Saturday, August 30, 2008

Same New World

My husband and I are back to Durham, NC after a summer in our hometown in northern Michigan. It seemed strange to unpack the car Sunday evening after three days on the road and then bike to seminary the next morning without the usual back-to-school preliminaries. No shopping for folders or pencils or sharp new crayons. No new haircuts or pictures taken. I wondered if I was supposed to get an updated student ID or what. (Apparently not.) It was as if I hadn't left, hadn't stopped making hourly trips to the library, snarfing lunch between classes and meetings, battling crowds at the e-print stations. Gone for three months, yet nothing has changed.

And meanwhile I'm back to attending morning prayer at the chapel in the divinity school. It's amusing and poignant to see all the first year students there, so hopeful about their spiritual journey in seminary and eager to attend everything, but who will slowly drift away from daily prayer before the end of the semester. Our robust group of 50-60 will shrink to 10 or less. But that doesn't change the liturgy, or the lectionary, which I suppose illuminates the wisdom of a structure that doesn't rely on the emotional energy of a critical mass. I remember one morning during exam week last year, when my husband and I were the only two people in the chapel, and then shuffling up the aisle came Stanley Hauerwas, world-renowned theologian. And it didn't matter what sort of personalities were or were not in the room. The litury--the prayed Word of God--remained the same.

And I suppose that if the three of us hadn't shown up, the flagstones of the floor would have--if not cried out--at least whispered the praises of the Lord.

And then when the flagstones are gone--indeed, when heaven and earth have passed away--God's word will still remain.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sunny Days

So much for my Summer Blog Challenge! I'm already nearly a month behind in posting something weekly--in part because we've had absolutely gorgeous weather for two weeks straight, and in part because I've dedicated my summer to writing other things. The main thing I've been working on is a book for parents on creating rites-of-passage for their adolescent daughters. My friend Teresa Crouse (who has a teenage daughter) and I have been piloting the material with a group of moms from her church--the dads have been involved, too. So I've been interviewing those moms over the course of the summer, and spending some time with the girls, which has been a delightful and enriching experience. We are super excited about this material, and can't wait to make it available to more people! I'll try to post more about it soon.

I've also been writing weekend features for a youth devotional journal called devo'zine. It's written by youth and by adults who care for youth, and comes out every other month. If you've never heard of it, check it out! I'm honored to write for this award-winning publication.

But of course, in two weeks my writing will revert to grad school fare (gripping, I assure you). Pray for me!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Fluffy Assasin

My godchildren, who live next door to us this summer, have a young cat named Boo. Picture a soft, pale-gold fluffball with golden eyes, twining around my legs while I'm trying to water the plants. When I ignore him, he rolls and stretches on his back, purring. Boo is so friendly, he once followed my husband and godson on a walk along the river, dashing ahead of them on the trail and then lying down with paws in the air, begging a tummy rub. He's also made numerous attempts to enter the house, slipping through opened windows or doors on a great explore. And if I weren't terribly allergic to cats, I'd be tempted to keep him.

Fluffy. Adorable.


First it was a dead mouse in the yard. Then it was a baby bird. Then another. Then two more mice in various stages of...well, I won't go into it. One afternoon I found a baby bird on the ground, and while I was trying to figure out what to do Boo suddenly appeared and pounced on it. I shrieked. I threated the cat. I ran for the shovel, so I could lift the unconscious bird out of Boo's reach. I hollered for my husband to help me. Shaking his head he said, "Sarah, he's an animal."

Of course, my husband still helped me. But his words sunk in. This fluffy, adorable little personality was not a person. He was a small creature whose primary instincts were to hunt other small creatures. Boo was not capable of looking at the baby bird and saying, "Ooo, isn't it so cute?" or, "It is my duty to protect such a vulnerable little thing." He would never be able to rationalize himself out of a kill by saying, "Look, dude, you're not even hungry." This is why God did not put cats in charge of the world.

Not that fallen humans are doing much better. If anything, our ability to rationalize is precisely why our behavior is so much more sinister. We rationalize ourselves into doing things we know we shouldn't do. If it were simply a matter of instinct, we'd be no more guilty than Boo. This is why we need Jesus. Not because we are naturally, instinctively inclined to selfishness at others' expense. But because we are deliberately, calculatingly so.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Happy Coffee

If you're anything like me, you are addicted to coffee but feel guilty about it--and not because of the addiction (!), but because you're supporting an industry that is unjust to third-world coffee farmers. Roughly every-other-month I stand helplessly in the coffee aisle of the local organic grocery store, feel vaguely outraged at the prices but knowing I need to do something to encourage sustainability. It's the usual stewardship conundrum: should I (a) be a good steward by saving money, or should I (b) be a good steward by paying a bit more to help the earth and those who farm it? Seeing as how I would probably spend the money I saved on "a" for something silly anyway (such as a mocha I don't need) I might as well choose "b" on behalf of creation, right? But somehow the wallet still hurts.

You can imagine my delight when I noticed a table in my church narthex featuring fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolate for sale. For $6 I was able to buy 12 oz. drip grind Equal Exchange coffee through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Coffee Project. This morning I am a very, very happy coffee drinker drinking very, very happy coffee. Churches of all denominations can participate in the project too. Interested? Click here to learn more:

The Summer Blog Challenge

My apologies to all of you who have visited this blog over the past few months, hoping for more thoughts on The Daily Grind. Alas, this past semester in graduate school co-opted every coherent thought in my brain, and every spare word that I put on paper went to completing assignments. In fact, by the end of finals I realized I had written as many words in that two week stretch as the total word count of my first book! (Okay, so my first book was rather slim, but still...)

Now, this summer I've arrived at a different problem. I have lots of devotional thoughts running through my mind, but every time I go to post them, I think, "Wait. Save that for the next book." Of course, I could still post them and then publish them, like that guy on (whose blog and book are amazing; I highly recommend both). So that's what I'm going to try, whether I end up publishing my thoughts or not. I've given myself the challenge of posting on this blog at least once a week till the end of August. We'll see how it goes!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Leap Year Devo

Earlier this week my husband pointed out that there's no entry for February 29 in The One Year Daily Grind. My apologies, all. Leap Year never occured to me as I was writing. Which puts you, the reader, in the trippy position of living a day without a devo, living a day that only shows up now and then in a given century, like the village of Brigadoon. (I wonder what it's like to have been born on Feb. 29th?) Of course, I'm sure there's plenty of other spiritual caffeine out there for you to read in the meantime, but in case you can't kick the Daily Grind habit, here's a Leap Year devo just for you.

The Poor Jesus Talked About
Luke 6:17-26

So I was skimming through a Christian magazine recently when an advertisement for a mission agency (to remain nameless) caught my attention. The picture shows a couple of brown kids playing in a slum, with the accompanying tagline: "They are the poor Jesus talked about. You are the church Jesus talked about." And then in smaller print, "The poorest of the poor probably don't live near your church..." Etc.

No big deal, right? It's the usual missionary appeal, one which would've fired me up back in my undergraduate days. We were to follow God's call and go out and change the world. No ordinary jobs for us. No mediocrity. We were cut out for missions, ministry, saving the lost. And if we couldn't do that right away--say, if our college loans were too high--we could always get a good job and support missions with our tithe. In fact, that was just as much a ministry as feeding the hungry ourselves, right?

Thirteen years later, on the downwardly-mobile track of communal living, in the ghetto of an American city, my perspective has shifted. First, on nearly every block of my neighborhood stands a church--generally a cinderblock building with no paid staff, but a church nonetheless. So apparently "poor" does not equal "unsaved" (nor does "brown" equal unsaved, but that's another topic for another devo). And second, in reading Luke's version of the Beatitudes--the version that's not often quoted in churches--we find this awkward line, "But woe to you who are rich" (v. 24). And I think he means it. Woe, that is. Whoa. So apparently "rich" does not equal "saved." And third, I'm not here to save anyone. That job, as one of my favorite professors says, has already been taken. My role is not to "be Christ" in this place. Jesus is already here, in the "least of these" (Matthew 25:40). My purpose is to stick around long enough to meet him.

So, let's go back to the advertisement.

What if Jesus is already in the picture with the two brown children playing in the slum?

What if they are the church Jesus talked about?

And if they are still the poor Jesus talked about--and if they don't live anywhere near our churches--doesn't that make us the...