Thoughts from the I 90

Dear readers, be assured I have not abandoned you. I have made plans and then my plans have remade me. This past month has entailed a trip to the United (as of now) Kingdom, a trip to Copenhagen followed up by a week’s long conference in Chicago. In the midst of all of this, classes have started, and I have endured meetings that have not always been endearing.

Increasingly I have come to know life as the undoing of my plans. I am working at being at peace with chaos, even while I pine for a pause in life. But I have also come to know that peace is more often imbibed in bits: a poem here, a vista there, the vision of a child wrapping herself around her mother’s leg that takes me outside of myself and to a place I covet for all. When I least expect it, repose sneaks up on me. For instance, last Wednesday a generous young woman named Sarah agreed to ferry me and a Malaysian friend from Hyde Park in Chicago to O’Hare Airport. The organizer of the conference had wisely arranged for transport for all well in advance of normal departure times. Winds in 40 knot range were expected along side of the precipitation befitting such gales. As was expected, the trip was about double the time. This plodding commute gave me occasion to ponder the last week since I was not in charge of driving, not needing to be anxious about when to get on or off ramps and like. I was able to sit back and revisit the conference; meeting new and old friends from Indonesia, Nigeria, Germany, Brazil etc. I was at a meeting of the Lutheran World Federation, where we asked the question: How do Lutherans the world wide read the bible?

As you can expect, no easy answer emerged. Some had suggestions while others queried the wisdom of travelling down this path at all. After all, some argued, the empire upon which the sun never set was obsessed with uniformity, and we all know how that ended. But then again, that empire, like so many others, has not really ended. It lives on even if only in wistful wishes for an empire of no setting sun. But the sun insists on setting, even in the shadow of busy airports.

Here and here, in the midst of traffic crawls, and renegotiated flight departures pause is thrust upon us. This is really the tale of life: while we may struggle with the rudder, the wind is beyond our purview. We bob along, and hope for the best; at least the wise do so. In those pauses, welcomed or not, comes our very own opportunity to be welcoming: will we breathe when the opportunity arises? Will we take leave of our importance? Will we embrace those moments that arrest our constant, if not consistent, rushing about? Will we will Sabbath? Will we ache to become a deep breath in harmony with all of creation? Will we be content with the moment given us, to be grateful and so generous? Life is so astounding in so many ways; here an unexpected gift of time; there an opportunity to practice peace; and in the midst of it all – God, ever offering fresh starts, even on a Illinois Inter-state.

Sheep Safely Graze…

Sheep safely graze

Witnesses to the word heard not

Always in the parson’s parsing parables

But in the parable – now

Enfleshed in the coos of the muse in babe in arms,

(Shaped like Seraphim) and

The soft curve of the letter ‘S’ in 

Isaiah and Psalms, ansd even in the

Verse left unsung and so now so very

Loud, this laud protesting its being

Precluded: it a

Reminder that 

Sheep are never safe, at least

No safer than the ruminated grass;

No safer than the parable

That is the Kirk.

So here I sit in Edinburgh

So here I sit in Edinburgh 

Single malt at hand¡

A castle overlooking me while

I ponder what I have overlooked.

Tasks at home now

Chinks in my armor

Flanks under seige by

Poor planning, by poverty of prognostication and

Yet a ridiculous richness descends on me in my

Knowing that driving on the left

Leaves me disabused of certainty – each

Traffic circle gracelessly cornered a sign of

Undeserved grace.  Far from home

I sit back – when safe so to do – and

Ponder my place in a place such as this:

Afar and alien by a half.

Of Loam and Libation

Here, on earth

Your will is done, where

Your Reign will not come

without the

taste of dirt, the

smell of leather, the

sight of nests – mysteriously mingling tree, field, sky, death;

without the feel of skin on skin, on concrete, in water,

now warm, now cold.

 

In these You eschew

our sanctimonious platitudes,

our betrayals of uncertainty, and

when we despair, You come

in body broken

in blood poured upon us:

You a libation,

we the loam, the earth, the ancestors,

the terra not so firma, but trembling:

frightened, and tender, and ripe.

Restore, Recycle, Remember Revisited

Some of my readers expressed interest in the results of my “Restore, Recycle, Remember” project.  So here it is! Unfortunately, I only took a “Before” picture of the credenza.  You see it in my basement, not quite yet full of sawdust- although it was more sandingdust since little sawing was involved in this project.

 

original

The desk was in rougher shape, but both were basically wounded and worn.  My guess is that they had not seen any varnish, oil or care for some 30 years.  Here is the credenza in its new home.

credenza

What you see is the result of furniture stripper, sanding, light staining and Tung Oil.  I first tried varnish but was not happy with the results.  I am pleased with this look, which seems fitting for my office.  Below is the top of the desk.  Check out the beautiful wood choice by the artists/woodworkers who first made this.

desktop

Below is a bit broader picture of the desk in its setting.  You might not see, but I have left the desk for books, and made a little computer table for the side.  It is made of a piece of glass found at Goodwill for $5.00 (Canadian!  Cheaper in the USA!!).  A set of legs was found at the Restore (an arm of Habitat for Humanity) for $ 15.00.  On the ledge behind I have set another piece of glass (this one $ 3.00) sitting upon ten four inch cylinders of wood.  These cylinders are slices of a large branch that came down from our maple tree in the ice storm this last December.  This allows me the luxury of stand up computing without investing hundreds of dollars in a desk with adjustable heights.

deskwindow

This was a most exciting and invigorating way to spend my July.  I learned a lot, much of which does not admit expression, but allow me this single summary:  honest work that taxes the body sometimes salves the soul.

A Little Life, Please

My life is

little, paltry, hardly

seen, but being

human is that: more

minutia than magna.

 

Cutting lawn, cleaning stove, shuffling paper, reconciling calendars, building with broken legos.

 

Your life is

little, but it is the

marginal alone, that

slide in between, that

slip through the fence so to see

chipmunk’s cheeky treasure, to hear

robin’s cantata, to witness

tree’s rotation.

 

Our life is

little, but the little alone

become breathless, beholding

the world in their

hands.

Restore, Recycle, Remember

I am moving offices.  Our school just brought a community pastor on board, and we want her to have an office with good visibility and high traffic.  My home for the last 9 years fits the bill, and so I was asked if I would be willing to move.  I am very happy to do this, and was offered a couple of offices that have recently emptied.  The one I choose has good light, is a nice size and is set back a bit from the traffic.  It will serve me well, and I am glad to have it.  I was invited to move my furniture upstairs, or to leave it behind and get something from university stores (good, gently used goods).  I asked to see what was in the office of the retiring colleague vacating my preferred location.

 

I had never really noticed before, but he had an old wooden desk with a matching credenza.  I was taken by them, and asked if I couldn’t just keep these two.  The Principal Dean agreed to this, and I seconded my wife to help me cart these old masters home.  The following picture tells a little about the desk’s history.

 

IMG_20140713_113900

 

In 1973, the Lutheran Church sold its university to the province, and Waterloo Lutheran University became Wilfrid Laurier University.  Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, where I work is the founding institution of the old and new WLU, and is now a federated college.  The sticker lets us know that the desk dates from at least that time, and possibly earlier.  The cuts of the design hint at 60’s Scandinavian style, but the following photo from one of the desk drawers tells us that the desk was built locally.

 

IMG_20140713_113657

 

I am currently stripping the finish.  My wife is the wood expert in our household, but I have taken on this project with her advice as needed.  I really wanted my work of mind to take place on a piece of furniture in which I have invested the work of my body.  It seems right.  It also seemed like an act of retrieval because old desks like this are often junked in favor of the modular furniture that serves the cubicle culture of the modern office.  My office is a little old school, and so a 50 year old desk seems fitting.

 

I must say that I feel a little like I am in the midst of a holy task as I strip and sand and stain.  I find myself thinking about the sacred conversations that occurred across this desk.  I think of the professors writing articles, preparing lectures, and mulling over sermon ideas.  I think of the craftsmen who first put together this work of art.  I feel honored to be included in the history of this desk, and its credenza.

 

In working on this work of art, I find myself oddly at peace.  I don’t think I’ll give up my day job and take this up vocationally.  All the same, when I look down at the desk, it strikes me that as I caress this tree rendered in service of homo sapiens, the grain of the wood smiles at me, and I smile back.