Words Become Flames

Luke 12:49-56 – The 13th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, August 14, 2016

“I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze . . .” (Luke 12:49)


On the morning I started writing about Luke’s hot passage, the outside temperature was 75 degrees.

My clock read 4:05am. Yeah, I start working in the darker part of the morning.

According to the weather-guessers, the heat here in lovely Fresno, California will reach 99 degrees by noon. Within a few hours past midday, as the earth lurches around the sun, 108 degrees is the predicted high.

I read Jesus’ warning:

I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze.

Come to Fresno, Jesus. You’ll get your wish.

Here, in the middle of the golden state’s Central Valley, sidewalks can serve as short order cooks for fried eggs.

Here, between the cool ocean beaches to the west and the cool higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada to the east, we bake. We broil. We wither and wilt. With the sun slamming Fresno during the summer, I wonder if some residents wear Ray-Bans to bed. I don’t take my dog out for a second walk of the day until 8:00pm or later when it’s “cooled” to the high nineties.

We are ablaze. Continue reading →

On the Ramparts with Mr. H

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4  – The 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, November 3, 2013

“I will stand at my watchpost and station myself on the rampart…” (Habakkuk 2:1)

habakkukIt would have been easy to write about Zacchaeus.

You know Mr. Z’s story, right? He was the height-challenged guy in Luke’s Gospel that scrambled up the sycamore tree to gaze over the crowd for a gander at Jesus. A tax collector, his popularity rivaled a trip to the dentist. And Mr. Z was rich enough to be considered the Warren Buffett of first-century Jericho.

That’s enough clues. I’m sure you recall his story in Luke’s nineteenth chapter, but I decided not to reflect on Mr. Z. Why? He seemed too easy, so predictable.

After years of writing these lectionary ramblings—weekly wondering which of the listed Gospel, New Testament, Old Testament and Psalms verses I’ll choose—I’m happily in a rut. 93.4%* of the time, I’ll tackle the Gospel passage. Hey, I’m a Christian, and follow Jesus, and his ministry first inspired and continues to inspire me. I love to read and re-read Jesus’ parables. I may question the literal veracity of a miracle or healing account, but they continue to fascinate and invigorate my faith. Therefore, I usually discarded the three other weekly lectionary options. Sometimes they seem less interesting than the Gospels. Sometimes my ignorance about (for example) the Psalms or 2 Thessalonians means they intimidate me. Way back in seminary, we only had so many hours to study the Bible . . . a whole mess of the Holy word was wholly ignored. Furthermore, during my years of weekly preaching in churches, didn’t the pewfolk prefer to hear about Jesus than, say, Jael going zombie-hunter on Sisera and pounding a tent peg into his noggin (Judges 5:24-27) or all those prickly laws beyond the Ten Commandments?

And so this week, with a dose of trepidation, I ignored Mr. Z in order to pay attention to . . .

Habakkuk. (Go ahead, say the name out loud.)

Mr. H was a prophet. His eponymous work is the 35th book of the Old Testament, nestled between Nahum (Who?) and Zephaniah (Huh?).

Mr. H was mentioned twice in the entire Bible. And both times the name popped up in—wait, wait—Habakkuk! (Check out Hab. 1:1 and 3:1.) Jesus never mentioned him. Paul didn’t quote or misquote him. I’ll bet if you asked a pastor to give you, quick as she can, the names of any five Old Testament prophets, Mr. H would be absent from her list. Mr. H sure wouldn’t appear on my Top 5 Prophets List: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Ezekiel and Moses. Oops, I can’t count Moses because he wasn’t one of the official “major” or “minor” prophets! Drats! I’ll go with Lamentations, then. Oops . . .

I know so little about Habakkuk.

Nearly anything related to his prophetic role, about his place in the pantheon of prophets, or how he might’ve influenced Jewish or Christians traditions, would involve a cursory, furtive search by me in Wikipedia. Or I’d need to get off my arse to scan my office’s dusty library shelves for TSIHRSS** resources. Continue reading →

A Vote For An Angel

People are not taught how to deal with the death of a baby. Friends and family often don’t know what to say. Most people expect the parents, especially the father, to return to work within a few days and be ‘back to normal’ within a matter of months, but the death of a baby changes parents forever . . .

_7903271As I finished a call and cradled the phone, an unfamiliar woman entered and then quickly exited my co-worker Lori’s office. The woman had been carrying a rectangular object. I knew Lori* had left for hospital visit and wouldn’t return for several hours. What had been delivered in her absence? Curious, I eased across the hallway and stopped at the door’s threshold to peer inside.

I gulped. Now I knew what had been brought for my colleague:  a coffin the size of two back-to-back shoeboxes, its exterior elegantly wrapped with soft, padded fabric.

For the last few years, I’ve worked part-time at Hinds Hospice as a so-called Bereavement Support Specialist. Trust me, I’m not much of a specialist in anything, but my employers had to concoct a title for my duties. The part of Hinds where I’m employed is The Center for Grief and Healing and Angel Babies. The diminutive coffin had been brought to Lori’s office by the person who had built it because of the final two words in The Center’s name . . . Angel Babies.

My bereavement work is exclusively with adults. I make follow-up calls to those who have experienced the death of a loved one. When a sister or grandparent or father or aunt has died under Hinds Hospice’s care, we make sure those who are grieving know they’re not alone. Not only do we call folks, but we also send monthly letters and sponsor various workshops and conferences throughout the year. Additionally, I lead grief support groups and do a variety of “this” and “that” for The Center.

But I don’t work with the ones who’ll use the handmade coffin waiting in my colleague’s office; I don’t deal with the parents who have, or will soon, experience their baby’s final breaths. I like to think my work with adults struggling with loss allows my colleagues to have more time to care for parents grieving the death of a precious infant. Continue reading →