Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lessons from Children

Sorry faithful readers that it has been so long since someone wrote on our house blog, we have all been busy with babysitting, graduation, office meetings, parties, BBQs, visitors, saying goodbye to Denise and welcoming new housemates. So needless to say things have been crazy.  

Over the past couple of months, I have been thinking about children, and the lessons that we can learn from them. (If you don't know I have a degree in Education, so soon this will be my whole world - teaching). There are a number of lessons that we can learn from our young friends including:

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

by Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.

These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life -
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

We are never to old to stop learning, and remembering what is important in life. 

During our house BBQ I spent the majority of the time entertaining our house little friend. Her name is Sage and she is fireball of energy. The first time that I ever met her, Jeremy and I were babysitting her and she told me that she wanted to play football. This instantly warmed my heart because I also share a deep love of football. That evening we ended up playing football, which really was really her throwing the ball and Jeremy fetching it. We also watched movie clips from the Blind Side I fast-forwarded through all the talking scenes (we just watched the football). 

So back to the BBQ, I ended up playing once again with Sage. There were about four of us that had fun playing dress up in my room. It was really great to be reminded of taking time to have girl time :). I myself need to remember to take time, have fun, and laugh occasionally. Never take life to seriously.   

I am still looking for the pictures that were taken, if I find them I will add them later. 

Your Friend, Carol. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

For the beauty of the Earth

Hello folks out there in the blogosphere!
Today's post is brought to you by Kendra, and I suppose I should start by introducing myself. I hail from the greatest state this nation has to offer - Iowa - and graduated from (the now-defunct) Dana College in Blair, Nebraska. I have spent the past three years volunteering in Germany: one year in a foster-care-type group home and two years, through Brethren Volunteer Service, with a peace and human rights organization called Peace Brigades International. Now, since January, I can be found here in Elgin, aiding and abetting the hi-jinx of the BVS office and joining in the fun of the BVS volunteer house. Clearly, God (with the help of Google) had a plan when I stumbled upon the COB world on the internet.

Several weeks ago, I had started a blog post discussing the differences between my previous volunteer life and my one here in Elgin. And someday, I might just finish and post it. But today I'm taking the easy route and sharing how our house celebrated Earth Day.

To start with, we celebrated in Word, song, and skit by leading worship at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren. In planning the service, some of us might have procrastinated more than we should have and it got a bit stressful at the end, but the service itself went pretty well and we all had a lot of fun. Our Scripture passages were taken from Psalm 24 and Psalm 8, and for hymns we picked 'Touch the Earth Lightly,' 'Morning has Broken,' and 'You Shall Go Out with Joy, the last of which contained a lot of energy thanks to our peppy pianist. For the children's message, Carol, Denise, and Rachel gave a stirring rendition of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.

For an added technological touch (which almost went off without a hitch), we put together a powerpoint featuring members of our church family providing their answers to the question: What change do you want to see in the world?"
Because I, with my limited technological prowess, can't figure out how to post a powerpoint on here, I am adding a selection of some of the photos.  For a closer slideshow experience, I suggest listening to the Wailin' Jennys' "One Voice" while viewing the pictures:

At the bottom of this post (because it's kind of long for here), I'll include the meditation I shared.

To finish out the day of Earth, some of us decided it was time to practice what we preached and get our hands dirty in the garden. After all, these little guys need a home:
My, how they've grown!
Rachel, making the world a little better, one straightened garden edge at a time.

Denise, getting up close and personal with the earth.
It's a lot harder to make a caption about yourself!

Jeremy, giving the soil some air and some love.


Psalm 8: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign,  how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

I’d like you to keep that psalm in your head for a moment as I read a sharp twist on those words from elsewhere in Scripture:
“What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you?”
These are the cries of Job, a man who, according to Scripture, “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” However, he is also a man who finds himself victim of undeserved suffering and loss - loss of wealth, family, and health. To add insult to injury, the only ‘comfort’ his friends can provide is to maintain that Job must have sinned greatly and is now facing the just punishment.
Now, at first glance, Job’s story may seem an odd choice for what we are celebrating today, but I think it has much to teach us about the earth, about service, and about Easter.
The first lesson has to do with humility. After losing everything, Job is filled with mourning. He feels that his circumstances are so bad and his so suffering so great that life is not worth living, that it would have been better to have never been born at all, in the manner of George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Yet, Job even does a one-up on old George: he wishes not to just erase his birth from history but to stop that day from ever dawning.  “Yes, let that night be barren,” he cries, “ let no  joyful cry be heard in it!”  He pleads for an undoing of God’s creation, saying “Let that day be darkness!” using the same Hebrew word that God speaks in “Let there be light.”
It must be remembered that Job is speaking out of the depths of unwarranted sorrow, loss, and suffering, and he will spend the next several chapters telling of his despair and anger and his wish to somehow have it out with God, to prove his innocence and demand an answer for his suffering. And this is understandable. But he starts his laments in this arrogant and self-absorbed manner, as if to say “If I’m going down, the whole earth is going down with me,” as if to say, “If this world hasn’t been good to me, then what is it good for?”
Now, I sincerely hope that none of us have been so desperate as to wish for an undoing of God’s creation, yet I think behind it lies a very natural human tendency to treat the world as if it were created for us. It is true, of course, that God blesses us with the gifts of creation, gifts that not only bring us joy but allow the basis of our very existence, but the earth’s value doesn’t like in what it can provide for us. The earth is valuable because it is God’s good work - work that God continues to maintain and value. Nature was not created to serve humanity; instead, humanity was created to care for nature as a way of serving God. While the creation narratives have often been misused to justify and encourage exploitation of the earth, touting the idea of dominion started in Genesis and continued in passages like the eighth Psalm, there is actually a very different message to be found there. Genesis 2:15 states that “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”  This isn’t a call to abuse but rather a call to care. Steven Bouma-Prediger states that ‘to till the earth means to serve it for its own sake. To keep the earth means to caringly guard it the way that God blesses and keeps his people.” Put another way, Cal DeWitt tells that “such keeping is not preservation as applied to pickles in a jar; it is the kind of keeping we ask God to give us.” An alternative translation of the original Hebrew makes this message even clearer: God placed adam (aka humanity) in the garden to serve and protect it. As stated in Psalm 24, the earth is the Lord’s - we are merely caretakers in it, hired hands, servants. Plain and simple: we are born to serve.
If we return to the story of Job, we see that when God finally provides a response to Job’s cries and accusations, it is a response  that matches the universal proportions set by Job and one that is meant to essentially put him in his place.  God doesn’t directly answer Job’s questions  and instead asks other questions, questions that show Job’s ignorance and powerlessness. God illustrates to Job the scope and magnificence of the earth in order to humble him, highlighting Job’s relative insignificance in light of such unfathomable creation. God talks of the wild ass and ox who serve no human and of the rain and life God brings to land that Job has never imagined and that no human will ever see.
And yet God is not cold and unfeeling to Job’s pain - God doesn’t give Job a reason for his suffering but does take him beyond it. Creation is as good as it is vast. God’s admonition is also an invitation. In creation is a source of comfort and joy deep and strong enough to reach Job even amidst his suffering.
This is another very important lesson for us. God’s creation is something beyond all comprehension, and we are each but a microscopic speck in light of the earth and all its glory. But this is not cause for discouragement but rather for joy. In creation, God offers us a goodness that is bigger than anything we are facing, a goodness that calls us to rejoice even in the darkest of times. Sometimes we may prefer to dwell in our despair, echoing Job when he says “Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul....Why is light given to one who cannot see the way?” Or sometimes we may be like the people author T.M. Moore describes who “trudge through their daily routines of trade and toil, unmindful of the glory shimmering and beckoning around them.”  Perhaps that is the lesson of Earth Day, the lesson of Easter: God continually fills the world with newness and life and light, even when we ignore it, even when we can’t accept it, even when we would rather that it wasn’t there. In every drop of rain or ray of sun, in every bird that sings or tulip that blooms before our eyes, God’s love and grace are present, calling and inviting us again and again to take notice and rejoice.
If we can take on this spirit of rejoicing, we find that not just we ourselves but all of creation
benefits. One of the major factors in the vast level of environmental destruction is our affliction of perpetual discontentment, our constant state of production and consumption to feed our belief that if we could just get more things, better things, life would be better. Conversely, if we could join with the apostle Paul in learning to be content with whatever we have, if we take up contentment and delight in God’s good creation as a choice and a practice, regardless of circumstance, we can do much in our individual battles against exploitation and destruction of that same good creation.
And indeed, in the realm of all creation, we as human beings have been richly blessed by God - we have been paid special attention, singled out for a special role. We too might join in the awe and wonder of the psalmist in asking “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Or, conversely, we might feel the burden and join with our buddy Job in asking “What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while?” Job views God’s attention to humanity, and to himself personally, not as a loving parent but rather as a watchful overseer with an unswerving gaze, waiting for (perhaps even hoping for) the instant that Job messes up and sins so that God can swoop down like a hawk and punish him.
This special attention from God which both the psalmist and Job have hit upon is very important. And unavoidable. We can’t deny that we have dominion - the writer of Psalm 8 is right: we are created a little lower than the divine - crowned with glory and honor, we are the royalty of the earth. If we look past his despondent, self-pitying, tone, Job, too, has an important truth to teach us about what it really means to the be the royalty of creation: it’s hard work and there are high standards. With great privilege comes great responsibility - just a king has an immense responsibility to his people, so we have an immense responsibility to the creation with which we are entrusted. And of course there is accountability there. Elected leaders know that the eyes of their people are upon them, watching and judging their every move, checking to see if that leader holds up to their expectations. Likewise, God’s eyes are upon us - just as Job says, God’s mind is set upon us and God does visit us every morning. Partly, because God loves us, yes of course, but also because God has expectations for us and wants to ensure that we are living up to them (which, clearly, we usually don’t).  Yet it’s not in the manner of the harsh overseer, as Job imagines,  or even that of a jaded public, but rather more like a loving parent who wants to make sure that the gift she has given her child is taken care of because she knows it will hurt both her and her child if it is not.
Authors Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara point out that: “We act with such sovereignty over nature that the question is not whether or not we are royalty; the question is what sort of royalty we will be.”  So far, the answer has been the sort of royalty that would have been overthrown, the sort of elected leader who would have been impeached. Blessed with immense power and opportunity, we have abused it - we have not borne God’s image well.
This can well lead to despair, similar to that of Job’s. Everywhere we turn, we are slapped in the face with ways in which we have made a mess of this world, harming the earth and those on it. When reading the litany of human and environmental suffering, it’s hard not to wonder if we have even started to drive God out of this world. We have long asked where God is amidst hatred and violence, and now that our greed and sin has started to devour creation itself, we ask where God is amidst environmental destruction. Author Roger Gottlieb asks: ““How am I to feel joy in existence when existence is such a mess? And if I cannot feel that, all in all, this world - despite everything - is holy, then what kind of religious life will I be left with?”
What we are left with is hope and faith. The message of Earth Day, the message of Easter is that no place is forsaken by God. The message is that the times and places of deepest pain and sorrow are where God is most present. Barbara Rossing states that “Whatever future events await the earth, the biblical message is that God comes down to earth to live on it with us. Earthquakes, darkness, plagues? God comes. Are hearts breaking? Is all hope lost? God comes. At one of the bleakest moments in history, when people of Judea and Galilee groaned under Roman occupation some two thousand years ago, ‘the word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ John’s Gospel tells us.” In the end, what ties everything together is Christ. Through Christ, God once and for all affirmed the goodness of creation by choosing to live in it. In Christ we find light that darkness cannot overcome, light that teaches us how to find joy when we are sunk in despair as deep as Job’s. Christ teaches us to cherish and rejoice in, rather than oppress and exploit, the most vulnerable among us; Christ teaches us to value the seemingly mundane in creation, teaches us to bring sight and healing with just a bit of spit and mud. In Christ we find a model of what true royalty looks like, royalty in the form of humble servanthood, royalty in the form of self-sacrificial love.
And in Christ we find a call to action. True, as the apostle Paul writes, the whole of creation has been groaning in pain, but we are not called to simply wait for a new heaven and earth to descend upon us once we’ve finished off this one. We are called to transform this earth now

To close, let us consider this passage from German author Hermann Hesse: “Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again. That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration. In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each man the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed to the cross.” 
God has invested a great deal in each one of us, invested God’s only Son, in fact. - we are all, so to speak, princes of the universe, freed by Christ’s sacrifice for the purpose and potential with which we were all created. The beauty of the earth lies in every single child and creature of God that it contains; the joy of creation is that every  morning that breaks calls and equips each of us to do our part in restoring the garden.
Sometimes we question with Job what this creation holds for us. But we need not because, really, all of creation is within us, and every moment it calls us forth to serve. And so, instead of mourning with Job, let us join with the psalmist in proclaiming ‘O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!’ And, led forth by the peace of Christ, let us go out with joy and do our part in God’s vision of redemption and new life. Creation is waiting.