Posted by: ritagone | February 21, 2018

Mary and Martha and Me

 

 

Everyone who has read the New Testament at least a few times is familiar with the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42, where Jesus and His disciples were traveling along by foot and came to the village of Bethany, where Martha welcomed Him into her home.  And her sister Mary, the text says, immediately sank to His feet and was listening to what He had to say.  Martha, on the other hand, was the domestic goddess, preparing the meal for however many people had “dropped by” that day.  After all, someone had to do it!  And the preparation left her distracted and disturbed.  She went up to Jesus when she had had enough, obviously out of sorts, and said to Him (and not to Mary, notice): “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?  Then tell her to help me.”

 

Oh, I can so relate to Martha!  At first glance, and especially if you tend to be a “Martha” type, you feel this is obviously fair.  Why should Martha be left doing all the work while Mary gets to sit at the Teacher’s feet and absorb His teaching?  It’s just not fair!  And doesn’t He see that it’s just not fair?  What’s wrong with Him?  He needs to straighten this mess out and rescue me, shame Mary, put things back on the right path where they belong…where I say they belong!

Instead, “the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’”

Christ is telling Martha, and us, that we need to simplify our lives, focusing on the one thing that matters so that our passion for Him can have an opportunity to grow.

He is telling us that we can get distracted from Him even in the midst of serving Him.  Like Martha, we can take our eyes off of the One we’re serving and onto all of our preparations, whether that’s meal preparations or sermon preparations.  Like Martha, we can get angry, even in our volunteer work, that someone has left us to do all the serving alone.  Like Martha, we can stomp out of the kitchen, into some committee meeting, and start telling people off.

The vacation Anne Morrow Lindbergh once took on an East Coast beach, which she chronicled in her book Gift from the Sea, offers an excellent model for reflective living.  It is full of wit and wisdom and rich reflections about life.  In this reflection she raises the same question the Mary and Martha passage raises, showing how universal the struggle is.

“I begin to understand,” she writes, “why the saints were rarely married women.  I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children.  It has to do primarily with distractions.  The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls – woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.  The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence.  It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life…”

How do we remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life? It’s a question we all wrestle with.  But for Christians the question goes deeper.  In the midst of the distractions of life, how do we remain wholly devoted to Christ?

We do what Mary did.

We make a choice to sit at Christ’s feet. That is where the “many things” we are involved in are brought into submission to the “one thing that is necessary.”

This is a constant battle, one I unfortunately too often lose.  But I fight on, because it’s worth it.  To win it is to win the small skirmish that allows me to be still and listen to what Jesus wants to say to me in a whisper that I might miss altogether.

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Posted by: ritagone | February 14, 2018

“The Myth of Scarcity”

Today I’d like to quote from Walter Brueggemann, American-born Old Testament scholar who has influenced so many scholars we know, read and trust today for our theology, as well as Brueggemann’s, as I’ve been studying some of his ideas and writings to use in my Ecclesiastes class.  This one, taken from his work “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” is a theme that runs throughout Ecclesiastes, but is also so pertinent and applicable today that it struck me as something we should all be pondering and praying about.  This piece was written in 1999 but is still timely in so many ways.

“The majority of the world’s resources pour into the United States.  And as we Americans grow more and more wealthy, money is becoming a kind of narcotic for us.  We hardly notice our own prosperity or the poverty of so many others.  The great contradiction is that we have more and more money and less and less generosity – less and less public money for the needy, less charity for the neighbor.

 

Robert Wuthnow, sociologist of religion at Princeton University, has studied stewardship in the church and discovered that preachers do a good job of promoting stewardship.  They study it, think about it, explain it well.  But folks don’t get it.  Though many of us are well intentioned, we have invested our lives in consumerism.  We have a love affair with “more” – and we will never have enough.  Consumerism is not simply a marketing strategy.  It has become a demonic spiritual force among us, and the theological question facing us is whether the gospel has the power to help us withstand it.

 

The Bible starts out with a liturgy of abundance.  Genesis 1 is a song of praise for God’s generosity.  It tells how well the world is ordered.  It keeps saying, “It is good, it is good, it is good, it is very good.”  It declares that God blesses – that is, endows with vitality – the plants and the animals and the fish and the birds and humankind…

 

We who are now the richest nation are today’s main coveters.  We never feel that we have enough; we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us.  Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of the belief in scarcity – a belief that makes us greedy, mean and unneighborly.  We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity.

 

The feeding of the multitudes, recorded in Mark’s Gospel, is an example of the new world coming into being through God.  When the disciples, charged with feeding the hungry crowd, found a child with five loaves and two fishes, Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the bread.  These are the four decisive verbs of our sacramental existence.  Jesus conducted a Eucharist, a gratitude.  He demonstrated that the world is filled with abundance and freighted with generosity.  If bread is broken and shared, there is enough for all.”

 

Reading this short essay made me ponder where I fit in: am I greedy or generous?  Do I turn my back on God’s generosity or embrace it?  What about you?  Think about this, I urge you.  Pray over it.  It may well be one of the most important things you think or pray about in the weeks or months to come.

Posted by: ritagone | February 7, 2018

To Journal OR Not to Journal

 

I’ve been thinking and reading about journaling lately; it seems like everywhere I turn, someone is either writing about it or doing it.  I don’t have a problem with that.  Everyone should feel free to write down his or her private thoughts about what’s going on around them so that in years to come, they will have a record of what their history was.

My only objection is when they start to feel that what they’re saying is of such importance that the rest of the world can’t live without those words.  It’s then that I wish that people who journal would realize that not everyone’s words are worth publishing to the world.  Privately they are significant, important, tender and valuable.  Publicly, not always.

I’m reminded of something I read recently in my morning devotional book by Ken Gires, “The Reflective Life.”  He says, “We see a lot of things we haven’t seen in people when we’re given a peek into their journal.  There we see them with their make-up off and their mat of morning hair.  And seeing them like that helps us not only to understand them better but to love them better.  But the journals of most people are mostly private.  Every once in a while, though, someone’s journal is published and we see them in ways we maybe never imagined.

You get to know people more through their journal, I think, than through anything else they have written.  In a book someone has written, for example, everything is rewritten and edited and proofread.  I remember reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and admiring not only the craftsmanship of his prose but his insights into the human condition.  Steinbeck was a Nobel Prize-winning author so he should be insightful, he should be confident in his craft.

What he should be, though, was so different from what he was.  I saw beneath the polish of his prose one day when I was browsing the shelves of a used bookstore.  It was his familiar name on the spine of an unfamiliar book that caught my eye.  The book was titled, Working Days, and it was the journal he kept during the writing of The Grapes of Wrath.  Reading it, I learned that the title of the novel came from his wife, who thought the line from the Civil War hymn captured the story’s essence.  The research, I learned, was not mostly from firsthand observation but secondhand, from a man who had studied migrant workers, following them from camp to camp, listening to what they talked about, how they expressed themselves, what figures of speech they used.  And Steinbeck, I learned, was anything but confident in his abilities.  He was full of self-doubt, worried at how slow the writing was going, wondering if he would be able to meet his deadline, and if what he had written was any good.  And he was crabby about all the distracting noise his neighbor’s remodeling project was making.  All this to say, the more accurate picture of Steinbeck was captured in the journal, not the novel.”

Now, THAT was worthwhile journaling!!  It made me realize that most of us should keep our journaling to ourselves, where it belongs.  It’s not that it’s because John Steinbeck was a famous, well-thought-of, well honored author and other journaling people are not.  It’s that there is such a surfeit of self-advancing material today that the world doesn’t need more, it needs less.

 

This is my opinion, and I know it might be a bit hypocritical coming in the form of a written blog, but so be it.

I’ve said my piece.  I won’t be upset if you disagree with me.  I just may not read your journal entries should you choose to publish them online.  But I still love you.  And I would love to know what you think, because this is an interesting discussion topic.  So let me hear from you.

Posted by: ritagone | January 31, 2018

“God’s Mission Statement For Our Life”

 

This is taken from one of my morning devotional books, Ken Gire’s “The Reflective Life,” which is really causing me to consider how I live out my relationship to Jesus Christ.  I hope you enjoy it and are challenged by it as much as I have been.

 

“The reflective life is a way of living that heightens our spiritual senses to all that is sacred.  The Scriptures are one of those sacred things.  For the Jew, the most sacred passage in all the Scriptures is the Shema (pronounced Shemmah, with the accent on the last syllable).  It is a transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning “hear,” the first word in that most sacred passage.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

The Shema was the mission statement for believing Jews.  It regulated every area of their lives, from work to worship.  It was placed in the phylacteries they wore on their foreheads and within the Mezuzah they fastened to their doorposts.  It was recited every morning and evening, and at the close of the most holy day, which is the Day of Atonement.  It was also the last word breathed from the lips of the dying.

The command is the heart of the Old Testament.  Somehow, though, the beat of that heart got drowned out by the incessant strum of lesser commands.  Something like the simplicity of the Constitution getting lost in the library of legal cases that were meant to clarify it.

A lawyer looking for clarification asked Jesus, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ Jesus answered by quoting the Shema. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment,’ Jesus explained.  ‘And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40, see also Romans 13:8-10).

This vertical as well as horizontal orientation of our faith can be seen as far back as the giving of the Ten Commandments.  The first four commandments, which were probably inscribed on the first tablet, deal exclusively with our relationship to God.  The last six, which were probably inscribed on the second tablet, deal exclusively with our relationship to our neighbor.  The two tablets stand in a cause-and-effect relationship to each other.  If we love God, that love will naturally spill over into our relationships with people.

This same cause-and-effect relationship is the basis of John’s argument in 1 John 4:20. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

Before we can love our neighbor, we must see our neighbor and hear our neighbor. Observing the way a gardener observes plants.  Watching their buds when they’re blooming.  Watering their roots when they’re wilting.  But we cannot weep with those who weep or rejoice with those who rejoice unless we first see something of their tears or hear something of their laughter.  If we can learn to see and hear our neighbor, maybe, just maybe, we can learn to see and hear God.  And seeing Him and hearing Him, to love Him.

To passionately love God and other people.

This is what matters.

This is all that matters.

And all that God requires.

 

But it requires our all to fulfill.

That is the mission statement, so to speak, of the reflective life.  Not to see better or to hear better but to love better.  To better love all that is sacred.  And of all that is sacred, nothing is more sacred than God and the people He created as the object of His affection.

 

 

Posted by: ritagone | January 24, 2018

The Eyes of Wisdom

 

Great piece of advice as I’m reading Timothy and Kathy Keller’s book “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life” this year in my early morning devotions:

 

         “Wisdom is to see things through as many other eyes as possible, through the Word of God and through the eyes of your friends, of people from other races, classes, and political viewpoints, and of your critics.  Wise women and men crate a company of counselors around them – mentors and advisers and friends and people from whom they can get a ‘second opinion.’ The gospel is the greatest resource for creating teachability. It shows us that we are sinners, yet its deep assurance of God’s unconditional love for us in Christ makes it possible to face our flaws without denial.

         Is there a person or kind of person you should be listening to but have not made the effort to do so?”

 

 

As I study the book of Ecclesiastes, I’m more and more aware of just how unwise I am.  Or, to put it another way, I’m more and more aware of just how wise I thought I was.  But I’m not.  I have so much to learn.  So far to go.

Another step today in the right direction.

Baby steps.

One foot after another.  Eyes forward, not backward.  No regrets.  Well, as few as possible.  Asking the hard questions of myself.  Hoping for the answers that will move me along the right path.

 

 

Posted by: ritagone | January 17, 2018

Things Well Done

 

I’m always impressed by things well done, whether it be a performance on television or in the movies, a vocal concert, a sermon, a piece of writing of any length (some of the best pieces of writing are short and sweet).  A work of art, of any kind.

Things well done are often subtle, not blatant or obvious.

Things well done don’t need to brag or call attention to themselves.  In fact, if someone is calling attention to himself or herself,

usually it’s a sign that the thing isn’t enough to stand alone on its own merits.  (It’s why in my mind the Kardashians have never produced a thing well done; they are constantly, it seems to me, calling attention to what they’re doing, as if if they don’t, no one else will notice.)

If you’re looking for things well done, you see them everywhere.  While watching the Christmas Special of “Call the Midwife,” for example, which I referred to in my December 27 blog of late last year, there is a relatively small part of a character named Mabel Tillerson played by long-time British actress Anita Dobson.  We first meet her when Sister Julienne has come to her flat to inform her of her husband’s death in the worst snowstorm in London in decades.  Sister Julienne finds her almost dead because the flat is so cold, and when she is revived, there is this amazing scene in which we discover that Percy Tillerson was the worst kind of husband, abusive, terror-producing, overpowering, and his wife has lived a victim and a prisoner of his abuse for decades.  When told of his death, she is relieved.

 

But what is the “thing well done” in my mind that I noticed immediately is the play of emotions across Anita Dobson’s face as she works out, first of all, that her husband is dead, then, that she no longer has to be under his thumb and rule, and thirdly, that she is glad.  With very little dialogue (a wise move on the part of the writers and producers), these two actresses pack more into this brief scene with their eyes and faces than most can do with pages of words.

Things well done.

But it was quick, and if you were talking or not paying attention when the show was running, you would have missed it.

And, like so much in life, if you’re not watching, if you’re not walking or sitting with your eyes wide open and your ears alert, it would have escaped you.

 

Things well done, as I said, are often subtle, quick, elusive.

But they are so very worth watching and looking and waiting for.

One of my challenges for and to myself in 2018 is to be alert to things well done, to track them, to comment on them, to the people who do them, to someone who perhaps desperately needs to hear about them or see them, to bring them out, to make much of them.  Our world has too little of things well done and too much of things done badly.

Let’s look for things well done, you and I, this year; let’s call them to one another’s attention and let’s use them to make a positive instead of a negative statement in life.

I’m in; are you?

 

Posted by: ritagone | January 10, 2018

Read this in a recent book: “If there is a problem somewhere, this is what happens.  Three people will try to do something concrete

to settle the issue.  Ten people will give a lecture analyzing what the three are doing.  One hundred people will commend

or condemn the ten for their lecture.  One thousand people will argue about the problem.  And one person – only one – will involve himself so deeply in the true solution that he is too busy to listen to any of it.”

Thinking about “#Me too!” and “#Time’sup” and their impact at the Golden Globes award program this past Sunday night, I’m trying to relate it to this insightful quote (which of course makes me one of the minority who’s not doing much about solving the problem, just commenting on it, but that’s going to have to do for now).

First, let me say that I am not for sexual harassment.

That’s a pretty easy, simple statement to make.

After all, I’m a woman who grew up and worked in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, when it was presumed that men ruled, when women definitely were the minority, and when you kept your mouth shut, for the most part.  Not that I recall it feeling like a hostile environment; that’s just the way things were, and you lived and worked within those structures and those rules.

But I got married and left the workplace to raise children and wound up finding my meaning elsewhere, in serving at my church teaching and eventually being a board member on a non-profit (thanks to the gender stabilizing beliefs of the founder of the ministry, although bringing me on the board was not without its explosive repercussions).

 

All that to say, I can sympathize with the #MeToo! plight, because I think too many women in too many industries (not just the entertainment industry) have been harassed and harmed and beleaguered in ways that are shameful and even downright criminal.

So yes, let’s wear the pins and badges and say our pieces on national television when and where and if we can, when the platform presents itself.

But can we please put our breasts back inside our dresses while we do so?

I for one am so tired of hearing women talk about the fears and traumas of sexual harassment while I’m worrying about whether or not their breasts are going to stay put behind the fabric or instead make a sudden appearance in public.  While I’m not advocating for turtlenecks, I do think – given the topic on everyone’s lips – something approaching a bit of modesty where both cleavage and breasts are concerned is in order.  It seems to me to be rather hypocritical to be asking men to be aware of their boundaries while breasts are bursting out of theirs.

I may be wrong.

According to the paragraph I quoted at the beginning of this piece, I’m definitely not the one person who’s so involved that she isn’t listening to what is going on all around her.  I’m far too observant of the dress code at, say, The Golden Globes (no pun intended here) to be able to ignore everything and just get on with solving problems.  I guess I’m more of the one in a thousand trying to solve the problem.

 

This is just the beginning of the #MeToo movement, and at the beginning of movements, mistakes and errors in judgment are always made.  It’s allowed. But this is so very correctable, wouldn’t it be smart to correct it now, while it’s relatively easy, than before it becomes a bigger issue?

Am I way off base here, making a mountain out of a molehill? (again, no puns intended) Is this just my puritanical old age showing up to haunt and taunt me?  Are the rest of you saying, “What’s her problem?”

Come on, Oprah, help me out here.  Say something witty and pithy and tell us all what to do.  We’re listening.

Posted by: ritagone | January 3, 2018

A Word About the New Year

This is the first blog of the new year, so I wanted it to be short, sweet, and to the point.

That being the case, I found a great quote to start 2018 with: “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson said this a long time ago, but I believe it still applies.  If you believe that each day of this new year is going to be the best day, you will of course be disappointed occasionally.  But if you believe the opposite, that each day is going to be awful, you will not be disappointed, but then, each day will be awful. It’s that self-fulfilling prophecy thing.

So make the decision to be as positive as you can as we head into 2018.

I will too.

And we can do a check-up in every quarter just to see how we’re all doing.

Meanwhile, hope your New Year’s Eve was fun and you heard lots of horns and saw lots of fireworks before you went to sleep.

Posted by: ritagone | December 27, 2017

What an “Experience”!!

It was Dana’s idea.

A family drawing, the nine of us (Michael, me, the five Rouses, and Matt and his daughter Hannah) pulling names out of a bowl: each

person picked a name, and you had to provide an “experience” of their choosing for and with that person.  Something they would like to do, something fun, interesting, challenging, whatever they liked.  It could be a few hours or an entire day.

But it meant you focused your attention and a certain previously defined sum of money on him or her for the allotted time it would take to do whatever he/she wanted to do.

But then the flip side of the coin meant that someone was doing the exact same thing for you: catering to your whim, doing what you wanted to do, crafting an event to meet your desires.

And so it came to pass that – within the family – there was someone you were doing something for, and someone was doing something for you. For lack of a better term, we came to call it the “experience.”  The name stuck.  And out of that pretty basic game plan some great experiences came to be: miniature golfing, simulated sky diving (yes, there is such a place in Southern California, near Universal City, where the air blows you up so that you feel you have jumped out of a plane when you haven’t), Universal City rides, roller skating, and my personal favorite, as noted by the photograph in this blog:

painting a piece of ceramic of your choice while you sit and chat, then go to a lunch that includes the best soft serve ice cream in town.

That’s how I came to spend several hours yesterday with my oldest granddaughter Meg, whose name I had drawn, at Color Me Mine in Thousand Oaks, where we each picked a piece of ceramic for the other and then sat and painted it.  I’m getting (once it’s fired) a mug, and Meg’s getting a small house which has a hole in the front where her fish Draco can (hopefully) go for rest and relaxation. (Some desires are just plain fanciful.)  After we finished our artwork, we went to Freddy’s, a local joint that serves hamburgers, chicken dishes and hot dogs, with the best side of fries ever, and then finished off with soft serve ice cream that is delicious.  We had a great time.  In fact, we decided that we didn’t need an “experience” event to get together – just the two of us – and spend time with one another.  And that’s a pretty fantastic end result!

This Saturday the other half of my “experience” is going to a matinee of “Something Rotten,” playing at the Ahmanson Theater in the Music Center complex in downtown Los Angeles with my son-in-law Ed.  He drew my name.  We’ll eat dinner afterwards at one of the many wonderful restaurants surrounding that theater complex.  I’m trying to maintain a low profile about this, because I don’t want the other family members to be jealous, but I have to say that this is probably the best “experience” event ever!!!  Getting to spend time with my favorite son-in-law is always a treat, seeing a Broadway show even off Broadway is special, so I am so looking forward to Saturday afternoon!

Yes, we are going to do this again next year.  It has been suggested that we not tie it in to Christmas, that we instead do it some other time of the year.  But other than that, it was a roaring success.  Everyone in the family knows how blessed we all are to actually want to spend time with sisters, uncles and parents and grandkids and such.  That’s not always the case, and we are well aware of it.

This Christmas, as usual, the British TV show “Call the Midwife” aired its Christmas special, and Michael and I watched it the next day, having recorded it on Christmas night.  I always have a box of tissues nearby, because it is guaranteed to make me cry, and this year was no exception.  But there was one scene and one bit of dialogue that really got to me this year.  The young vicar who is handsome and kind and who every woman watching has a crush on, I suspect, is talking to one of the older women, and they are discussing how families sadly get torn apart in life, because that’s a theme that runs through this show all the time, and this year was no exception. How does this happen? she asks him, and he answers:

“Ties fray so quickly,

And once they fray, they snap.

People just stop belonging.”

People just stop belonging.

We must fight to prevent that from happening in our relationships, in our families.  Our “experience” events within my own family this year have reaffirmed how much we need to keep belonging and make sure we do what needs to be done to keep that happening with one another.

May 2018 be a year in which you keep belonging to those you love and who love you.  Or may you find those to belong to in 2018 and start new relationships.  In either case, it’s truly all about the people in your life and how you keep from fraying and snapping apart.

Don’t stop belonging.

Happy New Year!!!

Posted by: ritagone | December 20, 2017

Keeping Quiet

Here’s a poem by Pablo Neruda, noted Chilean poet whose work really resonates with me.  I hope as we near the end of 2017 that this poem will resonate with you too, and that you will appreciate it for its message.  I love poetry for this reason: that it speaks simply and beautifully and says what we want to say without a surplus of words.  Enjoy!!!

KEEPING QUIET
by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

 

 

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