Monday, August 31, 2009

Back to the garden

Penny and I went to see the film, Fresh, Friday night at the Gillloz Theatre.

The screening was hosted by the Well-Fed Neighbor Alliance, whose original goal was to plant 1,000 vegetable gardens in Springfield. One of the speakers said more than 3,000 gardens have been planted locally.

According to Fresh, American agriculture is increasingly controlled by big business, which is producing huge quantities of food in ways that wrecking the environment and endangering consumers.

Industrially produced food from corporate farms and feed lots is loaded with antibiotics and pesticides, which are harmful to our bodies. Moreover, this food is of minimal value nutritionally.

Maybe "an apple a day" is no longer good advice--unless it's a locally grown apple.

Fresh also explores solutions to our food crisis. Solutions include planting backyard and community gardens and raising our own fruits and vegetables; and shopping at farmers' markets and grocery stores that carry food produced or grown locally on small family farms and ranches.

Buying our food from small farmers and ranchers, who are our neighbors, means that we get delicious, nutritious food. It's free of pesticides and antibiotics. And it was produced in ways that preserved the earth.

Buying locally also keeps money here and promotes a healthy job-producing economy.

Surely, "fresh and healthy" was what God had in mind when He commanded those first humans to "tend and till" the garden. In eating the produce from our own gardens and in buying food from local farmers and ranchers, we take take another step in our return to Eden, life as God created it to be.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A lament for Teddy

Like so many others in America, I grieve the death of Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Despite his many flaws, Ted Kennedy was a man with an enormous heart, especially when it came to the powerless, "the widows and orphans," as James describes them in his epistle for this Sunday.

This last of the Kennedy brothers cared about the weak and vulnerable, and after losing his way, he eventually found his way, discovering that his calling was to do something tangible, usually legislatively, to ease the distress under which the powerless lived.

I'd like to see more politicians with hearts--indeed giant Ted-Kennedy-size hearts--not for interest groups and campaign contributors, but for people who have no voice, no power and who need someone with a voice and power to advocate and act on behalf of them.

The U.S. Senate has a lot less heart today. I pray it's only temporary.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sharing in God's creative activity

Penny and I had tea Sunday afternoon with a friend and church member. We've joined Charlotte for occasional afternoon teas on Sundays for some 10 years now. Tea with her is always a renewing opportunity to relax with good conversation and to enjoy her lemon bundt cake and other treats.

After many years of friendship, I thought I knew Charlotte well. Until Sunday, when I discovered something new about her, although not surprising: Charlotte writes a poem every morning. She has for many years.

"Do you share them?"Penny and I asked.

"No,"she said. "They're just for me." Her poems reflect her private thoughts and feelings.

One of the many things that impresses me about Charlotte is that she's engaged in daily creativity.

My daily creative act is writing--these blog posts and other columns, sermons, short stories, and longer pieces of fiction.

You might create with words, too, or with paint and canvas, with flowers and plants, with food, with needle and thread, with musical instruments, with fabrics, with clay or stone.

However we create, we participate with God in His continuing creation. That work began at the very beginning. In Genesis 2, God tells the first humans to till and tend the garden. Working with God, they're to take part in bringing beauty and fruitfulness to God's creation.

When we exercise our creativity, even for a few minutes a day, in whatever way brings us delight, you and I are are one with God in the act of making something new. And creation is a better place for it.

Be creative, then, and be with God.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reaching out to life

Every day, Penny and I look at our favorite baby picture of June Elizabeth, first-born grand daughter. Mama Clare is holding her. June is smiling big and throwing her arms out to a new world waiting to be discovered.

My friend Peter--who's somewhere in his 70s--is just like June Elizabeth. His arms outstretched to the world in joyful wonder and appreciation.

The other day at the Men's Fellowship breakfast, I sat next to Peter. He was full of energy and good cheer, telling me he'd just finished an early, vigorous walk.

Although no longer practicing medicine full time, he's still consulting and still learning about his profession. When I told him about a person I knew who went blind after surgery because of a medication he'd received, Peter spoke into his tape recorder: "Look into drug given to patients who are having heart surgery. Drug could cause blindness."

Peter's studying law on his own, simply because he's interested; he devours books, either listening to them on CD as he drives around town, or sitting down and reading them at home. Right now, he's reading Les Miserables. "I hadn't read it before," he said, with the excitement of discovery in his voice. He likes to travel abroad. He volunteers in the community. He's an avid gardener.

I don't want my epitaph to read: "Kenneth L. Chumbley. He stopped living long before he died."

I want to throw out my arms to life, living every day as a gift from God--full of discoveries to be made, challenges to meet, adventures to have, joys to celebrate.

As the car window decal proclaims, "Life is good." It is, because God is good and everything God makes is good. Today is good.

And I'm joining June Elizabeth and Peter, throwing out my arms to life, whatever it brings, and enjoying every second of it. And making every second count.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Living transitions

A friend of ours is sad today; she's saying goodbye to her daughter who's going off to boarding school in another country.

Other parents are sad as they move sons and daughters into college dormitories on distant campuses, or wave goodbye to their children as they go to school for the first time, or see a child move in with the other parent after a divorce.

I was sad when Clare and her girls moved from an apartment nearby to a rental house on the other side of town, where they'd have much more room. I feared Penny and I would see much less of them.

There are many transitions we humans confront daily.

Each transition represents change and is a kind of little death. Life as we knew it is no more. We move, by choice or not, from the known to the unknown. And that movement is both scary and sad.

But there's something positive about transition, too, and paradoxical. For to change is to grow. To lose is to gain. To die is to live.

In letting go of the little one who's starting school, or that young adult who's becoming a college freshman, we're participating in that person's growth and in our own. (And that one who's stepping onto the school bus or sitting in his or her first lecture course in college is also letting go.)

Our son or daughter is moving into the future that God intends--becoming independent, making his or her own choices, finding his or her own happiness along the way.

And we who let go grow in the process. We gain something we'd otherwise miss. We learn about ourselves--if only how to turn loose of those we love, to grieve, and to find new life for ourselves.

In transitions, there's a foreshadowning of that greatest one--death--when we'll move from this physical life into eternal life with God through the power of the resurrection.

Poet T.S. Elliot writes that in every ending, there's a beginning.

May God bless our endings with beginnings.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Town hall meetings

The health care reform town hall meetings have become shouting matches, which is disappointing.

Reform opponents are exciting fear in Americans and turning them out to scream at elected officials, spreading outlandish and false charges about what's proposed in various House and Senate reform bills.

The media seize on the sight of the hapless representative or senator--Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania the other day comes to mind--as he or she stands mute at the town hall meeting, listening to the invective.

The minute the lies are uttered, they become material for the next cable news broadcast or radio talk-show harangue. Orwell, in 1984, showed that if you tell a lie enough, people begin to believe it's the truth.

With the current town hall meetings, I see politics at its worst. I see dirty tricks at work. These meetings are about political theatre, not about rational discussion, even debate, of a significant issue.

The meetings are spreading misinformation, including outright lies--Sarah Palin herself, in commenting on her use of the phrase "death panels," admitted that she "made things up"--as part of the effort to sabotage reform. I'm puzzled by Ms. Palin's admission, because she's made such a major issue of her Christianity. And I thought lying was a sin, the breaking of the ninth commandment.

As long as people lie and the media knowingly disseminate their lies, there will be no useful public discourse on health care reform or anything else, and this country will be no closer to solving our major problems, which threaten us.

Town hall meetings that are no more than stages for spreading falsehoods do nothing to advance the discussion and move us toward solutions, but do a lot to injure democracy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Paying tribute to Archbishop Tutu, Medal of Freedom recipient

The retired Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, The Most Rev. Desmond Tutu, receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom today from President Obama at the White House.

Archbishop Tutu is one of 16 recipients--all deserving of this nation's highest civilian award for service. Others include retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

My wife Penny and I were blessed to spend a semester with Bishop Tutu at The General Theological Seminary in 1984. We were students in his lecture course on the Modern Church. We enjoyed his inspirational lectures, which drew heavily from his experiences fighting apartheid in his native country and for human rights for "colored" peoples there.

I was moved by his accounts of the struggle for justice and appreciated where his impulse for justice originated: from a deep faith in the God of justice, freedom, reconciliation, and peace.

I used to see Bishop Tutu at General's Chapel of the Good Shepherd early in the morning. He was always on his knees in prayer. When there was a Eucharist in the chapel, he was present, sometimes celebrating and preaching.

For him, daily prayer, along with the Holy Eucharist shaped his spirituality, the image of the Compassionate Christ in him, and fired his passion for justice for all God's people, especially those to whom it had been denied for too long.

For Bishop Tutu, the central motif that powered his struggle for justice in South Africa--and likely still does in other contexts today--was and is God's liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and leading of them to freedom in Canaan; and with that freedom, God's choice or election of them for service to Him, carrying on God's struggle for bringing fullness of life to all people, because all people are precious to Him.

Bishop Tutu taught me less by his words and more by the holiness of his life. His is a life dedicated to Christ, to daily transformation in Him through prayer, worship, and study; and to serving others in Christ's Name, especially the powerless and needy.

So, congratulations to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, saint of the modern church and example of Christ-like living and ministry. And thank you, Bishop Tutu, for showing me the kind of person and servant Christ calls me to be.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thoughts on my birthday

I celebrated my 56th birthday yesterday. It was a joyful day, one of my best birthdays yet, in part because of how I thought about it.

In the past, I've often felt depressed on my birthday, because I'd think about people close to me who'd forgotten the day. I'd brood myself into darkness, feeling sorry for myself and saying, "Poor, poor me."

But this birthday was different. I thought not about the people who'd forgotten my birthday, but about the many people who'd remembered it with cards, phone calls, and other greetings.

And I was thankful they did and thankful for their love and friendship.

With many things in life, I choose happiness or sadness by the way I think about them. And yesterday, I chose to think about my birthday in a different way, emphasizing the positive over the negative.

And this year, my birthday was bright, not dark.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mind the Gap?

If you've been to London and ridden the tube, you've heard the frequent announcement, "Mind the gap."

It's a warning to be careful and avoid stepping into the space between the platform and the tube car. You hear the same warning when you ride the trains in Britain.

I'm thinking about gaps this evening after reading Evening Prayer and the gospel lesson for the Daily Office. It's from Mark 9. Verse 37 and following speak to me--or rather God the Holy Spirit speaks to me.

Jesus is teaching his disciples, when He reaches out and welcomes a child. Children in his day, first century Palestine, were nobodies. They had no rights--no value, really.

And yet, here Jesus--God with us--is, receiving the child and putting his arm around the child. He says that if you receive a child, you receive me and receive the One who sent me.

What I hear God the Holy Spirit saying to me is that when I receive anyone who is weak and worthless in the eyes of this world, then I receive Jesus and the One who sent Him, the Heavenly Father Himself.

When I receive the other, I welcome him or her. I put my arm around the other in an act of friendship, solidarity, service. I love the other and receive Jesus and the One who sent Him.

And God receives me, puts His arm around me. We're one.

When I fail to love, I let the gap between me and God remain. But when I mind the gap and remember to love the other, then I close the gap between me and God. I'm united to God.

So mind that gap.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The faces of hunger

I spent an hour Wednesday afternoon looking at the faces of hunger, and it's sad, very sad.

Springfield, Missouri's hungry are children and infants; the elderly, people on oxygen, the blind. They're single people and families, black and white--and all poor.

I joined three members of Christ Episcopal Church, who were working a two-hour shift at Crosslines, a ministry of the Council of Churches of the Ozarks.

Christ Church supports council ministries from our parish budget, with special gifts and offerings, including canned goods on Sundays at the Holy Eucharist, and with hundreds of hours of service each year. (I serve on the Board of Directors of the Council of Churches.)

On Wednesday we put together food items, ensuring that each individual or family, had a balanced diet for three days. We packed brown paper grocery bags with hot dogs, hamburger, and chicken for protein--until it ran out--vegetables, including fresh ones from home gardens; canned goods, even a few candy bars. We teased that we'd keep some of them for ourselves, but we gave them away.

The food sacked, I handed out the bags at the window, where people waited for their orders. Every person said thank you.

Qualified people may receive food from Crosslines three times each year. The limit is because the ministry has to stretch its food supplies more and more these days, given that hunger is rising in the Ozarks and nationwide.

According to a 2008 hunger study, 742, 486 Missourians live in poverty. The poverty rate in Missouri is 13 percent. We rank 21st among the states for poverty. Some 310, 000 Missouri households are "food insecure" or 12.9 percent of all households. And another 118,000 households are "very low food secure." (For more, go to: )

These statistics are from 2007, the latest I could find, and were compiled well before the current Great Recession, which began in December 2008.

Looking at the hungry people at Crosslines on Wednesday, I was saddened, saying to myself, "This shouldn't be--not in a country as rich as ours, not in a city as generous as this one."

But I was also heartened that Pam, Kathy, Carol, and many other local Christians are at Crosslines five days a week, reaching out to others with Christ's love and doing what our Lord Himself did--feeding the hungry.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Go slow

I need to start paying attention to those traffic signs that say, "Slow." I need to slow down my driving and my living.

It's time for me to join the Slow Movement.

There's the Slow Food Movement--people who are buying fresh produce grown near them, cooking meals at home--sometimes with their friends sharing the preparation; and then savoring every bite of the meal.

There might even be a Slow Reading Movement emerging. On National Public Radio one morning, I heard Irish poet and novelist Nick Laird say that he'd been reading Dr. Samuel Johnson lately. Johnson's 18th century prose--elegant and complex--made Laird stop and savor every word of it.

Laird said this slow, careful approach to reading literature contrasted with the modern tendency to gobble up every word of text as fast as we can.

And there ought to be a Slow Spirituality Movement--spirituality being our daily ways of relating to God's Holy Spirit in us.

I often find myself rushing through my daily prayers and Scripture reading, my centering prayer time each day, my journal writing, even rushing through my leading of worship at church. (I sometimes peek at my watch during the Holy Eucharist.)

Too often, I rush my relationship with God--but God never rushes His relationship with me. God always takes time with me and for me.

Like an attentive, loving parent, God's always right there--listening to me, comforting me, directing me, strengthening me, perhaps even saying, "Ken, what's the rush? We have all the time in the world. In this life and in the life to come."

As 21st Century people, we're all in too much of a hurry (it's true for our children, too.), And we have the hypertension, the heart disease, addictions, depression, and anxiety disorder to prove it.

We need to take time and enjoy whatever we're doing as fully as possible. Slowing down helps us experience that more abundant life that Jesus offers us.

So, the next time you're rushing through dinner, speeding through that yellow light, glancing at your watch during the Holy Eucharist, skipping your daily prayers and Scripture reading because you don't have time, look.

See it? That sign--from God--that says, "Slow." Pay attention to it.