Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Rainforest Adventure

Back again and no rant this week. This week I want to extol the joys and virtues of Vacation Bible School (VBS). I'm not entirely certain who benefits more from this time-worn tradition: kids or leaders. At my congregation we are in the midst of a Rainforest Adventure that is taking us to visit some of Jesus' parables in ways appropriate to the 3-year-old newbie through the jaded 5th-grader. It's so interesting to see what really resonates with them. Today, I'm afraid the visiting snakes will probably get more headlines than Jesus but I know that, in spite of the snakes, we are planting seeds deep in the hearts of these kids.

Some time back I was at a conference that required, for some forgotten reason, late nights and early mornings driving back and forth to Seguin, TX (home of Texas Lutheran University). We were tasked with recording our spiritual development time line. After baptism, the first thing on my time line was a song I learned at VBS. My parents told me I sang it in my sleep for a week after it was over. "Oh who can make a flower, I'm sure I can't can you?" As I worked on my time line (in the car) I realized that the spiritual a-ha moments of my life had a soundtrack and that learning songs was an important part of my faith development. The list included children's songs like "Jesus Loves Me" and "Raindrops" and continued through "Faith of Our Fathers", the first song where I got to sing the alto part, all the way back in 4th grade. James Taylor's "Fire & Rain" along with an entire musical called "Tell It Like It Is" plus a plethora of sacred and secular social justice songs marked my high school years.

As I grew in faith (and musical skill and exposure) I found that God could speak, not only through hymns, but also through the lyrics of popular music and even through purely instrumental music. God sings, from pipe organs, hand flutes, orchestras, ceremonial drums and lone violins. With the birth of my children I rediscovered "Jesus Loves Me" and a host of other children's songs and experienced simple faith from an adult perspective. The downward slide of Je-e-e-sus in a country church rendition of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" at my grandmother's funeral reminded me of where remembered parts of my faith journey started - at that very first VBS.

My mother wove powerful faith statements into the fabric of my life by humming as she worked through her day. Her mother taught me a Christmas Carol in Norwegian. My father told me, in the last year of his life, that he had always imagined it would be scripture that carried him through the most difficult days but he was surprised to find that it was snatches of song that comforted him. Words learned half a century before now rang with truth to comfort him. I am blessed to have a musical legacy of faith.

Life continues and new music discovered on Sunday mornings has moved me forward. Over the past 10 years, through the committed global approach to God of my friend Carol, I have learned to see God through the eyes of many cultures. From the Central American communion song "Let us go now to the banquet, to the feast of the universe" to the amazing rhythms of African tribal worship - God is made manifest as I internalize song.

For today, though you may be really sick and tired of listening to VBS music as you drive around town, know that your child's faith is being formed and you are fulfilling your baptismal promises. And to you, my contemporaries, who are already engaged in, or approaching, grandparent-hood, think over your own story. Sing your songs to any child who will listen and sing along; for we also make promises every time a child is baptized.

Music may be like the rain forest; never quiet, seeping into our pores, wet enough to change our souls and our hearts. A magnificent forest, filled with power and majesty and tiny, and delightful, surprises; grace notes, I guess.

Go out and get soaked in the rainforest!

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, hear the little raindrops,
Splash, Splash, Splash, Splash, hear the big raindrops.
God is sending showers for the flowers and the grass,
God is sending showers, Pitter-patter SPLASH!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Oil and water do not mix

I guess I can't write a blog about water and wind without addressing the disaster happening in the Gulf of Mexico. What is there to say about the oil spill? How do we explain this to children who are tender-hearted enough to care about ugly pelicans and uncommunicative oysters? What can we possibly say? Children get in trouble for making a mess by knocking over their milk. Parents lose it over ketchup on a white t-shirt. Why is there is so little outrage over a mess of epic proportions that can't be fixed with a paper towel or a little Spray-n-wash?

When my kids were at the milk spilling age, I was hyper-vigilant at mealtimes, watching for milk glasses that were teetering on the edge of a placemat or within range of enthusiastic gesturing or just in the path of a logically anticipated reach. I did this so that they could avoid making the mess, making me angry, being embarrassed, and wasting the milk. Later, when they reached the potentially blood spilling age of early driver's license, I reminded every teen-aged driver they rode with that I was entrusting them with "precious cargo". The warnings were tailored to individual drivers - ranging from the simple reminder that they were carrying precious cargo, to threats of haunting them forever if they hurt my child by being careless with her in the car. This was often embarrassing (or hilarious, depending on the circumstances) to my daughters, but they emerged from that phase without a scratch and I like to think my admonitions may have planted some safety seeds in fledgling drivers.

For 30 years I have recycled cans and glass. I used cloth diapers in hopes of leaving my kids a world where they wouldn't be buried in dirty pampers. Every one of my cars has been chosen with its gas mileage in mind and my carbon footprint is small enough to be downright un-American. I've probably bought less than 25 tanks of gas from Exxon since the Valdez incident in 1989. And now this. What was the point? I can't control the future. Thanks to events in the Gulf, no matter what I do for the rest of my life, my girls are going to inherit a much dirtier planet than they deserve. Their garden, their playground, their whole planet is befouled and I am outraged.

I am looking for grace in this. Trying to play Pollyanna's "Glad Game" and find something to be thankful for in the midst of this. Surely the magnitude of this will change something. . . surely this will serve as a wake-up call. . . surely we will not let this happen again. . . I'm listening to the news and I'm not hearing anything that gives me hope.

I haven't been diligent about inviting comments from readers but I hope you will chime in on this. I really want to know what you think - and if you can throw me a bit of wisdom or a hopeful word I would be especially grateful.

Today's not a good day to jump in, the water's dirty!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New Places to Swim

I had lunch at the Walnut Room at Macy's in Chicago on Monday. It's a restaurant in the original Marshall Fields store and it's been there since 1907. The building is nearly twice as old as I am. Our waitress suggested we order the 103-year-old pot pie (which definitely took us aback for a minute!) Two people at the table, whose ages added together do not equal mine, ordered, consumed and enjoyed the ancient recipe. We covered a myriad of topics over a 3-hour lunch and I marveled at these young people and how the world looks to them.

The spatial proportions of their lives are distinct from mine: the height of the buildings, the distances they commute, how long it takes to get from point A to point B and how much time they spend calculating that. How far ahead they plan - 5 minutes in some areas and 5 years in others. So much is instant that it makes many things possible - but also creates in them an appreciation for things that can only happen over long stretches of time.

The future looks different to them than it did to me at their age. They do not seem to dream pipe dreams; instead they carefully construct their plans. They want to be financially secure enough not to worry, but they want to do work that is both interesting and meaningful. They don't seem to believe they can change the world but they are willing to try and influence the sector they know.

One of the things I most loved and admired about these young people, but struggled to understand, is the way they can hold different positions on significant matters and not be uncomfortable with each other. There is something very Christ-like about the way they interact with one another, without judgement or shaming but with simple acceptance and appreciation. Perhaps because they have experienced the world so broadly (whether actually or virtually) they have come early to a place where they can accept that what is true for me may not be true for you.

Home from my adventure I turned to the recurring task of preparing for Bible study only to find that in the text (Luke 7) for this coming Sunday Jesus tells the parable of two people who were forgiven their debts; one a large debt, one a small one. Then he poses the question "Which one loved [the lender] more?" Clearly, how it looks and how one feels are related to where you are and what you've experienced. Jesus didn't say, or even imply, that they should love the lender equally. He simply pointed out that their circumstances would affect their response . I think my young people are on to something!

I know my customary swimming hole very well. I have recognized a lot of "truths" that help me enjoy it. I need to remember that local knowledge may not serve me as well in the Atlantic Ocean or the Nile River or whatever body of water others inhabit. I'm so glad I swam in a different pool this week! I feel energized, encouraged, excited and empowered.

Go ahead, try out a new pool and see how the world looks from the top of a wave or the bottom of a waterfall! It will change the way you love.