Lenten Plastic-Less Discipline

dean-hochman-cc

Every year for the liturgical season of Lent, I identify one or more disciplines on which to focus and practice for the six week season. This year, I was convicted by a Facebook post to choose going plastic-less. I say “plastic-less” because as I’ve been preparing for this discipline I’ve become ever more aware of just how prevalent plastic is in our world and in our daily lives. Some people, like Julie Fathy and Béa Johnson, manage to do an amazing job at eliminating all or most plastic (and other forms of waste) from their lives, but it’s tough and it takes effort.

Thanks to Sarah Wilson I’m removing eight simple kinds of plastic from my life, hopefully way beyond Lent. No more

  • plastic cutlery (I have a backpacking set to use)
  • straws (don’t use them anyway)
  • bottled water
  • take-away beverage cups (they’re plastic lined–ick)
  • plastic toothbrushes
  • plastic shopping bags (I already try to use cloth.)
  • take-away containers
  • plastic wrapped toilet paper

My biggest challenge is to find bamboo toothbrushes locally so I don’t have to increase my carbon footprint by ordering them–and that has to be done by Wednesday. Everything else should be pretty easy to implement, a little more difficult to remember, and hopefully habit-forming.

What are you choosing for a Lenten discipline this year?

(Photo: Dean Hochman, Creative Commons. Thanks!)

Just Tell the Story Already

boldray-cc

“Either you want to tell a story or you don’t. Do you want to draw attention to yourself and your own writing and your beautiful style or do you want to be invisible and let the story and the characters take over for the reader. That’s what it comes down to for me. What comes into it with crime is just conflicts. I like conflict in any kind of popular art. There is no greater conflict than life versus death, so there it is. I’m not that interested in the crime aspect of my books. I am interested in the characters.” — George Pelecanos

Writing is hard work, at least I find it to be tough. If I’m tired (which is a lot of the time), distracted (which happens more than I’d like), or bogged down with work (which happens WAY more than it should), I find settling down in front of my computer screen and tap, tap, tapping away to be a daunting prospect. And so I find other things to do. I avoid the very thing that nourishes me and gives me life.

George Pelecano’s opening statement above, convicts me. If I really want to tell a story, what’s stopping me? Why, for heaven’s sake, am I letting all the STUFF of life get in the way? Why do I settle and sign and fail to put words to page, even as the story snippets wind through my brain and heart? I’ve decided that it’s not so much a fear of failure (I’m far too old for that to matter) as it is fatigue and the busyness of life.

Frankly, however, that is no excuse. I own it, and I’m going to do something about it (in all my spare time). More to come on this subject…

For now, I want to share with you a video series that has been inspiring me to move forward. If you’re dealing with a bad case of writer’s block, a general malaise resulting from current world events, or whatever else ails you, check out Pixar’s “The Art of Storytelling”. I think you’ll be glad you did.

More than JUST a Dog

aaronamatophotography1

On Wednesday evening, January 18, we said goodbye to our family’s faithful canine companion whose full name was Beechwood’s Peter Rabbit, but who was affectionately known simply as Pete. He was 14 and a half years old, had been with us since he was a pup, lived in four states, seven homes, and was the most wonderful goofball of a Springer Spaniel I’ve ever encountered. He was more than JUST a dog.

Pete’s heart was strong right up to the end, even though his body was fast failing him. I’m convinced his big heart was so full of love for us that he kept on going on the strength of that alone. This good dog would just gaze at us with eyes full of love, and he was always girls-pete-2002there with a lick, a nuzzle, and warm fur coat ready to hug after a hard or horrible day. Even the best of days were better with Pete because of his zest for living. You see, he was more than JUST a dog.

It’s taken me a while to write about Pete’s death because of my grief and because the decision to euthanize him was one of the toughest I’ve had to make. It was, I am certain, the right thing to do. Pete had reached the point where his back legs were no longer supporting him, he was losing control of his bodily functions on a regular basis, and the neon signs of doggy dementia were clearly evident. Still, it was an agonizing choice because Pete was much more than JUST a dog.

This good boy walked with our family through some really tough times. We drenched his brown and white fur with our tears on many occasions. He carried us in his paws of love and loyalty through a difficult and traumatic divorce, through the aches and pains of two daughters’ growing up, and through my bout with breast cancer. One of my most treasured memories of Pete is the image of him curled up at my feet after every chemo treatment watching me, never taking his eyes off me to make sure I was going to be all right. Pete held so much of our family’s pain, fears, hopes, and dreams in that big heart of his with no  expectations beyond our affection and a few biscuits. When I married the love of my life five plus years ago, Pete gladly transferred some of his allegiance to Rob. Pete had more than enough love to go around. He was just that kind of dog, and he was way more than JUST a dog.

Pete was eight when a pickup truck clipped him, and we almost lost him. He came through the ordeal in typical Pete style, and although he spent the rest of his days on a daily regimen of drugs, really never missed a beat. Sometimes I wondered if anything could do that dog in. One Christmas he managed to get an entire pan of rising yeast rolls off of the counter and into his belly before any of us could get into the kitchen. Then we learned what rising yeast does in a warm, moist tummy. His poor stomach ballooned up, and we spent a long time walking the miserable pup around town trying to get him to rescind his potentially deadly snack. He did, but rather than outside he chose to deposit his yeasty offering on the blue carpet right in front of the Christmas tree.  Oh, Pete. You were much more than JUST a dog.

The boy definitely had no governor on his appetite. Throughout his life he downed entire pans of brownies, plates of cookies, assorted sandwiches, pounds of ham, steaks stolen off plates, a large bag of brown sugar, and a pound of Kilwin’s dark chocolate truffles with a wag of nub and happy-go-lucky-but-guilty look on his face. Pete had a sideways stealth move that was second to none. From kibble to groundhog and everything in between, the boy surely enjoyed his victuals. Even so, he was so much more than JUST a dog.

img_0363Dogs may be  man’s [sic] best friend, but Pete was definitely this woman’s faithful companion and sounding board, and I miss him so much. One of my seminary professors, the late Rev. Dr. Sue Hedahl, often quipped that “dog” is “God” spelled backwards. Maybe that helps explain our canine companions’ purpose in our lives, to help show that unmerited, unconditional love of our Creator. Oh yes, Pete was more than JUST a dog.

We tried to make Pete’s last day with us as good for him as possible. We bought him a McDonald’s cheeseburger and cut it into pieces which he ate bite by bite with clear relish. He enjoyed a Starbuck’s “pupaccino” (whipped cream in an espresso cup). When I told the barista what the occasion was she wrote his name on the cup and drew a paw print. He even had a photo shoot thanks to Aaron Amato Photography. I give special thanks to the wonderful and compassionate team at Colonial Park Animal Clinic for how they handled this difficult step. This great group of folks truly cared for our beloved boy, and they showed it in spades that January night. Thank you. I know you all understand that Pete was more than JUST a dog.

Pete’s cremains came home in a lovely carved box this week, and it’s good to have at least some element of him back. Part of me wishes he came with instructions “mix with water and watch your puppy come bounding back into your life.” But none of us, no creature, is meant to live forever in these flesh, blood, and bone bodies. There’s much more to life and death and eternity than that. I take comfort in the scientific principle that matter doesn’t go out of existence but only changes form (sorry for the non-scientific way of saying img_0231this) and in the words of the writer of Colossians

So spacious is he [Christ], so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. (1:19-20, The Message)

You see, Pete was more than JUST a dog to me and to my family. If you have pets I’m pretty sure you understand what I mean. Another way to spell dog, I think, is L-O-V-E pure and simple, and love never dies. Knowing that, I’ll just gaze into the clear night skies and try to see my beloved Springer Pete romping as floppy-eared stardust across the cosmos with his brother and litter-mate Fred by his side. Good dog, Pete. Good, good dog.

Photos: Black and white photo courtesy Aaron Amato Photography.

 

Why Neighboring Matters

carlmueller-cc

Do you know your neighbors? Can you name the people and pets who live in the houses on your block? Have you shared stories and/or meals with one another?

When we moved to our current neighborhood three years ago, we were determined to get to know as many people as possible. I had just finished reading The Art of Neighboring by Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak, so I was motivated to draw a map of our block, post it on our refrigerator, and start being, well, neighborly. Why? Because neighboring matters.

Both my husband and I grew up in neighborhoods where we could leave the house in the morning and play all day with friends. We were welcome in one another’s homes, our parents made sure we were safe and reasonably well-mannered, and neighborhood moms dispensed many a popsicle and Bandaid. Casserole dishes crossed streets and warmed hearts after births or illnesses. We knew about major life events and both celebrated and mourned together.

Neighboring matters because people matter. We are stronger when we work together, when we build relationships and communities. Humans are meant to be connected with one another.

Unfortunately neighboring doesn’t happen automatically. Relationships aren’t built overnight, getting to know folks takes time and effort (as well as trust and vulnerability), and one must actually get out of the house and into the neighborhood to truly be a neighbor.

We’re still working at it in our neighborhood. We know most of the people on our block by name. We watch each other’s cats at vacation time. We exchange gardening tips. We check on elderly neighbors, and we keep an eye on each other’s houses. One young family even hosted “Neighbor’s Table” potlucks last summer, hand-delivering invitations door-to-door. Lots of people walk their dogs, and my husband (an extreme extrovert) is always ready to strike up a conversation.

Our hope is to continue cultivating relationships and growing a neighborhood web of interdependence and friendship that enriches everyone’s life. Are we there yet? Not hardly, but we’re working on it.

What simple things might you do to begin neighboring (or increase your efforts) where you live?

For Further Reading/Reflection:

Check out The Art of Neighboring website and book.

Here’s an interview from NPR with Professor Peter Lovenheim on the value of getting to know your neighbors.

Community Dinners is an interesting take on how a worshiping community decided to get to know its Seattle neighbors through dinner churches and how that has expanded in surprising and wonderful ways.

Check out the story of Sarah and her backyard dining “room” where she connects people and creates community. Here’s her Neighbor’s Table Facebook page.

Photo: Carl Mueller, Creative Commons License. Thanks!

 

2017: The Year of Interdependence

nic-mcphee-cc

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.  — Thomas Merton

Citizens of the United States have long prided themselves on their independence, on the notion that anyone can succeed with a firm tug on the old “bootstraps” and a little bit of elbow grease. Unfortunately, that ideal that’s been held so dear and romanticized is not true. We are bit islands unto ourselves with equal opportunity and equal outcome.

Life can be hard. It’s often unfair. Some folks just can’t seem to get a break. Lots of people are left behind. One in five children in America is hungry. It’s tough to earn a living wage. In short, our independence has not served us well to knit a strong fiber of community, a viable safety net, so that all citizens can live decent, relatively secure lives with access to the basics of food, housing, work, and healthcare.

2016 was a particularly contentious year, with the presidential election bringing to light the fears, concerns, and anger of people of both major parties. Many are now hopeful that there will be change for the better. Many now fear that we will suffer greatly. We are a nation divided in our quest for independence and our vision of what it means to be “America.”

In response to last year’s division, I’m going to work this year to lift up examples and possibilities for interdependence in hope that we can all begin in some small ways to work together for the common good. Folks, we need one another. We need to listen. We need to share. We need to tell stories and listen to stories and write stories. We need to open our homes and hearts and minds in ways that move beyond  social media rants and fake news.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I don’t have much at all at this point except a desire to make a difference, to be as Gandhi once said “the difference I wish to see.” Will you join me in my quest? Will you commit to finding ways to be interdependent, to knit together our fabric of community in your neighborhoods, workplaces, houses of worship, and families?

I hope so. I think we can have some fun in the process. And I pray we can leave this world in just a little bit better condition–one conversation and one person, one day or hour at a time.

Photo: Nic McPhee (Creative Commons License) Thanks!

Enough

Adventures in Thanks-Living

Akio Takemoto cc

Enough! Enough already! Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy! What’s going on, people?

This is not the way I would normally start a blog post, but these are the thoughts running through my head against the backdrop of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary gospel (Luke 10:25-37) and my social media newsfeed. Basically it’s a verbal mash-up of who’s my neighbor and who’s acting like a neighbor versus brutal public murders of black men and police officers, anger and hate-filled rhetoric flying willy-nilly in all directions, and competing claims about what will make America great again. Lament seems the only viable response.

And yet…

Jesus calls us to action. He calls us to show mercy, to go and do likewise. Sure, Jesus wept and grieved and mourned for the brokenness of the world in which he walked; however, he was not stymied by the enormity of it all. Sure, he wanted…

View original post 288 more words

Whatever Shall We Do?

Whew! June has been quite the month in the social media and news world. There’s been more than enough of tragedies, disasters, political posturing, and hateful rhetoric, and we still have four days to go. Summer is here, tensions are rising, anxiety is growing, economic disparity is widening, and our elections in the U.S. are less than five months away. What’s a person of faith to do?

Public faith in actionHow about starting with a book discussion this summer? Released last week from Brazos Press, Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, is a wonderful new resource to stimulate discussion and provide additional study and resource suggestions.

I just finished reading the book and have already found it useful in sermon preparation, in conversation, and in challenging me to think outside of my own preconceived notions about how the world ought to operate. Volf and McAnnally-Linz make it clear from the start that the book is framed from this basic commitment: “Christian faith has an inalienable public dimension” (3). They argue that Christ must be the center and norm not just of our religious/faith and family lives but also in every aspect of the public sphere in which we move and breathe. Importantly, they encourage readers to see the book as a call to action, that of following Jesus and patterning the entirety of our lives after his example. Jesus was definitely a public figure; as his disciples we, too, are called to be active in public life to work for justice, top seek the common good, and to be God’s hands, feet, and heart in the world.

Public Faith in Action will appeal to a wide range of folks from theological thinkers to folks in the pew who are trying to make sense of the craziness they perceive all around them. The book is divided into three parts: Commitments, Convictions, and Character. The core of the book explores current issues—ranging from wealth and poverty to borrowing and lending, and from life and aging to marriage and family—and identifies relevant Christian convictions while also faithfully exploring ambiguities. Woven throughout are stories that illustrate the markers of character and convictions.

Whatever shall we Christians do about the current state of affairs? We can begin by recognizing that our response is a matter of stewardship, of being responsible for our actions and choices, of spending our time, resources, and talents wisely. It’s about stewarding relationships as we work together to knit the fabric of community through conversation, fellowship, and sharing.

Now get your hands on a copy of Public Faith in Action and read it post haste. But whatever you do, don’t stop there. Engage others in conversation and reflection, ponder what you as a person of faith are being called to do, and then commit yourself fully to act on your convictions for the sake of this beautiful, broken, and beloved world.

Click here to be redirected to the book website. Click here to watch a short YouTube video of Dr. Miroslav Volf discussing the book.

(Image: Courtesy Brazos Press)

How’d all that STUFF Happen?

Kevin Utting Cc

I kid you not; STUFF multiplies like dust bunnies under the bed. I’ve been working toward greater simplicity for several years now, and I still have too much stuff. For the second year in a row I participated in “The Month of 100 Things.” This Facebook group pledges to rid their lives and homes of 100 unnecessary things during the first month of the calendar year. It never  fails to amaze me how much can be gotten rid of in 31 days!

From cleaning out a drawer in the office to my closet, it was pretty easy to eliminate 100 things that weren’t either necessary or perceived as beautiful and essential. And then tonight, on my way home from a meeting, I hear The Minimalists on WITF-FM (NPR) say that the average American home has over 300,ooo things in it. Goodness! How much do we need to consume to be happy? How much do we have to hang on to “just in case” we might one day need it? Hmmmmmm….maybe I’ll go clean out another drawer.

What are your ideas for avoiding the consumption of excess stuff?

Check out this blog post from embracinghomemaking.net aptly entitled “200 Things to Throw Away” to get  started (if it doesn’t exhaust you just by reading the list!). I really like the Oscar Wilde quote “There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid others would pick them up.” There’s that “fear” thing again! Remember there’s enough if we all just do a better job of sharing.

(Photo: Kevin Utting, Creative Commons. Thanks!)

Popcorn Please

veggiefrog cc

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make all the difference in a day. For the Blezards almost nothing spells comfort like a big bowl of popcorn made the old-fashioned way: on the stove in a big pot with just a splash of oil, some sea salt, a little curry and red pepper powder, and a good upper arm workout. This simple treat is a Sunday night staple in our house and go-to weeknight comfort food after long meetings.

The simple pleasure of a big bowl of popcorn is much more than food to fill the belly. The taste, smell, and texture are infused with memories of childhood family television nights, memorable movies watched on the big screen, teen sleepovers, and making sticky-sweet popcorn balls for the holidays.

During this Lenten season, I am giving thanks for the simple things in life. Popcorn on a cold winter night is one of those simple pleasures that might easily taken for granted but is oh so worth savoring.

What are the simple things in which you take delight?

Oh Ashy Day!

Ash Wednesday Snow Day

Ashes and snow. Black and white that melts into shades of gray. When our bishop made the ashen sign of the cross on my forehead today I was both reminded of my mortality, of my foolish and sinful nature, and of the amazing hope of real life–eternal life–that I have in Jesus. Yes, this prodigal love and unmerited grace that Jesus extends reminds me of the pristine, sparkling snow that covers the dull, dingy landscape of this Pennsylvania winter. The love of our Lord makes everything new and clean and brightly hopeful again. Nothing, and no one, is beyond his gentle reach.

We live in the already and the not yet, in the gray area between yesterday and eternity. We are no longer forsaken but truly forgiven. Still the ash cross reminds me that my days here are numbered. I came from dust (really stardust if you want to be accurate about it) and to dust of the cosmos and beyond comprehension.

So Lord, teach me to number my days. Instruct me to amend and consider my ways. You do not desire pithy piety or rusty religiosity. You desire a real fast from my earthbound self, a radical reorientation and returning to your way. Yes, Lord, this cross on my forehead and the snow all around remind me of your glory and your goodness. I am so thankful that you love my dusty and imperfect human being self and that you are constantly reforming me to reflect your light and love. Ashes and snow. Dust and stardust. Grace and mercy. And above all love. Oh, ashy, snowy day!