Friday, February 26, 2010

No, Not a Leap Year Baby

My wife's birthday is Sunday, which is February 28th....

Were you thinking, "Almost a Leap Year baby!" If so, GOTCHA!

This is a running joke in our family. Beth was not born during a Leap Year, but SO many people say that about her birthday. And yet when we tell them that she wasn't born during a Leap Year, they look at us uncomprehendingly.

THIS IS NOT HARD, PEOPLE. This is not a Zen koan where, if you asked me "What is Truth" and I could respond, "Go wash your bowls." YOU CAN ONLY BE A LEAP YEAR BABY IF YOU WERE BORN DURING A LEAP YEAR. And yet everyone who says "Almost a Leap Year baby!" are sincerely impressed that Beth missed by one day being born on February 29th.

Interestingly, if her birthday had been March 1, I'll bet you that NO ONE would ever say "Almost a Leap Year baby!"

(I think I've only met one person who was born on February 29. He seemed to have fun with it. Upon turning 72, he said that now he was now 18 and could vote, but he'd have to wait twelve more years till he could drink... )

Part of all this is the way cliches and expressions get lodged into people's thinking. I used to read articles where the author would say something like "It's only X-number of years till 1984," as if, because of Orwell's novel, that year was set in stone as the year totalitarianism would become the norm. "Fifteen minutes of fame" is another cliche routinely used by media writers; you'd swear that someone has a stop watch and is counting how many minutes certain people are occupying within the public's attention.

Church-growth discussions get cliche-ridden sometimes. "Core constituencies," "the mission field," "the seven-day-a-week church," "changing the way we think about 'church'": sayings like these can become signs that pastors and lay leaders are impressed with trends. But awareness of trends needs to be combined with serious, unsentimental thinking about the congregation's health, strengths, and weaknesses.

Speaking of churches: Was it the play Greater Tuna that featured a funeral sermon laced with cliches? So funny! I'll have to find my copy of the play and check.

But back to my wife... we're going out to lunch with some friends tomorrow and going out to Baskin-Robbins later! Then we'll be happy that Monday is March 1---whew, how lucky Beth was that she was born on the 28th!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Picnic Area on U.S. 51

Because of some other writing projects, I may not write here for a couple weeks. But I thought I’d post this photo which I found among other pictures while I was looking for something else.

Along U.S. 51 between Vandalia, Illinois, which is my hometown, and Ramsey, Illinois, which also has family connections, you can find an earlier highway alignment that lies just west of the main road. When I was a little boy, this short stretch of old 51 featured a pleasant picnic area for travelers. Just north of the area was a quaint metal highway bridge that carried you across a stream before the road rejoined the main alignment. U.S. 51 was Illinois State Route 2 prior to 1926, and I wonder if this bridge dates from the 20s.

Back in the days of Rock City barns and roadside cafes, picnic areas were a common sight along the two-lane highways. They were such pleasant areas, basically a small park beside the road. A very nice picnic area once existed along U.S. 40 west of Vandalia, a few miles east of the intersection with IL 140 near Mulberry Grove, and I’ve written here about another such area along 51 near Sandoval, IL ("The Ways of Old Roads," 5/25/09). I remember a gorgeous little roadside park along Hwy. 40 where we stopped during our 1965 vacation to Washington, D.C. I think the park must’ve been in Indiana or Ohio, but I’ve not been able to find it during sporadic attempts. After all, so many years have passed; for instance, that stop near Mulberry Grove has been incorporated into a farm and is no longer recognizable.

Why would you have a picnic along a highway? Well, you’d probably have food and drinks packed for your trip! My dad certainly did; he’d have bottles and cans of soda and food for our trips. One year he fried a big batch of fried chicken to take along for a vacation. I remember my mother was angry at him because he cleaned the kitchen very inadequately prior to our several days away. We stopped at a roadside park--I don’t remember where---to eat our lunch, and I noticed all the messages people had written or carved into the table’s wood.

I suppose today you’d worry about stopping along a highway to relax; the real-life cousins of Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit might jump out from the trees. But, of course, you can’t stop at all along interstate highways, unless you exit highway completely. Picnic areas seem as quaint as mom-and-pop restaurants, but they imply a pleasant, unhurried aspect of early- and mid-twentieth century road travel.

When I visit Vandalia I don’t usually drive north of town, but several years ago I happened to be driving that way and I rediscovered this little picnic area, so pleasant during my childhood. The place was quite overgrown. Not only that, but the old alignment was mostly closed to traffic, because the old bridge is, apparently, no longer sturdy enough. It is barricaded, but you can pull off the main alignment and stroll upon the old road. The narrowness of these original alignments always intrigues me, especially after I’ve driven multi-lane interstates for a while.

I took this picture of the bridge. It was a late fall day, and the resulting photo was more haunting than I’d planned. Where does that narrow road go? Actually just up the hill to the old picnic area, where future archaeologists may someday find chicken bones and bottle caps and arcane messages like “Tim + Mary” carved into wood.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

CCblogs on Ash Wednesday

Several blogs on The Christian Century magazine's network cover topics related to Ash Wednesday.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ash Wednesday and Lent

My wife Beth and I are watching the Olympics this evening, but I'm also thinking about Ash Wednesday this week and the upcoming Lenten season.

Many of us will spend part of Wednesday with an ash cross upon our foreheads. Many of us will practice some kind of Lenten discipline, whether giving something up or adding something to our devotion. My question is: How can we prevent these practices from becoming self-centered rather than Christ-centered? To put it another way, how can our Lenten practices point to Christ rather than to ourselves?

To help answer these questions, I thought about a couple interesting passages from Paul, 1 Cor. 9:24-27 and Galatians 6:12-15. The first passage alludes to the original Greek sports. Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Someday I may make a list of Paul passages that I wish he had expressed better or differently; this is one. Obviously Paul would never teach salvation by works, but a person unfamiliar with Galatians and other letters might use this 1 Cor. 9 passage as a proof-text for "earning" God’s love. We never ever ever earn God's love; it's simply ours in abundance. That's why Paul is so grateful for the empowering cross of Christ, as discussed below.

Understood in context with the whole letter, 1 Cor. 9:24-27 refers to the self-discipline we need to love. We can certainly be very disciplined Christians--evidenced at Lent--but we’re wasting our time unless our spiritual practices lead to love, kindness, gentleness, and other gifts sketched by Paul in Galatians 5. (This, by the way, applies not just to Lent but to spiritual retreats like Emmaus, service ministries at your church, small groups, and other ways.) So the aim of spiritual practices is to curb our selfish inclinations so that we can display the lovingkindness and compassion that will definitely "show Christ" and not just proclaim Christ.

This point is depicted even more startlingly in the second Paul passage. Several years ago I wrote a short study book, Paul and the Galatians, for Abingdon Press. Paul’s hope that the pro-circumcision teachers at Galatia would “castrate themselves” (Gal. 5:12) is a notorious text. I think an equally startling text is just a few sentences down.

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! (Gal. 6:12-15).

The explicit bitterness of Gal. 5:12 makes it a more obvious put-down than Gal. 6:12-13, which, you might notice, contains a double entendre. “Flesh” (sarx) means the sphere of human existence--a word usually used by Paul in distinction to God’s Spirit---but “flesh” here can mean the circumcision itself. To restate Paul more crudely, the pro-circumcision teachers are boasting about their penises (i.e., their circumcision), and they want to boast about the Galatian men's penises, too (i.e., to boast about converts to their belief that circumcision is necessary for Gentile Christians)!

Expressed so rudely and absurdly, the whole issue is clearer: boasting about our own righteousness is foolish. Only the amazing gifts of God--the cross of God and the consequent gift of the new creation through the Holy Spirit--are properly boasted about, according to Paul.

I’m very aware how regrettable is Paul’s language for contemporary Jewish-Christian fellowship. Paul faced different issues and a different circumstance than our own time, when many of us are seeking to help heal centuries of Christian anti-Judaism. Paul is upset here, not because he is prejudiced against Jews and their religion, but because he believes God has opened up amazing possibilities for Gentiles via God’s faithfulness to the Jews. Jews had always had (male) circumcision, but the Galatians were Gentiles and had never been required to adopt this Jewish sign of the covenant. And yet the Holy Spirit had been given to the Galatians--thus including Gentiles within God's covenant-faithfulness--without them doing anything to earn or deserve such a gift! God had already given them freedom and equal standing as heirs and children (Gal. 4:7). For Paul, this was an amazing, wonderful blessing for the Galatians (and others).

That's why Paul was so angry; the pro-circumcision teachers convinced the Galatians that they had to “make sure” they were truly within God’s will. For Paul, that was tantamount to saying that God’s gifts of freedom and equal standing as heirs was unsatisfactory; just in case the Holy Spirit is not enough, we need to “cover our bases" by adding a traditional rite. But how could the Holy Spirit be not enough?

As we study the Bible, we discover numerous gifts of transformation that the Holy Spirit provides as we’re touched by God’s love.

· Humility: a willingness (hypothetically, at least) to wash the feet of someone who has not “earned” your love but whom you love, nevertheless, as Christ loved his very imperfect disciples.
· Peacefulness: a kind of understanding of God that surpasses a purely cognitive agreement of doctrines about God
· Suffering: a condition we’d prefer to avoid, but which is biblically attested to be potentially a sharing in Christ’s own life.
· Loving-kindness and compassion: a desire to ease the suffering of others (certainly not to inflict it) because—to use a cliché—you feel the other’s pain. (Etymologically, compassion means “to suffer with.”)
· Knowledge of God: you can see God in the needs of the other person
· Love for enemies: you feel no hatred or anger for someone who has mistreated you (or, at least, you regularly turn to God for healing of your hatred).
· Contentment: a tranquility independent of your circumstances
· Joy: not just happiness and mirth (wonderful as those are) but a confidence that you understand the meaning and direction of life.
· Avoidance of certain circumstances: those wherein you might succumb to a temptation to which you’re prone, and you know yourself well enough to know your weaknesses.

To connect these gifts to our Lenten disciplines: we must keep in mind that these gifts are not characteristics that we’re supposed to achieve through will-power and discipline. Nor are our disciplines add-on rites about which to boast as if they, in themselves, make us righteous. [T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things (Gal. 5:22-23). Paul is being sarcastic again--of course no law (including laws stipulating circumcision) would create these qualities. They are gifts of the Spirit’s “new creation”. We, in turn, can open ourselves to the Spirit's love as we seek to understand more fully the depth of God's love.

Paul’s affirmation in Galatians 6 can be an excellent guide and focus during the upcoming season. Everything relies upon the power of God through the cross of Christ and the transforming Holy Spirit, and whatever personal righteousness I might bring to the table counts as nothing. How wonderfully freeing is that?! And yet our Lenten disciplines are not worthless because God can use them--and, indeed, God can lead us into undertaking them. 1 Cor. 9:24-27 alerts us that the power of God can tragically elude us if we're not careful. And so, aware of how easily we can become unloving, we strive to focus on seeking the Spirit's gifts of love, kindness, and gentleness which, in turn, show Christ.

Friday, February 12, 2010

German Language Dreamin' (On Such a Winter's Day)

Sometimes a subconscious connection happens as I daydream. Today it’s: Friday and the German language.

Why am I daydreaming about that, rather than working? Easy: the first thing we learned in my college German class, over thirty years ago, was “Gott sei dank, es ist Freitag.” After teaching us that mild oath in praise of the week’s end, the prof switched into “Deutsch durch Deutsch” mode and tried, with limited success, to help us learn the word “ding.” He’d point to a chair: “ding.” He’d point to a book: “ding.” He’d point to a desk: “ding.” We’d dutifully guess: chair? book? desk?

I sometimes mention that class to my own college classes. Our prof ended his lecture when he felt like he’d made his point, which could be five minutes or more past the end of the class period. I joke with my current students that none of us in that class heard a single word that the prof said after the scheduled time ended, because we were too anxious about getting to our next class! But that’s another story. So is the nice trip my family and I made to Germany in 2007. Without brushing up on our German (because we were too busy packing outfits for eleven days, I guess), Beth and I managed several awkward but pleasant conversations with people in bakeries and coffee shops.

I found a website, “12 great reasons why you should start learning German today.” ( Several of the reasons are economic and business-related. Number 11 does mention religious studies, which is my own interest. Imagine a list of “12 great reasons why you should learn German” and one of them is: “You can read Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre in the original!” You might not have a mad rush of folks signing up for German courses at that prospect, but the ears of a few, including me, would perk up at the thought of understanding a very large group of authors in theology, philosophy, biblical studies, etc. who were German-speaking.

I used to have a book that specifically taught “theological German.” The book helped you with the specialized vocabulary after you’d gained general mastery of the language. The word that always stands out in my mind is Heilsgeschichte, or “salvation history,” a popular concept in biblical studies. That might be the first German word a young person can latch onto during introductory courses in Christian theology, and oh how impressive you can sound if you can drop Heilsgeschichte into a sermon!!

I used my German the most while studying Karl Barth’s doctrine of creation for my Ph.D. dissertation. I ordered a copy of Die kirchliche Dogmatik, Volume III, part 2, from the publisher through our bookstore, and for several months I hunkered down with the enormous white book as I compared Barth’s original words with the (to me more than adequate) English translation. At the time I still dreamed of being some kind of Barth scholar, but God didn’t guide me in that direction after my doctoral work concluded. God guided me, instead, into writing curricular materials for church people. I’d love to think, very modestly, that Barth would’ve been happy that his influence worked in that way. For certain, his concern for being a servant to the church was significant for me--in whatever my post-doctoral life would be like--as I worked my way through his long sentences those years ago.

In fact, today I’m working on a current-events* curriculum project for church people---on a pretty Friday, “Gott sei dank”!

* Barth famously said we should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The source of this saying is discussed at the Center for Barth Studies website,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Warm Globally, Freeze Locally

Everybody’s talking about the big snowstorms this winter. Flagstaff, AZ, which often received foot-deep snow falls, received up to five feet recently, according to news reports. Some of the large Eastern cities have been buried with snow. A good friend who lives in Alexandria said they got two feet this past week; they're walking to the nearest grocery store. Humor abounds about global warming; weather is not the same thing as climate change, but you hear plenty of bleak jokes like my subject heading.

Snow, with its potential to change the daily routine, drifts in our memories. What are your personal stories of snow, whether prosaic or exciting?

* I don’t remember the year, but during the mid 1960s, when I was in grade school, a foot or two of snow fell, and I experienced my first snow day! What bliss! I spent a good part of the day in both the front and back yards, building a snowman and flying my model space ships into the drifted snow. (The aliens were thus stranded into a snowy planet in a far galaxy.)

* I think about a winter day in the early 1970s when I was in junior high. I’d been visiting a friend how lived on Jefferson Street in my small hometown; he had the most impressive LP collection: Mountain, The Who, Black Oak Arkansas, Humble Pie, and others. His collection was “heavy,” in the slang of the time. I’m not sure why I walked home along the Illinois Central tracks--because the railroad was a bit out of the way--but maybe the snow along the streets was deep. I remember how cold the day was: minus 10 wind chill. When I came home, my mother made me hot chocolate.

* During the blizzard of the winter of 1978-79, a truck slid off I-70. I drove by after the accident; the trailer was on its side, and the cab was pointing straight up into the air. The driver must’ve had an adventure getting out. I could imagine a tow truck driver saying to him, "Well, there's yer problem!"

* A few years later, I drove my station wagon down the hill to the store to buy some snacks, and my car slid into a parked car, scraping the passenger-side door. Ever since, I’ve been superstitious about running errands in the snow: how essential is that, for instance, bag of pretzels? Can the trip wait?

* In 1994, a forecasted three-inch snow became sixteen inches, halting the routine in our community. Emily was not quite four, but she remembers playing in the snow that was, in drifted places, waist-deep for her. Of course we made a snow person!

* We lived in Flagstaff, for a while, where the annual snowfall is about 100 inches. Snow was such a daily reality, but I remember the scary drives on I-17 from Flagstaff till about 40 minutes south, where the Mogollon Rim ended and the landscape descended into the lower and warmer elevations. Most of the drive to and from Phoenix was easy except for that winter weather along the rim.

* My daughter is one of the few people who doesn’t like Handel’s Messiah at all. We took her to two Friday evening concerts at Severance Hall in Cleveland in consecutive years--wonderful events, one featuring the coloratura Laura Claycomb and the baritone Sanford Sylvan. Unfortunately, in mid-December in northeast Ohio, snows can be unpredictable, so we drove back to Akron in frightening snowstorms both years we attended. Our attempts to introduce her to a beloved oratorio only gave it an association with dangerous weather conditions.

* Emily and I used to go sledding on our backyard hill in wintertime. Sometimes we speed all the way down; sometimes we get bogged down in heavy, wet snow and tumble over. When life gives you bad snow for sledding, make snow angels. I’m well into middle-age; I looked silly on a sled; I didn’t care.

Right now, the East Coast is still getting hit hard with snow. I leaf through my Bible for references to the white stuff. Here are my two favorites. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! writes the psalmist (Ps. 148:7-8). In a similar vein, God asks Job rhetorically, Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail...? (Job 38:22)

No, Lord, we haven't...But we sure do see the results when those storehouses empty out!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Albert Plotkin, ז״ל

A dear friend, Rabbi Albert Plotkin, passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 3. Here are some announcements of his passing, which refer to his longtime service to the Phoenix community since his 1955 arrival at Temple Beth Israel. These news stories describe him very well.

Here is also a YouTube interview

I met Rabbi Plotkin when I taught college classes in Arizona in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The religious studies department often called upon him to visit classes and explain Judaism, and he visited my class, too. He and I hit it off. He was about the same age as my mother, and of course was a different faith. But we always enjoyed chatting. As these tributes indicate, he was a character and very fun to spend time with. I visited him at Beth Israel when it was still located on (if I remember correctly) 10th Avenue in Phoenix, rather than its eventual location in Scottsdale. I took confirmation classes to Saturday morning services there for "interfaith experiences," as well as to a mosque and a Native American congregation.

My wife Beth and I visited him during the summer of 2008 when we were in Phoenix. He was staying at a Scottsdale hotel because he had had a minor house fire which required repairs to his home. I called him on his birthday, September 8, each year, and last fall he seemed particularly touched that a Gentile colleague remembered. With Rosh Hashanah upcoming, he prayed that my and my family’s names would be written in the Book of Life. I still mist up when I think of that.

Two personal responses to Rabbi Al. One is that my interest of Judaism, which had begun years before, were definitely enlivened by my acquaintance with him. I read books about Judaism for pleasure; in my work I’ve struggled to understand the Gospel in ways that are not anti-Jewish; and in my writings I’ve frequently cautioned people about the implicit and explicit anti-Judaism that we find in the New Testament writings. I think I purchased my copy (which I use often) of The Torah: A Modern Commentary at the Beth Israel bookstore.

Another is the sense of validation that Rabbi Al gave me. At that early point in my own career, I kept feeling pigeonholed by Christian colleagues: surely I wasn’t a good clergy if I was interested in academic work, and surely I wasn’t a serious scholar if I worked in the parish. I shouldn’t have let this kind of nonsense hurt my feelings as badly as it did. But, of course, for Rabbi Al my vocation was not at all surprising or off-putting and was, in fact, an exciting combination of passions for serving God and neighbor. He, too, loved caring ministry and scholarship, as well as the "prophetic," socially concerned aspects of both. More than many Christian clergy in my "younger days," he helped give me confidence in my sense of multi-track calling. I expressed my gratitude to him while he was alive and now I’m thinking about ways I can honor his memory. And may his memory be a blessing!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Zombies Attack Churches, So Be Prepared

It’s my habit to drive to the neighborhood Barnes and Noble and drink a venti Starbucks coffee while I work on my laptop. I could write at home, but writing entails a certain amount of pausing to think, and we all know that nature abhors a vacuum. Too often that “pause” time becomes filled with the household chores that need doing. Or I won’t write at all for an hour or more of good mental time because I’m involved in knocking out chores. Consequently, I like to go somewhere---specifically, the bookstore with its café---and write. Somehow the distraction of browsing in a bookstore isn’t as defeating to my work as the dreaded (and therefore finished-so-I-don’t-have-to-think-about-it) laundry and dish-washing

I did find a book at a display table yesterday, Max Brooks, The Zombie Survival Guide (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003), and passed some time leafing through it. It‘s a thick book! I learned from that the author is the son of Mel Brooks, and the family sense of humor has clearly been passed to the new generation. What a funny book! It‘s funny in its earnestness about how one can survive zombies: what to do and what not to do, how to defend yourself, how to prepare yourself beforehand (for instance, exercising regularly so you can run quickly), and so on. I thought--not intending to be mean or critical--that a few of church-ministry/volunteerism books I’ve read over the years unfortunately have a similar, deadpan style of certainty that these tips contained in the book will work.

I checked to see if the book had any advice for churchgoers. Sure enough, on pages 81-82, Brooks cautioned that churches (and other places of worship) are not necessarily safe places to go in a zombie attack. Although many churches have heavy furniture that can be used to barricade doors, they are also places where many people (hoping that faith and prayer will help them) seek shelter from zombies. The zombies, in turn, will sense that many, many potential meals await at the house of worship, and so a church will certainly be attacked relentlessly by the undead. A better strategy is to gather a small group of people, suitably armed, who can protect each other while staying on the move.

So there you go. If zombies arise in St. Louis, I’ve good advice. And not just St. Louis! Zombie preparedness might be a topic you'd want to raise at your next parish board or council meeting...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ripple Effects of Caring

Roundabout connections. My grandma Crawford would’ve been 120 yesterday! She died in 1972 at the age of 81, so it’s funny to think of tallying her age to such an advanced number. But the habit stems from Memorial Days past. Our family visited the cemetery and decorated my grandfather’s grave, and the grownups would compute how old he would’ve been (“Let’s see, 1968 minus 1886 is … 82! He would’ve been 82.”) My 90-year-old mom has lived longer than both her parents; my grandfather was only 68 when he died in 1954, before I was born. In case you might get the impression otherwise from the next paragraph, Grandma was a very kind person. She made the effort to reconcile with people, to avoid gossip, and to "do good in secret."

Today is Groundhog Day. Meanly I guess, I always think it would be funny if Punxsatawny Phil would go into full Tazmanian Devil mode whenever the guys in top hats pull him from his home. (Put me back, you %$#&!!!) I always think of Grandma on Groundhog Day, too. She raised chickens, but groundhogs burrowed into the chicken house, so she--a woman in her seventies, in her house dress, hairnet, and apron--set out metal traps. I don’t remember if she ever killed any groundhogs, but once she found a possum tail in one of the traps. I felt sorry for the possum---but I’m not a determined farm wife! Grandma was so impressed that she put the possum tail in the freezer to show visitors.

Thinking about the holiday, I mused about other significance of February 2. It is Candlemas, the day of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Catholic and Orthodox traditions. A Facebook friend posted this: It's not hard for me to remember Grandma's farm responsibilities and household chores and apply those memories to the images and potential devotions of Candlemas and the approaching Lenten season. If you're like me, you're always keenly aware of how very far short you fall as a Christian and how dependent we are upon God's mercy, love, and guidance. Church seasons can excellent times to seek God anew.

February 2 is also the feast day of several saints and blessed, including one fellow, St. Adalbald of Ostrevant, who was assassinated by his in-laws! ( The saint listed first, though, was Jeanne de Lestonnac (1556-1640), whose cause was education--that's my kind of saint! Specifically, she founded several girls’ schools in France and also the order The Company of Mary Our Lady.

And the theme of education… takes me back to Grandma who, in her endearingly hard-headed way, was adamant that I should have a Bible dictionary. I was in junior high school at the time and she wanted me to have a good reference book. She and Mom found a Zondervan Bible dictionary at the local religious bookstore, and she gave it to me. In retrospect, I don’t think Grandma had much money: just her Social Security and her modest farm income. So I wonder if the book was a sacrifice to her. I was suitably grateful at the time, but more so later because I still use the handy book among my other reference books, and cite it among my publications. Perhaps readers have been influenced by my modest thoughts that were assisted by the book my grandma gave me forty years ago.

And… that takes me around to something I try to preach, live, and write about: the unlimited, positive influence we can have on others as the Holy Spirit guides. You never know the Spirit may use your acts of kindness and generosity to touch the lives of others, and how other people, so affected, will positively influence still other people. (Of course, our harsh words and thoughtless actions have a different kind of effect.) A good view of “saintliness” could be: a life of personal devotion and integrity, and especially (since our lives will always fall far short of perfection) a life of sensitivity to the ripple affects of caring.