I love to lull the song birds to my deck with plates of seed and nuts for them to eat.

I enjoy all the different sparrows who find their way there along with the purple finches, the cute titmouse with the little black hooded heads and cute little chirp.  I smile when a yellow finch shows up; it’s not very often so, their solid gold presence it such a joy to see.  Occasionally this spring I’ve seen a humming bird.  I don’t know if they’re not back yet or this year will be low on humming bird sightings.

I have an open air deck so the bird seed platters are not protected against rain.  I have lost and replaced too much birdseed from rain-filled plates where the seeds sour and the birds won’t eat them.

Occasionally someone flips over one of the tin platters with too boisterous a lift off, seeds and nuts plummeting to the floor.  It’s usually one of the morning doves or pigeons that is the culprit.  Their big luggy bodies can’t seem to make the graceful getaway that the cardinals or even larger blue jays perform.

The thing that annoys me most about the pigeons and doves is their penchant to stand in the middle of the food and just gorge.  Most birds come for one piece, they eat it and fly away or take it with them, or they move to another spot where they can crack it against something hard.  But the pigeons loiter and hoard even when others come looking for their daily needs.  Take your turn, buddy, and get out so we can have some! Come back for more later on.  Or, as we say at church potluck dinners “family hold back” which means let everyone get served once (conservatively) before you come back for seconds.

I don’t like people or corporations who hoard either.  Business leaders who are paid millions each year.  How many millions does a family “need” to live on?  How many homes can a CEO, President or Vice President live in at one time?  Corporations who buy back stocks rather than increase wages to those who actually create the products and services hinder the economic exchanges that our system is reliant on. Who do you think you are plugging up the flow of resources? Our economy, our livelihoods, depend on a flow of exchange.  The millions of employees who create that wealth provide more exchange points in more diverse markets. When one bird stands in the way, stopping that flow, the larger community is hurt. We’d all like the opportunity to enjoy the wealth being made by many hands.  So, take your turn, buddy, and let others have some too.Image result for pigeons in bird feeders

Tending to Little Annoying Pieces of Life’s Business

Today I didn’t have much motivation to get anything done.  That doesn’t happen very often, usually I have too many things going on.  In fact, I believe I have ADD because I jump from on task to another, all with the intention of getting them all done.  And, eventually, usually, I do get them all done.

I also don’t like to be idle because my head goes down a slippery slope to depression.  I’m sure some therapist would be able to explain that to me or explore that with me. But, usually it passes quickly so I just sit with it until I get bored with it, lol.

When I think about what’s going on when I’m feeling unmotivated it’s frequently because I feel overwhelmed by something. Take for example the filing I have to do.  Since before I went to the yoga ashram for a month to renew and heal, I have had paid bills, papers and written articles of interest, mail from my new insurance company and my financial investment statements sitting on the corner of my table.  They’re not big individually but there’s a pretty good pile of them and they are annoying when I want to eat off my table.

My filing cabinet is in the corner of my tiny apartment partially blocked by my sofa, a plastic bin with a lamp on it and a bin of CDs I never listen to.  So, putting things away is something I have to be intentional about – it’s not just opening a drawer and finding the right folder.  I rarely want to make the effort.

Speaking of folders, usually I have to create new folders for one piece of new paper, like the veterinary records for my cat. Oh gah! I have to find the bin with folders in my bedroom under the desk behind the crib my father-in-law made by hand (so I’m not getting rid of THAT!) and then the tabs and inserts in the utility bins.  Moving all the stuff and carefully maneuvering around the crib so I don’t break it takes my head onto the slippery slope.

I’m in this small place because its what I can afford.  I have moved with furnishings for a two bedroom (with an office den) house into an attic apartment with sloping ceilings on both sides.  I don’t want to get rid of more things because I hope to be better employed within the year and able to move into a larger, more grown up place. Then my thoughts start getting darker…why has it taken me so long to figure out what I’m good at and get the training so I can do this work?  I can go back in time for answers to analyze what I learned or didn’t learn in childhood but that doesn’t help me now.  I have good gifts and am working on setting myself up with employment but  I just have to wait a bit for the fruit to come.

So, while I’m waiting, I come back to this moment in my “office” corner of my bedroom. I take the file folders, tabs and inserts back to the living room and start to put things away.  I just go back to the thing I CAN do.  There’s something basic about that, something we learned way back in the Garden of Eden.  This part of the Creation story isn’t quoted much but it’s found in Genesis 2:15.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
hoeing-the-tomato-plantation-in-the-vegetable-garden-Stock-Photo So, here I see that the basics of filing papers and keeping them, or tending to our business – for the first man it was literally tending the garden- we learned early in our human story.

If you’ve ever gardened a big plot, you know that there are weeds as well as errant plants that you need to discard, but there are others that you keep, tie up or cage and eventually harvest the fruit from them.  So, I’m going to get back to my filing now and trust that caring for the little annoying task will pay off down the road.




Where is Home?

A few years ago, I sat with a father of a 17 year old young woman who had been an in-patient for over a year fighting cancer.  When I walked into her room the first time, I was amazed at the transformation of the room and how it signaled a will to kick cancer’s butt and get on with life.  She had her eye on going home even as she knew it would be a while before that happened.

Though her immune system would not allow her to be in class with other kids, this tenacious woman was tending to her high school home work in between chemo treatments so she would not get behind.   Later I would learn of her plans to attend college after graduation.

Her institutional hospital room now had bold colored curtains from home (I think they were purple).  The family never used the harsh overhead florescent lights but, had brought table lamps to cast a homey, welcoming, soft glow in the room. She had put up typical teenage themed posters alongside the big ‘get well’ card posters signed by her friends back home in New Jersey.  Her friends could not visit her, but their spirit and enthusiastic love were felt in the room.

I learned that this young woman was a Christian and an active leader in her church, including serving as communion steward with the pastor in her small congregation.  I could imagine the hope rising in the hearts of older people in her congregation when they saw a young person joyfully leading in church.  Everyone would want this teenager to be back home.

She went home. I remember the excitement in her eyes when she told me the news! Indeed, it seemed as though she could have walked out that very day, but at that time, she only had the promise of leaving soon.

Within two weeks she was back in the hospital, her young body was not able to keep up with the immunological demands of the outside world.  She slipped further and further away from the picture of health.

I sat with her father; her mother wouldn’t speak to me because it indicated to her that she’d given up hope.  Her father and I had spoken several times in the preceding hospitalization as he grasped for something positive, something to feel good about, some good news.  This time he cried that he just wanted her to be home, that she said she just wanted to go home.  I asked him where he thought home was, and he looked aback with no answer.

I reminded him that his daughter professed faith in Christ and the promise of heaven after death.  I wondered if she might have a different idea of where home was.  His expression softened, “I hadn’t thought of it that way. I just thought she meant New Jersey”, he said. And, then after a moment, “huh”.

After her death, we talked once more and he told me how she kept looking up into the corner ceiling of her hospital bed.  Tied up with tubes and lines and an oxygen mask, she kept trying to move her head over to get a look at something past her dad’s shoulder, so much so that at one time, he too looked up to see what she was looking at.  We wondered if she’d seen an angel waiting for her to take her home. 

Studying the Letters of the Apostle Paul – Overview

The Man, his Ministry of Letters and the Message for Us
Paul's Missionary Journey's Map

The newest class of members of Skyline United Methodist Church, located in Pike Creek, DE (near Wilmington DE) have challenged themselves to read Paul’s Letters this summer.

Our intention is to grow in our own faith by looking at published letters of the 1st century apostle Paul from whom the Christian Church has inherited fundamentals of theology and polity that has fed multiple denominations of Christ followers.

Here is a quick link to Paul’s journeys in the 1st century. Paul converted from a zealous Greek Jew to a zealous follower of Jesus in 35AD.

Originally known as Saul of Tarsus (Hebrew: שאול התרסי‎;Greek: Σαῦλος Ταρσεύς Saulos Tarseus), was an apostle of Jesus (though not one of the first Twelve Apostles) who taught the gospel of Christ to the first-century world. Paul darker skinHe is generally considered one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age. In the mid-30s to the mid-50s, he founded several churches in Asia Minor and Europe. Paul used his status as both a Jew and a Roman citizen to advantage in his ministry to both Jewish and Roman audiences. (Thanks Wikipedia)

The books of the Bible attributed to the apostle Paul are not books, as we know them today, but were letters written in early Christian history, between 50-60CE (some scholars consider later dates but note that some are attributed to Paul but likely written by others in his name).

Reading these letters, in any time frame since the one they were written in, involves reading someone’s interpretation/translation from the original ancient Greek style of writing. Different scholars, editors and publishers may use different words of phrases. Some phrases and concepts simply cannot be adequately expressed in a foreign language (such as 21st century American).

In General here are some basic questions to ask while reading any historical document:  ‘who wrote it’, ‘when was it written’ for whom was it written, what was the aim of the author in writing this, is the author male or female, what kind of text is it, is this a report of a dream or fantasy, is it autobiographical, how was the message received by its audience, are the author and the speaker in the passage the same person, etc.

Patrick Gray, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Rhoades College, and author of Opening Paul’s Letters, suggests we organize our study of Paul’s letter and ask questions through the lenses of three categories:
1) the world behind the text (history, culture, society, politics, literary traits and religion)
2) the world of the text (the literary, aesthetic and structural characteristics of the author’s work)
3) the world in front of the text (what takes place when one reads, between the words on the page and the ‘real” readers throughout history who engage it.

“Paul’s letters are filled with obscure, ambiguous and confusing statements.  It is possible to treat Paul’s letters like picnic or potluck dinners; the author brings the words and the reader brings the meanings.  Readers often attempt to reconcile or account for discrepancies.” (Opening Paul’s Letters, Gray, 7-8).

Make note of historical and chronological items in your reading.  Identify theological or thematic approaches that clarify or enhance ideas or themes (either within one letter or as an overarching theme for all the letters).

Yung Suk Kim, author of A Theological Introduction to Paul’s Letters, suggests another lens to view Paul’s writings.  “Paul’s theology”, Kim writes, “can be informed by who God is, who Christ (Messiah) is and who the believer is” (Kim, x). He quotes Paul’s Romans 1:19
“Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made”
to show that, for Paul, the way of salvation for humanity was to live up to God’s law through the example of Christ’s life and death.” (Kim, 2).


who question with magnifying glassPaul (formerly known as Saul) of Tarsus

Jews and Romans and Christians, Oh My! Dorothy Wizard of Oz  Oh My

 Sometimes the encounter between the Jews who were Jesus’ first followers and the Greco-Roman world is quite explicit, as when Paul reminds the centurion about to flog him that he has certain legal rights as a Roman citizen. Articulating a new faith, Paul and his readers are engaged in the process of creating a distinctively Christian identity. Christian identity is formed from preexisting elements in the cultural contexts of those who had converted, Jew and gentile alike (Gray, 22-23).

To appreciate Paul’s Jewish background, you have to realize that Jewish life and thought continued to thrive during the so-called inter-testamental period between the time of Nehemiah and the last of the bible prophets (ca 400 BCE) and the birth of Jesus. Intertestamental timeline

Many Christian have a biblical canon that does not include books such as Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, 1-2 Enoch, Apocalypse of Abraham and Ascension of Isaiah. But, Jewish diversity flourished in literature, politics as well as theology. There were four main sects of Judaism each with their own sensibility and position regarding institutions and ideas: Land, covenant, law and temple, interpretation and in their unique adaptations of Mosaic law.

The four sects within Judaism in Paul’s time were: Pharasees were interested in Mosaic law as it related to all areas of life. The Sadducees were associated with Temple activities in Jerusalem, and often seen as overly friendly with the Roman overlords.  The Essenes were an austere community in the desert at Qumran near the Dead Sea.  The Zealots wanted to throw off the Roman yoke by military means (Gray 24-25).  Paul likely identified with the Pharisees given his preoccupation with the role of the law in his letters.

pharisee costumePharisee  SaduceeSaducee

 Qumran community of the Essenes

Ancient Jewish Zealot relief Jewish Zealots

Diaspora Jews who were spread out across the Mediterranean during the first Temple’s Destruction in Jerusalem, and who outnumbered the Jews left in Palestine, strove to keep their strict moral code and old customs, garnering prejudice from their neighbors. Their non-Jew countrymen saw them as insular and having bizarre food restrictions as well as being loyal to a foreign entity (Jerusalem) and their barbaric practice of circumcising infant males.

Paul’s ministry was conducted mostly in the Diaspora with regular contact with Jerusalem and Jewish Christian groups there. The Christian faith found in Paul’s letters is born out of a Judaism that had been immersed in Greek and Roman cultures for centuries. The impact of Roman rule on Jewish life was a mixed bag of heavy taxation, loss of political self-determination, slavery and military occupation and good roads, aqueducts, sanitation, wine, medicine, education, irrigation, public order and peace.  So, life under Roman occupation was complicated. (Gray, 26-27). The Romans didn’t get bogged down in the internal Jewish disputes about ht elaw and other matters and; they saw Christianity as a subset of Judaism so they ignored it.

Paul’s World – Social Relationships

Before your interpret the texts of Paul’s letters, you should know a thing or two about 1st century Palestine…under Roman occupation.

Paul the ApostleSocial Relations in the Greco-Roman was prioritized by 1) members of the same household/family, 2) friends, and 3) patrons and clients. Adoption of males was common in ancient Greece and Rome to carry on the family name and proper disposition of the father’s estate in this patriarchal society.  Read Romans 8:12-25; 9:4 or Galatians 4:1-7 for some legalese Ancient Roman-style.  Friends have all things in common; a friend is a ‘second self’. See Philemon 1:27; 2:2-5 for Paul’s exhortation to his Philippian friends to stand firm “in one mind…with one spirit”.

Patrons and clients are relationships in a hierarchical system of social life. A patron was an individual in a position of superiority vis-à-vis another individual.  A client was in a subordinate position.  Everyone was a patron or client, except slaves who had no paying clients and the Emperor who had no patron since he was, well, the Emperor.  Clients owed their patron honor and respect; Patrons used their power and influence to protect the client’s interests, helping them network as we’d say today or loaning them money. Check out Romans 16:1-2 to hear about Paul’s female patron, Phoebe; also see 1 Corinthians 16:15-18 (Gray 32-33).

Because Paul’s background was so common it is often unstated, yet it’s important to bear in mind so as not to incorrectly characterize his prejudices and exhortations.   He is sometimes seen as anti-Semitic, but; as a Jew himself his doesn’t need to write about the places where he and his Jewish opponents agree. Rather he points out where they disagree, particularly their divergence in Jesus’ significance (Gray 33).

Clearly Paul and his contemporary Pharisees have different views of Jesus’ significance (Gray 33). But, much of Paul’s language in his letters is within normal bounds of intra-Jewish theological debates in the first century. We have to remember to read Paul through the cultural lenses of 1st century Palestine (Gray 34).