It was the most chilling benediction I had ever heard: “Do not go in peace. Herod is still on the throne and the children are not safe.” It was spoken at a seminary chapel service; the text for the day had been the “slaughter of the innocents,” – Herod’s order to kill all of the baby boys who might be the announced “King of the Jews.”
These disturbing words came back to me as I saw pictures of children whose parents had tried to send them to the United States. And photos of injured children in Gaza and Israel. And words in church about Minneapolis kids who won’t get breakfast or lunch after summer school is over. “Do not go in peace. Herod is still on the throne and the children are not safe.”
I read recently read about the Maternity Box that is given to pregnant women in Finland. It contains everything a new baby will need: bedding, clothes, diapers, toys, even a book. The box itself can serve as a bassinette. To receive the box, the only thing the woman needs to do is to see a health care provider early in her pregnancy. The box is a public investment in infant health (prenatal care) and well-being (clothing and supplies). Herod de-throned.
I love the idea of every child being welcomed – not because the parents are prosperous (and can afford it), and not because the parents are needy (and can’t afford it). Imagine what it would be like if every baby got a box like that. Imagine what it would be like if every refugee child received a box of clothes and vitamins and books.
There is no single “Herod,” of course. Herod’s threat in our midst comes from institutions and ideologies that give lip-service to children’s welfare, then fail to embody that concern in programs or practices. I get pretty discouraged about how much time and energy it will take to change all of that – especially during those weeks when there are also wars and plane crashes and various other calamities of human life.
That preacher’s words about Herod were not really a benediction – a benediction is, after all, a “good word.” They were, however, prophetic words – words that spoke a truth we would rather not see. May they never stop disturbing us, and may we never stop trying to keep the children safe.
I used to have about the same relationship to the 23rd Psalm as I had to the 1994 Honda Accord that I owned. That car lasted 14 years, went 265,000 miles, survived the Northfield hailstorm of 2005, and never broke down. I respected it; I appreciated it. I did not really love it. So it was for me with this most familiar and oft-recited of psalms. I respected the central position that it has garnered through the centuries, I appreciated the calm and comfort and consolation that it has brought to folks – including many for whom it is their only connection to the Bible. But for all that, it was not especially dear to my own heart. Continue reading →
I was at a denominational meeting, and an amendment was offered to a resolution that was on the floor. It was only two words, but they were important words to the person who proposed adding them. It took several minutes for the moderator, the parliamentarian, and the person proposing the amendment to work through the procedure and get the amendment and the resolution appropriately voted on. I felt cranky and impatient. Really cranky. I picked up my cell phone and was about to text, “Just shoot me.”
What stopped me on the spot was the realization that anything we text might be read by others – we know not whom. I didn’t want to be “on the record” with words that could be taken out of context as being a genuine invitation to violence.
What stops me now is astonishment (and embarrassment) that a phrase like “Just shoot me” has elbowed its way into my conversation at all. I am universally opposed to violence and specifically critical of the easy availability of firearms. What was I thinking?
One explanation is, of course, that this phrase is just hyperbole – an exaggerated way of saying that I would rather be almost anywhere else doing just about anything else, than sitting through a partially garbled parliamentary procedure about two words. And while that is true, it doesn’t really acknowledge the insidious way that a violent phrase snuck into my language.
So I will be listening for other phrases to use the next time I am cranky and impatient – phrases that are sassy and irreverent but not violent. Got any suggestions?
There are four things that can be made “touchless” in a public restroom: the toilet can flush by itself, the water in the sink can turn itself on, the soap can dispense itself, and the paper towel can advance or the hand dryer turn on automatically.
In my travels, not many women’s restrooms are equipped with all four. (I can’t speak about men’s restrooms.) I have seen about every combination of two or three. The building I am in right now has auto-flush and auto-soap, but do-it-yourself water and towels. My favorite craft store has the opposite (auto water and towels, do-it-yourself flush and soap).
I suspect two motivations among restroom designers. One is to offer a mostly sanitary experience to the person using the facilities. The other is to minimize the waste of water, soap, and towels. Automating speaks to both of these.
I wonder who decides which parts to automate. Is there a panel? Are there experts? Do the plumbers get to choose?
Of course, I also wonder when in restaurant history the chocolate sauce moved from the top of the dessert to the plate underneath. And when in cooking history that onions went from “brown” to “caramelized.”
I wonder why butter comes in long narrow quarters in the Midwest and shorter, fatter quarters on the West Coast. Is there a “butter line” right through the Rocky Mountains? Did the salesman with the long-narrow packaging machine turn back when he got to Denver?
So I guess my habit of wondering is stronger than my interest in restroom design. Still, I wonder …
I’ve been spending more time than usual in the Twin Cities this spring, driving around neighborhoods that are new to me. One of them is an industrial area along Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis. I’ve noticed three schools housed in buildings that I’m pretty sure were built for other purposes.
I understand that this is practical – the buildings are large, have plenty of parking, and are close to public transportation (though there are still a lot of school buses in the morning!).
Nonetheless, seeing them out there makes me nostalgic. I miss the days when schools were at the center of communities, when they were surrounded by playgrounds and baseball diamonds and big lawns. I miss the days when towns invested in buildings that were handsome and substantial. I miss the sense that we are all connected to the nearby school, even if we don’t have children in our household.
Even apart from nostalgia, there is some sense in which this just seems like the wrong place for schools. This location says that education is an “industry,” and not part of our family and neighborhood life. All three of the ones I drive by are Charter schools, and this location says that innovation is relegated to the margins of our community. If the students in these schools are (as I suspect) those who have struggled in other settings, this location says “sorry, you don’t get a beautiful school.”
I am trying to be appreciative of the practicality and resourcefulness of the folks who lead and oversee these schools. I am trying not to be old-fashioned about the importance of architecture and geography and green space. I am trying to remember that what goes on inside of schools is always more important than what they look like on the outside. I am trying … And it still feels as though we have lost something.
One of the interns who worked with me taught me a valuable lesson about time – what she called Time Optimism.
It comes in two versions. The first is the conviction that, although you are overbooked and overcommitted right now, sometime in the near future it will be different. You will have enough time to clean the garage, sort the photographs and put them neatly in albums, and take a real vacation. The second is the tendency to schedule events in your calendar for the shortest amount of time that they might possibly take. If it might take anywhere from one to six hours to clean that garage, you mentally allow one hour – and are inevitably late or harried for whatever you are doing next.
As a chronic Time Optimist, I’d like to think these habits are an expression of zest for life, an eagerness to do as much as possible in the time available. But the fact is that Time Optimism usually results in hurrying, compromising, inconveniencing, and disappointing the people around us.
Time Optimists don’t like to say “no” to anything. There are dozens of reasons why this might be so, but none of them change the fact that failing to say “no” to some things means saying “half-hearted” or “incomplete” to nearly everything. Saying “no” is actually an act of spiritual courage, a choice to invest one’s love and energy in the persons, actions, and causes that matter most.
Maybe there are other kinds of Time Optimism that we could cultivate. There’s the conviction that there is enough time – enough to find rhythms of work and rest, of solitude and community, of austerity and indulgence. There’s the recognition some human experiences take time to unfold – forgiveness, compassion, and maturity of faith. There’s the confidence that God is with us all the time. Those are the “optimisms” that can bring life into our lives.
A Sermon from First Congregational Church of Minnesota May 25, 2014 1
Have you been to the Areopagus? Not the one in Athens, but some place where people excitedly talk about ideas and concepts, where debating is the favorite intellectual sport, where folks are always hoping to hear something new. In class, maybe, or at a gallery opening, or during a rousing political discussion, or maybe Faith on Tap?
That’s where Paul was when he spoke the words we heard this morning, or perhaps more accurately, where he preached the sermon we heard this morning from the book of Acts. He was a skillful speaker, and part of his skill was his ability to frame his words in the style of the people he was speaking to And so, addressing the Athenians at the Areopagus, he used the rhetorical style of the Greek philosphers. To my ears, this is one of the most articulate and compelling of Paul’s speeches – but perhaps that is because I am more like an Athenian philosopher than a Judean shepherd or fisher. .
My friend Kent Gilbert was sitting on his porch in Berea, KY this week, spending an evening with friends and enjoying an adult beverage. So he wrote a Facebook post about it. What we all read was this: “Sitting on the porch with Katie and hand crafted gun and tonics.”
He was a victim of auto-correct. Whatever it was that he had actually typed, his innocent gin-and-tonic became grist for a lot of funny comments from everyone who read it.
Auto-correct is sometimes a helpful antidote to hasty or careless typing, but it is also famous for garbling innocent messages into embarrassing (though sometimes hilarious) ones. Changing just a letter or two completely changes the meaning of a sentence or a whole paragraph
Thanks to everyone who came to my booth at the United Church of Christ General Synod — and especially to those who went home with stoles. It was wonderful to meet so many new people, and to share my love of beautiful fabrics that can enhance and enrich worship.
Today I updated my Etsy Store (click the button on this page to find it) with more stoles — mostly green and red. The one pictured here is made from a stunning Asian-themed fabric with stylized grapes, leaves, and vines. The beautiful purple on the reverse side makes it two stoles in one (all my stoles are fully reversible). I hope you will come and look!
I am busy packing to go to the UCC General Synod in Long Beach, California. For the first time, I will have a booth in the Exhibit area .. booth #461.
It’s a really interesting process to be part of an exhibit area in a big convention center. I have learned about packing and shipping, arranging for electricity and signs for the booth,and getting a California tax number (yes, you will be paying sales tax in California). [For those of you who don’t know, there is no sales tax on clothing in Minnesota, and clergy vestments are considered clothing.]
I met my goal of making 100 stoles for the booth. Which means (for those who are interested), 66 yards of interfacing, nearly 2 km of beige thread (for most of the sewing), 50 yards of rayon fringe, 75 yards of beautiful fabric, and more hours than I am willing to confess!