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.

42R.jpg

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.

chickadee 003.jpg

 

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:

 

1D8C77CE-A74D-4A9C-9932-083389005AE2.JPEG

 

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

-Margaret Mead, American anthropologist (1901-1978)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurray for the Jay!

July 6, 2018

 

Those keen-eyed friends of mine, dapper and dashing, how it lifts my heart to see them at their bath!  Such purposeful vigor, such explosion of water!  One day I saw a jay training its, what, child, younger sibling?  They were identical, but clearly one was seasoned and one was not.  The challenge was, why this tentative dipping of toes? Get in the water and give it some gusto!  Here, let me show you…

 

Sometimes they declare a day-long concert. Such outpouring of trillings, burblings, improvs, even a quiet meditation or two. And scolding, as needed. Which it often is. As you would expect, one particular object of scolding is hawks. A group of red-shouldered hawks used to hang out around here. One clear and frosty Christmas morning, angels on my mind, the wind blowing sharp, my camera captured bright ‘wings.’ A jay would surely say:  Silly woman, you and your children safe in your house. That there is no angel.

Christmas morning angel.jpg

While the red-shoulders remained, our jaybirds grew well-practiced in their cry — a kind of loud scream: Keeyuur…  Truly when the jay-version rang out, it would take someone with keener ear than mine to tell the difference. Many a chilling scream called me to my window, only to catch a jay in its mimicking. And I would wonder:  Why??

 

Then the red-shoulders moved on. A new hawk family moved in, Mr. and Mrs. Broad-wing, whose cry is quite different. It’s a high, thin, piercing whistle. The jays were hushed at first.  Then they began to practice.  But it seems a whistle is harder than a scream.

 

Then one day, as I sat on the patio deep in a book by Jaroslav Pelikan, a piercing whistle startled me. Definitely not a pelican. No, a broad-wing hawk! Oh the joy of a raptor so close! Only when I looked up I saw in the Chinese elm not a broad-wing, but a blue jay, who pertly pronounced:   Fooled you, eh?  What a smart  bird am I!

 

To what end his hard work in capturing this cry, in practicing till he got it just right, I have no idea. But I’m proud of him.  Proud of his discipline. Awed at what  drove him to excellence. Let us call him Tenacious Jay. I wrote a poem:

 

If a jay can rise with every dawn

and take up his duty on my back lawn,

if he can fit a bandit’s mask

to full embrace of heaven’s task

and love his Creator with all his might,

with all his shadow, and all his light,

if a jay be nimble, and brave and strong,

and ready to say when he is wrong,

if he can stand in the gap and shriek,

if he can help the mild and weak,

if he can narrow those bold black eyes

and get in some licks before he dies,

well, give me a jolt of electric blue

and let me be a jaybird too!

 

Kitchen angels:

FullSizeRender (1).jpg

IMG_8634.jpg

Nearer, My God, to Thee

July 4, 2018
I am worried about Deep Fake videos. I think we humans have really done it now, and things may have gotten out of hand.  Now comes my brother with an article about people worried about gender language in the Book of Common Prayer.
I wonder if we’re all so worried, each about our particular vision of the common sinking ship, that all we can think to do is rearrange the deck chairs. And argue over it. Or worse.
“Be ye not anxious.”
“Trust God and do the next right thing.”
“Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
Hmmm.
Dateline:  A sunporch on Evangeline.  Where I’m supposed to ride my elliptical, but have been slacking off.
A vision came:  A  vertical consolidation, with shelves.  That’s the ticket!
I drove to Hobby Lobby, store coupon happily in hand.  The clerk said, this coupon applies only to regular price items, and our furniture is always on sale.  I said, so always on sale means that’s the regular price, right?  Good try!
Next hurdle: folding the rack flat and wrestling it out the old-fashioned Hobby Lobby doors to my car.  Next hurdle: will it fit?  Yes, on the diagonal in the cabin, one end resting on my yoga bag, the other end occupying the front passenger seat.
Next hurdle: wrestling it into the house and positioning it, then reading the dire warning to bolt it to the wall, lest it pitch forward and flatten someone.  Next hurdle: securing the top of it to the corner of the sunporch, which I did with an eye bolt and a purse strap.  This took some engineering I didn’t know I had in me.
Then I had to decorate the thing.  This entailed wandering around the house for knickknacks.  Along the way, I discovered dust, and other things that needed attention…
As to the loading of the shelves, I finally settled on the essentials, which after all was the original vision.
All this took three hours.  After recovering a bit, I tried out my new exercise area.
Imago Dei:  After six days of creating and one day of rest, She said,  “Behold, it is very good.”  And like house work and other projects, ever with us. Close inspection of the picture below shows a slat askew…

Tears of a Tamarisk Tree

July 3, 2018

Dateline: Beaumont, Texas, Trinity United Methodist Church, Room 105, Explorers Sunday school

Last Sunday’s lesson was the heart-cry of David upon hearing that Saul and Jonathan were dead.  (We did note that the lament he made all his men learn may also have been a shrewd and necessary political move.) One class member asked, “What happened to Saul’s body? Didn’t the Philistines make an outrageous display of it, and then some kind people from a nearby town rescued it?”  Well, far be it from me the teacher not to investigate.  And so are planted the seeds of a poem:

Tears of a Tamarisk Tree

(a reflection on First Samuel)

depositphotos_174347872-stock-photo-old-tamarisk-tamarix-africana-kouremenos.jpg

Common in the Middle East

A pretty flowering thing

Dark-green shade for weary ones

Cool balm for desert’s sting

She grows in saline soil

Her taproot reaches water

Draws up salt, she drops the dew

An air-conditioned daughter!

The Bible hardly mentions her—

Pay attention all the more

To one of the saddest tales

Set down in Hebrew lore

Unknown.jpg

Once in ancient Gibeah

Under a tamarisk tree

Saul the king of Israel

In a killing mood was he

“I hate David. Never mind

That he’s my son in law

I know he’s out to get me

And this is the last straw

He’s made a covenant with my son

He’s hiding, town to town

I’ll find out who’s been feeding him

And I will strike them down”

And so Saul killed the priests of Nob

For extending charity

Eighty-five holy men

Under the tamarisk tree

Saul moved on in hot pursuit

David ran again

The tears of the tamarisk flowed

for the unquenchable rage of men

Unknown.jpg

Later, on Mount Gilboa

The Philistines fought so fierce

Three princes died, then Saul went down

His poor sick heart was pierced

Lo the mighty fallen

Could even worse befall?

Yes. Jubilating Philistines

Hung Saul upon the wall

The merciful town of Jabesh

Hearing of the crime

Sent valiant men to take Saul down

A kindness, just in time

While the Philistines were sleeping

They took King Saul and his three

And gave them a decent burial

Under a tamarisk tree

Common in the Middle East

A pretty flowering thing

Dark-green shade for weary ones

Cool balm for desert’s sting

The Bible hardly mentions her—

Pay attention all the more

To one of the saddest tales

Set down in Hebrew lore

Tormented soul, at last you rest

Thou furious, yet so brave

She wept salt tears and tucked you in

Deep stillness of your grave

Unknown.jpg

 

A Patriotic Interlude

July 1, 2018

Sunday lunch at Floyd’s

Happy family, we

Save for someone teething

A tentative smile had she

Flickering image above us

Caught her wary eye

A soccer match in Moscow

At least she didn’t cry

But then she did. I took her out

Under the porte-cochre’

A lovely bench to sit on

A summer breeze at play

She flexed her hands, examined her toes

Fuzzy head under my chin

She watched the people she watched the cars

Fly by on Interstate Ten

And then, my gracious! what wonder is this

Furling and snapping on high?

It’s a flag, my dear, so now I will sing

On this the first of July

I started the medley with Cohan

Then moved to Sousa, J.P.

Baby was the majorette

And the band? Grandmotherly me

Then back to Grand Old Flag

to the line I couldn’t recall

I didn’t ask the passersby

Since Baby cared not at all

So la la la at the gap in the song

It suited us perfectly fine

Then mama came out, I gave her the Child

Then went in search of the line

God bless our fractious nation

We might as well be teething

Perhaps if we join in a simple old song

We can stop yelling, and work toward believing:

You’re a grand old flag
You’re a high-flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave
You’re the emblem of
The land I love
The home of the free and the brave
Ev’ry heart beats true
Under red, white and blue
Where there’s never a boast or brag
But should old acquaintance be forgot

Keep your eye on the grand old flag