Tuesday, February 20, 2018

a hymn for Lent

I don't know if I've posted this previously, but after we sang it in worship last week a couple of folks suggested that I share it. So, here's a Lenten hymn I wrote years ago set to a pretty familiar hymn tune. If you use it, please let me know. It's always fun to think of other folks singing any of my songs.

This is the Fast

1. Is this the fast I choose for thee
Of ashes, tears and empty misery?
Or rather this: To share abundant bread
That all my children will be loved and fed

2. Why do you fast yet still not see
Your sisters suffering in poverty?
Their children cry and still you do not hear;
their fathers bowed and broken by their fear.

3. This is the fast I choose for thee
Of justice, peace and human liberty
Not forty days, but all your yearning years
My love will wipe away all human tears

4. Break, bless and eat; then drink this wine
The fast I choose makes ev’ry midnight shine
You shall be called restorers of the street.
Arise, now shine! And make your fast complete.

Tune: Truro (Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates; Christ is Alive!; Live Into Hope!)
c. D. Ensign, Lent, 2005

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Fitbits, Efficiency, and Taking the Long Way

My beloved surprised me with a Fitbit for my birthday back in December. I’d been pondering getting one to replace an eight-year-old running watch whose band was falling apart. The chief attraction of the new device for me is the reminder to move. At 10 minutes before the hour, if I’ve not walked at least 250 in the preceding 50 minutes, the thing vibrates and prompts me to move. If you spend as many hours writing as I do it’s pretty easy to wind up sitting still for extremely long stretches – especially if, like at the moment, you have an adorable dog curled up on your lap.
It’s amazing just how bad sitting still for long stretches is for a human body. This Washington Post article paints a pretty grim picture. I don’t recommend sitting still long enough to read it.
My new toy pairs with an app on my phone that allows me to set and track fitness goals. I am not training for anything beyond my desk job, so my goals this winter are extremely modest. To avoid sitting still for hours at a stretch I want to take at least 250 steps every hour for 10 hours during the day. To get a modest amount of exercise I want to take at least 8,000 steps every day.  
I’ve learned two things in the two months I’ve had this thing strapped to my wrist. First, setting modest goals works well for me. I am a sucker for the rewards – the fireworks graphic that goes off when I reach 8,000 steps, and the cheering stick figure who tells me I’ve taken at least 250 steps.
Second, I’ve been reminded that efficiency is a waste of time. Or, perhaps better, efficiency is a waste of life. I think Wendell Berry would understand this, though I can’t imagine him with a fitbit and smartphone app. Berry put it this way: As we use the word, efficiency means no such thing, or it means short term or temporary efficiency; which is a contradiction in terms. It means cheapness at any price. It means the greatest profits to the greatest liar. What we have called efficiency has produced among us, and to our incalculable cost, such unprecedented monuments of destructiveness and waste as the strip-mining industry, the Pentagon, the federal bureaucracy, and the family car.”
My own experiments in efficiency come with trying to get in a few extra steps at every possible moment. For two months I’ve been going out of my way to go out of my way. And the results of my inefficiency are striking.
For one thing, I’ve averaged well in excess of 8,000 steps per day every week, and I’ve lost a few pounds over the Christmas holidays and winter weeks. That never happens.
But, more importantly, I’ve seen things I would have missed, and met people I would never have seen. Now, to be fair, that second point has a great deal to do with the cute dog on my lap. Mr. Bounce is an ambassador to all people, and having him on walks does engender conversations that I would not have if I were walking alone. But I’ve also simply been walking the neighborhood around home and around church more. I’ve had several fascinating conversations with neighbors in both places, that would never have happened if I’d been efficient.
So, here’s to the most inefficient year of my life! Hope I see you out there wandering aimlessly.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Experiments in Evangelism

How to be evangelically progressive … or, is that progressively evangelical. Personally, most of the time I think we should ditch all of those words: progressive; evangelical; and how to. But this afternoon I figured out, for one small and, doubtless, insignificant moment, how to be evangelical about the progressive wing of the church.
Walking past a kitchen supply shop in my neighborhood an apron in the window caught my eye. It had a raised fist wrapped around a clove of garlic and it read, “smash the garlic … and the patriarchy.” I thought immediately of my beloved, who loves smashing both those things, and I thought, what the heck, that’s a Valentine.
So I turned around and went into the shop. On the same shelf as what turned out to be a dishrag rather than an apron the store had copies of I Am Not a Tractor: How Florida Farmworkers Took on the Fast Food Giants and Won.
I know the outlines of the story of the organizing, boycotting, and education work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and their ongoing efforts to ensure fair wages and decent conditions for their work in Florida agriculture. In particular, I know a bit about efforts by Presbyterians to support the workers. So naturally I looked in the book’s index and was pleasantly surprised to see multiple references to “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)".
When I was making my purchase the shopkeeper asked if I’d found what I was looking for, and so I told her that I’d found mention of my church in the index of a book about farm-worker justice efforts.
It struck me as I headed on to the grocery store that a whole lot had to happen for me to “share the gospel” in that small way. First, faithful folks in Florida had to be made aware of the injustices in the food system. They had to see, in the fields, neighbors with whom they needed to be in solidarity. The workers had to inform people, organize them, build networks, create strategies, and work for years to make inroads with huge corporations. Congregations and denominational organizations had to make and keep long-term commitments, and share the news far beyond Florida fields so that I would know a little bit of the story. The workers had to get their story told such that someone would come along and write a book.
After all that work is done, sharing the good news is as simple as pointing it out.