Sunday, May 29, 2016

Picturing Peace

This is a big moving season among my friends and family. Upsizing, downsizing, relocating for a new job.

It hard work picturing the future. Lots of photos have been shared, and questions: will that table in the basement fit? What about bookshelves? Anyone have extra lampshades?
Even the birds in my yard are busy building, planning, rearranging. A pair of house sparrows rounded the entrance to their chosen birdhouse. Two great crested flycatchers spent days visiting unclaimed nesting holes, hopping in and out, calling back and forth, flitting from tree to tree.

We all carry pictures in our heads of how the world should be, what's possible, what isn't. Friends who grew up on farms can’t picture themselves in neighborhoods like mine. The neighbors are too close. The yards are too small. Friends who grew up in inner-city Philly enjoy my hammock, the flowers, the peaceful patio, but after a few days find it all too quiet. They can't imagine being so far from the corner bodega. Can't picture how they'd make friends in a place where no one sits on the stoop on a summer evening. 

We picture the future with reference to the past.

In America, that picture is shaped by war.

At a graduation ceremony this weekend, I listened again to our national anthem:
and the rocket’s red flare,
the bombs bursting in air,
gave proof through the night
that our flag was still there.
Our nation was born through war. Still carries the scars of civil war. Still sees war as an essential component of who we are, who we will always be.

Memorial Day, when I stop to think, makes me uneasy. Our kids march through our leafy streets and stop at the bandstand for speeches honoring those who have died.

It’s right to honor those who have sacrificed for our nation, but I sometimes wonder: do we glorify that sacrifice rather than mourn?

And when do we honor those whose sacrifice led them in a different direction? When do our children march in celebration of those who worked to avert conflict or gave their lives to end disease, build schools, feed the hungry?

I follow a group called Veterans for Peace, begun in 1985 by U.S. veterans concerned about the nuclear arms race and U.S. military intervention in Central America. Since then the group has grown into over 120 chapters around the US, with affiliate chapters in Vietnam, Mexico, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Okinawa, Japan.

The group’s mission is to call attention to the human costs of war, for both those who fight and the civilian victim communities. And to invite world leaders to picture a world where diplomacy, humanitarian aide and education are more well-funded priorities than guns and drones and spies.

Each Memorial Day chapters around the world ask us to remember more honestly,  and mourn more fully, the reality of war: 
It is natural to first remember those who are closest to us. Many of us have been personally touched by war. But we must also extend that mourning. We must remember the combat veterans, civilian victims, and their families, who are all equally human beings. Honoring and remembering some deaths while ignoring others not only perpetuates war, but also ignores the moral injuries of war, which some now recognize as a significant cause of veteran suicide. This Memorial Day, Veterans For Peace is reminding the public that the human cost of war is more than human soldiers, but also the people who are caught in the crossfire. “Our message for Memorial Day is to remember all who have died in war and to understand that no one wins,” said Michael McPhearson, Veterans For Peace Executive Director. “There are people who profit from war, mainly those who invest in the defense industry or possibly the oil sector. But the veterans and civilians who survive war suffer for the rest of their lives. And the entire society is robbed of billions of tax dollars which could be spent on jobs, education, healthcare, infrastructure and sustainable energy.” 
I’ve posted before about military spending before, and about the call to be agents of peace.

Chapters of Veterans for Peace point out that a strong defense lobby drowns out other voices, even those of military leaders who insist that investments in aide, education and diplomacy would go farther to secure real peace than additional military funding.

According to the Borgen Project, an organization dedicated to ending global poverty, 
The U.S. Military Wants Global Poverty Addressed
The Secretary of Defense: Former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates emerged as one of the strongest advocates for increased development funding. The former head of the Pentagon repeatedly said that the U.S. can’t win today’s national security challenges with force and military might alone. Gates warned of the “creeping militarization” of U.S. Foreign Policy.  
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said he would hand part of his budget to the State Department, “in a heartbeat.” Admiral Mullen also said, “U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military, too dependent on the generals and admirals who lead our major overseas commands, and not enough on the State Department.”
The Generals: In March of 2010, fifty retired three and four star generals called on Congress to increase funding for the International Affairs Budget. The Generals noted that investments, non-military tools of development, and diplomacy foster economic and political stability on a global scale. It also strengthens our allies and fights the spread of poverty, disease, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
 84% of military officers said that strengthening non-military tools, such as diplomacy and development efforts, should be at least equal to strengthening military efforts.
What would it take for Congress to pass a budget that held defense spending steady and doubled aid and diplomacy?

What would it take for us to picture and work for peace, rather than endorse and support those who profit from weapons and war?

Veterans for Peace offers ideas and events for Memorial Days for Peace.

For my own Memorial Day observance, I’ll be spending time praying about what it means to “seek peace and pursue it.”

Asking God to show me my place in his larger picture of peace.

Other posts about war, guns, peace:
Making Peace: What God's Children Do, March 24, 2013 
Guns, God, Mercy, March 10, 2013
Guns and Good News?, Jul 15, 2012 
Choosing Life,  Jan 27, 2013 
Blessed Are the Peacemakers?, Jul 22, 2012 
Earth Day Shalom: Ripples of Resurrection, Apr 22, 2012
Reconciling Righteousness, May, 20, 2012

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Hidden in Plain View

I’m part of a small group of dedicated Weed Warriors that meets twice a month to weed, prune, and plant in Exton Park, an 800 acre tract of land five minutes from my home.

Several weeks ago, working on the berm along the old farm pond, one of our group casually mentioned he’d seen a coyote with a kit in her mouth and another following behind.
I paused in my digging: “Where?”

“On the ridge. On Old Valley Road.”

The ridge runs along the north edge of the Park. Old Valley Road is a partially closed gravel road that skirts between the fields, still leased to an area farmer, and the woods hide the steeper slope of the ridge.  I’d heard rumors of coyotes far north of us, but never in our suburban county.

“And I saw pink lady slippers. Blooming.”


I’ve never seen pink lady slippers blooming, except in books. I’ve occasionally seen their thick, waxy leaves, in small clumps, in New York’s north woods, but never blooming. And certainly not in Pennsylvania.

“On the ridge. Just up from the white barn.”

“Blooming now?”


I asked how to find them, listened carefully, then spent the next two weeks thinking of coyotes and lady slippers. The only way I could see to get to the barn was up a lane that said “private road.” And was that the right barn? I wasn’t sure.

Two weeks later, in a light rain, we were back on the berm, planting. The group was small (not everyone loves planting in the rain), and I asked if we could take a short field trip at the end of our work, to see where the lady slippers grew.

Up the private road, turn onto an unused segment of Old Valley Road, park in a little gravel pull-off, then look for the bit of orange caution tape, tied shoulder-height in a bush beside the road.

I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland, stepping through an unexpected door.  Or Lucy, pushing through the back of the wardrobe into the wintry woods of Narnia.

Just past the weedy, brushy thicket along the road was a steep trail leading up into beautiful, open woods.
Beech trees, oak, tulip poplars with an understory of native azaleas, ferns, wood aster.

And there, at the top of the hill, in a clearing where multiple trails converged, were pink lady slippers. Still in bloom.

There was more to see: two springs. A rushing creek, tumbling noisily down the rocky hillside. Remains of an old farm quarry. A precipitous drop clothed in mountain laurel.

I went back alone a few days later, for a short evening walk, and saw a brown thrasher, wood thrush, a great horned owl just heading out for its evening meal.

I haven’t seen the coyotes, but at least I know where to look.

How is it possible I drove past that spot almost every day, for over a decade, and never really saw it?

I’ve walked, worked, birded with that ridge in plain view and never spent much time wondering what was there.

I would have missed it completely if our friend hadn’t told us what he’d seen.

Hadn’t offered to show us how to find it.

After my introduction to the hillside beauty I almost missed I find myself burdened with the knowledge that it’s possible to miss, completely, the wealth and treasure we’ve been already been given.

If our guide hadn’t mentioned what he’d seen I could have driven right by that ridge for the next twenty years and never bothered to venture up to see.

I find myself wondering, what else have I missed? What beauty, treasure, riches, wonders, are hidden in plain sight and I’ve not had eyes to see?

But I also find myself wondering: what are the treasures I’ve seen, myself, that I’ve never bothered to share?

I lead bird walks – in part – because I want to help others see and delight in the beauty of nature that’s been shared with me by others.

This past weekend I sold plants at our neighborhood yard sale – in part – because I wanted to share what I’ve learned about plants and backyard ecology.

I write this blog – in part – because I want to share what I’ve seen, heard, begun to understand about this rich, complex, deeply-loved world we live in.

I posted last week about Pentecost, Church, churches, how easy it is to sit outside and judge.

How maybe the truth of what “Church” is only becomes clear when we step inside, spend time in relationship to others.

Maybe, as friends, we need to share what we’ve seen, and offer to show the way.

I’ve seen a pink lady slipper on a nearby hillside.

I’ve seen a rushing stream dance down a fern-clad ledge.

I’ve seen worship where broken people find joy.

I’ve seen kindness melt icy walls and warm cold, brittle hearts.

I’ve seen unexpected families embracing unconnected children.

I've seen grace and forgiveness take human form. 

Surprising treasure in jars of clay.

All hidden in plain sight.

If you want to see, I’ll show you.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecostal Prayer

Flame, Babbitt, Minnesota Evangelical Lutheran Church, 2003, Tammy and Kevin Gilmore
Today is Pentecost Sunday – the birthday of the Church.

Church with a capital C: the church universal, the community of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, active across continents and cultures for almost two thousand years.

On Thursday my husband I took part in another birthday celebration, the two-hundredth anniversary of the start of the American Bible Society. Over a thousand guests gathered under a very large tent on the terrace of the Philadelphia Art Museum to commemorate the vision that began with providing Bibles for every indigent American family.

Among the guests were representatives from 140 Bible societies working in more than 200 countries, gathered for the United Bible Societies’ World Assembly, a conference that occurs just once every six years. Many wore the traditional dress of their home countries, a visual reminder of the expansive reach of Christ’s body.

I found myself conflicted during the grand event, just as I’m often conflicted when I think about the Church itself.

It was all so grand. Lovely, well-coordinated, carefully timed, beautifully choreographed. A great deal of thought and expense had been marshaled to provide a stunningly memorable evening.

I found myself watching some of the international guests. One man I noticed kept glancing around with a wry, almost quizzical look, an occasional raised eyebrow.

I can imagine there were representatives there who would find other ways to spend the hundreds of thousands such an event must have cost.

How do we balance a love of excellence with awareness of grave inequality?

I swallowed the question with my wonderfully tender cut of beef, but found myself chewing on another: where were the women?

There were certainly women, many beautifully dressed, many wearing shoes that hurt their feet and dresses not quite warm enough for the unseasonably cool spring evening.

But I was the only woman at my table. Of the women who made it to the front platform, only one spoke, Dr. Diane Langberg. She was part of a brief three-way conversation about trauma as a mission field, and the challenge of being fully present to those shattered and broken by violence and loss.

Tiptoeing around the word “church,” poking it gently with my toe, it occurs to me that part of my struggle is that the word won’t quite stretch to fit different meanings:

One “Church” is a patriarchal establishment, a club with membership dues, inflexible traditions, hierarchies, power struggles, sharply drawn rules about who gets to speak and who does the dirty dishes.

The other Church is diametrically opposed: a breathing organism, gentle and loving, eager to see every gift used, every voice heard, every broken-heart mended.

I saw both on display at the grand celebration.

I see both on display in my interactions at my local church, at other churches, with other Christians.

Yes, I know, we live in this already/ not yet world.

The Kingdom of God has come; the Kingdom of God is coming.

We are not what we were. We are not yet what we will be.

Even so: I read the chapters of Acts and wonder:

In a deeply divided world, where is the Spirit that draws God’s people into unity?

In a broken, suffering world, where is the healing power that repairs, restores, renews?

In a time of captivity to addiction, anger, anxiety, where are the agents proclaiming God’s amazing freedom?

Where is the radical welcome that insists there is no longer male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free?

In my own church this morning, I was reminded that experience of church takes shape and meaning in real relationships over time.

Come sit in my church and I’m not sure what you’d see. An odd mix of people with not a lot in common?

I start describing us, and stop: from one angle some of us look wealthy and aloof. Some look tired, sad, barely holding it together. Some have worn jeans, tattoos, spiked hair. Some have been wearing the same suit for decades, or just bought it in the thrift shop across the hall.

From another angle, we are dearly loved children, woven together with chords of memory, love, prayer. I know these people’s stories: the struggles with depression, the shattered relationships, the longing to grow, the delight in giving.

From one angle, we fall far short: we are not always warm and welcoming, often preoccupied. Our prayer is sometimes half-hearted. We doubt, debate, waste time in foolish ways. We have our own agendas, and pursue them to the detriment of others. We too often look the other way when called to help.

And yet: I look around again. We are fellow travelers on a journey full of detours, unexpected stops. When we can, we carry each others’ burdens. When we can, we urge each other on.

It’s easy to sit on the outside and judge: to sit at a dinner and notice what’s missing, to visit a church and coolly assess its failings.

Maybe Church – global Big C Church, local little c church - only comes alive, is only known, from the inside, not the outside. In relationship to others. In communion with Christ himself. In the shoulder-to-should, life-to-life conversations that happen across years, good times and bad.


But it seems that there should be a visible reality to the church that is so warm and welcoming that those outside find themselves hungry to be part of it.

I’ve seen that happen.

See it happening still, as newcomers wander in, watch, listen, then find themselves part of the family.
Church of the Good Samaritan, Paoli, PA

I wish it happened more.

I'm in awe it happens at all.

Lord, forgive us when we live church as club, tradition, hierarchy, patriarchy, gated enclave, private performance, exclusive enterprise.

Fill us, unite us, renew us in your Spirit.

Make us a visible witness to your love.

Other Pentecost posts:
Resurrection Power: A Prayer for Pentecost  May 27, 2012
Waiting for Pentecost June 5, 2011
An Altogether Different Language June 26, 2011
Pentecost People of Blessing May 19, 2013

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Are You Rich?

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
    (e.e. cummings) 

Last Sunday, sitting in my yard, I saw a Pileated Woodpecker, a beautiful Hooded Warbler, two Hermit Thrush. A Tufted Titmouse hopped around the stumps I use for side tables, then landed briefly on my head: a bucket list moment I didn't even plan.

A young friend asked me once, with incredible seriousness: are you rich?

It depends how you define rich, I answered.

By the standards of Main Line Pennsylvania, where I live, no, I’m not rich.

My husband and I are nowhere near the $450,000 that would put us in the top 1% of U.S. household income (or the $155,000 for the top 10%).

But apparently we have enough annual income to qualify in the global 1%: the cutoff for that is $52,000.

So yes, by most standards, except those of my immediate community, I am rich, rich in ways my great-grandparents would not have imagined.

A recent report described the sharply differing life expectancies for the wealthy and poor in America: 
for men born in 1920, there was a six-year difference in life expectancy between the top 10 percent of earners and the bottom 10 percent. For men born in 1950, that difference had more than doubled, to 14 years. For women, the gap grew to 13 years, from 4.7 years.
For most of the factors that contribute to that gap, including quality health care, clean air and water, access to a reasonably-priced healthy food supply, I fall on the side of the wealthy.

Yes, I’m rich.

But my wealth goes far beyond that: I have Internet access that puts the world at my fingertips, even in my green backyard, and allows communication with friends and family continents away.

I grew up in a state (New York) that believed in educating all its children well and provided funding for college for anyone who cared to go: I can read, write, think, analyze, dream in ways not available to those who grew up with inadequate education.

I am phenomenally wealthy in family and friends: I know people who know people. If I need help, advise, backup, resources, there are friends I can ask, family I can call.

Today is May Day: a day marked in many places with celebration of spring festivals and Maypoles.

It’s also International Workers Day, begun to commemorate and continue the effort of the Haymarket affair of May 4, 1886.   
Never heard of it?

You’re not the only one.

Hundreds of thousands of American workers went on strike on May 1, 1886 to demand “an eight hour day with no cut in pay.”

In Chicago, strikes and rallies continued in the following days. On May 4, a rally in support of the eight hour work day escalated into violence when a home-made pipe bomb was thrown into the path of heavily-armed police. Shots were fired wildly in the dark leaving seven police officers and four strikers dead.

Eight men were arrested. Five were sentenced to death. One man committed suicide in his cell; four were hanged. The remaining three were sentenced to life in prison, but pardoned just years later by a governor who described them as victims of  “hysteria, packed juries, and a biased judge.”

We don’t learn much in school about the workers’ movements that bubbled through American and international politics from the earliest days of the industrial revolution.

We forget the great hardship experienced by mill workers, men and women in production lines, coal miners, farm hands.

We often look disparagingly on unions: corrupt, coercive, unresponsive to workers’ needs.

But how much of our current wealth is the fruit of men and women who marched, rallied, stood in picket lines?

Not just wealth in money, but other benefits: eight hour work weeks, disability pay, minimum wage, safe working conditions.

If we knew our history better, we’d know that when workers are ignored, inequality grows. Desperation spurs agitation, which spins toward violence, until a course correction affirms the rights of workers and financial reward is shared more evenly.

That’s a ridiculously simplified version of a neglected piece of history.

And a nod to my immigrant grandfather, Carl Consensus Capra, who saw the damage done to unprotected workers and did what he could to run a union shop. 

I am wealthy, in part, because of the work of my grandfather and many more like him.

An Elizabeth Warren video clip went viral several years ago reminding us all that whatever wealth we have is a gift, no matter how much we claim credit: 
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.
 You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
 Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
Many of the roads I drive were once routes used by First Nation traders, pushed out of their Delaware homelands. Uwchlan Township, where I live, was founded by Welsh farmers, who bought the land from William Penn. The church where I worshipped this morning was born from a vision shared by a Rosemont pastor and a handful of Paoli families who met to worship in Paoli Inn.

I am blessed, daily, to enjoy the riches handed me by unknown others: roads, buildings, institutions.

I am able to vote because of generations of women who kept that dream alive: writing, marching, rallying, even facing prison time.

In worship this morning I was reminded: my greatest wealth is the grace I receive through Christ’s death and resurrection, mediated through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the testimony of faithful witnesses, the spiritual heritage of a prayerful grandmother. Even there, Elizabeth Warren's words apply: my faith is not something I made myself, earned myself, gave myself.
 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
I’m sometimes troubled that I should enjoy such wealth when so many others have so little.

I don’t know why I’ve been blessed to live in a time and place where so much is taken for granted, or why I live in such comfort when so many live as refugees, driven from their homes by hunger, war, persecution. 

I do know that riches can vanish through folly, greed, or recurrent injustice.

Money can be misspent or swept away by fraudulent economies.

Democracy can be swallowed into tyranny.

Family, friends, even faith are fragile, easily damaged by deception or neglect.

The best safeguard I know for wealth of every kind is gratitude, generosity, and the grace that pays it forward: that remembers all we have is gift and looks for ways to make the gift available to others.
The one who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your seed and will increase your crop, which is righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us.
So yes, I'm rich. And thankful.  

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
e.e. cummings