In her book, “Practicing Resurrection,” Nora Gallagher writes about the death of her brother, her Episcopal church in Santa Barbara, her marriage, and most of all, about discernment. She senses God calling her to something and she thinks it might ordained ministry. Or then again, it might not be. This book is a story of her struggles, her waiting, her listening for something, anything that will clarify the “call.” It’s a story of people, some who go with her on the journey, some whom she encounters briefly along the way.
One of these people says to her about her sense of ‘call’: If you use supernatural language then you end up waiting for a lightning bolt, instead of sticking to your own life… ‘Call’ makes you think of a voice from outer space, which it is not. These voices are in us already. They are drowned out or muffled. Discernment is about cleaning up the clutter to find the thread.” (p. 17)
Cleaning up the clutter is harder than it sounds. The temptation (for me) is to replace one kind of clutter with another. What I really need is empty space.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Henry Alford’s “Would it Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners” is a witty look at the state of manners in the contemporary world. It’s not so much a prescription or even a lament as it is an observation. So many of the stories are (sometimes sadly) funny .
It did make me think a bit about state of manners in the church. I’m tempted to go on a long rant. Letting people stand or sit by themselves at fellowship time (all the while insisting that we are don’t do that). Telling a newcomer “you are sitting in our pew.” Witnessing someone saying to a newcomer “you are sitting in our pew” and not doing anything to mitigate it. Telling someone “you can’t do it that way” without first finding out the whole story. Talking in “code” that other people can’t understand, making them feel like outsiders.
OK, so I gave in to temptation and ranted (those are a few of the things I have observed or heard about in the past few months at my church).
But Alford’s book made me think that manners in the church are like manners anywhere else. Good manners mean making people feel recognized and welcome and included. Not embarrassing people. Thinking of things from the other person’s perspective. Recognizing that other people have different perspectives and life experiences just as valid as yours.
He quotes Edmund Burke, an 18th century writer, who said that “manners are more important than laws.” Even the unspoken and unwritten “laws” in the church. Manners, I think, are about hospitality to everyone. And isn’t that what we should be about in Christ’s church?
Monday, May 21, 2012
Yesterday, I began to work in the flower beds in the back yard, ahead of the rain. I’m a bit delayed in starting this task, due to our early May trip to California, and the weeds have taken hold and the grass has inched back into the gardens. I worked for a couple of hours, then loaded up the wheel barrow with sticks and bits of rose canes. As I tipped them out into the brush pile, I made a discovery. The young men who mowed during our absence also raked the clippings – lots and lots of clippings – and put them in the brush pile. I was unreasonably excited – it felt like I had been given an unexpected gift. I gathered them up and heaped them onto the cleaned up beds. These relatively new beds, established in a yard created by fill, need all the organic help they can get. Heaps and piles of grass clippings – like a pile of gold.
The most fertile soil for plants to grow is compost: grass clippings, kitchen waste, plants from the garden that have died, dead leaves. What is leftover, discarded – garbage – created the most fertile soil.
Flannery O’Connor wrote that conversion is a lifelong process of turning away from one’s own egocentricity and seeing oneself in “a kind of blasting, annihilating light” that allows us to see ourselves realistically so that we can turn from our sin.
God gives hope and new life and possibility in the places where we least expect it: Pain. Garbage.