Friday, June 29, 2007

Do You Own Your Stuff, or Does It Own You?

"We are constantly seeking more, only to discover that more is never enough."

I read a phrase the other day "The Theology of Enough". Claiborne uses it too in Irresistible Revolution.

I am convinced that simplicity is not about deprivation. It is about knowing when enough is enough. Knowing that is not easy--it takes some solitude and thought to sort out.

I began by asking what are my favorite things? One of the first answers, of course, was books. So I decided to begin to rid myself of some of my books. So far, I have divested myself of 83 books through Amazon. I have donated others to the Brentwood Library book sale, and given some to Good Will. I discovered that most used book stores will not take books in which there is underlining. I can't read a book with underlining the things that stand out to me. I am beginning to see space at the end of my bookshelves now.

In addition, I try to go through my closet each season and give away those clothes I have not worn in the season which just ended. And to give away (to Good Will and the church clothing drive) duplicate items--
who needs 5 red blouses anyway?

I am not writing this to toot my own horn, but to remind myself that things can begin to own me and begin to take too much of my time managing them


"Simplicity is an acquired taste. Mankind, left free, instinctively complicates life." Katharine Gerould

Did you know that simplicity is a spiritual discipline? Richard Foster says so in Celebration of Discipline. It is a discipline that would bear study in this consumer culture. It is certainly one that Christians should seek as they strive to bring others to Jesus who lived most simply and taught many lessons on the virtues of simplicity. While reading The Irresistible Revolution, I remembered Foster's chapter and went back to it.

Here are his "ten controlling principles for the outward expression of simplicity: (comments following them are mine)

1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Do you really need a new iPhone?

2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. Do I really need that book?

3. Develop a habit of giving things away. My goal is if I buy something
(say a new blouse) that means I give one away--or two, or three....

4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
iPhone again

5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them. Public libraries are the best bargains.

6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation. "Behold, consider the lilies of the field...."

7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all "buy now, pay later" schemes.
Does that mean credit cards?

8. Obey Jesus' instructions about plain, honest speech. Honesty and integrity do simplify your life.

9. Reject anything that will breed the oppression of others. Try to be in the know about what products are made by exploiting others. That is hard to do, but often such stories are in the news.

10. Shun whatever would distract you from your main goal. "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness."

The old Shaker hymn says, "It's a gift to be simple,
It's a gift to be free,
It's a gift to come down where we ought to

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Irresistible Revolution

I was prepared not to like Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.Prepared to dismiss him as another pie-in-the-sky hippie who, after his parents sacrificed to rear him and give him a college education, decided to "give it all up" to live in a commune and eschew the American way of life.

I am about halfway through the book, and I must admit that what he says is making a lot of sense. For example, he asks, when did the church stop living Christianity and just start studying it? And he says we can end poverty (the early church did), while we are fond of quoting " the poor will be with you always." His organization The Simple Way has been fined for giving away food because they did not have a food distribution license. He calls himself "an ordinary radical." He is not espousing a doctrine, but rather a way of life in which the main idea is
following Jesus.

He does not issue a clarion call for us to selling everything we have and give it to the poor, but rather to live more simply and give our changed lives to helping those who need us.

Today what struck me was that Zacchaeaus sold only half of what he had, with it paid back four times what he owed, and then began to "redefine" his career.

Now my next question to myself is how can I live more simply and redefine my retirement?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Lessons from Nature

The gargantuan tree lies in splintered wreckage just off Concord Road. Seemingly invincible in life, it could not withstand the surprising bolt of hot white lightning which cut the sky on a rainy day last week.

Each time I pass it, my language arts mind (trained to look for symbols) wonders if God is sending me a lesson. My huge independent streak is often challenged by the redolent lessons of nature set before me by a loving God.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Important books

In 1985, Jonathan Yardley published in American Heritage Magazine ( a great publication!) a list of the ten books that have shaped the American character. Here are the ten:

1. Walden by Thoreau (1854)

2. Leaves of Grass by Whitman (1855)

3. Ragged Dick or Street Life in New York by Horatio Alger (1867)

4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Twain (1884)

5. The Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Farmer (1896)

6. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorsteomn Veblen (1899)

7. The Souls of Black Folks by W. E. B. Du Bois (1903)

8. In Our Time by Hemingway (1925)

9. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)

10. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Dr. Spock

There are some on the list I would quibble with. For instance, the Hemingway choice--why not one of his more famous titles?

I would have added :

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939) (on his runner-up list)

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1961) (also a runner-up)

The Significance of the Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner (1893) (also a runner-up)

Dear readers, what books would you have added? Maybe some later books?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mighty Verbs

I have been reading in the Psalms for the past few weeks--such a wonderful exercise of growth. Reading about Israel in Ps. 106 who "exchanged their Glory for an image of a bull which eats grass, and who were bent on rebellion, I went on to read in Ps. 107 about the rescues of God toward this grumbling nation: Notice the verbs throughout: he redeemed, gathered, delivered, led, satisfies, fills the hungry, saves, brought them out of darkness, broke away their chains, breaks down gates of bronze, cuts through bars of iron, saves, rescued them from the grave, stilled the storm, guided them, blessed them, lifted the needy, increased their families........

Lord, will you throw a few of these verbs toward our nation which is bent on destroying the good inherent in its past. Bless us as we bow down to a big box full of flickering images, as we arrogantly peddle our "better" way of life to other countries, as we forget your blessings of the past, as we try to remake others in our image, as we gather things and make them more important than you. as we forget, as we forget....

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Wedding metaphors

It is not surprising that wedding metaphors abound in the Bible. It is the
closest relationship we humans have outside of parenthood.....the bride and groom truly become one is an organic relationship in which one cannot hurt the other without hurting oneself. This organism feeds on mutual love, care and communication as do all organisms which thrive.

I have often wondered why we welcome into our homes-- via TV-- sex in all its various perversions and never blink an eye; yet, we avoid both reading and studying Song of Solomon. What lovelier passages could we speak to our beloveds than those contained in the sanctioned book of the Bible canon?

The only church I know of which did include it in the Sunday School curriculum was Minter Lane in Abilene several years ago. I was not there at the time, so I don't know how it was received, but I applaud the effort to bring a little romance into Sunday morning.

Kevin and Kim's wedding yesterday was very sweet. I especially liked their taking the time and courage to write and say their own vows to one another rather than go with the old love and obey thing. May the words of the vows reenter their thoughts as the inevitable trials come.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Wonder of Imagination

I got to keep Sam a little while yesterday. Watching him play was so wonderful.

He had a Fisher-Price safari set that Brandon played with. The jeep, trailer and animals are far superior to any such toys today. They will probably last to see Sam's children.

Sam was taking the animals on a ride in the sky--they were flying, yes, flying tiger, giraffe, and lion. Every now and then, he would take one out of the air, land it and say "Hello!" Of course the animals had to eat with him, and they enjoyed his chicken nuggets. Later in the day, we were at a Thai restaurant, and I watched him say, "ready, set....and then he would baptize his plastic horse over and over in his water glass. I just wish I knew what was going on in his imagination. May he never let play become mundane.

Thanks Sam for a lovely day.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Communal Grace of Laughter

Henry Ward Beecher said, "Mirth is God's medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it." There is so much good feeling when a group laughs together. We feel closer, having found a common theme to smile about.

Our class on Wed. nights is enjoying laughing at Anne Lamott's (Grace Eventually). Who can remain stonefaced when she writes about "neckular deterioriation" or your neck being "the thighs of the head"? Or about the Marmee in Little Women "who cuddled endlessly and kept her weight down". Or after an eating binge, "It's hard to be a spiritual being when you're burping apple fritters and cheetos." Or teaching kids in Sunday school "who had the attention span of squirrel monkeys".

Yes, as an old Yiddish proverbs says, "What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul." We all need it, and it's better when it happens communally.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nashville History

I just finished going on an historical tour of Nashville with tour guide extraordinaire Linda Giddens. Marge Roeder won the tour at a recent auction at Otter and invited several of us to accompany her.

After visiting the Bicentennial Mall, I made the statement that Tennessee is even prouder of her history than Texas. I can't believe I said that--but you would just have to see the Mall to understand--especially the history wall and the carillon center, plus the huge Tennessee map with all the cities, town, villages, lakes, interstates, etc. We were all blown away by the careful planning and intense interest in preservation of history.

We couldn't believe all the condos, lofts, townhouses, etc. going up downtown--and the prices being asked.

Linda is such a good storyteller. My favorite one was about Tom Ryman, the founder of the Ryman Auditorium and his conversion from tough, riverboat owner to churchgoer.

It is a cool, rainy day here--a perfect day for a tour. Thanks to Linda and Marge for a wonderful day!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Escaping Our Past

In this week's Nashville Scene Jeff Woods writes an article entitled "Christers at the Gate" about two people running for office in Nashville who are members of the Church of Christ. He recounts the horrors that might occur should they win. The article ends by saying, "Let us all pray for deliverance."

Besides calling my fellowship a "quirky collection of rigid fundamentalists", he goes on to attribute attitudes long ago softened by grace. There may still be some of us who believe that we are the only ones going to heaven, but the majority of us have long left that idea as we have gained a better understanding of the Way. We also celebrate Christmas, often have Christmas trees in the sanctuary, and do no longer believe that the piano is the devil's instrument (see what I mean about his diatribe?).
In fact, many of our congregations have instrumental services.

So I think I will go ahead and vote for Buck Dozier, whom I understand has many qualities of leadership. If Carolyn Baldwin Tucker is opposed to funding for the arts in Nashville (but who can believe what Woods says?) then I will not vote for her.

Oh, Father, when we will ever escape from the mistakes of the past? Fill us with your grace so that we can graciously bless those who continue to malign us.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Singing in the auditorium

I know my Sam would have loved following Zoe and attending their concerts, as I did this weekend.

The principal of a school never gets his/her work done while there is still anyone left in the school building. Someone is always coming by for advice, chatting and chilling. So my Sam would spend almost every Saturday morning at school finishing up the week. Most of those Saturdays he would take Brandon with him--how boring for a little tyke, you might say.

No, Sam would set up the mike and a radio on the school auditorium stage and let Brandon "perform" all morning. Sam had the intercom in the office on so he could hear him. Frequently janitors and teachers who were working in the building would come by to listen.

Thus, Brandon has always been comfortable in front of a mike and on a stage. One more gift of his father.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


As Father's Day approaches, I think more and more of my Sam. He was a wonderful father, although he had no role model for fatherhood. His father was caught in the chaos of alcoholism for most of Sam's growing up. When he was sober, he was kind and sweet; but when he was drinking, he enjoyed abuse(physical and verbal) and thought nothing of letting the neighbors know how dysfunctional the family was by doing all sorts of crass things outside the house, yelling, screaming, cursing. One of the favorite activities of Sam and his siblings was finding their father's stash of liquor and hiding it in bushes around the house where he could not find it.

Sam, on the other hand, somehow developed a model for fatherhood that has been copied by his son. He loved playing with Brandon (actually, I think that Sam never grew up inside), he abhorred abuse of any kind, and reveled in the accomplishments of his son. Yes, I would say that he passed down very good models. I pray that Brandon's Sam will carry on the new tradition.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Holding hands

There are some very unobstrusive, common things which help make life grand.

I remember when Brandon was a child holding his hand to help him navigate a curb, climb stairs or get into a car. We held hands going across dangerous streets and when he needed a calming while trying to go to sleep. It was good for him and very nice for me.

These days, Brandon is holding my hand to help me do some of the same things: navigating a curb, climbing stairs or a hill, and getting into or out of a car or a van. While I don't need help on streets or going to bed, I am sure he would help me with that too.

While we do not always hold hands, Babe, I hold you in my heart every minute of every day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Trivial Pursuit

I just spent 30 minutes watching some of America's Got Talent??? I do believe a thousand question marks would not be enough to question this ridiculous show.

If the demise of network television is imminent, reality shows like this one are why. And advertisements for more reality shows this summer are not promising--looks like I will get to read more books.


Just learned today that Kayci and Josh Ross have had a new baby boy--Truitt. Congratulations!!! You will be wonderful parents to this precious bundle--he is a very blessed boy.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Back to Orlando

I went along for the ride as Zoe conducted a "Closer" conference at the Metro Church this past weekend. This is the church I visited 3 years ago to lead a woman's retreat on writing a spiritual autobiography.

It was so good to see those ladies again and to find that some of them are writing down their stories as I urged them to do. The new Metro building is spectacular! In a former grocery store, the church has remodeled it to accomodate a 900 seat sanctuary, a "Holy Grounds" coffeeshop and bookstore, a "Bistro" kitchen where meals are served 6 days a week, spacious classrooms and offices, a great gym for the youth with stadium seating, and a very comfortable atmosphere of welcome. It looks very nice on the outside with a huge parking lot and something most churches need badly--a loading dock.

This 18-year-old church is making real strides in the community. They recently merged with a 250 member Christian Church and are finding that a great blessing for both.

The ladies seem to be very active in reaching to all ages. This summer they have a series going on marriage and other concerns. Sunday morning Linda Werner of Legacy Principles spoke.

An additional blessing came in seeing folks from Abilene: Mike
Cope, Jack, Jill and Matt Maxwell and Sally Gary. What a blessing to see them. Also Alyse Hipes' (a member at Metro with her husband Kevin) mother was visiting. Edwina (Smart) Conaway has been a friend since college days. We had a great time visiting and telling who had heard about other members of that college time. Alyse's daughter Savannah was baptized Sunday morning adding a cherry on top of the luscious weekend.

I also got to see and be around Brandon, Sheryl and the rest of Zoe which I can't get enough of here.

What a joy! Thank you God for the worship, the sharing of John York on Sunday and the hospitality of the Metro people.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Unique Otter

As Doris and I conducted our reading discussion group last night at Otter, I had the thought that such an occasion would not happen at many churches in my fellowship.

This class will meet each Wed. night through the summer and discuss one book per month. We begin with Anne Lamott's Grace (Eventually), continue in July with Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath, and end in August with Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book.

Last night was so fun. We began with an introduction to spiritual reading and why one should bother reading such books. Several of those who attended suggested some books I had not heard of and which sounded worthy of going to Amazon. That bodes well for the class.

I do pray that we will all learn more about our Father and his consistent loving presence as we share books this summer.

Otter is unique in this way and in others: Not many churches I know have a female Jewish professor come and lecture on Matthew, nor have a gathering room where people can be seen drinking coffee before and after services (one of my favorite pictures of community), nor do other churches offer courses in spiritual formation during the regular Sunday School or courses in art, music, and creativity such as the one that just ended.

God has blessed Otter with so many gifts and talents--May we use them to his glory.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander, a famous author of young adult books died last month. He wrote the Black Cauldron and The Prydain Chronicles. One of the chronicles The High King received the Newbery Award in 1968. He had the ability to create unforgettable character names like The Pig Keeper and Fflewddur Fflam. Enchanted kingdoms, broken harps, and magical legends flowed through all his books.

I feel a special affinity for him. When I received the Siddy Jo Johnson Award (year's best children's librarian) from the Texas Library Assn. , Alexander was the main speaker at that luncheon, and I got to sit next to him and chat. A very small man--he looked like an elf out of one of his books. But he was very cordial and easy to talk to. He told me that he had never had a writing course, but learned to write as he did from reading the great literature of the world as a child.

In these days of children's books about every subject from pooping to pottying, I wonder how many of them ever get to read from the world's great literature? We once had a program in elementary schools called Junior Great Books which pushed the reading of great literature, but I think the adult leaders tired of the program and it no longer exists. Fortunately Harry Potter has reawakened the interest in lore and legend--maybe that will help if well-meaning adults don't get the books cast out of the schools.

Thankfully there was a victory over that last week in Cedarville, AK. I heard the mother who was overruled by the court say that she didn't know what her next move was, but she was praying about it.

I don't think the God who values imagination and thinking will answer in the way she hopes.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Fear and trust

David Rubio spoke again yesterday about fear. It is interesting in my life that fear and trust have coexisted in a kind of dance--one switching with the other as the lead depending on the challenge of the day.

Hearing all those fire and brimstone sermons growing up in which the preachers seemed to have special insights into heaven and hell scared me and if I think about them today, they still scare me. I have spent the last half of my life reveling in grace, however, and enjoying that feeling of trust and confidence that God loves me and wants the best for me in a love that cannot be rivaled.

I do not want to join the camp of many who seem to believe that everyone who believes will be saved, but I am not far from it--trying not to be judgemental and trying harder to give each soul the benefit of their doubt and ignorance. There is still that passage about the narrow gate that waggles itself in the back of my brain.

As one grows older, we get rather innured to the idea that sin is no longer a part of our lives--we are the wise, the sages who are looked up to and sought out for spiritual wisdom. It is a nice benefit of growing old; but, I don't feel worthy of those accolades because that temptation to sin beckons all ages. I am holding on to those glorious verses which sing of the love of God and trying to become wise.

Drat those hellfire and brimstone images!

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Brandon has gone to Midland to be with Stephen at the funeral of his nephew Connor tomorrow. Maddie and I were talking about where he was and Maddie said about the funeral, "You know that place where people go out in boxes to the place where the flowers are..." Out of the mouths of babes...." to the place where the flowers are".

Dear Father,

Bless the Bailey and Brown families tonight at the greeting and tomorrow at the funeral until they go out to where the flowers are and lay Connor in his final resting place. But, of course, he is in heaven with Jesus. Thank you God. Please, please bless Hutton and Bailey and enable them to grow through this trauma to spiritual adults who know
that this life is not all there is to your creation.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Jesus as a Boy

I have always thought it odd that the Bible does not contain any stories about the late childhood of Jesus. I wish we knew more about how he got along with his classmates in the synagogue, about when he really knew about his dual personality, about some of the things he did as a physical boy--did he climb trees, skip rocks in the river, play chase, eat his vegetables? What were his first words? What did he build in the carpenter's shop? How was his relationship with Joseph? and his siblings? What teaching opportunities these tales would have provided!

Always with the questions! Would it have spoiled some great eternal plan to give us a little more information?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Little things

Thank you God for these little things that lift my heart:

Sunshine with no smoke in the air
Ella's singing her original songs
Sam's laugh
Maddie's drawings
A Starbuck's latte with whipped cream on top

And that's only today!