Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Porch Stories: Summer

Today's the first day of astronomical summer in the northern hemisphere; today Kristin writes about Real-life {summer} summer confessions, and I'll pick up on her seasonal topic of summer. "Fe" in the word confession is the Latin word for faith (belief, trust, conviction, assurance). In the church we recite confessions of faith such as the apostle's and nicene creeds; sometimes we refer to theological traditions that include the Lutheran and the Reformed that began with the continental European Reformation of the 16th century as Confessional Churches, because they affirm as testimonies of faith documents called confession, creed, and catechism that we consider faithful expositions of scripture. Then there's confession of sin, of misgivings, of embarrassments. There's confession or acknowledgment of almost anything different from the norm. For example, although I can enjoy high-quality chocolate, I confess even looking at chocolate anything can make me cringe because it's often one of my migraine triggers. Returning to Kristin, I love that her summer confession list is mostly about doing life in a more casual, offhand, fun and memory-making way.

desert spirit's fire porch stories – summer

But I'm not doing summer confessions this time—not quite. A while ago I discovered this evocative collage in several sizes. I can't credit the source as well as I'd like, but the original's from the almost defunct blog, that's what mariel said. Mariel's replacement blog's not active, either.

just the smell of summer

Just the smell of the summer can make me fall in love

What smells and scents of summer? Ripe peaches. BBQ on the grill. Strolling past a yard and catching a whiff of jasmine. Seaspray and surf along the ocean shore. The distinctive scent of low tide. Sunscreen. Just-mowed grass. Summer air after a rainfall. A fresh catch of fish pulling up to the pier.

Not only summer smells! Any sensory aspect of summer. Trying a few tastes: Juicy blueberries on my morning cereal. More irresistible blackberries from south of the border. The California grown berries have been so amazing lately! A subway sub packed full with most of the salad bar – lettuce, spinach, cilantro, tomato, lots of red onion, green bell pepper, yellow banana pepper – and topped with savory sauces. Ripe peaches, of course!

Sounds? Symphonic summer pops on the Charles River Esplanade in City of History, summer pops along the San Diego Embarcadero,summer pops at the Hollywood Bowl, because that's Where Summer Plays. Sizzling on the grill, surf splashing along the shore, seagulls calling, ice cream trucks beckoning. Firecrackers outside my window a a few seconds ago.

What do I see? Flowers in bloom, Ice Cream Cones. Kids in bright clothes. Sand and surf and sea. And California!

And feel? Sand textures under my toes. Refreshingly cool ocean waves. Watermelon seeds. Skin-to-skin hugs without intervening layers of cool weather clothes!

That's only a short list of summer's sensories that make me fall in love. We have three more official months of summer, with early autumn September and October our warmest months, so let's those summery, too!

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Monday, June 19, 2017

7 Things I've Learned in Los Angeles

Kristin recently blogged seven things she's learned living in the country – on 33 acres! – with her family. This is an ideal time for me to pick up that concept because for almost two years I've referred to myself as a "San Diego transplant," but since July will mark the start of my third year in town, I'll drop that designation. With my tendency to be too technically precise and as a result tending to lose the overall big picture, I hailed into Los Angeles from San Diego and staked out a spot at the Westwood apartment late Sunday afternoon, 21 June 2015. So technically... my actual third year will begin this coming Wednesday evening.

What I Learned in Los Angeles

Most of the content of my monthly summary blog posts has been about activities and experiences rather than concrete learnings; this one's a simple What I've Learned Where I live list that even achieves the biblical number of perfection, "7".

1. Housing all over the county truly is frightfully expensive!

2. There are churches that welcome and embrace all my gifts and my desire to serve—thanks, LCM. I also love being involved and appreciated at the judicatorial level for the first time in what feels like forever. For people in free church or independent church traditions, mainline church judicatories are the oversight and accountability structures congregations belong to, more-or-less answer to.

3. At least twice I've heard our judicatory leader mention LA currently is the most ethnically and culturally diverse place that ever has existed on the face of the earth. Despite the varieties of cuisines, cultures, and people I've met, I wouldn't have guessed that; adding it to my list makes me especially happy to be living in LA.

4. Sometimes I tell people from other places North American Culture is "all the same," though every USA state and each Canadian province has at least one distinctly recognizable way of being of its own, and even the smaller ones sometimes rock a different style for east and west portions, or for north and south. I've learned that living in and exploring six different sections of the city has been one of the gifts of not being able to find longer-term housing. Yet.

5. Los Angeles is the second-largest metropolitan area in the country, so you'd better believe it hustles and hums, but the city knows how to blink and even catch an occasional snooze in the midst of the noise, the chatter, the color, the high excitement.

6. The Armand Hammer Museum and Cultural Center has become a big part of my delight in this area. From Thursday noon mindfulness meditation practice that helps anchor people in the novel idea of "showing up for their own lives," to particularly local-related art and design, on to exhibits by internationally-known artists, it's a perfect place to stop and chill in the galleries or lounge in the open-air courtyard and catch some sunshine. In this line item I'll cite the other LA museums I've visited and enjoyed: LACMA; Getty Center; Skirball; MOCA... I've got more to go, mostly in outlying areas.

7. Most of all I've learned I LOVE LOS ANGELES! Where has LA been all my life? I LOVE LA—that's notwithstanding a long string of negative happenings related to housing (a few housemates who'd be tough to describe in tame terminology, more than a few unexpected bugs, as in insects), still having a lot of belongings in storage, even the functional decline I've experienced since moving into temp space #6

Right-hand side of my header image features the Hammer Museum from Wilshire Blvd; left side is the Westwood apartment building where I lived during July and August 2015. The words aren't quite in Dodger Blue but I think that color still will do.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Worth

For this week's Five Minute Friday free write – worth – Kate suggests the subtopic, "Is the Christian writing life really worth it?"

season of creation 2016, cosmos sunday
Sagittarius

Five Minutes' Worth of Reflecting:

I started desert spirit's fire, my first theology blog of several, during July 2002, but I'd started writing long before that. In third or fourth grade I taught myself to type because I'd began writing papers on the economy and I knew you need to type those. They really can't be hand-written in either manuscript or cursive! (Then I decided I might become a securities analyst or stockbroker when I attained some schooling and chronology, and despite my later desire to become famous, a financial services career came very close to happening.) I've been enjoying FMF for at least a year, and not too long ago I picked up on Kristin Hill Taylor's Three Word Wednesday that's now her Porch Stories. Those linkups give me a valuable opportunity to write to a prompt: FMF without editing other than checking for extra spaces and to be sure autocorrect didn't do anything too outta line; Porch Stories for a little more editing and formatting, despite the fact I don't take much time on each topic and I usually post by that Wednesday evening. Aside from those linkups, I try to blog every month or two or three with my "life stuff" and/or "telling the story" label. But more that anything, I love writing for worship – collects, eucharistic prayers, occasional prayers, liturgy portions and pieces. You can find a few of them along with some of my liturgical art and design on one of my other theology blogs, Liturgy Legacy.

# # #

PS Over a decade ago on an iteration of the United Church of Christ forums, one of the participants who moderated some of our book discussions said to me, "Leah, I think you're the kind of poet-theologian Pastor [Alan, author of The Missionary Congregation: Leadership and Liminality – check topics wordcloud at bottom of this page to read more about the book] Roxburgh referred to; the church so needs your leadership at this time; thanks for sharing some of it with us!" Despite this and my other theology blogs, I don't do quite the conventional Christian writing life Kate referred to, but yes, the one I have is very much worthwhile, worthy of the time I spend with it, and altogether "worth it."

PPS I'm also a liturgical artist; header and footer of this post are from my designs for Season of Creation 2016. Some years I've also written prayers for the yearly Season of Creation lectionary and liturgical emphasis that began in Australia.

season of creation 2016, ocean sunday

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Motherprayer - Barbara Mahany

mother prayer by Barbara Mahany book coverA couple years ago I savored Barbara Mahany's journal of seasonal nature and spirituality, Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door. Motherprayer: Lessons in Loving is another thought- and love-filled book from Barbara Mahany. Despite the title, her words are for everyone, not only the usual people who immediately come to mind such as biological and adoptive moms or those people who are "like a second mother / the only mother that individual ever has known." Mother love and mother prayer is a quality of relationship that anyone of any age, gender, or circumstances can nurture and attain. Mahany is devoutly Roman Catholic, her spouse a practicing Jew, and most of these short chapters have the quality of an inspirational religious devotional.

Most of the chapters relate to Barbara herself as mother of two sons born eight years apart. She'd long imagined she'd have a house full of kids, yet after at least four pregnancies that ended short of full term she finally delighted in the surprise gift of a second boy. Although she has spent her sons' growing-up years completely absorbed in their lives, she also knows a person has kids and raises them in order to prepare them for service in the world, and that means to let go on some level. All in all, Motherprayer will benefit any human who aspires to fuller, more sustained, better quality relationships with everyone in every aspect of their lives.

Presentation note: Basic book design is gentle and lilting; the cover truly exquisite. The begrudging size and somewhat spindly style of body text is my only disappointment. I couldn't find production notes anywhere. Unlike some books I've received from Amazon Vine, because this is a final, fully-formatted, market-ready version, sadly, I'm entitled to comment.

My Amazon Review: Not For Mothers Only!

Porch Stories: Navigating Faith

For her Porch Stories this week, Kristin considers Navigating Faith with Kids and features Susan Shipes' coloring book devotional, 52 Commands of Jesus for Children. I'll range further and bring adults into this post, though I'll still be more impressionistic than detailed since I check out Kristin's topic when I get online Wednesday mornings and try to blog by evening.

desert spirit's fire porch stories – navigating faith

I love the nautical word navigating related to our journey with Jesus! Maybe you know many traditional church buildings have been constructed in the form of a ship that appears upside-down to us as we look up at the ceiling and rafters? "Nave" – as in "navy" – still designates the central space where worshipers gather. You've probably heard ships referred to with female pronouns she and her; scripture tells us the Church is the Bride of Christ, so that's also her and she. Navigating also is especially apt because we can't see what's underneath the surface of the sea our boat is on, we can't tell what's on the other side of the horizon. As we answer God's invitation with "yes" and take a first step out in faithful trust, we never really know where God will lead us; we only know God promises to be with us every moment of everywhere we venture on our voyage.

I've taught Sunday School, confirmation, and Vacation Bible School to most every age except teeny tiny tots, though middle school's probably my favorite age group! I almost just now remembered—in City of History we had Release Time classes for inner-city 4th and 5th graders. Middle schoolers especially appeal to me because they're old enough and have enough life experience to do some sophisticated thinking, they're open to new ideas, and they're always more than ready to challenge the teacher to stay real and relevant. Kristin mostly writes about faith with kids; currently I prepare and facilitate (all the participants teach) adult Sunday School at my church—I post my notes on my urban wilderness blog. Most weeks we mainly reflect on one of the Revised Common Lectionary passages for that day, though by the gracious movement of the HS, inevitably our discussion takes us pretty far afield of where I've started with my (always deft) theological and historical intro to the text.

Recently I read and plan to blog and review The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education by Walter Brueggemann. Related to Biblical Education in the title, a few places he mentions the coming-up generation that's also growing up in the church, but everything he says applies to any age. Because the Old Testament is his specialty, Brueggemann focuses on the Hebrew Bible and particularly emphasizes God's gracious gifts of liberation from slavery, God's subsequent gift of the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant, and God's charge to us to obey in order to maintain that freedom:
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes [because] the Lord your God brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… remember the Lord your God. –Deuteronomy 8
Jesus also commands us to keep the commandments; he summarizes everything behind the Ten with only Two, to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength; to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In fact, he shortens that into a single, "love one another as I have loved you," but the details of the ten commandments help clarify our attitudes and behaviors. I love that the title of Susan Shipes' devotional coloring book mentions Jesus' own commands—he tells us his yoke is light because in Jesus' new covenant of grace (just as under the old covenant that also was a grace-filled way) obedience leads to freedom.

Today Kristin and I both began with navigating. Many people want direct instructions for every move in every situation; young kids and chronologically mature adults alike often struggle with the finely tuned morality involved in keeping the commandments, but learning the narratives from Jesus' life and ministry we find in the four gospels gives us additional insights for putting the good of the other and the well-being of the community before our own preferences and predilections. From Jesus' own example, we know we find healing and freedom anywhere the realm of heaven is breaking out in our midst. That knowledge isn't a road map, but it still can help guide our desire for instructions and our search for reassurance. We don't know what's underneath the surface of the water we're walking on, what gift, what threat, what grace or mercy may appear when we reach that distant horizon, but in obedience we can do this! In the power and presence of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost that fills the church, you know we can navigate this voyage!

52 commands of Jesus

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Thursday, June 08, 2017

World Oceans Day 2017

world oceans day 2017 desert spirit's fire

how wide does an ocean range?
how far has the Pacific been?
how long its water lived?
how long will they thrive?

headwaters in a skinny stream
venture down canyon walls across valley floors
into bay
into ocean

in eons pat
(scientists will tell us how many)
these waters contained all that became
the rest of the planet
until God separated wet from dry

God spoke order and purpose
formed mountains hills canyons valleys
headwaters could unite with other streams
and become rivers running in
to replenish the ocean

God assigned place to air creatures sea creatures
and land critters
God made human creatures caretakers

in the beginning living waters surged over the planet
how long will these oceans be?

God made human creatures caretakers
how long will these oceans live?
will they become lifeless and dry?
will silent dead waters be our planet's end?

world oceans day 2017 happy button

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Porch Stories: God-Sized Dreams

I hope you'll read Kristin's short God-Sized Dreams Porch Stories as she details more surprises connected with their family. "God-Sized Dreams" is a challenging theological idea to blog (to teach or to preach), since God's acts as often is small discrete hidden ways as in big bold brazen ones.

desert spirit's fire porch stories – God-sized dreams

As you take a retrospective glance over the past few months or years, you'll probably notice God has been at least as active at the micro-level in your own life, in your neighborhood / community and in your church as God has been enacting events worthy of billboard-size announcements along the freeway. The testimony of scripture and of everyone's every days reveal God's presence and activity as free, sometimes elusive, often at the level of "God even cares about that!" and full of frequently quiet, below the surface reassurances of God's ongoing presence, of the fact God has our back.

However, today's God-sized dreams topic asks us to consider the widest, highest, and deepest desires and needs of our friends and our families, our churches—of the nation we live in and love, of the irreplaceable planet God has called us to care for and steward; in brief, God on the macro-level! I especially love how Kristin's post today describes how her longing to become a parent and God's fulfillment of that dream by the not unusual route of adoption gradually branched out in a multitude of directions, touching, enhancing, and changing dozens, probably hundreds of lives (so far).

But too often we don't dare dare ask God or God's people round about us please to fulfill our heart's greatest longings, most urgent needs, most imaginative stirrings. Related to that, quite a few years ago a guest of a television psychologist said to the doc, "I'm not trying to act like a victim!" and the psychologist replied, "You're not acting like a victim at all; you're being the strong guy, but you need to demand more of others and more of yourself." I clearly remember the exchange because that's very much the way I tend to act, react, and interact. Oh, I'll easily identity people or events that have negatively affected me, but in general I want to claim agency and control, and I find asking other people or asking God for more than a trifling pittance far too threatening and frightening.

Tomorrow, June 08, is World Oceans Day. Theology of Creation or Ecological Theology is a recurring emphasis of this blog—I can't count the times I've written about water, often in response to events like Deepwater Horizon or to days like World Water Day or World Oceans Day. Water is life! Lively waterways and healthy drinking water are two of the deepest needs of our planet. Let's make healthy waters of every kind in every location one of our God-sized dreams! Let's dare ask God to help us make those dreams come true; let's risk reaching out to individuals and groups and asking them to do more of those small actions that add up to creating big changes.

world oceans day 2017 happy button     porch stories button

Friday, June 02, 2017

Five Minute Friday: Future

Last week I didn't play the last ever Five Minute Friday on Kate Motaung's Heading Home, but what better way to begin FMF on the new site dedicated exclusively to FMF than with the one word prompt Future? Thanks to Kate for containing as our gracious host!

resurrection witnessesKate suggested we write our own futures rather than generic future-talk, so I'll FMF about the pentecostal flame I designed for the cover of our worship bulletin for this coming Sunday when we'll celebrate the Festival of Pentecost, sometimes known as the "Birthday of the Church."

In the church's year of grace we've experienced the astonishment of resurrection from the dead followed by fifty days of Easter—a week of weeks! For the past couple of Sundays we've backtracked in time to before Easter to Jesus' farewell discourse in the upper room of Maundy Thursday when he charges everyone to keep the commandments, especially his commandment to love one another with the same kind of agape love he showed us. We've heard and abided within (made it our own, as the gospel account we received from John's community would have it) Jesus' promise that we – that's us! – will do even "greater works" than he has done during his earthly ministry. We've talked about God's call to us to steward and care for all creation.

Since I've been preparing my adult SS class discussion for the upcoming Day of Pentecost and anticipate we'll continue the Contemporary Acts of the Apostles theme for at least the next few weeks, I'll remind everyone of the Risen Jesus' word to us that we will be his witnesses, we will receive the comfort and the activity of the indwelling Holy Spirit, so our earthly presence of the Crucified and Risen One and those "greater works" won't be from our own initiative, but will be fruit of the Holy Spirit of life that engulfs us in God's power of resurrection. In the Spirit of newness, God creates a future for all creation through us!

"We're coming to the edge, running on the water, coming through the fog, your sons and daughters. Let the river run, let all the dreamers wake the nation. Come, the New Jerusalem."

"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Then I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem…" Revelation 21:1

Kate suggested writing our own futures onto the page; what's more central to a future for all us than a well-cared for, revitalized planet?

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