Monday, October 29, 2012

teach us to measure our days . . .

REMINDER: The days will soon be accomplished that this blog will move to Please change your bookmarks, or follow the link and subscribe on the other site.

This past Sunday, our church finished a month long celebration of our 125th anniversary. One Sunday we returned to the little wooden church out in the woods where our congregation began; two Sundays ago, we spent the afternoon listening to Jeremy, our amazing accompanist, transport us with his words and music. And it was on that same Sunday as we sat in worship and Ginger “went off book” following the Spirit with prophetic words of challenge for us that I began thinking about how we could best measure our time, both past and future, as a congregation.

You’re probably way ahead of me. Before I had even begun to write down what was passing through my head, it already had a soundtrack: “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes . . .” and I wrote, “How do you measure the life of a church?” Then I listed:

  • in bricks
  • in coffee hours
  • in committee meetings
  • in spagetti dinners
  • in mission trips
  • in sermons
  • in hymns
  • in Christmas pageants
  • in workdays
  • in pastors
  • in conflicts
  • in capital campaigns
  • in budgets
  • in baptisms
  • in Communions
We say a great deal about who we are by how we mark our time. And by how we spend it. Life in the Brasher-Cunningham house is hectic right now and I never quite get to the bottom of the list. (So different from other times in my life!) The other night, Ginger asked if I had done something that had she had asked about before and I answered, “I haven’t had time.” She responded with a correction we offer each other as a gentle reminder of reality: “You haven’t made time.” And I corrected myself.

We both work to be diligent about remembering that “I don’t have time” is, for the most part, a euphemism for “that is not important to me” -- or at least not as important. How I mark my time and spend my time shows me what matters. Coming to terms with what really matters based on the way I spend my time is not always a pleasant realization. The same is true for congregations. When we look at how we actually mark our days and spend our time, what matters most?

How do we measure a year in our lives together?

You know, when it gets right down to it, the folks from RENT answer well: how about love -- seasons of love. So may it be.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ch-ch-ch-changes . . .

So here's the deal: I am days away from giving this blog a new home. (You can actually see the home-building in progress at Blogger has been very good to me, but Wordpress gives me a few more options.

I will mirror posts on both blogs for the next week or two, and then this site will remain but will become an archive.

If you subscribe by email, you will find a link on the new page to continue getting the posts.

If you like to get the posts by RSS feed, there's a link for you as well.

Either way, I hope you will follow me across platforms and into the next chapters of this adventure.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

good work

this morning while the sun was waking
and the air was waiting to be warmed
we walked as though we had no other
purpose but to walk together

as though nothing else was as important
as passing under the changing leaves
and letting the schnauzers sniff
most everything along our way

then we circled back to meet the demands
of our day the stuff of schedules and
promises important and immediate
and both came home tired

however loud the daily drums beat
however long the list of all that must be done
let me not forget -- or perhaps always remember
walking with you is the best of my time


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

stories and supper

A friend of mine had this little poster on her Facebook page this morning. It showed up on the heels of a conversation at work last night about the nature of atoms and how much space there is in them. (I didn’t understand everything, but I did listen.) One of my colleagues said, “Atoms are made of mostly nothing.”

Not so with stories.

Over the past two Saturdays, I’ve had the privilege to gather with groups of people in two different area churches to talk about my book. The first was a potluck where we invited people to bring a dish that had a story with it. As we ate, we told the stories: pizza that carried memories of being an AFS exchange student; applesauce flavored with other fruit, as grandma used to do; green tomato relish, from another grandmother; Waldorf salad from childhood; Christmas tamales; Key Lime Pie and memories of the Woolworth lunch counter; mom’s sausage rolls; mom’s biscuits; mom’s bean salad; Nebraskan corn casserole; German muesli; and Italian mushrooms and tomatoes.

We shared the stories with tears and laughter, digesting the love and tenacity with which each of us held those memories. And the humor. One told of sitting in a doctor’s office one day and seeing a magazine with the word “posthumous” on it -- a new word to her: after death. She first confused the word with hummus, so she brought hummus to our meal, saying it reminded her of the way we bring food to one another after a funeral. Post hummus.

The second gathering was over tea, with some snacks, and in the course of our conversation I asked those gathered to talk about what meal time was like growing up, which also led us to talk about what meal times are like now -- what we have held on to and what we have worked to change. Before long, we were talking about much more than food: family dynamics, dreams found and lost, the unexpected turns of life. Once again, we digested the gifts offered to one another and left stronger and feeling more loved, even in the midst of much that remained unsettled and unsure.

Each time I have a chance to hear people tell their stories, I am more convinced that when Jesus said, “As often as you do this . . .” he wasn’t talking about the ritual of Communion as much as he was every time we break bread, together or alone. When we stop to nourish our bodies we must also remember we are nourishing our souls, lest we fail to do so. Every meal from a ham sandwich to a high holy day is a chance to remember, to digest -- again -- the truth that we are wonderfully and uniquely created in the image of God and worthy to be loved.

Let’s eat.


Monday, October 08, 2012

sometimes late at night

I find myself wishing
there were no passive voice
(an odd wish, I know)

but I don’t care much
for a world where
things were said

mistakes were made
damage was done
lives were lost

as though the mistakes
made themselves
or the violence

happens without
death without killers

too many years
teaching English
to sleep well


Sunday, October 07, 2012

this is the sound of one voice

There was much about today's worship that moved me. We observed World Communion Sunday and our meal was accompanied by some amazing music, which is what I want to share tonight. Three women at church covered a song by the Wailin' Jennys called "One Voice." I had not heard it before. It is as fine a Communion hymn as any I know. So tonight, I share their words and music -- with gratitude.

One Voice

This is the sound of one voice
One spirit, one voice
The sound of one who makes a choice
This is the sound of one voice

This is the sound of voices two
The sound of me singing with you
Helping each other to make it through
This is the sound of voices two

This is the sound of voices three
Singing together in harmony
Surrendering to the mystery
This is the sound of voices three

This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and the will to trust
Leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
This is the sound of all of us

This is the sound of one voice
One people, one voice
A song for every one of us
This is the sound of one voice
This is the sound of one voice

I will write more tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

changing the channel

Tonight the Red Sox will play the last game of a disappointing season that ended long ago, as far as any aspirations for the post season were concerned. The only thing that matters about tonight is that it would be nice to beat the Yankees on the way out. As far as the Yanks go, the game matters only as far as bragging rights go; win or lose, they are going to the playoffs. That said, I’m going to watch the game tonight instead of the presidential debate because the game has more significance. The debate is the political equivalent of professional wrestling: all posture and no substance.

Ever since Richard Nixon’s loss to John Kennedy was attributed to his poor showing in their televised debate, candidates on both sides have worked to master the medium, to make sure they come off in the best light, and to learn how to spar and wait for the right moment to deliver a “zinger.” So they talk about how well the other one debates in order to lower expectations, the pour over old tapes to look for strengths and weaknesses, and they sequester themselves to practice, practice, practice so we can all gather around our televisions like a mob at a cock fight to cheer for our favorite and shout down the other. When the debate is over, all that will be added to the equation is  fodder for the 24 news cycle, who are the ones who fomented the fervor in the first place.

So watch baseball or Law and Order reruns or something that matters. Skip the debates. Better yet, get together with a group of people you trust and who don’t all agree with you and have a discussion about what needs to happen in our country that avoids the catch phrases and cliches that fill our airwaves. Talk about health care without using the word “Obamacare.” Talk about class issues in our country without referring to the “Forty-seven percent.” Don’t run to opposite poles and scream at each other. Don’t settle for political theater and honest discourse. Get together, eat together, and then listen more than you talk.

And while you’re at it, pull for the Sox.


Monday, October 01, 2012

the week of luxurious leftovers

In the days when I was actively engaged as a songwriter, my friend Billy and I maintained the practice of sending each other three titles and four lines of verse every night. Each of the titles had to be able to be explained (“This song would be about . . .) and the lines needed to be attached to one of them. We were writing long distance in the days before email and texting, so we faxed our work back and forth, often in the early hours of the morning. I still have the notebooks filled with great titles whose ideas were never fully birthed.

My practice for a number of years has been to carry a Moleskin notebook in my back pocket, which is the receptacle for ideas, possibilities, sermon notes, grocery lists, reminders, addresses, and just about anything else that needs to be written down -- including the occasional title, even though I haven’t written a song in a long, long time. Looking back through my notes on Italy, I found a title suggested by my friend Lori, who was one of the participants in our Days in the Villa. One morning after breakfast, she said, “You need to write one post called ‘The Week of Luxurious Leftovers.’”

Here it is.

A professional kitchen lives and dies on its food costs. One of the ways that you control how much you spend is by how well you use what you buy. When I managed the kitchen at Duke, we never had a big budget, so one of the things I learned how to do well was use ingredients in more than one way. In my kitchen at home, I have always enjoyed figuring out what to do with what’s left over, which is one of the reasons I love making soups. The best ones have no recipe, you just use what you have. One night at the villa, I made polenta that I baked and cut into squares and served with Chicken Limone and grilled vegetables (expertly grilled by Lori’s husband, Terry). At the end of the meal, we had polenta and veggies left over. For breakfast the next morning, I pan-fried the polenta, made a hash out of the vegetables by adding a little prosciutto, and poached some eggs to top it all off: uova della villa. Another night we took the left over risotto, formed it into cakes, dipped it in egg wash and bread crumbs, and pan-fried them to go with a roasted pork tenderloin. One of the most enjoyable parts of the week was figuring out what to do with what was left from before.

When I open the fridge to see what I have to work with, whatever I’m in, I work to think of what might be rather than what was. Sure, there are times when we reheat a dish as it was and eat it a second time, but I’m talking about finding the containers with leftovers that are not enough on their own or who have lost their companions. I try to think about combinations that were not there before, about ways the colors and textures and tastes of the foods can compliment each other and become something new, even though nothing is. So leftover polenta becomes a variation on eggs Benedict, several meals of leftover vegetables become an improvised minestrone, or pita bread becomes crust for a pizza topped with cheese and apples.

Life is about leftovers more often than it is about new things. Few of us ever step where no one has gone before, think things no one has thought, do what no one has ever done and (not but) we take the pieces of what has been handed down and used before and make something new with our lives. Both things are true. No one has been more before, just as no one has ever been you. The recipes of our lives, if you will, are new offerings when we choose to look for what might be rather than continuing to use the menus handed down. Our plates fill up with grief and grace, with hope and heartache, with joy and pain, disappointment, surprise, anger, compassion, longing and love. What we make of the leftovers is up to us.

The stuff I find in the fridge is easier to manipulate that the stuff that fills up life, certainly, yet making the most of the leftovers in either arena requires of me to take my time, to move deliberately, and -- most of all -- to make sure I have help. That’s right: don’t cook alone. Our week of leftovers became luxurious because we had time to make it so. The best dishes take time: healing, befriending, dreaming, loving.

Now, why don’t we can see what we can make of what we have left?