Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent Reflections, part 2

Yesterday in the mail I received the alumni magazine of my college alma mater. In addition to the usual sorts of articles, this particular issue included the distinguished alumni. These are indeed people who have done some pretty impressive things. But it got me thinking….

I wonder if Mary would have made the distinguished alumni list; or Joseph; or Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. I have no bone to pick with these sorts of honors. I have no doubt they are well-earned. My own institution does this yearly as well. I’m not sure how to get around such things.

Nonetheless, it is the case that Scripture consistently points out the honor of those who are dishonored by societal standards. It consistently urges us to take notice not of the strong, but of the weak and marginalized. We are prompted to consider those who the world would never consider; who will not make the pages of Forbes or U.S. News; who may not be known by anyone other than those closest to them.

It may have been the juxtaposition of receiving this alumni news with sharing dinner with three of my closest friends last night that prompted my thinking about this. None of the three will ever get an award. But all three are more than award worthy.

All three spent a good portion of their lives as homemakers, making sure their homes ran well, tending to the children and their needs, giving others a place to be welcomed. One invested herself in a profoundly handicapped child, working eventually to begin a home for other children whose parents were now aging and finding it difficult to care for these special-needs kids. One has served her four children tirelessly, making sure they had the education and opportunities that she longed for but did not have access to. One recently gave up the peace and quiet of the empty nest to take on a needy teenager whose adoptive family treated her more like an indentured servant than a beloved daughter. This child’s grades have gone from D’s last spring to A’s and B’s this fall. But not without a lot of effort. All have been fully invested in their churches.

None of them had high-powered careers although all were fully capable. And none of them resent that they poured their lives into their church and family in place of such a career, although they could.

As I read about those who were marked out as distinguished and thought about my friends, it seemed to me that their lives look much more like the lives of Mary than most of those we typically call attention to. And like Mary, I think that God regards these women as ‘highly favored,’ perhaps because their work here on earth goes unnoticed by most.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advent Reflection

This past weekend, wedged between the hype and indulgence of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the first Sunday of Advent quietly arrived.

The days surrounding this Sunday and the Sunday itself have at least one similarity: all are forward-looking, steeped in anticipation. But that is where the similarities end.

The consumer holidays look forward to increasing the amount of stuff we or others have purportedly to increase one’s happiness quotient. Advent looks forward to the coming of Christ, the only one whose coming will deliver true happiness once and for all.

The consumer holidays look forward to parties and food and family gathered together in all of their imperfect relationships. Advent looks forward to the wedding feast with the Lamb, the ultimate party where broken relationships will finally be healed.

The consumer holidays look forward to symbols of abundant life that moths and rust most surely will destroy at some point. Advent looks forward to the abundant life promised by God that nothing – not even death – can destroy. In fact, Advent points us forward to the day when death itself will be destroyed.

After an election year filled with strife, where insults and promises filled the air, Advent reminds us yet again that the Prince of Peace came not with power and prestige and wealth, but as a tiny baby of unknown, poor parents. The promises of this Prince are the only truly trustworthy promises and they come to us in a power that is displayed as weakness.

God – the Creator and Sustainer of all there is – taking on human flesh, indeed that of a baby born of a woman just like you and I. The great theological reflections of Chalcedon barely scratch the surface of this mystery.

And so we enter this season once again. Filled with hope we pray “O come O come Emmanuel.” Indeed, come quickly.

Friday, November 11, 2016

5,539 Miles

13 days, 13 states, 5,539 miles, Hoover Dam, 3 National Parks, and 1 wedding with family = an awesome vacation!
A few weeks ago, on the day we returned, I posted this line on my Facebook page. I’m still high on the trip my husband and I took. We drove and camped our way to California, stopping along the way at a few places we had not been before and revisiting others.
We are not landscape snobs. Our family has generally driven cross-country to our destination. We have learned to ignore people’s remarks about places like Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. We have camped in all of those places, stopped along the road, and found that if one takes a little time in this “fly-over zone,” there is much to be appreciated. Each area of the country has its own peculiar beauty.
I admit that we were not exactly thrilled with the idea of driving through Nevada on our way home. But it turns out that beginning with the peculiar salt formations at Mono Lake all the way up to the northeast corner where it meets Utah, Nevada is a strangely beautiful place.

I am also not particularly fond of the dry southwest. I brought plenty of lotion on this trip! But there too, the stunning colors that layer the land and the odd vegetation that is able to survive there have a beauty that is unmatched.

It is not uncommon to hear people quote Psalm 19 when thinking about the creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Or Psalm 8: “When I consider the heavens, the moon and the stars that you put in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them?” The direction of the gaze is always up.
But while the night sky at Homolovi State Park and Death Valley National Park was stunning, so were the rocks, one of which is represented below.

If we did not praise God for the beauty of this world and his glory that was so evident in every place we traveled, I am certain that the very rocks would cry out, as Jesus indicated at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

Just Kidding

So, just in case you were all excited about my move to the WordPress address and format that I mentioned in my last post, I have decided to put that off for a while. 

It turns out that it is difficult for folks to get notices that I have posted. I am also not familiar enough with the mechanics of the pages to have it work the way I would like it to. I have to ask a colleague to help with background and other issues.

In other words, for now, I am remaining here so any of you who follow (I know there are a few) can continue to get notices when I write. I do plan to put up two recent posts in the next day or two. 

Thanks for hanging in there with me as I explore other options. For now, the more familiar is better for me. If I change my mind again, I will let you know :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Moving Domains

Dear Friends,

You may have noticed over the past year that I have not posted as regularly to this blog as I once did. I have struggled with finding the time to keep this up with my other responsibilities. After discussing this with several of my colleagues, I have decided to try again rather than give up. To that end, my technical support person at Calvin Seminary has advised that I move this blog to a different format. I anticipate making that move within the next week and to begin writing regularly again.

I hope to not only comment on various theological topics that seem timely, but also to begin to include a few more personal anecdotes and stories  (some of which I have done in the past), and maybe even some practical ideas related to life in general, as the title suggests.

Thank you for reading this over the past number of years. I do hope you will sign up to continue to read my thoughts, comment on what I am sharing, and wonder together with me about Life, God, and Other Mysteries.

My new site (which is in the final stages of construction) is

Thanks again!


Monday, March 21, 2016

Let Everything Praise the Lord

This past weekend my husband and I were treated to a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago thanks to my daughter and her husband. The highlight was the National Parks movie that was playing at the Omnimax theater.

Over the years, our family has visited and camped at many of our National Parks so many of the scenes were familiar to us. We enjoy being outdoors and love the quiet beauty of hiking and camping in the various parks. Although our love for the outdoors began with the mountains, we have come to enjoy the variety of landscapes, wildlife, and vistas that different regions and habitats offer. Personally I would have a very hard time identifying one particular park as my favorite. The swampy Everglades have very little in common with the semi-arid Badlands or the snowy heights of Glacier, but each has its own beauty and wonder.

As the movie began in this museum that celebrates human curiosity and achievement, I quickly recognized the instrumental music as Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. As scenes of parks like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite swept by in this gigantic domed theater, my emotions overwhelmed me. It was as if I was witnessing the words of Psalm 148, a psalm that calls the entire creation to praise the LORD.

And this is as it should be. In a setting where it was likely that if they knew the word at all the majority of persons considered ‘hallelujah’ as merely an expression of joy, the creation itself seemed to pick up what those made in the image of the Creator were unable to do saying “praise the LORD.”  On this Palm Sunday weekend, it was as if the very rocks were crying out.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Cloudy Days

Living in the Northern part of the United States near the west shore of a Great Lake can be rather depressing this time of year. Those inland seas, as they have been called, affect our weather yielding a disproportionate number of cloudy days. Add to that the fact that we are on the west edge of the Eastern time zone, and sometimes it feels like somewhere around early December we descend into darkness until sometime close to May.

My sister’s family lives in Colorado; my brother’s in California. They rarely experience cloudy days. And in the darkness of January and February I often envy them. I don’t envy the weather, mind you. I love four distinct seasons where each moves relatively smoothly from one to the next. But I do envy their sunshine.

The past two days have been those rare but delightful days where the sky was blue and the temperature was spring-like. The first of this two-day run I s delighted. Ah…..sunshine! Yesterday I was nearly giddy. But as I anticipate the cold and clouds returning I couldn’t help remembering spending two weeks in the southwest some years ago.

We were camping, enjoying the vistas that an arid and mountainous climate offer. But sometime after the first week, I found myself getting up in the morning and wishing for clouds. The monotony of the piercingly hot sun, cloudless blue sky, dry dirt, and coniferous trees was beginning to wear on me. As I think back, in some ways the monotony of the dry, hot sun was as bad as the monotony of clouds.

I was reading about Julian of Norwich yesterday in a fascinating new book called Christological Anthropology by Marc Cortez, a theologian at Wheaton College. I have not read her myself but Cortez does a fabulous job outlining her ideas.

One thing that Julian apparently speculates about is the origin of sin. She wonders why God would allow his first creatures to sin and the pristine world to devolve into its current state of misery. She doesn’t really come to a firm answer.

But I wonder along with many others throughout history whether human free agents need to experience misery to fully appreciate glory. If God had not allowed the possibility for sin, could we really have understood the gift a relationship with God offers us?

It’s a little like living in a sunny climate, I think. If you never experience ongoing clouds and darkness, do you really appreciate the sun?