Lost Coins and Boxes

Luke 15:1-10  – The 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 15, 2013

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them . . .” ((Luke 15:8)

Raiders_Of_The_Lost_ArkUnlike Jesus’ parable of a woman scouring her house for a lost coin, my mother’s quest for a box didn’t have a happy ending.

In August a year ago, Mom had moved from her home of forty-six years to a retirement community. Many of the contents of her suburban house were donated, itemized for a garage sale or bequeathed to my two sisters and me. She would only bring what she needed to her new residence.

When I arrived for a first visit a couple of weeks after her move, the new apartment had packed and unpacked cardboard boxes everywhere . . . on her floors, piled in closets and also in the dishwasher-sized storage unit in a separate area. Mom had already filled her assigned space with several empty suitcases, Christmas ornaments and more boxes.

After a hug and chitchat and how-was-the-drive-from-Fresno, Mom’s demeanor flattened like air escaping a tire.

“I’ve lost a box.”

A box. There were scores of boxes in Mom’s apartment. It was a condensed version of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones’ wooden box was stored in a government warehouse with a zillion other similar containers.

“Which box, Mom?”

“It’s the one with a thousand dollars in it.”

Ah. That box.

Mom and Dad were born in the first decades of the twentieth-century. That generation survived the interminable “Great Depression” and then saved the world from the tyranny of dictators. Though I didn’t know when I was a kid, as an adult—and privy to a few of my parents’ “secrets”—I’d learned they kept cash hidden in the house. The financial woes of 1930s demonstrated that a bank might abruptly close its doors. World War II revealed that normalcy could shift to panic and only fools wouldn’t prepare for the proverbial “rainy day.” Of course they hoarded a stash of cash.

“I think I put the box in the storage unit,” she said.

We looked. Indeed, over the next hours, we investigated the smallish storage space multiple times. We opened and closed and opened every carton of any size in her apartment. It didn’t matter if a box had been labeled Photo Albums or Kitchen Stuff, we thoroughly searched the apartment’s nooks, crannies and, like Jesus’ woman with the lost coin, lighted a lamp to illuminate the darkest reaches of rooms and corners.

It wasn’t World War II, but Mom’s normalcy had shifted to panic. Continue reading →

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Alka-Seltzer Man

Philemon 1-21 (Actually the whole book…) – The 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 8, 2013

“I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.” (Philemon – vs. 10)

(This reflection was first written in August, of 2010, but I’ve revised it as a “time saver.” Currently I’m with my mother in her skilled nursing room in Sacramento. She is non-responsive, in the final stages of dying from cancer. I would welcome your prayers for her, for my family.)

Alka-Seltzer Man, at Lyell Glacier below Donahue Pass, in Yosemite...
Alka-Seltzer Man, at Lyell Glacier below Donahue Pass, in Yosemite…

Like driving through a small town on a rural highway, you could blink your eyes and miss Philemon. It’s a briefer than brief letter in the Christian Testament, squeezed between Titus and Hebrews. It can be read—even if the reader repeats a few sentences or stumbles over pronunciation—during a quick coffee break. It’s the shortest book in the Bible and the only existing personal correspondence we have from Saul who became Paul.

Eleven names appear in the full 25 verses: Paul, Timothy, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke. Onesimus, the eleventh name and the letter’s subject, was written a single time in the note’s 335 Greek words. He was a runaway slave befriended by Paul. The apostle advocated for a change in the master-slave relationship to his friend Philemon (and Onesimus’ owner): “Welcome him as you would welcome me.”

Paul’s letter to Philemon reminds me of how I requested money from my parents during college. In those pre-Internet missals, I’d share how much I loved them and highlight a few recent events (like an upcoming test or an embarrassing thing my roommate did) and then I’d casually mention I might need a couple of extra bucks. When reading Philemon, I admire its sincerity, tenderness . . . and cleverness. Philemon, perhaps like my parents, will easily discern he’s being “wooed” by his good buddy Paul. Continue reading →

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20 Days Ago I Had Lunch With Mom

Luke 13:10-7 – The 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, August 25, 2013

“When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:13)

Ah, those old fairground booths that snapped a few quick pictures...
Ah, those old fairground booths that snapped a few quick pictures…

Can any passage in the Bible ever be read without context influencing a reader’s response?

I can’t study John’s Revelations, the last gasp of the New Testament, without considering the pettiness and power of the Roman Empire. You betcha Patmos-bound John dreamed a future without tears, and that a brand spanking-new Jerusalem would soon materialize. With Caesar brandishing the sword and cramming his “divine” hand into every available pocket for the empire’s taxes, old John cast his contextual visions to oppressed believers who were wary, wounded and weeping.

When I discovered the Gospel of Thomas (and other non-canonical–or rejected–gospels), I could no longer study Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with the same innocent eyes. In the context of the Christian Testament’s emergence, in the era where a movement inspired by Jesus evolved into an institution with haves and have-nots, insiders and outsiders, believers and apostates, was one gospel really better than another? Yes, winners get to choose how history is recalled and what traditions are revered. But does that mean the losers’ views are chopped liver?

And what about the context of where and when I live and who I am? Continue reading →

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