Jeremiah, Ministry, Narrative Lectionary, The Inner Landscape, Writing

Drink coffee where you’re planted

Feeling a little sorry for myself, I drove to the Starbucks in Camp Hill this morning to work where I wouldn’t be underfoot for the cleaning lady.

A mother and son sat down next to me, the mom an elegant, Middle Eastern woman with dark skin and long hair, an expensive though casual outfit, and a pair of unlikely and inelegant shoes – desert boots – which, along with her face, said sixty. The son was nice-looking, maybe 30ish, dressed in jeans and a windowpane-checked shirt with a lightweight quilted vest, and loafers without socks. They talked about a family business, a restaurant. He complained, mildly, that his mother compared his new girlfriend to his old girlfriend, “practically every day.” Her smart phone (cracked screen, fuschia case) sat on the table while she ate food she brought in with her, but they both drank coffee from those red holiday cups.

Wherever they came from, they’re here now. Their family owns a restaurant. They meet and drink coffee.

He goes back for a second cup, an Americano.

They are living fully where they are planted.

At Starbucks.
At Starbucks.

Part of my pity party revolves around my grown-up children. I miss them. They are living their lives in Brooklyn and Boulder and Northampton. I am living mine in South Central Pennsylvania. They are doing what I hoped, pursuing their interests and working hard to make the most of the gifts God gave them. The actor (Brooklyn) and the musician (Boulder), both craftsmen, audition and perform and take class and rehearse. The student (Northampton) shows us with each passing week that she is truly a scholar as the grades come in and all the things she feared weren’t good enough get an A-.

But what am I doing with myself?

I’m continuing to grieve the end of my work in the local church. Most of the time it’s okay. I understand the reasons it isn’t happening and may not again. There are other things I’m doing, but they don’t pay anything right now and they may not, ever. I find that hard. There is, after all, a daughter in college, and a younger child who will get there eventually. I sort of thought if God really wanted me to be doing particular work, it would end up paying, which would be great for practical reasons even though it’s not the ultimate mark of value.

In the midst of my pity party (Classic Coffee Cake and a Tall Mocha), I opened the text for this week and proceeded to be worked over by it.

Honestly, I expect this from the Revised Common Lectionary. We’ve been in relationship since the late 1980s. Inevitably, some portion of the various texts takes me by the shoulders and gives me a good shake. But it’s all new with the Narrative Lectionary. How can it know me so well?

Still there he is, Jeremiah, ready to take me for a ride around the block. Not only is he exhorting the Israelites to make a life in Babylon, he assures them that God has a plan for their future.

Shoot.

I am such a proficient mourner! By the waters of the Yellow Breeches I lay down and weep for Back Cove. I pine a little, anyway. Mostly I pine for a sense of identity and a place to go.

When Google Maps asked if Kathryn’s church was my “Work,” I admit to feeling a sense of despair. Instead, I typed in this Starbucks. (12 minutes from home, under average circumstances. Clearly, this is a first world pity party.)

Immigrant or exile, I admit I am struggling to carve out a new identity for myself and to get somewhere in the work I am doing.

“I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, Common English Bible)

I’m calling.

“Write your stories. Craft your prayers. Listen. Read. Turn the farm share into a nutritious and interesting dinner. Love your family. What’s next is next. For now, drink coffee where you’re planted.”

Jeremiah, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Lent 5B

By Heart

Dear Everyone Who Thinks God Never Changes,

I present to you Jeremiah 31:31-34.

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Oh, I suppose you could make the argument that God plans it that way all along, so God is unchanging.

But that’s tiresomely stubborn.

This God we worship is so clearly relational. And relationships work on us. Good relationships exalt us and inspire us and give us hope.

Even bad relationships work on us, teaching us to be more careful next time or to amend our ways or even to seek other seas.

And regular relationships, which is to say, the ones we work on because the love is mutual, have moments of both good and bad. And I would like to make the case that our relationship with God is the best kind of regular relationship, one that goes bad on both sides, sometimes, but that always has enough good to keep us coming back and to open us to be fuller, deeper, more loving, more forgiving and more conscious of where we tend to go wrong.

This God of Jeremiah 31 learned that laying down the law was not enough. The law must be learned by heart, become so much a part of us that we don’t have to use our heads to apprehend it.
It sounds so simple, but we have such highly developed shell casings around our hearts, we people. We don’t want to trust love. We are ambitious or anxious. We want to feel powerful. We convince ourselves that safety lies in weapons. We use them on other people, regardless of the law’s opinion.

I’m sick at heart about Trayvon Martin. I am thinking of his parents tonight, and of a better world in which the hard hearts of the fearful and the hateful and the plain ignorant are softened and opened and written on by God. I believe God is willing, has been willing to have that relationship with us. But we are still putting up barriers.

I have barriers of my own. They may not look like an SUV and a 9 millimeter weapon, but I have them. I’m praying they will drop, too, that I will be among those who know God, by heart.

I hope you will be, too.

Faithfully,
Martha

Jeremiah, The Inner Landscape

Do not decrease

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, NRSV)

I preached last Sunday about how coming to Maine to live felt like going into exile, so far away from my accustomed flora and seasons that it might as well have been Antarctica or Timbuktu or Caprica. 23 years later, the way the seasons change here is simply the way they change. I've given up grieving for the lovely early springs of my Virginia childhood and reconciled myself to mud season. I don't think there's any question I managed to bloom where God transplanted me. 

That's not to say everything has gone smoothly. At the moment, my personal life is rough and unsettled, at the same time I am experiencing the natural bumps and joggles of learning a new church family, its ways and its history and its needs and its expectations. It's not the first time in my life I've had a lot to handle, and I look back on those times and I am trying to remember what helped and what I lacked to remain upright, to keep breathing, to hold onto hope.  I remember how after the end of my first marriage I could not seem to organize myself to fix dinner, and how hard that made life with three children. Right now every meal I prepare, even one reheated and originally cooked by someone else, feels like an accomplishment.

7wonders-hanging_gardens_of_babylon Babylon, the city whose welfare God asked the exiled Israelites to seek, contained one of the seven wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens. And it occurs to me that wonder matters because it reminds us that not everything is easily achieved or explained, and that's okay. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Maybe some days it's okay that our purpose simply be to gaze in awe at a beautiful sight in nature, or to ponder the effort put in by a master gardener. The act of wonder makes us right-sized, gives us perspective on our own place in the world and perhaps inspires us to create beauty at our own level.

I'm not that successful at planting gardens. A few years ago I put a lot of effort, with help from stronger arms and backs, into a bulb garden and a few perennials and shrubs in front of my house. I waited eagerly for spring and was rewarded, but the next two years, instead of naturalizing, the daffodils grew thinner and sadder. Earlier in the year, when I thought I might relocate, I put those flower beds on my mental list of failures. No point trying to fix it now, I thought. I'm just a failure at gardening.

But I'm staying, and when spring comes next year, I want to see more flowers. So today I asked a certified Master Gardener in my new congregation what he would suggest to a person who had a major Daffodil Fail in a place where yews and rhododendrons used to thrive?

Lime, he said. You need lots of lime. 

The soil retained too much acid. I suppose it burned the bulbs.

A Google search tells me that fall is the appropriate time to lime the soil. I can find instructions about what sort of lime to use and how to apply it. I'm sure the Israelites figured out the way to plant their gardens in the foreign land, to feed themselves and the families they not only brought with them but continued to make anew. I'll be doing the same, in a sense, seeking the way back to center, to balance, despite the burn I feel today, seeking the increase and not the decrease of love and faith and hope.