Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another day in Jerusalem..

From the Jerusalem woman:
Yesterday I worked at my loom finishing a piece of cloth for a customer. The cloth is for the wedding dress of a rich gentile woman. My cloth is soft and fine, made from cotton grown in the Galilee. As I took the cloth off of the loom so I could finish the edge, I caught my hand on one of the hooks. I didn't know it was bleeding until I saw the bright red drops on the fine fabric. I cried out and covered my hand with my apron. I caught the fabric and carried it to the bucket of water slipping the part with blood on it into the water. As I bandaged my hand, tears came to my eyes. It wasn't that my hand hurt or that I had soiled the fabric; I realized that the tears have been close to my eyes since I saw the man Jesus. I know he is going to die and I want to meet him. But I am a foolish woman!

I wiped the tears on my apron and finished bandaging my hand. I then carefully washed the corner of the fabric as best I could. The blood left the slightest stain which was very obvious to me, but then, I knew it was there. I finished the edge of the fabric and folded it. I had hardly put it down when the door to my shop opened and the gentile woman came in. I hoped she would buy the fabric quickly and leave, but instead she talked incessantly about her daughter's wedding - the food and wine they were going to serve; the flowers that would adorn her hair...on and on. Then she picked up the fabric allowing it to unfold. "What's this?" she asked looking at the still damp edge. "Oh, I replied, a bit of water..." "But," she continued, hardly giving me a chance to explain, "it's got a stain on it." "Oh," I replied, "but it's very small." And then the truth came out of my mouth, "I pricked my hand on a hook and just a drop of blood fell on the edge..." The woman dropped the cloth as if it were poison. "Your blood is on this cloth? The cloth for my daughter's wedding? I cannot possibly take it with a Jew's blood on it! You will have to weave another piece." I stepped back as if the woman had hit me. The woman continued in anger demanding that I weave another piece but I simply said, "No." After several more difficult exchanges she left the shop. I refolded the fabric and sat down. Why did I tell her the truth? Why not a lie?

I left the shop quickly and went back to the gathering place at the city gate where I had been the day before. There were even more people than before. As I sat watching the pilgrims come into the city for Passover, a woman sat down beside me. "It's getting crowded." "Yes," I replied, "I wish it were over." The woman looked at me and said, "You sound sad." "Yes," I replied, "I suppose I am. I don't like the festivals. I have no family here and I'm not very religious." We sat in silence for awhile. She touched my arm and said, "My friends and I are going to celebrate Passover together, will you come and join us?" Perhaps she saw the surprise in my eyes. "It's quite alright, we're from Bethany and we wish to gather with our teacher to celebrate the feast. There's always room for another and besides we will mostly be in the kitchen." "Your teacher?" "Yes, his name is Jesus and we...." I grabbed her arm before she could finish. "Jesus! Your teacher is Jesus?" She was calm as if she were used to such exclamations. And then she began to tell me about him. Soon she stopped herself: "Why don't you come for Passover to hear him?" I don't even remember going back to my shop, but soon I was at my loom, the events of the morning far away. I am going to get to meet Jesus...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jerusalem Woman Speaks...

Tuesday in Holy Week
Yesterday was such a fragmented day! I tried to get work done in my shop. I am a weaver of cloth and I like to spend 5 hours a day at the loom. Cloth sells well but it is hard to keep up with the demands. As I sat down at the loom to weave, I kept replaying the scenes from yesterday in my mind. That man! Jesus, sitting on a donkey as he rode through the cheering crowd with people coming up to him and touching him as if he were some sort of magic talisman. But that image always leads to the feeling I had when I looked into his eyes. I know he saw me. I was in the crowd but his eyes found mine...

I finally gave up on the loom and closed the shop. I left headed for a strip of shops at the gate of the city nearest the temple. I know the shop owners there. Close to the temple they hear all the latest news. I wanted to know more about the man with the kind eyes. There were so many people gathered around the entrance to the temple. This week is Passover and people are buying to prepare for their meals. There are hundreds of strangers in Jerusalem for the Passover. I am Jewish but I no longer observe the religious traditions. Sometimes I wish I were gentile so I wouldn't feel guilty about being non observant. My family were observant Jews but they are all dead and I am glad they don't have to see the corruption of our faith. The priests are just another oppressive structure. They may as well kiss the Roman authorities - it is a marriage of two corrupt and greedy institutions. I can afford to pay the taxes; and I guess that I could afford the temple fees but I will not indulge their greediness.

In the square near the gate to the city I found some friends who were full of news about this man Jesus. They said he went into the temple and, well, it sounds like he gave them a piece of his mind. I think I heard them say that he called the temple priests thieves! Oh, I would have loved to hear that! He made a mess by turning over the tables of the money changers and people were jumping to pick up their coins! I need to know more about this man.

Last night I went back to the square hoping that Jesus would be there with his group of followers so I could meet him but I learned that he had left the city to go back to Bethany. I heard rumors that he was staying with a family there. The story I heard then was phenomenal! One of the members of that family died and Jesus brought him back to life after he had been dead for 4 days! Rumors are so unpredictable... I'm sure that didn't happen, but it has everyone talking. I was standing not too far away from one of the temple guards who was speaking so loudly that anyone could hear him. He was saying that if Jesus tried to enter the temple again they would run him through with their swords! There is so much anger against Jesus. I wonder what the government could fear from this one gentle eyed man? But anger is everywhere - people are tired of the Roman oppression and they are tired of not having enough work and money. The air is electric with fear...Something bad is going to happen.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Today is Passion Sunday and as we read the Passion Narrative during the service I saw in my mind the various places in Jerusalem. It was a combination of those places I visited in 1985 when I went to Israel on a spiritual pilgrimage and the Jerusalem of 2008 with walls and soldiers. The passionate struggle of both Palestinians and Jews to find a land and a home; a shared existence in a land we call "holy." I am listening once again to the book Exile by Richard North Patterson (published in 2007). I listened to the book several months before I went to Israel in November 2008 but I am finding it far more meaningful now. It is a very contemporary book about the Arab/Jew struggle. The experiences I had in Israel / Palestine - going through checkpoints, having guns pointed at me, and visiting many of the West Bank towns that Patterson writes about - makes the book far more plausible and real. It's worth reading.

In my very brief sermon today I suggested that each person find a "face" - a person - in the passion story to follow during Holy Week. There are so many "stories" that could be told about following Jesus through this week. How different the week must have been for each person who followed the drama of Jesus entering the city like a conquering hero. After seeing such an entrance I would want to meet this man and find out what he was about. Most of the time when I hear the Passion Narrative read I am overwhelmed with the emotions of the story, but this time I really tried to focus on individuals. I think I want to follow Jesus this week as a Jerusalem woman encountering Jesus for the first time as he enters the city on a donkey. I see her as someone who was pulled out of her shop by friends, "Come with us, something is happening! Someone is coming into the city from Bethany and people are saying that he is the Messiah!" If I heard those words today, I would want to go and see what was happening, even if I didn't believe my friends! Can you imagine getting to the spot where Jesus is passing by and seeing that he was riding on a donkey. Perhaps starting to turn away with laughter but then catching a look from his eyes and realizing that there was something there that held you. It would be hard not to spend the rest of the day trying to find out everything you could about this man. And so I believe the story of her "holy" week begins...

From the "holy" to the very, very ordinary things of life: I finished the rag rug I crocheted for my bathroom. It turned out pretty good and is nice and thick under my feet. This is a picture of the finished product:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Life Happening

Hand Felted Pin
I have been on a "creating jag" lately. This is a pin created out of wool roving. The felt background was made by layering roving onto a brush and felting it with a 5 needled tool. Then other colors of roving was needle felted onto the background and a french knot added and a couple of beads. I tried to texture the pin by adding felt into areas and it worked out pretty well but I think I need to add more felt to achieve a more visible texture. Now I'm working on a rug for my bathroom. I finally found some bright colors in a shower curtain (one that was affordable!) and I have enough rag strips of colors that match (somewhat) the curtain so that I can crochet a rug. I just wanted to brighten the bathroom up for summer. Some of the most beautiful shower curtains I have seen were in The Pottery Barn catalog - bright reds, oranges and yellows. They were quite pricey however and after looking around I found a bright blue, yellow and green curtain at Target. I'm using a bright piece of cotton fabric that I brought home from South Africa in 1998 for the center. It's a wonderful way to remember that magnificent country. I will "picture it" when it's done.

Julia Betz deciding which necklace to wear!

Michael Betz loving Katie!

Saturday morning I cleaned out some drawers - my continuing search for a simple life - and I found a bag of Mardi Gras beads. I put them by the door to take with me on Sunday for Michael and Julia Betz - our organist, Cynthia Betz's 3 year old twins. After coming in from working in the yard I found a message on my answering machine from Jerry Betz, Cynthia's husband inviting me to come and play at the playground with them. So I took Katie and the beads and we spent some time playing. New Harmony is blessed with a wonderful Playtopia playground - a wonderland of things to do for kids. My little friends, Julia and Michael, talk their parents into driving over from Fairfield, Illinois to play! It was such a beautiful day and fun to see them having fun. So, I wonder when was the last time you sat with your legs like Julia's....?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Life

Trying Hard!
It is that time of year when it feels like we are standing on the train platform waiting for the right train to arrive. The cold weather comes in waves now interspersed by periods of warmer breezes and sunshine. And all of creation is poised ready for spring. The daffodils are through the ground but still encased in their coats waiting for a sunny day to unveil their beauty.
Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent and the lessons were all about new life. The Revised Common Lectionary includes all of Jesus' parables about "lost things" - the sheep, the coin and the prodigal son. As I read the rather long gospel I was amazed at the powerful reminder they are of God's unconditional love. I think there is something quite disturbing about the way God offers love and acceptance to us. It is comforting for sure but the fact that God accepts us as we are can be unsettling. I told the story of Chuck Colson's conversion this morning. He was a criminal about to be sentenced to prison when he turned to God. The media had a field day with his conversion. One reporter simply said it was all a "huge joke." Others thought it was ploy on Colson's part to get a reduced sentence. There's something in us that want to believe that a person needs to show up at God's door with a few "good works" in hand, and perhaps they even need to crawl up to the door showing their repentance. But God takes us where we are. And God takes us back over and over through the years as we too "wander into distant lands of self dependence.
We sang wonderful songs this morning for the lessons: "The King of love my shepherd is"; "Just as I am" and There's a wideness in God's mercy." The last verse of "There's a wideness in God's mercy" says it all:

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.
Frederick William Faber - 1862

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lent is flying by!

Swan Family
Near our house in New Harmony is a pond that "houses" a family of swans. The baby was born last summer and has really grown over the winter. This was taken on one of the two consecutive days of sunshine we had last week - those 2 days were life giving! Katie and I walk down to this pond most every day and the swans used to swim away quickly but they have now realized that Kate is on a leash and not a threat to them. If I took Katie off the leash she would be in the water in a heartbeat. She has always loved to swim, even when the water is cold.

The gospel lesson for yesterday was so provocative (Luke 13:1-9). It is a lesson that easily fits into our contemporary situation. Jesus is teaching and someone brings up a disaster that happened in Jerusalem. Some folks from Galilee have gone into the temple to make a sacrifice and Pilate takes soldiers into the temple and slaughters them. It was of course illegal for anyone but the priests of the temple to make sacrifices, but Pilate's action is really an over reaction - this brutal slaughter was unnecessary. The people in the crown want to know why these people had to suffer in this way. Isn't that our question when we read about the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and so many other violent situations in the news? Jesus is quick to point out that these Galileans were NOT being punished by God for their sin. They were no more guilty of sin than we are. Jesus uses another contemporary picture - a tower in Siloam falls on 18 people and kills them. They were not being punished for was an accident which resulted in tragic deaths. There is a quote from Frederick Buechner that I love: "God does not reveal his grand design to us. God reveals himself." Suffering happens and it comes into our lives in so many ways. Blaming our suffering or someone else's suffering on God as punishment for our sin is not helpful, nor is it a part of Jesus' teaching. Of course suffering can be a result of sinful actions, but it is our actions and not God's desire to punish.

The parable Jesus tells at the end of this lesson is one of grace. The owner of the fig orchard inspects his trees and finds one that is barren - it does not bear fruit. This owner instructs the gardener to cut the tree down - it is taking up good ground and doing nothing. The gardener asks the owner to give him one more year with the tree - he will feed it and fertilize it and perhaps next year it will bear fruit. I can hear Jesus' voice whispering into God's ear: I know the struggles of living in the world Father, give me time with your people. I will feed them and care for them and they will bear fruit. It is a picture of Jesus' participation in our suffering. There is no suffering Jesus has not experienced and he knows our hurt so well. This is comfort in the midst of so much misery in the world.
This "chain scarf" with the felted flower is part of what I have been up to lately. A friend from Fayetteville, NC came up to Sparta and together we went to our very favorite yarn store in Elkin, NC. Ruth Hutton is the owner of Circle of Friends Yarn Shop and Fiber Arts Store. She is an incredibly gifted woman and a great teacher. She did a felting class for us and we had so much fun. I found this scarf pattern at her store. It looks difficult but is really not that hard and so fun that it is addicting! I added the flower to soften the look of the chain. I learned to make felt from wool roving and then cut the flowers out. Ruth's store can be found at and if you ever get to Elkin, NC go and visit her on Main Street. It is awesomely inspiring!

Yummy Colors in Ruth's Store!

The beginnings of a "Felted Easter Egg"