Weary and Worn Out

Matthew 9:36
When He saw the crowds,
He felt compassion for them,
because they were weary and worn out,
like sheep without a shepherd.

IMG_8356“Sheep without a shepherd” — that explains a lot, doesn’t it?

I’ve struggled to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon. Why is he so successful?

I watched the piece that demonstrated how he speaks on a 4th grade level, using more one-syllable words than other candidates. That explained some. People understand his message.

His immigration plan: a big wall. So easy to picture.

His economic plan: jobs. America is going to be great again. America is going to win. It’s that simple.

If only it were.

For so long, the middle class — my people — have felt unheard. We work, often more than one job, long hours, low pay, and for what? So that somebody else can get free healthcare or a free cell phone or free food. The programs put in place by the government show compassion for the needy, but are carried by moms and dads working multiple jobs and having less and less to show for it all. Nobody in power seemed to listen to their cries.

Until Donald Trump came along, full of the braggadocio of a casino, promising wealth and prosperity.

Just slip some tokens into this slot machine. Lights and bells will go off, and you will be rich.

Just vote for Donald Trump and America will be great again.

For too long we have been sheep without a shepherd.

For too long we have been buying lottery tickets in the hopes of being a winner or sending money to the Joel Osteens of the world who promise prosperity to those who give generously.

We have been made ripe so that we fall from the branch with just a touch, just a promise from a shyster.

Like Israel in Jesus’ time, we look for a political messiah.

But there is none.

We huddle in fear like sheep.

But God sees us and has compassion on us.

He doesn’t promise a resurrection of the United States of America.

He IS the resurrection.

Donald Trump is not our savior any more than any other political candidate.

Jesus is.

This world is not our home. We’re just a-passing through.

Let’s not forget.

Darkness and Light

The photography challenge for the past week was called “State of Mind.” We were encouraged to let our inner world and the outside one converge in a photo.

I looked at the challenge last Friday and drew a total blank.

Bear in mind, I am not a real photographer. Most of my pictures are taken on an iPod Touch, 4th generation, with a cracked screen. It’s really nothing special.

Once I listened to a radio interview with a professional photographer. She was asked what was the best camera for the amateur photographer.  Without hesitation, she replied, “The camera you have in your hand.” So, I unapologetically pull my iPod from my pocket and snap pictures when I see something I want to remember.

That’s why I end up with pictures like this:IMG_8229

That night, I had pulled in the driveway and seen the moon, a tiny galleon caught in a web of skeletal tree branches. I know — I’m mixing all sort of metaphors, but can you see the tiny speck of a moon? It was breathtaking.

Some days, that is my state of mind. That is my inner world and the outside converging. Darkness, but always a speck of beautiful light.

More often it is this —IMG_8294

Darkness in the foreground, but beauty around it.

That picture shows a sunset, though, and I like to think we’re going in the opposite direction.

This one of a sunrise may be more appropriate —IMG_8282

Beauty is always around us even in the dark times.

For that I am very thankful.

A House Divided

DSC05643

This is one of the older buildings in Cooperstown, just down the street from the Village Smithy which is the oldest building.

United in stone, divided in accoutrements — I pray that this is the fabric of our country.

The stones show wear and the mortar has been repaired, but the building still stands and proudly proclaims the date of its construction – 1826.

A number of years ago — I’m quite sure it was an election year — I began praying for the leaders of our country. By name. Each one. Our president. Our vice-president. Our governor. Our mayor. Our senators. Our representative. All nine members of the Supreme Court — and now I pray for that empty chair.

It doesn’t matter whether I voted for them or not. It doesn’t matter whether I agree with them or not. It doesn’t matter whether I trust them or like them or respect them. I pray for the people in power, and for God’s will for this country.

Because Christ was born during the reign of a king who slaughtered infants.

And the Church was born and grew during the reigns of emperors who fed Christians to the lions.

Government is just government. Buildings are just buildings.

Still, will you join me in praying for this election? Not that “our person” is elected, but that we don’t become too divided in the midst of it all.

Pray by name for Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, even though their names may not fall easily off your lips. Pray for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders, no matter what your opinion of them may be.

You paint your side blue. I’ll paint mine off-white. Remember that we share mortar and stone, and must keep each other strong.

Open Your Eyes

Last week I started a challenge on Facebook to post pictures depicting beauty for seven days. I focused on Cooperstown because I think it’s one of the prettiest places ever.  I really do love where I live.

My uncle called to talk with my father one day and he commented on the photographs. “It really makes you pay attention to what’s around you, doesn’t it?” he said.

And he’s right.

I walked down Main Street and took this picture which didn’t make it to my Facebook 7.DSC05646

It’s a pretty little bit of ornamentation that has been there for more than 100 years. I never noticed it until the day I was intentionally looking for beauty.

This shot of building called Bassett Hall turned out nice too — but I didn’t use it. The weathervane is a person pushing someone in a sled. We used to walk there for sledding when my oldest boys were little, in boots and snowsuits, dragging sleds behind us, for the quick steep slide down the hill, wondering if we could make all the way to the fence. Standing at the bottom and trying to capture the weathervane made the building look almost like a castle. Before I saw a sledding hill. Now I see something beautiful.DSC05634

The challenge also involved tagging others to take up the challenge.

My friend and fellow-blogger Anna Brown took up the challenge and posted this: A Little Birdie. The picture showed a pine grosbeak perched high in a tree.

Several other friends have posted pictures of everything from architecture to hummingbirds. It has been wonderful.

My favorite photograph, though, was this one, captioned “Grandma’s Driveway” —12801502_10100274586528599_2874246320770893979_n

One of her friends commented, “I guess just open your eyes and it’s all there.”

So true.

Hard Season

Hard seasons call for resolve.

DSC05241

the bench by the lake

One early morning during the summer I drove to the lake.

Insomnia. Heartache. Worry. Sorrow. The world weighed me down.

I sat on a wet park bench in the mist and cried.

“I just can’t do it, Lord,” I said. “It’s all too hard.”

Nobody even knew I was there. I had snuck out in the predawn without telling anybody; I knew that I needed something, but didn’t know what.

It turns out I needed a good cry alone in the mist.

But there was something else in that park that I needed, a face I needed to see.

DSC05247

DSC05248He stared into the mist, resolute, determined.

He couldn’t see any further than I could.

Plus he had been staring in that direction so long that an orb spider had built its web from his chin to his chest.

I had seen that statue a thousand times and never realized how strong he looked as he faced the unknown.

This morning I read how Jesus had “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:53) He knew what lay ahead and faced it boldly.

I sat in a park and cried because I didn’t think I could do it. He knelt in a garden and prayed, “Not my will, but thine.”

Oh, to be like Jesus!

But the Lord God helps me… therefore I have set my face like a flint. (Isaiah 50:7)

Lenten Prayer

I read a quote by Lancelot Andrews from a sermon given nearly 400 years ago in which he bemoans that “our tears, if any, dry straight.”

What does that even mean? I asked myself.

Then I watched the girl bending over her father in the waiting room again and again, weeping all the while. Her tears were anything but straight. They stained her cheeks and his, her sleeve and his collar, her chin, his hair. Her tears did not fall in neat little lines down a stoic face. They were passionate and heart-rending.

I thought of my friend Rebecca who feels things so deeply.  She would be weeping thus. I would be struggling to hold it all in.

So I wrote this prayer for Lent based on the full quote.

May my tears not dry straight
As I am moved by what moves You

May my prayers not be tedious
But approached eagerly
And lifted to You
In awe that You hear me

May my giving not be pitiful
But rich and generous

May my fast be slow and deliberate
Not pulled aside by small occasions

May my repentance be deep and true —
A repentance needing no other

Ash Wednesday Phone Calls

Two years ago, early in the morning of Ash Wednesday, my sister called to tell me that my brother had passed away.

“Stewart had a heart attack,” she said, and, in the microsecond pause that occurs between words, a thousand possibilities raced through my mind. He was in the hospital. Or, it was minor but he’ll be fine. Maybe this will be the wake-up call that he needs to exercise more and eat healthier. A thousand possibilities.

Except the one she said.

The Columbarium where my brother and my mother are laid to rest.

The Columbarium where my brother’s ashes are laid to rest.

“And he died.”

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

It was a somber beginning to a heavy season.

Today, I’m expecting a phone call.

The news it will bring is neutral, neither bad nor good, just a time. What time is Bud’s surgery tomorrow. He is having a larger excision of his melanoma site and a sentinel node biopsy.

From that phone call, we can figure out what time we need to leave to get to the hospital.  What time we can anticipate getting home. What time should my praying friends be praying. What time.

Then, we have to wait for another call, one that will come in two weeks with the pathology report.

Has the disease spread? Was it in the lymphatics? The answers to those questions will set our course.

Even though I expect good reports, beginning Lent this way is a reminder of our mortality — of my husband’s mortality, of my own mortality.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

And so, today, ministers around the world will smear ashen crosses on congregants’ foreheads, whispering the words, “Remember, mortal, that from the dust you were made, and to the dust you will return.”

My own ashen cross will not be a smear. It will come as a phone call.