Monday, February 06, 2017

Public Education

Disclaimer: 
I took a couple of teaching classes, even a field experience. I was very involved with my son's grade school and middle school. Education's been an interest of mine. But I am not an educator. I'm not even an educator lite. I don't think I'm even qualified to run for the local school board.

One of the Cabinet nominees who has been receiving a lot of resistance has been Betsy DuVos, the nominee for Education Secretary. While she has a demonstrated interest in education, she doesn't seem to have the expertise or training needed to oversee the many programs run by the DoEd. They run from higher education grants and loans, to standardized testing of grade schoolers, to voucher programs for charter schools (one of her favorites) to university campus safety programs, to name a very few. The Secretary of Education obviously can't be an expert in all these areas, but should understand and be conversant with basic educational concepts, know the pros and cons of standardized testing (regardless of their own opinion), know what laws and regulations govern education nationwide and how they are applied, and so forth. They should understand that these regulations and laws apply to all students equally, not only the ones the Secretary (or the Department) feels comfortable with (that is, not only students attending certain schools, or of certain religions, or in certain states, etc.). 

There's a couple of reasons public schools were instituted in the US, and they are intertwined. One was because only some parents could afford to send their children to private schools, others could only afford cheap, low-quality schools, and some could not afford any schools. So we ended up with the same stratified society as Europe had, and that the US was, at least in part, formed to escape. Those with education were the ones who owned all the land, the banks, the stores; those without education were labor. I'm talking about the late 1800's, by the way--before then, there was no public education, or very little. But with the rise of industrialization, those very industrialists began to realize it worked--at least somewhat--in their favor to have an educated workforce. Workers who could read and calculate, who knew how to figure a right angle and write a coherent paragraph--these were what they needed. And so public schools were born. The added value was that everyone got the education--child of the bricklayer, child of the electrician, child of the grocer, child of the senator, child of the steelworker--every child in the public school got the same education. At least theoretically. 

An employer could require a high diploma as part of her hiring requirements and assume that the person could read, write, knew the four basic functions of arithmetic, had a passing acquaintance with algebra and maybe even calculus, had had some civics and maybe some rhetoric. Perhaps they had had some shop or home ec; they had some music and art classes. They certainly had had gym class. 

So those two reasons--equality of education and accessibility to education--were intertwined. Whether it was a bit of an unholy alliance is another question. The goals were laudable, certainly. 

It's gotten harder over time. When I went to high school, we weren't required to take gym--and in retrospect, we should have been. We didn't have rhetoric, and I think it would have useful. Shop I had in middle school. But we did have a richness of art classes, of music, including jazz and marching band; a full roster of home ec, of advanced placement science, language, English, history, and math classes. And the changes have only gotten more complex. When my son graduated from high school ten years ago, he didn't have rhetoric either. But he started using Powerpoint in middle school for class projects; he graduated from high school using Excel, Word, and the Internet as a matter of course. He had art classes, he had home ec, had music and gym. 

I recognize fully that we were both fortunate in that we went to well-funded schools--we had access to music and art and gym and advanced placement classes and computers. 

But my point is more about the changes in curriculum and the philosophy of education--why do we educate, why have a public education system? 

When I lived in Canada, I learned they actually had three school boards. There was the public school, the Catholic school, and the French school. The debates about the degree of autonomy each should have and what each should be required to do were sometimes quite heated (all received government money). The debates generally narrowed down to this: the schools saying "We are independent for a reason, parents want us to teach their children in a specific way, and that is our charter;" and the government saying, "You receive government funding, therefore you must follow government rules." Generally the French board followed the rules. The return salvo was usually the Catholic board saying, "But religion!" Whether the topic was hiring, teaching sex ed, gay-straight alliances, or how many vacation days to offer. 

To me, the solution seemed straightforward. If you want to make your own rules, don't use government funds. If you don't have enough financial support without government funds, then there isn't enough demand for your services. Now, in Canada, there is a bilingualism law, so the French school option may be required--I am not sure. 

Here's the point I'm trying to make: Public schools exist to educate the public--equitably and well. The Department of Education exists to ensure that not only public schools but all schools--public and private, the latter of whatever designation--are also educating students well. In order to do that, the Department of Education needs to be headed by someone who understands what education is, who has a thorough grounding in education, who is able to understand what works and what does not, who will recognize fads and false quick fixes for what they are, who has hands-on experience working in the classroom at some level with students, who has taught, who is an educator. Betsy DuVos is not such a person.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Random Frday Five...






It’s a midwinter Friday and I have many things I could/should be doing for the church and at home and my energy is nowhere to be found. So I am going to blog a bit and try to get a start on the sermon and call it a day. There’s tomorrow for the rest of it. 


A Random Friday Five!
 
1. What's the weather like where you are?

Meh. Grey and overcast. We had a little snow, enough to show on the grass, but not enough to even make people turn on windshield wipers. 

2. What is your dream vacation spot and/or activity?

At the moment, either of two scenarios. One would be a cabin in the woods with a deck overlooking a lake. I would alternate reading in a hammock/deck chair with walking in the woods and canoeing. In the evening, after something grilled, I would watch a good movie, then read again then fall asleep to the song of the loons on the lake. Alternatively, I would follow the same schedule at a secluded beach in Hawai’i substituting the Pacific, the beach, and beach-combing for the lake, woods and canoeing; there would be no loons. 

3. What book are you currently reading? (Just pick one. I know how you people are)

Just one? You’re no fun. OK, the one I just started is Annie Proulx’s latest, Barkskins, a multigenerational saga about Canada’s European timber/fur dynasties and the First Nations they displaced—at least, that’s what I understand from the jacket copy, the online discussions I’ve seen and what I have read so far. Having lived in Canada recently and learned about this first hand (both First Nation and European friends), it’s of great interest to me. Annie Proulx is a gifted writer; to have a topic that fascinates me written by one of my favorite authors makes for a bit of heaven. 

4. Name a household chore you don't mind doing.

I don’t mind washing dishes. There’s just me, so there aren’t a lot of them, for one thing. It warms up my hands, which warms the rest of me (I’m on a new medication that messes up my internal thermostat and I am always chilly now). And it’s an easy way to feel like I have gotten something done!

5. You have an unexpectedly free afternoon. What do you do? (This is only a hypothetical, sorry. I can't be going around handing out vacation time).

There’s a couple of thrift shops I’ve been meaning to visit, and since this is a hypothetical free afternoon, it’s hypothetically spring, too, so I will also go to one of the local parks for a walk. 


Thanks, Monica, that was fun!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Reflections on Munich

(I wrote this as a long Facebook status this morning, and it has received so much positive feedback, I am posting it here as well)

The Munich shootings are really affecting me. I have been moved and saddened by all the violence the world has experienced, and felt connected to the tragedies in various ways, most powerfully to the shootings at Pulse in Orlando, which left me numb and in emotional shock, even while I ministered to others in shock. 

Munich is different, because it is bringing up memories of a very different time in my life, a period that I don't often think about, although it was very good in many ways. 

I lived in Munich for five years as a US military family member. It was a small installation and many Munchners weren't even aware we were there. My then-husband, our son, and I had many friends outside the military community--German nationals as well as ex-pats--so we were blessed with opportunities to get to know the city as a lot of Americans never did. A gala for the Bavarian State Opera at the Olympia Park (a friend played violin in the orchestra); the best place for mussels, tucked away by the English Garden; sailing on the Starnberger See (Lake Starnberg)... Munich is a city of my heart--if I had a way to live there forever, I would. 

We didn't shop at OEZ; it actually was on the opposite side of the city to where we lived, in the south-east side of Munich. But a friend lived near the Olympic Park, and so we probably dropped in, once or twice, I think. It's hard to remember, after 20+ years. 

But what I do remember is the warmth, the friendliness, of the Munchners. My German was never great--but they appreciated that I tried, and they loved that what I had learned and used was the Bavarian dialect (which made my High German-speaking teacher from Frankfurt shake his head in despair)! The laughter, the willingness to help this silly Amerikanerin (American woman), who at least had the wit to appreciate good German baking/clothing/music/produce/sport.... 

And then yesterday, to think of them hiding in storage rooms, finding refuge in cafes, in mosques, terrified in the confusion, people shot down at one of the city's landmarks.... It feels so incongruous, so wrong.

What is most tragic is that Munich is not alone in this. Munich is not unique. It feels that way to me, because it holds such a special place in my heart. But Paris holds a special place in other people's hearts; and Istanbul; and Mumbai; and Dallas; and San Bernardino--and Orlando. And so many more. 

I don't have any answers. I don't have any way to tie this off neatly and easily. 

Everywhere in the world is precious ground, and nowhere in the world should be a killing ground.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday Five: Throwback Tunes!

Today being Friday, we are back to the Friday Five! And we're talking music, specifically the music of our yout'.  My tastes have changed somewhat since then, although recently I've gone back and rediscovered some of my favorites. 

Which musical artist from your teen years would you love to see in concert?
 The best really was Billy Joel--that I saw in concert, that is. The artist(s) that was (were) performing--well, there were several that were sort of overlapping--getting their start at the same time I was in high school/university:  kd lang, Prince, Melissa Etheridge, Indigo Girls, Sweet Honey in the Rock... Buffy Saint Marie for sure. And others that were already known that I wasn't able to see in concert--Bruce Springsteen, for example.

Which album was your favorite during high school?
Buffy Saint Marie's Fire and Fleet and Candlelight; played it to death. Although there were several of John Denver's that got a lot of play too.

If you could create a festival (like Woodstock, Lilith Fair or Lollapalooza) of your favorite bands from high school or college, which bands would you choose?
Ha--this would be quite interesting, a very eclectic mix. In no particular order: Prince, Bruce, kd lang, Beatles, Buffy Saint Marie, Melissa E., Billy Joel, Indigo Girls, and the Kinks.

What was the best concert you’ve attended in your life?
Billy Joel, his 42nd St tour (I think). He didn't have a warm-up act, he played for three solid hours plus a twenty-minute solo encore and we had great side balcony seats.

What song from your childhood, teen years or adulthood means more to you now (because of lyrics or the power of memory)?
This is proving difficult. I'm not sure there is one. Many of my favorite songs can take me back, remind me of people and places and events. I don't know that any of them have any more meaning now than they did then, though. But here's one that was played at practically every dance my senior year of high school, even though it is barely danceable...



Monday, June 06, 2016

Houston, We Have Touchdown...

I've landed in my new habitat--Brookfield, IL!

The trip out, driving a U-Haul filled with all my worldly possessions including myself and Dylan, was mostly smooth. The last bit was exciting, thanks to a thunderstorm, rush hour, and some hinky Google Map directions, but I made it!

Dylan and I are settled in a long-stay hotel, looking for a home, preparing for office hours this week and starting to schedule meetings and plan for the coming days and weeks--in other words, to settle in. He seems quite comfortable in the hotel, appreciating the first floor window sill view of the landscaping and parking lot, as he can keep an eye on the chipmunks, squirrels, cars, dogs, children, etc. quite easily.

I would like to get into an apartment soon, but the last two apartments I had hoped for were both gone... However, I have appointments to see a couple more this afternoon, and calls in on still more...here's hoping!

Most of all, I am ready to get back into the habits and routine of pastoring--the daily readings and pondering and note-taking for the message, the exchanges and emails and meeting prep, the search for the worship materials and putting it together...I've missed it the last couple of weeks of move prep and moving! I am eager to get to know this amazing congregation better and have them get to know me--to work with them, to learn with and from them and for us to grow together.

Office hours start tomorrow...are we ready?


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

“Only Healing” Easter 2 (April 10, 2016, MCC Windsor)



Acts 3:1-10
Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, someone lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.
Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame person looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”
Then Peter took the person by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.
All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded!

Mark 6:53-56
After Jesus and the disciples had crossed the lake, they landed at Gennesaret. They brought the boat to shore and climbed out. The people recognized Jesus at once, and they ran throughout the whole area, carrying sick people on mats to wherever they heard he was.  Wherever he went—in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.

****

Will you pray with and for me? Holy One, you are the healer of our spirits. Be with us as we open our hearts to your presence with us, and give us grace in this time to truly take in your love and wisdom. In all your names, amen.

Healing has always been important in religions, in cults, in spirituality. It’s not difficult, I think, to understand why. When a person is ill, whether in the body, mind, or spirit, all they want is to get well, whatever that takes. And sometimes it is hard to know why you are ill—this was especially true in the distant past, before humans understood about germs and viruses and antibiotics. A person would just suddenly get sick, and sometimes would get better, and sometimes wouldn’t for a long time, and sometimes would be OK afterwards and sometimes would suffer permanent damage—and sometimes wouldn’t survive at all. Injuries too—sometimes people could be sewn back together and would be OK and other times not. They didn’t know about keeping wounds clean and infections and internal bleeding. Obviously they could observe that people whose wounds were kept clear healed better, but that wasn’t always possible—and sometimes they died anyway, if they had internal injuries, or if the wounds were worse than they appeared. Even into relatively modern times, something as minor—to us—as a cold could be deadly. When we read Jane Austen novels---or at least when I do!—and we read of someone spraining an ankle and having to stay as a guest where they had just been passing by, we might think it contrived. But the reality is that in those days of no springs in the carriages—which meant a lot of bouncing around—an injured rider was bound to injure herself again. And of course she couldn’t ride horseback—you need feet and ankles for that even sidesaddle. Walking was naturally not an option. And so, in one of her books, a character does stay on a visit of several days with friends she had not even been planning to see, when she twists her ankle and cannot get home; and then catches a cold which threatens to turn into pneumonia—and this in the days before penicillin, remember.

So in Jesus’ day, while medicine could do some things, and people had more medical knowledge than we often give them credit for, knowledge that was mostly lost in Europe during the Middle Ages, health was still crucial. Someone who became ill, or had a chronic illness, or a disability, was an economic liability to his or her family. It is a cruel truth. A person who had mobility limitations—this in the days before wheelchairs or artificial limbs or elevators or ramps; or who was visually or hearing impaired; or simply had cancer—this person could not contribute much to the household income, could not work in the field very well or care for the children or weave or cook or care for the flocks and herds. They had become a liability. Given the economic realities of the time, many of them, as this person at the Beautiful Gate did, became beggars in order to contribute something.  And yet, of course, they had families who loved them—this was their daughter, their brother, their cousin, their nephew. And so of course they wanted healing for them. It wasn’t an economic decision—it was a yearning of the heart.

And so Jesus healed; and so did Peter and John, following his example.

So here’s a question I’ve always had—and it popped up again when I started thinking about this reading for today. Why didn’t Jesus heal all the people? There were a lot of people coming to him for help, but we don’t hear that he healed all of them. And I’m sure Peter and John passed other beggars in the gate—it’s a natural place for beggars to gather, anywhere people have to slow down, where traffic slows down and people gather. You see it today, at the on-ramps and off-ramps to freeways and the big intersections in the city. There were many people, but not all were healed. Why?

For a long time, I thought it was because not all of them were worthy—the ones who weren’t healed didn’t have enough faith, or hadn’t asked, or were too afraid. But the more I thought about it, the less I liked that answer. Why would Jesus pick and choose? If all those people came to him for healing, why would he heal only some of them?

A couple of things changed my thinking. One was understanding the difference between curing and healing. Curing something means it is gone, no more, bye-bye. A person can be cured of very few things—a minor cold or a scratch, maybe. But anything else—well, it leaves a mark on you and is with you always, in some form or another, and may always affect your life, sometimes in major ways. A person cannot be healed from diabetes, for example; nor cystic fibrosis or substance abuse or cancer. Even a broken bone leaves the bone weakened, and something like cancer leaves a person's body permanently weakened and scarred. The effects of these illnesses are always with them, and they are always in recovery from them—they are healing or healed, but never cured.

So Jesus—and John and Peter--carried out healing, not cures. The bodily manifestations of the individual’s illness--the skin disease or the mental illness or the lameness-- may have been gone, as with the person at the gate to the Temple, who was able to dance when he could barely stand before. But the effects of the illness are still there, if not physically then emotionally and spiritually. Many cancer survivors will tell you they gained an attitude during treatment they didn't have before. It's partly a new sense of what's important--and it's not usually what was important before their diagnosis--and partly a new sense of skepticism about what "authorities" say, since for most of us, we were eating well or at least reasonably,  we had no real risk factors, and yet there we were in a cancer clinic wait room...

Not cured, but healed.

Something else I noticed. These were mostly folks who were already following Jesus. Certainly that's true in Mark's Gospel. The person at the gate in Acts was not prevented from entering the Temple--he couldn't serve, if he had been asked, since those serving in the temple had to be clear of any bodily defect. They were not healed so they could worship; and they didn't worship as the price of their healing; they worshiped and they were healed. The only connection the two have to each other is the the healing was celebrated in worship. There's nothing in either reading to suggest that the ones who were healed didn't already worship.

The healing showed the power of God through Christ to restore people to a place in community. Without the healing, they were marginalized, less than; not actually cast out, like lepers and murders and so on were; but they were on the very edges of community. Whatever happened--and remember, the Bible is a book of why, not how--the individuals who needed healing received it, and provided a sign of God's coming realm. They had reason to celebrate! Not only were they healed--in and of itself a great thing--but they had a foretaste of the perfect realm of God's love.

So what does this all mean to us? We are unlikely to meet Jesus on the front steps of church, although I would guess that all of us have something we would like to be healed from. We can meet Jesus in two places--our own hearts, and in each other.

Take time this week to be with Jesus--in prayer, in conversation as you move through your day, in quiet times of meditation--what ever works best for you. I am willing to bet that when you do that, you will see Jesus more often in others as well--the driver ahead of you in the Timmy's drive through who paid for your coffee; the co-worker who normally is so hard to deal with, but today confesses her concern for her mother's health; the man who holds up traffic so that a duck and her ducklings can cross the road. And you will find him within your self, too--those fruits of the spirit: kindness, patience, strength, love, and wisdom.

Go, my friends, to be healed, and to heal. In all God's names. Amen.

"Speaking Truth" Easter 1 (April 3, 2016, Holy Covenant MCC)



Acts 5:27-40
Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this one's name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!” But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after the authorities killed him by hanging him on a cross. Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.” When they heard this, the high council was furious and decided to kill them. But one member, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was an expert in religious law and respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be sent outside the council chamber for a while. Then he said to his colleagues, “Leaders of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered. “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” The others accepted his advice. They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go.

John 20:19-31 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw Jesus!  Again he said, “Peace be with you. As God has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyones sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” One of the twelve disciples, Thomas nicknamed the Twin, was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen Jesus!” But he replied, “I wont believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Dont be faithless any longer. Believe!” “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Child of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

****

Will you pray with and for me? Holy One, speak through me, in spite of me; may my words be a window through which the light of your love and truth may shine. In all your many names, amen.

It is good to be here today! I am so very pleased to be here with you this morning, and I bring you greetings from your sister churches MCC Windsor and MCC Detroit.

So here we are with the traditional Sunday-after-Easter-reading--Thomas, so-called Doubting Thomas. I've always had a respect for Thomas, though--he didn't go along with the crowd of the rest of the disciples, he didn't assume that if the rest of them had seen something, then it must have really happened. No, he wanted to know for himself, He wasn't going to take anyone's word for it. And so Thomas makes his statement of bravado about fingers and hands and wounds...a bit graphic if you ask me, but clear and definite--that would indeed be proof! He reminds me of my friends who have a hard time with spirituality and mystical experiences such as prayer and labyrinths. He wants to know if such things happen, how do they happen? How is it possible for them to happen? what is the process by which, or through which, they happen? If someone says they felt a sense of peace at the center  of the labyrinth, for example, my friends want to explain it as a result of the exhilaration of walking; or the crowd effect--everyone else says they feel peaceful, so the power of suggestion makes them feel peaceful. And so on.

Thomas refuses to be drawn into the herd instinct. He stands apart and insists on his own experience.  Which is, that he hasn't seen any risen Jesus, and until he is certain it's really Jesus and not a ghost or apparition or ghost or mirage, he's not going to assume it is Jesus, who cares what Peter and John and Andrew and all the others say.

It takes a lot of courage to stand up like that, to be so strong of character that you will not give in to what the group thinks, even your group of friends and family. Even when it is something you want very much to believe, as Thomas wanted to believe that Jesus was not dead.

It takes the same kind of courage for Gamaliel, the member of the Jewish Council who stood up for the apostles, to speak in their defence. But he has a very good point. If the apostles are not sent by God, if their message is not, in fact, of divine origin, then it will fall apart and vanish, whether the council supports it or not. If it is sent by God, then there is nothing they can do to  prevent it, and if they try, then they will be working against God. It is maybe an uncomfortable truth, when the rest of the council wants to toss the apostles out on their ears, but he insists on it.

Both of them, both Gamaliel and Thomas, are aware of a truth that it is easy to put aside or forget. We do not know the whole story. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way. He said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

We can't see the end of the road from where we are; all we can do is step out in faith, knowing we are making the best decision we can for the moment we are in. Thomas was honest in his doubt; in his faith, he spoke his doubt. "I need to know that this is for sure Jesus," he says, in effect. "I want to know those are really his wounds. I don't want to be fooled by my hope and my longing to see Jesus again."

Jesus honoured that doubt and called his bluff--"Go ahead, touch my wounds." And that was enough for Thomas. Actually it was more than enough. Thomas became, according to tradition, one of the great evangelists, carrying the gospel to India, so that when Europeans arrived in the 1500s, they were greeted by the Mar Thoma Christians. "Mar" is Aramaic for "lord" or "lady"--so Lord Thomas, the one who had brought the word of God to India. Incidentally, that's also the origin of the names "Martha" and "Mark"....just saying....

That insistence on doubt by Thomas led to so much more than his doubts being laid to rest. So often, what seems minor or a small action to us has major effects for others.

I'm sure we've seen the YouTube videos of one person helping another, who helps another, who helps another--until it circles around and the first people is helped. Or--my personal favourite--the one from Singapore, in which the man performs small acts of kindness, that very few others would even notice. He moves a dying plant over to catch the water running out out of a downspout; helps the older woman get her food cart up over the curb; gives the beggar woman and her daughter the last of his cash; shares his meal with a stray dog. And in the end, he has a new pet, a lovely tree blooms, a child is going to school. No great reward, no special recognition--but the reward of friendship and a life well-lived. He doesn't do those things for any reward at all.

Facebook is a very interesting place, as those of you on it know. One of the rewards of Facebook that I appreciate is reconnecting with friends from high school. I know that for some of us high school was not really a wonderful time or place. The first year or so were not for me, either. But then things settled into place, and I found my tribe. I wasn't out at the time--partly because I was so confused by my feelings, being bi/pan sexual--but a deeper part of me knew, and the people I was closest to at the time are either part of the LGBTTIQ community today--including two of my ex-boyfriends, go figure--or are firm allies. Shortly after I reconnected with one of the latter, she messaged me and said she had been hoping we would reconnect, as she had always wanted to thank me. And then she told me this story. When we were both in 8th grade, we had been in a horseback riding camp over the summer.  She had felt awkward as she had had little direct experience with horses, unlike most of the rest of us. I had, apparently, helped her with some of those basics instead of teasing her or ignoring her struggles. She had remembered that and wanted to express her gratitude that I had made the camp bearable and even fun instead of a nightmare. The truth is that while I just barely remember the camp and her being a part of it, I don't remember helping her at all. I don't doubt her memory, or that I did something at some point that she found helpful and supportive. That I don't remember it doesn't matter. She remembers it, and it matters very much to her.

I tell the story not to show what a good person I am--if I were doing that, I would no doubt remember helping her and 16 other people in the class, not mention rescuing a whole school of orphans from a flood.

The point is, it is the small, almost unintentional comments, moments, actions that we do that can change lives. I am willing to bet that Gamaliel, the member of the Jewish council, didn't think again about that morning meeting with the followers of that carpenter Joshua, AKA Jesus--they didn't become prominent in his lifetime. And Thomas could not have known, on that early morning, that his doubt would result in a journey to a very different land and culture, to plant the knowledge and love of Christ on the continent of Asia.

That doesn't mean that we should be fearful to speak or act--after all, not speaking or acting may have a result, too! But we should be aware that our actions, our words, will have results we know nothing of at this moment--and none the less, we move forward in faith. Even when we cannot see all of the staircase, we take the first step in faith. My friends, take the first step in faith, confident that although we may not see the whole staircase, the grace and power and love that oversees our lives knows every step. In all the many names of our loving God, amen.