Saturday, February 24, 2018


This was a new word for me, but not a new place. I've been going on an Advent spiritual retreat in the middle of Nowhere, Mississippi for over 20 years with some of my friends. The location is actually Brooksville, MS, but it's mostly a massive pasture,  populated by some charismatic nuns and a few Mennonites who who run a bakery that is almost worth the trip all by itself. There are hermitages for individuals, but my friends and I stay together in the Umbria guest house. It has 6 bedrooms and a common area and a kitchen. No TV or dishwasher, and until recently, no cell phone service.
I guess all catholics know each other or they must have heard of Catherine de Hueck's poustinia description, because it pretty much describes Umbria-- bare furnishings of two twin beds in a room with a desk, chair, table, and Bible. The icons honor St. Francis and the Poor Clares. We have good Mennonite bread, but we supplement with lots of snacks too, because we are Southern girls and it's Christmas after all. Is group solitude a thing? I had the deepest spiritual experience of my life here with two of my friends while we were walking the stations of the cross. We think we're hilarious, so we laugh a lot. I always go home with what Rob Bell calls a "happiness hangover," emotionally drained and fulfilled at the same time. What a luxury to "just be and let yourself by loved by God" and some amazing women. Some years we are all spiritual and deep, and some years we cry together over someone's personal loss, and some years we're all tired and we just rest. If that's not "having a cup of coffee with God, " I don't know what is.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Heidi: Decide if you can realistically go without caffeine.
Me: Nope

I was in graduate school the first time I ever saw someone drink a room temperature beverage by choice. As a kid I sometimes drank out of a garden hose (which we called a hose pipe) because we were afraid if we went inside to get a drink someone would make us stay there and we wanted to keep playing outside. There was also the occasional grown up who deemed us too dirty to come in the house and said if we were thirsty we could get a drink from the hose. These were the exceptions though. No southerner that I ever knew would drink a Coke or tea that wasn't iced or coffee that wasn't hot. It just wasn't done. The first people I saw drinking a tepid beverage were not southern or even American. It was just more proof that the rest of the world was strange. I'm not sure when this changed for me, but now I really don't care about temperature at all. I enter my office every day carrying hot coffee for the morning and iced tea for the afternoon, but as one cools and the other warms, I just keep sipping. I don't know why I bother heating and icing them in the first place. So, the suggested practice of "drink only water, without ice and without flavoring" was not the hardest thing ever. Well, except for the caffeine. I could quit drinking coffee (really) but I don't want to, and I didn't have time to deal with the headache. I did, however, spend time thinking about Heidi's real question.

What am I truly thirsting for in my life right now?

I am a teacher, and it's all I ever wanted to be. I've been teaching for 37 years, and I love it every day. Lately, though, I've been wondering if there is something more or different. I like the Quaker saying, "Proceed as the way opens." I'm trying to be open to other possibilities without doing something drastic that I might regret. Is there another teaching option at JSU? Is there a way to work with students and teachers that doesn't take place in a classroom? It's a good spot to be in because if no way ends up opening for me to proceed into, I'm happy as is. But I'm looking. And waiting. And thirsting.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Here We Sit Like Birds in the Wilderness

Did you ever sing that camp song? It was the go-to when waiting for something important. Like lunch. Here we sit like birds in the wilderness, waiting for this ________. It's a silly song and absolutely not worth remembering, but it rolled around in my head today after I read Thursday: The Wilderness this morning. Beyond silly, the song doesn't even really make sense because wouldn't birds be at home in the wilderness? Heidi says, "Lent is a wilderness set in time" (Forty days to be exact. Actually 46, but who's counting.) and it is "less a time to suffer and more a time to grow in wonder and vulnerability." Wilderness might be as subjective as one's interior castle. I tried to sketch it as suggested, but it didn't go well. Maybe I'll try again. But the point is that solitude in the wilderness can be peaceful or stressful. I learned today that good, happy excitement and sheer terror both result from the exact same chemical that the body sends to the brain. Somehow the stress gets interpreted correctly by whatever system is flipping the switches. Context, and all. Anyway, this reminded me of some cactus that my friend Diana gave me from her garden in San Antonio. They thrived for a while and even bloomed the first couple of years.

Then they became homesick for Texas and very tired of the Alabama wilderness in which they found themselves. I tried to keep them warm and watered, but eventually the loss of their natural sustenance took its toll.

They don't bloom anymore, and one of them is trying its best to grow itself right back to the ground. If there is a moral here, I suppose it might be that too much wilderness leads to diminishing returns. That's probably what would happen to me in my tiny house too. Fun and blooming for a while until one day I realize I'm a cranky old woman who hasn't bathed in a week. I love the church calendar cycle of fasting and feasting with the emphasis on a time and season for everything. Ok, there's a better song to get stuck in my head... There is a season, turn, turn, turn,......

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Holy Solitude in the Interior Castle

I wasn't trying for the award for most pretentious title, but I might have won it with that one. Another Lent has come around, and my chosen devotional is called Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels by Heidi Haverkamp. It seems like every time I pick up a study there is some reference to Teresa of Avila's book, The Interior Castle. I know it's a masterpiece which is why I've read it several times over the past 20 years, but I just don't get it. I'm going to try again. On this Ash Wednesday, the author suggests drawing our interior castle. Here's my attempt.
Maybe I chose this book because solitude is my happy place. It fits my introverted (selfish?) idea of a good day spent alone eating popcorn and reading a book after a nice long walk on the trail. I think the author gets this because we share a fantasy of living alone in a little house. Even as a child, my friend Kim had a playhouse in her back yard that I wanted to move into. It was the mother of all playhouses, with steps leading up to a tiny porch and real windows that opened, but still. The author, (can I just call her Heidi?) points out that that scripture doesn't generally encourage solitude. We're reminded that it's warmer in the bed with two people (Eccl 4:10-11) and that living alone is self-indulgent and lacking in sound judgement (Prov. 18:1), but solitude has its place. If I thought this was going to be easy, I should have read a little further to see that Heidi recommends fasting and almsgiving, too. I tried to fast from last night's supper until tonight's, but a friend surprised me at a campus event with Valentine cookies, and I'm pretty sure that Jesus said that the one rule of fasting is to not be a jerk about it. I don't know if I was really thinking about Jesus, but I decided to be gracious and accept the cookie. It was delicious.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Conversations with the Future -- 1

Millennials have officially overtaken Baby Boomers as America's largest living generation. What a relief. Maybe there is still time to salvage America. My generation had it all. We were too young for Viet Nam and too old for the Gulf Wars. We had cheap health insurance, safe housing, fully funded Social Security, and 70s rock music. Education was so affordable that "working your way through college" meant getting a part time minimum wage job and graduating debt free. So did we climb up on the shoulders of these giant advantages and make the world a better place? Oh, heavens no. We built big houses, filled them with trinkets, and sat around in our big hair staring at TV all day and night. Our response to lingering Civil Rights issues was flight to the suburbs or if our town was too small to have suburbs then we founded small Christian academies for all our educational needs. We said "separate, but equal" like we meant it. We turned church into belief clubs that promised insurance against unpleasant eternal consequences. Somehow this all seemed to make sense at the time, then one day our millennial children looked at us and cried bullshit. We were stunned. They said that black, brown, and mixed people were people. They said that life would go on if gay people married the ones they loved. They snapped a picture of our heirlooms with their cell phones and said no thanks when we tried to pass down our trinkets. They moved into tiny houses. And they left church in droves.

I think they may be on to something.

I'm fortunate to spend much of my time on a college campus. It's like watching the future walk around with a backpack and an energy drink. Hopefully my sphere of influence isn't completely eclipsed, but it's their turn. And I'm glad. I see good things ahead. Lord knows we set the bar awfully low, but they don't even seem to be especially angry about it. They have some interesting things to say, and I'm going to listen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Peacock Theology from Pope Francis

It seems that Pope Francis’ question, “Who am I to judge?” attracted answers from everyone with access to the internet. Now, I’m as smitten with this humble pontiff as a Southern Baptist girl can be, and I could not be more charmed with the world’s response to his embodiment of Christianity. I’m pretty sure he was responding to a specific question about gay priests, but somehow the idea has taken hold that maybe being judgmental isn’t a hallmark of the followers of Jesus after all. Glory, hallelujah!

The Hebrew Bible tells us that God’s people were originally ruled by judges, but being envious of the nations with kings, they wanted one of their own. The prophets tried to tell them that this was not a good idea, but if we learn anything from the Bible it’s that people never listen to the prophets. If you think they were foolish to envy being under the thumb of a monarch, then you must be of the 11 people in the United States who did not get up in the pre-dawn hours to watch Will & Kate’s vows --- a phenomena made even more amusing by the fact that the USA exists because people were sick of their king. Reading I & II Kings reveals some Israelites who got pretty fed up with theirs too.

Judging others is not necessarily a bad thing. I remember being in an adult Sunday School class when the “Who am I to judge?” topic came up. Considering that one member of the class was a federal judge, it was obvious that some people are qualified and even required to judge others. Sometimes we appreciate this, and sometimes it knocks the luster off our affection. I was a fan of both Steven Tyler and Martha Stewart until they entered the reality show realm-- he as a judge and she as a subject to a ridiculous judge with a hideous comb over.  It just hasn’t been the same with us since.

I’m a study in dissonance when it comes to judging and being judged.  No skill is more easily mastered than the ability to judge the flaws of others. Not only is this skill a delight to practice, it has the added bonus of confirming my own vanity. But I seldom welcome criticism directed at me, not even the constructive kind ---especially not the constructive kind. It’s a tricky subject to address because warning people about being judgmental can come off sounding very judgmental. Take it from the Pope, “the reality of vanity is this: Look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front, 

but if you look at it from behind you discover the truth. 

Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them.” 

Lost Things

Why does finding something that was lost feel so much better than not losing it?

Everyone knows the instant blast of happiness when lost keys show up. My sister in law sent a massive group text with a photo of her lost eyeglasses that she found in her dishwasher. She proclaimed them not just found, but clean! Luke’s gospel devotes chapter 15 to the joy of finding lost things. If there are any universal human traits, this might be one of them.

My most recent lost thing was a snap-on accessory for my shoes. I looked down and saw that one foot looked pretty snazzy, while the other had a sad empty snap where a rosette should have been. It was the end of a day in which I had walked all over my three story building at work. I was retracing my steps sure that any other finder of my shoe-completing treasure would toss it in the trash as an unidentifiable bauble. I had no luck, but I did explain the situation to a member of our housekeeping staff who noticed my search and rescue behavior and asked if she could be of help. A couple of weeks later, I received a call that someone had left something for me in the office. See the photo, and imagine my delight.

If my lost accessory is a present day comparison to Luke’s lost coin, then his lost sheep would be the modern lost pet. Anyone who has ever had a dog or cat go AWOL knows the meaning of anguish. This feeling is so prevalent in our culture that AT&T used it in a 30 second commercial that has only three spoken words, none of which refer to the product being advertised.  It’s a shameless marketing play on emotion, but it chokes me up every time. Grab a tissue and watch it now.

Now, wouldn’t it have been better if Sarah hadn’t gotten lost in the first place? Of course it would, but even the joy of having a sweet dog at home is dwarfed by the joy of finding that sweet dog when she is lost.

Luke completes the trilogy that begins with lost things and lost animals with Jesus’ parable of the lost son known by everyone as the prodigal.  I love sassy shoes and sweet dogs, but the love-o-meter jumps several orders of magnitude when my children are added to the mix.  If there is one story that summarizes the entire Bible, it is this story of the joy of redemption when a precious lost son is found. It’s almost like we’re born knowing this truth. Among the first games children enjoy are peek-a-boo and hide and seek.  The fun of Easter egg hunts and scavenger hunts is what makes us vulnerable for snipe hunts during those awkward adolescent years. People love to find lost things. It may be a coincidence, or it may be God’s message that there is grace for us always, like Sarah, lost or found.