Sunday, November 30, 2008

winter gardening

during the last few days of our thanksgiving holiday, we returned outdoors to complete some chores and close down the garden for the year.

thanks to the master gardener class i participated in this fall, i've learned so much about soil care and the importance of mulch and compost.  inspired by good gardening practices from this class and the absence of trees in our backyard, i've turned into a moocher of leaves, collecting them from friends, the neighborhood, even isaac's school.  these leaves, and some fresh mulch from a felled sycamore down the street, are blankets now for the garden.

we pulled dried up and dead annuals, dispersed leaves and mulch and collected aged debris and bits of brick (ubiquitous in our urban landscape).  it was a joy to be outside and work under late gray autumn skies.  with real formal and directed effort, this year is our first to bed down the garden for winter.  potential and productivity were far from my thoughts. i experienced a sense of surrender to the latency of nature - no birth, no growth, no activity to come.  the work was rewarding and peace-inducing.  as we moved dirt and tilled under compost i thought of spring's energy and our eager anticipation of sprouts bursting up through the soil.  in that season of new growth there is such expectation and hope, bated breath and ramped-up excitement. 

autumnal garden

with the arrival of winter to the garden, the opposite comes.  yesterday i felt comfort from the same nurturing urges that come with tucking a child into bed.  with gentle effort, we attended to each corner of the garden and all the different beds.  during this work i was reminded of the soil's labor during summer's fecundity and the food we were blessed with because of the garden's hard work.  this rite of passage into a dormant time seemed well-deserved and in the right order for the garden.   that the season of rest is as needed as the season of growth is a realization mostly missed by those of us so driven by production.

from a window upstairs, we can see the garden with it's thick layer of organic matter.  i feel like winter can come now.   sleep well dear garden.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

being thankful for mr berry

this article appeared in our local paper as a guest commentary piece on thanksgiving day.  a very well composed summary of wendell berry's insights into a life well lived.

here's a sneak peek.

Mr. Berry, who as a young man left a promising East Coast academic career to return to ancestral land to farm, write and raise a family, has long been both behind and ahead of his times.

Though to all appearances an old-time Democrat, his faithfulness to his iconoclastic vision makes him an uncomfortable presence among the mainstream left and has won him new admirers on the dissident right. He is a moralist hostile both to big government and big business. He is a Christian who can't be understood apart from his deep religious conviction that humankind is under divine command to be good caretakers of creation – the land, its creatures and each other.

If you build your politics on this foundation, you will find yourself standing outside the camps of our parties. Most Republicans don't care for him because he is a harsh critic of industrialism, consumerism and the unfettered free market as a destroyer of land, community and healthy traditions. Most Democrats regard him as out of touch because he is a religious man who holds autonomous individualism, especially the sexual freedom it licenses, to be similarly destructive of families, communities and the sacredness of love.

In short, the Kentucky gentleman is an ardent and prolific foe of liberty without responsibility. In that, he embodies Southern writer Flannery O'Connor's charge to "push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you."

Thursday, November 27, 2008


yesterday we  had a day out as a family.  we planned ahead to eat out and see an afternoon movie.  along the way, in a parking lot, we ran into our friends, the kovacevics, and their son tarik (isaac's 6 year old friend) joined us for the movies.  isaac had chosen madagascar 2.  as we approached the theatre to buy tickets, my saintly husband said there's no sense in both of us sitting through a movie we don't want to see, why don't you go see the newly released "australia."  a generous, unexpected gift - a movie all to myself.

what a film.  while geoff had to burn up time on both ends of their animated flic with two boys playing video games, i sat through an epic story covering a bit of australia's history during world war II and the tragic circumstances of the aboriginal "stolen generation."  one of the writer's of the film is richard flanagan.  he is by far and away one of my favorite novelists with his mythical works of magical realism.  his artistic contributions, paired with baz luhrmann, produced a magnificent work.  hugh jackman was quite fine on the eyes too.  i cried and cried and allowed myself to be easily swept up into the strange and mysterious outback and the lure of the gritty aussie accent (which reminded me of one of the many reasons i love being married to an australian).  seeing it, savoring it, was the best kind of a holiday movie experience.  such a treat.

now for some pecan pie. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

let us say thanks

"In our driven and busy age, we've largely forgotten this weekly pause of gratitude, and we're much the worse for it. After all, it's not that we give thanks because God needs it, as if he were some petty dictator whose ego needs stroking. We give thanks because we need it, in order to keep our bearings in a world that threatens to kill the human spirit through the complacency of plenty or the bitterness of want."

in today's paper, we came across this is a portion of a timely, thoughtful op-ed piece about gratitude.  it is timely because most americans are gripped by anxiety and stress from this period of economic uncertainty (which is quickly influencing our lifestyles and choices).  if ever contentment were important...

for the last year or so, our household has been deliberate about developing a reflex of gratitude.  with isaac, we are teaching this through prayer - each night he thanks god for three things (the source of such sweet and funny stuff).  through silent resolve, geoff leads the way in the family.  with his grateful disposition, he focuses on little joys and lets the things that eat me alive pass him by.  i've got so much work to do, but i've certainly learned from a dedicated effort of self-correction and repetition - resetting my perspective, often one hundred times in a day.  i'd say in the last year we've surely been schooled and transformed by the active discipline of giving "thanks."  

see the rest of this at -

Friday, November 21, 2008

a room full of refugees

today geoff and i had the honor of leading a cultural orientation session on family and children for newly arrived refugees.  we've taught this particular unit for more than a year.  it is our duty to familiarize these new arrivals to the different roles of  parents - both with work and household duties.  we also have to describe appropriate discipline for children and childcare (which is a serious challenge for refugee families - in virtually all cases both parents have to work to get by).  we communicate through a translator and most of the group have been here a few weeks or less.

in the last week, a bitter cold snap has caught us off guard and left us with arms crossed and teeth chattering.  as soon as we finished what we had to say in today's session, the first comment from this group of refugees was "we are cold."  i took a few minutes to go over proper dress for a kentucky winter (when i worked at ky refugee ministries i did this demo all the time).  i informed them of the importance of layers (my sweet australian husband was wearing four shirts at the time so he served as the perfect model), a  hat at all times, and a scarf snuggly wrapped around the neck.  one woman said she almost cried as she sent her child out into the frozen morning.  they were clearly afraid, very uncomfortable, and didn't yet own enough of this winter gear to be adequately dressed.  my heart was rent under my warm silk sweater.  i thought of my worries about our leaky bathroom and my hefty to do list and i was immediately ashamed.

one more thing to do, but what a joy - thanks to the generosity of a friend and supporter in georgia, we have the resources to go shopping this weekend and buy all the new arrivals hats, scarves and gloves, for both adults and children.  with a plan in mind and my personal convictions subsiding, i dwelled on our good god and the ways in which god so unexpectedly and consistently provides.  it is these kind of revelations, sweet glimpses of the hand of god moving in the world, that make the missionary life rich beyond measure.

oh...and a bit of humor as always, from isaac.  during our explanations and instructions on parenting, isaac pokes his head up out from under the table where he was playing and said "tell them not to drive too fast.  and they need to get a flu shot." 

in addition to everything else, we are so grateful that isaac joins us in this good work and gets the opportunity and the privilege to shaped by an encounter with those who've lost everything and must make a new life from scratch.  he understands, and at even at his age, he cares.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

protecting ourselves from our government

kentucky has a long history of being taken advantage of.  whether it's mineral rights from the land of the poor and unsuspecting or coal, coal, coal - with massive profit and great benefit for a few corporations and folks that live far away.  this industry has flourished at great cost to residents of the state and the environment here in kentucky.  under recent administrations, government watch dog agencies like the e.p.a. not only look the other way, but actually offer protection and regulation that serves corporate interests.  many in our community have seen the grave injustices of the business of coal extraction first hand while visiting our eastern kentucky neighbors or flying over the devastated landscape that once were mountain tops. 

in recent years, the catastrophic practice of mountain top removal has left vast regions of kentucky, west virginia and virginia looking like lifeless, flat moonscapes.  one of the many detrimental and unjust side effects of this greedy retrieval of coal is that residents of these rural counties are left without potable drinking water.  apparently the starting place and source of much of the water throughout the southeastern u.s. are these tiny streams in the eastern part of our state.  right now, president bush is proposing to weaken restrictions that prohibit dumping mountaintop mining waste near rivers and streams.  thank goodness our governor (beshear) and our congressman (ben chandler - an honest and just representative who happens to apply his christian faith to his politics) oppose this.  see this link -

Monday, November 17, 2008

a blessed weekend

a beautiful time of celebration.  check out all of the pics here...

we are still enjoying the company of the dear gladdings from Houston. 

more reflections about the weekend to was very moving and profoundly hopeful. 

Communality 10 years - Friday

Communality 10 years - Sat. lunch

Communality 10 years - Sat. night

Communality 10 years - Sat. night

Communality 10 years - Sunday

Communality 10 years - Sunday

Communality 10 years - Sunday

Communality 10 years - Sunday

Thursday, November 13, 2008

a reunion and milestone

this weekend, our community of faith, communality, will celebrate ten years.  although a marker at ten years wouldn't seem major, for our little group it is nothing short of a miracle.  we feel like we've not only survived our first decade of experimenting in life together, we've come out the other side with precious wisdom and experience.

personally, we are rejoicing for two reasons.  one, our dear friends the gladdings (sean, rebecca, maggie and seth) are with us from houston.  these dear friends were a part of the beginnings of communality and in their six year absence, we've never been the same.  rebecca and the children arrived tuesday and sean will come in late tonight.  already we've laughed at and lamented many shared memories. 

two, my (sherry) parents will join us for the weekend celebration.  from the start, they have supported our crazy lives as missionaries in this context.  they have prayed for us and often served as sounding boards and sources of comfort during hard times (as have geoff's parents, but they are just so far away and are unable to regularly share in this life with us).  we feel enormous amounts of gratitude for our families and their love.

most of all we give thanks for god's goodness and grace.  as a community, we are a testimony of god's transformation, a broken vessel that somehow still gives glory.  we are thankful for god's provision over the years through many circumstances.  we live with immense gratitude that we were called to participate in god's kingdom work and our lives are immeasurably rich.

Monday, November 10, 2008

the ritual of tea

i've just finished the most pleasurable read (the elegance of the hedgehog), from which i found this perfect description of tea drinking.  honestly i can't tell if i adored this novel because of its quality (it is an award winning french book) or because it's been so long since i've read one.  regardless, this excerpt about a daily ritual of a cup of tea between friends captured my heart and put into words so masterfully my love of the cup of tea:

today, because it has been transgressed, our ritual suddenly acquires all its power; we are tasting the splendid gift of this unexpected morning as if it were some precious nectar; ordinary gestures have an extraordinary resonance, as we breathe in the fragrance of the tea, savor it, lower our cups, serve more, and sip again: every gesture has the bright aura of rebirth.  at moments like this the web of life is revealed by the power of ritual, and each time we renew our ceremony, the pleasure will be all the greater for our having violated one of its principles.  moments like this act as magical interludes, placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time.  elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn - and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.

so, let us drink a cup of tea.

...when tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things.   where is beauty to be found?  in great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?

the tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license give to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony.  yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us.  then let us drink a cup of tea.  silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light.  and, with each swallow, time is sublimed.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

politics of the common good

at the end of such an incredibly difficult election season (excessive partisanship and division) and the start of such a monumentally historic presidency, i'm reeling too much to offer much personal reflection or articulate anything coherent at this time.  with that said however, in our neighborhood at least, we've certainly observed an entirely new air and sense of life...but more about later.

today i read an op-ed piece in the local paper that did offer these insights.  in this column, thomas friedman noted that

Obama will always be our first black president. But can he be one of our few great presidents? He is going to have his chance because our greatest presidents are those who assumed the office at some of our darkest hours and at the bottom of some of our deepest holes.

in addition, friedman argues that

Obama will have to reinvent government as an instrument of the common good — to regulate markets, to protect citizens against the risks of unemployment and ill health, to invest in energy independence."

But a new politics of the common good can't be only about government and markets. "It must also be about a new patriotism — about what it means to be a citizen," said Sandel. "This is the deepest chord Obama's campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service — in the military, in the Peace Corps or in the community. Obama's campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again."

as a missionary and student of this culture, noticing how much we suffer under individualism and private concern, my heart leapt at the thought of a fresh emergence of other-orientedness among us -neighbor relying on neighbor, christians serving the least in our midst, civic action and commonwealth as commonplace.  how redemptive, how good, how true to what it means to be humans made in the image of a relational, triune god.  at least for followers of jesus in this country, what a conversion it would be to actively, in the most ordinary of ways, seek the welfare of others...

Monday, November 3, 2008

visiting "celebrity"

for the last eighteen months, we've met people all over the world that are reading (and being turned upside down by) a book written by shane claiborne called  "the irresistible revolution."  in response to this gentle but radical text, many folks have contacted us or communality and have come to visit.  tomorrow our friend shane will be at asbury seminary, on this monumental election day, to talk about his newest book, "jesus for president."  from this, shane proclaims over and over again that how we live on nov 3rd and 5th matters far more than how we vote on nov 4th.

we were invited to come out and join shane for a small portion of this event.  tomorrow, before shane speaks, geoff will join him for a taped interview from asbury seminary.  after the ats chapel where shane will speak, jodie and i will participate with him in a panel discussion.  since our inception ten years ago, communality has been a sister community to the simple way in philly.  jodie and i will sit alongside this reluctant celebrity and national face of the new monasticism movement, offering ourselves as representatives and ordinary folk of a local new monastic community.

in the herald-leader this past weekend there was an article featuring shane and this visit to kentucky (and they even mention communality :) -

the burdens that weigh on us

with all that is happening in the world and in our country at this time, we feel seismic shifts underway that we cannot yet comprehend.  while our hope and faith are rooted in the triune god of creation, father-son-spirit, our lives are framed by a constant awareness of poverty, loneliness, racial divide, the suffering of refugees, the profound needs of children in our neighborhood.  as we grapple with the yet-to-be realized outcomes of the economic collapse and this historic election, we recognize all the more the burdens the church is and should be carrying. 

what about the poor - see this editorial piece "Crises on Many Fronts" -

what about refugees - see this most recent update about the renewed, devastating conflict in the congo - "Many Children Could Die" -