The End of That Story

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” –C.S. Lewis

“But now old friends are acting strange / They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed / Well something’s lost, but something’s gained / In living ev’ry day” –Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”

I have loved this but a thing has to end. Thank you to the Internet for holding these words and to you, Reader, for finding them and taking them home.

There are many posts still half written and others that didn’t make it past scribbles in a notebook. Perhaps they’ll one day find their place somewhere else. There are stories to tell about rural-road bikers and the speedy pick-ups that toy with them, about what makes a person beautiful, about a conflicted carpenter’s-daughter experience with urbanization and sprawl. There is a story about a big yellow Tupperware bowl from childhood used to hold popcorn and when a new brothers were born, placentas.  I have a partial post about God being light. Perhaps when he created it he was thinking about all the behaviors of light, how setting sunlight would look backlighting a toddler’s wispy hair. It would have included this:

Maybe when Jesus says “I am the light of the world” he doesn’t just mean he is the way to see what’s coming ahead in life or that he is our guide to truth.  Maybe he is also touching on all the qualities of light, even the scientific ones.  In physical science they teach that light has properties of a wave and a particle.  But what IS it?  It is both.  It is neither. It is divine. Maybe God is saying that he is unquantifiable, essential to life, that he changes everything, reveals everything. He whitens what’s soiled, cuts like a laser, refracts and bends in a rainbow to show his love, that he is to us a great luminous mystery.

See? I’m not really done. One never is. But the more you write, the more you want to try to write.  It is a vacuum of a hobby.

I never think anyone reads this blog but the data says I’ve had over 1,000 views on this four-year-old brainchild so that’s something. Those views can’t all be from my dad and mother-in-law. Especially since WordPress tells me my most popular viewing time is something like 3 a.m. on a Tuesday (really, I’m flattered).

Every time I think I’m crafting my last post something almost noteworthy happens and I want to give it a voice. I find that those in-the-meantime posts are my favorites because they strikes a chord where we spend most of our time: perpetually in medias res–in the just-a-minute, in the waiting, the wanting, the almost now and the not quite yet.


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How Long

Nine thirty a.m. on a Friday found me waiting in a long line of parent vehicles, a bottlenecked stream of us, trying to make our way to the public library parking lot where the school buses, windows steamy and fully loaded with our children, were parked.  About 45 minutes before this the school sent out an email explaining that there was a shooting close enough to school property to warrant a lockdown of all the school’s buildings. The elementary kids weren’t at school yet; they were still on the bus.  I decided not to go all reactionary mama-bear helicopter-parent crazy. I do trust the school and their many procedures and caring and capable staff to keep the kids safe. I was of course a little unsettled wondering where they were, but wasn’t afraid for their wellbeing. Now the poor bus driver–her well-being was more worthy of concern. Bless her heart.

How long would they need to stay away from school? What if they had to go to the bathroom? A second e-mail explained that bussed kids couldn’t enter the schools while on lockdown so the buses were parked at the public library down the street. We were invited to pick them up so I left to do that, along with hundreds of others.  Like a flock of calm but agitated geese, we parents descended upon that parking lot.

Apparently the shots that prompted the lock down were fired by a police officer after a traffic stop of a stolen car. The driver tried to drive away so the officer took aim at the tires but instead accidentally shot the driver in the arm. The two passengers, now suspects, fled the scene on foot.  The schools would be on lockdown until both suspects were in custody.

I don’t usually listen to kids music in the car, especially not when the kids aren’t in the car with me. But Rain for Roots is one I reach for, one album I go to when I tire of the eros or pathos of what I usually play. When I need calm and reassurance, when I need a little Jesus while I drive, Rain for Roots is always the thing.  It is arguably not children’s music, it is for those who have been children or who call themselves God’s children.  It’s both simple and literate. It’s soulful music ripe with Jesus’ parabolic words. It diffuses chaos and gives your faithful imagination something to sink its teeth into.

Listen to “Leaven Bread” if you’d like. Just click here

For copyright purposes these are not all the lyrics, but some of the words go like this:

Leaven Bread

Written by Sandra McCracken, Flo Paris, Ellie Holcomb, Katy Bowser and Alice Smith

I wanna tell you another story
All about a woman making barley bread . . .

She works to mix the leaven into the flour . . .
She works to make the barley bread

Mama, mama, how much longer?
How much longer for the dough to rise
Oh my children, don’t you worry
We just gotta wait till the time is right

So they wait, they wait
They wait while the dough is rising . . .
They wait for the barley bread

The kingdom of Heaven is just like the leaven
That worked to raise up that barley bread

So we wait, we wait, we wait while the Kingdom’s coming coming
We wait, we wait, we wait for the Kingdom to come

So listening to “Leaven Bread” I waited there in my idling car to get my children who were also waiting. They were told nothing except that the school was locked and they had to wait. My daughters didn’t know I was coming but after seeing other parents retrieve their kids they hoped I would come for them.

By the time my car made it into the parking lot after ten minutes or so a sheriff was going car-to-car telling parents that all the suspects had been found and the buses would bring the kids to school as soon as all the parent vehicles were cleared out so the buses could move.

What the sheriff didn’t say and what wasn’t released until later is that one of the suspects had been found in the high school. The lockdown started during their fire drill.  One of the suspects who fled the scene cut through the woods and entered the high school building with students after the drill.

I’m glad I was unaware of this that day.  I’m glad when my kids came home at 4:30 off the school bus I could tell them not only the story of why they had to wait on the bus for two hours but also that I came for them, that I saw them on the bus, but by the time my car made it into the parking lot to get them the buses were already headed back to school.  I’m glad I could tell them honestly while they snacked at the counter of our kitchen about the shooting incident, that it was just a precaution, a just-in-case lock-down and they were never actually in danger.  I’m glad that I didn’t have to tell them that one of the people the police were looking for made it into the high school building until a staff member recognized she didn’t belong there and reported it.

I will not tell my daughters that a suspect was in the high school. It wouldn’t be helpful.  But I didn’t and never will shy away from telling them the stories about gun violence in our community, in our country.  They should know that guns are misused, that violence and accidents of all kinds happen with guns every day. I tell them because I want to empower them to change it someday.  Maybe when the kids who grow up with lockdowns are of voting age they will be the generation that overthrows the gun lobby once and for all.

We wait, we wait, we wait while the Kingdom’s coming, coming

I left the library parking lot somewhat disappointed to not see them, but glad they were getting back to normalcy for the rest of the day.  Getting home required a right turn out of the parking lot but they were directing traffic only left so I was forced to go around the block. In a small town that’s not really a block. Out here you just make right turns until things look familiar again. That’s what I do anyway.

I’d never gone left–north–on that road, nor do I even know the road’s name. I’m not from here. Trying to get back I passed barns, fields, pastures, a Christmas tree farm I’d never seen and the curiosities of low aluminum-sided business establishments. One didn’t have a sign, just a marquee that said both “lucky buck” and “deer buffet”.  It occurred to me then how vulnerable any one person is to so very much.  One unprescribed turn and I’m off my grid of personal familiarity, lost save for a map or a cell phone or a kind stranger and a prayer.  Anxious for landmarks I could recognize, it felt important in that moment to not rely on my phone for orientation.  For some reason I needed to get myself back to familiar territory with only my own self-reliance, my own wit.

I thought I’d be returning home with my kids in the car, and with my husband gone now–boarding a plane to make toaster pastries in Kentucky for a few days–the car felt empty.  The house would feel empty. Aware of my aloneness, I looked forward to 4:30 when my daughters would come home for the weekend.

We wait, we wait, we wait while the Kingdom’s coming, coming 

Once I was back on track with my home route I did the only thing I really could do.  I went to Target and bought that second pair of flannel sheets for each daughter and dreamed of tucking in my babies warm and tight.

We wait, we wait, we wait while the Kingdom’s coming, coming

How long Oh, Lord, will we love our power, our guns, all 300 million of them in this country, more than we love each other, more than we love a commitment to work through our differences? How long Oh Lord, will gun violence and the anxiety it induces stand between children and learning?  How long Oh, Lord, until we turn our weapons into plowshares? How long, oh, Lord How long?

We wait for the Kingdom to come

Image of "Leaven Bread" Print from Little Things Studio

Kate Whitley of Little Things Studio”LEAVEN BREAD”

“Leaven Bread” is used with permission from Rain for Roots © 2014 all rights reserved


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Cause and Lake Effect

Sunday, October 21

Hey, it’s Sue. I hope you’re doing well! Hey thank you for housing my black winter coat for the last 10 months! HA! Sorry I haven’t picked it up. Figured maybe it’s time. Will you be around next Tuesday AM? I’m going to Steinmart, then to my friend Jane’s around noon to leave for an overnight in Chicago. If you’re out and about I could meet you somewhere. What do you think?

Hey Sue! I will be working at the salon on Tuesday but you’re welcome to come there for it. It’s Maven Haven salon in Mattawan. I’ll be working 9:30 to 3.

I’ll try to swing by the salon Tues am, if you don’t mind bringing it there. Thank YOU!

Monday, October 22, 10:21 a.m.

I think anywhere you go in the gut of America people have heard the term lake effect as it relates to the snow machine that kicks up when the jet stream moves cold (mostly western) air over the still-warm water of the Great Lakes.  But this weather pattern actually begins in August or September when the cooling temperatures start producing bands of indigo-bellied clouds.  Then in October the chillier air over the warm lakes brings rain. When the air gets colder still it changes to snow.  Then the lakes’ effects have our attention. After living east of Lake Michigan for over a decade now, I’m finally starting to understand it.

This year the summer didn’t want to go so the lake got extra warm.  The hot weather stayed and then very quickly vanished in mid-October, leaving cold and clouds and bouts of heavy rain in it’s wake.  Pairs of shorts were still languishing in hampers on that first winter coat morning.  It is one of those cold lake effect heavy-rain days–trees throwing their fit of leaves everywhere–when I get this message from my sophomore year college roommate:

Hey! I’m in Lansing MI today with no plans and can’t remember where you are or if we are close?

How nice of you to think of me! What brings you to our lovely rainy state? Sorry to miss you but I’m a few hours from lansing and can’t quite pull off a trip on short notice today. I’ve not been to Lansing yet so can’t even recommend a good place to hang out! So sorry. Bummed to miss out.

I’m with my mom on a teeny vaca and meeting a lady to purchase “drugs”

 Oh my gosh you’re adorable. Actually lansing is 1 hour 18 minutes

JK, but not really, we’re getting medical cannabis oils for my husband’s cancer pain.

So sorry that he’s in so much pain. That must be so hard for both of you.

I’m caught off guard and can’t see rearranging my whole day. How would I get home in time to get the kids off the bus if we meet up? This rain could really slow me down. I think about declining. I go out for a run and think it over. Don’t miss this implies a stirring in my thoughts that I attribute to a certain Shepherd. He doesn’t want me to miss out on this chance to serve, to engage when it comes. He has other ways of meeting his lambs’ needs. He doesn’t need me but he’s inviting me to be part of it.  I’m familiar with this voiceless, visceral prompt and once I recognize it I want to kick myself upside the head for being so, well, sheepy–for keeping my grazing head down when I could be looking up, heavenward, doing Kingdom things instead. The bathrooms can get cleaned another day, I remind my not-so-bright self.  You actually can change and wash sheets on a day other than Monday. And girl, casseroles are so easy to double. I get excited about the possibilities once I’ve shuffled the pieces around, once I’ve put aside the idol of my schedule.

So Roommate Marissa and her mom Susan come over.  Despite only a brief conversation four years ago after her son was born and not actually seeing each other in 17 years it’s not really awkward at all. She tells me the whole story of her husband Shane’s battle with stage IV Lymphoma and Hystoplasmia and the rest of her life since 2000. I tell her about meeting the Hubs and about my kids. I update her on all my siblings (Nathan, the youngest, was born, rather traumatically, the year we were roommates). We start shredding cheese and chopping veggies for dinner and the kids come home and after being joyfully surprised with having guests, they join in on the making of quesadilla pie. The Hubs gets home and we get into one of the bottles of peach Moscato that Marissa brought for dinner.  The fruit flies get into it, too.  We toast Shane’s wellness and swat fruit flies as we sip.

After dinner Marissa kindly makes us a fruit fly trap.  For a few days after that every time the kids come in the kitchen they count the fruit flies in the trap and update us on the death count: “Up, there’s one on the outside! He’s going in!”

“Seven, eight, nine, ten dead ones!”

“One is swimming!” (Uh, probably drowning).

“There are two on the side still alive!”  Maybe we need a real pet around here if cider vinegar fly traps are this exciting, I think.  But I know way better than to say this out loud.

Tuesday, October 23 

Sue comes by the salon and we catch up. I give her the coat and she gives me cider and doughnuts from an orchard she must remember from when she lived in this town decades ago. Later, still at the work desk, I get a text from Marissa.

I’m so sorry to say Shane was just pronounced dead on our couch in our living room and I’m not even home

I’m floored both that it happened and that she texted me–just me–when I know she has a vast support system at home. Are we back to really good buddy status now? Maybe I was the most recent number on her phone? I try to just be grateful. I can’t call from my post at the work desk and can’t step outside because it’s still raining. Pathetically, all I can do is text back.

Oh, my sweet Marissa. I’m so sorry. And you were only away to get him relief from pain. I’m praying for you so hard. Let me know if I can do anything else.

It is not good or enough.  But no texted words can be right–nothing, not even a hug is enough. Nothing short of Shane alive and well again is enough.

When I get home I go to the bathroom because I somehow didn’t manage to go pee that whole 5.5 hours I spent at the desk.  While peeing eternally, I think about Marissa and Shane and Hezekiah and suddenly remember my girls bouncing around in the dark cold on the porch when we waved goodbye to Susan and Marissa the night before.  “Peace!” and “Peace be with you!” they called out after them, flapping and squawking their gratefulness of the visit, like little chicks let out of a pen. “Have a good trip! Peace!”  Calm down now, guys, we parents had said, time for bed now.  Geez, girls, we joked, you’d think we never had company here before.  But sitting there on the toilet I realize that they needed all that blessing, all those words spoken over them, covering them like a woolen blanket. They needed to be shrouded with every last good word because Shane was in his last hours of life. We didn’t know last night that the flood of grief was so close up ahead.  And then, still peeing, I cry.

That night we have fried fish–a recipe we keep trying and keeping failing.  The first time we made it I got the recipe from the back of the soy sauce bottle and it was nearly perfection.  But I accidentally recycled the bottle before copying the recipe.  I checked all the bottles at the store, no recipe.  I e-mailed the company and a few months later on virtual Kikkoman letterhead they emailed back a “Skipper’s Crispy Fish Fillets” PDF.  But we can’t quite get it right. We need to use fresh fish we say, not frozen.  And we need to use the nonstick pan.  But too much time passes between attempts and we forget what we said.  But I’m not giving up.  It was just too good that one time.  So we have crumbly skipper’s fish fillets that night with rice and sauted homegrown kale. The Hubs and I have the second bottle of peach Moscato, with heavier hearts but fewer fruit flies this time.

Wednesday, October 24

I attend the noon eucharist service at St. Luke’s. Jan, who often reads the Prayers of the People, is there early.  I ask if I can add a few names and she says of course.  I tell her about Marissa and Hezekiah and Shane. Now each Wednesday the Prayers of the People include my people.

Lord, have compassion on those in any grief or trouble including Marissa, Hezekiah, James, Olivia, Sandy, Ryan. . . That they may have comfort in their time of need. 

Give to the departed eternal rest including Shane, Matthew, Maria, Bill, Gordon . . . Let your Light perpetual shine upon them.

Later that afternoon the sun is out, the air brisk and still. I take the most glorious bike ride of my life, past the rolling hills of yellowing grape leaves, bright green fields of sprouting winter wheat bordered by old majestic trees. I coast downhill through canopied tunnels of blurred yellow leaves, past a (now wealthy) vintner’s recently-sold acreage. I stop and look. The abandoned vines are gnarly now, branches akimbo. It doesn’t take long for a sold vineyard to look unkempt.  Rogue woody ropes of vine arch their serpentine backs through the overgrown grass. The birds feast on the untreated grapes.  After turning off of Q Avenue I pass no one, see no one on this quiet ride.  My humming tires, chickadees chattering “free lunch” around the post-apocoloypic vines are the only sounds I hear.

I must have gone to bed early that night because I didn’t get this text from Leah, a stylist co-worker at Maven Haven Salon:

Do you work tomorrow?


Thursday, October 26

A morning text from Leah:

Are you working today?

Nope sorry.

I think she’s asking something about the work schedule. But instead:

Can you watch Bella today?

So I put up our one remaining baby gate and chairs and cardboard barriers to keep paws off the carpet and pick Bella up at the salon. I put her in the hatchback because I’ve heard stories about her peeing in the car. She puts her paws on the top of the back seat to see me and whimpers and cries the whole way to the house.

When we get home she sniffs about the kitchen and then we leave for an hour-long walk in the autumnal sun. I love that all the best mom tricks for babies work for dogs too. After all that fresh air she curls up on a kitchen rug in the sun and naps. Then she follows me around the kitchen while I bake, staring up at me contentedly, admiringly in a way humans never do.  I talk to her and she doesn’t talk back. Amazing! This must be the trait that has produced so many dog-owning families in America.

Then the kids come home and drop their jaws and backpacks at the property line.   Gasping, they run straight for Bella who is leashed up with me in the front yard.  “Did we get a dog?”

“No, of course not,” I say, “I’m dog sitting for Leah.  This is Bella.” And they run her through the leaves around the house a dozen times.  I leave to make a book with friends and the Kalamazoo Book Arts lady at a public library.  When I come back (which is also when Leah comes for her dog) Bella is napping in the girls’ arms, happily exhausted, a white-frosted canine cupcake with grass-clipping sprinkles.

After those dog-crazed kids go to bed the Hubs and I watch the first half of The Big Sick. It’s my favorite kind of movie: low-budget, at ease with itself and its multicultural themes, a wry dose of cynical humor, an exploration of modern relationships.

Friday, October 27

I miss my borrowed Bella, but there is grocery shopping to do.  I always stop at Earth Fare, the Whole Foods knock-off, first. I turn in the bottles and get the ticket for 20¢. The machine doesn’t accept the moscato bottles even though the label clearly says MI 10¢. I forget to redeem the deposit slip, as I often do, so I give it to the lady in the next aisle who has her cart unloaded and is ready to pay.  “Here, ” I say, “have 20¢ off.” She pulls her hand away and gives me a suspicious look as if I’d asked to try on her wedding ring, or asked if I could just borrow her kidney for a minute.  Seriously, what is wrong with all of us? You don’t want to save money? It’s not a trick. It’s a little gift. You just take it and let the giver feel good about paying it forward. You just have a nice little human exchange to edify your day. You take it, smile, and say thank you. This is how to be a person.

Then I go to Meijer to knock out the rest of the items on the list.  I’m parking in the Meijer lot when I hear a text come in.  My boss says she is sorry but has no work for me next week. This will mean I’m off the schedule for two weeks because she told me not to come in this Saturday either. This feels like a layoff. I’m so upset as I weave through the aisles that I forget a starring-role ingredient for dinner.  At the back of the store by the chunk and shredded cheese I text back to ask how many hours Sheryl (the other desk worker, hired after me) is working and shouldn’t we be sharing those hours?

On the way home as I transition from I-94 west to 131 south via the on/off ramp and the tight turn gets me in a bit of a bind with a semi.  Merging into the right lane at my current lower speed would require him to break so I cross in front of him to the left lane out of his way.  He doesn’t interpret this as a move to help him and lays on his horn for no less than 45 seconds.

The hubs is working from home and when I unload the groceries and the story he suggests I ask Sheryl to share a few of her hours on Thursday evening. He will be back from his work trip by then and will make it a point to be here when the kids get off the bus so I can work.  She’s a Christian mom. Surely she will share.  But she does not.  She insists she has a big bill to pay for her daughter’s wedding and can’t spare a shift (she can’t spare a square).

We eat lunch and go for a hike on a new-to-us trail so I can blow off some steam. The Hubs says being in nature relieves stress. We need to see fractals, he says, because our eyes are made of fractals or see in fractals or something; it makes our eyes happy.  We hike over fallen yellow saw-tooth aspen leaves, under soaring, calling sandhill cranes and between scruffy young stands of maroon and green black oak and ruddy maple leaf viburnum. We pass a beech tree with such girth and height its smooth massive gray bark exudes grandfatherly elephantine gentleness. It wants to be patted, petted, touched. Others have interpreted this friendliness as an invitation to carve. I don’t carry knives, only arms–the limb kind.  I don’t resist; I give it a hug and am surprised that it is cold.  Somehow I expected it to be warm with the circulation of mammalian blood.

That night we finish watching The Big Sick and I love it more than the first time we made the Skipper’s Crunchy Fish Fillets.

Saturday, October 28

The Hubs departs for the work trip. I start reading We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. It’s initially hilarious and charming. Plus the author is from our very own newlywed hometown of Evanston and falls in love with someone from Kalamazoo of all things. But the writer is too blunt, too heartless, too selfish and swears excessively out of utter laziness.  It’s all good though because I’m writing you a better book of essays right now.

Sunday, October 29

Daughter #2 awakens with a cold and with the Hubs gone and not sleeping well with a sick kid in my bed, I wake too late to haul us all to church.  Instead I send a series of texts to my boss as my resignation letter.  I’ve never ever done that but that seems to be how we do everything at Maven Haven Salon.  The kids watch over my shoulder and read as I compose my closing statements. When I get to the the end the last word I write is “Peace”  and daughter #1 looks and me, pauses and enfolds me in a hug.





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Aromatics, Part II: Jesus the Cook

“I told them that this is a God who rose from the dead and grilled fish on the beach with his friends and then ascended to heaven and is especially present to us in the most offensively ordinary things: wheat, wine, water, words. I told them that this God has never made sense.” –Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints

A story of Jesus cooking is a little like blessing backpacks.  Afterall we eat with our noses and eyes almost as much as we eat with our taste buds. Our noses and mouths are intrinsically and physiologically linked rendering the act of eating a completely sensory experience. The food company that employs my spouse has an entire department devoted to analysis of the sensory experience of food. Sensory scientists they are called.  Though when I think about the title it seems strange, like this job title might be better suited to artists or poets, to those that qualify and quantify all that we absorb with our senses, and then make sense or beauty of it.

I don’t remember hearing anything ever about Jesus cooking breakfast for the disciples until I had to teach it to preschool children five or six years ago.  I’ve pulled a Mary since then and have pondered these things in my heart. How did I miss this story for so long? Maybe before that I just never paid attention to it because I’d never cooked. I didn’t get it. Or maybe as I heard it the emphasis was on the supernatural fishing or Jesus telling Peter to feed his sheep after they ate and not on Jesus cooking. Even the heading in the NIV Bible for this final chapter of John calls out the “Miraculous Catch” and not the cooking or the meal.

This story resonates with me in a way that frankly and selfishly the rest of the Jesus stories do not. My daily to-do list doesn’t include getting water from a well or tending sheep or pruning vines but heating food to serve to loved ones is a task to which I can relate to daily, even semi-daily.

I’m all about a story in which Jesus puts on the old grilling apron (maybe his read “Kiss the cook . . . but not you, Judas”) and gets a meal going for his exhausted friends when they get off work.  At this point the miracles are not such a big deal anymore. The disciples have seen it all: the lame walking, the blind seeing, the water wine-ing. Let’s face it. To them miracles are now just yada yada yada.

But there’s no miracle on the beach of the Sea of Galillee. This is not catering from heaven or food just appearing instantly per their usual. This is about the process, it’s about getting the fire going and hanging out around it while the coals get good and glowy. It’s about creating a welcoming food aroma that invites the disciples to join their heavenly host.

Life will be hard for these men once Jesus is gone and the Holy Ghost comes. Most of these friends will die for the sake of this cook, this Son of Man, but nobody knows that but himself. So he does what any man might do for his buddies.  He makes a meal so they can be together one last time before he goes away again.

I take great comfort and delight in thinking of the Master, the Creator God himself, attending to the minutia of meal planning. Think of Jesus deciding where everyone would sit, making space for each beloved guest, unpacking the loaves of bread from a burlap sack and tearing them into portions. Think of Jesus prepping the fish to cook–gutting them, maybe stuffing them with garlic and olives and tarragon before putting them on the fire. It’s all so fresh and rustic it could have been an episode of No Reservations.

Meanwhile the only thing bigger than the 153-fish haul the fishermen are trying to heave ashore (which they don’t yet realize is a metaphor for the Kingdom work yet to be done) is the size of their appetites. They’ll get a lot of money for these fish and they’re prepared to pay whoever’s cooking for whatever smell so good.  Had they birthrights, they might have impulsively sold them in exchange for breakfast.  They never would have guessed this meal was already theirs.

When they get to shore Jesus asks them for some of the fish they just caught and gets those on the fire, too, while he listens to them laugh exhaustedly about trying to bring in those overstuffed nets. Think of the dawn sky, the sounds of the day waking, the smell of smoke in the still-early chill, the crackle of the fire that circles everybody up, faces and hands to flame.

There’s something about Jesus the man–who during his ministry probably didn’t fuss over food, wasn’t basing his ministry travels around his favorite places to eat, wasn’t plastering his insta-feed with photos to make his foodie friends jealous. The disciples had probably always known him to be busy doing important missional kingdom things and trusting that at the end of the day, the God-man and his crew would get fed by one of the more generous and thoughtful followers. This is not to say he wouldn’t have appreciated good food, just that he wasn’t planning his route around his appetite the way, you know, some of us do.

When I think of those disciples–especially the now sopping wet Simon Peter who had to swim to Jesus because the boat was just taking too long–and their reactions to Jesus’ breakfast on the beach I picture my 22 year-old brother Christian (really, that’s his real name).  He’s loud, passionate, animated, pierced and tatted up and exuberantly lovable. He always finds a way to shower my own less-than-divine cooking with compliments. So if the cook were actually the God-man he’d be all, “This smells amaaazing! So that whole time you were this phenomenal cook AND YOU NEVER TOLD US?! Whaaat?!” (doubled over in awe and laughter, then back up, eyes pinched shut, arms and fingers extended like tree branches).  They thought they knew this guy and they thought they knew he’d died and gone away. But there’s way more to him, more to his humanity even, than they ever knew.

Maybe it’s like a dad one day out of the blue offering to french braid his daughter’s hair while they’re watching TV. “What?! Dad, seriously? You have braiding skills?! Since when?! How did you learn?! How did I not know this?!” There’s some of that here–there’s something about Jesus as the died-and-risen Lord of All, as the ultimate King-Dad-friend-holy guy taking on the very earthbound service and detail-oriented role of cook.

I can only liken it to when my dad makes hobo eggs for breakfast at a campsite for all the family. He hardly ever cooked when I was a kid so it was this special camping-only fresh air treat of a meal. It’s not about gender roles or a man doing “women’s work.” It’s about the revelation that their their Abba is mysteriously back, appearing again for the third time and doing this uncharacteristic thing–for them and only them.

They knew Jesus was special–that his wisdom was like none other, that he acted decisively and intentionally like no other, that he was a teacher without fear, with mysterious authority, ripe with love and justice. But this just blows away everything they thought they knew.  “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus says and that combined with the glorious aromatics of delicious cooking overrides that little bit of fear they might have always had in his presence.

I’m not surprised Jesus chose to meet the disciples where they were, back in their old pre-disciple rhythms of daily life. It probably felt really good to get back to fishing, to what they knew. He meets them where they are. I’m not surprised he cooked on the beach. Food and drink always smell better, taste better cooked and consumed in the open air. Could a sensory scientist prove that? I don’t know. I only know after hours of work outside protein charred over an open flame, seasoned with salt and freedom, smell and taste something like God meeting us.


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What Sierra Says Now

Last year around this time news was dominated by Hillary’s e-mails, Trump’s rallies and all manner of political mud-slinging as the election approached. And there was Standing Rock. I asked my cousin for an update. She made two trips there last year to serve as water protector. She shared her experience here after her first visit.

Here’s what she had to say about what’s happening now:

The camps have been cleared and construction completed, oil is now flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline daily (as expected, with reports of some leaks already).  But the fight for the water and indigenous sovereignty is not over.
On June 14th, 2017, the Lakota People’s Law Project published this update:

US District Court Judge James Boasberg rules that the environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) was insufficient and must be reconsidered. While it did not halt the flow of oil, the ruling found that the Army Corps of Engineers did not evaluate environmental justice in their approval of the pipeline.
This is a limited victory in the fight to protect clean water and Lakota sovereignty, but the fact remains that a full Environmental Impact Statement needs to be conducted for DAPL. (

There is also a petition circling to drop all criminal charges against water protectors in light of the leaked documents showing evidence of malicious behavior on the part of DAPL security and contracted law enforcement.  That petition can be signed and shared here.
There are various pipelines across Turtle Island being resisted by indigenous North Americans, including Line 3 in Minnesota (EIS currently under review) and the possible revival of Keystone XL (currently pending permit in Nebraska only). Most of these pipelines involve the transfer of tar sands oil from Canada, which is an especially destructive and toxic industry.

Indigenous people know that this is a time for change, that we cannot continue to live in destructive and greedy ways that deplete our life source, Mother Earth. For me, this is one of the most important social justice and political issues to be involved with, because it impacts the wellbeing of everyone on earth. The U.S. is way behind other nations in the transition to an environmentally responsible economy. It is more urgent than ever for people of all backgrounds to unite for peaceful lifeways.  It is my hope that indigenous communities will take the lead on inspiring and demonstrating to others how this can be done.

"oil + water" by Ryan Spencer Reed and Richard App. Installed in the Grand River for Art Prize through October 8, 2017.

“oil + water” by Ryan Spencer Reed and Richard App. Installed in the Grand River for Art Prize through October 8, 2017. Used with permission from the artist.

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Night Clouds

“I didn’t know,” a daughter whispers to me in the moonlight as we pause at the window on her way to bed, “that there were clouds at night.” Her voice is wonder-laden and so lost in thought she could be unaware that she’s speaking audibly.  I’m nudged to awed awareness of the Potter–God’s other-ness in majestic authority and choreographed beauty.  There is something about the way the moon is tucked partly behind the clouds that prompts a subtle repentance, prompts my mind to say to the Maker I’m sorry. I’m not sure exactly what I mean but I think I mean everything–the known and unknown personal and public darkness over which God grieves.

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Going Back

A former attendee, now downgraded to visitor, went back to the old church downtown for the noon midweek service. She parked west of Westnedge in front of the overflow lot for Gonzo’s Big Dog Brewing Co. at the edge of downtown because some of those one-way streets still throw her off. Parking there made for a simple southbound exit.  She liked walking downtown anyway.  She cut through Bronson Park, startled at first to see more homeless there than she remembered. A blanketed handful lounged on the stage of the amphitheater. Walking past she overheard one tell another–loud and animated–a crude Viagra joke. As she approached the park’s edge she could still hear him deliver the punchline. She smiled as she crossed the street.

Upon entering the scarlet-carpeted room the first man she saw wore a heavy cross around his neck framed by the lapels of a black sport coat. Newish black velcro shoes were strapped firmly to his feet. She thought he might be the new rector, but he was not. Elderly but tall he introduced himself with a smile, his eyes youthful and kind. During the service he would read aloud words from John Chrysostom and scoot over to the piano in the corner to accompany the singing of “Amazing Grace.” As the 15 or so congregants came in he asked a lady to sing verse five as a solo. She agreed but joked that she wanted the record to state that she had been coerced.

Everyone in the St. Luke’s side chapel was authentically warm and welcoming including the rector who minutes before the service was casually hanging out with everyone in a purple t-shirt and jeans. “We just finished painting in here. We just put the stations of the cross back. It’s wonderful to have it all back the way it was,” a gray-haired lady told the visitor.  The visitor looked around and didn’t know what specifically was meant by the stations of the cross exactly.  She saw lit votives in one corner, a baby grand piano in another. She agreed with the lady anyhow, at once embarrassed to not recognize what she was talking about and proud to be out of her element, to be here now with beautiful strangers–immersed in this endearing, enduring, episcopal culture she’d been apart from for too long.

When it came time to pass the peace most everyone could and did address the visitor by name. Oh, how she’d missed the passing of the peace. Her mind strayed just slightly during the homily, just enough to notice both the rector’s plaid Keds peeking out from under the vestments and how refreshing it was to be in a house of God that didn’t involve aggressive marketing, or a drum kit, or a screen of any kind. She was glad to be in a place of holy-yet-ordinary otherness from the rest of life. Staring into the richly-colored glowing glass panes she thought about how refreshing it was to be in a place that looks to, rather than dismisses, the long history of the church, of those who have come before us in sitting humbly at the feet of the Ancient of Days.

When the soloist sang verse five the visitor was taken aback by how lovely her lone senior voice sounded, how fit and ready to sing it was–as if she did all the things older ladies do all day while singing. She was not Renee Fleming, of course, but more like her than you’d expect from a side chapel in a downtown church in a mid-size midwest town at noon on a Wednesday.

This was a fond reunion for the visitor. She realized, somewhat sadly, she’d been noshing on spiritual junk food laced with artificial additives, fake colors, and chemical flavors for years. She had indeed raised her children on the stuff. And now, coming here, biting into soulful fresh fruit from the tree she realized how much her spirit had been starved for real nourishment.  She knew she would aim to be back every Wednesday at noon for the foreseeable future. And not, of course, just because there was sherry in that communion cup.

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