Thursday, August 28, 2008

For everything there is a season

This has been a week of ups and downs. I met my new class of Business Ethics students this morning, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them better this semester. They seem like a great bunch, and several know each other already. They are all close to finishing college and stepping out into the world, though at least one is in college after a career in the military. From what I heard this morning, there is such a wide variety of experiences represented that I think we will have great discussions.

At the other end of life from these students on the brink of beginning their professional lives is my dad. My sister called to tell me his retirement home had called her today. He fell last night, and they've sent him to the hospital to be checked out. He's been struggling of late, and I had to gently tell my sister that at 85 it may simply be that his life is approaching the end. For now I've requested prayers from our church for him and for us as we struggle to know how best to care for him long distance. I'm grateful for my church community, and especially grateful for God's presence in this journey.

Grace and Peace,
Donna Sue

Monday, August 25, 2008


I am sad today that the Olympics are over. I love to watch people who are good at what they do, and Olympic athletes are very good at what they do. I'm not sorry to stop watching, because I will now have quite a bit of extra time (which I'm going to need as I agreed the end of last week to teach again), but I am sad that after two weeks of positive interaction among citizens of many of the world's countries, the world will now mostly go back to business as usual. That will involve lots of less than pleasant interactions among the world's countries.

I was touched by the comments of one of the newscasters at the very end of the last broadcast last night after the closing ceremonies. He wistfully said, if we can get along for two weeks, maybe we can do that for three weeks, or a month, or even longer. Wouldn't that be a blessing!

On the other hand, I would not discount the benefits that will flow from the interactions that occurred at the Olympics. It's a lot easier to hate people you don't know, and those that participated in and attended the Olympics now know people from other countries in a way they didn't before this event. That will inevitably color their perceptions of other countries and their people in the future, hopefully in positive ways.

Now if we could just work that same magic among the Democrats and the Republicans in this country.

Grace and Peace,
Donna Sue

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tis a gift to be simple

I fear I may be turning into a grumpy old woman, set in my ways and even more resistant to change than I was when I was younger. My husband is sitting at the breakfast table with a manual trying to figure out how to make his beeper stop sounding off at 7:40 a.m. each morning for no particular reason. I commented that it ought not to take the equivalent of a semester of college to figure out how to work each new electronic device. It seems as if everything new thing these days has an electronic chip implanted. It becomes wearying to my soul to try to figure them out.

I like the simpler things in life, though obviously I also like the computer and the wonders it has brought into my life. Perhaps in part my brain is simply full from too many years of learning many things, and I'm starting to become choosy about what else I want to learn. Simple is a blessing these days. I think one of our grandsons thinks so as well. I found a big plastic truck with little cars on top for his first birthday, and then worried when I saw all the flashing toys with their music and action that others brought to the party. Turns out he really likes the truck. He makes the noises and the motion himself. Hopefully he'll hang on to some of that impulse as he matures! For now the beeper is probably not going to sound every morning. And I'm going to go walk Moses and Zipporah. Dogs also like the simple things, which may be why I value their company. Somehow I think simple is in some mysterious way closer to the heart of God.

Grace and Peace,
Donna Sue

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Finding Faith

I have been struggling yet again with scripture in preparation for preaching. I think this may be the toughest scripture yet, though I admit I've thought that in the past at times. I'm been wrestling with the story in Chapter 15 of Matthew's Gospel about Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman. She comes to him for help for her daughter, who's possessed by the demons of mental illness. Jesus at first is silent and then rebuffs her with a racial epithet common at the time before finally responding to her wit. It's a tough story.

The biggest part of the difficulty with this story for me is that the actions of Jesus portrayed by Matthew are simply out of character compared to the rest of the stories about Jesus. This was a man who regularly reached across the boundaries of gender and culture and even religion, and who got in trouble with his faith's religious leaders because of his association with the wrong sorts of people. Wiser minds than mine have also struggled with this story, and from what I have found in my research, there doesn't seem to be any consensus about the reasons for Jesus' uncharacteristic behavior. One commentator suggested Matthew was trying to appease two factions within the church, one of which was opposed to any mission to the Gentiles, and one of which was not. Some suggest Jesus was testing the faith of the woman, or of his disciples or both. Yet others suggest Jesus was being humorous in his interaction, which of course does not translate well on the written page. All of this of course began with writing that probably came from oral tradition and that has since been translated through several languages. Anyone who knows anything about translating from one language to another knows how imprecise that can be.

What is clear is that the Canaanite woman was possessed of deep love for her daughter, a love that made her willing to overcome any barriers, including those of gender, ethnicity and religion, to obtain help for her daughter. She also acted with reverence, responding to God's presence and promise in Jesus. She was persistent in seeking God's mercy and grace. Jesus responded to her love and faith, perhaps against his inclinations, perhaps not. In return her faith had to have been balm to his spirit, wounded by encounters with the religious leaders of his own faith. Matthew's story is a reminder that faith can be found in places and in people where we least expect it. It's also a reminder that the human created boundaries that separate us from one another are no barrier to God's love and grace and mercy.

Grace and Peace,
Donna Sue

Monday, August 4, 2008


A number of members of our congregation have been reading through the entire Bible this year. It's been a rewarding project. I've been reading Eugene Peterson's paraphrase in The Message, which reads more like a story book than the NRSV translation of the Bible. I've learned things I didn't know, and have a greater appreciation for some of the things I already knew. For example, after reading all the details of the planning and construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, I found myself truly sad when I read the story of its destruction in 587 B.C. I have worked hard to be sure I never fall more than a day or two behind. There's not a lot of reading for each day, but it piles up if I don't do the work on a regular basis. So far I've managed to never get more than a couple of days behind. I will miss this next year when I've finished all the reading.

In a couple of days, I will have finished reading the book of Job, the story of one man's suffering and all the inadequate responses his friends make in their efforts to get him to see the light and admit that he must somehow deserve what has happened in his life. Otherwise they will be forced to accept the fact that sometimes bad things really do happen to good people. We visited my husband's step mother this past weekend, and she is still deeply grieving the death of my father-in-law in May. They had such a short time together, and were so happy that his death has been really hard on her. This morning at the gym I struck up a conversation with one of the twins, two men in their 70s who are at the gym whenever I show up. He said that this week his wife will have been in a nursing home for seven years, and that's a long time. She has Alzheimer's, and he says he thinks it's the worst disease. I said I could see that as the person you love is still there, but they're not, and I expressed my condolences for his suffering in this situation. His wife seems to be beyond much suffering a this point.

Some days, like Job, I wonder what God is thinking when I look around and see the suffering of this world. For all the great theologians that have struggled with this problem, I don't think anyone has come up with any good answers. I know Job's friends didn't! What I do know is that in the darkest times of my life, when I have hurt beyond bearing, God has been as close to me as my very breath. So while, like Job, I may question God in my hurt and anger, I also trust that God loves me, and I'm grateful for that love to hold onto in this scary world.

Grace and Peace,
Donna Sue