Friday, April 27, 2012

The More Things Change

For those of you who long for the “good-ole-days” allow me to share a little dose of reality with you.  Awhile back, I went to the library and borrowed a copy of E.B. White’s collection of essays called One Man’s Meat.  For those of you who are saying to yourself “the name sounds familiar,” E.B. White is best known as the author of Charlotte’s Web.  He also wrote for the New Yorker magazine for many years.  The essays were written just prior to the start of World War II and they were published in book form in 1942.  Mr. White chronicles the journey of his move to a farmstead in Maine and what life was like, with some observations about the world at large, thrown in for good measure.  Reading through the book, I am reminded, once again, of the old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

In an essay titled “Sabbath Morn,” written in February, 1939, Mr. White made the following observations:
“In this house we cling to a few relics of religious observance, but there is no heart in it.  If we possess faith (and I guess we do) it is of a secret and unconsecrated sort ill at ease in church….The church sometimes seems painfully unimaginative in its attempt to perpetuate a faith which has been gutted by so many fires.  Whether or not people are essentially less religious than they used to be, I don’t know, but it is obvious that something has happened….I go to church once in a while and sing the hymns very loud; it clears the blood, and I love the gush of holiness when the old bone-shaking anthems ripple up and down my spine and crackle in my larynx.  But for the most part, religion is tucked away in a bottom drawer among things we love but never use.  In two generations there has been a great falling off.  When I was a child, I could feel heaven slipping…By the standards of a hundred years ago, my family to-day is a group of misguided agnostics, seeking after an illusive beauty and fumbling for grace…”
What a familiar tale, I think to myself!  How similar and relevant are Mr. White’s words today?!  The great angst that we possess as the United Methodist Church over decline in attendance is the same thing that was going on back in “the good old days” that we fondly talk about.  The rosy days of “back yonder” were not quite as rosy as we would like to believe.  The reality, the truth of the matter is this-we struggle with the same issues that previous generations struggled with.  That doesn’t mean that we choose to just accept this as a fact of life, we can choose to try to change the outcome.  But if we intend to change, we had better make sure that we have thought things through carefully.  “Change for change sake” is not true change at all.  Learning from the past, taking off the rose colored glasses and seeing things as they really were, rather than how we imagine-that is the lens that we need to use when we decide what to change and how we go about changing things!  Until we can do that, until we can accept the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, all of our best laid plans will be nothing more than just another plan.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and recognize the fact that the more things change-the more they stay the same, if we choose to ignore the truth of the past.  We will not change the course if we do not learn the lessons of yesterday.  In my humble opinion, this is indeed a valuable and timely lesson in light of General Conference.  A voice from the past holds an important reminder, to us all, for today!

Song of Spring

A quick note-I wrote this piece about a month ago and didn't publish at the time.  Health issues and life in general still keep me hopping, but I am hanging tough and will persevere!  I hope you enjoy reading this piece!~ Trudy

Hello, darling readers!  I know, it has been awhile since I have ventured this way!  My only explanation is a few minor health issues, lack of inspiration and need to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather that has ventured over Missouri during the last month!  Today is different, it is the first day in over a month that we will have closer to a “normal average high” temperature.  It also rained quite heavily last night, so rushing to be outside in the mud is not on the agenda!

It’s been a strange spring!  Plants have bloomed much earlier than usual.  Trees are almost fully out in leaf.  My beautiful Lilac bush has just about gone by on the blooming stage.  Normally, it blooms closer to the end of April.  My husband actually did some mowing yesterday evening as well!  Gardeners, such as myself, have been in a rush to get things in the ground.  I did put some early spring plants in the vegetable garden, such as peas, lettuce, broccoli, carrots and radishes.  I took a pass on warmer weather plants, such as tomatoes, because I know that spring weather can be unpredictable.  The risk I take with the early spring crops is that they could bolt to seed if the weather stays unseasonably warm.  But, this is Missouri, and we still face a frost risk, for at least another month.  The cool weather crops can handle a hit of frost.  Tomatoes on the other hand, can not!  Like I said, it has been an unusually warm spring and the plants are doing their thing about a month or so ahead of schedule!

So, I have been outside quite a bit!  We turned off the heat and opened up the windows and let the fresh air in to the house!  I was so upset the other day because it actually got hot and humid enough that we had to close the house back up again and turn on the central air!  I like the fresh air.  I like feeling the breeze blow in through the open windows.  I love hearing the birds sing.  It’s a way for me to still feel connected to the outdoors even when I am doing the things inside that need to be done.  Closing up the house makes me feel disconnected and isolated.  One of the hardest adjustments for me since moving to Missouri has been dealing with air conditioning in the summer time.  In Vermont, summer is a time to be connected with the outdoors!  You open the windows in June, day and night, and they stay open until the end of August!  And if the house gets a little too stuffy, you go outside and sit in the shade, or go swimming at the brook.  That’s a tough thing to do here in Missouri when the temps hit 102 with 100 percent humidity!  Spring has now become my most favorite season here in Missouri, because it is more like the summers that I was used to back home in Vermont!

Being outdoors, especially in the garden, is a form of meditation for me personally.  There is something very satisfying in the experience of planting and weeding and hoping for the future!  If the tiny little seeds germinate, if the small plants survive and thrive, there is a hope for eating something fresh and wonderful from the ground that you have toiled to work!  It requires attention.  Weeds must be pulled.  Beneficial insects encouraged to pollinate.  Pests that would destroy your efforts, swiftly dealt with.  You don’t just simply throw things on the ground and hope that when you come back later, something will have stuck!  In order to be successful, you must engage in the process!

There’s a metaphor for life!  Engage in the process!  Pay attention to the details!  Prior to the economic crash, there were individuals who were warning that the pestilent swarm of collapse was coming.  Yet, we chose to ignore the sirens and hope for the best.  We threw our seeds on the ground and walked away and hoped that nature would take care of itself.  We called it “market forces” and opted to believe that they would keep the weeds in check and that the locusts would stay at bay.  We have paid a price for that philosophy and hopefully learned a valuable lesson as a country.

We can carry that lesson into our personal lives as well.  I think so many of us struggle because we have literally thrown our creative seed out in the proverbial wind and then wonder why things haven’t turned out the way we hoped they would!  We have hopes and dreams but they seem too big, too impossible to accomplish!  It seems like something is always coming up that either robs us of our energy to carry on, like a weed, or chews away at our confidence, like a locust!  We get tossed to and fro and our dreams shrivel up inside, never to see the light of day because the outcome is too much to hope for!  But let me ask you this-is God a big God?  Do you think God would give you hopes and dreams if HE didn’t already have a way for them to be accomplished?

The first thing to ask yourself is what do you think God wants you to accomplish?  Your first thought might be, I dunno!  But you do!  Think about the things you would like to accomplish.  When you do that, I have found that usually, these can be the seeds of the vision that God has planted inside of you.  It may not always be the case, (sometimes our ego can get in the way) but many times, when you take a good, hard critical look, you can find the seeds of a long term vision.  What do you hope to change?  In other words, what is the outcome that you would like to see?  Some would call it a goal.  I prefer to think of it as God’s vision for my life (once I have taken the time to get my ego out of the way)!  From there, we step back.  What will it take to get there?  This is a great way to come up with individual things that must be done along the way and it helps you identify what needs to be done first!  It forces you to pay attention to the details!  It also provides a way to become engaged in the process.  It becomes a way to engage with God in a very personal way!

This is not a new way of doing things, contrary to what popular culture would have you think!  God has longed to engage in a personal way since time immortal!  Think about it-why send Jesus to suffer on the cross if God was not a God of personal engagement?  Look at anything big that was done in the Bible, such as building the ark or the temple.  When you read about the undertaking, you always find very detailed descriptions of just exactly how the “goal” was accomplished.  First, came the vision.  Then came the details!  Even Jesus was very specific with the Disciples.  Jesus would go on  ahead of them as the Savior.  The Disciples would then share the Good News with all who would listen!  It wouldn’t be easy!  The High Council would dog every step.  Individuals would not receive them.  Sometimes even their own followers would cause them to have to settle disputes.  But their job, their goal would be to share the message and spread the word of God’s love and saving grace, one person, one town at a time!  If they tended the seeds that they planted, eventually the faith would grow and bloom and the bounty would spread!  But it would not happen if they did not take the time to engage in the process and pay attention to the details.  Details matter if you truly want to see the vision through!

Do you feel like you are floundering about, doing a whole lot of things and getting nowhere?  Stuck in the mire of everyday life?  Take some time away by yourself to meditate and listen for God‘s vision.  Your “meditation” may be being out in the garden, or maybe it is turning wrenches on your car project or perhaps it is just sitting quietly at the kitchen table.  Do what helps you think best and ask yourself, what is God’s vision for me?  Perhaps it is becoming a teacher or volunteering to help out a worthy cause or becoming the very best in your field of endeavor so that you can help others.  Whatever it is, get a clear vision of that “end-goal”.  Then take the time to look at the steps necessary to get you to that place.  Don’t be surprised if it takes a little while to come up with a plan because great things take careful consideration!  God is a big God who will show you the way!  Get yourself  spiritually in a position to take that first step!  Once the first step becomes clear, engage!

Psalm 40, verses 1-3 sums it up nicely:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

May the God of all creation bless you fully, so you may be a blessing to others!  Amen and Amen!  On your way because your journey begins…today!