewpoint is higher than low riders, and they get better mileage than the mini-vans did – with the ability to carry most of what we need to carry. While some people still buy vehicles for image purposes, most of us consider what we need to do most of the time, and buy a vehicle that allows us to do that with ease and affordability.
Sometimes, fads and savvy advertising seduce us into buying things that don’t really meet our needs or make life easier. Who among us hasn’t been tempted to buy a George Foreman grill, a rice cooker, a panini press, a hot dog cooker, an instant pot, a ninja processor, or an air fryer? I considered buying a counter top oven/toaster, since there are only two of us much of the time, but realized I didn’t want to give up the counter space it would occupy. I’m intrigued by the companies that guarantee their organic cotton sheets will ensure that we’ll get better rest and sleep every night once we buy a $240.00 set. If it were only so simple!
 
If the things that tempt us were limited to gadgets, tools, vehicles, and other “stuff,” the only things we’re likely to lose are money, storage space and simplicity. But sometimes, we are tempted by ideas or opportunities that seem right, but often turn into life-denying, life-destroying attitudes and actions. Scammers regularly find persons willing to exchange personal identification for the promise of money that never arrives. “Scientific information” assures us that masks are/aren’t effective in limiting the spread of viruses, or that cures for what ails us are readily available that in earlier days would have been labeled “snake oil.” (Masks and shields have been protecting health care workers, carpenters, factory workers and people in other countries for years. Why would they suddenly stop being effective?) Even more dangerous are ideas that excuse corrupt behavior, reject decency and use scare tactics to make us think those who are different from us in one way or another are deadly enemies. Too often, we give less thought to the effect of these ideas than we do to the kind of vehicle we will drive, or the ways in which we will carry out every day tasks.
 
I’m glad that I knew what kind of vehicle I needed, and hope that it will last through the rest of my driving career. I’m glad I didn’t buy that countertop oven, and that I rid myself of some other “must have” items that we seldom, if ever, used. But I’m even more glad when I recognize that I’ve considered carefully before buying into an idea that is dangerous, destructive or life denying. I pray that I will always take time to consider before buying.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


The Only Thing that Never Changes

Yesterday, the person who had agreed to be “the voice of the congregation” in these times when we cannot all sing, announced that she didn’t know the first two hymns. One was written in 1982 and published in a worship song book in 2000. The other was a hymn by Charles Wesley, published in 1762, sung to a tune that dates back to 1551, adapted in 1836! In a Law and Order rerun, Lennie Briscoe, portrayed by Jerry Orbach, was upset about police using computers, saying his only experience with a computer was losing 17 straight games of Solitaire. I’m not sure when the episode first appeared, but Orbach died in December of 2004. Another person announced to me that “there is just too much change,” and shook his head in despair. I get it. We don’t like change. We especially don’t like change that requires us to change.
I’m old enough to remember when the first pizza chain opened near us. I remember my dad asking someone “What’s pizza? What do you do with it?” The response came back, “You eat it to drink beer with it!” Pizza is now a favorite food of almost everyone, including toddlers. No one would ask “What’s pizza?” I also remember the first time I bravely asked someone to help me set up an email account and show me how to use it. (Now, I understand that having an AOL address is a sign that I’m “old.”) Change that seemed risky, daring, bold at the time, but now seems embarrassingly outdated. I voted by absentee ballot for the first time in the primaries in April. Not because I intended to, but because the in-person election was cancelled at the last minute. I’ve always said I enjoyed voting in person, and that’s why I didn’t vote early or by absentee ballot. But after seeing how efficiently and safely the system operated, I won’t be “going to the polls” any more. I also learned how to use a service to send money over the internet to people, so I won’t be writing checks to my son who never manages to cash them!
 
The only thing that doesn’t change is change. Change is with us, whether we like it or not, whether we recognize it or not, whether we think it makes things better or worse. Our bodies are constantly creating new cells and sloughing off old ones. Parts of our bodies age and wear out, no matter how much we might lengthen or delay the process. The natural world is in constant flux, with plants growing and dying, oceans moving and changing coastlines, tides and conditions. Even those things that seem unchanging are changing, just at a rate too slowly for us to detect. We have very little control over the process of change, and that is what often makes it so fearful. It’s not the change, but that we can’t decide what the change will be.
 
In a way, that can be a gift to us. We don’t have to worry about choosing the wrong change. We do have some control over the ways in which we respond to change. I’m glad we learned to eat pizza all those years ago, instead of saying “we won’t try anything new.” I couldn’t do my work, or enjoy many of my friendships, were it not for electronic communications and computers that once seemed terrifying. I’m not so fond of the creaky joints in my body, but I have learned I can relieve some of the pain by exercise and an occasional medication. And I can take action and stances to change attitudes, programs and plans that are dangerous or destructive. (Wear a mask and maintain a safe distance!) As a process philosopher and theologian, I’ve learned to embrace the concept of “becoming” rather than “being.” We – and all that we know and experience – are works in progress. We need not be “stuck” in any situation, attitude, belief, or assumption. Becoming allows us to fine tune our responses to change and become more attuned to life-giving values. “Changing our minds” is not something of which to be ashamed, but an achievement. We are becoming, not being, and for that we may be most grateful. Bring on the change. We’re made for it.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


Longing for the Past

When we were growing up, we had several major forms of entertainment: taking a ride, watching the planes land and take off, and going shopping. “Get in the car,” were magic words, inviting us to adventures with amazing – and not so amazing – destinations. We might visit friends, which people did back in the day, no invitation required. Sometimes, we ended up at a geographical or historical site, since Dad was a geography and geology teacher. Sometimes there was no destination at all, just a trip through farm land or around the area. If we were lucky, the ride might include an ice cream cone or fries and a Coke. One of our favorite destinations was Great Aunt Cela’s house. She would greet us with, “I wish you’d told me you were coming. I don’t have a thing to eat in the house!” That meant we were in for a real treat –
Kewpie hamburgers and fries, plus a ride on the turntable which allowed us to enter and exit from the drive-in!
 
Watching planes land and take off at the airport was okay, especially if we took some snacks and drinks. A gallon thermos filled with an icy cold mixture of lemonade and orange juice was our favorite, and popcorn or cheese crackers were our favorite snacks. Long after my father’s death, a cousin sent me a letter Dad had written to my cousin’s father while serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII. In the letter, Dad commented on how much he loved flying, and that he hoped he would be able to continue after he left the service. The responsibilities of a family made that impossible for him, but it explains why he enjoyed watching the planes so much. It was as close as he could get to the planes that gave him such joy.
 
When we went shopping, we seldom came home with a car full of packages. If we knew were going to buy clothing, that wasn’t shopping. That was a buying trip. Shopping was looking at what was available, walking the mall and exploring shops full of things we didn’t need and couldn’t afford, and, once in a while, splurging on a small item that caught our fancy. If we went to a discount store, we might pick up some necessary items, but we bought almost nothing on a whim. Every purchase was carefully planned. Shopping might lead to buying, but not until we had serious conversations about the necessity of any item.
 
Our children and grandchildren look at us as if we’re from another planet when we share these activities with them. Car trips are for destinations. Shopping is to buy whatever is wanted or needed. As for watching planes land and take off, they wouldn’t even consider it – unless it’s from the airport gate and they have a ticket to get on the plane. But in this pandemic time, when shopping is reserved for purchasing necessities, and visiting family and friends is challenging, and when airlines are laying off employees and reducing flights, I’m grateful for the memories of simpler pleasures. To ride with no destination, to be surprised by what we saw or where we ended up, to share a simple treat, to shop without adding to our possessions, to dream about where a plane might be coming from or going to, to see it break the bounds of gravity, or come gently back to earth. Maybe we aren’t from a different planet, but we are from a different time. A time when life was simpler, when possessions didn’t define us, where conversations mattered, and joy came more easily. Maybe every generation feels this longing for a past that probably wasn’t as idyllic as we remember it being. But this is my time to remember, to give thanks, and to tell the stories that still bring joy. And when my children and grandchildren reach the age of longing for their past, I pray that their stories will be rich and full of life and hope.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


Waiting for a Sign

During my twenty years as a picture framer, I saw a lot of art. Most of it was brought in by customers who had a story to tell about the piece they were framing. Other was art we chose to display on the walls, for sale, but also to show our picture framing skills. A customer once asked me if I didn’t want to take everything home with me. No. I didn’t. But some pieces attracted me in such a way that I did, indeed, take them home. The newly painted walls of my office are still empty. Concrete block walls can’t be attacked with a brad and a picture hook. They require a drill and screw for the heavy pieces, and Command hooks or some other system for the lighter weight pieces. Two black and white pictures of Mary await hanging. One is a rather fierce depiction that shows Mary’s heart being pierced by swords, a reference to Simeon’s prediction at Jesus’ dedication (Luke 2:35). The other is “Our Lady of Medjugorje,” a radiant Mary ascending into heaven, who appeared in a vision to six teenagers in Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1981.
 
Many days, the two pictures reflect the highs and lows in life. Mary’s son would suffer, and so would she. Almost every life has its suffering moments on behalf of those whom we love. Diagnoses of cancer, death after a long illness, a sudden, unexplained disease that rapidly takes a young person from us, a suicide that was totally unanticipated, an accident, aim the swords directly into our hearts. We are pierced, unsure if we will survive the pain, sometimes unsure if we want to survive. The other Mary, who calmly looks down with benevolence, seems far less human, far more remote. And yet, at Medjugorge and in many other places throughout the world, Our Lady has been a source of comfort, advice and assurance for people in need. Her appearances are often to those who live in remote areas, people who are poor or less educated, or others who are often ignored or abused by the systems of both church and state. There is Mary, doing what she can to offer hope and peace to those who see her. Looking at that picture, I see Mary’s commitment to the people for whom her son suffered. (One of my favorite books about Mary is Our Lady of the Lost and Found: A Novel of Mary, Faith, and Friendship by Diane Schoemperlen, in which Mary stops in for a vacation from her exhausting work of caring for people!)
 
Perhaps my favorite picture waiting to be hung in my office is not that of Mary. Although it could be. A copy of an ink and watercolor by Brian Andreas (Story People: Art for Real People) depicting a multi-colored, rather kooky looking woman, is surrounded by these words. “I used to wait for a sign, she said, before I did anything. Then one night I had a dream & an angel in black tights came to me & said, You can start any time now & then I said is this a sign? & the angel started laughing & I woke up. Now, I think the whole word is filled with signs, but if there’s no laughter, I know they’re not for me.” It seems to me that Mary – in whatever way she is depicted – would appreciate that angel in black tights. I do, and I hope you will, too.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


Writing History

Along with many others, I watched the newly released filmed version of Hamilton, the smash Broadway hit written by Lin Manuel Miranda. As my old ears worked hard to keep up with the rapid rap lyrics, I realized how much of America’s history had slipped from my mind. With apologies to my social studies teachers (John Berk, Terry Lee, and Michael Barnhart), I may not have paid as much attention in their classes as might have been wise. (I did get good grades, but time has erased much of the information.) It’s possible I would have a hard time passing the test that new citizens from other countries are required to take. For sure, I would have to do some serious reviewing. Some critics question the accuracy of the history behind Hamilton, which is based upon a book by Ron Chernow. History is, as we are constantly discovering, a slippery subject which is almost impossible to pin down with any accuracy.
 
World history, as taught in the 1960’s, was really European-American history, with a smattering of Asian history (Marco Polo, and British colonialism), a bit of South or Central American and Canadian history when it affected the United States, and nothing about Africa, unless it was a war fought by European nations against “savages.” American history ignored the roles of all but a few notable women, said little or nothing about the Trail of Tears or the realities of slavery, and minimized or belittled the contributions of various immigrant groups, such as the Irish, Chinese, and eastern European groups. Hidden Figures, a movie based upon a non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly, tells the story of three black women mathematicians who were instrumental in the success of the early days of NASA. We do not have to go more than a few years back to realize that history as often presented is not universal, but reflects the perspective of the collector. History, so it is said, is written by the winners, or the dominant members of a particular culture.
 
We are discovering that what we thought we knew, even if we’ve forgotten much of it, was not the whole story. Intentionally or unintentionally, events and individuals were ignored or omitted to create the story we wanted to tell. (Yes, we do this in our own personal histories as well, seldom admitting to the embarrassing stories of our youth, or rephrasing our experiences based upon our current situations.) Much of today’s unrest about statues, flags, icons and names, is not about revising history, but adding the stories that have seldom been told. The history we teach can be more inclusive if we add the stories of women, black soldiers who fought in U.S. wars, and others whose contributions have remained unknown. Some of the stories may lead to regret for the ways in which people have been treated, perhaps even in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. Certainly, most of us will say, at one point or another, “I never knew.” As we add to our history, as we admit the results of our mistakes or lack of information, we may discover a richer heritage than we could have imagined. Our country may indeed come together in new ways as we share stories of hope, honor, and commitment. Instead of out-shouting one another, we will listen and learn. And if we do so with integrity, we will rise up, together, and no one will need to sing, “I’m not throwing away my shot.”
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


Trash or Treasure

As I unpack and sort boxes of books for the first time in many years, it feels as though I am on a treasure hunt. The books I use on a regular basis are safely stowed in my desk, the last box packed and the first opened. What is in the other boxes is an accumulation of books acquired for seminary classes, special interests, and general information that seemed interesting or useful. I’m discovering many things that still look interesting or useful, but the insides remain a mystery to me. I haven’t taken the time to open these treasures, and had forgotten I even had them. The tasks of life, and maybe a bit of procrastination, have kept me from doing what I intended to do.
 
Many years ago, someone gave my dad a disc with the word “tuit” printed on it (as in “when I get a round “tuit”). It acted as a reminder that we don’t always live up to our intentions. When my mother died, we discovered many unused possessions, which she intended to use “some day.” (She was from a generation when it was considered essential to have a new nightgown and underwear in case one had to go to the hospital!) Seldom was there an occasion special enough to warrant using the “best” china or the silverplate flatware. (Besides, they were used so seldom that it would have required polishing.) As for the beautiful crystal, that never happened, since something could be broken in the using or the washing. One congregation had lovely pastel tablecloths, but continued to set the tables for events with old, dingy plastic lace tablecloths. When asked why, they said that the pastel tablecloths were donated by “Vangie,” and, since she was now dead, she couldn’t give permission for them to be used!
 
Now I find myself wondering what else I have been hoarding “just in case” or “for a special occasion” that could have been used to make an occasion special, or to share a treasure that is tarnishing in a drawer. When our boys were young, meals were often a hurried affair, with minimal attention to detail. One day, the boys came home and found the table set and asked, “Are Grandma and Grandpa coming for dinner?” They had learned to read the cues that a set table meant guests, not needed for the every day life of our family. On that particular occasion, we weren’t having guests, but it certainly made me question our patterns of living!
 
I suspect that every one of us, and every community to which we belong, has some hoarding habits. We’re waiting for “Vangie” to tell us it’s all right to use the good tablecloths. We haven’t been give a round TUIT. We’re not sure if this occasion is worth putting forth the effort to polish the silver and use the good dishes. We’re anxious that we might need whatever we have in the future, more than we need it now. Our hoarding may be sending a message to those who are watching and reading the signs. A message that the ordinary is “good enough” for them. A message that “we don’t have time for you.” A message that “a future possibility is more important than the present moment or need.” A message of “scarcity” rather than a message of generosity and abundance.
 
As much as possible, I am determined to open the treasures I’ve collected and share them with the people I meet every day. I’m going to set the table and use the good china and crystal, even if it gets chipped. I’m going to practice abundance and generosity rather than scarcity. I’m going to give up hoarding in favor of sharing. And I believe, if I am able to do that, there will be more than enough for everyone to experience the treasures I’ve received, not as personal possessions, but as opportunities to share life and love. What an amazing world we could create if we all do the same.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara


The Making of a Pool Rat

Growing up, we were pool rats in the summer. My mother grew up on the banks of the Allegheny River, so spent part of every day (except Sunday) in the river. As soon as a public pool was available in our town, we were there – sometimes twice a day, cooling off in the evening when there was no such thing as air conditioning! I took a swimming class to satisfy a physical education requirement in college, taught a couple of beginner classes, and swam with the synchronized swimming club. Then came jobs, children and responsibilities that limited my pool time.

About twelve years ago, I accepted an invitation from a friend to begin swimming again for exercise and strengthening muscles. My first day at the pool was torture! I wasn’t sure I could swim one length without stopping. But Judy made sure to introduce me to all the regular swimmers, who encouraged me to keep trying. Over time, I built up strength and endurance, but there were still many days when I would have preferred to stay in bed. There’s no better accountability group than (mostly) old people, many of whom bore the scars of operations, who are willing to get up and out in the dark and cold of winter mornings to be at the pool by 6:30 a.m. If I missed too often, they would be asking where I was. When I was tempted to roll over and go back to sleep, I would feel ashamed that they were determined to stay healthy and keep moving, and I wasn’t. This week, after a months-long layoff due to the corona virus pandemic, the pool reopened for limited lap swimming. Once again, I’m aching from the laps I’m determined to do. Even though this is a different pool, I am still lifted up by the people who were so encouraging to me many years ago.

Being accountable to one another is a powerful motivator. Whether it’s swimming or some other form of exercise, an opportunity to learn a new skill, the decision to be more attentive to Bible or other study, all goes better when we are accountable to someone. We all do better with a cheering section, even if it is only one voice. (Accountability, by the way, is not the same as nagging someone to do something they are not yet ready to do. Like dieting.) Often, accountability works both ways. At the same time we don’t want to disappoint our cheering section, they don’t want to disappoint us by not showing up. Strangers become friends, friends may become confidants and sources of wisdom and reassurance. Relationships are built that bond us beyond our shared activity. What works for exercise, diet, or learning also works in our faith life. Let us be encouragers of one another, not nagging about what we “should” do, but applauding the steps we make on the journey of life. We, and the world, will benefit from relationships of accountability and love.

(By the way, I made it to the pool five days this week, for a total of 2.2 miles, thanks to my accountability friends.)

Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara

 
 


Invisible Signs

My husband’s grandmother inherited a cottage at Lakeside, Ohio from her aunt and uncle. Lakeside is a Chautauqua community owned by the United Methodist Church. Each summer, there is a season of cultural, educational and religious programming, with opportunities for recreation and retreat. For the rest of the year, Lakeside is inhabited by a few year-round residents and hardy cottage owners who don’t mind being without heat, other than from a fireplace or oil-burning stove. Grandma Margaret rented the cottage out during the summer, but spent much of the spring and fall seasons there. Though the cottage was an attractive two-story Victorian home on the outside, the inside was filled with uncomfortable antique furniture, rather primitive kitchen facilities, and a bathroom with an old fashioned tub (plus a toilet!). Throughout the house, for the benefit of the summer renters, were notes: don’t cut anything on the linoleum counter; turn off lights; make sure the toilet isn’t running; etc. etc. etc. Every room had its warnings of what was unacceptable behavior. I often wondered if anyone came back for a second year.
 
What are the signs – visible and invisible – that warn people we are more interested in rules than hospitality? When a committee was giving input on a school design for the neighborhood, some people wanted to be sure there were basketball hoops for the children and youth. Another group insisted that would attract problems and fights. Besides, the baskets and hoops would be destroyed in no time. When the young people in the church neighborhood play in the parking lot, I’m glad. That means they are not playing in the narrow street with cars parked on both sides, where children and balls are invisible. Others insist they throw trash around and create problems. (I never saw that happen.) If we put up a sign that said, “No skateboarding or bike riding allowed,” I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t stop young people from skateboarding and bike riding. But it would send a message that young people aren’t welcome here. [We do have signs in the parking lot that limit parking, but they are consistently ignored by neighbors who have no garages or driveways, by those who have extra guests, and by construction workers who meet in the area to form their crews. We only take action against abandoned cars that have four flat tires, or are leaking fluid!]
 
Invisible signs are harder to read, but far more damaging. Many years ago, we attended a church that had been recommended to us. We took our two year old son into worship, sat in the back, and made it through the service. At the conclusion of the service, someone was quick to welcome us – and let us know that there was a toddler room for children during the service. In fact, we later learned that there were Sunday School classes for children of all ages during worship, so they would not disturb the adults. The sign on the cooler announced that the water inside was limited to volunteers, not guests. Didn’t I read somewhere that Jesus promised anyone who gave a cup of water to a thirsty little one would receive a reward? Crossed arms, a frown, a comment that suggests “you’re too young” or “you’re too old” are invisible signs that we learn to read, even when it hurts. Let’s begin to think about the signs we post, both visible and invisible. Let’s remember the signs that have told us we were not welcome. And then, let’s change the signs to reflect the hospitality we all need, the hospitality we all receive, from Jesus Christ.
 
Stay safe and be blessed,
Pastor Barbara