“Present” and hunger

The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “Present.” As it is a Monday, our devotional points us again into Luke 6:-17-26. This week we are focusing on the contrasting concepts of hunger and fullness.

While it can be difficult to come up with a connection between the Lenten Photo-A-Day and the theme of the day, today was an easy selection for me. I know of the perfect present that has taught me about a hunger that goes deeper than just a craving for food.

I spent last Thanksgiving with my brother and his wife. For the first time in years, I did not spend Thanksgiving with my wife and it was the first time in 13 years that my eldest was not around complicating things. It was a heartbreaking experience that I know many others have experienced over the years.

After Thanksgiving, I had an opportunity to visit with my kids. In a red folder, I received a picture from my youngest. She had colored a picture of a turkey and wanted me to have it.

I practically ran to hang it up in my bathroom. When my kids are around, they see the turkey hanging there and I remind my youngest that I love it. I truthfully tell her that I say a prayer for her each time I notice it, whether it is the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.

Once upon a time, we had so many pictures come home from school that it was hard to choose. When my eldest was in second grade and my middle child was in kindergarten, our refrigerator was practically a battlefield when we had to decide what picture would go where. My refrigerator was “full” of pictures.

Now, the pictures are few and far between. I am hungry for pictures from my kids. I never realized how lucky I was to have all of those pictures filling my fridge. Like almost all parents, but not in the same way as most, I went from a full nest to an empty nest overnight. I long for the days when the kids are here in our house. I long for those moments when I could hug my kids after school and celebrate their pictures.

In the devotional, the very heart of what I am trying to get across is found at the beginning of today’s reading: “One of the greatest challenges of using the beatitudes found in the Gospel of Luke is that they use slightly different language than those found within the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel.” The hunger listed here is not qualified by a connection to righteousness like in the gospel of Matthew. As it says later today: “As we look at hunger throughout this week in Jesus’ teachings, we will notice that it relates to questions around wealth from the previous beatitude and to questions around sorrow and laughter in next week’s beatitude.”

I know that I hunger for something that is connected with both sorrow and an impoverished heart. As we go through the devotions this week, I hope everyone finds a place of connection. I also hope that they find safe spaces to express any sorrow that they feel while on this journey.

“Good” and the mystical faith

Our devotional reading for today begins with the line “Christianity is a mystical faith, but not a magical faith.” Depending on the version you are reading, there is unfortunately a typo in that line which makes it read “Christianity is mystical faith…” .Even now, my editing program is having a conniption over that phrasing and it makes me wonder how I missed it when reading the devotional through multiple times while searching for errors and typos.

Christianity is a mystical faith that connects the practical physical reality with something beyond normal understanding. In the scripture reading we read of thousands of people eating a shared meal after one child came forward with five loaves of bread and two fish. The story is amazing, but it is not the only story of how people have seen the wondrous happen without the blessing of incredible wealth.

Soldiers from two different nations stopped during the first World War for a day of shared peace on Christmas. The peace could not have been bought or sold, but it was shared freely with people who shared the same faith on different sides of a war as they remembered the words “Peace on earth, and good will to all.” Victims have forgiven people who have committed atrocities against them simply because God asked them to forgive others. A sailor engaged in human trafficking came to a point of conversion and decided to stand against the very practices he once engaged in for a living. As an abolitionist, he both advocated for the dignity of the people he once harmed and sang about the amazing grace that changed his life.

Often without a world of riches at their command and often against the expectations and desires of the wealthy and powerful, people have dug into empty pockets and found that they were far richer than it looked on the outside. God has a way of showing up in a miraculous way to provide for those in need, whether it be through a changed heart, a call to forgiveness, the same hymns sung in different languages, or even the willingness to share found in a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish.

The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “good.” I am blessed in many ways, but being a parent has often stretched me beyond the ends of what I thought were my limits. I have cried for my children, held them while they are sick, prayed over them at a distance, and now regularly wake up in the middle of the night to wonder where they are and how they are doing at that moment.

I have not always been the perfect parent, but that is not the fault of my children. I often feel like a poor father and I cannot give them everything they want in this world. Somehow, I have still been considered worthy enough by God to be their dad. I love them deeply. They are good, even when I pray for a way to be a better father. On some days, I even allow myself to believe that I must be good if I have been entrusted with such amazing kids.

My eldest during a time when life was challenging. I have always believed with all of my life that my eldest is good and I am so grateful to be his father.

Beanbag Haibun

Well worn bumpy sacks wait to be released anew in another home. Adults loose a sigh as boxes begin to swell with children’s treasures. Children pack away items all will trip over in a few months time. Parents ponder why long dusty beanbags take space both now and later.

Sweet smiling children
will fill a fresh and new place
with “priceless” treasures.

“Beanbag Haibun,” Distracted Pastor, 2020

“The Stretching Poem”

The other night I was stretching after a long day. We had spent the day with my wife running a garage sale while I helped to clean up the garage. My feet ached, my shoulder hurt, and I needed a good stretch for the Whole Life Challenge. I wrote this poem while reflecting on the events which took place while I stretched out tight joints while my wife washed up behind a closed bathroom door after a hot day in the sun.

Stretch your arms to toes
While your crying toddler wails
As her mom showers.

Stretch your sore shoulder.
Call to your lonely toddler
Who wants her mother.

Stretch your angry calf
As you pray she'll let mom be
After a hot day.

Rise to reach for her
As the door opens for her
Then closes on you.

Drink some cool water
As toddler storms the shower
With love and gusto.

“The Stretching Poem” from the Distracted Pastor, 2019

“Prepared” Photo-A-Day Haiga

Today’s Rethink Church prompt is “Prepared.” I know that it is Holy Week, but after writing all of these haigas, I cannot help but use this prompt to recommend to all new parents that they either buy baby wipes by the case or invest in a lot of hand towels.

Be prepared for it.
Your child will make a big mess
Every chance they get.

“Rest” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “rest.” Yes, it is Sunday again! Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! Everything you know about life should include things that you learn before kindergarten!

Some things you should learn
Before Kindergarten class
Tells you how to rest.

“Power” Photo-A-Day Haiga

The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “power.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! Here’s a picture of my eldest conquering her fear and flying down a hill on her rollerblades. She’s pretty powerful already!

“I feel like a bird!”
Grow strong, my eldest daughter:
Soar on through this life.

“Her forehead” Poem

A few weeks ago I sat with a sick infant in the depths of night. Wet cloth cooling a fever from the now rare chicken pox. I rocked and contemplated what we would do if the fever spiked again. It was dark in that room in more ways that one.

A few weeks ago I sat with a parent in grief over an upcoming surgery. A sweet child in need of care. I contemplated her struggle and prayed for more than just the child. I prayed for my own forgiveness because I was grateful my child was not the one in need of that care.

A few weeks ago I sat and ate elementary school spaghetti. It was exactly how I remembered it. We sat, laughed, talked, and even danced as we tried to support some friends’ family in their hour of need. I could stomach school spaghetti far easier than letting my friends feel they were alone after caring for a baby who spent a lot of time in the NICU.

Yesterday I saw the ash on her forehead and I realized that she was mortal too. Today she is well but one day she will be in God’s hands. My heart broke as I realized a truth that had been walking through the edges of my soul.

On the day of ash
We contemplate our own path
Down through our life’s end.
Easier to see your own
Than on your daughter’s sweet face.

“Her Forehead” by The Distracted Pastor, 2019

A Villanelle for my Little One

It is dark now, my little one.
We rock beneath a long dark sky.
We should sleep now, for day is done.

You've had milk. You've had your fun.
Still house rings with your piercing cry.
It is dark now, my little one.

Mom would rest like the long set sun.
My voice cracks as my throat grows dry.
We should sleep now, for day is done.

Soft song and pout seek battle won...
I have sung many years gone by.
It is dark now, my little one.

I'll hold you close–blanket-wrapped bun.
My voice so soft–so close your eye.
We should sleep now, for day is done.
It is dark now, my little one.

Today’s post is a poem inspired by the events of last Monday night. I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of an exasperated spouse and an inconsolable baby. Our baby was loud and she thanked me for holding her close by screaming right in my ear. Still, we rocked and I sang until peace fell at last on her troubled soul.

Was it the teething medicine? Was it that she was gassy? Was it that she just needed to wear herself out? I do not know, but she is the third child. I have rocked and sung through far worse.

Let Us Seek: Holy Moses!

Today’s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary draw something a bit personal out of me. In particular, I am drawn to ponder the reading from Exodus. I’ve had many images in my mind of Moses over the past few decades of my faith journey. It has been twenty years since I gave my life and my heart over to Jesus. I have spent a significant amount of time since then reading and pondering the scriptures.

Yesterday, while reading through “God’s Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame” by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au for the upcoming session of the Academy for Spiritual Formation, I read about the practice of visualizing what you read in order to reveal your own internal image of God. When I apply this practice to the idea of seeing Moses after twenty years of study, I will admit that it is hard to describe what I see at first glance.

To be clear it isn’t the following image…

Charlton_Heston_in_The_Ten_Commandments_film_trailer.jpg

I’ve never watched Heston’s portrayal… Sorry film buffs–it has not happened by this point in my life.

To be honest, my vision of Moses has been deeply affected by my sense of humor. I don’t have permission to copy the image, but this is my work computer’s background (We miss your cartoons ReverendFun.com). My honest impression of Moses when I stop to pray is somewhere between these two images. Moses was serious, intense, and challenged continually. I imagine I’d tear my hair out with the stuff he had to deal with, but I also think that Moses had to reach a point of frustration where he’d have to either laugh or cry. I prefer to think of him as laughing.

All of that being said, I honestly believe that I have never stopped to dwell on the idea of Moses as a father. Was he married? Yeah. His Father-in-Law gave him some really great advice, right? I can easily remember that story. He had two sons. Exodus 18 names them as Gershom and Eliezer.

Gershom’s legacy is that his children become priests for the Danites until they are carried off into exile (according to Judges 18). 1 Chronicles 23 says that Eliezer has one son, but that son had a lot of children. The legacy of both children is tied to the tribe of Levi, but what challenges me is not the legacy of Moses’ children, but the very act Moses is called to engage in shortly after today’s reading.

Moses is called at a burning bush and must go to confront Pharaoh. The people are crying out in anguish and Moses is called to go out to do the right thing. Moses has children and following God will mean that Moses will leave his wife and children with his Father-in-Law Jethro. Listening to God’s call will require Moses to walk away, if even for a short while.

I have two children. My two daughters are shining jewels that challenge me to be a better father and provoke me to occasional fits of face-palming. I have another child on the way, which is pretty exciting. Walking away from one’s children is a hard idea for me to swallow, but isn’t that exactly what Jesus confronts several people about when they resist his call? In Matthew 10:37-40, Jesus says: (NRSV)

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

While I am challenged by Moses’ call and his ability to walk away from his children, I must admit that there is something common in the call on Moses’ life and the call on our lives. We are not called to simply live lives that fall in pleasant places. We are not called to lives where we can always call the shots while remaining faithful. There are times when the call of God supercedes our desires and that can be incredibly painful, but pain is not always a bad thing.

I am grateful that this passage reminds me that God is calling us to a lifestyle where things are not always easy. I am grateful that the scriptures do show that Moses is eventually reunited with his children and with his wife. I am grateful that Moses was not left alone in the wilderness but was brought into a place of safety and refuge by Jethro. I am grateful Moses created a family with Zipporah.

My image of Moses may always remain the man pulling out his hair or the young man from the cartoon, but I am glad there was more to Moses than what I see in my image. Maybe as my hair turns silver I can remember Moses’ story and have an explanation as to why Heston’s hair was graying in that old movie.