Deliver Me from Phusio

July 18, 2018

 

I’m struggling today with a half-remembered question: So, who retired and made YOU the boss? Or, who died and made YOU the queen?

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–stunned disbelief, 1972

Who made YOU so important?  Who made YOU superior to others?

 

In other words, someone, in someone else’s opinion, has grown too big for his or her britches, and needs a bit of deflating. Someone’s got an irritating case of hubris. Remember that word from high school English class?

 

I remember hubris, but not very precisely. Seems various flawed heroes had it.  For your sake and mine I visit the dictionary.  Word-nerd report: Hubris means ‘overweening pride or self-confidence.’ Great.  Now I have to look up overweening! For all our sakes, I press on. Overweening means ‘arrogant, presumptuous, exaggerated, immoderate.’

 

Okay, so now I’m going to lay another word on you.  Phusio.  What???  It’s Greek, and it means inflated, puffed up with air. (It literally means bellows–good visual!) The first time I heard this word, I experienced a sharp pang of recognition, and I made a wee prayer:

 

 When too full of pride I grow

Deliver me from phusio.

 

One might think the ‘opposite’ of phusio is humility. It’s not. The opposite of phusio is deflation.  Think helium balloon on the ground, its glory departed. Think torn bellows, no longer useful for tending fires.  Humility is what you work on AFTER someone or some circumstance has punctured your pride.  Humility is the better way of being you build AFTER your house has collapsed. I have found this to be a lifelong cycle!

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-POTUS, for ten inflated seconds

John Philip Newell writes this:

 

Jesus … taught the strength of humility, of being close to the humus, close to the Ground from which we and all things come. The humblest, says Jesus, are “the greatest” (Matthew 18:4). Not that following Jesus’ path of humility is straightforward. Constantly there is tension—the tension of discerning how to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, how to honor the heart of another nation as we honor our own homeland, how to revere the truths of another wisdom tradition as we cherish our own inheritance, how to protect the life of other species as we guard the sanctity of our own life-form. Jesus knew such tension. He was tempted to use his wisdom and his power of presence to serve himself, to lift himself up over others. But to the tempter, he says, “Away with you, Satan!” (Matthew 4:10). Away with the falseness of believing that I can love myself and demean others.

I am pleased to think it’s still okay for a shy girl to fly her flag once a year, ever mindful of the march of time I see in the mirror. I don’t feel it takes away from anyone else.   Humility: not taking up too much space, nor too little.

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Host of Butterflies

July 17, 2018

 

Once I taught a class on the Psalms. When my class discovered not all the Psalms are expressions of praise and thanksgiving, some were surprised. You mean a psalm can be a howl of outrage? Why yes, my dears, it can. You mean we can come to God with all our feelings, not just our ‘acceptable’ feelings? Why yes, my dears, we can. Perhaps we churchly people should put less energy into respectability and more into honest angry weeping in the arms of the One who understands. Then and only then… ‘hallelujah anyway!’  Light, properly shadowed.

 

Having aired that, I offer a psalm of deep gratitude for being alive:

 

A Host of Butterflies

 

In a flower bed, at the foot of a crape myrtle,

stands a shrub with an interesting name: Duranta repens.

Sky-flower.

This dazzling creature is dressed, at the moment, in rich green.

And she is graced with masses of the most exquisite flowers—

deep purple, edged in white.

The brightness of her beauty draws me close.

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I’m not the only one.

 

As I approach, what should I see on Duranta but a host of butterflies.

Five monarchs, regal in orange and black,

wings opening and closing in ecstasy.

Two clouded sulphurs, radiant in yellow.

And several small, unidentified Lepidoptera: brown, with touches of red.

 

How close can I get without disturbing them?

Soon I’m practically standing in Duranta.

All around me the exuberant nectar-feasting continues.

I can hear the rustle of their wings.

 

Well, this is almost too much joy.

Feeling I’ve trespassed on holy ground,

I step back onto the grass,

from whence I continue to drink in this gorgeous picture,

all the cares and concerns in my heart and mind

warmed and softened

under God’s good sunshine.

 

Yes, it’s almost too much miracle.   So I retreat another step.

 

O, Love that will not let me go …

 

Two of the monarchs detach from the feast, flutter to me,

spiral down my body and back up again,

brushing my skin and my clothes with their wings.

 

Maybe it’s my Black Orchid perfume.

Maybe they think I’m a flower. I don’t know.

But I feel loved. Deeply loved.

As if I’m a cherished part of an unfolding plan…

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-photo by Kate Hambright, May 2018

 

 

 

 

 

More Summer Color

July 15, 2018

 

My grandmother Ruth collected small glass bottles in a rainbow of hues and placed them in the east window of her kitchen. The rising sun set the bottles shimmering, flooding the kitchen with color. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, peach, pink, lilac…

 

This was a long time ago.  I would give much to have a photograph. On the other hand, it could be that memory coupled with emotion is better. What I intuited in Ruth’s kitchen: By the simple act of standing in the sun with its bottle-companions, a wee bit of colored glass can go beyond its functional purpose and set a room ablaze. Thus it moves toward its full potential.

 

Hey, I want to be that! Well, I can keep noticing ‘small’ things, and reach out for glory, and share it however imperfectly with you.

 

Other day at the grocery store I came across a table laden with markdowns. Specifically, “summer décor, 75% off.” I have no need for such. At my age I’m more into simplifying than adorning. But wait! Color caught my eye. There in somewhat organized rows were ribbed glass jars, in various hues. Red. Azure. Gold. Lime. I guess they were meant to hold candles? At any rate they were tricked out for summer with thick rope handles, vaguely suggesting a nautical theme. I was confused by the handles, but clear enough as to the elegance and desirability of the elegant jars. They took me back to a kitchen full of color.  My hand reached out. Drew back at the silliness of acquisition.  Reached out again…

 

$1.87 per jar sealed the deal.  I bought three. De-handled them. And here they are, in my kitchen window.  To reawaken my vision and perhaps yours.

 

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Another colorist is at her work, easing about a small wooded acreage in Hardin County, capturing radiance in the form of insects. Unbelievable what may be accomplished by a vision, and a willingness to work hard at perfecting her skill in achieving it.  Persistence is key:  Unlike my glass jars, which serve where they’re put, these little beauties lead her a merry dance.

 

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Colors of Summer

July 14, 2018

 

Driving to granddaughter’s house early yesterday morning, I saw a chicken, feathered all in black.  She was suavely stepping across the rain-refreshed St. Augustine of someone’s front yard.  In her company were several ebony ‘pullets’ ( is that what we call teenage chickens?) Mind you, we live in the city, so this was unexpected, and fairly exciting. But soon swept out of mind as I took up grandmother duties.  Now it’s circled back, attracted by my theme.  Black is a fine color indeed.

 

‘Black is black / I want my baby back!

Gray is gray / since she went away, oho,

What can I do? / For I-I-I-I-I, I’m feelin’ _______________’

 

To fill in the blank, see one of the best songs of the sixties:

 

Were you able to fill in the blank?  Back to the task at hand: My darling had her six-month shots the afternoon before.  So I was braced for post-shot misery.  To my relief she was in a pleasant, thoughtful mood.  After we removed her sleeping outfit we discussed what her morning costume might be.  She told me it was Casual Friday, and she’d just as soon be free of clothes.  That sounded good to me.  And so, the understatement of a snowy white diaper, pink baby skin, all crowned with auburn, and eyes–have I mentioned this before?– of azure, rimmed in darkest blue.  If one is young enough to carry it off, a good look.  Especially for mid-July on the Gulf Coast.

 

As to front porch time, she was riveted by a red-fronted robin, gray squirrel holding brown nut, occasional cars of various colors. She cannot seem to get enough of these things.  Ah but the best was coming!  We’ve seen a yellow cat before, making its rounds.  And it’s seen us.  This day it passed us on its way to our back yard, with nary a glance when we called it.  But on its way out,  it stopped. It stood at the end of the porch, regarding us with careful green eyes.  Then, oh so casually, it stepped onto the porch.  It meandered its way toward us, up to a pre-set line about six feet away.  Sniffed at a pot. Then turned and eased its regal sunshine back down the porch, across our front yard, across the street to the house which I believe to be its base of operations.

 

 

 

 

Simply Amazing

July 12, 2018

 

Granddaughter is six months old, and keenly interested in everything.

 

I was warming a bottle. Baby on hip, we did a tour of her kitchen. When she saw banana muffins under a glass dome, she froze. As one unit, we moved close to the dome. When her hands found the glass, she seemed to forget about the muffins. She gave the cool clearness a heavy-breathing examination. She found the knob on top and quick as a cricket, dragged the muffins toward us. Ah granddaughter, I see your game! By then the bottle was ready.

 

I was sitting with her on her front porch. She gets tired of laps so I put her beside me. ‘Bench,’ I told her. She gave that smooth-weathered wooden bench a thorough going over. Slats. Set-in screw heads. Her favorite part was the arm. Just right for gumming. Don’t tell her parents.

 

She was waking from a nap. I went to the crib, to watch the process. Such a rubbing of fists in eyes, wriggling around in a stunned kind of way. Wait for it: those heavenly blue eyes finally looked up and beheld a grandmother in love, looking down at her. She registered the proper response: amazement.

 

May she hold on to that.

 

No pics of her will I post, but here’s one of her paternal grandparents, recently taken.  The amazement here is how well a church directory photo can turn out.  We’ve had some, mmm, fairly stilted ones in prior directories.  Maybe the magic this time is grandparenthood.  And a good hair day for me, all too rare.

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Still Speaking After All These Years

July 11, 2018

And so, my friends, I’m a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church.  Have been since around the turn of the century.  Quite something for a formerly shy girl!  I get to do continuing ed to keep up my credentials.  Yes!!!  As a CLS I’m in a rotation of clergy and other lay speakers to give the homily at our church’s Wednesday night service.  After all these years I fit easily into this small service.  I know what to expect.  They even let me pick the opening and closing hymns.  But it’s never old hat.  I’m still amazed at the honor bestowed.  I work at it harder that ever.  And after all these years, it’s still sheer fun.  Even when I have to wrestle mightily with what wants to be said.

 

And so…tonight’s homily.

 

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

“Log Removal”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker

 

Opening hymn: 662 Stand Up and Bless the Lord / Closing hymn: Open My Eyes

 

These words tonight I offer in memory of my mother, Edna Hambright, who died on this day, sixteen years ago. Mother had a lively mind, a keen eye for the way people are, and a tender heart. I hope some measure of that lives in me.

 

Our text for tonight is a fresh translation of a teaching we’ve heard many times:

 

Matthew 7:1-5 (The Passion Translation) Refuse to be a critic full of bias toward others, and judgment will not be passed on you. For you’ll be judged by the same standard that you’ve used to judge others. The measurement you use on them will be used on you. Why would you focus on the flaw in someone else’s life and yet fail to notice the glaring flaws of your own? How could you say to your friend, ‘Let me show you where you’re wrong,’ when you’re guilty of even more? You’re being hypercritical and a hypocrite! First acknowledge your own ‘blind spots’ and deal with them, and then you’ll be capable of dealing with the ‘blind spot’ of your friend.

 

Jesus says, we have to judge. For the common good and our own, we have to. But before we take the bench or the jury box, look ye first in the mirror. Justice may be blind, but we should keep our eyes log-free.

 

Speaking of keeping a log, I don’t know if you know, but I’m Historical Chairman for our church this year. So let me give you some church history:

 

Early in 2011, Bill Strait decided he needed to lay down Explorers Sunday school, which he had faithfully taught for many years. Reason? His hearing had diminished to the point where trying to follow our classroom conversations was just about impossible. This made me very sad.

 

How many times, dear church, have our hearts been pierced when a good person we’ve loved and worked with has to leave us?   If it isn’t deafness it’s some other changing circumstance. This is hard enough. Consider the final goodbye. The art of being vulnerable creatures, evidently, is learning to live with tears in the night, and joy in the morning.

 

The poet David Whyte puts it this way: ‘The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance.‘

 

Intimacy with disappearance. Yes. All things are of a nature to die. That perspective alone ought to make us more inclined to deal with the logs and planks and beams and blind spots in our own eyes, before we undertake speck-inspection of others.

 

Back to Bill Strait, who by the way is still faithfully in his pew of a Sunday. When he had to leave our class, he said he was handing the leadership to me. By then I was a seasoned Disciple Bible Study leader. So I wasn’t as panic-stricken as I might have been.

 

He gave the class to me, and Mitch Watkins. Bill had noted our Bible background, and not least, our regular attendance.

 

So, with Bill’s departure, one chapter of Explorers ended, another began. Mitch and I brought the best we had to the table. He produced ponderous books, heavily underlined. I brought lyrics and lecture notes and poems … and a number of Bible translations, from which I happily read aloud, with great drama, and we would listen oh so carefully for what might want to be brought to the class.

 

I trust our teaching brought a measure of light to the place we inherited.

 

And I give thanks for the seven years of partnering. Now Mitch is gone, gathered to his fathers. And teaching without him is heavy.

 

Heavy, but the lamp is still lit. The vision unwavering.

 

One of the many things I learned from him was how to get clear on purpose. He would read some meandering thing I wrote, or listen to some half-baked inspiration I was going on about, and he would pause diplomatically, sometimes for several days. And then he would say, What exactly is it you’re aiming at?

 

As iron sharpens iron, so the mind of a man sharpens the mind of his friend. Or, as my husband might say, Give me wings to fly to the point.

 

Mitch was fond of frameworks. His disciplined framework for every statement of purpose was this:

 

‘To. In a way that. So that.’

 

Let me explain.

 

You know our church’s mission statement:

 

‘Know God. Be transformed. Love.’

 

Mitch resolved to make that statement his own. Why? Every day of his life, as near as I can tell, he labored intentionally for precision and coherence as to how he could best align with the Will and Purpose of that which he called His Endlessness. This he did so he could be of utmost usefulness and help to others. So it’s no wonder he felt the need to work till he understood his church’s mission statement for himself.

 

Here’s what he came up with:

 

To be transformed through Grace and the proven disciplines

in a way that we come to recognize and remove logs from our eyes,

be able to love God and relate to all of nature and

to our fellow human beings,

be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,

and restore our conscience to its proper place in our lives

so that the highest Will be done on earth and in our individual lives.’

 

Wow. Always keep your eye on the ‘so that’: Thy will be done. Thy will be done. Thy will be done.

You know what the Proverbist says: Apt words, fitly spoken, are like apples of gold in a basket of silver.

 

And then my teaching partner died. Basket turned over, apples scattered. This cannot be happening. But it is. After the shock abated enough, I trusted God and did the next right thing. That is, I picked up the apples, and put them back in the basket. Page One of each week’s lesson now includes the date, the season of the church year we’re in, the liturgical color for that season. Next, Trinity’s mission statement. Then, Mitch’s mission statement. All that, to keep us Explorers firmly grounded in our investigations. So that the highest Will be done on earth and in our individual lives.

 

It is meaningful to me that Mitch included in his mission statement the concept of log removal. I want to offer here a comment on log removal by another serious man of the church, Oswald Chambers. Listen:

 

The teaching of Jesus hits us where we live. We cannot stand as humbugs before him for one second. He educates us down to the scruple…There is no getting away from the penetration of Jesus. If I see a mote in your eye, it means I have a beam in my own. Every wrong thing I see in you, God locates in me.

 

If I see a mote in your eye, it means I have a beam in my own. This is the first Jesus-teaching I remember hearing in ‘big church.’ At six or so, I was absolutely thrilled by the outrageous hyperbole of logs in people’s eyes. The point of the hyperbole being that people need to be blasted out of their hypercritical hypocritical half-blind trances. Appeal to their imaginations, get them laughing, and maybe they’ll understand.

 

There is no getting away from the penetration of Jesus. One way or another, here he comes. But take comfort:

 

The flame shall not hurt thee: I only design

thy log to consume, and thy gold to refine.

 

So that God’s sacred Will be done. At six I could not articulate all that. But I sensed I was onto something interesting.

 

Clear eyes for all Creation. Nothing less will do. This was the mindset of Jesus. This was the heart of Jesus. It’s easy to make religion “private, personal, and heaven-bound.” To snuggle under a warm blanket of “Jesus loves me,” leaving the “all of Creation” to others. But Jesus would be amazed at the infantile narrowness of that. Babies are supposed to demand instant gratification of their personal needs. Not you. Open your eyes.

 

Says she who stands before you wrapped in a warm blanket of privilege. And nearsighted besides. In other words, a humbug!

 

Oh well, recovering humbugs unite! Good spiritual vision takes the sustained labor of many people. I’m beginning to think that such labor can no longer be viewed as optional. Oh for a sense of urgency to wake up and take up the instruments our tradition has given us:

 

Meditation. Prayer. Fasting. Study. Simplicity. Solitude. Self-denial. Service. Confession. Discernment. Worship. And the crown of all—Celebration.

 

To take up salvation, we have to put aside some things. For instance, we have got to stop fighting and blaming. We have got to stop fiddling, trying to make things better by our own imperfect understanding. We have got to stop with the ‘private, personal, and heaven-bound.’ If these approaches ever worked, they don’t anymore.

 

To take up salvation, it’s urgent that we wake up and take up the proven disciplines, and start practicing. Always praying for Grace to guide our labors. Always praying that the fog will clear away, and we will see.

 

I have just said, by my computer’s count, one thousand five hundred and thirty-four words.

 

As for Mitch, he suggested a bumper sticker.

 

‘How’s your log removal going?’

 

Amen.

 

When You’re Smiling

July 7, 2018

 

When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling
The whole world smiles with you
When you’re laughing, when you’re laughing
The sun comes shining through

Larry Shay, Mark Fisher & Joe Goodwin, 1928

 

Yesterday a Carolina chickadee had to get on me about the outrage of a days-empty bird feeder. Quoth she, knowing I was just inside the house: ‘See-be-see-bay. See-Be-See-Bay. SEE-BE-SEE-BAY. CHICKADEEDEEDEE!‘ Heaving a sigh, I went out to do the right thing by Madame Chickadee and those she represents. As I filled the feeder, she declared harmony restored, with a cheerful stream of chickadee talk, very near my ear. I couldn’t help but respond, ‘Oh, you darling. You sweet, adorable, little darling!’ Upon which a male voice from just the other side of the board fence replied, ‘Yo!’ Evidently he had been resting in the shade, little dreaming of such an affirmation.  Then he started his mower back up, and I fled flame-faced into my house.

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But wait, there’s more.  Picked up the paper, and there’s a headline: ‘Thomas Jefferson had passion for bird-watching.’  I already knew he was an avid naturalist, that he kept a mockingbird in the White House, name of Dick.  That Dick whistled merrily, had free wing of the place.

 

What I did not know is this–Jefferson’s own testimony as to his bird-watching:  ‘My method is to make two observations a day, the one as early as possible in the morning, the other from 3. to 4. aclock … I state them in an ivory pocket book … & copy them out once a week.’

 

Thank you, Gary Clark, for bringing this to my delighted attention.

 

One more smile, this from my sister, who makes her observations of winged creatures via camera, and ‘states them’ via email.  Here, some particularly beautiful brown eyes:

 

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“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”

-Margaret Mead, American anthropologist (1901-1978)