One mile in the opposite direction from the cottage, we would walk to Icescroop’s Farm with empty milk jugs to proposition the farmer, for fresh cow’s milk. Fresh, unregulated, unpasteurized, unhomogenized, milk. Heavy now, to slow the journey back to the cottage.
For the four children:
A hearty walk.
A lengthy chat.
And the game making habits of unsupervised children.
Plus the successful purchase of 2 gallons of “fresh milk”! One mile from the cottage, in one direction, was the penny candy store. The four of us would walk the dirt road and traverse over wooden slat bridges with pleasing echoes over rocks in creeks, and then out onto the paved road and past the nature museum with its snakes and racoons and pond habitats. Each of us with 10 cents. We were rich!
Just one penny would get you 10 little red licorice Swedish Fish, or 3 bubble gums or a gigantic Lolli pop with a tootsie roll inside, or you could just get a whole fist-full of straight long tootsie rolls, all in a nice brown paper bag sleeve for the journey back.
For the father, I suppose:
The purchase of a couple of hours of peaceable ‘down-time’.
Relief, from these same 4 children out on their errands.
This was August in my childhood summers at the cottage in Ligonier. The Allegheny Mountains, in Western Pennsylvania. And today is the nostalgic first of August.
So, I’m thinking about the notion of
Penny candy. Unpasteurized milk. Unsupervised children for the refuge and relief of a widower.
It’s debatable, all of these: Healthy or unhealthy? Safe or unsafe? Reckless? Careless? Idyllic?
What is something worth?
What do you make of something?
How do you do your accounting?
And I’m thinking of two (out of a whole bunch more) sacred texts that demonstrate the practice of assigning value, which seems to be a random kind of thing, in the sense that we get to decide if something is valuable. Or not.
There’s the ‘shrewd manager’ of Luke 16, to whom the rich man says:
“what is this I hear about you? Give me an accounting, . . . because you cannot be my manager any longer.”
So, with new purposes in mind, he simply changed his accounting.
The value of 100, becomes 50.
The value of another 100, becomes 80.
Randomly assigned value. Weights and measures and tender in the market place.
The other story is that of the prophet Amos, who condemns his people because,
“the measure of an Ephah, you make small.
the value of a shekel, you make great.
And you sell the poor for a pair of sandals.”
YOU are deciding this. You make it. You change it.
Who decides the value of a thing, or a place, or even of a person or a people?
Who decides value? We do.
By simply changing the weights and measures.
Make it small
Make it great.
Make it five tenths, or
Make it eight.
Assigning Random Values.
Who gets to decide value?
Who gets to decide that children can be caged or young women can be sold?
Who decides that one acre of land, south of I-20 has less value than one acre of land on Peachtree Street in the heart of the city?
Who decides fair market value, or the price of and place of affordable housing?
Apparently, WE do. The people. The populous.
We assign the value.
We mark it. Name it. Change it.
The shrewd manager in the parable knows in his heart of hearts what has true, deep, real and long-lasting . . . even ‘eternal’ value, and that is: to be welcomed in, so he changed the value of other things to make it happen.
That’s the heart of it for me.
He uses all of his shrewd cleverness to secure a place for himself at the table, and to be included.
In the end, he would scramble in through an open door, that he, himself, opened, and he would be welcomed into to their eternal homes.
Who knows how he was squandering the property owner’s property?
Maybe he was buying himself new shoes, or maybe he was inviting all the tenant farmers to meet after work on Thursdays, “drinks are on me!”, at the owner’s expense, or coffee and pastries after the Sabbath’s end. Who knows?
But what would happen when he was ousted?
He would be welcomed, loved. Included in the community.
The everlasting value of household, of friend and family, of spiritual community.
The one essential thing, shrewd and dishonest, or pristine clean,
is to assign value that increases value,
to assign value that increases the love.
It is to be as shrewd as the dishonest manager in the direction of restoring value, where there is no value, opening a door where the door is otherwise closed.
It’s a funny thing to think, that increasing the kingdom of God, sometimes requires assigning value, in a free-wheeling kind of way.
We get to decide. We get to assign value. We get to change the world. For the good.
If we choose.
We get to change the transactions that happen on the street,
and in the power houses,
and in the marketplace,
for the good.
His master commended him, Jesus said, because he was more shrewd than the children of light.
We get to assign value, that will increase the love, open the doors, extend the welcome,
and set another place at the table in the kingdom.
Simply because we use our power, for good, in a clever kind of way.
We can do that.
Penny candy, unpasteurized milk, children running wild.
Assigned value? “Heaven on Earth and the Kingdom Come”!
At least in August.
Every summer of my growing up.
I received some joyful words from Roy Wright on Christmas morning that served as a balm for my soul after a wild and woolly Christmas Eve.
It was his description of our Christmas Eve Service laced with endearing humor and the sense of God’s presence in it with us, embracing our human frailties.
I thought you would enjoy reflecting on the Christmas Eve Service with his lightheartedness, which creates quite a pleasant soulful vignette! For those of you who missed this Christmas Eve with us, let this fuel your imagination as you will! For those who were also there, may we lift a ‘cheers’ to deciding how it is we choose to tell our stories.
Roy’s letter lightened my spirit and as I read and reread it, I am finding that it keeps Christmas for me. Fortunately, Christmas lasts for 12 days! (and is not all spent in one quizzical night)
So here’s this, from Roy:
“Good Morning, Ruth......
What a wonderful Christmas Eve service at Highpoint!
Thank you and all the members for the team effort to make the service a success.
Yes, as I pondered the service afterwards it seemed like parts of it were from a scene from a Fellini movie - pianist has flat tire, arrives late wearing a Christmas cap, sort of stumbles through the hymns, but is probably a wonderful improvisational jazz pianist, John with his wonderful baritone voice pitching in to help move along a hymn, Mike’s occasional vocals and the lady, who was a guest, had her small dog regaled in his special Christmas outfit. It was all good and God was in the midst of it all accepting and forgiving our human frailties.”
Roy’s greeting, that “The New Year for Highpoint will be a good year!”,
is mine as well, to you.
In Merriment and Love,
This is the trail map of our beautiful wooded acreage. Approximately. Drawn by yours truly. I made it in hopes that we would use it for the trail blessing on Sunday. The weather forecast is foreboding, but we will see. In the meantime, isn't it fun to see a birds-eye view of our 'Walking in Love'?!
Worker bees arrived early last Sunday morning to brew a hot pot in our new coffee urn and to set up the labyrinth in the parish hall, so that we could all start our Advent journey of love 'on the right foot’. I was comforted to see Duffy out sweeping the front porte-cache when I drove up, thinking something like “Oh look, everything’s ready to go with a little extra time for a finishing touch, sweeping the walk. How lovely. He looks like a little shop-keeper in Greece.”
Much to my surprise (and dismay, with a huge douse of shock), the parish hall had been set up on Saturday for a formal dinner: wineglasses on tables, silverware wrapped in napkins next to china plates, gold lame’ table runners atop floor length white table clothes, and white slipcovers for chairs throughout.. you get the picture. . .
I wish I had recorded the bunch of us scurrying about lifting tables and chairs, in all their array, whisking them to the perimeter of the room to set up the 35’ diameter labyrinth in the middle, only to roll it all up and crate it before the 1:00 dinner party arrived, then zipping around to restore the formal dining room arrangements, everything in place!
I felt like we were church mice playing tricks!
So utterly comical in HINDSIGHT.
Now this week, the worship and music team planned that we would continue our Advent Journey of Love on foot, and go outside for a blessing of the trails (on pet Sunday, get it? A dog walk too?), and we would walk through the woods with meditations and prayers and holy water to splash. . . and as it turns out, it promises to be 39’ and raining. If only it would snow instead.
Just as an added bonus to things going berserk. . . it seems that Seagraves plumbing is going to have to dig up our front lawn to find the roots or crushed pipe or whatever dinosaur bones might be had, that are backing up the commodes.
(notice: please use the bathrooms in the back hall on Sunday!)
Someone mentioned that it might be the Mercury Retrograde causing all of this. . .
Ultimately, it’s just the true nature of the Journey of Love.
Calendar conflicts, faulty communication, elbow grease, cross purposes, tons of heave hoeing, generous attitudes, humor, camaraderie, creative problem solving, emergency problem solving, errand running, expertise in plumbing, . . .need I say more?
The true nature of the journey of love is that we love our way through it all. Through every step of it. It’s love in the trenches, the rubber meeting the road, the in-situ opportunity to live the love.
We said “yes” to the journey with Mary last week. When she, alone at the well in Nazareth, engaged the Angel Gabriel and said “yes” to the love and the overwhelming fire of the Holy Spirit, with a certain unknowing about where it would take her.
So, we said yes, too, and look where we are in our certain unknowing, but journeying and loving, nonetheless.
Mary ropes us into another risky step of the Journey of Love this week. She visits her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant in her old age, and tells her story. She sings it, as a matter of fact, and we call it: Magnificat. ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior . . .
So, we will go too, into the vulnerable place of loving and being loved, and not being alone at a well, but in community where our yeses ~ together ~ magnify the greatness and glory and joy of Love come down.
This is the essence of faith community. It is this journey in and with community that moves us out of loneliness and into relationship. Out of our despair, into hope; fear into joy; darkness into light. As Isaiah would have it, it is a journey that delivers “A Garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning”.
This Advent Journey of Love, is Isaiah 61 in promise, it is Highpoint Episcopal Community Church, in practice.
In it with you, for the Journey of Love,
They say it was the coldest Thanksgiving morning on record, somewhere between 18* and 23*, this morning, when we ran the Turkey Trot, to feed the hungry.
I was born on a Thanksgiving morning (too many years ago). I claim it as my 'birth day', even though it's date changes every year and I will be at home in Atlanta with Benno by the time the date turns the page.
We don't actually know what the temperature was, for sure. But we ran anyways. After all, it has become our tradition! So, we ran. It makes a better story to say it was 18*, doesn't it? That 's how stories are told: approximates, drama, passion and intrigue, selected details.
Either way, I wasn't cold at all while I ran. The energy, the excitement, the community, the over heard conversations between runners, parents and children, the dogs with their delighted owners, and the scenery of city scapes and the bridges, Andy Warhol the Clemente, over the Allegheny River. . . all distractions from the discomforts.
That's how I feel about our life together and the journey we are making. I am thankful for it. I am distracted from the discomforts by the thrill of the community and conversations, the excitement of what we're doing together as a worshiping community, the fiery imagination that keeps us warm.
From the bottom of my heart, Praise and Thanksgiving to our gracious God, for you.
and Love, always love,
There were several, but naturally I chose this one because it’s the one I remember playing with as a child. The tik-tik-tik, or the tik. . . .tik. . . .tik, depending on where you positioned the weight.
It's broken now, the weight slides but doesn’t hold, it just sinks back down to the bottom, but still the timing, the rhythm is a pleasant one, the sound of it, reminiscent. I enjoy the visual and the connection it holds for me with my dad, and to our music room, to his piano, even to the relentless piano students who came to the house for lessons and set the metronome for keeping time.
It’s funny to me now, to think that as a child I enjoyed playing with “time”, because I’ve said of myself a million times over, that I have no internal clock. It shrinks and expands and stands still at will. I thank God daily for the rising and setting of the sun and the assurance it gives me that I am always in God’s time and that he alone turns the darkness into the morning. He, my time keeper.
But really, we really do play with time. Time is a gift to us, for us, for our life. And like the piano students, we don’t always get it right nor always wrong, because really, it’s about the music, and music making, and playing~ the music.
I guess the point of keeping time is that it helps us stay together in something communal. It’s one thing if you’re a concert pianist and have the stage to yourself, then you get to decide just how you want the timing to play out.
Some of us set the weight high on the slide to slow it down a bit, and some would fix it low because it ticks super fast and makes us move, like the cha-cha.
Presto, allegro, adagio, largo. . .
We all have personal preference, and vantage point, and some kind of internal pace setting . . . but the beauty is the music. We play. Together.
As a community, we are all listening for the heartbeat of God in creation and we are depending on it’s rhythm to keep time for us. We are looking to sun and moon and their movement on the horizon as God’s invitation to expand and reach and live into the love. Both day and night are witness to God’s delight in our life together and where we might go as a faith community, because God has given us ~ more time.
When we use the word ‘remember’, at the liturgy of the table, we mean that the walls of time collapse and all are present at the table with us and we are caught up in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and find ourselves at his Eucharistic feast. We are caught up in the mystery of God’s love and the Communion of Saints.
I count you among the saints in light and I rejoice in this crazy time keeping, beat skipping, note missing, occasionally harmonious music we are making, but we are playing, and in the family I grew up in, “playing” meant making music.
Cheers to a joyful noise!
“As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end. Amen.”
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.