Saturday, June 16, 2007

Blog Break

I'll be on break from blogging while I attend the California-Nevada United Methodist Church Annual Conference and the Amherst Writers and Artists training.

I'll post again in July.
Thanks for reading!

Writing Prompt 7

Write about a time you have felt isolated from others.
Write about a time you have felt part of a community.
Write about a time your sense of community expanded to include others outside your usual circle or awareness.
How did these experiences change you?

I Want to Be Amish

I was an atheist, possibly an agnostic when I saw Witness back in 1985. My husband and I were newcomers in Gilroy, and the Amish community depicted in the movie attracted me powerfully. I wanted to be part of a barn-raising, surrounded by neighbors I knew and who knew me. I wanted to work side by side in community to build something of value.

Years later my family was able to spend a day in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and I still wanted to be Amish. The only two problems as I saw them were that my husband worked for Apple computer, so we couldn’t possibly do without electricity and technology, and the women had to fasten their dresses with straight pins. Had it been safety pins, I would’ve been tempted to find a way to make the whole thing work.

I also find monastic life appealing, an established rhythm for each day that provides balance I can’t duplicate at home, another built-in community, and plenty of time for silence and introspection. As an introvert, I can go days without feeling the need to leave the house or to interact with anyone outside my immediate family; as I writer I feel the value of my personality type. And yet, I need connection with the wider world.

Soon I will have connection big time, with about two thousand people at the Sacramento Convention Center as all the clergy and lay representatives from each United Methodist Church in the California-Nevada Annual Conference gather for our yearly meeting. I was overwhelmed the first time I attended Annual Conference in 1999. We were in prayer, worship and work—discussing and voting on policies for church business and taking stands on social and justice issues—from early morning until late evening. It was exhausting, yet energizing because for the first time since they’d moved on to serve other churches, or I had moved from a community, I re-connected with every pastor I’d ever had, including the one in Woodland when I’d served as a youth janitor in high school.

This reunion reminded me that our connection exists even when we are not present physically. I return each year grateful for these people gathered at the conference joined in faith, and it’s expression through the United Methodist Church. We don’t agree on many things, and yet we are committed to meeting together, talking through our differences, celebrating and supporting the work we share in common to bring Good News in a world inundated with bad news. I have been accepted as an equal in ministry and overwhelmed at the outpouring of love as the Holy Spirit moves among us in the long hours. Yes I get squirrelly, unable to stay in my molded plastic chair for another second, yes it’s too hot outside and too cold in the convention center, yes I usually stay in really dumpy hotels, but I’m not in it alone.

None of us are in this life alone; our actions do impact others. Often, though, I’m so wrapped up in my small life, my small circle, that I forget this. It takes the reminder of Annual Conference for my long-distance vision to kick in. Physically I move out of the mountains with their limited view and into the valley where the vistas are wide. Spiritually I’m reminded of our church partnership with the West Angola United Methodist Church and the work of the fact-finding team in response to killings in the Philippines, and I remember, again that these are brothers and sisters I have never met, part of my community—the human family—the entire planet.

How I wish I could hold the big picture of our connectedness in view for more than the few days of Conference. Maybe if I were Amish.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Writing Prompt 6

Answer one or more of these questions metaphorically or literally:

What seeds are growing in your garden? Are they intentionally planted, or did they find you like a volunteer tomato in an empty pot by the door? Is your garden being choked out by an overabundance of seeds and plants that seem to have showed up while you weren't looking? Should you thin? What will bring you closer to the word, and to being a sower of the word?


An excerpt from The Parable of the Sower:
A sower went out to sow seed...Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold. -Luke 8:5a,8

I have garden boxes my husband built, lined with gopher wire, filled with topsoil and mushroom compost, watered by drip irrigation. In parable terms, I'm loaded with good soil, and the sower of California poppy seed has been busy broadcasting in my garden beds. Of course I can't pull the poppies, they're the state flower, and I don't want to end up in gardener's prison. Plus they're so pretty with their goldenrod heads waving gracefully on long stems. The bumble bees and honeybees love them, and with the bee shortage I've been reading about, I don't want to disturb bee "habitat."

Then there's the mint. The one tiny plant I tapped into the soil two springs ago has spread across the entire bed, obscuring chives, onion and eggplant. It's an herb, not a weed, so I don't dig it up, but there's only so much mint tea a person can brew.

We know Jesus was a carpenter, but I wonder if he had garden chores. He mentions thorns and weeds, but all of that is in the bad soil, not in the garden or field. If Jesus had gardened, wouldn't he have mentioned something in the parable about needing to remove "the volunteers" or even to thin the crops once they started growing?

When my husband and I were newlyweds, we made a vegetable garden in a corner of the backyard. We watered every day after work, delighted in the first green heads poking from the ground, and proudly showed off our 18 baby zucchini plants, only to be told by seasoned gardeners that we didn't want all those plants. Keep one or two they said. We couldn't bear to rip any out until the tiny garden was so crowded that we were forced to relent and took out about half of them. We ate a lot of zucchini that summer.

We were victims of abundance! I have the same problem in life. There is an overabundance of need in this world, an overabundance of opportunities to volunteer time and contribute money to spread the good news of God's love, to try and ease suffering, to share my story, to spread some hope. Worthy seeds, requests and pleas land in my garden beds, and seem to have no end.

But, my little garden, no matter how rich my soil, simply can't nurture and support every seed that ends up in my plot. I have to be selective, even ruthless in committing to the crop(s) I'm trying to grow. In her book Writing Alone and With Others, Pat Schneider writes:
"There is something fundamentally wrong with 'other commitments' if they keep me from my true work. "

She also writes, "I write because I want to bring to myself and perhaps to my reader more light, more grace, more understanding, more delight. I write sometimes out of my anger or my concern to try to make a difference in the world...It is my vocation, and my work is a prayer."

What seeds are growing in your garden? Are they intentionally planted, or did they find you like a volunteer tomato in an empty pot by the door? Is your garden being choked out by an overabundance of seeds and plants that seem to have showed up while you weren't looking? Should you thin? What will bring you closer to the word, and to being a sower of the word?


Little specks of nothing
nearly naked to the eye
broadcast on snow white wings
scattered from fingers
of the Great Sower

Drenched in living water
who can say exactly
what caused them to burst
from the soil
tender green shoots
reaching straight
for the source
of it all
like arms in prayer

Fierce and fat as wildfire
pollen coated bees deliver the fragrant word
straight to the ear
Be still and you will hear

The flowers the fruit
bright and delicious
they grow and we gather
wrap the abundance in our arms
walk through this ravenous world

Take, Eat and Live
Taste and see
This is the soil and the blood
the body, the great love

Sowers of the word
let the seed fall
where it may

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Writing Prompt 5

Have you ever been afraid of God? Afraid of being in church? Write about your experience.

Dead Bees, God, and Me

The summer I turned fifteen I got a job as one of four youth janitors at the United Methodist Church in the town where I lived. I wasn’t a Methodist, I wasn’t anything, and I knew I didn’t belong in church, but my friends all went to MYF, the youth group, and I went with them on outings. We saw All the President’s Men at the movies. We went to a place called Toad Hall where we played the Ungame when our counselors were awake, and truth or dare when they were asleep.

When the regular janitor, a church member, left her husband and ran off with another woman, and three of my friends applied to split the job, I applied too and was hired.

Luckily, I got secular jobs…watering plants and trimming ivy outside the building, and buffing the huge linoleum floor in the fellowship hall with a machine I could barely tame. It was a little scary, being in that big building alone, running equipment that ran me. At least when I was outside, trimming ivy in the heat, I could watch the cars drive down the street, hear their radios blaring out the open windows, and not feel like God, or the pastor, was looking down on me.

The pastor, a tall thin man in his thirties, with black hair and a big smile, invited me into his air-conditioned office for a Coke one afternoon. I wiped the sweat off the back of my neck and said, “No thank you.” He was a man of God, and I was sure that once he found out I wasn’t a believer, I’d melt into hell right in his presence, become a puddle on the floor, just like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Then came a week where I filled in for my friend. Cleaning the toilets in the Sunday school wing was a job I felt worthy of, just Comet, a scrub brush, a toilet bowl and me. I didn’t need to pretend anything. But, then I had to vacuum the Sanctuary. Even though I didn’t necessarily believe in God, I knew God lived in that room, seeing and judging all. God would see me and know, know that I’d never been in that Sanctuary, not even on a Sunday morning. I pulled open one of the heavy wooden doors, and held it with my hip while I pushed the vacuum cleaner in front of me.

The room was stifling hot and the air was still and stale, with the trapped odor of hot cedar and something old, musty and mysterious. I found a plug near the back of the room, and began vacuuming the worn red carpet that led up the aisle and between the pews. I felt like my chest would burst, holding my breath as long as possible, walking between the pews with their books arranged neatly in racks on the backs.

I felt eyes on me, hundreds of eyes, as if the room were filled with ghosts who tucked their feet politely out of the way as I roared by with the vacuum cleaner. I tried not to look up, at the high ceilings at the big paneled walls and glass windows. If I kept my head down, focused on my job, if I didn’t breathe and swiped the carpet as fast as possible, maybe God wouldn’t see me in there, wouldn’t notice that I’d intruded into this place that should be holy and quiet, with my noisy machine and my unbelief.

I bumped my vacuum up the stairs, up around the lecterns and the choir pews, past the table with the huge Bible and big silver cups, sucking up invisible dirt and lint. I kept vacuuming, straight up to the altar, then into the corners sucking up dust and nothing until my machine rumbled underneath the stained glass window of a cross. There on the floor were three dead bees, bees that’d flown into God’s house on accident, bees that’d slammed their little bodies against the colored glass, thinking they’d find pollen, or a way out, bees that couldn’t escape the presence of God, and so had perished.

I sucked them up. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I thought having seen too many television funerals. I unplugged the vacuum and pushed it out of the sanctuary as fast as I could. Afterward, I breathed hard and deep feeling as though I’d just barely escaped the fate of the bees.