The Peaceable Kingdom

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Since the end of September, we have had a guest at the Dawson house… a young female cat named Twiggy.
Twiggy belongs to my brother and sister-in-law who are just finishing up ten weeks in Germany getting to know the new company they work for. They also have a black lab, Rachel, but she was staying with a family that better understands how to take care of dogs.
Now, Twiggy is adorable and playful… but she is also ferocious and territorial and quickly became the alpha in our house. My husband has nick names for both of our kitties… Black Cat and Fat Cat… he affectionately refers to her as Satan cat. This is an evidence-based conclusion… She is known to hiss and growl, strike and chase the other cats, block their way to the food, and overall, causes a lot of racket.
The other day, though, I walked into the bedroom. All three kitties were curled up sleeping on the bed together.
For that moment, there was peace again in the Dawson house.

In our candle-lighting text for this morning, we hold before us a vision of that kind of peace for all creatures. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard with the young goat, the calf and the lion will feed together, and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11)
When we look around us today, this is not the reality we experience.
We read about violence in Jerusalem, we lament the five-year anniversary of Sandy Hook, and just this morning, there are reports of a suicide bomb and gun attack on a Methodist church in Pakistan…

Our relationships with one another and with the animal life of this world was intended to be very different. As the days of creation unfold in Genesis, God commands the waters and sky and land to be filled with a diversity of creatures. And unlike the plants, each of these new creations require relationship in order to reproduce. God then shifts attention towards humanity, creating us “in God’s own image,” so that we might care for and have dominion over all the living things that breathe.
And then verse 30 tells us – God gives to all creatures all the green grasses for food. What is laid out in this chapter is not a science-based description of the violent food chain we experience… but of peace and sustenance.
The vision of the peaceable kingdom we long for in the new creation is simply a restoration of how God created us to live.
But as the next chapters of Genesis tell us, and as we explored in the first week of this series, humanity quickly rebels against God’s plan.
We were cut off from the abundant life of the garden. All of creation was impacted – from the soil to the air to the creatures that were to be our companions and helpers.
John Wesley, on of the founders of our United Methodist tradition wrote about how our sin shook the foundations of creation and changed our relationship with what he calls the “brute creatures” of this world. Although they were formed to be our helpers, no longer do the creatures love and obey humanity – they flee from us or would seek to destroy us. Just as our hearts are caught up in violence and destruction, so too, do they turn and destroy one another. Nearly every creature on earth “can no otherwise preserve their own lives,” Wesley writes, “than by destroying their fellow creatures!” (“The General Deliverance”)

As John Wesley notes, it isn’t just the large creatures of prey that are violent; even the “innocent songsters of the grove” eat forms of life that are lower on the food chain than themselves.
In 2015, when I took the Organic Ministry class, I spent an entire day each month on my friend Tim Diebel’s farm, Taproot Garden. One of my favorite things to do during our afternoon sabbath was to sit by the chickens and watch them interact and strut around the yard. They appear so gentle and beautiful, but they are part of the violent circle of life. When you watch them there in the yard, they peck and scratch and will rip apart any worm or bug that crosses their path.
“The girls,” as Tim calls them, are well cared for. He lets them out of the coop every morning, pampers them with choice feed and treats from the garden, gathers their eggs, and safely tucks them in every night. Occasionally the chickens get territorial, and sometimes bigger ones would pick on the smaller ones, so multiple coops and a process for integrating new birds into the flock helped to manage that process. But you can’t guard against every danger and you can’t change the fact that chickens are also prey.
My heart broke one afternoon as I saw a post from Tim on his blog about “nature’s harder edge.”
Just as he was heading out to put the girls to bed for the night there was a commotion in the yard. The chickens were in chaos and making a ruckus and Tim caught out of the corner of his eye something larger that had been scared away by his presence. When he finally had a chance to take in the scene, three dead hens were found. It had been foxes, who had watching for just the right moment to grab dinner.
In the midst of his grief, Tim’s words capture the tension of what it means to live in this time of longing for the new creation:
“Here in the rawness of God’s order are pests and diseases in the garden and thieving birds and squirrels in the orchard. There are moles tunneling through the yard, and there are predators above and around the chicken yard attentively watching for and eventually seizing their hungry opportunity. It’s beautiful out here, and serene, but it’s also torn feathers and blood, rot and thorn.”
The reality of torn feathers and blood, and the pain and the violence, death and destruction, amplify the longing of all living beings for the peaceable kingdom.

Wesley reflected upon the violence of creation, but also had harsh words for how the brute creation is treated with cruelty by “their common enemy, man…” and… listen to these words, to what Wesley calls us, “the human shark, [who] without any such necessity, torments them of his free choice.”
From inhumane confinement operations, to dog or cock fighting rings… from the neglect experienced by so many pets to the ways some beasts of burden are abused. Not only did Wesley believe that in the new creation these creatures would be restored to full and abundant life… that all dogs and cats and lions and bears WOULD go to heaven… but that God’s creatures would “receive an ample amends for all their present sufferings.”
He encouraged people to reject our sense of entitlement and to remember God’s care for every inferior creature… in the hope it would soften our hearts towards them here and now. And he was not alone.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “cruelty hardens the heart, deadens the conscience, and destroys the finer sensibilities of the soul … For the man who truly loves his Maker becomes tender towards all the creatures his Lord has made.”
And so we cannot divorce Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom in our focus text for this week from the verses that precede it.
In verses 1-5, we hear good news of hope for all who are needy and oppressed. The promised one will come to transform all relationships, human or otherwise.
And as Gene Tucker notes, “the rule of justice in human society is followed or paralleled by a transformation in the relationship among animals and between animals and human beings.” When our hearts are right, peace will prevail for all creatures.
And God calls us to account.
In these days of Advent, we are comforted by the image of peaceful animals around the manger and we hear the good news shared with the shepherds and sheep in the fields of Bethlehem.
But the expectation of Advent is not only about preparing our hearts for the birth of Jesus, but for Christ to come once again.
We are waiting for God’s kingdom to burst forth and set us free from the endless cycle of violence and death, revenge and pain.
We are waiting for that day of endless peace, justice and righteousness.

How shall we wait?
Well, first, we need to remember that when the Prince of Peace comes, there will be a great reckoning… Our Great Shepherd will gather the flock together and as much as we want to identify with the sheep and not the goats, we have to remember our obedience to God is shown in how we care for the most vulnerable of this world – the least and the last and the lost.
So, this season of Advent is a great time to remember the creatures around us…
You could donate items to local animal shelters and veterinary offices like old towels, pet food, and cleaning supplies. We also collect pet food and take it out with Joppa when we visit the homeless in our community.
Or you could give the gift of animals through Heifer International and help empower small-scale farmers across the world…
or maybe, you could foster or rescue an animal yourself.
God has never stopped calling us to practice care and dominion for the creatures of this world.
And when we do so, when we take up our responsibility, we are ushering in the peaceable kingdom in our little corner of the world and stewarding it until that day comes the little child shall lead us into the promises of the new creation.

The Blue Couch #NaBloPoMo

In my sophomore year of college, Brandon asked me to take a road trip with him.  We drove to Madison, where his sister was living, to rescue a big blue couch before it went in the dumpster. She called because she thought it was an awesome couch and couldn’t believe her office building was just going to throw it away.

At first, it lived in his dad’s house in Cedar Rapids, but before too long, Brandon was at Simpson College with me and the blue couch came along, too.  We lived in a co-ed theme house and the blue couch had center stage in our living room. Debates, drinks, friendships, and gamers sprawled all over that couch.  It was our senior year… a time of making decisions, finding new directions, and going different ways.

Brandon moved back home and his dad had long since replaced the furniture. So, the couch, our couch, came with me as I made the trek to Nashville for seminary.  It lived in the middle of my living room in my duplex on Poston. It was where we held Jeopardy Style study sessions, where my friend came out as Jewish, where we kept a long-distance relationship alive through phone calls…  And then the couch moved with me to the townhouse I’d share for a couple of years.

Brandon moved to Nashville too.   The couch was there… for the start of my obsession with Grey’s Anatomy… for the conversations with Glen where he kept reminding me I’d make a good pastor… for the night Brandon and I broke up (but just for a night) because we weren’t sure how ministry and marriage wedded together.

And then we did get married. We moved that blue couch into our first, little, one bedroom apartment.

Before the year was up, we moved again. Back home, to Iowa.

My first church, our first real house, and the blue couch.

Oh, and cats. We added some kittens when we arrived home.  And the couch was never the same. Claw marks, stuffing coming out on the ends.

I got up early on Sunday mornings and wrote sermons on the couch. I reconnected with old friends, and we made new ones on that couch.

It moved with us one more time to Cedar Rapids… tattered… grungy… and sat in a room we barely used.

So when the time came to transition again, to Des Moines, we thought about leaving it, for good, in the dumpster.

But that couch still has life in it.  This summer, I bought some new fabric and if I ever find time, I plan to reupholster the whole thing. The cats are declawed now and that couch has too many damn memories in it.

Life's Not Perfect #NaBloPoMo

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It was a lovely day.

We slept in.

The Hawkeyes won.

Friends came over and we binge watched some television (Newsroom is FANTASTIC, btw).

I figured out how to do a double crochet front post and a double crochet back post for an afghan I started.

My husband made apple pie.

The snow fell and it was so lovely.

And then tonight, as I’m setting my clothes out for the morning, I find it:

A nice little pile of poop.

A present left by Tiki or Turbo.

It rarely happens. I could guess at the reasons, but whatever, I’m not a cat.

*sigh*

Tomorrow, I’m preaching on thankfulness and gratitude, so I’m led to say these things:

I’m grateful for the invention of paper towels and carpet cleaner.

I’m grateful messes can be cleaned up.

I’m grateful for the companionship of those two little furballs.

I’m grateful for imperfections that ground us and humble us and help us to not take life so seriously.

I’m grateful for the grace that I have received when I have messed up.

I’m grateful for people who have helped me to clean up my own mistakes and fumbles.

The Blue Couch #NaBloPoMo

Today’s prompt is:  Do you have a book in you? Fact or fiction? Related to your blog or totally different?

Well, the first part of the answer is that I have already worked on two books!

The first is an Advent study that is available here.  It weaves between the story of the magi and the book of Hebrews in order to show how the gifts brought to Jesus foreshadow the roles he plays in our lives.

The second is a lectionary based study that is available for Lent 2015 and can now be preordered! It takes a broad view of salvation and discusses a variety of atonement theories along the way.

 

IMG_2460There is a book that someday I would like to write, however, that is more autobiographical in nature.  As the post title suggests, it revolves around a blue couch, but more than that, it would be the story of my call and my relationship with my husband.  While in large part it is a book I would love to write, particularly for anyone who also is in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share their faith story, it is also a book that a) isn’t a complete story yet and b) might be too personal at the moment to share.

The blue couch is currently sitting in my office at home.  Together, we rescued it from being thrown away from an office building in Wisconsin.  We hadn’t been dating too long at that point, but were pretty attached to each other.  Since then, it traveled with us to college, moved with me to seminary, got destroyed by our kittens when we moved back home, but I just can’t seem to throw it away. It is a super high quality couch with real down feathers and although we have beat up on that couch, it is stick kicking!  (which might be a metaphor in and of itself for our relationship!) I’m trying to figure out how/when I might reupholster it… in blue of course!

Time flies when you are surrounded by cardboard

Six weeeks ago: I said yes to my Bishop and began hunting for a place to live.

Five weeks ago: I announced to my congregation that I was accepting the invitation to a new adventure in ministry.

Four weeks ago: we began to pack and say goodbye and let things go one by one.

Three weeks ago: I found myself in Nashville for training for my new position with Imagine No Malaria at UMCom.

Two weeks ago: Frantically handing over ministries and leaving instructions, I find myself down for the count with the worst sinus infection I’ve ever had and I start my new job.

One week ago: I said good-bye to my church family and began to transition to the next with new colleagues and new phone numbers and new emails and new everything.

Today: I’m sitting in our new home, directing conference calls, settling in, and starting a very different life for a short stretch of time.

I tried blogging through some of the chaos near the beginning, but then I didn’t have the time I needed to really process all of the change.  I knew I needed to, but I kind of bottled it all up and have bits and pieces of thoughts saved as private posts here and there.  As I get the time to look back through them, I’ll see if there is anything “salveageable” in them.

I think for today, however, the best metaphor for what my life has been in the past few weeks is to think about my kitty cats.

My cats Tiki and Turbo are shy.  They are extremely loveable and very nice, but they are introverts.  They don’t do well around people and would prefer to hide under the bed… at least for a few hours or until people have left.

They have traveled and spent time in other houses before.  Mostly my brother-in-laws house, where they spent most of our two week vacation hiding behind a chair where they thought no one could see them.

As soon as we arrived in the new place, we put them in the laundry room where they could have some space, but wouldn’t have to see all of the people moving all of the stuff.

The problem was, they didn’t want to come out when the chaos was over.  We found them hiding behind the dryer, huddled together, just hoping that no one would see them.

As my husband and I eventually dragged them out of their little cozy corner (who am I kidding, it wasn’t cozy – it was dark and dusty and a little dank, too), they were tramautized.  Hearts pounding, heads bobbing back and forth, not sure of what to do or where to run and hide.

I carefully cradled one cat, Brandon the other, and we showed them the house.  We took them through every room and set them lovingly on their familiar pieces of furniture.  And the whole time, their heads bobbed and weaved, sniffing and smelling, trying to take it all in, overwhelmed by the differences and yet the familiarity.  It was dizzying to watch them… and yet I knew how they felt.

So many things have changed in the last few weeks, and yet so many things have remained the same.  It’s like the world is upside down, but it’s the same world.  It’s not better… it’s definitely not worse… it’s just disorienting.  I’m still craning my neck and peeking around corners and “sniffing” out what all this new life entails.  I’m still unsure, and yet starting to get situated, excited, full of anticipation.

I knew the cats would be fine when Turbo hopped into bed with us last night and found “his spot” right between our pillows.  And even though Tiki never made it up the stairs to our master suite the night before, he found his own way and pounced on our feet… right on schedule as the sun started to rise.  They seem to be enjoying new places to run and hide, new adventures around every corner… and yet they also seem to be a little bit more cuddly and cozy – wanting to be closer than before.

Change makes you think about what is really necessary and what is really important.  It brings your life into focus.  It makes you want to be cozier with the ones you love and cherish the home you have.  It has been a whirlwind of a month, and we are still surrounded by cardboard… but everything is finally starting to settle into place.  Tiki just used all of the boxes as an opportunity to leapfrog from one pile to the next and perch a top the highest one so he could survey his new territory.  I feel like even in the chaos, I’m on top of the world, enjoying the view, and ready to tackle anything.

twinkle, twinkle, little star #reverb10

Last night…. well, this morning… I drove home at 3:00am in the morning from a friend’s party.  It was about four degrees outside and the sky was absolutley clear.  The air was crisp and clean and the stars were so bright and vivid that you felt you could reach out and literally pluck them from the sky. I almost had to pull over the car just to look and gaze upon the sight… but I knew if I stopped at that hour I would most certainly fall asleep!

December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)

It has not been difficult in 2010 to really grasp a sense of wonder at this world.  Everywhere I look around me I see these miraculous and beatiful signs of God’s power and the beauty of creation.

The other evening we had seven deer in my back yard eating acorns.  I stopped at the bathroom window and watched them with amazement for fifteen minutes instead of brushing my teeth.

I was driving to my parents house and I saw a bald eagle soaring through the air and in between the trees.  Good thing it was a straight road or I would have driven off it!

My nephew’s little tiny smiles and giggles knock me over flat.  My neice’s expressions stop my heart. The things my older nephew comes up with make me want to wrap him up in my arms and never let him go.
The sunset one evening as I walked around the local park was so spectacular that I pulled out my phone and captured it to remmeber forever.

The waves crashing in one after the other on the west side of Oahu absolutely stunned me. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sun was blazing and the white churning sea dazzled.  I could have sat there and watched them for hours.

The intense feeling of reconnection and the amazing discovery that I love spending time with my parents as an adult child and a friend.
The warmth of a cat’s body curled up and nestled into yours when you are sick or sleeping, cold or lonely.

The thrill of a storm lurking on the horizon and the shades of gray and green that pass over the sky as the wind picks up and the rain starts to pour and the lightening streaks against the sky

You just have to look.

You only have to pay attention.

There are so many things to wonder at in this world.

one word: lonely #reverb10

The only way for your life to be different is if you take a good hard look at it and figure out what exactly needs to change.  And my life needs a good hard look right now.

In some ways, I am feeling a little snarky as I write this.  I am kind of in an off mood.  So this might not be the chipper Katie that you sometimes hear from.

Charged with this task:

December 1 – One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)

I have to admit that this has been a really strange year.  If I look back on it all and try to capture it in one word – that word would have to be lonely.

I pick that word, because it captures both the way I have felt and the way I didn’t feel.

In the midst of community and people, in the midst of a marriage and a family, in the midst of lots of people and relationships – there have been so many days where I have felt incredibly alone.

Alone because who I am makes me different from other people.  As a pastor, I am apart from my congregation.  As a woman, I am apart from my male colleauges in ministry.  As a young person, I am apart in the midst of gatherings of older folks at meetings.  As a person of faith, I am apart when we gather with friends who are not. As someone who is not a mother among family members who have kids and grandkids. And sometimes as the conversation gets rolling, I feel very lonely… even in the midst of community.  I long for people like me to talk with.  I realize just how alone I am.
At the same time, I have tried in many ways to combat that loneliness.  Our young clergy lunches have been a beacon of community and fellowship.  My online connections through facebook and twitter and my writing have provided an outlet and a place to find familiar voices. I am learning to find those common places with older folks and men and parishoners and friends that I can hold on to when I start to feel lonely again.
I also have learned in some ways to be okay with the loneliness.  Running was an outlet for a while – although the weather is colder and I got lazy and that stopped.  Crocheting has become a powerful way to be with myself… something to keep my hands and therefore my mind busy.
I have all of this talk about being lonely and I wonder if anyone out there reading would think that I am single.  I am not.  I’m married to a wonderful guy – but even in marriage there is loneliness.  That is not something I expected.  I didn’t expect the days when our schedules didn’t match up and the house was empty.  I didn’t expect the days when we were both so busy doing our own thing that we barely talked.  We each have our own little corners of the house:  his office and for me, well I move around between my office and the couch and whatever other warm little nook seems appealing that day.  I didn’t expect that our working lives would be so compartmentalized from one another.  And I didn’t expect that we would have no children.
That last one is probably my number one source of loneliness.  Just the two of us doesn’t quite seem to be enough for me.  I want little laughter rippling through the house.  I want teasing and tickling and the grumbles of a child who doesn’t want to eat their peas.  I want family gathered around our dining room table.  I want stuffed animals lying around that children forgot to put away.  I want to be woken up in the morning by kisses and tears.  I want to tuck someone into bed at night.
This year I realized that our cats – as much as I love and adore them – cannot replace children in my life.  And while Tiki and Turbo provide immense happiness and companionship, they are not mine in the same way.

Not having a family makes me very lonely.

All of that being said – what word would I want to represent the next year of my life?
I cannot make children come into my life.  It may not be a reality for next year.  But I do want family to take absolute priority.  I want to find new ways to be family with congregation members.  I want to take my own family more seriously and less for granted.  I want to talk with my brothers and sisters more often.  I want to spend more afternoons with my mom and dad and in-laws.  I want to go on more dates with my husband. I want those relationships to be more important than anything else.  I want next year to be about family.