A lake, a wetland, and our soul journeys

Just looking at it, you’d find it rather odd to be called a boathouse. This time of year mostly green leaves and grasses hide the small, shallow waterways winding through this patch of land.

There's a boathouse there because once upon a time it was a lake. 

R.J. and Katharine Reynolds were building a model country home. It was mostly Katharine’s project, seeing as how R.J. was running Reynolds Tobacco Company at the time. Down the hill from the main house several smaller streams fed into a larger one. The land between them was dredged to form Lake Katharine. The boathouse was built on its banks.

As generations passed the family gave the estate to the university next door, and dredging the lake ceased to be a concern. The slow-moving water left silt and sand behind, and over time the lake became a wetland and the trees and grasses returned.

One morning recently I sat on a bench by the boathouse and thought about the transformation of this patch of land. The first...

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Sifting, mixing and the blessings we carry

Graced with an unexpectedly free hour, I decided to bake cookies.

Because, you know... it's apparently what we do in a pandemic.

I bypassed the bakers' blogs online and pulled out my mother's church cookbook. Its pages are soft from wear, some of them a bit stained. Lots of the recipes call for Crisco. One of them helpfully shared where to find a certain ingredient, located on Aisle 5 at Mt Tabor Food Market.

That made me smile remembering a time when store layout was consistent enough to print it in a book and remembering a market that's been gone for decades.

I happened upon a recipe for ginger snaps. I'd never made ginger snaps before, but have indeed eaten them on more than one occasion. So I made them.

The task refreshed my soul. I enjoy puttering about the kitchen, and I certainly enjoy eating fresh, homemade ginger snaps, but more than that nurtured my soul.

As I sifted flour and spices, I turned the handle of my grandmother's sifter (the same sifter in the picture.) By the...

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Challenging times

(Note: I shared this with the subscribers on my email list, but wanted to share it with you as well.)

As some have observed on social media, who thought it was a good idea to revisit 1918 (pandemic) AND 1968 (riots for racial justice)?

Challenging times.

You may feel overwhelmed right now. You may be angry or sad or frustrated or wondering where the pause button is because you are tired of thinking so much. You maybe deeply grieving. You may be feeling all of the above daily. Or hourly.

Here are some thoughts for facing such a time.

1. Don't listen to your inner judge.
I team co-teach a Sunday School class at my church, and since we've gone to online services have been doing our lessons as a video (shared with the class, the church and my Heart Callings group.) I really enjoy doing them, and as is the case with anything that we do, some weeks are better than others. The other day I caught myself thinking that I just wasn't doing a very...

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Tired in the wilderness

At first, the children of Israel were ready for the challenge.

We'll flee from Pharaoh, dashing away from our homes (such as they were) before he changes his mind. And when he does decide to come after us, we'll try to outrace the chariots. It's a fools'a plan, but what else can we do? When they get stuck in the mud, our legs that trembled with fear start dancing with joy. We breathe deep the air of freedom and the promise of tomorrow. 

Until tomorrow seems too much like yesterday, all sand and steps and no way to know how far we've come and how far we have to go. Until tomorrow looks like yesterday, and we start to question the whole enterprise.

All of a sudden, Egypt doesn't look so bad. At least we knew. Maybe what they asked us to do was impossible, but at least we knew where we were and how things worked and what our place was in the midst of them. Even if it wasn't that much of a place.

I've been thinking about those wandering children of Israel lately. We've all found...

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How long 'til my soul gets it right?

How long 'til my soul gets it right?

This line from the Indigo Girl song, Galileo, has been going through my mind lately, although probably in ways that the Indigo Girls never intended.

I needed to rename my podcast.

The problem was, just a couple of episodes before I'd introduced my new podcast, changed because of a shifting focus in my online work. I was keeping this new focus (Christians who are seeking, struggling and sometimes straggling along) but my first title wasn't quite there.

It was right enough to get me started, but not quite right enough for the long haul. I liked the new name (Community of Holy Stragglers) very much. But I worried.

I worried what people would think. I worried that I'd be dismissed as flighty or unable to make up my mind. I worried that people would think that I screwed up with my first title, that I didn't get it right.

(I realize that none of you were losing sleep over my podcast name, but bear with me here.)

I finally realized that I had a...

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Does this dress make me look fat?

 
(Note: Each week I send out a Monday Morning Manna email to subscribers. Today I wanted to share with you this week's email.)

My friend is the queen of Selfies With Famous People. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when, as we waited for the program to start, she nudged me even as she was getting out of her seat.
 
"She’s over there," she said, pointing to an aisle on the opposite side of the auditorium. "Let’s go."
 
I tend to be a bit shy in such occasions, but my friend is a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to her, I met, got a picture with, and book signed by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott.
 
One of her books that I love is Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. Lamott was not only a single mom but also a freelance writer, and her book is both funny and unflinchingly honest about her struggles.
 
In the midst of it her best friend, Pammy, is diagnosed with cancer. Lamott describes an outing...
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Death on our faces

She'd grown up in very traditional Baptist churches, long before most any Baptist church thought about observing the season of Lent. So it was only natural when she saw someone with a smudge of something on their forehead that she took tissue in hand to try to get it off for them.

It wasn't just a dirty spot, of course. They were ashes carefully smudged by some minister somewhere, a reminder front and center of what we usually try to push to the back.

From ashes we come and to ashes we return.

It’s a strange sort of thing if you think about it. People walking around in the midst of the workdays and school days and all the rest with signs of death right there on their foreheads for God and the world to see. 

Once upon a time not so very long ago dying patients were shuffled down to the ends of hallways lest they remind doctors of their failure to cure. In the United States in which I live, we still do a pretty good job of trying to hide death in our culture. When I ask...

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Longing for Advent

So what are we to make of Advent? 

We light the candles and talk about hope and peace and joy and love. In churches using the lectionary cycle of scriptures, ministers wrestle with how to fit a wild and fiery John the Baptist into a culture already moving to fa-la-la-las. 

We are more attuned to wish lists than longing. 

And yet, it is longing I feel most keenly in this season. I feel it in our beautifully crafted worship that has somehow given word and music to deep places of my soul. Come now, Prince of Peace, make us one body.*

Longing.

In the American culture in which I live, we don't much allow ourselves to get to the place of longing. There's always something to fill that space - some TV show, some food, some un-winnable  internet argument to distract us. If you want something that you don't have there are no less than fourteen self help books designed to help you get that very thing. 

Except soul longing doesn't lend itself to smart goals and lists of...

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Pentecost: When Things Get Messy

As I write this, it's Pentecost Sunday. 

For what it's worth, Google search defines it as "the Christian festival celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his Ascension, held on the seventh Sunday after Easter."

I think a better definition is that it's when things got messy. 

Not that following Jesus wasn't messy. He had a way of not staying in his own lane, talking to the people he shouldn't, healing when he shouldn't and saying things that either made no sense at all or made way too much sense to be comfortable.

Pentecost pulls us all into the mess.

When there's one right way to think about God, to speak about God or to worship God, well then, we can control that. We have standards.

When there's one right group of people to testify about God, well then, we can control that as well. If you don't meet the qualifications you'll be silenced.

Then comes Pentecost, and this messy Spirit of God that spills out all over everywhere. It's so out...

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Up a Tree

(Note: Every Monday morning  I send out the Monday Morning Manna  email. Today's blog post is the email that went out this morning. If you'd like to learn more or sign up to receive it for yourself, check it out.)
 
As a kid, my first goal of the summer was toughening my feet enough to be able to walk barefoot on the needle covered ground. The back secction of our yard was covered in pine trees, and I spent hours playing among them, happily barefoot in the summer. I used skinny, downed trees to build forts and lean-tos and anything else my imagination created. The most special tree, however, wasn’t a pine tree at all.
 
In the back corner of the lot was a grand old cedar tree, its trunk too big for my arms to encircle, worn mostly smooth with time. The first branch was long, and oblong shaped, flowing straight out from the tree. By putting both arms over it, I could walk up the trunk and scramble onto the branch, relaxing with my back against the sweet...
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