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

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Children

T-Ball

Last night, I got to watch a T-ball game for the first time…

A few days ago, my friend, Hilary, was expressing some parental frustration* that her son’s three-inning T-ball game could go for 1 hr 45 min. I think that you parents know what I mean by ‘parental frustration’. It’s that feeling of “this is crazy, but I love it because of the children, and I’ll love it even more in a few years when I can look back at it and laugh”.** And my response (which can only be explained by noting that I’m a parent without my children right now) was to ask whether I could come see a game, ’cause I thought it would be fun. She assured me that I was welcome, but wasn’t sure if I was being sarcastic or not.

* My interpretation of her Facebook post.

** Children’s holiday music concerts also inspire this feeling.

So last night, I went right to the T-ball game after work. I knew that I was in for a treat from the moment I arrived. Here are the highlights that I can remember…

  • When I arrived, one team was practicing its fielding. Immediately it was evident why you might expect a three inning game to last for a while.
  • Clearly, some of these players are trying to imitate the professionals. There was one boy who had a long, elaborate, and convoluted windup every time that he threw the ball. And then the ball went six feet.
  • T-ball rules are a bit different. I found this out in the top of the first inning when the second batter came up with a runner on first. He grounded directly to the second base area. I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like someone tagged second before throwing to first. And yet the runners stayed on their respective bases. So here are the main rules that I can remember:
    • Every player bats.
    • Every batter gets a single, except the last one.
    • The last batter gets a home run and clears the bases.
    • Nobody gets out.
    • Lots of runs are scored, but none of them are counted.
    • Everybody wins or nobody wins, depending on how you look at it.
    • Oh… and there are no balks. 🙂
  • There is an incentive for players to arrive close to the start time: they bat in the order they arrive. So the last one to arrive gets to hit the home runs.
  • The pitcher does quite a bit of fielding, since the hits often don’t go very far.
  • But when the hits get past the pitcher, you can have a whole crowd of T-ball players swarm the baseball. It’s like they have baseball radar on…
  • Except for the ones playing with the dirt. I looked out once while a batter was taking his swing, and counted four different boys (including the runner on second) playing with handfuls of dirt from the field.
  • The parents are coaches, of course. There were nearly as many coaches on the field as there were players.
  • Some of the coaches may or may not have been eating their supper while coaching.
  • The coaches help both teams.
  • I was a bit annoyed by one coach who was a bit more “instructive” with his kid than he was with other kids. (Parents – if you are acting as an adviser to a group of children and your child happens to be a part of the group, please don’t treat your child differently. Save the parenting for home.)
  • When the game is over, the players are treated to a sugar high.

So – I had a great time, and I’m pretty sure that this game didn’t last as long as the last. Thanks, Hilary and Jason for the fun (and the supper)!

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Jury duty, part II: Dandelions

Ordinary Spouse’s call to jury duty required that I change my plans for Tuesday, as well. On one hand, I had to take an unplanned vacation day, which was a bit of a bummer. I missed part of the APS Users Meeting where we were hearing about things like the Superb Bird of Paradise and carbon sequestration.

On the other hand, I got to devote my efforts to being a daddy for the day. This was not real challenging, since Ordinary Spouse/Mommy left me with detailed directions. Oldest Daughter is off with my parents for the week, so it was just the younger two who were in my care. For Middle Daughter, that basically meant getting her on the bus and off to school in the morning, and then picking her up early in the afternoon for a doctor’s appointment.

For Youngest Daughter, I got to sit in on her ballet lesson at the YMCA. But my favorite part of the day was the oil change for my car.

Huh?

Well – here’s the thing about the oil change. We had to find something to occupy our time while we waited for the car: either playing in the park or going to the library. YD chose a trip to the library. But we walked at her pace, and along the way I rediscovered some of the joys of parenting a young child.

We stopped to look at everything. First, it was two squirrels that were trying to hide from us. Later it was the stump of a tree that had been recently cut down. Ants and fruit flies were drinking sap. We also stopped to pick up sticks and look at tree bark. Purple tulips caught our attention, and YD ran up and down the entrance ramp at a church building that we passed. But the best line of the day was…

Look at the beautiful dandelions!

It occurred to me that she doesn’t share our suburban sensibilities regarding dandelions. Because we try to rid our yards of them, they aren’t commonplace for her. She actually appreciates and celebrates their beauty.

As it should be.

And as I reflected more on this, I realized that Middle Daughter has also been picking dandelion bouquets recently. When you slow down and listen, there is a lot that you can learn from children.

Dear God – Thank you for children. Thank you for dandelions.


Being born again: Connections

Every Wednesday night, my congregation has a potluck and prayer/meditation time. This fall, we’re considering on various spiritual practices together. Two weeks ago, I shared some thoughts on ‘imagination’. Last night, another person reflected on ‘connections’. In part, he said:

In thinking about our theme tonight — “Connections” — my mind traveled to the statue of Christ that stands high above the city of Rio de Janeiro. I’ve long felt drawn to this particular depiction of Christ.

To me, Jesus’ open posture captures how he connects and reaches out to all people during his ministry. It captures his vulnerable posture on the cross, bearing upon himself our sins and reconnecting us with God. And it captures his welcoming posture in the encounters that follow his resurrection.

Jesus calls us to imitate his posture of connection — with God, creation and those around us. After our own birth, we seem amazingly receptive and able to do so. But painful life experiences often change our posture from one of desiring connection… to one of fearfully protecting ourselves and closing ourselves off from others instead.

(Image by Pedrohiroshi.)

My personal reaction was simple, yet deeply felt. I was powerfully drawn to the idea that young children are receptive to connections, but that as we age we construct protective barriers in order to protect ourselves from pain. Immediately, I said to myself, “You must be born again!” (John 3) I continued reflecting along these lines, how this process of being born again, of reforming connections, and of being reconciled never stops. It’s the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, bringing new birth and life. And I thought about how that’s what I’ve experienced myself in the last year.

Imagination as a spiritual discipline

On Wednesday evenings at my congregation’s meeting place, we share dinner and have a prayer service. The themes for this fall’s prayer times are a number of spiritual disciplines: beauty, being present, connections, enthusiasm, imagination, nurturing, openness, questing, vision, and yearning. Each week, one of the participants is asked to reflect and share on one of these disciplines. Last night, I shared some reflections about imagination.


Preparation for sharing tonight has really been a bit of a learning process for me. When I saw that we’d be considering “spiritual practices” this fall, I immediately thought of Richard Foster’s book, “Celebration of Discipline”. You may be familiar with the disciplines in that book – things like prayer, fasting, service, and worship. But the list for our Wednesday evening prayer series was different – the disciplines listed were things like beauty, connections, enthusiasm, and others – including my topic for tonight: imagination. Now – I’m sure that others have thought about these things before. For me, however, considering the list  from a spiritual context was new. And so, I didn’t immediately respond to the email requesting our contributions.

Setting that aside for a moment, let’s take a little detour…

It was about a week after we received that list of practices when I came across an interesting photographic technique called ‘forced perspective’. The photographer places the subject matter within a photo in such a way that the viewer has to consider things from a certain (often odd) vantage point. It may be easier to understand the concept if you see the same images that I found to be interesting.

Well – I thought these were pretty cool, and I showed them to my daughters. The older two immediately “got it”. They understood what the photographer had to do – how all the people had to be positioned – and they wanted to try things out for themselves. So we spent one Saturday morning trying out different things. We had a lot of fun with this, and I decided to put them on my blog. (Note that these are actual photographs. I photoshopped the shadows slightly, but none of the subjects have been rearranged!)

At some point, the person who organizes our Wednesday services saw the entry and commented that this project might be construed as a spiritual discipline. That’s when something clicked for me, and I went back and looked at her list again in light of our little photographic exercise:

Beauty? Check.

Being present? Yes.

Enthusiasm? Imagination? Nurturing? Vision? They’re all there.

Eventually, I decided to consider imagination for this evening. Why is imagination a discipline to be nurtured? I came up with a couple answers.

First, I thought about how my girls got really excited about our little project and how nearly all of these spiritual practices were present as we did our work. And I thought about how Jesus was always linking the Kingdom of Heaven to the children around him. “For such is the kingdom of heaven.” Imagination helps us to approach God with child-like joy. Imagination makes us creative and helps us understand and appreciate God’s creativity. I think about God creating the animals and then bringing them to Adam to be named. Genesis chapter two is a tour de force in imaginative cooperation between God and Adam.

As a scientist, I feel a special affinity for this aspect of imagination. For one thing, biologists are still doing what Adam did – naming the creatures. My father is a biologist and has just retired from his teaching position after 38 years. Over the course of his career, he has named a few beetle-inhabiting mites. And in my own work, it takes a certain amount of imagination to design good experiments – to set things up in a way that will provide the desired answers.

The other spiritual dimension of imagination that I’ve considered in the last few days is its relationship to wisdom, especially when it is used to resolve conflicts. Most of us are probably familiar with the fight or flight response. When confronted with danger, we can choose to run or to get defensive. At least, that is what animals do. But I think that part of being human and part of living in the Kingdom of God is that we can choose a third option: transformation. The last option is hard, but imagination can make it much simpler.

Let me share just one example – in Mark 12, some people try to trap Jesus with a question…

Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.

Mark 12.13-17, NRSV

I wonder if a little imaginative wisdom will serve our congregation well in the coming months.

And this is where I’m going to stop, since (as I indicated) I’m still very much in the exploration stage of this spiritual practice. I’m looking forward to hearing your reflections in the coming weeks.

Some of us are artists; some, not so much

Let me begin by saying that I’m not comparing my daughter to anyone else…

Well – maybe I am.

But I’m not judging her. She is free to be who she wants to be. I just find it interesting to observe her development.

By now you’re wondering what in the world I’m talking about.


We have friends at church whose son is exactly two weeks older than our Youngest Daughter. One might expect that they’d be at somewhat similar stages in their development.

Well, apparently that doesn’t include coloring.

First, check out his coloring skills. Wow – pretty cool, huh? (And trust me – that was an honest disclaimer that his mother wrote. She is no more interested in bragging or judging than I am.)

Now check out my daughter’s picture, which she created within the same week, if not on the same day. (This was the picture that I mentioned when I commented on the other blog post.)

Actually, it just makes me laugh a bit. Our children are who they are. And we love them for that.


Well, to be perfectly honest, not everything that YD creates is that abstract, and I wouldn’t want her to be traumatized some day by seeing this. So let me share one more – a landscape that she created yesterday…

Pretty. I like it.

Hosanna!

Ah, yes – Palm Sunday.  That time when we try to recreate some idyllic scene of cherubic-faced children waving branches in front of Jesus – at least that’s what we do in our congregation.  And it worked pretty well, too.  All the kids gathered together before the service, received their palms, and circled the sanctuary.  In the process, they instilled some joy in the adults that would have otherwise been missing.

But do you know what else children do when they receive their palms?

They immediately start shaking them directly at every living thing in sight.  And the shaking continues long after the processional that begins the worship service.

All around, parents (myself included) are trying to rein in the misuse of palms. Now I understand the safety concerns.  (“Don’t wave that around someone else’s face!  You might poke someone’s eye out!”)  But really – why is it that we hand these things out and then expect the children to conform to our image of what the triumphal entry looked like?  Instead, maybe we should take the opportunity to allow the palm-whacking to form our theology.  (And our worship services, too!)

After all, “it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

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