Monday, March 31, 2008

Why Beauty?

In thinking about the beauty of this season, one has to wonder why beauty? Why did not God just make a nondescript tree with brown bark and lackluster leaves? Why the Bradford Pear with its gorgeous white blossoms? Why not just a plain vanilla night sky? Why the dazzling sunsets we see in Texas (and in some places here in Nashville)? Why the five senses?

In her chapter in the book The Christian Imagination by Leland Ryken, Luci Shaw writes of "Beauty and the Creative Impulse". She says, "When the world was created, it might have seemed to have been enough to have it work. To include beauty seems unnecessary for a mechanistic universe. We have been given a sense of the beautiful which can be regarded as gratuitous. Which it is--a gift of pure grace. And our creation of beautiful things links us with our Creator. God was the first Quilter of prairies, the primal Painter (night skys, ferns, thunderheads, snow on cedars), the archetypal metal Sculptor (mountain ranges, icebergs), the Composer who heard the whales'
strange, sonorous clickings and songs in his head long before there whales to sound them, the Playwright who plotted the sweeping drama of Creation, Incarnation, Redemption, and the Poet whose Word said it all." Wow!

And as for the trees: Genesis 2:9 RSV "And out of the ground, the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food."

Thank you God, our Creator for Bradford pears, and cherry trees, and apricot blossoms, and the peach.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Glory of God right here

The earth is aflame with the glory of God here in Nashville. The pop of the yellow forsythias burns my eyes as I look at them. The purity of the white blossoms on the Bradford pear trees draws my eyes into a cushion of soft, pure rest. What beauty!

Murrary Lane between Franklin Road and Granny White Pike is full of the constasting white and yellow -- a feast of God's creation. See it tomorrow in the sunshine (if it ever comes back).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Why Jane Austen?

I am taking a class at Lipscomb in the LLL program about Jane Austen. My goal is to find what the big deal is about her? Why Jane Austen? Why now?

Through the years I have read several of her books, mostly under duress. Not my favorite period of literature. Our book club read Pride and Prejudice for our yearly classic. I have watched it on DVD, seen "Becoming Jane" and "The Jane Austen Book Club", and am now watching all the other films from Austen's books. (My favorite so far is Sense and Sensibility.) And I still ask Why Jane Austen?

Seems to me her books are very formulaic--If you have read one, you know that the theme of women in poverty and an always happy ending will occur.

Perhaps it is because the readers wish to return to a kinder, gentler time when tea was the highlight of the day, the gentry never worked, but rather went on long visits with friends and relatives, and affairs of the heart ruled the day.

I will say, I like her more than the dark hopelessness of modern fiction. I will take P and P over The Road any day.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Getting By

As a high school debater, I debated the role of unionism in our society--my favorite position was Negative." We don't need them in this great country where everyone has a chance to earn a living wage. They are anti-American, etc. "
As I entered the workplace myself, I wished for one to join. And I did--NEA helps teachers get some of what they deserve. The closest I ever came to poverty was in college as I worked 40 plus hours a week while trying to pay tuition and books in an entry-level job. My folks raised three children on less than minimum wage--I do not know how they did it and still provided us with shelter and food. My Dad's highest year of salary was probably about $10,000.

I just finished reading a book that raised my hackles and made me ashamed and angry at our society of greed. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. The premise of the book is investigative journalism--Barbara Ehrenreich was assigned to find out how a single woman, booted into the labor market by welfare reform was going to make it on $6-$7 an hour. She worked as a waitress, a housecleaner, an aide at a nursing home, and at Wal-Mart in the months she watched.

Her conclusion, of course, was that they cannot make it--It takes at least $14 an hour for a family to eat, and sleep under a roof. That was in 2000, probably more now.

The poor today are not only underpaid, but also relatively invisible in our society. She calls them
"the major philantropists" of our life in America. "They neglect their own children so that children of others can be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other houses can be clean and shiny; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high." Perhaps my ire rose the highest as she described her job at Wal-Mart. Demeaning, spirit sucking, denying basic civil-rights, this corporate giant deserves the Booby Prize for the Nastiest Corporation of the Decade while its owners top the list of richest billionaries in the U. S.

I decided years ago when I discovered that Wal-Mart would not allow their employees to unionize,but paid them a lower than living wage with teethless benefits, that I would not shop at Wal Mart anymore except under extraordinary circumstances. And so, Target has become my store of choice.

The book is eye-opening, often funny, but very convincing that rather being a haven for those fleeing less democratic nations, the U. S. is instead one of unrelenting rapaciousness ready and willing to take advantage of those who serve us. And please no comments on the "folks who need to buy an alarm clock and get a job." Otter Creek served a woman this year who had no alarm clock and no money to buy one. The choice was food for her baby or an alarm clock--what would you do?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Memories

I woke up yesterday morning to The Easter Song, sung by Second Chapter of Acts--one of my favorite Easter recordings by the group which was probably the first Christian CD we ever bought. It brought to mind past Easters:

As a little girl in Hamlin, Texas wearing black patent leather shoes, white socks and a pretty pink silk dress (made by my mother) entering the church where everyone had preened for Easter--but no evidence of Easter was in the building--no flowers, no songs, no sermon.

As an older high school girl buying a pink hat to go with yet another pink dress at Mode O'Day on Pine Street in Abilene. Entering the same church and still finding no evidence of the resurrection. Maybe we did sing "Low in the Grave He Lay."

As a young mother stuffing Easter eggs for Brandon and laying out his new clothes. Going to Minter Lane in Abilene where there were still no flowers, but a cross, songs and a sermon by Landon Saunders on Easter.

Later at Highland in Abilene, wearing new clothes (not pink) and seeing the cross draped in white, hearing Val Durrington sing "He Is Alive" and Mike Cope preach on the resurrection.

At Otter Creek (old building) participating in a choir, rehearsed and led by my son, singing Easter songs and hearing an Easter sermon by Tim Woodroof.

Yesterday, wearing a new periwinkle blue jacket, greeting all those who came in, smelling Easter lilies in the foyer, singing Easter songs, Lee Camp preaching on Turning Points (which the Easter Story definitely is). Enjoying the Rembrandt etchings and photographs of crosses by Jerry Atnip decorating our art gallery in the foyer.

Thank you God that at least my part of our fellowship pays homage to that glorious day when Christ arose and spread his love forever on those who believe.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sunshine and Shadows

The Amish invented a new quilt pattern many years ago called "Sunshine and Shadows" in which both light and dark colors are used in juxtaposition--beginning with a light square in the middle of the quilt followed by another row of dark-colored squares around it, then followed by another row of light squares, etc. It is a contrast of light and dark with a stunning visual effect when the quilt is finished. Of course, it is a metaphor for life--good and bad, joy and sorrow, etc. It is also a picture of that wonderful passage in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: ....a time to be born and a time to die....a time to weep and a time to laugh.

I guess I have been in shadows since Brandon announced his resignation at Otter which deepened even further when Sheryl announced the family would not be coming back to Otter to worship, but felt drawn to another church. Selfishly for me that meant:

Brandon will no longer be my worship leader. I will no longer experience his evocative call to prayer and his emotive guidance into the heart of God. I will no longer be able to see the kids dressed in Sunday clothes freshly coming from class with cotton ball sheep and paper-sack mangers. There will be no special celebrations on Easter or Christmas or on the third Sunday of each month when instrumental and vocal musicians got to use their great gifts in bringing us to worship. And for so many other reasons, I have been a blue funk for almost two months, trying to see what God is doing in all this, both with Brandon and Sheryl and with me.

The sunshine is peeping through as I watch Brandon revel in his new job, receive acclamations for
his work and see Sheryl excited to be helping him find new venues for the productions. And to know that they are both meeting new people and letting their lights shine in new corners; and in seeing the darkness of the last year lifted from their faces.

Those shadows in my life are miniscule in comparison to the shadows felt by that small band of Christ-followers in Jerusalem the day after the crucifixion. That Saturday must have been horrible as they saw their whole world come to an end with the death of their Lord. (Had they listened a little better, he did give them hints of the resurrection, but like most of us would have, they went directly into hiding and sorrow).

Fortunately we know and they found out that Saturday is followed by Sunday, shadows followed by sunshine, and death by resurrection. Hallelujah!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Honoring Women

Today's honoree in the Women's History Hall of Fame is one I had never heard of until I came to Nashville and received the little pamphlet Remember the Ladies: Women of Mount Olivet Cemetery.

In reading it, it was eye-opening to realize how much of Nashville's history was made by sweet soft-spoken retiring Southern women.

Kate Eastman Savage Zerfoss was a pioneer in eye surgery techniques. Imitating her doctor father, she bandaged and operated on her dolls as a child. She received her medical degree from Tulane in 1922.

More of interest to me than her skill as a physician was her tenure on the Federal Highway Safety Commission. Kate Zerfoss suggested during her service there that white lines be drawn on the edge of the road to reduce accidents. And what a service to us that was! Especially those of us who need all the help we can get while driving at night.

I ate in her home this year. Her home at 165 Eighth Avenue has been made into a restaurant (a good one). It is the last remaining town house in downtown Nashville.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Women's History Month--Another entry

And some other women of the month are:

Preschool teachers--specifically those at the Otter Creek Kindergarten.

These women have the patience and fortitude to take at 50 little children and teach them to sing the season's songs (Peter Cottontail) with hand and body movements and to recite the Lord's Prayer. Sam was a little Easter Egg and Ella was a bunny and their program today was a blast! (Faye Reider told me today that she could shake her booty with the best). If you knew Faye, you would know how funny that is.

Thank you Otter teachers and all teachers who begin the road of education for our best gifts. Bless you--you are in my Hall of Fame.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Another Entry for Women's History Month

Another woman I celebrate this month is Madeleine L'Engle. She died in September, 2007 after a long life of 88 years. Her 60 books are as varied as her interests. She wrote fantasies as a children's author (Wrinkle in Time), poetry, memoirs (Summer of the Great-grandmother) Christian inspirational books, and science essays. Her thoughts on creativity in Walking on Water have become classic reading for artists of all kinds.

Her other Christian books are often challenging, but always filled with a strong belief in God and his faithfulness. I own 17 of her books and have enjoyed them all, but I guess my favorite is The Rock That Is Higher: Story as Truth which begins with the story of her horrible car wreck in California in 1991. In that story, she reaffirms the fact in her life that God is her creator and is The Rock.

Later, she looks at the God of Scripture as the one who "refused to nuke Ninevah, even though that is what Jonah wanted; who forgave David for a staggering list of wrongdoings; who goes out on a stormy night for one lost black sheep; who throws a party when the prodigal son returns; who loves so much that he sent his only begotten son to live with us, as one of us, --to help us understand our stories--each one unique, infinitely valuable, irreplaceable."

Now that is a God I can follow and a woman I admire.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Women's History Month

It took us a while to realize that women had something to offer in our history. 1978 in Sonoma, CA was the first celebration of Women's History Week. Then Congress expanded it to Women's History Month in 1987 after the women's movement of the 60's caused women everywhere to question their invisibility in history books.

All too often, women are invisible--we only miss them when we miss what they do--no one left to do my laundry, to clean the kitchen, to pick up the clothes at the cleaners, etc. To think that there were once women in history who actually did something worth noting was once almost unthinkable. The only women I remember mentioned in history class ( please realize the memory is not what it used to be) was a Revolutionary War spy and the wives of the Presidents.

I am thinking today of a very brave musician who broke the color barrier in opera. Marian Anderson
grew up poor, but with a heavenly voice. Her community actually took up contributions to help pay for her lessons. But she was African- American in a time when the black musicians were doing only jazz and blues. She decided that if she were going to someday succeed in opera (Note the optimism), she would have to learn many languages, so she went to Europe. She started singing in the great houses over there and became a European sensation. Her agent began to think she could sing anywhere. With Howard College, he tried to book her into Constitution Hall in D. C. which was run by the DAR. Sorry--they had no date available, and anyway, they booked only white singers.

Angered by the refusal, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the organization, newspapers took up the cry, and she was eventually set to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. 75,000 people of all colors and faiths came to hear her.

Sixteen years later (perseverence) this woman who now sang in 8 languages opened at the Metropolitan Opera at the age of 57.

There is a beautiful children's book which tells her story. Add it to your collection: When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan , illustrated by Brian Sel znick .

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Women's History Month

This is the month we celebrate the accomplishments of women in our lives. In my class at Lipscomb last week we talked about mentors--and not suprisingly most of them were women--mostly mothers, grandmothers and teachers. Of course, fathers and grandfathers were mentioned too.

It is too true that we do not think to thank those who have brought us up until it is too late--but it may not be too late for you dear readers to thank those who served as your mentors. Do it today with a phone call or letter or card.

March is Women's History Month. It does seem like a good month to discuss those women both in life and in history who have led, inspired and goaded us to be better people.

As I spoke to my class, I told them that one of my mentors was a person I had never met or heard speak: Marian Wright Edelman. She is president of the Children's Defense Fund and the author of several books including the inspirational The Measure of Our Success and Guide My Feet. I also like her book Lanterns, A Memoir of Mentors in which she recounts how her mentors changed her life. She says some of the most important lessons did not come from Harvard PHD's, but from poor women and men educated in the school of life. "Their pens and pencils were sharpened by poverty. Their mother wit was created by the daily struggle to survive. Their inner faith was nourished by their outer losses. Their eyes were riveted on searching for and doing God's will rather than human ways, and their standards were divine rather than human.

She continues, " Their examples made me stand up when I wanted to sit down, try one more time when I wanted to stop, and go out the door when I wanted to stay home and relax. They saw me inside and not just outside and affirmed the strengths I had."

Know anyone like that in your life? As I write this month, I will be celebrating the mentors in my life.

Thanks to Marian Wright Edelman for all she and the Children's Defense Fund does for children and for the very insprirational books she writes.