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Meditating on prayer

April 3, 2014
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Pieter Bruegel, “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent” (1559)

(Update: bizarre duplication of text now fixed!)

A few weeks ago, I was going to post here that I was giving up not-blogging for Lent.  Instead, I continued to not-blog.  Such is my Lenten discipline.  But a few folks have encouraged me to post a sermon I recently gave at my home congregation, and after much hemming and hawing, I’ve decided to do so.  I’ve given a handful of sermons at my church over the last few years, but haven’t felt comfortable circulating them much further than the 20 or so who heard them in church.  Now that I’ve let the Left at the Altar audience shrink to a similar size, it feels safe enough. ;-)  But my hemming and hawing was also due to a couple of things that were different about this sermon, compared to my previous efforts: first, it’s a lot more “autobiographical” than any other I’ve done, and second, it had nothing to do with the lectionary for the week (well, nothing, and yet everything!).  I won’t make a habit of the autobiographical component.  For that matter, I won’t make a habit of writing sermons!  (Although, every time I say I won’t do another, I find myself doing another.)  I’ll post a few others on my “Publications” page.  For now, here’s the last sermon I plan to write for awhile.  To my dad, uncle, and many dear friends who wrote or write sermons every week, my hat is off to you!  I don’t know how you do it!  And to the Left at the Altar friends who have stuck around, hey!, nice to see you again!

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Meditating on prayer – a sermon by Marilyn Matevia (Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Vallejo, CA, 3/16/14)

I have a confession to make.  I’m not very good about praying.  Now, I should qualify this: when people ask me to remember them, or their loved ones, in prayer, I certainly do that.  On the whole, however, my prayer practice is haphazard, random, and distracted.  I have friends and acquaintances – more devout than I – who make a habit of rising early in the morning to focus their attention and pray… to simply pray, only, with a list before them of the people and causes they wish to hold up in prayer.  Others participate in “centering prayer” and “contemplative prayer,” practices to help focus the mind, and turn one’s attention solely to God or to the word of God.  These practices also take real time; they require scheduling.  They require an attention span.

I’m more apt to pray on the go, in my head, usually while doing other things.  When I think of something that I believe is best directed to God, I address God.  Then I resume my regularly scheduled programming.  I go about this as if there’s a Bat Phone in my head – an exclusive phone line to God, like Commissioner Gordon’s dedicated line to Bat Man.  Remember that phone?  Fire engine red, with no rotary dial; just a light that blinked when the Commissioner was calling.  That’s how I treat prayer: a dedicated line that I pick up when I need to, relatively certain there will always be a listener at the other end, no matter what hour of what day, and no matter what else I’m doing.  Or – to stretch this analogy – I treat it as if, in my head, there’s a private intercom system: when I press the button, my thoughts are broadcast to God – until I let go of the button and my thoughts go back to being private.  This is a comforting, if delusional image, and spares me the embarrassment of having to explain the rest of those thoughts. Read more…

Signs of life

October 20, 2013
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nina-leen-teenagers-pushing-an-old-jalopy

I know, you’ve heard it before.  I declare that I am trying to get this blog back up and running, sputter along for awhile, and then stall again.  Now I’m attempting the seemingly impossible: keeping this one going, and getting another one started. When appropriate, I’ll cross-post.  When not, I might just let you know that something is up over there.  Like this.  See you here again, shortly.

Another donation suggestion? O.K., if you insist…

December 30, 2012
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A Working Dogs for Conservation crew, relaxing in Hawaii after sniffing out invasive snails! (Picture borrowed from a recent email blast.)

A Working Dogs for Conservation crew, relaxing in Hawaii after sniffing out invasive snails! (Picture borrowed from a recent email blast.)

Since I short-changed my planned Advent Giving Calendar by quite a few days, I’ll tack on a couple more suggestions before the month ends!  These two groups are – once again – personal favorites.  Working Dogs for Conservation uses the kinds of scent-work techniques used to train dogs in search-and-rescue, cadaver recovery, and narcotics detection, but trains the dogs to sniff out signs of endangered or invasive plant and animal species, instead!  WDC dogs have helped biologists monitor bears in Alaska, Cross River gorillas in Cameroon, bog turtles in New Jersey, invasive snails in Hawaii… all kinds of cool stuffThis short-but-sweet video from Terra gives you a sense of how it’s done.  (Update2: alright, alright… I give up on embedding that video.)  I’ll wait while you watch it.

Am I right?  Is this not a cool project?  Donate here.

Another long-time favorite, the Search Dog Foundation, recruits rescued dogs and trains them to become search-and-rescue dogs!  The dogs are screened, trained, and paired with a search-and-rescue handler, and then the team is trained some more.  Their training and matching methods are top-notch: teams work together for years, and have been sent all over the country, as well as Haiti and Japan.  Go here for some great photos of the search teams.  Right now, your donation will help them meet a $10,000 matching grant challenge.

Coastal Christmas

December 25, 2012
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Harbor seals at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach, CA.

Harbor seals at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach, CA.

OK.  We can probably agree that my Advent Calendaring consistency leaves something to be desired.  I didn’t manage a daily giving suggestion – but I think I did blog more in the last few weeks than in the previous year or so!  It’s nice to be on speaking terms with my blog, again.

I took the photo above at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, CA, just north of Half Moon Bay, a couple of years ago.  It’s one of my favorite places to visit, and I go with the eternal hope that I will spot an octopus in the tide pools.   So far, they have eluded me, but the other tide pool creatures and visuals more than make up for them.  The Reserve has a great little ranger station with species checklists and information, and very knowledgeable docents are often on hand on the beach.  If you live in the Bay Area and haven’t been here, treat yourself (it’s free).  And if you get out here for a visit, put this spot on your list.

Last week – in fact, the same day I was pant-hooting about chimpanzee retirements – there was some very good news for sea creatures.  California finalized the largest network of undersea reserves in the continental United States!  Maybe I don’t say this enough, California: I love you.  I love that coastal protection priorities continue to survive incredible odds and powerful opposition, and that something like the Marine Life Protection Act can be enacted and fulfilled.  Marine protection areas work.  Merry Christmas, coastal creatures!

Golden years

December 19, 2012
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Well, today’s donation choice is a no-brainer.

Earlier this year, NIH announced that over 113 chimpanzees at the New Iberia Primate Research Center would be retired from biomedical research.  It was welcome news, but the timing of the retirement was up in the air, as was the chimpanzees’ ultimate retirement destination.  In fact, only 10 of the chimpanzees were definitely headed to a sanctuary; the remaining 103 were to be transferred to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.  That seems a dubious “retirement” for research chimpanzees.

Today came the exciting news that NIH has agreed to transfer all 113 chimpanzees to Chimp Haven, in Keithville, Louisiana.

To accommodate the retirees, Chimp Haven will have to raise $2.3 million to build additional enclosures ($5 million, if you include funding for lifetime care).  They’ve got a promise of $500,000 from The Humane Society of the United States, and another $100,000 from the New England Anti-Vivisection Society.  But that leaves $1.7 million to raise!

So Chimp Haven is the star of today’s Advent Giving Calendar.  Please join me in donating to their Road to Chimp Haven campaign.

(Update, 1/4/13: I just noticed that Chimp Haven has an Amazon Wishlist, too.  And has received only ONE six-pack of the 20 requested six-packs of sugar-free Hershey Chocolate Syrup?!  I’m taking steps to correct this travesty immediately.)

Reflections on Newtown

December 18, 2012
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On last Friday, the day of the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I was two days into a visit to my son and daughter-in-law in Nashville, Tennessee.  It was to have been a pre-Christmas celebration, fitted in before the celebration of the actual day that Karen B. and I will have with our dear friend Karen S, who arrives in California on December 25th to stay with us for a few days.  Now the shadow of all those deaths falls on us, on those we hold dear and on those whose loss brings unimaginable pain.  Eugene Peterson says that silence is sometimes the only response:  our silent presence with those who mourn, the only blessing we can offer.
 
When I am in Nashville, which is often, it is my custom to go to Saturday morning Mass with my friend Kathy.  It is a simple daily Mass at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Sylvan Park.  On a good morning there might be 20 parishioners present.  As I enter the sanctuary and take a seat, I notice that there is less visiting and more praying than usual, perhaps honoring the dead in their silence.  In the few minutes before the liturgy begins, I raise my eyes to the representation of Jesus on the cross that hangs on the front wall.  I think of the people of Newtown who have flocked to the St. Rose of Lima Church for the prayer vigil that began within just hours of the news.  No doubt there is also a crucifix image like this above their altar. 
 
Out of the depths of memory I hear the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was imprisoned and finally executed during the Nazi regime.  While in prison, and reflecting on how God might be present in the circumstances of the Third Reich (I don’t have my usual library available here, so forgive me if I’m misrepresenting DB’s context), he wrote in a letter to his best friend, “Only the suffering God can help.”
 
I also remember what one of my mentors, William Sloane Coffin, wrote (http://www.pbs.org/now/society/eulogy.html) in a sermon delivered ten days after his 24-year-old son, Alex, died in a car accident.  In intense grief, he gave us all these words I can never forget:  “My own consolation lies in knowing that…when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first  of all our hearts to break.”
 
Maybe we want to think of God as all-powerful and all-knowing, totally in control of everything and with a plan for each of us.  God the micro-manager!  And maybe that’s an idea of God that’s adequate for the everyday-ness of our lives, although (for me at least) that’s at best a debatable proposition.  How anyone could think that anything about the events of last Friday in Newtown are in any way a reflection of God’s will, or part of some divine plan, is just beyond my comprehension.  (Mike Huckabee, I’m talkin’ to you….)
 
From where I stand, the God who comforts is the God who enters into our human suffering, fully incarnate in our human life and our death.  God’s broken heart is somehow, in the great mystery of the Incarnation, joined with our own broken hearts.  And so, somehow, the crucified Christ on the wall of St. Ann’s in Nashville is oddly comforting to me, and I hope he is the same to all those who have that image before them in these days.
 
Amen.

The advent of athleticism, and a bunch of other good stuff

December 17, 2012
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Grabbed from the GOTR web site.

Grabbed from the GOTR web site.

The last few days… First I didn’t feel like posting.  Then I didn’t have time to post.  Then I was all over the board about what I wanted to post.  And in between, I had the keen desire to go for a long, head-clearing run – but that didn’t fit into the last several days, either.

However, it did help me decide what to feature today.

I suppose I should first ‘fess up.  Most of the projects/programs/groups I’m featuring in this Advent giving “calendar” (I know… it’s a bit random and unreliable for a calendar) are personal favorites – groups for which I would love to volunteer or fundraise.  That’s my rigorous selection criterion.  Yes, I’ve also been checking to make sure they don’t have embarrassing reports on charity rating sites, but I’m putting them up here because I wish I could personally give them sackfuls of money or my own time.  And today’s choice is a group I’ve wanted to volunteer-coach for, for several years.  Maybe this is finally my year?

The group is Girls on the Run.  GOTA works with girls ages 8-13 to build self-esteem, healthy habits, teamwork and social skills, and a lifelong appreciation for health and fitness, and they organize the whole program around running.  How fabulous is that?  There are 200 chapters, or “councils,” around the United States.  You can donate to the national organization, or a local council.  Bay Area readers, here’s yours.

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