(not) Insignificant

A few weeks ago, when Texas had their devastating freeze, I listened to a news story about all the people impacted by the loss of crops. The farmers suffered the most obvious loss. The consumers would feel it, without their leafy greens in the grocery store or on their dinner table. I hadn’t thought about the migrant workers who now had no crop to harvest, or the people who work in the processing plants where the produce would have been cleaned and packaged, and the truckers who would have transported it.

Unseen does not mean insignificant.

My Lenten reading brought me to Luke 22 — the story of the disciples getting the room ready for that last Passover meal.

So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room…’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.”

Luke 22:8-12

I followed Peter and John into the city where they met the man carrying a jar of water. I found myself wondering about that man. Why was he there? Was he sent there specifically to watch for Jesus’ followers? Or, was this one of his daily tasks, fetching water, and Jesus knew he would be there? Was he waiting? Or, as always, was God’s timing just so very perfect?

The master of the house had the room ready. What did he know? Did he always have that room ready for guests? Had God impressed something specific on his heart that morning? Or that week? Or, was it years before, so that he always had his guest room ready because, who knows, perhaps God would have need of it? Had he graciously let the room out to others who asked or had need? Had he grown weary of hospitality?Or was it his calling and he found it fulfilling even if he didn’t always receive the gratitude he may have been due?

Did Peter and John have to go to the market to purchase the bread and the wine that we know they had that night? Did the market vendors know the great purpose of the items they were selling?

Did the one who baked the bread know about the breaking of his bread by the One who was the Bread of Life? Could the vintner have possibly imagined that his wine would represent the blood of a New Covenant?

I mentally followed the people-trail in that story trying to see the unnamed and unseen people. They’re everywhere.

During this time of mask-wearing and isolation, I think many may feel unseen and insignificant. May I encourage you today to keep carrying your water. Keep your guest room ready. Keep baking bread and growing grapes.

And if your job has been taken from you because of weather or a pandemic or some other unforeseen circumstance, be faithful with whatever is put before you.

Keep doing those daily tasks that no one sees.

Because “no one” is a misnomer.

There is One who sees and values what you do. You may be serving Him in ways you cannot imagine.

The Wrong Side

[the class of persons who had been imported as slaves] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect

Chief Justive Roger Taney in his majority decision on Scott vs Sandford, aka the Dred Scott case

A few years ago I started researching the history of Cooperstown. This meant spending delightful hours at a research library, reading book after book on the area, noticing all the historical plaques on buildings and around town, and, of course, googling and following subsequent rabbit trails.

One of the surprising things I learned was that a Supreme Court justice considered Cooperstown his home. To me, this was bigger than baseball. Bigger than the wealthy people who vacationed here. Bigger than James Fenimore Cooper’s awful books.

68 Main Street, Cooperstown

A Supreme Court justice! Holy crow, right?!

We named a street for him in the village.

His tiny lawyer’s office is now on display at the Farmers’ Museum.

Why, then, had I never heard about this man?

It took all of one Google search and I had my answer. At the end of the first paragraph of Samuel Nelson’s Wikipedia write-up, it says, “He concurred on the 1857 Dred Scott decision…”

Dred Scott is arguably one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court ever made. The majority decision held, basically, that slaves had no rights. While Justice Nelson concurred with the majority, he based his decision on the fact that he believed that the question of slavery was one that each state needed to decide for itself.

Regardless of his reasoning, Justice Nelson was on the wrong side of history. A few years later, the country was in a civil war, and some 620,000 lives later, the majority ruling in that case was irrelevant.

I thought a lot about Justice Nelson during the most recent impeachment trial.

I was reading a story about senators being censured for their votes in that impeachment and ran across this regarding Pat Toomey, senator from Pennsylvania:

“We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he’s doing,” Washington County GOP Chair Dave Ball told KDKA. “We sent him there to represent us.”

Fox News

People can be caught up in what feels like a righteous movement and still be dead wrong. Think about the Roman Catholic church and Galileo.

I wanted to write Washington County GOP Chair Dave Ball and ask him, “Did you really mean that? Is that how you feel about all trials? Don’t you want people to have consciences and make rational decisions based on the evidence they hear? Are you going to regret those words?”

I imagine that Samuel Nelson may have rued his decision. At least I like to think he would have.

I love the way The Farmers’ Museum handled it. Inside Samuel Nelson’s lawyer’s office is a display explaining Dred Scott because it was probably the most important case he heard — and his worst decision.

Whoopie Pies

I think baking is very rewarding, and if you follow a good recipe, you will get success.

Mary Berry, judge on The Great British Bake Off

One of the nicest things to happen to me recently was when I came downstairs to find the kitchen clean.

Not only clean, the coffee maker was ready to go, with a note taped to it to just push start (or play, as one of my other children used to say).

Not only clean and coffee-ready, I found whoopie pies baked and ready to be assembled.

If you aren’t familiar, a whoopie pie is a New England thing (although the Amish also claim them) made with two chocolate cake-like cookies with a sweet cream filling sandwiched between them.

“I remember you saying that Grammie used to make them for you for your birthday,” my daughter Mary said.

Yes, that’s true. My mother grew up in the Boston area and I loved her whoopie pies. I used to make them for the older kids, but I don’t think I ever made them for Mary.

“I had to look through three boxes of recipes before I found this one,” Mary said, showing me the old hand-written recipe which my mother had labeled “Whoopee Pies.”

“Then, I just thought of it as a technical challenge like on the The Great British Bake Off,” she said. “I followed the directions exactly. When it said, ‘Sift the dry ingredients,’ I sifted the dry ingredients. When it said to put them by teaspoonful on the baking sheet, I used a teaspoon.”

It’s amazing what happens when a baker carefully follows an old recipe.

Even sweeter than chocolate and cream is a person so thoughtful to find a special recipe and make it for someone who would appreciate it.

Mom’s Whoopee Pies

1/2 Cup Shortening
1/2 tsp Vanilla
2 Egg Yolks
1 Cup Milk
1 Cup Sugar
2 1/2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Soda
5 Tbsp Cocoa powder
1 tsp Baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Sift. dry ingredients.
Add rest and mix until smooth.
Drop by tsp on ungreased sheet.
10-12 min at 375 until set but not crisp
When cool, put together with filling.

2 Egg whites
2 Cups Confectioners sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Shortening

Mix until smooth.

Highest Possibility

I can love you only when I meet you where you are, as you are, and treat you there as if you were where you ought to be. I see you where are, striving and struggling, and in the light of the highest possibility of personality, I deal with you there.

Howard Thurman, The Growing Edge

I came across this quote a while ago and copied it out.

I wrote it again this morning in my journal, thinking about the idea of meeting someone where they are but treating them as if they were where they ought to be.

So, so hard.

In 1949, Howard Thurman wrote a book called Jesus and the Disinherited. It is said that Martin Luther King, Jr. carried two books with him all the time — The Bible and Jesus and the Disinherited.

Thurman was an African-American theologian-mystic-teacher-author. He was raised by his grandmother who had been a slave.

Let that sink in.

We are not far removed from slavery.

Does that change how you read the words of that quote?

How about knowing that he was mistaken for the custodian while he was the dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University? Does that change how you read his words?

It’s been a crap day for me. People close to me have behaved in awful ways. When I wrote those words in my journal this morning, I had no idea how much I would need them this evening.

But if I can just remind myself that those people who are behaving awfully are striving and struggling. I need to seem them in the light of the highest possibility of personality. I need to deal with them there.

Bedside Prayer for an Aging Parent

The following prayer was written nearly six years ago when my mother was hospitalized. She was eventually discharged, but then died later that year.

I share it today because I know so many people are now caring for their own elderly family members. I want to encourage those of you who are in that position to use those quiet bedside moments to talk to God. Offer your thoughts, your observations, your concerns and your memories to Him — maybe in gratitude or maybe as a way of reconciling. The single most important thing that got me through those days was prayer.

O Great Physician —

You love the hoary head,
including my mother’s silver waves,
now matted from too much time on the pillow.

As I sit beside my mother’s bed
and study her lined face,
I watch each breath pass through her lips
with an effort she did not used to exert.
Occasionally, her weary eyes open,
but, Lord,
she doesn’t even know me!

Heavenly Father, cradle her.
She worked hard in this life,
raising five children,
supporting her husband,
preparing meal after meal
for family, friends, and strangers,
using her nursing skills
to give hope to others,
using her tragedies
to encourage those
who encounter the same.

Let her know the rest
that only You can give.

While I sit here
don’t mind me.
I’ll just hold her hand
and weep a little.
I’m content to wipe her face,
give her sips of water,
and wait.


A Gentle Answer

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)

I’ve been fighting the Snark Monster in my heart the past few days.

Every response that I begin to form in my mind to an on-line discussion goes snarky after the first few words. I remind myself, “A gentle answer turns away anger,” and try again — always with the same outcome.

Things that bother me — glibness and condescension. For those of you who want to get under my skin, try those two together.

Be glib; be shallow; don’t put any deeper thought into your comment; spit back answers that I’ve probably heard in 37 sermons. Yep — that will irk me.

Pair that with a little condescension by assuming that I don’t know anything and I’m sunk. A condescending tone and, if we’re talking in person, an accompanying smirk will bug the bejeebers out of me.

Things I don’t know anything about and therefore have zero-risk of condescension — automobile engines and living in the heart of a megalopolis. Feel free to explain as much as you want on those topics, but be forewarned — my eyes will glaze over when you talk about engines.

And now I’m bordering on snarky. Sorry. Maybe it doesn’t sound blatantly snarky, but if you could see my heart… ew.

One of the things I love about the way Jesus taught was that he used stories and images to make his point. It’s hard to be condescending in a story. A good story pulls the listener in and suddenly you’re walking on that road to from Jerusalem to Jericho, you’re attacked by robbers, you see people pass you by instead of stopping to help.

Laurel asked me last night why I say half-past or quarter-to when I’m telling the time. “I think it’s because I see that clock face divided into quarters and have a mental image,” I said, realizing that she mostly sees time in a digital format, so it didn’t have as much meaning. Mental images appeal to me.

When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about the Spirit, he used imagery of the wind. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) When I think about that verse, I hear the wind, I feel the wind, I see things moving with the wind — but I don’t where the wind begins or where it ends — and I realize that I’ve learned something about the Spirit by realizing how little I know about it.

No glib condescension or snarkiness there — just an opening of my heart and mind.

I think my gentle answer needs to be a story. A good story will at least lull the Snark Monster to sleep.

“This’ll teach you to be snarky!”

Dreadful Beauty

There’s more beauty in the truth, even if it’s a dreadful beauty.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I talked to my counselor about East of Eden, telling her how I am being so disciplined about not reading ahead. Seriously, I’m not even flipping a few pages ahead to see how small situations turn out. I’m reading one page at a time.

“Why did you used to read ahead?” she asked.

“The anxiety of not knowing was killing me,” I told her.

“Ah,” she said knowingly. “You struggle with regulating your emotions when you’re reading a book.”

“Only good books,” I told her.

Truthfully, if I don’t love or hate the characters, I don’t need to read ahead. It’s when I’m wrapped up in them that I feel this burning need-to-know.

My brother called me out on it. “That’s cheating,” he said, but then he went on, “Once I was reading a Stephen King book and I hated one of the characters so much that I didn’t think I could finish it, so I put the book down. About six months later, I picked it back up and finished.”

That’s basically what my counselor said, too. “When you feel those emotions rising,” she said, “put the book down and let your feelings settle.”

I’ve made it to page 485 of East of Eden using that technique. It’s slow going, but I’m being an honest reader.

And I love the book.

For so long, I have pushed my feelings aside. They’re like the handblown glass animals I used to keep on a shelf in my room when I was a kid. Occasionally, I would take them off the shelf — usually to dust — and handle them oh-so-carefully. Then I would gently place them back in the same spot they had been standing.

My feelings were too fragile to explore. What if they broke? What if I broke?

I remember one of my high school swimmers holding hours-old baby Laurel. “What if I break her?” she asked me.

“You won’t break her,” I said, knowing that holding my tiny baby wouldn’t harm either of them.

But then again, neither will sitting with strong emotions.

“It’s okay to cry,” my counselor told me early on as I blinked back tears when talking about my father.

“It’s okay to feel angry,” she said, when I told her about a terrible situation I had been in.

I just read the part in East of Eden where Lee tells his backstory. I closed the book and stared at it. It may be a day or two before I reopen it. The strong emotion button has been pushed.

The thing is Lee had known Adam Trask many years before he told him his story, and I had known the two of them for nearly 500 pages of reading. A trust had developed. It didn’t make the story easier. It did make it more beautiful — a dreadful beauty.

And I think that’s partly what I’m afraid of when reading intense books — the dreadfulness. I need to remember there’s a beauty there, too.

Truthfully, we are surrounded by dreadful beauty. Most of the time, we don’t even notice. Our eyes are unseeing and our hearts are unfeeling. Not out of callousness, but out of self-protected-ness, because it hurts to see and feel.

It hurts and yet it is beautiful.

East of Eden is teaching me.

The Beaches of Normandy — truly a dreadful beauty


Arrogance is the opposite of humility. It compels us to treat our limitations not as unique openings through which God can reveal his goodness but as diseases to be cured.

Susan Annette Muto

O Lord
You made me flawed

I was about to say that You goofed
But You don’t blunder.

In Your blessed tenderness
You said,
“I’m going to make this one awkward.
When she speaks, her words will sound
On top of that,
she is going to make
A LOT of

Thank you.

Mental Acuity

I refuse to say that horrible man’s name.

Donald Pollock

When I brought my father to the hospital –whether for a scheduled visit to his primary care physician or an unscheduled one to the emergency room, the doctor would usually ask a few mental orientation questions. Do you know where you are? Do you know what day or month or year it is? Do you know who our president is?

From 2017 on, my father gave the same response to that last question — “I refuse to say that horrible man’s name.” It made me laugh every time.

I always wondered what box they checked when he said that. In their opinion, did he know, or did he not know?

The day he couldn’t draw a clock face (another cognitive screening test) was a sad one.

But the day(s) he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) identify our president still make me smile.

Why am I telling you this story today? I don’t know. In thinking about my self-imposed assignment to write a post every day, my thoughts wandered down this rabbit trail.

In the midst of all that’s going on in our country, I still find humor in one old man’s refusal to even speak the name of our 45th president.

a handsome officer

Honest Prayer

We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.

C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

Lord, tonight I’m tired and weak —
Accept these unpolished words I speak.
I pray for peace but I sing of woe
You watched it all.
I know You know
The anger,
The blindness,
Unholy portrayal
Of what it means to love You, Lord.
We fumble and fume in our discord —
As some say, “Hey, we’re doing this for You!”
But I say they’re liars because it’s not true.
For You are Truth and You are Light
Please, Lord, guide us through this night.