Category Archives: Education

Ants

Go to the ant, you lazybones, consider its ways and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest. How long will you lie there, O lazybones? When will you rise from sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior. Proverbs 6:6-11 NRSV

 

There’s a big difference between being a good worker and a workaholic, and that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle these days. Either work all the time to further a career and amass wealth or be a shiftless weight on society. If a few biblical words are thrown into the mix to encourage hard work to avoid the fires of eternal damnation, this either/or reality has a lot more power. Suddenly, God’s love and personal worth are tied to unceasing work.

There’s a space somewhere between spending every waking minute working or thinking about work and spending all day sitting on the couch in a bathrobe binge watching movies and playing online Scrabble. The mind, heart, and soul need free time and the chance to work hard. After all, who says ants don’t stop long enough to see the beauty of the world on their way to work?

Personification

[Wisdom] will save you from the way of evil, from those who speak perversely, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil; those whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.

You will be saved from the loose woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words, who forsakes the partner of her youth and forgets her sacred covenant; for her way leads down to death, and her paths to the shades; those who go to her never come back, nor do they regain the paths of life.

Therefore walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just. For the upright will abide in the land, and the innocent will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.  Proverbs 2:12-22, NRSV

[NRSV, The Discipleship Study Bible, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008]

In a footnote on this passage, Kathleen Farmer makes the case that the path leading to wrongdoing is personified as “the loose woman,” the counterpart to the path of Wisdom also personified as a woman. The path to life and the path to death are both depicted as beautiful women who do their best to influence the hearts and minds of young men. Choosing one of these women is really choosing a lifestyle, a direction for life; it’s temptation in a larger sense, not just in an immediate wow-is-she-good-looking sense.

Things being personified as women is not a new thing: ships, airplanes, cars, countries, and bodies of water are often “shes,” and the allure they hold is sensual and strong. The Muses are the various Art pursuits embodied as women and portrayed on countless buildings, in untold paintings, and dancing through both poetry and prose. Ideals as well as objects are often identified as gendered, and very often that gender is female. Things that attract and lure, fostering or jeopardizing life, have feminine pronouns; things that rule (e.g. Zeus) or hold direct power (Lord, King, etc) are very often personified as male. Why is that?

There are university departments dedicated to this question, and in the past few decades gender has become a major factor in public dialogue and in political life. Some feel the whole thing has been blown out of proportion, some feel that there isn’t nearly enough attention paid to it. Strong emotions are involved either way. One thing is very clear: the language we use and the images we associate with them are powerful. Deep levels are involved, some running below conscious thought.

Wisdom as a virtuous woman and Folly as a loose one may be appealing or offensive personifications, but I do think they get at an important truth: there’s a lot more to choosing a life path than reasoned assent. Where the feet go commits body as well as mind and soul. Choose well.

 

Consequences

WISDOM SPEAKS TO THOSE WHO REFUSE HER COUNSEL:

“Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord.

They would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies.

For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them: But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.” Proverbs 1:29-33

[I can’t tell you what translation of scripture this is, only that I found it in the desk drawer of my guest room at Princeton Seminary. It’s from a pocket size New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs provided by the Gideon’s. Alongside the English version were two others: Spanish and Korean. Sitting in one of the world’s best centers for theological education, whose staff and former staff have provided translations for the RSV and NRSV Bibles, it was a welcome surprise to find the same little scripture book here that can be found in hotel drawers throughout the world – free offerings with no strings and no sermon attached.]

Wisdom speaks as a woman in Proverbs, offering advice and pointing the way to a better life for all who desire it. But that better life isn’t one at the expense of others, and it doesn’t promise fame or immense wealth. There is a cost to it, just as there is a cost to every life choice. Perhaps that’s the take-away from Proverbs: choices have consequences, for the one who does the choosing and the ones who are affected by the choices.

In a surface reading of this book, it looks like Wisdom offers safety and security to those who follow her – those who accept that wisdom begins with choosing God first (the fear of the Lord). But wise men and women who choose God first don’t seem to have lives of security and safety any more than the ones who make a different choice. In fact, it seems like they are more likely to suffer or die young: Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, MLK, Mother Theresa, and Rosa Parks to name a few. So what does it mean when Wisdom says that those who follow her will “dwell safely and will be secure, without fear of evil?” I don’t think there’s an answer to this question that can be typed out or memorized. The best I can articulate is something like this:

Choosing God first is choosing to live in the largest reality that this universe has to offer. It is seeing everyone and everything as God-related and God-created. Nothing can ever remove us from the embrace of God – even those things that harm the body and shorten life. We may lose our way, but we are never lost to God.

A Waste of Precious Time

Yesterday was Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Spirit alive and moving in this world. I arrived early to set up for the high school class I lead, only to find that a fundraising car wash and the need for extra acolytes had reduced my class to just me. Several hours of preparation and a twenty mile drive for nothing more than a few minutes in an empty room and a return trip home. My thought on the drive home: what a waste of time.

And I was right, it was a waste of time: just in a way I didn’t appreciate until I was more than halfway home. I was so focused on the time I spent prepping for something that didn’t happen that I disregarded the celebration of the Spirit who always moves in unexpected and mysterious ways. I ignored the grace of so many youth and adults scrubbing cars to fund the mission trip to Puerto Rico. While I wasn’t rude, I certainly wasn’t gracious about the whole thing.

In truth, preparation for learning in faith is never a waste of time; I had the chance to pray for my class and learn something new. It’s a testament to my own lack of perspective that I forgot this. The real waste of time: I had the chance to see the Spirit moving in surprising and wonderful ways and I turned a blind eye to it. Not a waste of my precious time, but a rejection of the gift of sacred time the Spirit offered me.

O Lord, open my eyes to see your grace and my heart to love the gifts you give. In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.

Reaping What Was Sown

The vegetables keep coming – kale, tomatillos, squash, onions, ground cherries, flowers, and a handful of herbs. My part in this bounty is limited to wise investment: I signed up for this CSA and wrote a check a few months back. That investment, along with the investments of quite a few others, has been returned to me in healthy, tasty, locally grown food. I figured the weekly bounty would end in September, so the last few weeks of produce are a wonderful, welcome surprise. I am thankful for the greens on my table and the ones in my freezer that will make their appearance in the months ahead. Karen’s labor in her garden has created an amazing, edible bounty.

With the cold weather comes the ingathering. I’ll spend some time canning applesauce and some cranberry orange sauce. I’ll pull in the rosemary and sage, hanging them to dry. They will season stuffing and soups, add zing to chicken, and give their flavor to dipping oils.

If I were a romantic, I might stop at these happy, homey words. These blessings are real, after all, and what was sown has become a bountiful harvest. But that’s not all that’s been sown, and not all that will be harvested in due time. I’ve planted emotional and spiritual seeds in my own life and in the life of others; others have done the same. I don’t think it’s possible to walk this earth without scattering seeds. Such seeds bear fruit and what was put out comes back. The question is: what harvest will come of the seeds I’ve sown?

I’ll spend this harvest time taking a good, long look. Who knows what I might find?

I invite you to share your harvest stories as well.

Lord, bless the work of my hands and heart. May my life bear good fruit. Amen.

Diana Krall, Count Your Blessings, Christmas Songs, Verve Records, 2005

For the Living

The white colonial on the corner of Park and Main has changed hands two or three times since I moved to Wareham. With successive owners, the clapboard has been repaired and repainted. The parking area is resurfaced and apartment doors replaced. The old stone wall remains the same, but the weeds are pulled out of it regularly. It’s a nice old house, but the really amazing thing is the yard.

Grass grows in the front, and lovely plantings welcome visitors up the walk. There’s an antique bicycle with petunias growing from its basket, bright flowering vines, birdbaths and feeders. From the sidewalk I can see a child’s climbing set, vegetable beds, and an arched walkway that must look amazing from many of the windows. There’s room in the yard to play croquet or badminton; there are also places to read, cook out, or grow pumpkins. Whoever planned and created this outdoor space made a place that serves everyone living there or visiting – and it’s beautiful to boot.

I’m sure if I took a close enough look I could find flaws – weeds, bare patches, damp corners. But that’s true of everything that lives and breathes. Beauty isn’t the same thing as perfection, especially where people and animals live, work, and play. The beauty of this yard is intended for the living of life, not for observation. I say a prayer of thanks when I walk by, for the creator of this place and the Creator of all places.

Stony the Path

There’s a turn-of-the-century Cape on the corner of Gibbs and Bodfish. New people moved in a couple of years back, writing the latest chapter of the house’s biography. They’ve cleared out the scrubby bushes, repainted the trim, and laid new garden beds to the left of the driveway. It’s one of my favorite homes in town, and I enjoy seeing how it changes with the seasons – Spring crocuses, Summer hydrangea and tomatoes, Autumn pumpkins and trick-or-treat candy, Winter wreath and twinkling lights. But today, something I’d never seen before lay before me: a stone walkway connecting the front steps to the sidewalk.

The stones in the path are old, irregular in shape, varied in color and kind. They are large, well worn, and have been submerged in grass for at least as long as I’ve been living here. Someone stripped away the grass and dirt to reveal what was hidden underneath – an old path that was lost has been reborn, restoring a way for neighbors to reach the house and owners to visit neighbors.

I wonder how the owners found it. Did they see a stone or two in the grass and realize they were visible parts of a much larger but hidden design? Did they have old photos of the house that showed the walkway? Short of knocking on the door and asking, I’ll never know. I do know that it took a lot of work to restore that walkway, and an appreciation of the work that went in to laying it in the first place.

I’m writing curriculum this week for a Sunday morning high school class, delving into sacred stories, creeds, and prayers. Seeing that beautiful, old walkway rediscovered and restored gave me a new way of seeing my own work. The history, theology, prayer practices, and stories of faith provide a solid path from our faith home to the faith homes of our neighbors. It’s an ancient road, and I had no hand in its creation. But it is my privilege to do my part to uncover it, clearing the path that connects neighbor to neighbor.

For more in this series, check out “Retracing My Steps.”

Yes

Raise your right hand.

Will you faithfully execute the duties of your office to the best of your abilities and in accordance with the laws of this municipality, the state of Massachusetts, and the laws of the land?

If so, say yes.

I’ve said yes three times now. It’s the swearing in part of joining a municipal board – in my case, the Library Board of Trustees. Everyone who takes a public office makes the same promise, even if the words vary from place to place. At reappointment or reelection, these words are said again, and the promise to serve with honesty and integrity renewed.

Some people think it’s a little silly to stand at the town clerk’s counter, right hand raised, and make a vow of service. What could possibly tempt unethical behavior or criminal activity in a three year stint on a public library board? There’s no way to take over the world from such a place, and there’s no one offering big bucks for voting a particular way on library policy. I’m not one of those people.

I know the power of words and I respect the power of promises made. Saying something out loud in front of witnesses has an effect. Will it stop someone bent on personal gain at any cost? Probably not. But it will help the average well-meaning citizen let go of personal opinions and preferred activities if better ways are offered. It’s an ego check – a promise to uphold the good of the many over getting one’s own way.

Vows like this one are plumb lines, keeping the foundations of town departments solid and strong. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone who swore the oath kept the oath…

Lord, help me keep the promises I’ve made. Guide me in my actions, that good many come of them. Amen.

Given and Given Back

Accept these prayers and praises, Father, through Jesus Christ our great High Priest, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, your Church gives honor, glory, and worship from generation to generation. AMEN.

When my boys were young, even before they could walk, we played a simple game. I would offer a wooden block or soft toy to them. They would take it, hold it for a moment, smile, and then stretch out their hands to offer it back. I would take the toy, smile and say thank you, and begin the game again. After the first couple of handovers, it was hard to tell which part they enjoyed more – the giving or the receiving. The toy itself didn’t really matter that much; it was the accepting and offering that brought them joy.

Sometimes when I pray, it feels like I’m an infant playing this game. I’m given a day and the miracles it holds. I hold it for a moment, then hand it back to the Giver. It’s a delightful game, at least for me and I assume for God – why else would God play? But there is one big difference: whatever I hand over to God in prayer comes back in a different form. The love of God transforms it into something more precious than whatever it was I handed over. Or perhaps it’s only when it’s given back that I see it for what it truly is. Either way, I am made new by what I’ve given and then been given back.

I think that’s one way to understand Church at prayer: a group of God’s beloved receiving Jesus, holding him close, then giving him back.

And this meal we share on Sundays? What a wonderful way to recognize in Jesus the giver, take the gift of life, and offer it back out of love and delight.

Why Worship?

A Holy Week offering from Bill Albritton

During this week, I ponder why we worship and what my faith is really about. In confirmation class, we are focusing on the two main creeds we use in our worship service. One, the Nicene Creed, is communal in that we use the plural We. The other is personal, using I as in I believe in God… What do I mean when I make such a declaration?

Saying We believe in God or I believe in God says we have a relationship with God. In other words, God’s existence doesn’t depend on my belief that God exists. It’s a whole different statement than I believe God exists.

I find this very meaningful as I prepare for Resurrection Sunday. In class, we ask ourselves: why worship? One of the answers stared us in the face – a chapter title from J. Gamber’s My Faith, My Life: A Teen’s guide to the Episcopal Church. Chapter Five is Worship: Responding to God’s Blessings. We are giving our hearts to God and declaring our thankfulness for our relationship with the most gracious One. And, as in many relationships, it grows stronger when we spend time together. Maybe that’s as good an answer as any.