Call to Prayer

I wrote the following several years ago as part of an application for a grant to build an outdoor, wood-burning oven at our church: 

"The kitchen in which I spend my workdays is full of stainless steel: bowls, spoons, counter tops, measuring cups, muffin tins—metal is all around. And many times a day, a spoon will hit against the edge of a bowl, or a spatula will strike a cake pan’s rim, and a clear tone rings out. Most people in the kitchen quickly use their hand to muffle the sound, and in a kitchen already full of noise, it makes sense to dampen the sounds we can. But I like to let this tone ring as a call to prayer, a bit of grace, a reminder of what I am doing and who I am doing it for. This grace that shows up even in such a chaotic environment reminds me that whether I bake in professional bakeries or lead worship in a small church, whether I feed wealthy people at fancy restaurants or cook a meal for homeless neighbors, whether I live or whether I die, I belong to God." 

These days, my kitchen isn't a professional one, but I still hear that clanging of stainless steel all day long. 






I try to let this be for me still a call to prayer, a reminder to look for grace in the small moments of the day, a reminder to listen for God, however God is calling.


Rabbi Heschel

I'm sitting here, watching the mist roll in between the hills and the neighboring buildings, listening to Finn's ghost-like moans that tell me he's somewhere between asleep and awake, and letting words and images from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel swirl through my heart and mind. Yes, I listened to another Speaking of Faith the other night, on my way to and from the Ash Wednesday service, and so many of the ideas expressed are as beautiful, and as hard to grasp, as the mist outside. But yet at the same time, his spirituality was never remote: he is the one, after all, famous for saying that the march in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King felt like "praying with my feet." 

I'd love to just post the entire transcript of this show, so numerous were the lines and ideas that jumped out at me. But instead I will encourage you to go listen to it for yourselves, and mention just a few: his model of integrating a profoundly held personal belief with partnership and deep respect for other faiths--a model for something beyond tolerance, his encouragement to young people to "live life as if it were a work of art ... start working on this great work of art called your own existence," the Talmudic line that "the day is long and the work is great and we're not commanded to finish the work but neither are we allowed to desist from it"--which is probably my new favorite quote. And then, of course, his beautiful and stunning way of speaking about God:   

 "I suggest that the most significant basis for meeting men of different religious traditions is the level of fear and trembling, of humility, of contrition, where our individual moments of faith are mere waves in the endless ocean of mankind's reaching out for God, where all formulations and articulations appear as understatements, where our souls are swept away by the awareness of the urgency of answering God's commandment, while stripped of pretension and conceit we sense the tragic insufficiency of human faith." (from a speech given at Union Theological Seminary in 1965 called "No Religion is an Island" ) 

 "God, who is more than all there is, who speaks through the ineffable, whose question is more than our mind can answer, God, to whom our life can be the spelling of an answer."  (from his book Man is Not Alone)

Just sit for a minute with that one. 

It strikes me that hearing Heschel's absolute insistence on justice and mercy and righting social wrongs combined with his mystic experience of God's transcendent and overwhelming presence are not a bad way to begin this Lenten journey, a journey that itself starts with ashes and dust. 


On living far away ...


I've mentioned on here before that my brother recently came for a visit, and many of you have checked out his fabulous photos. (A few favorites at the end of this post.)  (His new camera--and the photos they produced--have made me want an SLR. But the first--and responsible!--step is to make sure I'm getting everything I can out of our current camera. And no, I haven't looked at the camera manual or even picked up the camera since Chip left....)

What I haven't said is how great it was to have him here, how much we enjoyed seeing Hong Kong through "new" eyes again, and how fun it was to see him play and interact with Finn. When I left him at the airport express check-in, my eyes unexpectedly filled up. It's not like I miss him in a daily way--we haven't lived in the same city for 15 years, except for a two year stint back in 2000-2002.  But I do wish we saw each other more than 2x a year, and I so wish that Finn could spend lots of time with him, to learn about all the things we won't teach him--like football, soccer, barbecue. 

This is the cost of living far away, and the dilemma of so many of our friends. Do you live in the place you love, the place with the perfect job and the landscape that speaks to you? Or do you choose to stay close to family, close to old friends, close to the people who can tell your children stories about when you were a child? How possible is it to maintain--and develop--relationships from across the country? Is skype enough?  

We now know many families who live oceans away from their roots, and many of these families have chosen this as their life, not just a two-year experience. They feel more-or-less confident in their decisions, and have settled on various ways of dealing with these overseas relationships, from month-long visits from grandparents to essentially forming new "extended families" here in Hong Kong. One family we know spends every summer in Canada at their lake place, which is next door to the grandparents'. 

 The forming of new "extended families" is, of course, something many people do, whether they live far from their actual families or not. I recently heard Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament scholar, speak (on Speaking of Faith, of course!) on the ambiguity of the New Testament view towards families, and in fact he once gave a talk entitled "God doesn't like families."  This provocative title hammered home the point that Jesus called us to love deeply beyond our bloodlines, and to invest in a community wider than our usual associations.

He quotes a colleague of his, Luther Smith, as saying that "what the Bible seems to say about families is that they are necessary but not sufficient." The problem, he goes on to say, with the idolatrous position of making families all-sufficient is that then we lose "the prophetic edge of moving beyond family, moving beyond kinship into a larger world which is God's creation." 

And so this is the gift--and the call--of living far away right now. Of course, even here (especially here?) it's easy to focus on our little family of three, and feel sufficient unto ourselves. But as we are forced to look beyond family for the relationships that sustain us, we are striving to also keep our attention broad, to look for those lonelier than ourselves, to live fully in the larger world, as members of the human family.



On baby food and Wondertime ...

I am so glad that my son likes flavorful food.  Plain roasted butternut squash? Just OK. Butternut squash soup, with lots of ginger and curry?  Love it.  Plain steamed broccoli? Not so much. Broccoli pureed with some basil and garlic? Love it.  You're a good man, FDP.

Speaking of baby food, my friend Meredith recently said (as part of her 25 random things on fb) "I make my own baby food. Secretly, I must say I am not sure if I do it because I think it is the healthiest option for baby or because you will never see more stunning colors in your life until you see frozen tiny cubes of true pea green, sweet potato orange, pale soft green avocado, blueberry purple."  So true. 

On another note, I am so sad to hear of Wondertime's demise.  It was the only parenting magazine out there that I really liked--full of lovely images, stories, humor and just the teensiest bit of advice. As another commenter said, it "appreciated equally the value of a well-mixed drink and a well-mixed play-doh." I especially loved the name, so evocative of what childhood can and should be, but yet it was always realistic and treated the readers as whole adults, with rich and full lives, now made richer by sharing them with children.  And even though it was owned by Disney, it  felt like the least corporate parenting magazine out there, the least designed to make us buy lots of stuff.

I'm also sorry because it always felt like a magazine I might actually be able to write for. In fact, I had a draft going of a query letter to them for an article about traveling with babies.  So it goes. I did just get an assignment from Augsburg Fortress, and it's funny how even this tiny bit of external affirmation can make me feel better about everything.  Makes me feel that it's OK to love my life, to love taking Finn to Gymboree, to love planning what Valentine's cookies to make this year. Kudos, man.  They're important, and so often missing from a stay-at-home parent's life.


My Arts Stimulus Package

I remember hearing some conversation last week about Obama's economic stimulus package including funding for the NEA.  I don't know what happened with that funding, and that's not the point of this post.  The point is that I have recently become a fan of Etsy, and I just want to make sure you all know about it.  It's an online site to buy and sell handmade goods, sort of like a craft fair that's always on. Like any craft fair, some of the stuff on offer is junk, but there are also beautiful items and real gems. It's a great place to buy gifts, and I'm happy to support artists who are trying to make a living (or even a little extra money) at their craft. It can be overwhelming to start, since there is so much to see. I really recommend taking advantage of their "connections" tools--find an artist you like, then find out who they like, etc. My current favorite shops are "tollipop" and "ouou"--both have some of the sweetest prints you'll ever see. (Note--I had trouble linking to Etsy, so these links take you to their websites/blogs, *not* to etsy.  But you can see their work, and then go to Etsy yourself to buy!) 

And, on another note, my brother just got here for a week long visit, and he's already taken some great photos. Once I'm a little more technically proficient, I'll try to post a couple of my favorites. In the meantime, check them out here.