Land of the Rising Sun

Japan.

An exotic land. A highly productive society. An economic powerhouse. A crowded island.

That is the sort of information and opinion I grew up with in the 1950s and ’60s, the period following World War II, as this once “evil empire” became a friend and remade itself.

And now, how do we possibly really comprehend what is happening to the land and people of Japan, what it must feel like to be in a place that has been so mightily changed by powerful acts of nature? It might be easier to have been attacked by a hostile nation, at least then they would know who the enemy is, against whom to vent their anger.

But nature is different, isn’t it? Sure, we can be angry at volcanoes and tsunamis, but what about sunrises and sunsets, and cherry blossoms and chirping birds and majestic mountain peaks?

God is part of all of it, even the destructive parts. I don’t mean God causes volcanoes and tsunamis, or even forest fires or drought–but I do mean that even in the midst of destruction, there is God. In fact, perhaps God is more there than anywhere.

It may be small comfort for the Japanese, who must struggle and endure and rebuild, but I know God is there. And God wants us to be there, too, to help our siblings. I am praying for them, as a start, and I trust you and many others are doing so as well.

We can donate to relief efforts now: the International Red Cross at http://www.icrc.org/eng/index.jsp , or Mercy Corps at http://www.mercycorps.org/ or the International Medical Corps at http://www.internationalmedicalcorps.org/ are good choices (or your own usual choice for disaster relief).

And there will be more for us to do . . . God, and the Japanese, will let us know.

A Ride for the Soul

I am writing this on a MegaBus from New York City to Washington, D.C., on my way back to Richmond after visiting my daughter Meg, her husband Kevin, and their daughter (and our granddaughter)-to-be (her name is not yet entirely settled so I can’t share it yet).

The trip back to Richmond from New York is costing me $13. The trip up on Sunday cost $41. This is a real deal. The pricing seems to depend on when you make and pay for your reservation, and how many others have already done so.

Of course, the seats are cramped, even though they are better than Greyhound at this point–and some buses are double-decker, which is fun.  And they do have WiFi, which is why I can write and post this.

One downside is that they have no terminal, so waiting for the bus is an outside business–fine if it is a nice day, not so when is it is too cold or hot, or raining. Still, if you have been a Greyhound Bus terminal lately, you may not think this is such a disadvantage.

MegaBus is one of several upstart companies seeking to capture portions of the traveling public who don’t have much money–students are big customers and families with lots of children (and poor pastors). Their routine also favors people going between two cities, not multiple legs as I am doing (Richmond to Washington, Washington to New York, then back).

This is entrepreneurial spirit at its best. Their people are passionate, and they’ll probably get it more and more right over time.

I wish them well, although I admit I would fly or take the train if I could afford it. My body tends to ache a lot after a few hours of confinement–but then more than one holy person has advised that adventure and a few aches and pains are good for the soul.

When Was It, Lord, that We Saw You Hungry, and Gave You Food?

As I write, volunteers are responding to homeless people and others who are coming to church for food. It is the day of our biweekly MCC Richmond Food Pantry.

I am one of the world’s blessed people–I have never known hunger. Oh, there were times in my childhood–when my father’s business was struggling–when we ate whatever the cheapest thing was that my mother could cook (my irrantional aversion to eggplant may date from this time). But we never went without a meal, an ample and reasonably nutritious  meal.

So many hundreds of millions around the globe cannot say that. So many can’t say that even in Central Virginia.

Thus, I am grateful to all those who contribute to our Food Pantry, and to Kent, Brad, Bubba, and others who help. This is part of our Christian–and human–dutry: to feed the hungry. I also am grateful to Tigger and Sally and Lydia and others who organize a semi-annual drive to provide personal care items for the homeless.

The rest of us support them through our donations–canned and dry goods, juice cartons and other beverages, and financial donations.

But is that enough? Are you praying every day to end hunger in the world? Are you also contributing to Oxfam or Mercy Corps or other programs to combat global hunger and poverty? Are you writing your Senators and Representatives to make sure they provide government funds for relief?

And are you helping people you encounter–on the street, in the parking lot, wherever you go–who ask for help? When I draw back, or am skeptical, I remember that each one has the face of Christ, and the heart of God–the hungry and homeless are as loved by God as you and me.

Perhaps in their time of need, they are loved even more.

God Is Better Than Even Maple Syrup

I missed out on the pancakes.

It was Shrove Tuesday yesterday, and the tradition from my youth is that you eat pancakes for dinner on that day–to get ready for self-denial in Lent. I love maple syrup–the real kind, not the fake Mrs. Butterworth or Aunt Jemina kind–so I am always glad to eat pancakes. But I ate soup and crackers instead.

In truth I long ago gave up on the idea that I have to stuff myself with syrup one night so the next day I can deprive myself of things I enjoy. For me, Lent is not about denying myself. Instead, it is about not denying God.

So, during Lent I focus on improving my relationship with God. This year, I also am focusing on my relationships with others–partly by reading the book, Love at Last Sight by Kerry and Chris Shook, with others at church, and partly by taking extra time in prayer and meditation. I also am doing some cleaning and organizing–believing that my messiness and disorganization gets in the way of living with God at my center.

All that is good for me. I hope it will be good for others, too–my family, the church, maybe even others.

But I do miss the pancakes, and the syrup.

And All That Jazz!

I found a new sweet spot in Richmond last night–Jonathan already knew it, but it was my first time. We went to the cafe at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for some light supper and jazz, and to celebrate the birthday of our friend, Margaret Ellis.

This was exactly the right spot to celebrate Margaret, she of the gorgeous contralto voice that sends shivers up and down your spine when she lets go with a gospel testimony.  We at church know her for that music, but the music of her soul is jazz. And they have jazz at the VMFA on Thursday nights!

Jazz is one of the things Margaret and I have in common, but she has the voice for it. I can only listen. Besides, she is a longtime member of the Richmond Jazz Society.

Emme St. James

We missed Emme St. James singing Happy Birthday to Margaret, but what we did hear Emme sing was superb, as was the combo backing her up. You can be sure I’ll be back again soon.

You know, for a small-ish place (as important cities go), Richmond is loaded with jewels. The new VMFA, and its Thursday night jazz and cafe nights (free admission to the museum), certainly adds to our community’s crown of jewels.

I feel very blessed.

The Bigger Picture

I am engaged in challenging dialogues with a number of people I love very much.

These dialogues are not always easy. In fact, at moments they are more than challenging.

Sometimes, I feel defensive because some of what they say that is critical of me contains truth. Sometimes, I feel scared, because if I speak my truth I think they won’t like me. Sometimes, I feel angry, because I think they are judging or misunderstanding me.

Oh my, the tangle of emotions I can create! When my desire is to engage in positive dialogue, I can so easily get off course. I am reminded of St. Paul in Romans 7:15. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

But I also am reminded of another wise man, Stephen Covey, who says,

If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Ah, that’s right. Its not about me. Or at least not only me. These dialogues are about US.

Indeed, all things, life, go much better when I remember that everything is part of a bigger picture.

Martha, Don’t Look!

I did some housecleaning on Monday. It was long overdue. Housekeeping is not my strong suit. The other day, one of the youths at church took a peak in my office and said, “So that’s your office . . . it’s kinda messy.”

My office, March 1, 2011

Some would say she was being kind. I like a clean, neat office–I even like a clean, neat house!–but I rarely get this. This is not my priority. If it were my priority, I would keep things clean.

I am more interested in getting something done than I am in keeping things tidy.  At least that is what I tell myself.

Is this a virtue? Not really. On the other hand, is cleanliness next to godliness? I don’t believe it for a minute.

However, I do know it is helpful to be organized. My spaces are somewhat organized, but there is plenty of room for improvement in that area, too.

Do I want to change? Yes. Can I change? Of course.

Cleanliness, and organization, may not be next to godliness, but I do believe they reflect some important values–like self-respect and care, and respect and care for others. So I am making a commitment to do better. I know I can. Help me, God.

Just don’t let Martha Stewart come for a visit any time soon!