Myths and Parables: A Creation Myth

creation myth

Huge and holy, with no beginning and no boundaries, both in and around, near and far, always… I AM.

Moved by the impulse to create, I AM breathed a word so loud that it will never be equaled, and something became. It was vague and formless, neither light nor dark, hot nor cold; but it was; and I AM stirred this new thing, and watched and waited with infinite patience, for what is time for a being who always was and always will be?

There became gravity, and bits of what I AM had created became gasses and minerals, and separated into great, gaseous, blazing orbs or into spheres of diverse minerals. And I AM created joy.

It came to pass that the gasses and the minerals that made up one of the spheres became separated into seas and land masses, and within the seas molecules floated and roiled. Behold, single-celled organisms became, and there was life.  And I AM felt joy.

In time, the organisms began to split and multiply, differentiate and diversify. Some progressed from algae to mosses to ferns to conifers to shrubs and grasses and flowering trees, others from bacteria to mollusks to reptiles to birds to mammals. And I AM delighted in the living things, and saw that they were good, and I AM felt joy.

And in the blink of an eye, or over millenia, for time is meaningless for the eternal I AM, a being appeared with awareness that allowed it to conceive of the existence of holiness, a being also moved by the impulse to create. I AM looked on this new being and saw both its origin in the rich, verdant soil and the reflected visage of the great I AM, and called the being human, and ha’adam, and o ánthropos, and many other names, because one tongue was not sufficient. And I AM saw that it was not perfect, but that it was very good, and I AM wept for joy.

bigbangmilky-waysingle-cell-organisms-229802262-ratCranachAdamEveCrop250px

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Musings: God in a Bottle

god in a bottle

I quit drinking this year, went cold turkey from having an occasional glass of wine or Margarita to no alcohol at all, unless it’s a token sip for Communion.

Alcohol was part of the culture of my childhood.  My mom never drank, but Daddy and my uncles and most of their friends did, and frequently drank to excess. It was such an issue in our family that, as an adult, I started calling it “God in a bottle.”  God wasn’t the most powerful influence in our lives; alcohol was. One uncle was shot after challenging “a friend” to do it; he survived. My dad was arrested at the age of 69 for shooting a man in another alcohol-related incident. Fortunately, the man he shot also survived, and four years of enforced sobriety gave Daddy the time he needed to realize that “alcohol never did [him] any good.”

We went to Tennessee on a family vacation the year I was turning nine.  My best friend, dui crashCarolyn, and I were spending the night at the home of her much older brother, along with his kids and the children of another couple. In the early hours of the morning, someone came pounding on the window.  The parents of two of the kids had been killed in an auto accident. If alcohol was involved, I never knew, but it seems likely.

In late 2016 a couple we knew were on the freeway on their way home from dinner with friends. Both had been drinking – a substantial percentage of her Facebook posts were about drinking – and he was driving, probably because he was the least intoxicated of the two. He lost control of the car and hit a tree, killing his wife and severely injuring himself.  He was arrested.

I lived my entire childhood as a textbook case of what it means to be the child of an alcoholic: an approval seeker with an exaggerated sense of responsibility, fearful of anger or criticism, excessive feelings of guilt, and more. I have known people who have drunk themselves to death – cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, and a series of severe and chronic injuries resulting from heavy drinking.  I have seen and heard secondhand stories of lives and families destroyed. And yet, it took me almost sixty years to figure out that I really don’t want to drink.

My decision to avoid alcohol isn’t an excuse to feel superior to people who drink. It isn’t a judgment of anyone else’s choices. It is a decision that brings me closer to a life of integrity.

 

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Musings: I Can’t Do it All

i cant do it all

I know that God loves me unconditionally and is with me always. Right now, though, part of me wants to scream, “Why have you forsaken me?”  Not that I actually feel as if God has abandoned me, but dealing with lost lives, broken relationships, sick friends, and empty pockets weighs me down. Yes, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light,[1] but the burden of day to day life is sometimes anything but.  I would think that I would be spiritually and emotionally bulked up by now.  God knows, those muscles have been given a workout in the last six decades, but apparently it still isn’t enough.

I might be able to bear it if I only had to carry my own load, but I’m also burdened with other peoples’ suffering, whether it’s just who I am or because of the yoke I took on when I accepted the call to formal ministry. It isn’t that I’m codependent; it’s just that I care.  It’s hard to see those close to me hurting, and it’s also hard to see how much suffering is going on all over this fragile globe we call home.  I want to scream in the chaos of awareness – awareness of lives destroyed by drugs and alcohol, the pain of dysfunction passed on generation to generation, the violence perpetrated by human beings against other human beings, and so much more. The baggage of life requires a brutal manifest: war and disease, cruelty and indifference directed at human and animal and Earth herself.

The Apostle Paul said he had learned to be content in good times and in bad because God strengthened him.[2] I’m not Paul; I’m just me. I’m grateful for all that I have, and I certainly don’t blame God for my problems, but sometimes I can’t see the contentment for the grief.  I expect everything to work out in the long run, but I don’t know how long the run will be. I’m also realistic: people die, and the older I get I’ll have to say “goodbye” to even more friends and family members.  To be fair, I haven’t been promised smooth sailing.  That wasn’t the reality of Jesus’ life, or Paul’s, or Peter’s, and I have no reason to think it will be the reality of MY life. You know what else? It’s o.k. to admit that life is hard. In fact, I think it’s important that we not sugarcoat reality.

I can’t force everyone to be caring or honest or responsible stewards of the planet. I can’t prevent every accident, illness, or war. I can’t make people live forever.­ I can’t prevent the car or computer or coffee maker from breaking down, or pick money off of a tree in my backyard. I can’t make everyone around me happy. I can’t do it all, regardless of what Paul or anyone else says. And you know what? That’s o.k. I don’t have to.

What I can do, so far at least, is trust God and keep trying. I can pray. I can keep struggling to follow Jesus’ example.  I can try to make this a better, i.e. more compassionate and more just, place than when I came into it. That’s something. “I can do [some] things through him who strengthens me.”[2]

 

[1] Matthew 28:30.
[2] Philippians 4:11-13.

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Musings: Sometimes I Want to Turn Around

2016-0916

Following Christ – not just on the streets, as in the name of this blog, but in everyday life – is the best kind of life I can imagine. Seriously.  Sometimes, though, it would be so easy to turn around, walk away, pick a different path… because Jesus asks a lot. He asks us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.[1] He asks us to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven times,[2] and that doesn’t mean to keep a tally; it means to forgive them every time – EVERY time. It isn’t easy.

We discussed this very topic recently in a Bible study I facilitated, discussing verses from Proverbs 24:29 (Do not say, “I will do to others as they have done to me; I will pay them back for what they have done.”[3]) through Matthew 6:12 (And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.[4]) and 1 Peter 3:9 (Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.[5]) We talked about the idea that forgiveness is like a muscle that needs to be exercised, forgiving the same offense over and over again until it no longer haunts us.

This past week I’ve found myself living in the Psalms – not the Psalms of praise or lament, but the vengeful Psalms:

Lord, avenging God—
    avenging God, show yourself!
Rise up, judge of the earth!
    Pay back the arrogant exactly what they deserve![6]

For the sin of their mouths,
    the words that they speak,
    let them be captured in their pride.
For the curses and lies they repeat,
          finish them off in anger;
        finish them off until they are gone![7]

2016-0916-bI was reminded that while it’s o.k. to “vent” – one of the lessons I believe can be learned from the vengeful Psalms – it’s important to be careful that’s all I’m doing. I can wander away for a little while, but like a toddler on a harness, God isn’t going to let me wander too far. Eventually, I can’t help but turn back to God and allow myself to forgive, to be soothed and comforted and, definitely, focus on praying for the person who has wronged me or someone I love.

Granted, it may have been easier to allow God to pull me back because I was feeling more hurt and betrayed and outraged than angry; my desire for revenge didn’t go all that deep. I have no doubt, though, that God keeps me on a pretty short leash. I’m not allowed to forget my own sins so easily, and I believe we’re all damaged in some way and for the most part are doing our best. Nobody really wants to be a bad guy, any more than I really want to walk away from following Christ.

Sometimes I think I want to turn around, pull away, break the bonds that tie me to an ethic and a moral code that require me to do the right thing… always. The truth is that being Christian is the greatest constant in my life. Although, like a spoiled child, I sometimes have fits of rage or selfishness, at my core I want to please my Heavenly Parent in everything I do. I’ll keep on following Christ – on the streets and, to the best of my ability, in the privacy of my own mind – and pray for mercy and grace, even for those who have wronged me.

[1] Luke 6:27.
[2] Matthew 18:22
[3] Proverbs 24:29, NRSV.
[4] Matthew 6:12, NRSV.
[5] 1 Peter 3:9, NRSV.
[6] Psalm 94:1-2, Common English Bible
[7] Psalm 59:12-13, Common English Bible

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Growing up Christian: Fathers

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It’s funny the truths that sometimes show up in dreams. I dreamed that I told someone I had many fathers, thinking of men from the churches where I had worshipped and learned about the love of God. I realized when I woke exactly how true that was.

I loved the man I called Daddy, despite his flaws. He loved me, too, but I was afraid of him; he wasn’t physically abusive, but he had a bad temper. I’m grateful that he demonstrated a strong work ethic; unfortunately, that’s almost the only trait I would want to emulate. Even his generosity, for which I respect him, was most frequently expressed in unhealthy and codependent ways. I needed other male role models.

Stanley “Stan” Brown[1] was a Methodist Elder. He baptized me at Grace United Methodist Church in Long Beach when I was eleven years old. Coming from a Baptist family, I requested the sacrament myself at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Pastor Stan agreed after sitting down and asking me about my faith and my reasons for wanting to be baptized. I appreciated the respectful way he approached the discussion, a respect I witnessed from him many times in the future as he interacted with “the Markers,” the junior high youth group.

Jerry Arnett was one of my junior high Sunday School teachers at East Side Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Long Beach. He believed in giving faith feet rather than just lip service. His passion for social action and justice built on the foundation that began at Grace United Methodist. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye in later years but I certainly remember him with fondness and respect.

Don Roswurm and his wife, Harriett, were Youth Sponsors – also at East Side. Don taught a Sunday School class as well – I believe it was when I was in high school – and although I don’t remember anything specific that I learned from him, I remember the sense of peace and calm he radiated, his deep faith, and his thoughtful response to any question. I continued to turn to Don Roswurm for guidance as a young adult and still count both Don and Harriett as friends. They even surprised me by showing up for my father’s memorial service.

Dean-EcholsDean Echols[2] was my pastor from the time I was through high school through early adulthood. He officiated my wedding and dedicated my oldest daughter. He was good-humored, caring, and compassionate. His sermons gave me something to think about. He and his wife, Mally, were actually present at both of my weddings – the first when I married my husband, and the second twenty-five years later when we renewed our vows. He stood in front of our friends and family and said, “I never thought we’d make it to this point.” I think he was joking; Mally says so!

Certainly there have been other important male role models in my life, but these four stand out. I am awed at God’s love that filled in what was missing at a very impressionable time in my development and sent me exactly the people I needed to ensure that I would grow in a healthy direction as a person and, more importantly, as a Christian.

_______________________________________________________________

[1] Stanley Coleman Brown was born in Chicago, Illinois, May 6, 1928. He attended Beverly Hills Elementary School, University High School, and Harvard School for Boys. Later, he spent two years at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, then transferred to Northwestern University in Illinois, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in American history. Stan married Ruth Staffelbach at the end of his junior year. She had a degree in education from the National College of Education. Next, Mr. Brown went to Garrett Biblical Institute for his master’s degree in theology. In 1958, he moved to Phoenix to serve in the Central Methodist Church.

He then went to Long Beach, California, and in 1972, he was transferred to the Catalina Methodist Church in Tucson, where he served for 20 years. Stan and Ruth have had a life-long interest in history. They built a cabin north of Payson in 1963, where he became the town historian. The Browns moved to Las Fuentes Village in Prescott in 2004. The couple has three children.  SOURCE: Arizona Archives Online, Stan and Ruth Brown Papers, SHM MS-22 1863-2011, www.azarchivesonline.org. Accessed January 11, 2016.

[2] At 3:45am on Wednesday, August 28, 2013, Dean Echols, born September 11, 1924, passed from this world into the loving arms of God having completed his course in faith. Dean is survived by wife, Mally C. Echols; daughters, Marjorie F. Echols and Shoshana Anne Simon (William); sons, Thomas D. Echols (Louise), Peter H. Echols (Cherrill), Chip Mackenzie (Mary Ellen) and John Young (Elizabeth); three granddaughters; five grandsons; and three great grandchildren; his brother, John M. Echols (Carolyn); first wife, Betty Logue Wegener; and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by son, James M. Echols (Robert “Bob” Stilwell). These are but a few of the people who will miss this kind, passionate and loving man.

Dean’s lifelong career as a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has touched thousands of lives as he served churches in both Northern and Southern California over 65 years. He was a graduate of Chapman University, Orange CA, with his B.A. (1946) and of Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley CA, with his Master of Divinity (1952). Both schools remained important to Dean all his life which was evident through his generous gifts of time, talent and money, having served as Chapman University Alumni Board President, Director of Alumni Relations and Director of Church Relations and on the Board of Trustees at PSR. SOURCE: Published in Orange County Register on Sept. 19, 2013- See more at: http://obits.ocregister.com. Accessed January 11, 2016.

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Musings: Remembering my mother

NOTE: I need to have some photos scanned, and when I do I’ll add some to this post.

My mother was born in 1914 as Samantha Blanche White, third surviving child of William Hubert and Maude Mae White. She didn’t like her first name so she was known as Blanche and used to joke that her name was “White White.” (Because “blanche” is from the French for “white.”)

By the time she was in eighth grade she went blind from premature, or early-onset, cataracts and had to drop out of school. There weren’t a lot of options in 1929 in rural East Tennessee but in 1935, at the age of 21, she had surgery on both eyes at the University of Tennessee. At the time she was the youngest person in medical history to undergo the procedure and she spent weeks in the hospital with her head held immobile by sandbags.

Able to see once again, Blanche White did the “independent woman” thing until she was in her early forties, traveling a bit and working. For some reason she especially enjoyed running a knitting machine in a factory. No kids of her own, but she loved every baby she ever saw and doted on her nieces and nephews. She was a nurturer and a caregiver. She nursed her brother, George, back to health after he was shot in a bar fight.

I joke that Ma was waiting for Daddy to be available. She was thirteen years older and had known him since he was a little boy. He and his first wife, Mary, and their children, lived down the street from Grandma White and Mary was a friend of the family. At twenty-four, Daddy became a widower with four children. Five years later, I was born. Ma was forty-three. She named me Mary Jo after Mary and Daddy. She explained that Mary had been her friend and that she knew how much Daddy had loved her. How many women would name their child after their husband’s previous wife?

She was the best mom ever. I suppose she shouldn’t have spoiled me so much, but she loved me unconditionally. When I was small she held me on her lap and read to me, and sang to me: “Five foot two, eyes of blue, ain’t she sweet” and “Yes, sir, that’s my baby.” She let me know she was proud of me. She was protective, and yet gave me enough freedom to have a happy childhood. She did her best to shelter me from the effects of Daddy’s drinking. We lived with my grandmother until Daddy’s mother-in-law, Granny King died, and then we moved into the house with my youngest siblings. There was no hot water and the heat came from a coal burning stove. Joe says nobody could have kept that house cleaner than his Granny and my mother. Peggy says she taught her how to be a good stepmother. Ma loved all of Daddy’s kids.

I learned valuable lessons from my mother, some by what she said and others by what I observed. My four siblings were never “half” brothers and sisters; they were just my brothers and sisters. She taught me that “you can’t spoil a baby with love” and “any job worth doing is worth doing right.” She treated everyone with respect, and would strike up a conversation with anybody. Now you know where I got it!

She also had a quirky sense of humor. I can remember riding in the car with her and Daddy – she never learned to drive – and she said, “That Clarence sure is tall?” “What?” “Well, the sign says, ‘Clarence – 13 feet.'”

Ma loved being a grandmother. My oldest brother’s son, Brian, was the first grandchild. Robert and Betsy lived in Florida so we didn’t see him until he was a month old, but I remember her buying him a little baby blue layette set with a tiny baseball cap. When Sara, my first daughter, was born she filled the hospital closet with frilly little dresses. She told me Daddy was upset when he found out we were having a third child. “They can’t afford the ones they have!” “How many of yours could you afford?” she asked. That quieted him. She helped raise Patty’s daughters, Kellie and Dawn, and they returned the favor, helping to watch out for her when she was old and frail.

2015-0404flowers-2Ma died in 1985. I know she isn’t in that grave in Cypress, where her oldest granddaughter, Kellie, is buried beside her, but there’s a bronze plaque with her name on it. For that reason, I visit and take flowers, because when people see her name I want them to know that there are still people who remember and love her.

When I graduated from seminary in 2007 Daddy said, “Your mother would be proud of you.” I said, “I’m sure she is.” I’m a mother and a grandmother myself, and have been both for quite a while. I don’t think I’m quite as good at either job as she was, but I’m pretty sure she’s still proud of me. She was like that.

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Musings: King David… King George?

guitar

I was listening to the radio when it occurred to me that Country Music lyrics are like modern-day Psalms. I’m sure it’s true of many other genres of music as well, but I have a particular fondness for Country. Ancient Israel had King David; we have King George – George Strait, that is. Some of the similarities are obvious, like this:

Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love
A secret that my daddy said was just between us
He said daddies don’t just love their children every now and then
It’s a love without end, amen[1]

or

His fingerprints are everywhere
I just slowed down to stop and stare
Opened my eyes and man I swear
I saw God today[2]

There are also Psalms and Country songs about justice and liberation. Psalm 146 includes these words:

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry[3]

In 1992, Garth Brooks and Stephanie Davis wrote these lyrics:

When the last child cries for a crust of bread,
When the last man dies for just words that he said,
When there’s shelter over the poorest head,
We shall be free[4]

Most often though, they are like the calls for retribution that occur in so many of the Psalms. Whereas the Psalmist believes that vengeance belongs to the Lord and writes words like this:

O my God, make them like whirling dust,
like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest,
as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your hurricane.[5]

the Country singer takes matters into his (or her) own hands, and we get this:

flower potI pray your brakes go out running down a hill
I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill
and knocks you in the head like I’d like to
I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls
I pray you’re flying high when your engine stalls
I pray all your dreams never come true
Just know wherever you are honey, I pray for you[6]

or this:

I’m gonna lean my headlights into your bedroom windows
Throw empty beer cans at both of your shadows
I didn’t come here to start a fight,
But I’m up for anything tonight
You’ve gone and broke the wrong heart, baby,
And drove me redneck crazy[7]

Some of my favorites, though, are more like Hymns or Psalms from the Christian Scriptures.[8] I especially like Miranda Lambert’s Heart Like Mine which includes these words:

champagne glassesThese are the days that I will remember
When my name’s called on a roll
He’ll meet me with two long stem glasses
Make a toast to me coming home
‘Cause I heard Jesus he drank wine
And I bet we’d get along just fine
He could calm a storm and heal the blind
And I bet he’d understand a heart like mine[9]

I’m going to end as I began – with George Strait. Psalms 19 and 119 are just two examples of Psalms that mention the importance of God’s Law and of remembering God’s faithfulness. Except, maybe, for the “I forgot” phrase, can’t you just imagine God saying this to us?

You can find a chisel, I can find a stone.
Folks will be reading these words long after we’re gone.
Baby, write this down, take a little note
to remind you in case you didn’t know,
Tell yourself I love you and I don’t want you to go,
write this down.
Take my words, read ’em every day, keep ’em close by,
don’t you let ’em fade away,
So you’ll remember what I forgot to say, write this down.[10]

[1] Aaron Barker, “Love Without End, Amen,” recorded by George Strait; from the album Livin’ It Up, 1990.
[2] Rodney Clawson and George Strait, “I Saw God Today,” recorded by George Strait; from the album Troubadour, 2008.
[3] Psalm 146:5-7, NRSV.
[4] Garth Brooks and Stephanie Davis, “We Shall Be Free,” recorded by Garth Brooks; from the album the Chase, 1992.
[5] Psalm 83:13-15, NRSV.
[6] Joel Brentlinger & Jaron Lowenstien, “Pray for You,” recorded by Jaron and the Long Road to Love; from the album Getting Dressed in the Dark, 2010.
[7] Josh Kear, Mark Irwin, and Chris Tompkins, “Redneck Crazy,” recorded by Tyler Farr; from the album Redneck Crazy, 2013.
[8] Check out Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-3, and 1 Peter 2:21-25.
[9] Miranda Lambert, “Heart Like Mine,” recorded by Miranda Lambert; from the album Revolution, 2009.
[10] Dana Hunt and Kent Robbins, “Write This Down,” recorded by George Strait; from the album Always Never the Same, 1999.

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