ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



Glad to be a part

Five years ago, my sister suggested that our family start a book club. At Christmas, one of us would pick a book for the family to read during the coming year. At the following Christmas gathering, we’d discuss it.

I wasn’t too sure about the idea, although I’m not exactly sure why at this point. Maybe I thought it would take too much time, but that seems ridiculous now. Who can’t finish a book in a year? Maybe I thought I already had too many books. That may be true. But if I’m already reading ten at a time, what would it hurt to make it eleven?

Anyway, after five years, the book club is going strong. When next Christmas rolls around, all of the adults will have chosen a book, and I have the sense that Oldest Daughter may join in soon, as well. So far, we’ve read:

A nice diversity, I’d say.

This year’s selection of A Part may have created the liveliest discussion yet. I think we all identified with Berry’s agrarian sensibilities, and we appreciated how wise and insightful, yet succinct, his poetry is. My sister encouraged us each to share one of our favorites. As an introvert, I appreciated this one:

“Except” by Wendell Berry

Now that you have gone
and I am alone and quiet,
my contentment would be
complete, if I did not wish
you were here so I could say,
“How good it is, Tanya,
to be alone and quiet.”

My sister also suggested that we try writing our own poetry. The day before the book club, I was re-reading the book (since I had read it much earlier in the year) and was reflecting on how poems, like Christmas cookies, are most enjoyable when consumed in small portions. One should not eat too many cookies, nor read too many poems, all at once. And so, I wrote this:


One should not indiscriminately consume poetry,
As if it were a tray of Christmas cookies,
Left on the counter, picked over between meals.
Poetic gluttony, the mind feeling bloated.

Instead, lines should be savored,
Enjoyed slowly, one poem or perhaps two.
A proper dessert, followed by the traditional walk,
Clearing the mind and aiding the digestion.

Nevertheless, the family has gathered,
The cookie tray beckons, and the book club approaches.
I eat too many, too quickly.
Time for a nap.

As the keeper of our family traditions, I declare our book club to be a good one. I’m glad to be a part.

And this picture has nothing to do with the book club, except that this is the next generation of book club participants in our family. But it’s a cute picture. And they’re keeping alive another family tradition, the Christmas pageant.

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas pageant
The Ordinary Cousins sharing the traditional Christmas pageant.

Storing up treasures

Lent began this past week with Ash Wednesday lectionary readings coming from Matthew (among other places):

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6.19-21

And on Wednesday, I also happened to read Wendell Berry’s thoughts on storing up treasures. I’m often concerned by Christianity’s impulse to leave this world behind, so I appreciated his words:


It’s the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
the gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.

(from A Part by Wendell Berry. San Francisco: North Point, 1980.)

(Incidentally, my sister has chosen A Part as our family’s book of the year. I’m going to enjoy this one. Also, you can hear Garrison Keillor read Goods on the “Writer’s Almanac” podcast for March 18, 2012.)

A blessing for World Communion Sunday

The Best Supper
“The Best Supper”
by Jan Richardson

Our family has this beautiful work (“The Best Supper“) by Jan Richardson near our table. As a blessing for World Communion Sunday, Jan has written a wonderful poem:

And The Table Will Be Wide

Take the time to read the poem, to pray it, and to add your ‘amen’.

Transition doings and happenings

Our lives are full of transition things right now, and some of it is getting fairly stressful. But here are some of the more enjoyable happenings…

A few years ago when we moved a couch into our basement, it took our entire small group to get it through the doorway (with the door frame removed). This time around, Ordinary Spouse and I didn’t have too much patience and we simply forced it out. On the way, however, Lexi tried to convince us to leave it where it was…

She scooted right up to the top and wouldn’t budge…

Maybe we’ll have to create a new climbing toy in Pennsylvania.

In other news, we’ve had an outbreak of beauty at our bird feeder – a scarlet tanager and an indigo bunting. I’ve been at work both times, but Ordinary Spouse and the girls have been spotted them. I’m especially glad that Middle Daughter (our bird expert) was there to see them.

The pictures are a bit blurry, but still quite stunning. It’s funny that we’ve never had either of these birds before this year, and now they both arrive within two weeks of our move.

And this past weekend, we were out to Laurelville for their Spring Gathering. This is a trip that we had planned a long time ago – we’ve regularly attended these weekends in the spring and fall for many years now. However, since we were there, we had the chance to see our new home and to finalize some of the details of my employment. Here’s our home…

High Alps

And here’s the view from the porch outside our bedroom…

The woods

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

– from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

Lunch at Starbucks

Adam, the Moody Bible barista who knows my name
Knows that I read theology here occasionally
Knows that I collect discarded banner advertisements
As decorations for my office, rings me up

One grande caramel latte in a mug
Which I’ll enjoy on a stool by the window
Since the tables are filled with others using
International Coffee Day as an excuse for a drink

There are a few drops on the bar to be cleaned up
Left unconsumed by the last coffee snob
And then I lay out my clean paper
Ready to receive whatever profundities well up

Apparently, I didn’t get the memo about the new dress code
Describing the proper use of earbuds: a fashion must
For anyone wishing to caffeinate in peace
And so, unable to ignore the masses, I notice…

I notice that worship planning is happening behind me
(“Whatever is noble, think on these things”)
Notice that suits are networking across the room
Notice that the regulars are saying their good-byes

And now this is slightly awkward: Two people sit down
Just inches in front of me, oblivious to my noticing
It is true that the window separates us
But now, unable to comfortably look out, I must instead look down

Down at my paper, which is no longer blank
But covered with thoughts that will never make it
Into anyone’s conscience, except my own
Destined be wiped away, like the coffee drops before them

Starbucks haiku

In a perfect world
I’d order an iced, venti
coconut mocha

Little Things

Oldest Daughter wrote this poem and posted it on her blog. Most of my readers have probably already seen it, but I liked it so much that I thought I’d pass it on here…

Little Things

The raindrop falls from a cloud.
The cloud is higher than a skyscraper.
Even then the raindrop is not scared.
So do not be scared of little things
For they do not compare to falling off a skyscraper.

Post-modernism, privilege, poetry, and prayer

Wow – how about that title? Don’t let it scare you away. Really, all I want to do is to get you to listen to some poetry by Ruth Forman. So I won’t be offended if you scroll down to the end and do just that.

No. Seriously. This post is sort of a random bunch of thoughts swirling in my mind that aren’t meant for anyone other than myself.  It’s not coherent at all. Just go listen to the poetry.

Ok – with that out of the way…

I’m not an expert on post-modernism. I do know that it questions objective truth. However, I don’t know if it rejects objective truth outright, or just cautions us that our personal truth is probably not the whole story.

Ironically(?), I accept this post-modern critique – that I don’t see the whole picture – as part of my personal truth. However, I do tend to believe that there is objective truth – it’s just that I can’t completely grasp it.

In particular, in the past few years I’ve been thinking about privilege. (Uh-oh – here he goes again!) I have about all the privileges that a person could have – gender, race, class, education, and so forth. Those of us with privilege often have trouble seeing it, and the process of letting it go can be painful. So – even though I accept a post-modern critique, even though I know I have privilege, and even though I know I should give it up, it’s still hard.

One area of privilege may be in theology. Now, personally, I don’t have much at stake. However, much of what has been regarded as “truth” in North America has been inherited from Europe and whatever emerged from the reformation. This has become apparent to me recently as I read J. Denny Weaver’s book, The Nonviolent Atonement. In addition to exploring some Anabaptist theology, he also includes the insights of Caucasian women and both African-American men and women. The thinking of the last group is sometimes termed ‘Womanism’.

Alice Walker defines a ‘womanist’ as someone who is:

Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female

and who:

Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.

(Please note: there’s much more to her definition. I’m just excerpting.)

Back to privilege… Like I said, giving it up is hard. But it is made a whole lot easier by people who are willing to point out my privilege in love – like Alice Walker describes.

And finally, we get to the poetry of Ruth Forman. The other night, I was reading from Renaissance, a collection of her poems, and I came across “Reunion”. It starts this way:

Bring someone some hope
like a basket of good nectarines
to share n bite n
love the sweet

And I thought – this is a person who could teach me about privilege. And hope. And womanist theology. Which she does in this poem that she read one day on NPR:

Prayers Like Shoes

Poems in memory of Bettina

Two poems today, in memory of Bettina.

The first is one that she especially liked and shared frequently with others during the last few months of her life.  It is by the Persian poet, Hafez:


Through the streets
Throwing rocks through windows,
Using my own head to ring
Great bells,
Pulling out my hair,
Tearing off my clothes,
Tying everything I own
To a stick,
And setting it on
What else can Hafiz do tonight
To celebrate the madness,
The joy,
Of seeing God

(from The Gift, Poems by Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master.  Translations by Daniel Ladinsky)


I’m reminded of the second poem (if it’s not too corny to call it that) by the first. From the Irish poet, Bono:

Where the Streets Have No Name

I want to run; I wan to hide;
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside.
I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name.

I want to feel sunshine on my face.
I see the dust cloud disappear
Without a trace.
I want to take shelter
From the poison rain
Where the streets have no name.

(from The Joshua Tree by U2)

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