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On Sneezing

I was at a school program back in December when a man standing behind me sneezed. I turned and said, “God bless you.” His friend standing next to him marveled at my gesture and remarked that you hardly ever hear anyone say “bless you” anymore, even less “God bless you.” Call me old fashioned, I don’t mind, but it just seems polite. It’s a way of saying, “I heard you sneeze and I hope you are not ill; but if you are, I hope you get better soon.”

As to why we don’t generally hear it much anymore, I suppose it’s related to how individualistic we have become, so self-important and yet self-isolated. We don’t want people, strangers, in our business even if it’s just to wish us well.

And to say “God bless you” of course implies something about faith. While we no longer believe that the devil gets in you when you sneeze, most people no longer want to bring any kind of religious remark into casual conversation. As they say, “them’s fighting words” when you start to bring up matters of faith. It takes the whole political correctness business too far.

Whether you and I believe in the same God/god isn’t the issue. If I say “God bless you” to someone, I hope they would take it as a word of kindness, peace and grace. It recognizes the humanity we share. I liken it to saying “namaste”- the spirit in me recognizes the spirit in you. On the one hand we talk about matters of faith all the time because they are the cause of so much that happens in our world, but once you bring it down to a more personal level it loses the sense of “otherness” and becomes “my personal and private business, which is none of your business unless I’m telling you what to believe.”

So- why do we still say “bless you”? For those who say it, it’s habit, custom, tradition, local culture. It is benevolence and kindness at its simplicity. I wish we said it more. Imagine if we said it and meant it in more instances? A cough? A trip on the carpet? A stumble when the door slips? As a greeting? We could bring back some of the kindness and civility that is lacking in current American culture.

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There be dragons!

Since I my kids were on Spring Break, and I’m on my “medical sabbatical”, I wasn’t in charge of any “church stuff” this Easter. I had only to show up.

We visited my parents for the break, all of Holy Week. Well, we missed Palm Sunday because we were still on the road, driving from our base in the Midwest to the capital of the South.

We made many stops in the week, sightseeing, playing, picnicking. We saw an exhibit of mythical creatures, which included dragons. I love dragons, and I’ve long hoped that my kids would love dragons too. Maybe it’s because I grew up singing “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, or maybe it’s because I love faery tales and Medieval Times.  Whatever, I’ve been waiting for the day.

We’ve had Usborne’s touchy-feely dragon book for a couple of years, but it wasn’t until this week that the boys really showed interest in anything beyond the book. Hang on, we did see “How to Train Your Dragon” in the theater, so maybe I’ve been grooming the kids and it finally paid off.

At the end of exhibit (which the kids flew through), was the gift shop. And they happened to have some of the most beautiful soft toy dragons I have ever seen. EVER. Of course, I couldn’t resist buying each child a dragon. So they picked out a golden topaz dragon and a blue/green dragon. I had to resist picking out one for myself, but I would have loved the red one.

The dragons have become favorite and constant companions. They even came with us to worship on Maundy Thursday. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to be friends with the dragon before all the lights get turned out and candles extinguished. Thankfully, we were.

The next night we were looking through Barnes & Noble and you just wouldn’t believe what they had in the kids section. Dragons! Baby dragons! Just like the bigger dragons we got the day before. The discount card came out, and the little golden dragon and the little red dragon jumped in the bag to come home with us. We now have a dragon family!

And let me just say, these dragons are beautiful dragons. They have very kind shiny black eyes, lame’ scales on their wings and toes. They are soft, well shaped, and just so expressive. These are the kind of dragons you would just want to be friends with.

Incidentally, B&N also had a Puff. He wasn’t bad looking, but the other dragons were just irresistible.

This week’s Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals has to do with birthdays,and there are, as promised, 5 questions about the topic to inspire.

How about you? What do you think of birthdays?

1. What are your feelings about celebrating birthdays, especially your own?

Birthdays were always a big deal growing up in my family, so I tend to look forward to them with childlike expectation that is often disappointed because my husband grew up in a house that didn’t make a big deal of birthdays. I have faced several monumental birthdays with discouragement though too. We have moved to a new state a few months before I turned 30 so what I would have enjoyed wasn’t possible (a big party with all my friends). Turning 35, really 36, was a big let down too, because it meant the passing of “young adulthood” and the idea that I was leaving behind a very special demographic that offered such great opportunity, especially in the church world.

Forty was hard also, because I had great dreams of making a big trip to Ireland with my best friend. It just wasn’t possible financially and my job in the church was rapidly slipping away (I lost it 10 days later).

All that aside, I usually do look forward to my birthday and try to enjoy it. I found last year that birthday greetings from my Facebook friends really meant a lot to me, especially those from folks who put apparent effort into the wish.

2. Do you have any family traditions about birthdays?

My parents always call, usually first thing in the morning, and sing to me. I love it. We also tend to let the birthday person choose the meal for the night, whether I cook or we go out. And partied for my kids are important. My younger son was really put out because we didn’t have a party this year. But my older son (who turned 9), really pushed to make sure we did.

A fun tradition I picked up from a childhood friend involves screaming when cutting the cake. She told me she learned it in Hong Kong. The birthday girl/boy makes the first cut in the cake and screams when the knife hits the bottom of the cake to wake up the birthday spirits so they will know it’s time to grant your wish. What kid doesn’t like to scream on their birthday?

3. Is it easy to remember friends’ and family members’ birthdays? If so, how do you do it?

For the most part I do remember birthdays of those closest to me. Those usually get a phone call or a gift or both. Definitely the spouse and kids get gifts.

4. What was one of your favorite birthdays? (or your unhappiest?)

I think my most memorable birthdays were in high school and involved kidnapping me in my pajamas and going to IHOP for breakfast.

5. Post anything else you want to share about birthdays, including favorite foods, songs, and/or pictures.

I love the new American Cancer Society ad campaign about making more birthdays. Though the tumor I’m being treated for is considered benign, my goal is still the same: to be healthy enough to enjoy many, many more birthdays. I’d like to make it to 90! (Please God?)

Here’s my first time to play on Friday with the chicks at RevGalBlogPals. The assignment is to list five ways in which I’m anticipating or moving forward, towards resurrection, new life, hope, joy.

While Lent only lasts a few weeks, I feel as if I have been on this journey for several years.

1. Anticipating a new job. Later this year I’ll be released for work again and I know God is already preparing that me-shaped space for me. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I’ve already had a dream about it and I’m going to love it!

2. Healing body and spirit. I continue to pray for my miracle, to live tumor-free and reconciled. I feel the progress that I have made and celebrate little victories like exercising each day and allowing grace if I miss a day.

3. Making new friends. A clergyfriend yesterday told me that, as an adult, she has found it takes (at least) four years to make new friends after a move. I’ve been here just under four years and find that I’ve got lots of acquaintances, but not yet the dear bosom friend I long for who seeks me out to chat and catch up even when things are crazy.

4. I started a new blog to keep up my writing skills. Not only does it challenge me to keep thinking, it’s also creating connections with other bloggers.

5. I’ve revived my devotional practice with the help of Rachel Hackenberg’s Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying With My Pen. What was lost, or interrupted, by a round of steroids is slowly coming back to me as my connection with the presence of God is renewed, restored.

That’s it. Five for Friday. Check out the other gals by clicking the button

RevGalsBlogPals

I have some time on my hands these days. Let me rephrase that, I have a lot of time on my hands these days; though, if I’m honest, I really should be doing other things like cleaning house and cooking dinner. I’ve been blogging here since 2007, but it’s been inconsistent and now that I’m feeling like writing again I need an outlet for it. But I’d like to think that my writing has some substance, so I’m employing different devices: writing prompts, hot topics (for me, at least!), and looking at other blogs.

Imagine me, at my little netbook, sitting in my chair with my feet up. I’m a religious woman, after all, I am ordained. But these days I’m a flockless-shepherd and I’m thinking more about what I’ll do for my next vocation. Anyway, back to being religious. You may already have picked up on the “I am ordained” line and figured out the likelihood is that I am not from one of the more conservation traditions. Indeed, I am a Mainline Protestant believer. Oh but as I write I realize those words have a different meaning for each person who reads them!

Well, we can say I am a Christian. Yes, I am a disciple of Christ. I worship God, but not so much Jesus. I’m a bit shaky on trinitarian doctrine. Sometimes I’m more ‘high-church’ other times my Christology is very low. I mainly believe that Jesus came to turn us back to God, to point us to God, to direct us in God’s ways. I don’t believe Jesus came to get us to worship himself. Now if I try hard enough, I can run in an entirely different direction with this and say that Jesus came to give us a face for God, but that said, we are all created in God’s image. But Jesus’ unique face was crucified, as it says, for the forgiveness of sin. So I can come close to trinitarian theology, but I usually end up stopping somewhere in the neighborhood but not quite at the defined address.

But, there I go, rabbit-trailing again! When we read someone who identifies as ‘Christian’ we each have an idea as to what that means, which is precisely why I mention that I am of the Mainline Protestant variety. (Yes, I know. I’m labeling and that’s not always helpful, though it does help us understand better. At least we assume that we understand something better when we can label it with a word we think we understand.) I’ll even go so far as to say I am moderate to liberal leaning in my faith. Social gospel? Yes. Prosperity gospel? Not so much. Open table? Absolutely- to any and all, even if you don’t profess to be Christian. Baptism? I was immersed at 10 years old, but I also love what infant baptism says, and I cried my eyes out when an elderly couple came to be baptised in their 80s (btw, they were immersed). Saved by grace? No other way. Hellfire and damnation? My God is Love.

I’ll admit what I believe is right for me, and you are entitled to your beliefs too. It would be so much easier if we all believed the same way, but that’s not reality and God has created each of us to think for ourselves. Along with that thinking comes the ability to re-evaluate our own beliefs and thoughts through study, debate, discussion, experience (some might say scripture, reason, and experience).

My humanness, my desire to find like-minded individuals, sometimes makes me stumble when I read blogs, books or articles written by others who also go by the moniker ‘Christian’. I catch myself trying to read between the lines and identify what subgroup of Christians each other ascribes to, and then I’m ashamed of myself. Ashamed because then I start to judge their beliefs and concentrate more on how we are different rather than celebrate the things we hold in common. Yes, this is the challenge of ecumenism: seeing the value in another’s faith without downgrading the things we disagree on or hold differently. Sometimes I think it is easier to work interfaith because we come in with the upfront understanding that our beliefs are very different and we don’t purport to believe we already know everything, so we (I) set in to learning what we hold in common and celebrating the fact that we are more alike than we are different. It is easier for me to read a magazine of Eastern thought than it is to read a conservative Christian article. And yet, I can also say that I have felt the spirit move so strongly when I have attended events that carried a more charismatic or evangelical flavor.

I’m reaching out as I read across the internet. I’m trying to arrest judgement and take things at face value, maybe I should say at heart value- for the quality that brings us all together in the same household of God, the Oikos. Many of our struggles are the same, especially in the day to day realm. So bring on those ladies and gentlemen of the broader Christian and human realm! Read for content, read for love!

Writing prompts

I’ve been wanting to do more writing, but have struggled somewhat with what to write. That’s one reason I have really liked GypsyMama’s Five Minute Fridays. And sometimes when I’m out for my walk, I think of things I’d like to write about, but I forget them by the time I get home!

I thought I would make a list here of some writing prompts I might like to use. Feel free to take them for your own inspiration!

I never thought…

I don”t know about you, but…

When I woke up this morning…

It drives me crazy when…

Someday…

If I only had the time…

When I imagine my children’s future…

What was God thinking…

In a perfect world…

So grateful…

When I stargaze at night…

On Waiting

We’re all waiting for something: the grass to grow, the engraved invitation, the sun to rise, the perfect job, the dream to come true, the whatever.

I’ve been journaling about waiting a lot the past year; and I’ve been doing a lot of waiting in waiting rooms. Doctors’ waiting rooms. But the big waiting that is on my mind has most to do with what is next in my life.

I’m getting the feeling that I’m about to make a career change. You see, when I make big decisions about my life, it’s more like the decision is made (by God) and then I spend months trying to figure out what is the best way to go, praying, wondering, wishing, hoping, agonizing, fighting and finally, like a big bubble coming up from the bottom of a lava pit, the decision I’ve been fighting becomes the ONLY thing I can do, the ONLY way forward. Painful as it sometimes is, resistant as I often am, I give in because to fight it further is so much more painful and difficult than just doing what I’ve suspected all along is God’s design.

So I’m waiting for that moment of clarity. That brilliant flash that shines the spotlight on the way forward. The thunder clap that shakes open the door I’ve been looking forward and slams shut the window I crawled out of. I’m waiting God. I’m waiting for that unique me-sized, me-shaped place that you are preparing for me and that I am preparing for.

[Another Five Minute Friday, stimulated by Gypsy Mama at http://www.thegypsymama.com.%5D