Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fetishistic Little Weirdo Doggie

My dog is a weirdo. Like a total freak. I can't begin to explain it. She's just mommy's little weirdo.

She has this thing for socks. My socks. Your socks. It doesn't matter. Scratch that. It TOTALLY matters. Because while she might decide to play with your sock if it's lying around unattended, and unfooted, in the living room (if you were say an eight year old girl visiting her relatives for the weekend and you forgot it, left it behind, and hey, at that point it's fair game), she won't actively seek out your socks. (Unless, of course, you're that same eight year old girl visiting her relatives, and then my little weirdo doggie isn't seeking out your socks, she's seeking out you, and she's on high alert, barking out her code, "Danger! Danger! Stranger! Stranger! Stranger! Evil!" Whether you are evil or not is not the issue here. To her, you are an unknown entity, and that means "BAD!"

On the other hand, if it's my sock, or more like a pair of my socks neatly folded together, in my dirty laundry hamper, which is kept tucked under the bed for space, tidiness, and aesthetic reasons with about three inches of clearance between the top of basket and the bottom of the box spring, well I can pretty much be guaranteed that at least once a week, my dog will manage to dig to the bottom of the basket, where I keep the whites, in order to dig out a pair of my socks, proceed to shake them until they are a messy ball of socks, and leave them somewhere strange--like the middle of my room in the hallway. If she's feeling less ambitious, she might just pluck the black pair of slipper-socks off the top of the pile, where I keep the darks, and play with that instead. One weird little doggie.

What's more, she feels the need to steal my toy! I have one toy left from childhood. Well, two, but one that lives with me permanently and spend most of its time lost in my bedclothes or under the bed itself, but which is mine. Totally, completely, unquestioningly mine. It does not matter to me that 19 years ago my evil grandmother's dog (or is it my grandmother's evil dog? hmmmm....conundrum) attacked this toy and tore the nose almost completely from its dear, sweet face. It's mine, and appreciated the nose that hung from a few bits of acrylic fabric stitched together. After all, 19 years ago that toy did battle with a minion of a force of evil and won!

So, it was a less than happy moment when I discovered my toy, not in its proper place against the pillows on my recently made and tucked bed, but at the foot of the bed, face down, the plastic nose next to it, and the plastic washer that had kept it in place all these years on the floor! It did not escape my notice either that being at the foot of the bed, it happened to be directly over the place where my feet, occasionally stockinged, rest while I sleep. Nor did it escape my notice that this place where I rest my feet during my nightly repose is precisely above the laundry hamper from which my little weirdo doggie regularly steals well concealed socks.

I guess I have to face the hard fact--my little weird doggi is fetishistic. She loves all things socks. She loves to steal anything sock related, and will even steal non-sock-related items and destroy them in sock-related places.

Now, it may be the case that there are those who would make the argument that she is a dog, a puppy even. And being a puppy, she is likely to get into all kinds of mischief, and it's perfectly normal for her to steal socks and chew on toys that look so much like the squeaky toys her loving mommy gives her to play with.

Not so, I would argue. After all, this is the second doggie to whom I have played doggie-mommy, and my first doggie never misbehaved. He knew that his toys were his toys. He knew that my toy was my toy. He knew that if a treat fell on the floor of our room, he wasn't permitted to touch it without permission. A small bit of Pupperoni once sat next to his food dish for close to a week, untouched, because I had told him he had to wait for his treat. It sat for so long because I'd forgotten about it. It wasn't until I saw it several days in a row that I remembered I'd not given him permission to eat it. Finally, I gave it to him, and he gulped it down, happily. He'd also had daily treats in the interim, but he never touched one without permission.

So, I say, "No," to those who would argue that she's just being a dog, because clearly anecdotal information proves that she is not being a dog. She's being a little weirdo doggie. But she has my heart. So, I reprove her. I discipline her when I discover her in the midst of naughty doggie deeds. I try to get her adequate exercise, though I honestly believe she could go all day and never tire. I try to train her. It's hard, though. Because she's so unlike my other doggie; and my expectations are high, and likely completely unfair.

I have a fetishistic weirdo doggie who loves all things socks. And I love my little weirdo doggie. Maybe I'll start a line of fetishistic weirdo doggie sock toys. Or fetishistic weirdo doggie foot wear toys. Just in case she develops and eye for my dress shoes. You just never know. Regardless, I love my fetishistic little weirdo. I wouldn't trade her for the world.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Claiming Our Inheritance

Today's sermon is actually from next week's texts. The privilege of knowing next week's sermon is going to be on the Epiphany texts!

Ephesian 1:3-14
John 1: 1-18


"I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it."

These words come from a dear and much beloved friend I met while in seminary. I heard them more than once, and they were always spoken with absolute conviction.

"I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it!"

In two of our readings for today, Ephesians and the Gospel of John, we read that we are children of God. Jesus, whose birthday we celebrated yesterday gave us the power to become children of God; children born not of blood or flesh or the will of man, but of God.

This is one of those truths I hear so often that I easily forget what it means. It's everywhere. I think about eighty-five percent of the publicly recited prayers I have heard started with "Heavenly Father" or "Father God." Or, they were interrupted every few words with "Father," "my father," "our Father," or again the ever so popular "Father God, Father God, Father God." Every single week, we sit in the pews on Sunday morning and begin the same prayer, the same way, "Our Father, who art in heaven..."

We read and hear and talk so much about our Father-God-in-Heaven that we sometimes forget the counterpoint to this statement. We are His kids.

I am His kid!

I am His kid. I am a child of God. And so are you.

You were made by God. You came into being through God. And before you ever came to a knowledge of any of this, you were claimed by God.

Being God's kids means that we have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. There is a world apart from and beyond this world in which we live, a world that at moments intersects with our lives--a heavenly realm, a place full of blessings. And God, who claims us as His children, at various times and places reaches through through from that realm to this to bestow those blessings upon us. These are sacramental moments; moments when God's grace is made palpable, concrete, something we feel so deeply in our hearts we can proclaim with total conviction: I am a child of God! These are moments when God's grace becomes more than just something we know with our heads--it is a reality we begin to live into from our hearts.

These moments of grace come to us through Jesus, who chose us, who makes us holy and blameless. We have been set apart. God chose us. And when God looks at us, set apart from our sin, He sees us without blame or blemish. He sees us as we were created to be. Who you are is not determined by the things that you do, but rather by Whose you are! And we are children of God.

We have been redeemed and forgiven. We have received wisdom and insight. And God is gathering all things to Himself--and that includes you and me. Being God's kids, we also have an inheritance.

Now Paul, when he writes to the church at Ephesus about this inheritance, isn't super clear about what it entails. But then Paul isn't ever really super clear about anything. I won't pretend to know Paul's precise meaning concerning this inheritance, but I've got a couple of guesses:

1) All those spiritual blessings. This is, admittedly, vague. But remember those sacramental moments I mentioned a minute ago? Well, I'm guessing we get more. And I'm guessing they're less intermittent. More continuous.

2) Everything.

The concept of an inheritance hasn't really changed at all in the 2000 years since Paul put brush to papyrus. The cultural expectations are a little different, but ultimately, the idea is the same: Somebody dies, and somebody else gets all the good stuff.

Back in ancient times it was the first born son who received pretty much everything. Subsequent sons might get a token, but lion's share went to the first born. And forget the daughters. Seriously. Forget about them. They didn't count.

But here Paul is, telling us that we--men and women, young and old--get an inheritance from God. And why? Because when God looks at us, He sees us through Jesus--the first-born of all creation.

And why does God see us through Jesus? Because Jesus, the Word, the very Word of God, even God himself, who was in the beginning--not hanging around at the time things began, but in the very act of beginning, in the act of creation itself, in the beginning from which sprang all this--Jesus, the Word of God, Jesus who is God, came.

He left those heavenly realms and was born in this earthly place. He came as life and as the light of all people. Jesus came and brought the light of Christ into the world. The light of Christ we invite into our worship every week when the acolytes begin our service. The light of Christ we take into the world when we leave this place.

All because the Word became flesh and lived among us.

It's that whole "living among us" part that allows us to see God.

It's that whole "in the flesh" part that means Jesus is really, well, and truly alive today. And he is alive in each one of us.

Being a Christian does not (only) mean having Christ in us. The word "Christian" literally means "Christ followers" or "one who follows Christ," and as such necessarily requires that we see Christ in others.

No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

"If we do not recognize God in the flesh, we do not recognize God."

I remember the first time I truly understood this; one of those sacramental moments when my knowledge about God became my experience of God in another person.

My friend from seminary, standing in front of me, proclaiming with conviction:

I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it!

My friend who loved me deeply, and unconditionally, and well. My friend who, in the short time we had together, showed me what it was to see Jesus in someone else.

That's the point of incarnational faith--the logos en sarki, the Word made flesh--the very reality of God, as Jesus in each one of us--the body of Christ.

Having God as our father means we each can proclaim with conviction:

I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it.

My hopes for you this morning and in the coming year are that your knowledge and experience of God will continue to deepen; that you will have those sacramental moments when more than knowing about God's grace you find yourself living into God's grace; that when you look at those people whom God has placed in your life, you'll recognize Jesus in them, and that you find yourself able to say with all conviction:

I am a child of God, and I claim my inheritance. All of it!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Peace and Quiet

I sometimes wonder how I survived childhood. Those who know a bit of my family history probably think they know where this wonderment comes from. I'm not referencing my father here, however.

I'm actually thinking about my mother. How did my mother manage to raise us to adulthood and not end it all by killing us in the process? I mean, I actually marvel at this fact.

My mother is not a violent woman. It seems odd that I might, retrospectively, expect her to have killed us in our youth. In particular, I'm amazed that my mother didn't kill me. Forget the other three--the ones who weren't home, too busy running with their friends, experimenting with drugs, making babies in their later teen years. I was the one at home. I was the one present. How is it that my mother stayed sane enough to spare my life?

Sure, she's a peaceable, loving, lovely woman who would never hurt a fly. I can't remember my mother so much as spanking me as a child except once, for a fairly grievous offense at that. She never lobbed death threats or even threats of violence in any way. She was a thoroughly fantastic mother who did the best she could with what she had.

And all she really ever asked us in return was a little peace and quiet.

Which doesn't seem like much to ask.

As I grow older, I find myself valuing silence more and more. I don't own a radio. I do not listen to music unless I'm in the car with 1) my father, 2) other people who insist on turning it on, or 3) a trip alone, longer than 30 minutes. If I'm alone on a trip longer than 30 minutes, I usually go for NPR, where they only play music in the evening. And if their news-y bit is about an up-and-coming musician where they play more than 20 seconds of a given song, I turn off the news, too.

I like the quiet.

And I own a dog. And my sister has six children. And my dog does not like my sister's children. My dog, my small, adorable, precious dog is a yappy dog. To make matters worse, she's yappiest when my sister's kids come around. My sister's kids who are loudest children God ever created. Seriously.

I mean, I lack an inside voice. No joke. My pipes just weren't created that way. I can whisper, and I do, but at a normal speaking volume, my voice carries. Everywhere. To ear that I do not want to hear. To everybody. This works wonders in my chosen profession, but is a bit frustrating at times in my daily life. I'm not really one to yell most of the time. I don't scream. I don't need to. My voice is just bizarrely loud. And if I do raise my voice in a moment of frustration or to be heard over the din, well, it doesn't take much. There's no effort involved. Just a little extra air.

None of which is the point, and which will, at some point, lead to another blog entirely.

So, back to the kids. The really loud kids, whose ability to make noise far surpasses my own natural vocal talents. The ones who think that any walking occasion in which they aren't stomping is a lost opportunity. The ones who think that it would be a waste of energy to approach someone politely and make a request at a normal volume when they can just yell across the house. The ones who think that doors were made to be slammed as they stomp into and out of the house ever three minutes thirty-seven seconds.

The same ones who think that they can drink an entire can of soda, but lose interest 1/3 of the way through and leave the nearly full can on a ledge of some table or the entertainment center or a counter or the floor, which they inevitably end up knocking over later, having forgotten it entirely. Then comes the chaos of noisy soda explosions and adults grumbling. The excuses and justifications, and "I hate you!"s when you ask them to pick up their mess or take their dishes to the sink, or horror of horrors, wash their really smelly, clammy, thoroughly gross hand when they've sneezed into them, and then used their mucous-y saliva to style their cowlicks into submission. The really loud, disrespectful, kind of gross-to-a-germ-hater kids!

I sometimes tell people that I dislike children. Okay, so closer to the truth is, I regularly tell people I dislike children. This, however, is not exactly true. I like children. In theory. I just don't like the disrespect that accompanies my sister's children. And I really dislike the crying, screaming, temper tantrums that accompany other people's kids almost everywhere I see them.

I mean, would it really kill a person to shell out $8.00 for a babysitter when they run to the grocery store so that I'm not subject to their four year old's shrieks and screams over their refusal to buy Twinkies? I mean it's a noise that sets my teeth on edge. It's makes my eardrums pound, and my skin crawl. It's literally physically painful to be in the same store as these noisy hellions people foist on unsuspecting fellow shoppers. And if you can't afford a babysitter once a week, save up and get a dog kennel. And a padlock. Just make sure the kid's got plenty of fresh water available while you run your errands.

I just do not like noise. I like the quiet. I like peace. I like to have a moment to myself. Generally, I like that moment to stretch far longer than any of the moments I'm with other people, no matter how great those other people are. And for those of you who know me, if we talk on the phone, getting past 15 minutes of conversation is a sure sign that I love, respect, enjoy, and miss you! Because at 15 minutes, I'm looking at the clock and wondering how much longer I have to spend feeling weird and uncomfortable before I can find a really great excuse to hang up. And if I really, really, really love, respect, enjoy and miss you, I might even forget to look at the clock. I might even ignore my rather full bladder for 35-40 minutes just to talk to you longer before I tell you how much I love you, and how desperately I need to hang up. And yes, Ms. M., I'm thinking of you ;)

For the rest of you, well, it's kind of torture. Don't get me wrong, I'm willing to endure. To some degree. For some time. But talking on the phone, without actually spending time together, without seeing your face, without any other social cues to pick up on, or a smile to see, or something in a common environment to comment on...well, it's a struggle, and I find myself longing to be able to hang up, and enjoy the quiet.

Which when I do hang up, leaves me dog. My thoroughly loving, adorable, fantastic, small, high-pitched yappy when the kids come over, or the neighbors drive by on their ATVs, or the UPS guy delivers a package, or sees herself in the mirror but doesn't understand the concept of a reflection dog. My dog, whom I love.

My dog who follows me just about everywhere. Especially if I'm the only one home. And if I happen to head to the basement to do laundry or send an email or post to my blog, she'll be standing on the top landing, whimpering for me. My dog. The one who follows me into the bathroom. The one who scratches and whines incessantly at the bathroom door unless I leave it open. The one who comes in to look at me doing my business or taking a bath if I do leave the door open a crack, just so I don't have to listen to the incessant whining and scratching.

And it reminds me of when I was little. When my mother would take a bath. The water would be running, and then it would be off. I'd hear the squeak and rumble of skin moving against the fiberglass tub as she washed herself and shampooed her hair. And this was always followed by silence. It was a silence that was always a lifetime in length, even when it only lasted three minutes. It was a silence I always interrupted. Tentatively creeping up to the bathroom door, softly knocking, holding my breath in fear that my mother's response would be world-weary, terrified that she wouldn't respond at all, steeling myself for the moment I was sure would come, when I would peek around the corner to see blood, pools of blood on the bathroom floor, streaks of blood on the tub surround, the water stained crimson as her life drained away.

I was always terrified that my mother would one day take her own life, with a razor, in the bath tub, determined to get out and seeing no other way. My fear was, I know now as an adult, rooted in my own suicidal thoughts, which had plagued me from the age of five through my adolescence. But eight year olds don't know the word "projection." And so it was with the image of my mother's death swimming before my eyes that I would sigh with relief when she answered, a world-weary "Yes?" and I would reply, "Nothing, mama." And sure enough there would follow a comment about how she could never get a moment's peace, not even in the bathroom, a place where most people would expect they could go and be alone.

Here I am, twenty-some years later, wanting the same quiet I feared so much as a child. Wanting the peace that comes with knowing if it's quiet, I don't have to be perfect, I don't have to perform, I don't have to pretend to be interested in something when I'd rather read a book, that I don't have to cook for and clean up after a child who's utterly ungratefully and totally disrespectful, that I'm not being set-up for failure with mind games and puzzles, and barbed insults that say less about me than the person lobbing them, but which hurt nonetheless. Quiet means my world is my own and I don't have to figure out the right response to someone else's query, the response that tells them I'm listening and supportive in the way they need to hear it. Quiet means that I don't have to have an opinion on anything. It means that I don't have to justify my opinion to anyone. Quiet means I get a moment of peace.

And it makes me wonder how I survived childhood. How is that my mother didn't kill us all just to get a moment's peace? It truly astounds me. Don't get me wrong, I would never kill anyone just to get a moment's peace. But I sometimes wonder if what saves me from doing serious emotional damage to my sister's kids is my ability to remind myself that in just a few more hours, they'll be gone, and I won't have to see them again for at least a week, maybe longer! Even then, there are times when I can't muster up the grace and I tell them, flat-out, they aren't welcome in my space and to, please, just leave me alone, I do not want them near me--and be quiet wherever it is that they may find themselves in the house, and no, we are not watching Spongebob Square Pants again because we've seen that episode 12 times already this weekend and I'd rather watch the Rachel Maddow show.

And I remind myself that there will come a day when I won't be awoken by my dog curling up in the groove of my pillow, leaving me with acne and itchy eyes (did I mention I'm allergic to dogs), and that one day soon, she'll prefer her kennel to her bed, just as she recently moved from my bed to her own. There will come a day when I can go to the bathroom or to do my laundry and she might follow me like a shadow, but then again she might not. And there will come a day when she won't follow me at all, when she'll join my last dog in a wooden box on my dresser, with a just a picture and paw print set in clay.

And I remind myself that giving up a little peace and quiet now means getting a little more time with people I want to love (and sometimes think I actually might). It means another morning waking up with my dog in my face, a dog I definitely love. It means a few more minutes on the phone, connecting with people I value, and accepting that circumstances prevent what I would prefer--a cup of coffee on a shared couch. So I'll make do with what is available to me, even if I'm not a fan of talking on the phone. Something is better than nothing.

And I'll find peace and quiet where I can. I will take it when I really do need it. And I'll try not to grumble too much when going without, for a few hours, means blessing someone else.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Yet again, Iowa has delivered something that just couldn't be found in NYC--locally produced milk! While I know several people who bought their milk from Farmers' Market stands in NYC, I just never could find the milk stall. So, I bought mine at the grocery store, with no idea from whence it came. Well, I had some idea, I guess, because I know for sure that it came from cows. Unless that episode of "The Simpsons" got it right and tiny milking machines have been hooked to rats. I digress.
The point: Exceptional milk is available here! Many thanks are due to Hansen's Dairy. (Curiously, it has been said that if you take any word, keeping the first and last letter in place and scrambling the remaining letters in any order you choose, your brain will still read the word correctly, every time. There are exceptions to this rule. Dairy/Diary is but one.) Again, digression!
This past weekend, I purchased two gallons of the good stuff. A gallon of 1% (because while I prefer skim, I know other people in the house are likely to complain if skim is the only option in the refrigerator), and a gallon of whole milk. The whole milk went something like this:
Into a clean, 5-quart crock pot, on high, with a candy thermometer tucked between the lip of the pot and the pot's lid. There it remained until the milk reached 185* F. At which point, I turned the crock pot to low and left it for 30 minutes.
Having held the milk at 185* for half an hour, I turned the crock pot off, and left it for a few hours, until the thermometer read 110* F. Then, I mixed 1 1/2 cups of the warm milk with 1 cup of plain yogurt, mixed this back into the remaining milk in the crock pot, put the lid back in place without the thermometer, wrapped the entire thing in four layers of towel, and left it sitting for eight hours, returning after five hours to turn the crock pot on low for 15 minutes, and two hours after that to turn it to low for another 15 minutes.
Having thoroughly cultured the milk, I stirred it until it was smooth, and then ladled it into a tea towel lined mesh strainer resting over a large stock pot. After a few hours in the refrigerator, the whey was transferred from the stockpot into a storage container and placed in the freezer. I plan to use it the next time I make bread.
The remaining yogurt was moved from the tea towel into a storage container, stirred, lidded and returned the refrigerator.
This is not my first time making yogurt, and I've always used whole milk in the past. It is my first time making yogurt with Hansen's milk, however, which feels as though it has a higher fat content, which is entirely plausible depending on the breed of cow they milk. Jersey's produce significantly more far than other dairy cows. I think next time, I'll buy two gallons of 1% and make low-fat yogurt.
All in all, it's quite delicious, and I'm enjoying it mixed with strawberries.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: A 100 Minute Eschatological Treatise

Everything in parenthesis today is for you, oh faithful reader(s) (assuming you exist), and was not part of the sermon delivery.


Matthew 24:36-44

"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

"Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

"Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

"Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."


"The two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

"Two women will be grinding mean together; one will be taken and one will be left."

This is what Jesus tells us will happen with the coming of the Son of Man: One will be taken and one will be left. I'm not a huge fan of "end times" theology; mostly because so much of it is so poorly done.

A few years ago, I happened to catch parts of a movie--based on a series of books--about this very topic. (Left Behind. Oh, Kirk Cameron, where have you been for the last 20 years?) Some were taken while others were left. Watching the few parts of this film I happened (rather unfortunately) to catch, I kept expecting Gene Wilder to show up on screen in a purple velvet suit jacket and burnt orange top hat singing:

There is no life I know that compares to pure imagination (And yes, I sang this to the congregation).

(Because the Left Behind movie and books, are just that--pure imagination. The God I worship just doesn't work that way. For an excellent article on how this plays out in politics, check out this link).

The problem with much of this theology, as I see it, is that it encourages us to focus our will and intent on the next life. (For really excellent examples that have made their way into "Christian" media, check out the lyrics to FFH's "Fly Away" and perhaps less blatantly vomit-inducing "One of These Days"). Often, this comes at the expense of the life we have now. It is a theology that encourages us to live a life of pure imagination, but without the happy ending (Gene Wilder, in his outrageous purple and orange outfit, gives Charlie Bucket at the end of the movie "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory") in which Charlie Bucket inherits the chocolate factory.

Please, do not misunderstand me. I believe imagination is a wonderful thing! Imagination has the ability to change lives and alter the world. It is, I believe, the ability to imagine something better that allows us to hope in circumstances that feel hopeless. It is our ability to imagine a future radically different from our past which allows us to break cycles of violence and abuse.

In the aftermath of a number of teen suicides related to homophobic bullying, one man, Dan Savage, began to reach out and tell these wounded youth, "It gets better." And it is their ability to imagine what that "better" might look like that could very well be their saving grace.

Imagination is also what allows pop theologians to declare that the signs of our times are signs of the "end times," much the way "the sign of our times" in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory showed us street corners littered with empty Wonka boxes, assuring us that the end of the contest was near, the last Golden Ticket would soon be found.

In Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, we meet five children:

  1. Augustus Gloop, a greedy glutton who refuses to listen and shows significant disrespect to his host, Willy Wonka;
  2. Veruca Salt, a wealthy, spoiled child who suffers from--and causes everyone around her to suffer under--an attitude of entitlement. She is utterly demanding and refuses to take "No" for an answer--not that anyone other than Willy Wonka has ever used the word in addressing her;
  3. Violet Beauregard, an obnoxious, prideful, rude young girl with a penchant for chewing gum who regularly interrupts her parents, rolls her eyes, jabs her father with her elbow, and picks her nose;
  4. Mike Teevee, a boy whose only interest in life seems to be watching westerns on television. Mike is obsessed with guns--he can't wait until he gets a real one--and violence. When asked he likes the killing on the shows he watches, he responds, "What do you think life's all about?"
  5. Charlie Bucket, a humble and poor boy who is full of hope. Charlie, raised by his mother and four bedridden grandparents after his father's death, is an honorable and honest young man, pure of heart. Charlie even goes so far as to forsake an opportunity to seek revenge in favor of doing the right thing.
The qualities we see in Charlie Bucket remind me of the qualities which are lauded earlier in the Gospel of Matthew: the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness.

And let us not forget Willy Wonka himself, a man who rescued the Oompa Loompas from Loompa Land, a desolate wasteland full of fierce beasts who consumed the Oompa Loompas left, right, and center. Willy Wonka opened his doors and welcomed the alien, the orphan, the poor.

I sometimes think the best theology is not found in overtly religious texts or films, but rather in works like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or the book on which it was based, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: stories that are accessible to a variety of people because they appeal (and are marketed) to so many more. Imagination can truly be a wonderful thing.

But, putting aside Willy Wonka for a moment, and returning to the text at hand, the Gospel of Matthew, let us consider, for just a short period, that the Day of the Lord is not a cataclysmic, eschatological event, but rather a simple reality--time will end for each of us. It is my belief that when our time is up, when we die, it is Jesus who comes and walks us into the next life. One is taken and one is left.

This is a theme we see in Willy Wonka as well, as first Augustus, then Violet are taken from the group, followed by Veruca and Mike. By the end of the film, only Charlie is left. Only Charlie, a poor boy who is meek, who has mourned loss, who shows a hunger for righteousness, who is merciful, and pure in heart. Charlie, who was the only peaceable child in the bunch.

Charlie is also the only one who chose to imagine something greater, who considered what could be done for the world rather than what could be done for him.

In choosing what was right over what was easy, Charlie demonstrated a strength not often seen in adults, let alone children. "So shines a good deed in a weary world," Willy Wonka says softly before turning to Charlie and proclaiming, "You've won! I had to test you and you won! The jackpot, my dear sir, the grand and glorious jackpot!"

And Charlie inherits the factory--the whole operation--because he demonstrated that he was willing to learn from Willy Wonka, and do things Willy Wonka's way, rather than his own.

And that is how I think it might be with us. Do we look around and choose to live in the world the way Jesus did--choosing to welcome the widow, the orphan, the poor, the alien? Do we forgive the sins of those who sin against us? Do we seek to follow Jesus to eat at the homes of sinners and outcasts no matter how uncomfortable it might make us?

Because ultimately, the question is not, "Will you be the one who is taken or left?" but rather, "What did you do with the time you were granted here?"

If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it;
Anything you want to, do it;
Want to change the world? There's nothing to it.

(I chickened out and did NOT sing these lyrics).

While changing the world may not be as easy as Gene Wilder sings in Willy Wonka, it is possible. We can imagine a new world into being. While it may be true that "There's no life I know that compares to pure imagination," a new reality created from our ability to imagine a future that is better than our past far surpasses pure imagination, because it can be real. It can be here. It doesn't have to remain in our imaginations.

This morning, I hope you can imagine a new tomorrow, and that you are able to begin living it today.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

God is Faithful

Joel 2:23-32
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 15-18
Luke 18:9-14

In all three of the readings for this morning, the fact that struck me most was God's absolute faithfulness. I was astounded at how incredibly good God is--and it's everywhere in the readings today: In Joel's prophecy to the people of Israel; in Paul's testimony to Timothy; in the story Jesus tells of a tax collector and a Pharisee praying in the Temple. In all three readings, God's faithfulness is absolute.

We see God's faithfulness first in Joel, as the Lord declares that He will repay Israel for the years that the swarming Locusts have eaten--the locusts which God has sent. You see, as this point in Israel's history, things had been going well. God had been gracious; and people began to think that they did not need God. They began to live as though they did not need God. God was willing to do anything to bring them back. Bringing destruction and restoration is what led to Israel's homecoming.

And what a homecoming it is! God's abundant grace is poured out upon Israel! The threshing floor is filled once again with grain, and the vats are overflowing with new wine and oil. God does not just give Israel enough to fill their vessels; God pours out blessings so abundant, their vessels are overflowing!

We see God's redemption in Luke as well. Jesus tells us that a tax collector who humbled himself before God was justified. A slave to his sin, this man was freed, redeemed by God.

We see also in today's readings that God is faithful to fulfill His promises. Twice in Joel we read God's promise to "pour out His Spirit." This promise was fulfilled, and it is a promise God continues to fulfill today.

Jesus, at the start of his ministry, was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon Him, like a dove. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit and proceeded to preach the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles. God's promise continues to be fulfilled today--pouring out the Holy Spirit upon believers; choosing us for a relationship with Him.

Finally, God's faithfulness is demonstrated in today's readings by His steadfast presence. Paul writes to Timothy that although all had deserted him, the Lord stood by him and gave him strength. Paul was imprisoned repeatedly for preaching the gospel of Christ. Here, he tells us that on the first occasion, no one came to his support. Yet, the presence of God continued to sustain and strengthen Paul. God was faithful, remaining steadfastly by Paul's side--just a s God does for us today.

Our response to God's faithfulness-what happens to us, in us, and how we show that to the world--is also found in today's scriptures.

The first response to God's faithfulness is a radical change of heart. God's call to a change of heart can be found earlier in Joel. As God calls the people to mourn their sin, He declares, "Rend your hearts and not your garments." It was common practice in ancient Israel for people to tear their clothing as a sign of mourning. But God was not concerned with the rituals and outward signs. God did not want Israel to appear to mourn. God wanted Israel to truly mourn--to feel it in their hearts--to radically change the way they lived.

The same can be seen int he parable Jesus tells of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee is so consumed by his own righteousness, he is blinded to his own hard heart. The Pharisee is only concerned with looking righteous--loudly declaring that he fasts twice a week and give one tenth of all his income.

But it is the tax collector, Jesus tells us, who understands what God desires. Standing far off, away from the crowd, beating his breast--the very resting place of his heart!--he pleads with God for mercy, acknowledging his sin. This is a man who so mourns his sin, he cannot even look to heaven. This, this is the man, Jesus tells us, who is justified. Not the one who looks like he does all the right stuff, bu the one who has a heart radically changed by God's grace. (And it is only by God's grace that we acknowledge and mourn our sin).

In experiencing this change of heart, who can help but rejoice in God's goodness, and praise the Lord? In Joel, the Israelites are told that they shall "eat plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord."

Paul continually gives thanks to God, and declares that to God "be the glory forever and ever."

When we experience that change of heart, when God pours out His Spirit upon us, and we recognize our sin, when we turn from that sin and choose to follow Jesus instead, we are filled with such joy and peace, and such gratitude that glorifying God becomes a very present act in our lives.

This praise of God further encourages us to rely more fully on this faithful God who redeems us, fulfills His promises, and demonstrates steadfast love and care for us.

While other humans will inevitably fail us--leaving us when we most need them, betraying us when we have trusted them with our hearts, breaking promises they have made--God never fails us. And we come to see that we can turn to God with all our needs and desires.

Friends failed and deserted Paul--but Paul relied fully on God.

The Pharisee relied on his own righteous works, but it was the tax collector relying on God's grace who was commended.

Israel sought to rely on only on themselves, but it was God who called them back, offering redemption, fulfilling His promises, and showing His steadfast nature to all of humanity--and all this through the persons of Jesus and the Holy Spirit today.

Those of us here today come from many walks of life, I imagine. But regardless of where we come from, or where we are heading, we can be assured right now, where we are today, that God loves us; that God will do anything to keep us; that God never changes; and that God fulfills His promises.

We have been shown this love and redeemed by God through Jesus. As such, may we go forward this day with a heart rent for God, with God's praises continually on our lips and in our hearts, relying fully on God to meet all our needs so that in the end, we, too, can declare with Paul, "I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Living in the Land of Pork

Let's face it. Iowa is known for very few things. And we often get mistaken for things we don't have. (Idaho potatoes, anyone?) Corn, soy beans, hog confinements. Well, and potentially deadly eggs of late, but that's another story entirely.

The noble pig. It's a glorious thing. I have always been a fan. Honestly. As a child, it was my dream to own a pet pig. And not a pot-bellied pig, either. I wanted a full on hog.

My father had a farmer friend who still owned livestock, by the name of Jim Looman. Jim was the name of the man, not the livestock, and I'm fairly certain I've butchered the spelling of his last name. We knew him as Big Jim. Many a Fourth of July was spent at Big Jim's farm. And I was to be found in the barn, talking to Blue Eyes, Jim's rather substantial sow, who on occasion had piglets feasting at her teats. Those piglets were my dream--to take one home and hand rear it. I'd name it something wonderful, I'm sure. Blue Eyes, for the record, got her name by virtue of having blue eyes.

I would go home after and dream wonderful dreams of pet pigs. It was glorious!

Even more glorious was the time my mother actually considered bringing me home a piglet. A fleeting thought, to be sure. But it was the stuff of midnight tales after waking from nightmares. My mother had been on her way home one night and the farm about 5 miles up the road had a piglet loose. She passed it, and thought about stopping for it. Instead, she came home, and told me a story about the piglet's adventures in the wide world. I don't remember the story, but I remember that time with my mother, and the moment when just maybe, I almost had a pig of my own.

I still think it would be wonderful to own a pig some day. As an adult, I do realize the somewhat unrealistic hope of having one as a house pet. Perhaps, someday, an acreage, with a dog house, built big enough for a half-ton sow. This is one of the highlights of Iowa.

And so it is, that I have decided to forgive Iowa for it's lapse in providing me access to decent cheese. It has, after all, provided access to some of the finest pork in the world. Probably the finest pork in all of the United States.

And the best way to prepare it follows:

Grilled Pork Chops

3 Quarts water
1/2 cup salt
4 sprigs fresh rosemary (easily my favorite herb)
2 tbls minced garlic
1 splash of lemon juice
2 pinches sugar
6 thick-cut, bone-in pork chops (about 1 lb a piece)

Remove the chops from the bones. Reserve the bones and any additional meat for a later use.

Pour the water into a 1.5 gallon container. Add all seasonings. Stir. Add the pork chops. Refrigerate for 14 hours.

One hour before you are set to grill, remove the pork chops from the brine, pat dry with a paper towel, and allow to come to room temperature.

Prepare your coals for a hot fire.

Cook the pork chops 6-8 minutes per side, turning once.

When the pork chops reach an internal temperature of 152-156 degrees (F), remove from the grill and tent with foil. Let rest 10 minutes.

Eat them with friends, or family. Whichever you prefer.

The ultimate moral to this blog post is:

Brine your pork chops, people. Brine. Your. Chops. You'll thank me later.

Oh, and some might wonder, do I feel bad about eating an animal I dearly love and would dearly love to have for a pet? Not when it tastes this good.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything: 101010. Wait! That's Today!

Corresponding biblical texts:
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Today’s sermon title comes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a five book ‘trilogy’ which I have to confess, I’ve never read. I do, however, have many friends from many walks of life who have read this series of books, and who love it. As such, there are parts of the story that have become a part of my culture experience. It seems that whenever someone is wrestling with the meaning of life, a Hitchhiker’s fan can be found not too far away willing to holler out, “It’s 42!” In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a supercomputer is built to determine The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The computer gets to work on the problem and 7.5 million years later arrives at the conclusion that The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. Unfortunately, it seems no one actually know what the Ultimate Question is to which we are given the answer 42.

Now, some of you may be wondering why, if the answer is 42, I have given 101,010 in the sermon title as the answer. Compute code is written in binary, a system of representing text or computer processor instructions by the use of binary, that is 2, number system. The numbers used in binary are one and zero. Thus, in binary, (00)101010 is the equivalent of the number 42, (in Dec/Char). If read as 10/10/10, it becomes today’s date.

I’m sure by now some of you might be thinking, “That’s an excellent explanation of a truly odd sermon title, but what does any of that have to do with church, or God, or us?”

The two questions with which philosophers and theologians have wrestled for eons are:

1. What is the meaning of life?
2. What is the nature of the good/or the good life?

These are questions that continue to be a source of fascination and frustration today. Often we find ourselves asking, “What is the point? Why am I here?” And often, we find ourselves wanting to be somewhere else. The place from which we have come, the place we ultimately heading. Too often, we fail to be content in the place we are currently in.

I imagine this is some of what the Israelites were feeling while in exile in Babylon. They were in a strange place, full of strange people, speaking a strange language. I imagine most of them jut wanted to go home. As strangers in a strange land, they may have found themselves longing for what they had left, idealizing the place from which they had come. This was a common theme in Israel’s history—we see it recorded beginning in the time of Moses, when the Israelites grumbled against Moses, declaring it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than starve to death in the wilderness. They left because of a promised future, but constantly looked back to the recent past.

This is a common theme to be found in pretty much all of human history, I think. As we are in an election year, November quickly approaching, we get to see it played out ad nauseum today. Regardless of you political affiliation, someone, somewhere has an add that seeks to speak to your nostalgic yearning for bygone days, a simpler time, a period of history when all was right with the world. Someone, somewhere is promising that they can bring us back that golden epoch.

Or how about looking to the future, thinking our “real” life will begin when… Who can forget Centrum Silver, the vitamin that assures you that “Life begins at 50?” Really? 50? You mean, I’m won’t technically be alive for another 21 years?

Yet, here’s what God has to say to the Israelites then (and I would wager to us today):

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that thy may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

In short, God says, “Live your life where you are.”

I remember the first time I really received this message. I was standing in a friend’s kitchen, ready to be done. Nothing was going the way it was supposed to be going. For the record, that means, it wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go. I was looking forward to the day the current circumstances would end, and I could move to the next task. It felt like it would take forever. “I just want this time to be over so I can start my life,” I said to my friend.

“What makes you think you don’t have a life now?” he asked me.

I realized that all of the things I was pining for weren’t guaranteed to come. All I really had was today. Right now. This moment. And I could live in it, or not.

What then, is the present moment worth living for? For Paul, the populist author of Second Timothy, tells us that he has endured everything for the sake of the elect. In prison once again for preaching the gospel of Jesus, Paul seems to have more than adequate reason to pine for the days of old. Instead, he is faithful, accepting the hardships and suffering that result from a life dedicated to preaching the gospel. And what is the gospel, what is this “good news” which seems to be getting Paul into so much trouble? That Christ has died, and was risen, and live; and that if we have died with Christ, likewise we will live with him.

As Christians, we are called to be faithful to this message—that Christ died for us, and in him, we have died to ourselves and been raised to new life in him. We work not for ourselves, but for God. We seek not our own welfare, but endure everything, that all might come to know the power of the resurrected Christ, and obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.

Endurance is hard. Being sure of our faith, can ease the hardship, however. When Jesus came up on the ten lepers in the gospel reading today, it is clear that they had endured much. Following cultural custom, which prevented them from interacting with healthy people, they approached Jesus, but “kept their distance,” calling out for mercy instead. Jesus, showing mercy, commands them to show themselves to their priests—an act required for ritual purity, a step that must be taken before someone who has been healed can share in life with those who are clean—that is ritually pure.

I find this to be an interesting command on the part of Jesus. According to Jewish law, one was to present themselves to the priests, bringing their sacrifice, after they had been healed. These men are still suffering from leprosy as they begin their journey to the temple. And so it is that these men have acted in faith—trusting that they will be healed somewhere on the journey. In the end, like so many of the healing stories to be found in the gospels, Jesus tells one of the lepers, “Your faith has made you well.”

What was it that distinguished this leper from the other nine? What made him stand out such that he alone learned the secret to his healing? He expressed gratitude. Upon seeing that he had been healed, this leper turned back, praising God with a loud voice, he lay facedown at the feet of Jesus, in complete submission to him, and thanked him.

When we focus too intently upon either the past—seeking not to remember and honor where we’ve com from but pining to go back—or the future—not wise planning, but thinking that all of life is to be found there, thinking that life begins there—we forget to be grateful for what we have now.

By choosing to fully live in and engage the present, we have a greater ability to see the blessings in our lives, and to be grateful for those blessings. In choosing an “attitude of gratitude,” and acknowledging that Jesus is the source of good, we bring glory to God. And God will be so faithful to us, no matter what. But it is that gratitude which so often, in my experience, leads other to want to know the secret as well.

Gratitude becomes an opportunity to tell others how good God is. And maybe share with them The Ultimate Answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. It’s today.

May we go forward today, grateful for what we have, remaining faithful to Jesus, and living each moment as it comes. In the words of Albus Dumbledore: It does not do to dream and forget to live.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Small Favors from a Big God

The texts from the lectionary reading for today included Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; and Luke 16:19-31.


One of the biggest perks of living in New York City was the grocery stores. I know for many this wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. For me, however, this was huge! When I moved back for my final year of seminary, all I talked about for weeks before hand the fact that I would be able to purchase fresh mozzarella. It was on the top of my grocery list. The day I arrived, my parents and I went shopping, and I made them insalata caprese for dinner—sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and fresh basil drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

And, oh, the olive oils! My favorite grocery store had a tasting station set up—sliced baguettes with dishes of olive oil set out, just waiting for a discerning palette to choose the right flavors for a dish. Why all the options? Because while we generally think of olives as being either “green” or “ripe,” there are literally hundreds of different types of olives—each with their own unique flavors and characteristics, which are also impacted by the region of the world in which they were grown. After sampling 8 or 9 of the 12 or so olive oils available for sampling, I picked one with a light, fresh, very green flavor. Perfect for dipping or salad dressing, but light enough to cook with.

And fresh mozzarella and olive oils were just the beginning. For me, there times when a simple trip to the grocery store was akin to visiting paradise. And it’s all because I like to cook. If I’m totally honest with you, given the right conditions, I LOVE (with a capital L-O-V-E) to cook. It was while in New York that I also discovered that I enjoy extending hospitality to others. During my last year in seminary, rarely a month went by that I didn’t end up hosting a dinner party—and at least half of them happened by accident.

Planning a dinner party was pure bliss—making up a menu, shopping for ingredients, setting the timer on my phone to remind me of the precise moment to start cooking one dish or pull another from the oven. Curried-Pear chicken, broccoli, steamed rice, chai-spiced cheesecake. Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with gorgonzola, braised veal in a white wine, tarragon-cream sauce, oven roasted asparagus, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and chocolate ganache, garnished with fresh whipped cream, raspberries and mint. Pears, dried cranberries, gorgonzola and candied walnuts on a bed of organic baby greens and a fresh vinaigrette; mushroom risotto with cremini and shiitake, aged parmesan, freshly grated, and finished with chopped parsley and white truffle oil. Those were just the parties I planned. More often than not, a friend would find me cooking in the kitchen, comment on the aromas, and I would say, “I have so much! I’ll be eating left-overs for a week, at least. Please join me!” And often they would bring a side dish or beverage. Mostly, I was just thrilled when they brought another friend.

And Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, the last chance for indulgence before the fasting of Lent. My friend Lucas led chapel that day, and titled it “The Seven Lively Sins.” He asked me to make a batch of fudge for the gluttony booth. While the other six booths haucked their wares, I was to encourage people to give into their sweet tooth and try a bit. Never one for a simple (or single) batch of fudge, I showed up with chocolate fudge, chocolate-orange fudge, chocolate-peanut butter fudge, caramels, cheesecake with optional strawberry or raspberry toppings, French silk pie, and turtle French silk pie with caramel sauce and pecans in the bottom. Union’s board of directors was in chapel that day—and I was rather pleased when I realized one or two of them didn’t make it to any of the other booths, and most of them stopped by again before leaving the chapel at the end of the service.

And May Day—a holiday seemingly unknown outside of the Midwest, but a tradition I was determined to share with my friends. More fudge, caramel, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and truffles—milk chocolate with a fluffy peanut butter filling; dark chocolate with key lime white chocolate filling; semi-sweet chocolate with passion fruit filling (that I was able to make from actual passion fruit!), and popcorn balls for the kids at church. All of it made from scratch, by hand, with so much joy and laughter.

The stark contrast to this truly delightful and sensuous fare was the reality that met me every single morning as I took my dog for a walk. Less than a block away, on the steps of the church next door, two men spent the night…spent every night. Every morning I would get up, put on my shoes, and a leash on my dog, and I would head out to the park, walking past these sleeping men. What struck me most the first time I walked by, and continued to astound me every time after, was that they took their shoes off when they slept. There they were, their feet sticking out from beneath the blankets and cardboard boxes with which they had covered themselves; their shoes sitting just next to their sock-clad feet. It somehow made them very human to me.

As I walked through the park each morning, I would pray for these two men; a practice I continue with some frequency today. I do not know their names. I do not know their stories. But in my last year at Union, I came to know to expect them each and every morning, sleeping soundly as I passed at 6:00 each morning.

I do not know what time these men got up to start their days. They were usually gone, however, by they time I got back from my walk over an hour later. Church personnel showed up at 8:00, and I can only imagine they were careful to leave before anyone “official” showed up. There were numerous times as I passed by that I longed to invite them to dinner. I have all sorts of excuses as to why I didn’t—I didn’t want to wake them up and rob them of their last moments of sleep; I shared common living space and didn’t know if my floor mates would be comfortable; I lived in the building next door and had never spent a night homeless, sleeping on the cold, hard, marble stairs of a church, and I didn’t know if I would be comfortable; they were strangers and I didn’t know if I would feel safe.

After weeks of thinking about and rejecting the idea of inviting them to dinner, I thought, “I’ll bring them some food!” But my routine was so structured that I never set foot in the kitchen before my walk; I never remembered at 6:00 in the morning the thought I’d had the day before. It would all come rushing back as I passed them, once again, on my loop past the church. But, all of the dishes I cook are so messy, I justified to myself.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! I had finally found the solution—easy, delicious, border-line nutritious. I could make them the night before, pack them in a paper bag, and drop them off as I passed by. But, gluten-intolerance prevents me from eating bread. So, I simply didn’t own it. And when it came time to buy groceries again, well, I had my list for my weekly groceries, my dinner parties, candy for my neighbors. Bread never made the list. It simply wasn’t part of my routine. And in making up my list, I had forgotten about those two men, again. I would feast sumptuously with my friend and forget that in just 12 hours, I would be walking past men who had nothing to eat at all.

St. Augustine defined sin as “cor cuvum in se,” that is, “the heart curved in upon itself.” The root of all sins, the nature of sin itself, is having a heart that is curved inward, closed off to the rest of the world, seeking its own protection and good, at the expense of others. It is a type of blindness—this seeing only one’s own needs and desires as legitimate, or of ultimate importance.

The more we consume to meet our own needs, the more we become consumed by our own needs. We turn inward, seeking only to have our own needs met, and we become blind not only to the needs of others, but often times to the very existence of others. Jesus understood this when he told the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Paul got it when he told Timothy that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

And it often starts in such small ways. We lead busy lives, and we have so much to get done. We make our lists, and focus on what “needs” to get done. So often, we forget to look up, to look around, to see the people around us, and acknowledge their needs and the part we might play in meeting those needs. We create a chasm between us and the world, and ultimately between us and God, by focusing too much on getting what is ours, we become apathetic to the needs of others.

It is just a short step from apathy toward the needs of others, from a failure to see them, to seeing them as object that either aid or hinder our pursuit of getting what we want. No longer invisible, they become objects that we use if useful and discard if not. From this, all kinds of evil are perpetuated, evil which eventually leads to our downfall as well.

Instead, Paul encourages us to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” In doing so, we are storing up treasures in heaven, putting down a deposit that will ultimately be redeemed. This may look like foolishness to some. But God is faithful, and makes good on His promises.
The prophet Jeremiah was commanded by God to purchase land at a time when Israel was under siege. Their land was going to come under rule of Babylon. Knowing that the land he was about to purchase would be stolen from by the armies of Babylon, Jeremiah bought it anyway. He was faithful to the word God had spoken, trusting in that word, and in the promise that God would redeem the land, returning it to the Israelites, and that once again, houses, fields and vineyard would be bought.”

God makes a similar promise to us. That in doing good, being rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, we are also laying down a deposit, storing up the treasure of a good foundation, so that we might take hold of the life that is really life. In turning our hearts outward, unfurling them to the light of the Son, in seeking to meet the needs of others, we find that God meets our needs, in beautiful and often extraordinary ways.

The life that is really life is one in which relationships are central. Investing in people may not bring us monetary wealth, but it does enrich our lives in ways that often exceed all of our expectations. Neighbors become friends, classmates become a support network, co-workers become a community. And if we’re lucky, we get to share a meal. As a wise man once said, “I’ve never had a meal that made bad company better, but I’ve had many bad meals worth eating because of good company.”


This is, perhaps, one of my better sermons. Having written, and preached, only five, I hope they continue to get better. So many people at the end of the service commented that their stomachs were rumbling by the end of the sermon. I guess I left them all hungry for more. (Get it?)

Church, of course, was followed by a time of fellowship. It went really well. The family hosting this morning was wonderful, the treats they provided delicious. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) commented that they were looking forward to the week when I would decide to host fellowship. More than one said they thought the sermon could only have been made better had I handed out chocolates to the raptly attentive crowd.

I was feeling good, and a little overwhelmed by so many kind and gracious words. As the crowd began to depart, I excused myself to use the ladies' room. Then, I grabbed my shoulder bag, indicated to my father that I was ready to leave, and headed out of the church.

It was as were standing outside on the sidewalk that my father commented, "You may want to check the back of your skirt. After using the ladies' room, the hem of my skirt had gotten caught the waistband of my panties! And I had proceeded to walk out of church, mooning almost every member of one the most highly respected families in my church.

Somehow, having adjusted my skirt to its proper position and heading to the car, I found myself feeling neither embarrasment not humiliation. Rather I was grateful. You see, at the last moment this morning, I made and impulsive wardrobe change. I switched from a thong to a full brief. Sitting in the front seat of my father's car, I couldn't help but smile as I thanked my very big God for small favors.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mac 'n' Cheese

Perhaps one of the most disheartening aspects of living in Iowa again is the lack of access to truly amazing food. The restaurant pickings are thin, and the grocery stores carry little of interest to me. As such, I've been thinking creative lately about things I would make with my favorite ingredients if only I could get them here. Instead, I made do with what was available, with passable results. The following was tonight's dish--one I'd created in my head weeks ago. I can't wait to try this again with ingredients that I'm excited about using!

Mac 'n' Cheese

1 lb gluten-free pasta (I used rotini, but macaroni or shells would work equally well)
2 cups milk
2 Tbls corn starch
8 oz cheese, shredded (I used yellow cheddar--I shudder as I write this--but would recommend anything you can get your hands on; maybe a nicely aged Irish Cheddar or gouda)
1/2 lb pork (I used slab bacon, though I would love to try this with prosciutto)
1/2 cup dates, coarsely chopped (I would have LOVED to have used fresh dates, but had to settle for "chopped" dates dusted with sugar)
2 oz gorgonzola (Oh, that I had access to a real cheese counter. Anybody know where I can sell a kidney or part of my liver?)

Cook and crumble bacon. (I just chop it up and cook the little pieces). Drain off excess fat and rest on a paper towel. If using prosciutto, I would recommend chopping coarsely, but not cooking.

Boil the pasta according to directions on package.

In the meantime, whisk the milk and cornstarch in a medium saucepan until thoroughly combined. Heat over medium-high heat whisking frequently, until thickened.

When the pasta is done cooking, drain and toss with milk mixture, dates, and bacon pieces (or prosciutto).

In a medium casserole lightly buttered, layer 1/3 of the pasta mixture. Top with 1/3 of the (cheddar) cheese. Repeat layer two more times. Top with gorgonzola.

Cover and bake in a 425 degree oven for 45 minutes. Serve.

(This may have done with a bit more date and bacon pieces, but who knows, it might also have been my inferior ingredients).


Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Messianic Message of Willy Wonka (and a rock)

We stopped in Rockaway, New Jersey at 14:10 yesterday, Saturday, May 29, 2010. It was our first stop after packing the van full of my belongings and leaving my beloved Union, my beloved NYC, the life I had fought to make for myself, a life I love. I feel as though I am starting all over, building something new. A new life that I will come to love in time, I am sure.

In the meantime, I put my right hand in my pocket, and realized it was empty. I no longer had keys to a home. I mentioned to my parents that my pocket was sad, that my pants felt homeless. It was a moment later, following my father's response, that I realized I wasn't really joking about my pants. I was talking about myself.

My dad pulled a rock out of his pocket and gave it to me. "That's a loan." I was touched that he would give me anything to put in my pocket, but his adamant declaration that he was going to get it back was a little disconcerting. Then, he explained to me that the rock came from a Lenten service this year. "That represents the cornerstone of the church."

"Oh! Jesus is the cornerstone. This rock is Jesus!" I exclaimed. Suddenly, the gesture meant the world to me. My pants aren't homeless--they have Jesus in them!

Terrified of the unknown future, especially the immediate stay in Iowa, I am trying to focus on my next steps, hoping for California, trusting God, but still afraid. The stone reminded me that I am not homeless--I have Jesus in my heart. I'll be okay.

Dad tries to so hard sometimes his efforts can feel inauthentic to me. This gesture was effortlessly, thoughtlessly compassionate. And it connected with me. It spoke my language.

This reminded me powerfully of the way that Willy Wonka loved people--effortlessly, just by being himself. By giving what he had. He didn't try to love people. He just loved them. And it connected for so many people--McGiffert 1, UTS, my friend Tom at the park, Lawrence the guy who works in the parking garage. Pretty much everyone who ever saw him. Not all of them, but most.

Like Jesus. Something in people connected to him, too. He spoke their language. And he loved them--effortlessly, by being his genuine self.

I sometimes try so hard. It often seems the more I try, the less effective I become. Something about this seems very wrong to me. In reality, not everyone is going to accept me or my gestures. (They did not all accept Jesus, or Willy Wonka. And God know I struggle at times to accept my dad and his gestures). By and large, if I'm working that hard and being that ineffective, something in the relationship needs to be addressed, either interpersonally or internally, because it means I do not feel safe to be my genuine self.

I want to be like Jesus. When I remember Willy Wonka and how he loved people I hope I remember that he loved people the way Jesus loved people--that Willy Wonka is an example from my contemporary context which I can emulate.

And I hope my dad lets me keep his rock--or finds one for me that I can keep as a reminder that sometimes, I want to be more like my dad, who was his genuine self, effortlessly compassionate and in so doing, spoke Jesus's love to me. And I'm pretty sure he didn't even know it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Surprised by Love

I had always planned to return to Union to finish my M.Div. I did not want to return. I no longer felt called to ministry, I hated God, and felt New York City and Union were the least desirable places in the world to be. I came back to finish my degree because I feel a deep need to finish what I start; to complete the tasks I have undertaken; to do so, when possible, in the place where I began.

So it was that I returned to Union with the intention of spending nine months in slavery to my obsessive need to finish, certain I would be miserable the whole time, fearful at the outset, determined to "get through it," believing that the sense of accomplishment at the end would be worth the pain I was sure to experience in the process. I returned to a place I feared, to be surrounded by people I did not know, to finish a degree I no longer felt passion for, that was supposed to prepare me for a vocation I no longer felt called to, because I was no longer on speaking terms with the God who had called me in the first place, and I hated the Jesus of Mark 5.

Recently, I have been blessed by others. This surprised me. It was surprising because it was so unexpected. The most I expect from others is to be treated with dignity and respect. Anything more profoundly touches me.

What's even more surprising is that I have come to feel a deep love for others.

People have told me that I'm a loving individual. This may be true.

I delight in blessing people. There is little in life that gives me such joy as being able to bless another. It delights me.

Perhaps my motives are profoundly selfish--blessing others because I delight in the process. I often choose to bless others, in word or deed, simply because I love to do it, and not because I have any particular feelings of love for the other person. This is the case with dinners. I love cooking, and I adore being able to share my gifts in the kitchen with others, so I hold dinner parties and feed my friends; or I make a batch of fudge to bless our facilities office because I appreciate they care they take in maintaining our living space; or making May baskets for friends and neighbors because I like making chocolates, and life is always brighter when you share.

Or telling my friends how beautiful they are, or how gentle their spirits, or what a blessing they are because they've spoken Truth to me... I do this because I have a deep conviction that people need to hear that they are appreciated and to know how their actions have affected others; because blessing someone by telling them a truth about themselves, and seeing their response, delights me.

Some people have told me that I'm the most complimentary person they know, and that I come across as totally genuine when I do compliment others. This may be true, in the first, and is certainly true in the second. Spend enough time with me, and people begin to realize that while I may be effusive with my praise for some, I never give an insincere compliments to anyone. (There are some people I see regularly whom I have never complimented; I'm hoping to change this, as I believe everyone has some praiseworthy quality. They are, after all, made in the image of God).

Much as it surprises me when others bless me (because I experience being well-loved by them), what has surprised me most is realizing that I have come to love others.

I tend to see myself as lacking in essential love-feelings. It takes me awhile to warm up to people. I like most everyone I've ever met. Even those toward whom I feel nothing more than apathy or the few whom I outright dislike, I seek to treat them with dignity and respect in the interactions we do have. But most people, well most people I like just fine, and I enjoy spending time with them. I enjoy finding ways to bless them. Somehow, I'm often surprised to find that I my efforts have been effective or that my very presence has had an impact. I tend not to see myself as particularly adept at blessing others. I try, but often feel as though I've failed.

I see this sense of failure as being linked to my failure to experience feelings of love for others. (I sometimes wonder if I'm defective, if I've had experiences that have permanently interrupted my ability to experience feelings of love, despite the healing I have received). I think to myself, "If only I could make the leap from liking this person to loving them, then, surely, I would be able to bless them well." Somewhere deep inside, I doubt people when they tell me that I've blessed them.

I was surprised by love.

It turns out I love a whole lot of people in my life. I feel a deep sense of compassionate love for those around me. At some point in the past nine months, all those friends that I liked an awful lot, became friends that I love and deeply cherish. All those people I wanted to bless because I delight in blessing others became people I want to bless because I delight in them.

So it is that the place I was dreading returning to have become a place I do not want to leave. The place I feared has become a haven, a place that feels safe, a place that I love full of people I love. Strangers I did not know have become friends I want to know for the rest of my life. An experience I felt sure would be naught but misery was an experience in which I was able to be my whole and best self. The degree I no longer felt passion for became a degree I was desperate to have, because the call I no longer felt came back with a vengeance, as the God from whom I was estranged became an intimate friend once more. The Jesus I hated became a Jesus with whom I am head-over-heels, butt-crazy in love with; a desperate for more of, can't get enough of, want to spend my life with Jesus who blesses me every single day. The Jesus I was sure had abandoned me became the Jesus who rescued me, again, and again, and again; has loved me more deeply, intimately, passionately, genuinely than can I give words to; has walked with me every step of the journey, even if I can't always see it. Everything I feared returning to has become a thing I am hesitant to leave.

I felt sure I was incapable of loving people. I was determined to bless them, though, because it delights me. Who knew that I would discover and learn draw from a well so deep inside of me I never knew it existed.

I have been surprised by love.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bigger Salad Bowls

It was the summer of 2006. I remember that I had had a fabulous day. I was in an upbeat mood, and was at a church function that night. Suddenly, and for no discernible reason, I felt emptied of most of my joy. Depressed and confused, I headed home, and I prayed on my way.

A vivid picture immediately came to me. Two bowls, one a small salad bowl was filled to the brim with lettuce, the other a much larger serving bowl had only a small amount of lettuce in the bottom of it. I was standing there, looking at these bowls, when I realized that Jesus was beside me. "Which of these bowls has more lettuce in it?" Jesus asked me.

Looking carefully, I realized something. "They both have the same amount," I replied.

"That's right," he said smiling. "But the little bowl is full. It can't hold any more. The large bowl may look like it only has a little in it, but it doesn't. It's the same amount. What it does have is room to hold more." Jesus looked me in the eye and said, "Your joy didn't go away. I just upgraded your salad bowl. You had become so full, I couldn't fit anymore in. And I want to give you more. So, I gave you a bigger bowl."


Last night, Mr. M. Roger Holland, II blessed me. It was Union Theological Seminary's annual Gospel Choir Concert, and Roger sang a solo. It was a song he learned for me; it was a song he sang to me. It is my Jesus song--the song Jesus uses to love me, to tell me who I am and what His love entails. It is the song Jesus gifted to me after I made some pretty significant mistakes at one point in my life. East to West, by Casting Crowns.

Roger told the story of learning, last semester, about my struggle to enjoy music. Ok--he actually learned how much I hated music at that particular time, but how there was one song that I sort of liked, maybe just a little, and to which I listened every six months or so. When I told Roger this story back in September/October, he determined then and there to learn this song and serenade me (anonymously) at the concert. He recruited Chantilly Mers for guitar and back-up vocals and Emily McNeill for cello. It was divinely beautiful.

One of the best parts of this is that on Wednesday this week, I had considered listening to East to West and heard Jesus say, "Not today. Now isn't the time." I had no idea the time would come just two days later--and in such a profound way.

Roger sang Jesus to me. Last night, Roger breathed, played, sang, lived Jesus to me. Last night, Jesus' heart and love for me was made manifest in Roger's gift. It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I am exceptionally well-loved. God has been so very good to me.

I have been so blessed to be here at UTS. My education here (very little of which was received in the classroom) has been transformative--changing my understanding of who God is, what God's heart is, who Jesus is, and who I am in Christ. My education has come in the Pit, the refectory, on the rooftop, at Broadway plays, in Ellen's Stardust Diner, in the embrace of my mentor, the loving arms of my friends, the conversations and creation of communal meals, the kitchens and the Quad, and in James Chapel--in the voice of a friend, serenading me. It was the voice of Jesus, singing to my heart.


This, more than anything, is how I know it's time to move on: My salad bowl is full. It is positively overflowing! I have been blessed more richly than I could ever have imagined, and have received more blessings than I can carry in my current bowl. I don't know where Jesus will take me next. I know that transitions are difficult for me--that I often feel as though my once overflowing bowl is now only half-full. But it's okay. I know what's going on. I've still got all of my blessings--I just have a much bigger bowl. Jesus wants to keep adding, and I need a bigger bowl to hold it all. Jesus is about to upgrade my salad bowl--I can feel it. And I can't wait!

Monday, April 26, 2010

On Service and Sadness

This past Saturday I had the wonderful opportunity to serve in my church's food pantry. It was, in many ways, a very good experience. It was also an experience that left me sad.

I have this desire to invest myself wherever I am. As I am relatively new to the church I attend, I haven't had the opportunity to do much with the church. I was delighted to learn that they have a food pantry that serves the local community. Equally delightful was the fact that while it's open only one Saturday a month, it is open on a Saturday, and I have the time and freedom to volunteer.

And so, this past Saturday, I made my way down the brownstone next to my church, and I sat in a small room with two other women, and handed brown paper sacks of non-perishable groceries to people who came seeking a little help. It was wonderful to chat, if only for a moment, with so many people, to offer them a genuine smile and warm greeting, and to say a prayer as they walked away.

What saddened me on this morning was how my co-laborers spoke about the people who came to the pantry. They spoke of the half-way house across the street--where the majority of those who were coming for the first time reside--in hushed tones of disapproval. "He just got out of prison," one of them said with something akin to judgment of a man with multiple tattoos, crudely done by hand. They spoke about the methadone clinic "around the corner" from which at least two of the women come after their morning session, and who they strongly suspect (or perhaps have even witnessed) of selling the food from the pantry in order to buy drugs.

The things that made me saddest, however, where the comments about 1) handcuffs (that it's incredibly shameful, and who could possibly live with that experience) and 2) those who came in with the smell of alcohol on their breath (because couldn't these people even for one morning consider their personal hygiene).

My father is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. All three of my siblings are alcoholics and drug addicts. Though two of them have overcome their addiction to methamphetamine, the third still, to my knowledge, uses "heavy" drugs; all of them continue to drink and smoke marijuana.

I cannot remember a time, growing up, when my father didn't smell of alcohol. Once my mother began to work outside of the home, my father was at home during bedtime. I remember waking him from his drunken stupor every night to get a hug and kiss before going to bed. He, I am sure, does not remember this at all.

Three members of my immediate family have been arrested--carted away in handcuffs. Two of them have spent time in jail. One is dealing with, or recently dealt with, the court system on drug charges.

As someone who self-mutilated for seven years, I am myself acquainted with addictive behaviors.

I sat in this food pantry this past Saturday, hoping that my presence and willingness to serve would bless those around me; hoping that my service would be understood as an act of love for those less fortunate than I. I was saddened by the way others spoke about those we were serving. Saddened because they were speaking, by extension, about people I know and love deeply. Frightened to say anything, because it so easily could have been me picking up a bag of food, smelling of alcohol or stopping by after getting my treatment at the methadone clinic around the corner.

God has been very good to me.

God delivered me from a dysfunctional family in which drug and alcohol abuse are prevalent.

God delivered me from my own addiction to self-injury.

God healed me of years of sexual abuse by a member of my immediate family.

God healed me from the trauma of rape and sexual assault.

God delivered me from the deepest valleys of despair and placed my feet on higher ground; the solid ground of His love.

God transformed my identity from one of "cutter" and "victim" to "Child of God," "Daughter of the Most High," "Heir to the Kingdom," "Co-creator with the Almighty."

God has been very good to me.

The reality is there is nothing about me that is more unique or special than anyone else. There is nothing about me that makes me more deserving of His incredible grace. I cannot tell you why He chose to be so very good to me. I can only tell you that He has been, and continues to be. I am daily overwhelmed by the love He shows me in all the small things that make me smile, the ridiculous things that make me laugh out loud, the delightful things that set me to giggling, the big things that bring tears of joy and gratitude to my eyes.

I deserve none of this any more or less than anyone else. I know how fortunate I am. I know that God has been very good to me. I am convinced that I do not know even a fraction of how good God has been to me.

As I sat there in that room this past Saturday, I wished that these women could, for one moment, see what I saw in those who came to receive a bag of food--God's children, broken and hurting, needing more than food, needing compassion and a blessing.

I truly hope that none of the people who came through this past Saturday heard or interpreted these women's comments as judgmental or condemning. But if they did, I hope my presence made a difference to them. I only wish I had done more, said something, shared part of my own story, encouraged understanding and compassion. I wish I had been less afraid of their words being directed at me. I wish I had been less afraid that their comments would be directed at those I love and deeply cherish. In the end, in many ways, my greatest love was for my own comfort and safety, for my own desire to be accepted and not judged.

I had a wonderful opportunity this past Saturday to serve. I was saddened by the judgmental comments of others.

I was even more deeply saddened, perhaps even a bit ashamed, by my own failure to speak up in defense of those I love and of those God loves even more.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Poetry and Dreams

I had an interesting dream last night.

A very dear friend of mine has been struggling lately, having made a significant life change, and finding himself in a place much different than he anticipated, and not sure where to go from here.

In my dream, the poet Rumi came to me and gave me a poem to pass on to my friend. I did so joyfully. SB, I hope your pain is fruitful.


Pain comes from seeing how arrogant you've been, and
pain brings you out of this

conceit. A child cannot be born until the mother has pain.
You are pregnant with real

trust. The words of the prophets and saints are midwives
that help, but first you must feel

pain. To be without pain is to use the first person wrongly.
"I" am this. "I" am that.

"I" am God, like al-Hallaj, who waited till that was true to
say it. "I" at the wrong

time brings a curse. "I" at the right time gives a blessing.
If a rooster crows early,

when it's still dark, he must have his head cut off. What is
this beheading? As one might

extract a scorpion's sting to save it, or a snake's venom to
keep it from being stoned,

headlessness comes from your cleansing connection to
a teacher. Hold to

a true sheikh. Strength will come. Your strength is his
gathering you closer. Soul

of the soul of the soul, moment to moment, hope to draw breath
from that one. No matter

how long you've been apart. That presence has no separation
in it. Do you want to understand

more about friendship? Read the sura called Daybreak.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Memories I Cherish

  • A ball of chocolate colored fluff that fit in the palm of my hand--2.25 lbs
  • The day I took him over to my sister's apartment--the only time he really barked like crazy as a puppy--we figured out pretty quickly that the smell of blueberry Krispy Kremes drove him nuts. Once the blueberry donuts were eaten, he was silent.
  • Our first walk--less than a quarter mile and I had to pick him up and carry him
  • Teaching him to sit, lie down, wait, hold hands, kennel
  • Watching him fall all over himself, slipping on the floor and sliding around in his efforts to get turned around, as I called him with the promise of Pupperoni dog treats
  • Watching him sleep
  • The way he'd stretch out and his back legs made me think of a frog
  • His little face looking up at me with absolute joy and adoration
  • When he stretched out and I rubbed him down, his entire body from the base of his neck to the base of his tail was the length of my hand from wrist to finger-tips
  • Our first walk in NYC, and meeting an Irish Wolfhound
  • The way he avoided puddles and hated to get his feet wet
  • How he pouted after a bath, grabbing his treat and running off to find sympathy from another person
  • That at 5 pounds, he absolutely cowed his best friend--a 120 pound yellow lab named Chewbacca
  • The day I came home from work to find a squirrel skin turned inside-out on the sidewalk, stripped clean. No bones, no muscle, nothing. Just the empty, inside-out skin. I called the vet and they told me to watch for diarrhea. That never materialized. I did, however, wake up at 3:00 the next morning when I rolled over and put my foot in a puddle of vomit comprised mostly of squirrel parts.
  • The way he would curl up behind my knees when we napped; or on my hip; in front of my belly
  • That he was protective of me, even when it meant standing between me and other people he loved
  • How much he loved his Nanna
  • Walking around the lake
  • The way he hunted rats--squeezing his whole body under the refrigerator, and shimming out again backwards
  • How demanding he could get about ensuring I went to bed on time
  • That tying my shoes took thee times longer than necessary because I had to play fetch and tug-of-war in the process
  • That his favorite toys were the ones given to him by Pompa
  • Dressed up as Santa for Christmas
  • Dressed up as felon for Halloween
  • How much he hated to wear hats
  • That he fit perfectly inside my jacket, with just his head popping out at the neck
  • That I could put him in my shoulder bag, and carry him around, sound asleep
  • The way other people responded to him when we were out and about
  • That he refused to potty outside in the pouring rain
  • His energy, warmth, and light
  • He was the primary impetus for sustainable health changes--and the accountability I needed
  • How much he loved blueberries;
  • and raspberries;
  • and blackberries;
  • and strawberries;
  • and apples;
  • and pears;
  • and bananas
  • How comfortable he was with most strangers
  • His little face staring up when he'd beg
  • The way he curled up in my lap or next to me as I read or watched TV
  • The digging, digging, digging at pillows to ensure they were in exactly the right spot before he would curl up for a nap
  • That he wouldn't lie down on the floor unless their was a pillow, blanket, or other soft object between him and the floor. Carpet didn't count.
  • He finally got over this last point his past winter when he'd curl up on the kitchen floor near the radiator while I cooked, or in the common room near the radiator while I ate. But if I was on the couch, so was he.
  • How often I would find him ignoring his kennel, and his blankets, and any assorted pillows in order to curl up in my work-out sweats
  • That when I left the blind up, he would find a spot in the sun on my bed
  • How much he loved;
  • and loved;
  • and loved;
  • and loved;
  • and loved;
  • and loved me, and others, unconditionally
  • How forgiving he was
  • The way he checked in on our walks, glancing up every few moments to make sure we were on track.
  • The way his body moved and the look of joyful delight on his face when he ran full-out