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Eclipse. (c) 2017 Trina Lambert

Advent is all about waiting—but this year, despite the arrival of Thanksgiving and the busy shopping season it ushers in, we are still lingering in a form of calendar limbo. Check it out: Calendar A for the previous liturgical year ended on November 26 with Christ the King Sunday, but Calendar B for the coming liturgical year starts with Advent on December 3. So where are we now on November 29? Waiting for the waiting?

And, yet, it is so ironic that while we wait and prepare for the season of giving, our screens are filled with stories of people who go through life taking, in one form or another—just as in the days when the Chosen People were awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. They thought they were getting a Messiah to come to fight overarching power with power—but what they got was a baby, which is pretty much the opposite of power. Then after they waited for him to grow to become a man, he spent his time with them telling them to take on power—by loving and giving? Can you imagine?

Sometimes it feels as if we have no idea how to help those who are hurting or how to go about confronting the powerful forces that would keep taking from the world. But we need to remember that we do have an idea—it’s simply to love and give. That’s it—each of us has to figure out for ourselves how we’re going to go about doing that loving and giving—and bringing about light in a world full of darkness. That’s the kind of power we can claim without harming others—and we don’t even have to wait—not for Advent, not for Christmas, not for any day on any calendar.

Imagine the brilliance of our combined light.

Oh, Lord, help us to turn on that light—now.

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welingerinwinterscarf

Scarf designed by Christiana Lambert for Knotty Tie, Co. in 2016 (sewn by an employee who is a resettling refugee).

I have all the words—and they’re just running rampant in my head and not getting out into the world. I have so many words that—forgive me—I’m not going to find it possible to “mind the metaphor,” as my friend used to caution.

I returned to work just under a year ago (anniversary date=02.01) and have yet to find my way back to my writing routine. But what a year this past year has been—exactly not the year for me to go silent. Heck, what a week it has been.

How many of us have been rendered almost speechless daily by the changes wrought on our nation? You’re just trying to do your part by performing the work you are paid to do and then you come home to discover yet another congressional action or executive order has happened—and you are stunned. Stunned that what it meant to be the United States of America can change so radically in such little time.

As I sat in church this morning, I listened to lessons from the lectionary (a three-year cycle of prescribed bible verses that many churches follow) that seemed hand-picked for just the times in which we are living. Coincidence? Not likely. Micah 6:8’s exhortation to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” and Matthew’s beatitudes (the “blessed ares” that turn the power of this world on its head) as well as 1st Corinthians’ talk of the seeming “foolishness” of following Christ’s ways are words I needed to hear to remember that God is in charge—even if His not-so-subtle message is that we’re going to have to walk our walk for Him in the days and months ahead.

I have one writing prompt this week and it’s to write a prayer to pray at choir this coming Wednesday. What follows is my brainstorming for my assignment. I originally chose that date because Wednesday is almost Candlemas, which is celebrated on February 2. Traditionally in the church, February 2 is the day that commemorates the presentation of the infant Christ in the temple, as the date follows 40 days after His birth. Candlemas also was when families would bring in their candles to have them blessed for the year ahead. We here in America celebrate Groundhog Day on that day as we look for a furry critter to predict whether spring will arrive early or come as planned. From a strictly chronological viewpoint, February 2 is halfway through the winter—a time when we either start to wonder if spring will ever come or when the slightly longer days remind us that spring’s arrival is getting closer.

This year it seems we are stuck in the darkness of this particular winter of our discontent. We can hardly look ahead to spring. We are a nation in discord with members of our own families, with neighbors, and with other people of faith—as well as with our traditional enemies (both personal and national). Well, that groundhog has already seen the shadow—and it is the shadow that holds our prejudices and fears as well as our turning away from the pain and suffering of others.

But Candlemas is all about blessing the candles—which were the only source of light for homes in the days before other light sources were invented. Those simple sources of light were all people had to brighten the remainder of the year. In other words, the Presentation of the Lord is the ceremony that reminds us that He is the Light of the World. And that we who follow Him are called to be that light not just in our own homes, but also in our home that is this earth.

I don’t have a clue as to how we’re going to fix this mess our country is in, but I know God does. He knows how He’s going to mend the fractures amongst people who follow Him as well as with those who profess another faith and those who profess no faith. And I think it’s going to look an awful lot like people walking their faiths in order to bring about light.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “We loiter in winter while it is already spring.” No matter what the calendar says, we have all the light we need to fight this darkness and bring on a period of growth. I’ll just continue my quote-fest here by adding the motto of my alma mater (Wittenberg University): Having light we pass it on to others.

Having light (that means we already have it!), WE pass it on to others.

I can’t tell you why but during one of the darkest national times in my experience during one of the traditionally darkest months of the year, this typically stoic Lutheran kept wanting to throw her hand up in the air while singing about the beatitudes in the hymn “Blest Are They” (by David Haas and Michael Joncas). (Might it be God, perhaps?)

Providing blessings and bringing light into this current world is going to look a whole lot like walking—walking among those who are poor in spirit—for theirs is the kingdom of God.

loveandpatientpartialheartcbl2014

(c) 2014 Christiana Lambert

For too long I have been silent. No more. My heart hurts for the discourse I read, and then further when I hear that some in our country are carrying out acts of hatred toward those who are considered the Other. For my friends who believe justice has been served in this election and that the losers on this side of history should just grow up and accept what has happened, I want them to understand that many people are afraid that is now OK to be judged (and punished) for how they look, or who they love. I’m not got going to grow out of my concern for the Other—and, for me, it is specifically because of what I’ve learned from others of faith and from the Bible. My God is a God of love and my faith compels me to strive to be a person of love—no matter what.

We all pick and choose what we quote from the Bible. I know this is considered a crazy and possibly heretical thought by many Christ-followers, but as a literature major, I can tell you I always read for depth and meaning in everything I read. While I may not know the Greek and Hebrew behind the original creation of the passages we know today, nor do I know all the history surrounding the events in the books of the Bible, I most certainly know to recognize when there are conflicting passages in the Great Book. I must prayerfully consider and reconcile the differences.

For me, I choose to pick the verses where Jesus said the greatest commandments were to love the Lord and God with all your soul and your strength and your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. In his exchange in Luke 10 with the expert of the law who correctly answered that those were the most important laws, the man then asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds by starting out with, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho . . . ”

He launches into the parable of the Good Samaritan–and I’m pretty certain that Samaritans were on some sort of registry there in those days. Who was the hero of that story? The outsider–and the man who showed love. What was Jesus telling us here? That love is love. And to love everyone.

There’s that “love everyone” thing again–which seems really, really hard to do these days.

I’m going to try to love the people who have made statements I consider unconscionable—not because my mean-spirited human heart wants to do so, but because my God asks me to love all my neighbors. We can disagree on how we approach the laws of this country, but unless the rhetoric includes language of kindness and empathy, I want others to know that I won’t stand for it. These days it’s all the rage to be snarky but it isn’t very Christian. And yet that’s just what we Christians are showing the world.

Who is my neighbor? You all are.

 

 

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

During what we know as the Last Supper, Jesus spent much of his precious remaining time trying to prepare his followers for how they needed to live after he was gone. And, what was the lesson he felt most compelled to share? Just this: Love one another.

The words from the lectionary (April 24, 2016) read:

John 13:31-35

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

We, like the disciples before us, are so often slow to learn. When Jesus said to love one another—he meant to love everyone. But the disciples weren’t certain that the type of love shared with people who were like them should be shared with people, well, not so like them. Not just shared with people who were known as sinners, but also with people outside their faith and traditions. And, yet as those disciples and followers grew in their faith and understanding, they began to get it—Jesus had really meant for them to love everyone. Let us so grow in our own faith and understanding that, we, too, show—through our actions and our words—what it means to love everyone.

Who are we to hinder God and his plan for love for everyone?

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

What of the lost sheep who have acted as wolves in sheeps’ clothing? Who have caused us or others harm?

Yesterday a birthday passed for someone who has strayed far from his fold. Someone whose online messages state he is lost but who is not yet willing to turn to the Shepherd. Someone who has committed thefts, large and small, against his closest family members who now must maintain security systems to keep him out. Someone whose words so often turn out to be false. Someone for whom others have taken up the responsibility of raising his children. Someone who was given chance after chance to change his ways and do right, but who, so far, has not chosen to face the truth that much of what he is reaping is what he has sown.

So easy for me (and others more closely) affected by his actions to wish that he eat of the bitter fruits he has planted. To want retribution not resolution.

And, yet, what of those parables of the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, the Workers in the Vineyard, etc. am I choosing to ignore? That nothing is impossible with a God who sent his son to save you, me, men who steal from their grandmothers and mothers, murderers, those who persecute the faithful, those who wish others to lie in the beds they’ve made—anyone who commits crimes against God and fellow humans—which is all of us.

How can I act as if I deserve grace any more than he does? Grace is always undeserved—that is the nature of grace. If God’s grace is sufficient, then it is sufficient for all, not just for those whom we judge to have not strayed quite as far others.

Shame on me for not believing that where there is God there is hope, no matter how much hurt a person has sown in this world. This man is a child of God and a child of his mother, who still longs deeply in her heart for his redemption—with God and with family.

At the same time, there is real reason for creating boundaries. Just because God says all are welcome at His table does not mean we need to extend that welcome to our tables while the actions and hearts have yet to change.

But what of my actions and heart also needs to change to be fully welcome at God’s table? If vengeance is God’s, then isn’t my job instead to pray without ceasing and to open my heart to the possibility that no matter the seeds that have been planted so far, that there is still time for a harvest that will bear good fruit?

Earlier this year Pope Francis declared a Holy Year of Mercy—a Jubilee—reminding us that “no one can be excluded from the mercy of God. . . .” No one—not even the lost sheep who have harmed us. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Hello—long time no write. Oh, I have some good excuses—paid work, volunteer work, cleaning for family, and being with family, etc.—but the truth is more along the lines that I don’t want to be just one more angry voice in this year of discord. So often I have reacted to what I’ve heard and read this year with anger. Lucky you—I’ve pretty much saved those frequent rants for family and friends.

I am still waiting for a Rodney King moment this year—not the “beat on Rodney” moment, but the “Can’t we all get along?” Rodney moment. Seems that if that’s what I’m waiting for I’m just not going to write in 2015, you know what I mean?

But we’ve reached one of my favorite times of the year: Advent. I’m not talking about the Decembers of “spend, spend, spend” or too many great Christmas carols turned into “are you serious?” pop versions or calendars full of “must-dos” and little empty space. I’m talking about waiting in the darkness for a light that comes to save us from ourselves and our petty human ways. I’m talking about how a little child shall lead us. I’m talking about God Immanuel.

And, boy, don’t we need a God with us these days? Not the God referenced in all the various and opposing opinions expressed in the public arena, but a God who sent his son to change us from our petty humanness. A God who asks the lion to lie down with the lamb. A God of peace. Peace on this earth? Can you imagine?

Last night in choir practice, our group of very human singers was struggling mightily with a piece called “Magnificat” by Halsey Stevens. Stevens’ “Magnificat” is an arrangement with many changing time meters and notes of discord between parts that mar any perception of harmony—except in the resolution of the final notes at the end of the piece. I get what the metaphor expresses—about just how jarring was the angel’s revelation to Mary that she would bear a child—a child not conceived in the usual way and a child of God in a human form in a way that had never happened before. But that is not the Mary of Luke’s Magnificat passages.

Oh, she was greatly troubled at the angel’s initial greeting: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28, NIV) Yet after she asked questions and received his answers, she was all in. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38, NIV)

Next Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. Before Mary can say anything to Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth and Elizabeth knows that Mary is indeed blessed to be the mother of God’s child. Other than asking why she would be so favored, Mary does nothing but accept what she is called to do.

However, she not only accepts, but she also sings that her soul glorifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God. There is so little discord in her song.

The Mary of this story glows—she is all light.

Thirty years ago I saw such a Mary in an obscure play (The Christmas Miracles) at the local performance venue. The pre-fame Annette Bening became this acceptance and joy in a manner that sticks with me always, especially when I hear the words of Mary’s song.

May it be so with me—that I not dissolve into discord and misgivings no matter how dark the times. That I not let the darkness swallow me and keep me from bringing forth the kind of light—pale though it may be to the Light of Mary’s story—that I myself am called to share.

In these dark times we need to be lights in a world that would rather stay in darkness. We need a little Magnificat right now, right this very minute . . . we need a little Magnificat right now.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Keep me as the apple of your eye . . . Psalm 17:5a (NIV)

The minister at our church years ago loved that verse. However, when he would preach on the verse, he talked about how his father was so encouraging that he never made him feel as if he disappointed him. As a parent who did not do such a good job expressing my lack of disappointment toward my own apples of my eye, I felt sad when he said that, even if I knew that maybe his father was the excessively (and over-the-top) good parent on the good cop/bad cop spectrum in his family or that maybe he was a better kid than most of us are. I mean, I disappointed my parents, too. But, still, my kids really are the apples of my eye—even when I disappoint them as a parent and even if they sometimes disappoint me. That people we love disappoint us is normal, but it should be just as normal that we see those whom we love as the apples of our eyes, even if they/we are not engineered to perfection.

This verse takes on more meaning when not taken in the context of these modern times when most of us can get apples during any season, no matter where we live. As a child, I didn’t understand my mother’s obsession with what I considered the sour fruits of her youth: chokecherries, plums, and apricots. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the whys behind stories of how an orange was one of the greatest treats a prairie kid could receive in a Christmas stocking. I thought I knew fruit—until I ate a locally grown apple in Spain. Now that was an apple I will never forget—and most likely the type of apple King David would have referenced in the Bible. A rare, sweet, crunchy treat in a mostly desert region during a time when plants only grew in season—if that year’s conditions supported growth—was a delight.

Every child deserves to have parents who delight in him or her, at least some of the time. And maybe it’s when we are most unlovable and yet our parents keep showing love to us—through their actions—that we most understand just how sweet we are to them. When we wake them in the night with our nightmares or all the messy signs of a sudden illness. When we do not do our chores or homework as asked. When we sass them as only adolescents seeking independence can. When our own adult decisions come to roost.

Parental love is only a shallow emotion if it doesn’t involve the hard work of being there with consistent presence and actions—whether or not we children are bright and shiny apples in the moment or seemingly rotten to the core. This day-in/day-out commitment is what teaches us that we are the apples in our parents’ eyes.

Our minister wasn’t trying to tell me I was a bad parent for seeing the soft spots in the apples—he wanted me to know just how much God loved me, even when I wasn’t being a particularly good apple. God doesn’t walk away from his apples—and neither should we.

But when parents do walk away from their own apples, thank God (yes, really!) that there are others who walk in to tend the orchard—especially when older parents have to remain disappointed in their own apple that has fallen far from their trees, yet still move in to do God’s work to make certain their grandchildren feel like the apples of someone’s eyes.

Bless those little ones who have not always been treated as the apples of their natural parents’ eyes and keep them in the presence of those who know just how precious they are. Every child deserves to be the apple of someone’s eye.

Some of the women standing by the limo. (Picture taken for us, 2015)

Some of the women standing by the limo. (Picture taken for us, 2015)

Just when you thought that limousine was full of hot young women, you might have been surprised to see the women from my bible study climb out—or lumber out if we want to be truthful. Keep in mind that I am the youngest in the group—thank goodness my hip is healing because it took quite a bit of effort to shimmy back and forth from the depths of that stretch limo. The more limber folks among us did our best to scoot to the back whenever loading up.

So why would a group of “mature” bible study ladies hire a limo?

I guess because we have no access to a church van and because we wanted to take our road trip together—while avoiding the increasingly hostile traffic in the region.

And what a road trip. These “ladies who did lunch with me” not only offered to go 70 miles (one way) to see my daughter’s senior capstone art show as a group, but also to treat me to the gift of transportation with them for the ride. What a great showing of support for both my daughter and me—have appreciated all their prayers for my family over the years, but this expedition was something else.

Let’s just say that not driving while also not being able to see how our driver was handling that crazy roadway was extremely relaxing. (Perhaps a little bit of a metaphor about control there? Hm.)

No doubt the arrival of our bustling group shattered the illusion of a quiet morning for Max, one of the owners of ARTISAN FRAMING, the custom framing shop where the works are being exhibited. But, ever the professional, he took our presence in stride and continued constructing frames despite the considerable change in noise level. I did the best I could to play gallery host to my daughter’s works, but was relieved when she and her brother arrived together—without a limo driver their journey took a bit longer.

She took over answering questions and I got to bask in the pride I feel knowing that the little girl who always made art out of materials grabbed from our recycling bin grew into an accomplished artist who creates pieces by repurposing common materials.

We left the artist and her brother behind to their own plans so that we really could go do lunch before riding back to our own town. At the Mainline Ale House we not only received excellent service and ate tasty food, but we all also received the anniversary special of two-for-one entrees. What a pleasant surprise to add to our already pleasant experience.

Neither rain nor parking woes nor traffic slowdowns stayed our swift courier from completing his appointed round—we had a ticket to ride and I’m so grateful that everyone cared enough to let my daughter to know that she, also, has a ticket to ride.

The only way that will bring us down is if she doesn’t take that ticket and ride with the gift of art she has worked so hard to nurture—she has a ticket to ride and may she ride it for all it is worth. Limousines, planes, trains, or automobiles—any form of transportation it takes, but she’s got a ticket to ride—and we all do care.

From bulletin: St. John Passion service, Bethany Lutheran Church, March 29, 2015

From bulletin: St. John Passion service, Bethany Lutheran Church,
March 29, 2015

Sunday’s experience singing Bach’s St. John Passion felt more than a little surreal. Other than on the songs when I myself had to join in on the hard work of singing, I often felt as if I were somehow inside a recording of the music I’ve been listening to over the past several months. The 40 songs on my phone that are now so familiar provide so much more music than the choruses and chorales our choir has been rehearsing. For one thing they come accompanied by an orchestra, not just our choir accompanist playing on the piano a small portion of the completeness provided by the various instrumental parts. And for another, we practiced our own songs but had little or no exposure to the arias in ordinary rehearsals.

In fact, because what we were doing was only part of the complete work, that is why I decided to start listening to those 40 songs in order—no shuffling allowed. This winter whenever I plugged my ear buds into my phone, I selected Bach to accompany me as I pushed my snow blower or ran. My purpose wasn’t to focus on the music but to let the songs—mine and those of others, transitions, and accompaniment seep into me. Last week, before the dress rehearsal with the other musicians, I would have told you I wasn’t ready to sing my parts—despite seven months of group rehearsals and practice on my own.

But with those musicians? Wow—just wow. Oh certainly, I didn’t have everything down just perfectly, but it helped so much to have the support of such high level instrumentalists as well as the professional soloists who also sang with us. At Saturday’s dress rehearsal there were moments when I would hear the other sections of the choir sing and think, “Is that sound really coming from us?” It was so much easier to sing up to a new standard surrounded by all that excellence as I sat and stood immersed in something that sounded a whole lot like what had been coming into my ears all winter long.

For the few hours of Sunday’s service I was transported into an almost ethereal space where I even forgot sometimes how hard I was working.

Because of that I could really hear the message and sense just how passionate this passion was—our God was put to trial and forsaken. The heavenly music told a tale of oh-so-earthly human failures. No wonder so many of the faces I faced as I sang that the final number—including not just those of those in attendance, but also of our director—were either close to tears or had tears escaping—as is also likely true of my face and of those standing with me in the choir. How could we not “get” the story when told as Bach intended?

Indeed—what a way to put the holy into Holy Week.

(Note: in order to listen, access the link embedded above and go to the worship archives for March and click on March 29, St. John Passion.)

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Music is one of my first languages—and I know it had a big role in how my brain first developed. Music is also one of the best ways for all people to keep our brains healthy as we get older. But when I joined the church choir after my kids left home, I didn’t do it for my brain. I did it because I missed practicing music within a group. Yet I am sure my brain appreciated the regular exposure to learning and singing demanding music, just as my heart appreciated the words we sang.

I had only sung in the choir for two years when our long-time and excellent director retired. Everything old seemed new again under the direction of Dr. James Kim—for many reasons, but especially because he is a passionate scholar of J. S. Bach. Thanks to Dr. Kim’s focus on Bach and the messages in his work, all our brains have stepped up the mental workouts while also growing in understanding the whys behind the sacred music Bach left behind.

This second year with Dr. Kim, our brains should be even healthier. He has challenged—and guided—us to sing J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion—and in German, too. Together (and on our own) we have been learning words in a new language and delving into complex musical patterns since late last summer. Oh, sure, some of our members are accomplished singers who have extensive musical training and who have sung in or do sing in performance choirs. But in the end, we are a church choir and as such anyone is welcome to join us. There are no auditions or requirements—except maybe for the desire to sing for the glory of God.

Bach was a church musician—not your average church musician, neither then nor now—who was most concerned with how his works glorified God. No doubt he strove to strengthen the health of souls through his words and notes, but I am also grateful for how they have also benefitted my brain health at the same time the words have been written into my heart.

Tomorrow on Palm Sunday afternoon at 4:00, under the direction of Dr. James Kim and accompanied by guest instrumentalists, the Bethany Lutheran Church Chancel Choir, along with accomplished soloists, will present the St. John Passion as an extended church service.

The complex and beautiful music by Bach that has challenged and developed me simplifies the difficult task of opening hearts. After so many months immersed in such exceptional words and musical notes, the spirit is willing in each of us participating in this offering to the congregation and community—may our flesh (and brains) also be strong enough so that all who listen—young, old, and in-between—hear the glory to God that Bach intended.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert