Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Two Men at Breakfast: A Trimeric Poem

My friend Sandy recently posted a picture of her husband and grandfather breakfasting together while they read from their Bibles. The beautiful photo got me thinking about the ways generations share love and faith. It also got me playing with a poem in trimeric form.

This is a relatively new poem form which I first heard about on a blog last year (I think it was a Monday Poetry stretch at Miss Rumphius Effect). It was invented by Dr. Charles Stone, who defines it as:

 "Trimeric \tri-(meh)-rik\ n: a four stanza poem in which the first stanza has four lines and the last three stanzas have three lines each, with the first line of each repeating the respective line of the first stanza.  The sequence of lines, then, is abcd, b – -, c – -, d – -." 

Dr. Stone has written a lot of trimerics. He tends to write very spare lines, which I appreciate (and he is, after all, the inventor of the form!) but one reason I enjoy playing with the form is that it seems to lend itself so well to tiny narratives. This is only the second one I've written, but I hope it won't be the last.

Two Men at Breakfast

They keep the Bible near to hand --
the old man and the younger one.
At the table, they enjoy coffee
and sweet fellowship in prayer.

The old man and the younger one
have long shared a love of mornings
and the God who made them.

At the table they enjoy coffee,
sip the bitter and the sweet,
share their worries and their cares

and sweet fellowship in prayer.
These are the moments that bind
generations together in love.

~EMP 7/28/15

Monday, July 27, 2015

One Child at a Time: Reflections After VBS

We had a tiring but terrific VBS week. This was the fourth year we invited in a local CEF team, recognizing that we don’t have the people power to design, implement, and carry out an original program right now. I also like that it connects us to other churches and a wider community of faith. Yes, there are differences in presentation and emphasis within different Christian communities, but sometimes I think we gain more by working together, even in the tensions, than we would working separately. At least that’s one of the gleanings I took away from this week, in which I sensed the Lord was working in me as much as he was in the kids.

The kids had a great time. With the exception of the first night, when we only had 8 children, we had about 18 coming every night, with a good core coming back multiple times and being there the whole week or at least 4 out of 5 nights. A number of these kids came last year as well. It was a good reminder that, as my dear husband says, when we open the doors, the children come!

There are years (and this was definitely one of them) when I wasn’t sure we were prepared to open our doors; we hadn’t had the energy to do much preparation ourselves and our pool of volunteers to draw on seems to get smaller every summer. Our little family has been feeling a bit burned out lately, and D. and I have been asking ourselves some questions about our ministry call and the best way to carry it out in this season. I have also been struggling a good deal with some physical issues and extra tiredness on account of them.

And yet a marvelous thing happened when we did open our doors and step out in faith. The children came, and God was there to meet them, exactly where they were. God was also there to meet us. He gave us energy, enthusiasm, a renewed sense of realization about how deeply these children need an encounter with his love and a chance to hear and see the gospel.

Since we weren’t doing the heavy lifting as teachers, he also gave us time to just sit and be with the kids during meals (at least some nights; S. and I ended up handling the kitchen for the last three nights) and during the lesson time. That meant time to listen to them and laugh with them and ask them questions (in addition to directing and guiding them…and keeping them out of the bathroom when they shouldn’t be in there…and keeping them from clunking each other on the head or shoving each other around too much when they got frustrated or mad at each other). It meant time to do the goofy hand motions to the songs and to encourage them to repeat the Scripture verses. It meant time to observe and interact with and pray for some of the kids who came with extra special needs: we had a deaf boy as well as two boys who were autistic.

Wednesday night, midweek, felt a little overwhelming. We had a large attendance with no one to sit and be with the kids except us and the CEF team, two of whom were very young this year. Some of the kids got loud, rowdy, and rambunctious and just keeping order became the main task of the evening. In the midst of it all, you could tell there were kids who were doing their best to listen, drinking in what they were given. We quickly recognized that many of them had little to no familiarity with the evening’s Bible story, which happened to be Noah. 

At the end of the evening, I was grateful when two lovely ladies in our church who do outreach to the deaf community came downstairs from the Bible Study they’d been holding. I had contacted them to let them know about the little boy who was attending who is deaf, and they were able to have a conversation with him. One of the ladies was able to come back the next two evenings and really forge a connection with this little boy; she signed the lessons to him and also just spent a good deal of time with him in signed conversation. She also made some beginning connections with his family, who is in need of the some of the resources and personal help she can provide. That turned out to be one of the huge blessings of the week.

Still, by the end of the evening, I felt discouraged. I kept thinking “there is so much hunger here, and we have no real way to meet it. There is so much need for attention and presence, and we have so few people to provide it. Even just attempting to reach the children within a few block radius of our church feels overwhelming.” That feeling persisted for me until the following morning, when I opened the daily intercessory email I get from an amazing mission organization working in India. Guess what the first line read? “How do you transform a nation of a billion+ people? You start with one child.”

Suddenly, our task didn’t seem quite as daunting. Or if it did still seem daunting, God had at least given me the “perspectacles” I needed. Our task is truly not as overwhelming as the task of church planters and Bible teachers in India, but with them we share a common task and calling, a common gospel. And even, in one sense, a common strategy. “You start with one child.”

That phrase changed the whole way I looked at the next two nights, even when they seemed to feel overwhelming. One hungry little boy prayed to accept and trust Jesus the next night. And that night, and the next, there were other opportunities, some of them small, to tell and show individual kids how much God cared for them.

In the midst of all of that, God directed my attention some other words I needed to hear. One was in the book Discipleship in the Present Tense (by James K.A. Smith) which I’ve been wending my way through this month, and the other was in an old seminary magazine.

Let me mention the words from the article first. I’ve been going through old magazines, some of them years old, pulling articles or photos I want to keep and recycling the rest of the pages. I was skimming through a nearly ten year old interview with an alum from my seminary who was talking about his own then-daunting task of a particular ministry, in which he had humbly realized he lacked “tools, talents…and finances.” (Sounds familiar!) But he went on to say that because of that, they had constantly relied on “seeking God’s provision and direction” (also sounds familiar!). He finished with the words “This is a ministry bathed in intercessory prayer.”

The other light bulb that went off for me was in Smith’s book, which is really a collection of essays and interviews. I was reading an interview in which he recapped much of the terrific content from his book Desiring the Kingdom, which I read last summer. Toward the end, he commented that that no matter how small you or your community might feel, it’s important to remember that “you’re in a story of immense cosmic significance.”


  • Remember you are in a story of great cosmic significance
  • Bathe the ministry in intercessory prayer
  • Focus on one child at a time

I don’t know entirely what the future of our church’s or even our family’s ministry and calling may look like, but it seems to me that these are wise and important reminders that I know I needed to hear this week.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Limitations and Confidence

I had one of those conversations today that got me thinking about limitations and confidence. As I contemplate my ongoing work as a teacher (in the midst of parenting, ministry, and writing) I often struggle to find the distinctions between knowing and acknowledging my real limitations and simply lacking confidence.

Does anyone else have anything in their life that they feel this way about?

I got into teaching very much through the back door. I’ve never been trained as a teacher; everything I’ve learned as a teacher I’ve learned from experience. I rarely get opportunities for ongoing conversations or professional development that help me grow as a teacher, except in the cracks and crevices of an ongoing learning life of my own.

And these days, I seem to be teaching everywhere: as a homeschooling parent, as a children’s ministry worker, as a graduate school adjunct, as a teacher for an online diocesan lay institute, as a curriculum developer and writer. There’s almost no part of my life that isn’t suffused with teaching of one sort or another, and this past year I literally worked with students as young as three on up through retirement age. The fact that the door keeps opening for me to teach leads me to believe…I hope, I pray….that it’s a calling I’m supposed to be embracing.

I love teaching. There are parts of it I know I do well. There are other parts I know I don’t do so well, sometimes due to lack of time – time to read, think, process, discuss, experiment, grow, pay attention, check out new scholarship. Other lacks that frustrate me at times are lacks in financial resources and decent technology. There are other parts I know I don’t do so well because I just don’t do them well. I don’t know if I could ever develop certain skills as a teacher because I’m not sure I am gifted in certain areas. Like most teachers (I guess?) I try to build on my strengths.

But there are times when I am called upon for a teaching project when I find myself standing in front of it, feeling so unsure if I am adequate to the task, and not always knowing if it’s just me being tired and overwhelmed and lacking confidence, or me coming up against a real wall because I just don’t have the brain and the gifts needed to go any further. This is not intended to be some sort of false humility, by the way. I’m serious about the fact that I sometimes feel very limited as a scholar and teacher, especially when it comes to my work in formal academia.

I don’t mean to be navel gazing. It might sound like that’s what I’m doing, but I honestly wrestle with this question, which becomes a question of practical import when I’m trying to decide which projects to take on and how to approach them. It may not be popular to talk about limitations, but I sometimes need to face the fact that I have them – both tangible and intangible ones. I don’t like the fact that lack of confidence is sometimes part and parcel of the limitations I face, but I suspect it often is. Trying to detangle all that is difficult. Sometimes I retreat and sometimes I take the plunge; sometimes I serve my students better than others. 

Grateful for opportunities, but I do confess sometimes I wish I could put my energies into one or two places, at most, and really dig in wholeheartedly and deepen in those places. Given the current season of our lives and our family's needs, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon, which means I need to keep on learning to do as well as I can putting together the myriad small pieces that make up the mosaic of my working and creative life.  And being as faithful as I can to do them well, even when I can't give some of them the attention they deserve.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Reading Round-Up: Early Summer Edition

Summertime! Our recent trip to Virginia to see family, coupled with the fact that school is out, means I am getting some long overdue reading time. Even though I have a heavier teaching load this summer than usual (at the seminary) I am still enjoying some good reading time.

Here's a peek at some of what I've been reading lately.

Young Fiction

The sweet girl (aka Jedi Teen...who by the way truly has officially reached her teen years now!) has been busy recommending books to me, deep into her own summer reading. Some of these she's found on her own and some we've ferreted out together via book lists. So far I have really enjoyed Savvy by Ingrid Law and One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, two mid-grade books I might not have read but for the sweet girl's encouragement. I enjoyed Savvy, an interesting mix of fantasy and realism, for its creative story-line and highly creative use of language. One for the Murphys, the debut novel of author Hunt (whose second book Fish in a Tree the sweet girl and I both enjoyed earlier this year) is the story of a young girl in foster care. It reminded me a little bit of Katherine Paterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins, though Gilly had less overt sentiment.

Jedi Teen and I reviewed the graphic novel Smile together, and she's gone on to read two other graphic novels by Raina Telegemeier (I've started Sisters, but haven't had a chance to finish it). We both also read the seventh (and perhaps last, though we're not sure) Clementine book by Sara Pennypacker, Completely Clementine. It's so funny to realize that the sweet girl started reading these when she was about Clementine's age. Clementine has only made it through her third grade year in these seven terrific books, while my daughter has shot past her by years. But we both still love them, almost the way you love to and return to a good Ramona book. And that's saying something.


I've needed a lighthearted return to mystery reading this summer, and decided to dive back into my exploration of the books of Patricia Wentworth.  I'm not sure quite how many of the Miss Silver mysteries I've read now, but I know I've done three since late spring: She Came Back, The Gazebo, and Out of the Past. All of these were written in the 1950s, I think, and she definitely had her formula down by then. I'm cottoning on to what makes a Wentworth a Wentworth -- I actually managed to guess the murderer in the last one -- and I'm very much enjoying the camaraderie between Miss Silver and Inspector Abbot, who looks upon this school-teacher-ish maiden-aunt woman with both amusement and awe. I love that he trusts her detecting instincts so completely that he'd pretty much follow her blindfolded in a snowstorm. It's a great early example of an amateur and professional partnership.


So much really good non-fiction on my plate right now...it's sort of an embarrassment of riches. I'm inwardly singing with joy over the beautiful essays in James K.A. Smith's Discipleship in the Present Tense, which seem to be "speaking my theology" in ways I've only felt with a few authors in the past. I'm revisiting a gem of a book I loved years ago and recently rediscovered in a library book sale: Henri Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal -- and I need to hear what he has to say just as much as I did then. It's one of those beautiful gospel-centered books that we all need to revisit from time to time for the good of our hearts. And it's reminding me how much I love the artistry of Rembrandt and his Prodigal painting in particular.

I'm learning a ton of history I never knew from David Garrison's A Wind in the House of Islam, a book that is both challenging and encouraging. It's a carefully researched and well-written account of some of the many amazing things that God had done among Muslim communities in centuries past and is currently doing among Muslims in this century. I was going to call it a book of mission history (which it is) but I'd rather give it the bigger parameter of Christian history or just history (thinking about Justo Gonzalez' reminder that we too often separate the study of missions from the rest of church and world history).

I'm still working my way through N.T. Wright's Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, which is taking me longer than I expected, mostly because I find myself wanting to chew thoughtfully on his insights. I keep meaning to jot some of the things that are particularly speaking to me -- from Wright, Nouwen, Smith, and Garrison especially -- here on the blog. Maybe I will have a chance to do that soon.