Frozen in Place

The man in the straw hat is down on one knee, proposing to his beloved. He’s been proposing all day. All week.

The woman by the window orders coffee but never removes her mask.

And that eager looking fella by the door is still waiting on his dinner date.

Still waiting as I eat dessert.

Still waiting.

Restauranteurs’ answer to social distancing and sparse dining?

Image from the Inn at Little Washington

Mannequins. Frozen diners with frozen smiles on their faces and questions on their lips. They “people” the empty chairs. Add interest to dining spaces that are supposed to be energized by bodies and conversations and laughter.

They are waiting—as we all are—for the freeze frame to melt. But they don’t complain. They stand or kneel or hold a fork in the air until their limbs are numb. These scenes are familiar to them. They know what to do. And how not to do.

But I worry about them.

Image from Hotel Haase

I hope the guy who is waiting does not get stood up forever. I want her to say “yes.” I want the woman by the window to drink her coffee without fear.

I don’t want to be frozen in time. In my house. Six feet from hugging my friends—arms outstretched, never touching.

For now, we wait in hope, and with creativity.

The restaurants who seated the mannequins are clever. Will this work for pews and pulpits?

Note: Wonderful photos and article in Forbes.

Who Knew “Shoe Polish” Was So Beautiful? Savoring Teachers

What can we do to say “thank you” to teachers?

This week is National PTA’s Teacher Appreciation Week.

Today I am revisiting a blog I wrote several years ago as an ode of gratitude to teachers. My respect for those who teach our children has expanded and deepened in recent weeks as I see the work teachers are doing to support their students through the COVID-19 crisis.


“Shoe polish,” he said. “Listen to the words. Consonants and vowels feel and sound a certain way when you say them. ‘Shoe polish.’ Don’t you just love that sound?”

Mr. Rogers was my high school English teacher. He loved words and the artistic work of putting words together to make sentences. Mr. Rogers was also enamored of novelists who wove sentences together into tales in which memorable protagonists grappled with life’s deepest questions.

“Every one of you can write beautiful words, sentences, and stories,” Mr. Rogers said. “You can be writers and artists. You can change the world.”

I was sixteen years old. I wanted to believe him.

TEACHING HEROES SHAPING OUR CHILDREN

Political decisions in many cities and states have created complex challenges for public school teachers. In North Carolina, where I live, legislative actions over a number of years have decreased resources for public schools and teachers, and some schools face significant teacher shortages. Teachers are weary and discouraged. 

And yet, each year parents let their kindergarteners go into a world of public education, where their hearts and minds will be forever shaped by those who teach them about grammar and history, math and science, literature and art. 

Each day of the school year, teachers like Mr. Rogers stand in that boundary place between home and public life, and urge our communities’ children to read, write, create, and explore. They teach children how to be good citizens. They encourage them to care about what happens in our world. They have the power to open our children’s minds to the world and to open up worlds for our children. 

The hard, often thankless, work teachers do matters. They deserve our support. They deserve better legislative decision-making. They deserve gratitude.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO SAY “THANK YOU” TO TEACHERS

People of faith have important roles to play in improving the capacity of education to shape healthy and just communities. Joining other religious and public leaders in demanding legislative change is one vital way. 

Another way people of faith can impact what happens in schools is by embodying one of the faith’s most powerful gifts: gratitude. 

This year teachers are facing even more challenges than we or they could have imagined to teach our children. I am so thankful for teachers who have scrambled to learn technological innovations for teaching during this pandemic. Many teachers I know have been creative in how they have stay connected to their students, and have gone above and beyond to support those whose home situations are uncertain. Teachers are amazing. 

God’s expansive creativity inspired the buzz of the bumblebee and painted spring pansies lavender and orange. God’s expansive creativity breathed life and love into human souls. God’s expansive creativity birthed radical Gospel justice and grace. When we offer expansive generosity to others, we live out our “thank you” to God. We embody God’s own creative grace.

Take my hands and let them be. . .

And when our hands grow weary, God, from working to reshape the hard clay of injustice–

Let the beauty of the Lord be upon us and prosper for us the work of our hands.

Psalm 90

A Prayer-poem seeking renewal

I sit on the front porch
With unclean hands

I come home from the grocery store
With unclean hands

I open the mail
With unclean hands

Create in me a clean heart O God
And renew a right spirit within me

Wash your hands—and your heart

A childhood question—“are your hands clean?”—has become Covid-19’s rallying call, at least at our house.

“Wash your hands,” is even the way Sheila ended each of our Lenten Front Porch Facebook Fellowships, and her and my reminders to each other to be hand-mindful echoes through our days.

“Sing pre-happy birthdays to everyone on your birthday greetings list.”

Pretend you are Dolly Parton and belt out the chorus to “Jolene.”

Whatever it takes, be sure to wash your hands—in a sustained and thus sustaining fashion.

I read somewhere that singing “Be Thou My Vision” meets the 20 second cleanliness requirement too, so I have tried singing that a few times too—because my goodness, we need Spirit-vision in these days.

Whose hands?

In these days of intensified hand-washing and hand-wringing, I find myself wondering: what about our hands? My hands. Your hands.

Whose hands will chip away falsehoods that hide God’s wisdom? Whose hands will paint the colors of God’s grace on our society’s landscape of terror and injustice and despair?

The gift of hands

Yes, I have noticed my hands during this pandemic—attended to them in detail—more than I ever have before. And I have given more thought to the wonders of human hands.

Hands that carry and care and clean and comfort.

Hands that plant and play guitar and pray to a creating and healing God.

Hands that bless and hands that break bread.

Hands that sometimes ache from work and worry.

Today, I celebrate my hands that I have washed and washed and washed again. I celebrate all of our hands. And I pray that the words of old hymn come to life within them:

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take our hands and let them move—

My prayer for today?

That God will give wisdom to our hands.

I also offer up prayer of gratitude for all the hands in our communities–

Gentle hands that have put Hello Kitty band aids on skinned knees. Arthritic hands that knit or build or garden through pain. Large hands that have held tiny hands as first steps were taken. Hands that set music free from pianos or organs or guitars. Hands that calm with a touch or write with a flair or feed with a fierce desire that none will go hungry.

A hand-blessing litany

From Isaiah 55–For you shall go out in joy,
And be led back in peace.
The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song.
And all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands.

Stars. Luminous. Incandescent.
Dancing with glee across the night sky
then fading into dawn’s unbounded stillness.
Sun-bursting chrysanthemums and fiery pumpkins
painting the world with colors of harvest.
Mountains singing. Trees clapping.

In the beauty of creation—
the hands of an artist.
Hands of an architect.
Hands of a musician.
The hands of God.

Artist God, give us hands of praise to worship you on this day.

Exodus 25 All the skillful women spun with their hands, and they brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linens.

Weaver God, we celebrate the threads of color you stitch into our lives.
Teach our hands to spin out your grace and mercy in rainbow shades of promise.

Exodus 17. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so Aaron and Hur help up his hands, one on one side and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set.

And when our hands grow weary, God, from working to reshape the hard clay of injustice. . .

We praise you that you give us a community of friends—
hands to hold us up and keep us steady.

Jeremiah 18 Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so you are in my hand.

Too many hands in this world break and destroy.
We cry to you, Potter God. Redeem our hands.
Shape us as vessels of courage in the face of violence.
Give us hands that create and re-create.

Proverbs 31 She holds the spinning tools in her hands
And grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her hands
to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

Give us hands that reach out.
Hands that chip away falsehoods.
Hands that serve.

Deuteronomy 2 For God blesses us in the work of our hands.

The work of our hands?
My hands?
Your hands?

All of our hands, beautiful and blessed by God to do God’s work of
love.

The hands of a farmer.
The hands of a teacher.
The hands of a child.
My hands. Your hands. The hands of God.

Psalm 24 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in the Lord’s holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts. . .

Artist God, give us clean hands and pure hearts for the living of these days.

Note: Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Like a Tree

We thank you for trees–and for human lives.

The pecan tree had provided a canopy over our yard for as long as I have lived here. It was so present, I forgot to remember it was there. Does that make sense?

Last week, the tree was cut down. Thundered to the ground.

Now, it is gone. And I don’t think I realized until now just how important that tree was to how I see our yard. The yard looks vacant now. And up above, where the tree touched the skyline? Empty.

That tree shaded a corner of our world. Provided fruit for wintering squirrels. She was a noble tree, and birds of many kinds were drawn to her and made their nests in her kind and welcoming branches.

I am going to miss that tree. It is amazing just how much sunlight she filtered out from our yard, and I celebrate the new light gifted to us by the tree’s absence. But–yes–I will miss her.

So, today, I honor who she was in our lives and give thanks for God’s gift of trees. They teach us, I think, to send roots down deep into God’s earth. And they teach us to be nesting places for those who need shelter from life’s storms.

Planting, cultivating God,

We thank you for trees.
For roots that search out the depths of the earth.
For branches that reach out.
For leaves that dance and play in springtime sun.

Planting, cultivating God,
We thank you for trees.

Creating, loving God,

We thank you for human lives.
For faith that searches out the depths of life.
For actions that reach out, touch, and transform communities.
For hearts that dance and play in your gracious light.

Creating, loving God,
We thank you for human lives.

We gather today to thank you especially for human lives lost to Covid-19 and for those who risk their lives to care for others in these days.

They are like trees. Planted. Growing. Thriving.
We honor them today and seek your blessing on their lives.

Create us again, loving God.
Plant us by living streams.
Cultivate in us courage to reach out, touch, and transform.

We give you thanks. For trees. And human lives. Planted.

Amen and Amen.

Through a Glass Dimly: Dying, Death, and COVID-19

This video is for clergy and ministers. How do we care for people who are grieving for loved ones during this time of social distancing? What are some healthy and healing practices of care for those who face dying and death in these days?

I created a video to provide support to ministers who face these questions.

Beneath Our Feet

Giving thanks on Earth Day.

From Psalm 8

When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;

What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
And yet. . .

Paul Wallace, a scientist and theologian, wrote an intriguing book in 2015 that explores some of the connections between science, theology, and philosophy—Stars Beneath Us: Finding God in the Evolving Cosmos (Fortress Press). In the book’s introduction, he recalls his “opening spiel” to an introductory astronomy course he teaches.

Under a dark and transparent atmosphere, with an unobstructed horizon and healthy vision, one can see at most about 3,000 stars. And if we were to remove our home planet from under our feet we would see 3,000 more, for a total of 6,000. . .

Paul Wallace

A student in his class was horrified by this news. Why? “It’s just that you said there are stars under my feet, and I had never really thought of it like that before. Wow!”

The concept made me pause in my reading of the book.

The spherical Earth is surrounded on all sides by stars.

Paul Wallace

I don’t often stop to encounter in a visceral way just how expansive the cosmos is. The stars beneath my feet are not tangible to me because they are outside of my daily window of awareness.

I am grateful to Wallace for inviting me to stop for a moment and consider this. A 2013 essay in The Atlantic gives even greater detail about what we can see in our sky.

So, then: Back to you, you tiny little human, standing on the surface of your tiny little planet in your tiny little corner of the universe. How many of those septillion stars are actually visible to you? An extremely, yep, tiny little percentage. There are only about 5,000 stars visible to the naked, average, human eye, MinutePhysics points out. And, because the Earth itself gets in the way, you can only see about a half of those from where you stand.

Megan Garber, “How Many Stars Are There in the Sky?”

I hope that on this Earth Day, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many of us will pause, notice the gifts of our cosmos, and offer a word of gratitude. The pandemic has altered much about the way we live our lives, but it has not changed the stars. In fact, we may be able to see them now with even greater clarity than ever before.

What can we see with the naked eye—the eye that is gazing with more vulnerability than usual and with greater honesty? And what does that gaze—that beholding of God’s beauty—stir us to be and do beneath our part of the sky?

“See? That’s the Big Dipper.
And the Little Dipper is over there.”

We watched the night sky together, Dad and I.
I longed to see what he saw—

Stories in the stars. Fiery folktales of
kings, queens and chameleons;

a lizard, a lynx, and a lion.
Celestial chronicles scripted onto

a black velvet picture book.
I longed to read the stars where

a deranged dragonfish hurtles
toward the earth from two million

miles away. What cosmic superhero
will rise to the challenge? I asked

my dad as he tucked me and
my beagle Hunter into our bed:

“And what is a ‘lesser dog’ by the way?”
Still the astronomical plot eludes

me. Eludes us—if we are wise to
perceive: star-storying? A singular distillation

of collective imagination. Parabolic patterns
premised on where our lives are planted.

Forever made mystical, magical even,
by remembering—when on a clear night

we think we can see forever? The star
so blazing brilliant to our naked eye

burned out yesterday, and always—always—
half the sky is hidden away beneath our feet.