Friday, January 6, 2017

Pristine


Here on this day of Epiphany, just across the threshold of a New Year, the months ahead stretch before me like fresh fallen snow—new and clean, pristine. We humans like to come up with these artificial new beginnings to give ourselves a fresh start. God knows we need those. I’ve been thinking in the past few days about a familiar prayer that pretty well sums up my thoughts about this beginning of 2017, “Dear Lord, So far I've done all right. I haven't gossiped, haven't lost my temper, haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I'm really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I'm going to get out of bed. And from then on, I'm going to need a lot more help.”[1]

As I begin this New Year, I pray that God will guide me into those places where I can best serve God and others and do my small part to make this world a better place. I pray that I will continue to find things for which to express my gratitude each day. I am thankful that God’s compassion never fails. It is new not just at the beginning of a New Year, but each and every morning. With that knowledge I can face each new day in this New Year with hope and determination, knowing that when I mess up God will forgive me and provide me yet again with a new start, just for the asking.

Grace and Peace,
Donna



[1] http://www.beliefnet.com/prayers/protestant/morning/morning-prayer.aspx

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Doing Things the Hard Way


We sold Nicaraguan coffee again as a fund raiser for our next trip to Nicaragua this coming year to help install our third Living Waters for the World water purification system, at a church this time. I picked the coffee up once again at Fara Coffee, the Nicaraguan distributor’s office in Austin. When we ran out of Starbucks recently, my husband, John, bought a package of the regular for him and the decaf for me. Only in America can you get decaf Nicaraguan coffee. Decaf coffee is an oxymoron to Nicaraguans. This year it turned out the decaf coffee was whole beans, not ground.

This is a long explanation for why I’ve been doing things the hard way to make my morning coffee of late: grinding the beans instead of simply spooning the grounds out and into the little plastic filter for my Keurig.  I’ve realized some things because of this process. First, grinding the beans takes longer and slows me down. It takes time to dump the beans into the electric grinder, grind the coffee to the right consistency, not too coarse, but not too fine either, or the water will not percolate through the filter. Then I have to brush the remains out of the grinder. I have to allow more time to make a cup of coffee, and the process slows down my usual morning rush—a good thing most days.

I’ve also realized that I love the rich, fresh smell of the whole beans, much more fragrant than coffee that’s already been ground. And the brewed coffee tastes richer and fresher as well. Each morning, the aroma of the beans transports me back to Nicaragua. I see the coffee trees clinging to the hillsides along the dirt roads in the mountains, and the people climbing the steep hills to harvest the beans. The most important thing I’ve realized because of this change in my routine is that fussing with the beans to make my morning coffee reminds me of those sisters and brothers who toil long hours in challenging conditions to make my morning cup of coffee a reality. I know they are not paid a lot for the picking, and they don’t get to drink the finest coffee because the best beans are exported. They drink what is left over, the dregs if you will.

As I think of them in this Christmas season, I remember they are the kind of people with whom Jesus spent much of his time, the poor and the vulnerable--the ones who were considered unimportant in their culture. They are still among us today, the ones our culture considers unimportant--the ones who harvest our food, and cook and clean and do other jobs we would rather not. We who claim to follow Jesus need to see these sisters and brothers and to do what we can to make their lives better. For me that’s helping provide them with Living Water to drink.

Grace and Peace,
Donna  


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Choose Civility

Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath, the founders of the Institute for Civility in Government.

A young friend reminded me recently that our politics have been uncivil from the beginning. You have only to remember the duel in which Aaron Burr, then Vice President of the United States, killed Alexander Hamilton, former secretary of the Treasury, to realize that. The stories of campaigns from years ago demonstrate that our political interactions have always contained ugly elements. And yet, this year seemed uglier than the norm, somehow, as if all bonds of civility and decency had been cast off. As I talked with this friend, I agreed that our political campaigns have never been pretty, but I argued that this year was different—perhaps because constant access to social media and the 24/7 news cycle shoved the nastiness in our faces in a way that felt much more intrusive.

I’m wrestling now with what I do about the ugly divisions that plague us in our civic life, especially since the worst impulses of sexism and racism and xenophobia have been ushered into our public spaces during this recent campaign. I grieve for those who are frightened for their own personal safety, and I fear for our future unless we confront the nastier elements that have been unleashed from their dark cellars to parade openly among us. I don’t want the ugliest instincts of the long divisive Presidential campaign that has just ended to become routine.

I know that I will continue to participate in the local NAACP as one way to reach across the divisions in this country. I will also do my best to continue to promote the Institute for Civility in Government, http://www.instituteforcivility.org/, of which I’m also a member.  I display their bumper sticker, which says "Choose Civility." Perhaps God encouraged Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath, two Presbyterian pastor friends, to create this organization some years ago for just such a time as this. Civility seems somehow a tame response to the ugly forces that now roam openly among us, but perhaps like love, civility is a force that is stronger than we think. We think of hatred and violence as overwhelmingly strong forces, but perhaps that is because they get more publicity than the forces of love and hope and civility that are also at work among us.


In a sermon awhile back, I talked about standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon and seeing what the slow, steady force of water had created over centuries. Not something you can see happening as you stand on the edge, but the results are certainly more impressive than anything that could have been created by dynamite and angry human beings. Civility is a force akin to the slow, steady movement of water eroding through the hard rock of our divisions and our anger to reach the bedrock of our humanity, where we are each precious children of God.

Grace and Peace,
Donna

Friday, November 11, 2016

Kindness Always Wins

Nettie Reynolds, the chaplain who provided the prayers of the people at the Post-Election Detox worship service at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary the day after the recent election, described her encounter with a tow truck driver wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat as well as her concern that he would not help her if he saw the Obama sticker on her car. Their encounter ended with his folding her into a big hug and telling her not to worry about the sticker because “kindness always wins.” I’m still struggling to decide if I believe that to be true. I want to believe it, and I can think of times in my life when I’ve seen kindness win. But I’m also aware of news reports about those who have reached out in kindness and paid a terrible price. I’m still thinking about this, but that of course means the idea will not let me go and continues to tug at my heartstrings.

I think what it comes down to for me is that I’m going to do my best to be kind, even in circumstances where that may not produce the results I might hope for. Because for me, it’s not about the results. It’s about the kind of person I want to be. And I do not want to be a person who is unkind. That does not mean I don’t have my moments like everyone else, but it does mean that I will do my best to be kind, even when it costs me. I also know that being kind can mark me as a “patsy,” an “easy mark,” “someone to be taken advantage of.” And I’m willing to pay that price to be the kind of person I want to be. There have been times when I’ve allowed myself to be taken advantage of, knowing that was probably what was going on, but choosing to “go the extra mile” in hopes it would make a difference in someone else’s life at some point, even if they might be taking advantage of me.

I remember a time not long ago when a young woman accosted me in the parking lot at a local Starbucks to ask me for money. I’m always a bit wary when I’m approached like that and generally answer, “I’m sorry. I don’t have any change for you.” But in this case, God nudged me to respond. So I offered to buy the young woman a drink, and we walked into the Starbucks together. I asked her if she wanted some breakfast, and she said “yes.” I told her to order what she wanted. She asked if she could also get something for her companion, and I said “yes.” The companion called her while we were waiting, and I heard her say, “I’m coming as soon as I can.”

I paid for the order and walked out with her to find that my car was parked close to the big pickup truck she got into. The guy who was driving looked at me with apparent astonishment. She got in; they drove out of the parking lot and onto the highway, and took off. To this day, I wonder what that was about. What did she really need? Why did I feel compelled not only to respond, but also to go overboard, to respond in the way God does, with abundance? While I’m still not sure if “Kindness Always Wins,” I do believe that no act of kindness is wasted. Maybe this young woman was in an abusive relationship, and the guy sent her out to ask for money. And maybe my response will give her the hope she needs to reach out again when she is ready to ask for help. I don’t know. But God does. And that’s good enough for me.

Grace and Peace,

Donna

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fooditude

Our Starbucks writing group wrote this morning on the topics of gratitude and food, which one member dubbed “fooditude.” I know am guilty of failing to be grateful for many of my day-to-day blessings, including having more than enough to eat. There are hungry people around the world who would be grateful for the leftovers from our home cooked meals or one of our infrequent meals out. Serving sizes at restaurants have become gigantic. More than once when my husband and I have eaten out, I have saved half of my meal to take home. The next day, we have shared the left overs for lunch—three servings from one restaurant meal!

I remember reading Ser y Comer, migajas en torno a la identidad (To be and to Eat, leftovers on the potter’s wheel of identity), by Eliseo Perez Alvarez, a Latin American pastor, theologian and philosopher. I remember especially a quote from a woman who said Americans make an event out of each meal as they sit down to eat, while those with less food simply eat something standing up when they are hungry and then get back to work. One of the benefits of mission travel to other countries is the opportunity to see our own culture from a different perspective.

I remember the people who served us at the Luyano Church in La Habana on our second mission trip to Cuba. We paid for the food they prepared for us, and, as a result, we ate much better than our hosts normally did. Our last night in La Habana, we went to a fancy restaurant. As is the case here, the portions were huge, and of course I could not take the leftovers home with me. I did not want to throw away food, something drilled into me by parents who grew up hungry in the Great Depression. I did my best, but could not eat even half of my entrée. Defeated, I asked Louis, our driver, if he would like to take the leftovers home. He eagerly agreed and said his wife would enjoy them. I felt guilty because I had not thought to set aside part of the dish before eating.

In our fast food culture, many of us have lost the sense of the goodness of food lovingly prepared from natural ingredients and often fail to slow down enough to enjoy food while we eat. One of my favorite parts of our stays at Santa Luz in Nicaragua on our mission trips there has been the food, which was simple, but delicious. CoCo, the head cook, went out of her way to pamper us with treats like pancakes because she knew we enjoyed them. In her tiny kitchen she prepared a feast for us each evening from simple ingredients: rice and beans for traditional Gallo Pinto, fresh vegetables like those we buy here only from a Farmers Market or pick from our gardens, and fresh fruit. Sweets were a rare treat, though there was a Birthday cake for CoCo’s on one of our trips.

I think perhaps we most appreciate things that are scarce. I am aware that there are far too many people in our own country who do not have enough to eat. Too many live in the food deserts in our big cities where it’s a long walk or bus ride, if that is even available, to the nearest grocery store. Instead there are mainly convenience stores with no fresh fruit or vegetables. I’m reminded that life is not fair, but I am also keenly aware that in the wealthiest country in the world, we have enough to go around if we made the eradication of hunger a goal and shared from our abundance. Too often we operate from a position of scarcity in our culture, even those of us who claim to worship a God of glorious, unlimited abundance.

Grace and Peace,
Donna