Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Water into Wine

I went to a very lovely wedding over the weekend. . . it was a joyous occasion and I was so glad to be able to share in that joy. As the best man and maid of honor offered toasts to the newlyweds, I got to thinking about Jesus attending the wedding at Cana and turning water into wine. My stream of consciousness went something like this:

I wonder who was getting married at that famous wedding? How was Jesus connected to the bride or the groom? Did he bring a gift or was the wine his present? I can't turn water into wine but I can turn it into ice or steam. Can Jesus turn water into wine as easily as I boil water? Will he do it for as many different reasons as I boil water? Silly rambling thoughts . . .

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where has all the water gone?

It rained here yesterday. . . and as rain fell from the sky I went to the tap and filled a container to water a plant on my deck. No kidding. I felt pretty sheepish as I poured the water on the plant. Over the years my water consumption has fluctuated a lot - in recent years I've grown a bit careless.

I try to be a reasonably good steward of everything but I really take water for granted. Recently, I read that while three-fourths of the planet is covered in water, only one percent of that water is freshwater "suitable for consumption by humans." Hmmm. . . for the benefit of my children and hoped-for future grandchildren I should maybe think a little bit more about water consumption. So, I did a little research and learned many other interesting/frightening/appalling and questionable statistics. You won't want to read all of that, but one thing that I learned is worth sharing. We all have a water "footprints" (don't you love that image?!) composed of the water we consume directly (for drinking, bathing, laundering, etc.) and our indirect, or virtual, water consumption (for irrigation, manufacturing, energy) . Careful direct water usage doesn't guarantee a small water footprint.

Confused? Here's what virtual consumption looks like: a meal that includes meat uses hundreds of times as much water as one that doesn't because it takes water to grow the feed that is fed to the animal. More water is used to prepare and package the meat before it ever arrives at the market. Making the packaging consumes still more water. Even more surprising - drinking a beverage other than water has mind-boggling ratios: the next best choice is tea which takes 90 liters of water to produce .75 liters of tea. Coffee (my beverage of choice which will now be savored instead of inhaled) takes 9 times that much water to produce a CUP! Water is the only 1:1 option.

So what do we want to tell our children about water usage? Is it OK to use as much as we like because it's abundant here in North America and recycles itself through the water cycle? Must I ration everything to be a good steward? Children need to understand that water is God's creation; it is a gift to us from God. We are blessed to live where water is plentiful. From there I think it follows that we should teach our children, and ourselves, to use water with deep gratitude. When I am truly grateful I treasure the gift and the giver. Using the gift connects me to the giver. Teaching gratitude for water is another way we can connect our children to God in daily life.

Swim, and drink, gratefully - the water is a gift from the God who loves you!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico

I was 16 years old before I saw the ocean. While I had spent much of my childhood in the land of 10,000 lakes, visited the great lake they call Gitche-Gumee (Superior) and been to the source of the mighty Mississippi River and the Great Salt Lake, the ocean was still a whole new experience. It was the Pacific Ocean and the waves were big and the water was cold. I can barely describe the experience. It was amazing. Hypnotic. Cathartic. Holy. Later I would visit the Atlantic (both sides) and the Caribbean but my favorite salt water place is the Gulf of Mexico.

This can probably be attributed to a number of factors: the water temperature, proximity, familiarity, but I think mostly, it is because that is where I got to encounter the ocean with children. To see the ocean through a child's eyes is a wondrous thing. Chasing and being chased by water, digging down in the sand where an air hole appears, building castles and counting pelicans provide endless delights for a child. Searching for shells and examining jellyfish provide many opportunities to encounter life and death in the most natural of settings. The questions come faster than you can answer them: Where did it go? Why did it die? Is it in heaven? Where is the mommy fish? Who ate it? What was inside this shell? Why does it only have one foot? Why are those shells stuck to the boat?

At the water's edge, life and death are encountered in (for most kids) an impersonal and un-painful way. Dead fish wash ashore. Empty shells abound. Big fish eat little fish, birds pick the shore clean, and the waves roll in and out relentlessly. Nowhere can you find God's circle of life more clearly demonstrated than at the beach. Life and death are the BIG topics that get us to thinking about God. Try taking your kids to the beach this summer and think theologically for a bit!

Come on in, the water's deep but filled with life and joy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Anchored by tradition

Another Easter Sunday has come and gone and I again let the Alleluia out of the box to another gaggle of delighted children. (For those who have never done this, at my church we have revived the ancient tradition of "burying the Alleluia" for the Lenten season. We very symbolically place a banner or some other object in a box on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. We say goodbye for six weeks and then joyously release it on Easter morning.) We have done this for a number of years and it has truly blessed the children of the congregation who participate in the ritual.

As I looked over the upturned faces of the children gathered for the big moment yesterday I realized that most of them had never known an Easter without this ritual. It is one of their Easter traditions - an anchor that holds Easter in place from year to year. Churches have tons of these traditions, and so do most families.

I got to thinking that the symbolic anchors of tradition have the same benefits and detriments as real boat anchors. Both traditions and anchors limit the distance we can drift from where we intend to be - whereever that may be. They can also keep the "boat" in place so that we can leave and come back. When we are in the stormy parts of life, traditions can hold us steady, just as an anchor can steady a boat.

Likewise, anchors and traditions can have detriments. A 100-pound anchor will sink an inflatable raft, and a wrongly shaped anchor can't grab some kinds of riverbeds. Some traditions are too cumbersome or just don't work in some settings and have to be replaced with new designs.

Traditions, like anchors, are tools. They can be useful, helpful and delightful. Pick a few and keep the ones you love, the ones that fit and serve your family's needs. Take good care of them but continually evaluate if they are the right ones for the current job - and if they're not? Celebrate what they meant to you with a photo or a scrapbook page, or a by writing about them. Then replace them with a new tradition that can be a better anchor for the river you find yourself in this year!

So - jump on in and swim back to the boat. There's something keeping it in place!