Monday, November 4, 2013

For Ollie Mac Devotioins

Good morning Ollies
Our readings for today are Psalm 32 and Chapter Three in Prodigal God.
Psalm 32 begins:
 How joyful is the one
whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered!
How joyful is the man
the Lord does not charge with sin
and in whose spirit is no deceit!

A spirit that knows God is forgiven and joyful. It doesn't know deceit.
In Chapter 3 of the Prodigal God, Keller states that Jesus redefines sin. It is not the legal definition of the Pharisees, nor is it the cultural definition of the rebels.
Sin is being on outs with God, unforgiving and unforgiven, not loving God.  Instead, we barter with God. Our intent is deceit. WE don't want to walk with God. We want to turn from Him as soon as possible. Either we endure His rules and regulations for a profit or we despise His rules and regulations for our own better way. Jesus teaches us that neither way leads to God, but instead tries to make our own salvation for us.
David gives two examples, the one who did not confess his sins as in Psalm 32:3 and the one who needs a bit and bridle; Psalm 32:9.
Keller quotes Flannery O'Connor from  Wise Blood. Hazel Motes states "the way to avoid Jesus is to avoid sin." What a knock out punch! How many of us subscribe to this notion? I haven't sinned today Lord so I don't really need You out in front. I'll save You for later, just in case. As if salvation is limited or only for those that need it or maybe we could just circumvent the whole sin thing and allow our own comfortable notions of self-salvation in the mix.
By Keller's examination, Jesus' definition of sin cuts against the grain. As Christians we know that we must do certain things. We must be good. We must not sin. We must obey God. WE end up with a boat-load of could'a, would'a, should'a's; a lot of knowing about God, inside knowing very little of Him.
In Micah 6:8 the Lord tells us all that we have to do and make our own salvation is not one of those things. We are to seek justice. This doesn't mean we go on a rampage against our own definition of the oppressor, but to actually consider God in our definition of justice. Jesus said let the one without sin cast the first stone. Condemnation is not what God asks of us, but justice in our own actions that we may seek His will for us and the others around us.
Micah goes on to say that we should love mercy. Again that is not to say our own mercy for others which is not true mercy, but that we should love to forgive as we also have been forgiven. In loving mercy we love God's ways, we seek His will, not our will. It is no credit to us that we forgive, but rather the glory, magic and joy are of God. We merely reflect His mercy for us.
Finally, in the rules that Micah sets before us, we are to walk humbly with the Lord our God. Neither brother in the story of the Prodigal Son is humble, or, for that matter, walking with God. One is rebellious and only humbles himself to return. The other is haughty and proud, demanding condemnation for the younger brother. His trust in his father revolves around a conviction of self-righteousness. "I have made this deal with you now see it through, Father. I have kept my end of the bargain." He does not love mercy.
David ends Psalm 32 with these words:
Many pains come to the wicked,
but the one who trusts in the Lord
will have faithful love surrounding him.
11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice,
you righteous ones;
shout for joy,
all you upright in heart.

Micah too counsels us to trust in the Lord and walk with Him. In redefining sin, Keller teaches that we should trust in the Lord not our own ways.
Thanks for  reading, blessing and joy to you and Happy Thanksgiving.
Also posted in Ollie Mc Neil Devotions 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

First Few at NaNoWriMo

Before NaNoWriMo began this year, I read a few blogs. I liked what Victoria Grefer had to say about why not to try NaNoWriMo: Writing with the Crimson League and what Kristen Lamb said about going for it: Kristen Lamb's Blog
Here are a few thoughts about what’s happening. Many thanks to both bloggers sharing their experience and thoughtful advice.

Victoria Grefer tells us about not signing onto NaNo if we are too hard on ourselves or too worried about competing. I took her advice to heart and decided to continue anyway. The biggest hurdle for me in writing has been hating early drafts. My work seems so lousy in the beginning and I itch to go back and have a great first chapter, even if I don’t finish the work. Slowly, I have overcome this need to revise, but Victoria’s advice stuck with me in a positive way. I thought that maybe I could use NaNo to finally overcome this quirk and train myself to draft then re-draft at a later time and edit only as much as is critical to the plot and charters moving forward.
Victoria’s final word of advice is about feeling superior to others who don’t win. I loved this point, not because I am tempted to feel superior, but because NaNo is one of very few arenas where there are multiple winners and no real losers. If you go for it you essential win in your world. What I really appreciated is that Victoria cares about her writing world and the lives of those writers. She inherently knows that feeling superior is bad for all of us.

Kristen Lamb gives the other side. She compares NaNoWriMo to fitness camp for writers. What I particularly liked were her comments on endurance and mental fitness. Especially for some of us with limited schedules we must consider writing enough of a priority to move a few tasks around then we keep on writing. Thirty days has a limit, but it is long enough to keep us in the trenches so to speak. Eugene Peterson quotes Nietzsche in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. This book about the Psalms of ascent looks at the discipline of living day to day as a Christian. In quoting Friedrich Nietzsche Petersen likens our lives to a beloved path and not a series of flighty missteps. I think Kristen says much the same thing about the discipline of writing. The short little burst of any discipline does not train inspire or endure and ceases to be discipline. She counsels us to us NaNo to train ourselves as writers to be the best we can be.

I have taken other advice. I’ve picked a time and stuck to it so far, aided greatly by daylight savings time. Also, I make myself stay at the computer even when my jumpy mind wants to go play with the dogs, make more coffee, or switch to taptiles (current game obsession.) Those are all treats for later as the daily word count hits 750, then 1200, and finally 2,000. Finally I refuse to be annoyed with myself for not being perfect.

Finally, where do those necessary re-writes fit in my schedule? I couldn't lose them altogether. I stumbled upon this option to edit my daily writing in the evening, with a glass of wine, a short nice relaxing read and time to think. This is much better than rewriting as I go. It sets up the next morning's work and helps make the horrid first draft not quite so drafty. I make notes on a big board of chapter outlines and character growth. We will see. If I like this method I plan to employ it for a few more books.

As always, thanks for reading.
More Later
Joy to you BEV
Also Posted at Writing Rogues

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Auck I need to post. Too many things, book reviews and cool stuff falling in the fall. Gearing up for my first try at NaNoWriMo.
For Small group see this link Grace Small Group
I will post soon here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Joy Writers Writing Workshop, Exercise One

Crafting a Short, Short Story from Collected Evidence Based on a Memory of a Location
B.A.Coots Aug 6, 2013


Hal used two, three-penny nails on each one-by-four, tacking them to the tree trunk in a way only he could call laddered.
Even then, the tree was ginormous. Porcha flung her arms wide and tried to embrace it. Toothy bark cut into the soft flesh of her underarms which didn’t curve in the slightest for the breadth of the massive cottonwood.
“Big,” she mouthed.
Porcha stood in front of the boards. Well, she stood in front of one and one-half boards, fingering the second rung. The first and third steps floated on the bark like an inch or two of water sandwiched between tire and road. She hated to mistrust Hal’s workmanship, but this is my neck not Hal’s, she thought, then drew her left leg to her chest and clamped her toes around the second board.
It wobbled.
What now, she wondered. “Hal this one’s lose.”
“Can’t be, it’s got two nails instead of one.” Hal peeked around leaves and stems, high in the tree.
“Maybe so, but the two nails are looking more like one big one.”
“My guess is, they grew together over the summer.” Hal swung from his perch, using the deep wells of bark as foot holds to shimmy closer. “Come on up already. You’re half way here.”
Porcha reached for a hand-hold, but the bark didn’t grow side-ways. She grasped the splintered third rail, gave a one-footed hop, then hauled herself into the tree’s ‘V’.
Hal offered a hand, but it was more trouble than use, and she scooted, belly first into a nest of crackling leaves, cottony seeds and spider-webs buried in the tree’s trident. She felt like she’d only managed the red tip of a bomb pop, her white and blue parts still hanging in thin air.
“Almost up. Come on, now.”
Hal’s encouragement irritated Porcha. Just cause he’s already in the tree, Mr. Monkey Man. I’ll show him. Inhaling, she turned out her right leg and bent it to the third splintered step, then pushed hard. She felt the wood’s last tiny sigh as her weight forced it from the loose bark and into the grass below.
“Beached in the tree of a tree, belly-down. You high-centered, Por.” Hal scaled a second limb, straddled it, then untied a knot from a rope he’d thrown over the lowest part of the bough.
At Hal’s gleeful chorus, Porcha wondered if the incident hadn’t been planned for her misery and Hal’s delight. She exhaled. Something tickled her belly. “Ah... Hal... Help.”
Hal dropped the rope and turned. “What Por?”
“I’m stuck and something’s crawling on me. Get it off. Get it off’a me.” Porcha rolled onto her side and swatted wildly at her belly.
“Calm down. Whatever’s done is over.” Hal rocked forward and swung his feet behind onto the bough. He hopped to a kneeling position, then turned and scrambled towards his flailing sister.
Porcha wailed, “no. No. No.” She pushed herself from the tree’s wilderness of a bowl and dropped.
“Oh Por, don’t...” Hal skirted the ‘V’ and eased onto a limb joint, the bough long gone. His foot found purchase in the lower lip of the limb’s scar. He perched there for a moment, then flung himself from the tree, landing on all fours.
Porcha rolled in the grass, its cool blades caressing her abrasions, while tears tracked her dirty cheeks.
“Woah, that was some jump, Sis.” Hal cat-walked towards Porcha.
“How’s you get down so fast?” Porcha wiped her nose on her forearm.
Hal grinned. “The back’s easy. We only put the boards up for you and Clarence. Hey, could you not tell Mom about this? She’ll make us stop building our fort.”
“You’d owe me.” Porcha squatted, then tried to stand, only her foot didn’t work. She looked down and saw the bone under her skin sticking-out at an odd angle.
The next thing Porcha remembered was waking in her parents’ bed, her leg casted to her thigh and Hal standing watch at the door.
She’d never seen his face so troubled, but it brightened when she asked, “hey Hal, you okay?”
Hal sighed, his mischievous smile returning. “I guess we didn’t really want a tree fort anyway.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Prodigal God
Timothy Keller 2008, Riverhead Books, NY, NY USA

This book examines the Scriptural passage of the prodigal son from Luke 15. Jesus relates this parable after the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep. In his book, Keller gives consideration that the parable may also be called the Parable of the Lost Sons. He elaborates that the father had two lost sons, the son that had demanded his inheritance and left, typically known as the prodigal son and the son that remained on the home-front largely for his two-thirds birth-right.

Keller gives the reader an analysis of the second son, the one that remained, as just as disrespectful to his father as the younger son. He refuses to go into the feast his father has made for the return of the younger brother. Here, Keller’s analysis hits me. I am not an older brother or sister, but I have often counted on my ability to skate, so to speak, by doing what is right rather than what is true. I appreciated his thoughtful approach, because it allowed me to insert myself in either role with abandon. Further, Keller develops a new reading, at least for me, which is spectacularly relevant in today’s currency and in many Christians’ well-tended, isolated world.

From the vantage point of either younger or older brother, the reader follows the author to the fact that we are all sinners, without argument, and that the real prodigal is God. God loves us radically, whether we’ve demanded our inheritance and left for better pickings, or stayed the course and waited for eventual lordship, in effect, waiting for God to die so we might have our way. Here, I am stunned. How could I have missed my own part in the passage? But more importantly, how sweetly is our sin revealed? Don’t read me incorrectly, I find no sweetness in sin, but in Keller’s gentle hands, in fact Jesus’, we may hate the sin and love the sinner, including ourselves.

After redefining sin, Keller moves to redefine lostness. Here, the author uses lostness as a call to confession, and, at least for this reader, the call was effective. It seemed the natural progression after hearing Jesus’ words newly and understanding they were spoken in love to any follower who would listen. Keller separates the discussion by chapters, but ends the following sequence which covers the true older brother with these words, “We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother Jesus Christ.”

In redefining Hope and the feast of the Father, Keller encourages us to seek Him and follow; that we are included in the feast of the Father and there we will be home.

This short book reads in a way careful of the reader. Keller treats his readers as his pastorate with compassion and charity in the old sense of the word, in a way reminiscent of James Montgomery Boice’s commentaries, not showy or cloying, but with great respect for humanity and the mission. Thank you. I will probably return to this book often.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Can Science Prove God?

Would we want a god that can be proven by our manipulations?
Admittedly, I am just as reinforced as the next believer when a new finding shows Jesus' footprints or the ark's presence or the parting of the waters, but if none of those could be traced, would I fall with Thomas wanting to place my finger in the wounds of Christ? Would I refuse my Savior for the want of scientific construct?
With faith buffeted by erudite scholars as a path for the naive and intellectually lackluster masses, I turn to science to defend my position. I find justification. The creation clearly points to a Creator. Nature, beautiful, strong, fierce and wild beyond reason, hints at the fathomless character of God, but clever and beguiling as nature may be, it is not God.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Referring to the last line above, not that we shouldn't learn as much as we can about God, but if we simply learn about God we do not further the Kingdom, and most importantly we do not follow the greatest command by increasing our closeness to Him that made us, called us, loved us so much that He, God with us, died for us to redeem us, to reconcile us to HIm. Our science may be logical, precise, accurate and stern, in may reveal our natural world, but it will always be called by man, even in the image of God, but not God. We cannot prove God using our science. We can never fit Him into our box.
We may defend ourselves with clever argument or even evidence when facing an unbeliever, but this is more fruitless than faithful. Our best and clearest choice becomes love in the face of ridicule and humility/charity over dissonance.
I heard a message preached some time ago, I believe it concerned the fruit of the Spirit we call faithfulness. Pastor Stephen asked, where is your faith when science fails to prove? If a god exists only because I have proved him, he is no god but an image I have made to buoy my argument and mask my fear.
Can science prove God? Yes and no.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Shadow of the Wind (La Sombra del Viento)
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 2001
Translation to English in 2004, Lucia Graves

The book opens in 1945 Daniel Sempere’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where eleven year old Daniel adopts a book titled The Shadow of the Wind, written by Julian Carax in 1935.
Zafon layers the love stories of Julian Carax and Daniel Sempere, not so much as a book within a book, but more two stories within one novel. He sets these tales on the plane of surreal Barcelona, as much a character in the novel as either Julian or Daniel.

Seeking more information about Julian Carax, Daniel falls in love with the beautiful Clara Barcelo almost twice his age, when he seeks out Clara’s uncle, a noted book seller and collector. Clara knew of Carax through an old tutor and had long searched for titles by the author to no avail. Barcelo knows just enough to send Julian down several circuitous paths, chasing the whereabouts and intrigues of the missing author. Eventually Julian gives his prized book to Clara, hoping to garner her love.

Daniel meets Lain Coubert in the street one night following an argument with his father. Lain’s leathery, burned face scares Daniel. The monstrous man seemed to have stepped from the pages of Carax’s novel. Lain is the name Carax gave the Devil in Shadow of the Wind and he wants to buy the book from Daniel. Shaken, Daniel seeks out Clara to protect her from Lain and to hide the book. He finds Clara in bed with her lover. The enraged lover beats Daniel and throws him from the house, but not before Daniel finds the book.

Stumbling from the house, Daniel passes a beggar camped outside Clara’s door. The beggar invites Daniel to rest and share some cheap wine. Eventually, Daniel’ father employs this beggar, Fermin Romero de Torres.

Daniel conspires with Fermin to unravel the mystery of Julian Carax and the missing books. They learn that Julian and Fermin share a common enemy, who yet seeks to detroy Fermin and those who help him.

The plot unfolds into a history of Julian Carax that mirrors Daniel’s story. Daniel falls for his best friend’s sister, just as Julian had done years earlier. Brothers and rival suitors tear through the linked tales in past and current setting for the book, while Fermin and Daniel track further into the reaches of a colorful underbelly of Barcelona. Meanwhile, Fermin’s enemy seeks to kill both Fermin and Daniel.

I enjoyed the dense layering of plot and setting. At one point Daniel promises to show Bea, his lbeloved, a side of Barcelona that will make her want to stay, in the city and with Daniel. In showing Bea the city, Daniel reveals Barcelona to the reader, delighting, scaring and enticing. Fermin Romero de Torres establishes a running commentary on politics women and Barcelona adding delightful turns of phrase, sophistry and wisdom to the text. Julian Carax as well as the old librarian delighted me throughout.

All in all a great, if long, read.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Story Ends Here

Comments for Writing Rogues on:
Dysfunctional Narratives: or: “Mistakes were Made”
The first essay in Burning Down the House, by Charles Baxter, 1997 Greywolf Press

Baxter frames his examination of passive narrative in critique of the politically conservative. He points to Nixon’s use of plausible deniability as a catalyst for a cultural shift. Baxter states: “The greatest influence on American fiction for the last twenty years may have been the author of RN, not the writing but in the public character. He is the inventor, for our purposes and for our time, of the concept of deniability... they (public figures claiming deniability) create a climate in which social narratives are designed to be deliberately incoherent and misleading. Such narratives humiliate the act of storytelling.”

Putting aside the essay’s political framework, Baxter’s point surfaces in this last sentence. Storytelling suffers without clear villains. Without discernment or its coarse cousin, judgement, an author seldom delivers on plot or even character. Often I’ve heard writers, including myself, exclaim that our fiction is character driven when what we mean is; ‘I don’t have much of a plot and I really don’t want to offend anyone, least of all my characters.’ This failure to act coupled with paralysis of thought, limits the story and removes the reader. Protagonists and antagonists lose punch. Weak and fungible, these two character roles fade and a victim emerges. The victim has been put upon by a gathering of nebulous villainy without a face. A soft fuzzy glow surrounds the pedantry of the non-protagonist. Blug. According to Baxter, eventually blame is assigned and the story ends. What story?

Most of us writer types have been eviscerated for using passive voice in our work, so we remove it and grumble. Surely passive voice leads to deniability, but Baxter speaks of an umbrella passivity; a monster cumulonimbus pouring–scratch that. Way too active. A damp, tepid blanket of a plot coupled to moist, rotting fibers of character. The book may or may not use passive voice, but it employs deniability as its overall failsafe; as if we’re saying, “you won’t catch this author having an opinion. Un-huh. I’m as much a dupe as my lackluster story.”

Perpetual victims make for tedious tales. Baxter cites C.K. Williams’ discussion of narrative dysfunction as the process by which we lose track of the story, stating, “one of the signs of a dysfunctional narrative is that we cannot leave it behind, and we cannot put it to rest, because, it does not, finally, give us the explanation we need to enclose it... Stories about being put upon almost literally do not know what to look at. The visual details are muddled or indifferently described or excessively specific in nonpertinent situations.”

In a passive book, characters don’t make mistakes and muhaha-bad-guys don’t exist. Villainy gives a character and a book “largeness, a sense of scale.” Without accountability, villains don’t color the landscape of the story. The plot fails and the characters float in a hopeless sea, unmoored and hapless. The characters remain sketches unaided by mistakes or flaws without direction. Quoting Baxter, “There is such a thing as the poetry of mistake, and when you say, “mistakes were made,” you deprive an action of its poetry, and you sound like a weasel... And I suppose I am nostalgic–as a writer, of course–for stories with mindful villainy, villainy with clear motives that an adult would understand, bad behavior with a sense of scale that would give back to us our imaginative grip on the despicable and the admirable and our capacity to have some opinions about the two.”

Baxter defines the novel employing dysfunctional narrative as an emerging artform in America. I would add, “but not a story.” In using what Baxter calls dysfunctional narrative, an author sketches a poignant scene, cleans his brushes then leaves the work unfinished. As my mother would say, “poor pitiful Pearl, just so forlorn,” after a doll from the 1950's (great blog And forlorn describes this artwork. Another word which recalls the original meaning of forlorn is Godforsaken.

Taking a tiny punch at Calvinism and later Protestantism, Baxter argues predetermination. I don’t argue that predestination, poorly constructed, accurately describes this artform, entirely managed and without recourse. I will argue that Calvin and Arminius were strong proponents of accountability in the form of confession, contrition and reconciliation, all of which make for wonderfully flawed characters and Tolkien’s famous story type, eucatastrophe. Baxter notes that the characters are fated in passive books, “all personal decisions have been made meaningless, deniable. It is a life of fate, like a character disorder.” Call it a book disorder?

The passive novel is a new concept for me and a delightful way to describe a type of book. Thank you Charles Baxter.

Enough for now. BEV

Monday, May 20, 2013

In Defense of Etiquette

I am sickened by the tendency in  writers workshops to gratuitously eviscerate early drafts.
Many of us are finely honed critics spoiling for a discrepancy. We long to establish ourselves as clear authorities while decimating the withering, wasted competition. We use minor errors to sharpen our teeth, sword and imagination against the whet stone of nascent writing, never reading for pleasure or even a sense of strength or offering.
Polite behavior has taken a back seat to seditious critique and some clearly seek to show their own elucidating chops for degradation and demoralization. This arrogant one-ups-man-ship creates an untenable atmosphere. Only the tough survive and if you can’t take my criticism then you don’t belong in the field. Never mind that the criticism is more about the excesses of the critic, than the errors of the writer. And surely disregard charity, kindness and confidence in another's abilities. These incompetents will never figure out obvious truths without the greatest among us stooping low enough to shed light on their lackluster, patchwork of a manuscript.

The solution
There may be none. If you can’t write... critique.

In college, I was fortunate to study under Kevin McIvoy. While we parted on less than stellar terms, (because I was a fool and tired of being the odd girl out), I managed to learn the art of workshop in his class, if not in his workshop.
First, round robin about what works in the manuscript. No person is allowed to hold their comments for a final twirpy evisceration. Take round robin seriously.
Second, talk about questions, not criticisms, again round robin. What engaged the reader? Where would they like to be taken in this writing? Who most fascinate and why? Does the chassis support the powerful engine? In the second stage, keep in mind that most authors can smell bad writing, even their own, no need to be-labor the point.
Finally, pick one difficulty, just one, that caused you pause. Tackle the single element that will most illustrate your desire to read this author's work; the one element that would prove most useful to you if you were in the writers' shoes. Identify the difficulty that detracts from your ability to hear the writer's voice, plot, or characters, but in this identification speak most clearly about the characters, plot or voice that you treasure.
The idea is to generate a desire to write more, better, clearer not polish the first ten pages. More than anything writers should encourage one another to write. We are all readers first. Our manuscripts are our offering.
Lastly, if the writing is impossible, keep your mouth shut.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Joy Writers assignment for May 8: 

Write a description of a tree from the perspective of a limb.

On this National Day of Prayer I can’t help but think of the Vine and the branches. Essentially the assignment asks for personal testimony, but more, it calls for an intimate analysis.
I prefer to describe the heavens, but to describe my redeemer?
From Psalm 139
4 Before a word is on my tongue,
You know all about it, Lord.
5 You have encircled me;
You have placed Your hand on me.
6 This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me.
It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.
7 Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
8 If I go up to heaven, You are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.
9 If I live at the eastern horizon
or settle at the western limits,
10 even there Your hand will lead me;
Your right hand will hold on to me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,
and the light around me will be night”—
12 even the darkness is not dark to You.
The night shines like the day;
darkness and light are alike to You.

The perspective disconcerts me, not that I want to hide from the tree, but I wouldn't mind hiding from myself or the fact of myself as a branch.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Shouting Rocks and Brittle Bones

Prayer and Reflections on Prayer

When I finally put away my thoughts of how to reach You and reach,
When I stop trying to pray correctly and pray,
When I let my mouth curl up instead of down,
You meet me.
You are always there.
Just on the other side of self-absorption.
Augustine writes, Late have I loved You.
I could write, seldom have I loved You.
Yet, this day, again Eternal, again Sovereign, again Grace, again Love, again wholly Sufficient for my sins and for those brittle bones of all Your children,
Thanksgiving Father,
May I commit this day to You.
For my husband and our son, thank You.
May they know You today and love You today.
May Your peace and blessing fall effortlessly on them,
But mostly, may Your path be our path.
For the Church, Father thank You.
For You when I struggle, thank You.
For this world, Father where we see dimly
For its rancor and Peace,
Its filth and Beauty
Its apathy and Joy.
That Your truth is not
bits of confusion strung out in tiny crumbs of rigor,
sinew and nerves that never quicken,
Even the rocks shout Your name.
Thank You.
That I may know You Lord,
That I may I tend forgiveness for myself and others.
I do love You.
Bind me to You that I may not stray.
May I love You more. 

 Reflections on Prayer

    Early in childhood, I prayed. I didn’t pay attention in church, couldn’t understand Scripture and my brothers told me not to sing anymore, hymns or no, until I could carry a tune. Still I prayed. Nothing was out of bounds; the reversal of a beloved pet’s death, the solution to a minor sticky wicket, Momma’s annoyance at my latest insurrection, and the beauty of the sunset. Vending machine prayers, trust and awe, I lumped them into a teaming mass that made up my childhood fears, hopes and respects.
    Along with my sister, I grew up with three brothers; two older and keener for mischief, one younger and keener to be part of the gang surrounding the fun. We played together, my younger brother and I tagging along.
    During our rough re-enactment of The War Between the States, I played the wounded or dead, or worse prisoner from the traitorous north. I was unceremoniously draped across the back of our mean little Shetland pony, arms dragging the dirt on one side and toes likewise on the other. I prayed to receive a better role next time, a part that didn’t involve keeping my head down (way too near Junior’s flanks) or remaining still and quiet. Mostly I asked that God keep letting me play with my brothers. I lost the part when I grew too tall for the pony and I had to sandwich my hands under my stomach so they didn’t scrape roughly on the rocks.
    One Christmas morning after the gifts were opened and breakfast eaten, my older brothers took apart my brand new sewing machine. They claimed they wanted to know how it worked. I didn’t accept their line any more then, than I do now. My younger brother watched the process and probably really did want to know how the machine worked. He ran and told me of the deconstruction.
    I saw the parts, shiny with clean oil, laid neatly on a towel next to a screw-driver and a hammer. I wondered about the hammer. It may have been the very one I used to bean my middle brother when I was three and he had angered me. I am certain we are born into sin. It takes a while to show in others, but in me, my earliest memories confirm my certainty.
    Gazing at the mess of my new machine, I abandoned hope. In a wave of descending shock and irritation, I bellowed, a long feral wail. From the corner of my eye, I could see my older brothers elbowing each other, half scared half delighted. They had won the round.
    When Momma arrived, she eyed the Brothers-Three, lining them up by force of will rather than verbal command. “Explain.”
    “We can fix it.” All three smiled sweetly. “We just got going and it was too...” They added the appropriate superlative for the common parlance.
    Fuming and ill-equipped to answer their beauty, I wailed louder.
    “Quiet, young lady.”
    Both the command and the appellation fell on deaf ears. My mouth seemed ever open, squared in rage and will, pleading more with God than my mother. I am no lady and I simply don’t know quiet. God understood this. Momma kept trying.
    The Brothers-Three were sentenced to an apology. Perhaps my father dealt more harshly with them. I never knew.
    This manifold lack of justice appalled me. After, what my father called a double-barreled hissy fit, I spent an hour in my room learning to appreciate the day we celebrate as Christmas. I remember praying. I couldn’t cuss my siblings, especially not that day, so I prayed, “God, it’s just no use.” I prayed that prayer often, never identifying the ‘it’ that was no use. I know now that I had abandoned hope, maybe a childish hope, but humanity had no shine at the moment. The Brothers-Three would press their ears to my bedroom door just long enough to hear the final word, ‘use,’ and break into peals of laughter.
    From my point of view, I would never win. I was not a lady, not quiet, not prone to innocent sincerity and not a boy. I didn’t know about the ugly underbelly of human nature, but I did know I couldn’t do this thing called life on my own. The ‘it’ of my prayer didn’t yield to my demands, square wailing mouth, open sepulcher, loruhamah and all. I kept praying in clumps of twisted life.
    When my mother had her second series of strokes, I prayed angrily to our Father. I knew the sentence, she wouldn’t die, but she would never live again. This wasn’t my mother, frail flesh, muddied, sad eyes. How could God do this to Momma or to me? Once again, I lay across our mean little pony’s saddle, hands and toes in the dirt to no purpose, living a make believe war. I would love without response. Still, I prayed. “Alright God, alright, just keep letting me be with You.” I couldn’t understand God’s purpose, but I didn’t expect understanding. By that time in life, I simply expected enough strength to take the next step.
    My pastor gave me a book entitled Prayers for a Privileged People. I wondered, and still wonder about the title. Why that book? Did my pastor know me so well. Of course he did. I was and remain human. The book is inspired, a new perplexing, vexing challenge on every page, what I need each day. In it Walter Bruggeman writes at the end of the prayer, Our Charter of Entitlement, “Return us to innocence, even when we are frightened. Exhibit to us your great simplicity among our complex habits. Call us at last by our right names, because we are yours.”
    I read this and thought of Isaiah 49:15-16 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”
    Lately I wonder, what is my right name, Privileged, Lobbyist, Wounded, Prisoner? I know God knows me and loves beyond my simple boundaries and silly self-definitions, as in Hosea, finally wholly loved. Then I ask, what are my bounds, the walls in Isaiah 49:16, the ruined walls of Zion, walls that separate me from God, or the fence of Psalm 139:5? In the final verse of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson writes:
     O to grace how great a debtor
    daily I'm constrained to be!
    Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
    bind my wandering heart to thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    prone to leave the God I love;
    here's my heart, O take and seal it,
    seal it for thy courts above.

    Such a prayer, I have never created, but this verse speaks to my heart. I am prone to wander, let me be bound to You Father, even when Momma dies so slowly as if she never really passed, my father too, in gruesome horror declared dead only to breathe again an hour more.
    Bruggeman also writes, in a different book “I have come to understand in ways that have been an enormous challenge to me, the dialogical quality of faith that leaves our life with God always open and unsettled, and available for new demanding/yielding venture.”
    This dialogue is hard God, but don’t forget to call me. Pass me not oh gentle Savior. Call me finally by my right name.
    When I began to study Scripture, not too long ago, I studied prayer also, thinking I might do a better job, I might get away from the painfully earnest, over-simple yammering, I called talking to God. This led me to praying the Psalms. I committed a few to memory. Then I ran across Bruggeman again saying, “Psalms offer speech when life has gone beyond our frail effort to control.” Later in the same passage he continues, “This is in contrast to much human speech which is in fact a coverup.” Still later he adds, “This means that the agenda and intention of the Psalms is considerably at odds with the normal speech of most people, the normal speech of a stable, functioning, self-deceptive culture in which everything must be kept running young and smooth.”
    Hum, well that solves that. I am neither young or smooth. And, while I have been young, I have never been smooth. I think I want smooth. What would I give up for smooth?
    In Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis counters someone who tells him his prayers are being answered. He responds to the observation with the quote: “I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God, it changes me.”
    Me too. Oh yes, me too. I am weak, and without prayer I am lost. Seldom do I love, but not a single step of living life can I take without You my savior, My father, my Counselor, My God. Amen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Regarding a backpack food program driven by the Mission Committee of Dexter First Presbyterian Church

Needs of the program and promises the program makes:

What we’ve learned as a small church is that the program is big for us, even with only ten backpacks.
First we made some initial decisions:
  1. We would start with ten families having children in grade school.
  2. We would provide supplemental food for the weekend that covered all people living in the home for two breakfasts two lunches and two snacks.
  3. We would work in combination with the school.
  4. We would use our existing resources, namely people and the extraordinary generosity of the congregation.
  5. We would develop a simple questionnaire in  English and Spanish to ask if the selected families would like to receive the food supplement and to ascertain information about food allergies.
The following needs quickly became obvious:
  1.     Backpacks
  2.     Identifying the recipients
  3.     Mechanics of delivery and pick-up
  4.     What to pack in the back packs
  5.     How to pack the backpacks
  6.     How to maximally involve the church and any others
We simply began and worked it out as we went. First backpacks. One committee member purchased backpacks for us with wheels and a handle. They are sturdy and the wheels keep children from having to put a heavy pack on their backs. The committee member’s diligence has paid off. These packs are still in good shape and look to last through the year.
The school has been remarkably helpful in identifying recipients, helping us with space to store the backpacks, calling families when they forget to return their packs and filling us in on specifics for families to lessen our confusion. We could not have gotten very far without the school and our committee member that works at the school. They helped us with the mechanics of delivery pick-up.
The backpacks have been numbered one through ten and well over ten church members come weekly to pack the backpacks.
Taking a lead from similar programs, we stopped buying soft-top individual serving cups. When those are donated we use them by placing them in a plastic bag and sealing it. Initially our food came from donations on Sundays. We also received cash donations.
One committee member received an anonymous donation that helped us buy food on sale for four months along with an unlimited supply of Core Power.
We discussed writing grants, but haven’t gotten far on that idea yet.
Eventually, we realized we needed more food storage and a stronger inventory so we expanded into a storage room at the church. We also contacted Roadrunner Foodbank about possibly obtaining food from them to offset our costs.
The possibility of large bulk deliveries made us realize we probably needed an even larger storage area. Taking the advice of Roadrunner Foodbank, we chose a space that could be locked and cleared of all paper and boxes.
Now that we are half-way into the first year we haven’t so much made promises except to finish the year and begin plans for the next year.
Of course we have had problems. Our biggest challenge has been communication and prayer and a mechanism to handle disagreement. I should mention that I am the only one disagreeing, but I’ve always been rather disagreeable.
My concerns have been over whether to avail ourselves of Roadrunner Foodbank. ( I don’t believe it is necessary or wise, but I am the only one on the committee that thinks this way.) My second concern is over food storage and the take-over of a large portion of storage space for what amounts to one program of the church. Again I am the only person on the committee that thinks this way.
I hope that in the coming year we will open with prayer and Scripture at every meeting.
Additionally I hope we will have an agenda for each meeting.
However, none of these problems out-weigh the impossible strength of working in a community for a community.
Until the next, thank you for reading BEV