175 years

This weekend I had the opportunity of going to Kirtland, Ohio, to join in the 175th celebration of the Kirtland Temple. Because of my husband’s (volunteer) position as the site coordinator for Heritage Plaza in Independence, Missouri, we were invited to come up for a day of classes on Saturday, preceding the actual service of celebration.

What a great weekend! Tiring….but well worth going up for!

There was lots of history shared in the classes I attended, taught by David Howlett. I learned much more than I could have ever imagined about the context of the building…the people who impacted and influenced the early members of the church…what was going on in society then…the tremendous changes that were taking place in religion…

We had the chance to make some new connections…a special one with a man known as “Mr. Kirtland”–who can tell you just about anything you might want to know at the drop of a hat. And we connected with other friends as well in a variety of ways…from spending the nights with them to sharing in services with them.

One of those connections gave us the opportunity of attending the service held by the Latter Day Saints early Sunday morning. We had to get up at 5:30 to get there…but we were able to hear absolutely gorgeous music directed by the son of a good friend of ours. What a blessing to be able to share with him.

And then we shared in the service held by the Community of Christ–the activity we originally went up for. Those who put the service together caught up the spirit of the service 175 years ago…and challenged us to let it move us forward into the 21st century. Singing, drama, preaching…and sharing with good friends!

So…175 years… I have trouble wrapping my mind around the incredible changes that have occurred during that time.

  • We’ve gone from horse and buggy to putting a man on the moon–and sending rockets further into space…
  • from hoping that a handwritten letter to family will actually get to its intended recipient to being able to communicate almost instantaneously with friends around the world…
  • from rarely traveling more than just a few miles from our birthplace to becoming members of a global community–and seeing nothing unusual in hopping a plane to take off to someplace thousands of miles away…
  • from comparatively small buildings to incredibly tall skyscrapers…

The list could go on and on.

And yet there is much that is similar.

  • A need to connect with family and friends…
  • Needing a connection with the Divine–even as we do it in a multiplicity of ways…
  • Creation of places that are seen as sacred space…

As we shared this weekend in activities sponsored by two faith traditions that began together but have since diverged in significant ways, we could have focused on those things that separate us. Yet instead we looked for ways to find connections.

And maybe that is one of the key lessons to take away from this experience. While many things have changed in the past 175 years–and will undoubtedly change beyond anything I can imagine in the next 175 years!–we need connections. Connections with each other…connections with the Divine…

We are not isolated individuals; we are brothers and sisters…and even in the midst of family squabbles, somehow we have to learn to value those connections. As the poet John Donne said so many years ago:

No man is an
island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as
well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in
mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it
tolls for thee.

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Customer service

Yesterday morning my (almost) 90-year-old mother had a couple of doctor appointments I needed to take her to. There was about an hour between them, so we stopped at a fast-food restaurant for breakfast.

Talk about a challenge! 

She was not at all certain what she wanted to order. She kept looking at the list of possibilities…asked me what was good…and still couldn’t make a decision. Fortunately the restaurant was not busy. One individual came in behind us, and I suggested he go ahead and order, since we were still making up our minds.

It could very easily have been an aggravating situation for the young man waiting to take our order. But instead, he was a great example of customer service! He kept smiling, treated us with respect (and that doesn’t always happen to 90-year-old women who have mild dementia)…and when we finally placed our order, he encouraged us to find seats and he would bring it out to us.

We did–and when he brought the tray, he again greeted us warmly, asking if there was anything else we needed.

At a time–and in an area–where customer service often is more obvious by its lack, this young man was a great example of what it could (and should) be. Before we left, I saw his supervisor and expressed my appreciation, because far too often we only share complaints. She looked a little surprised–but thanked me for sharing.

Maybe if we made more of a point of acknowledging the good/positive things that happen to us, we’d find more of them…..you suppose?

We were strangers too…

Yesterday I attended the noon Lent experience that our denomination is sponsoring. Each day of the week has a different focus, and Thursdays deal with peace and justice–and yesterday I listened to a friend speak about immigration. He has a perspective I don’t–his mother was Mexican, his father German, and he was raised in a border town.

I was struck by a couple of things specifically as he shared.

First was the challenge to treat the sojourner–the alien, the immigrant–as we would have wished to be treated if/when we were in their position. And while I may not have been an immigrant, immigration is in my DNA as a member of my faith tradition. The Bible is full of stories of immigrants seeking a home–and reminding them (us?) that when they became the “natives” they (we) need to remember that once upon a time we were immigrants as well.

When we don’t remember that, we find it easy to dehumanize those who are “the other.” We don’t see them as people…we call them “wetbacks,” “illegals”… We talk about microchipping them…or even hunting them down as we do feral pigs.

But they are people–sons and daughters of God as I am, and therefore my brothers and sisters.

 The other challenge had to do with how our policies treat people. One of the worst things about slavery was the way it separated families…and in many ways, that is happening again with our immigration policies. Parents may be deported–sometimes to different countries, depending on their nationality–and their children may lose one parent. Or we force families with native-born children to choose between taking advantage of the benefits of United States citizenship or living with their parents. Or–if children were brought here by their parents as infants, growing up in the belief that they are U.S. citizens–we force them to return to a “homeland” that was never their home and of which they have no memory.

I do not know what the answer is to the immigration challenges we face. I see–and understand–the need to obey our laws. But I also sympathize with those who are seeking a way to support their families. And yet… How can I ignore the challenge that is part of my faith DNA?

“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 23:9

Sounds of silence

This was one of my favorite songs when I was in high school. I still like it–still think it has a message we need to hear.

But the title has struck me in a couple of different ways the last few days (and maybe also part of the message).

I was at the doctor’s office yesterday, while my husband had a colonoscopy. While I was sitting in the waiting room for about an hour, I listened–several times–to the same messages (health-related) on the TV that was turned on. Granted, it wasn’t loud, except for the commercials…but I was sick and tired of hearing the messages after just an hour. I can’t imagine having to hear them all day. They were good messages, and I suppose they helped keep people’s minds occupied…but I had some work to do and reading I wanted to do as well–and it was hard to ignore that constant commentary going on.

So often in those situations we talk without speaking–at least anything of consequence. We hear, but we don’t listen. We make noise to drown out the sounds of silence.

Why are we so afraid of silence sometimes? Because it makes us listen to ourselves? to God? Because it makes us see our lack of connectedness?

There are other times, though, when I think it’s appropriate to fear silence–and that’s the other thing I’ve been thinking about. As I’ve watched the news reports from Japan, one comment that’s been repeated fairly often by the reporters is that in some of the places of the worst devastation, what strikes them is the silence.  No birds or other animal life…no human life….just the sounds of silence that cannot be broken because of the depths of the devastation.

And yet in some ways, the silence is being broken. Survivors are huddling together, sharing their stories, sharing what little they have, helping each other in whatever ways they can. And I think they understand what Simon and Garfunkel meant:

Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you

We can find it very easy to cocoon ourselves in times of distress–to silence the voices that would bring healing. But we are part of a worldwide community, whether we like it or not. And we have to reach out both in words and in deeds to “disturb the sound of silence” that would keep us separated from each other.

Earthquakes and tsunamis

It seems ironic that just as the season of Lent gets started–a time when we may be spiritually journeying through some dark places on the way to (and through) the cross–the earth physically jolted us into dark places.

I live in an area that is prone to tornadoes, and I would much rather deal with them than earthquakes. There is nowhere to run in an earthquake!

I’ve seen earthquakes portrayed in movies…have imagined them in my mind…have even seen pictures of the devastation caused by recent earthquakes. I’ve heard about tsunamis–my first memory of reading about them was in James Michener’s Hawaii, but I couldn’t imagine what they were really like until pictures of the tsunami that hit Indonesia a few years ago.

But even all that didn’t prepare me for the pictures I saw when I turned on the TV this morning to catch a bit of news before going to work.

To see huge buildings sway…and collapse….and to watch cars being tossed about as though a 2- or 3-year old was throwing them about wildly…to see large boats madly bobbing about on waves that were driving them into bridges…and to hear reports that the tsunami waves were strong enough to reverse the course of a river was bad enough.

But then to watch–and see it replayed–the river of mud, water, and debris that was the tsunami moving onshore was almost like watching some amorphous evil force oozing onland destructively.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be there in the middle of it…wondering how many friends and family have survived…wondering what the future holds…

post-Ash Wednesday musings

Last night we held our Ash Wednesday service. It’s one of the “special” (i.e., non-Sunday) services that we hold each year and that I am responsible for. The format stays pretty much the same, although some things do shift a little.

It seems that every year, this day–and this service–fall during a time frame when I have what seem like a million other things that have to be done…and that someone wants “yesterday.” So I always feel a little stressed and frazzled going into it.

I am glad that the format is basically the same, but that doesn’t mean that I can go on auto-pilot, because what I share needs to be made fresh and appropriate to each year. Sometimes I have a fair amount of time to plan that out–sometimes the world rushes in on me, and I find myself wondering “What on earth am I going to share this year??”

That was where I was last night. That…and wondering what size our congregation would be. It was a little different congregation this year. We had about 40 people present–with more children than we’ve had in the past. And that made a difference–a difference in a positive way. It made me stop and think about our companionship with each other on this Lent journey.

  • One young boy came up to me and wanted to know if he could help. I had just given out the last scripture reading, but we were able to shift things around so that he could share by reading the first scripture of the evening.
  • Another little girl came up when we were doing the ashes and wanted to know what that was. I explained briefly and asked her if she wanted a smudge on her forehead. She nodded and moved her bangs so I could place the ashes on her forehead.
  • We make a “spiritual travel packet”–a little cloth-wrapped package of four herbs and spices (anise, mustard seed, sage, and cloves) that remind us of various parts of Jesus’ journey. One little girl who was trying to make hers was obviously going to drop everything because her hand just wasn’t big enough to hold it–and so it became necessary for me to stop what I was doing and help her…to become her companion at the time.
  • My 13-year-old grandson became the companion of a couple of the little ones there–shepherding them through the process and the activities.

We shared some of what we wanted to release this year for Lent. Not “give up”…but release to make room for God to do “a new thing” in our lives. There was pain in some of the sharing–not that people shared details, but in their one- or two-word statements, pain was obvious in their voices and their body language.

Yet as we worshiped together, we found ourselves drawn together into a closer community. We found support…companionship.

The journey through Lent is not always easy. Sometimes we are called into places and situations we would rather avoid. But in our sharing last night on Ash Wednesday, we committed to God and to each other that we would go where we are led…that we would support each other…that we would be companions on this journey that leads us to the cross–and through the cross to the Resurrection.

Porch vs. deck

We are in the process of moving to a house with a front porch that you can actually sit on in the summer–the kind of front porch I remember from my childhood. It’s the kind of porch where my girlfriend and I spent hours reading comic books, playing games, calling out to neighbors as they walked by.

Then we moved…and our front porch was just big enough for us to stand on in order to unlock the front door.

Instead, we had a deck off the back door. It was where my dad BBQed in summer, where we sat with friends and visited in warmer weather. But we no longer saw neighbors walking by.

We lost something then–an easy sense of neighborhood closeness. We were still able to develop that, because we lived on a cul-de-sac, and the neighbors intentionally gathered together periodically for neighborhood picnics and potlucks.

But for those who weren’t lucky enough to live in that kind of neighborhood, the easy sense of community gradually began to disappear.

The neighborhood we’re moving to is in an older part of our town. There are some houses with problems, but as I look around, many of them have front porches. I also see many people passing by our house as they jog or walk their dogs.

And I am looking forward to sitting on the front porch when the weather gets warmer…saying “hi” to folks who pass by. Maybe we need to build more houses with front porches so it’s not as easy to insulate ourselves from each other…just a thought.