Let us Ramble: Pursuit of Smokiness

Yesterday was Independence Day in the United States. For most folks Independence Day is marked by celebration with a barbecue of chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, or any other number of delicious foods. Tradition usually lends itself towards children staying up late to see fireworks and to listen to patriotic music.

The day celebrates the Declaration of Independence being ratified by Congress in 1776. The day celebrates a far different time in our nation. A lot of the celebration would probably be considered obtuse, strange, and irreverent to most of the folks who lived through the events of 1776. I must admit that I am less concerned with the historical tension in this holiday than with many of the religious holidays which normally pique my interest. I happen to like Independence Day.

One of the reasons I like Independence Day is that I like to grill. I enjoy using our grill. This year I did a bit of minor surgery on my charcoal grill/smoker with a dremel to add a rotisserie component. I woke up very early, set the fire smoking, and watched a turkey spin around and around on the spit. We were invited to a wedding renewal ceremony and picnic about noon. The turkey hit the perfect temperature right on time to head out to the party with a smoked bird. Here’s the bird about an hour before she was finished. The tiny yellow bits were part of an olive oil baste with thyme, marjoram, and garlic. When finished the turkey was deeply colored and extremely fragrant.

My smoked turkey about an hour before completion

I was really proud of the turkey, but I refused to put pictures online. My wife knows that I love to share bits of my cooking adventures, so she took a picture to post on my behalf. I almost stopped her from posting the picture. What was my reasoning? What if I had made a huge mistake and the turkey was awful? What if people saw the turkey and told me I had messed it up?

The turkey was decimated at the party. The turkey was just torn to shreds by people who had spent a good half hour smelling the fragrant meat while waiting for the guests of honor to arrive. I’m glad my wife saved me a piece when carving because the turkey was just destroyed. I understood why immediately upon tasting the meat. The meat was deeply flavored, deeply delicious, and tasty in a way that only smoked meat can taste. This turkey wasn’t just store-bought turkey. The bird had been prepared carefully, slowly, and it was absolutely delicious.

It raised a question in my mind. Why am I so afraid of failure? I have good gifts, I have talent, and I practice my craft. I cook dinner regularly in my house and I have never been afraid to attempt new things. I should believe in myself, but I regularly look in the mirror and assume the worst about myself. What if my fear really is just fear that should be put aside?

The situation reminds me of FDR’s first inaugural address in 1933. President Roosevelt stated “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Facing a nation in a fiscal crisis with a vast imbalance of population and resources, FDR approached a dangerous situation with the belief that the nation must advance or perish. While my concerns are not nearly so dire, I will say that my own fears in life are often unreasonable and unjustified. President Roosevelt said later in that address:

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

If true happiness lies in the joy of achieving things, then why am I so terrified of failure? Why do I fret about money, resources, and future criticism when happiness will not lie down those paths? Why do any of us live in such fear? I smoked a turkey that I filled with herbs from my own garden, basted in an oil I infused with my own instincts, and then slow roasted in a smoker that I altered with my own hands, My wife was right to be proud of me. Smoking a turkey is not rocket science, but the turkey was something that I enjoyed creating which I brought together through my own efforts in cooking, gardening, crafting, and patience. What’s more, I took that gift and shared it in a place where people could enjoy it without price or cost. I used my talents to bless others.

What would the church look like if we were to live out this love together? What if we were more concerned with our ministry to ourselves and to others than with looking at what we can take from the world around us? What if we found joy in our work as a community instead of chasing our own profits to our own doom?

Let us be Ramble: Poetry in a Jumble

Hello from the land between one space and another. Last week I finished up the last of the Annual Meetings for the two halves of my church charge. Next week we are welcoming a new Administrative Assistant into our church office. I have been without an assistant (during the day) for four months and things have been a little chaotic around the office.

This is the land between one moment and another. Exacerbating this time between moments is the fact that our preschool program is off on a field trip this morning. This church is a very quiet place today. I am taking advantage of the quiet to sit in our future assistant’s office to work and pray today. I am trying to imbue the room with prayer in an attempt to be a blessing to our new assistant.

A few minutes ago I was sitting in the quiet and reading through my next book for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I began to enter into the next book on my list which is “Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God” by Macrina Wiederkehr. In many ways, this book is very different than the last book that I read for the academy. This book is focused on entering into the text and helping readers to grow deeper in their own time in scripture. There is less exposition and more reflection. Regardless, here is what Sister Wiederkehr writes on the very nature of entering into a quest for the word of God: (pg. 8)

“It is not easy to find the Word of God in the midst of a jumble of words. The secret is connection. A community of words connects with each other and somehow in that connection we discern God’s Word for us. Praying with the white space between the words, sentences, and paragraphs is also important. The artist in us needs white space—our place of waiting, listening, and being. White space is the womb and the tomb in which we abide. We will experience birth, life, and death there, as we keep vigil with the Word of God”

As I reflected on these words in this empty space a few things stuck out to me revolving around the white space and the connections between words through spaces. This paragraph was incredibly effective at drawing things out of my depths.

The first place this paragraph took me was into the present. I am sitting in a church office which is unoccupied by an assistant at the moment. My wife has been assisting before and after her work, but in general, this office has been empty. It is a white space. Melissa sat in this place and blessed this community. Bonnie sat in this place and blessed this community. My wife has sat in this place in a different way in an attempt to make space for the person who would follow her.

Soon our new assistant will begin her own ministry of blessing from this place. She will do things differently. She’ll connect to some traditions out of Bonnie’s methods and some tradition’s out of Melissa’s methods. She’ll create her own traditions and methods. Soon this place will begin to be reshaped by her presence in our midst. In the meantime, this sacred space is empty, quiet, and waiting in stillness. This is a holy moment—this is “the womb and the tomb” where a new ministry will be born, live, and someday conclude. Hopefully that conclusion will be many years and many blessings from now. This is a sacred white space.

The second place this paragraph took me to in my reflection was to Annual Conference. The entire idea behind Annual Conference is supposed to be “holy conferencing.” Somewhere in the midst of all of the debate, motions, and rules of order there is supposed to be a place where the Holy Spirit works, moves, and expresses itself through the people gathered together in prayer and discernment.

This paragraph reminded me of Annual Conference because of the sacred white spaces. I recall Cathy Hall Stengel standing up in conference this year asking the bishop where there was space for people not on two sides of a particular issue to express their voices. She called for white space. I recall JJ Warren standing up and expressing his call to ordained ministry when the doors had been closed on him due to his sexuality and requesting room to respond to God’s inevitable and unavoidable call on his soul. He was requesting that creative white space be made for the Holy Spirit to call the people God was calling into ministry.

I recall many moments where there was a need for creativity, grace, and kindness. Places were required for life to be born, live, and conclude through the power of the Holy Spirit. There needed to be white spaces before all became an unending cacophony of noise without rest, meter, or even tonal structure.

These thoughts came out as I pondered this selection, but I also found myself drawn to the concept of the connection of words. If everyone carries a bit of God’s image within them, then there is a bit of God’s creative word in all of the people we see. Sister Wiederkehr wrote (pg. 9) that “Every person you encounter during the hours of your day is a word that God has spoken into the world. You too are one of God’s spoken words. And now God speaks through you.” We are connected to each other through the very fact that we are part of the poetry God is writing in this moment.

My brother in Christ Kevin Nelson from Schenectady First United Methodist Church shared the African concept of “ubuntu” on the floor of Conference last week. He translated it roughly as “I am who I am because of who we are.” In my mind, his view of connectedness draws from this idea from Sister Wiederkehr nicely. We are who we are because of the voice of God spoken into each person at the table.

Why do we seek justice? The people we seek to help each carry a bit of God’s poetic word in our midst. Why do we seek love, mercy, and grace? The people who need these things (including ourselves) are all bearers of God’s creative word. Why do we comb through the scriptures listening, abiding, and trusting in God’s encompassing love? We do these things because who we are as a people has called us into a poetic dialogue with scripture. The words on the page, the words in our lives, and the white spaces between connect to create something beautiful.

Is this easy? No! In retrospect, the very first sentence of the quote I referenced above has proven foundational in all of the places where Sister Wiederkehr’s words led me to reflect today. It is definitely not easy to find the word of God in the midst of the jumble of words we come across in life. Even discounting the carriers of God’s words who like to honk car horns, cut people off, and act less than kindly, the words in the Bible itself can be jumbled, confused, and distracting.

As I do enter into the word myself this day, I will do so realizing the challenge within me. Following Sister Wiederkehr’s advice, I will wait for God, read God’s word, spend time listening to what was written with an obedient heart, pray through where God is leading me, and finally abide in the midst of the jumble. With God’s blessing the word of God expressed in my life will join in the dance of poetry found within the scriptures. Together it is my prayer that I will join in the great proclamation of God’s love and compassion.