A Place in the Commons

Ralf Maassen (DTEurope)/Shutterstock

Can we build something new every day? Ralf Maassen (DTEurope)/Shutterstock

Abba Moses asked abba Sylvanus, “Can a person lay a new foundation every day?” The old man said, “If they work hard, they can lay a new foundation at every moment.”

What then of skill? Virtuosity?

(I’m thinking a lot about skill, virtuosity, and the problems it presents. What good is it?)

I often wonder what it would be like to take pride in something rather than simply being prideful. It’s a trick, to say the least, to sort out the difference. To recognize skill, to possess the intention to do something well for the sake of doing something well treads that line. I wonder about the virtue of being good at something — of recognizing one’s skill and then situating that skill in some way that serves not one’s own agenda, one’s own ego, but that benefits the common good.

How do we know our own place in the commons? Is this even possible?

Why I Cry in Church

Image via /Shutterstock

Skeptics might say that as a perimenopausal woman with a teenage daughter, I’m apt to cry at the slightest provocation, which may be true. But I believe something different happens when we expose our vulnerabilities in a community of faith.

A close friend told me her theory that we are being “seasoned” in church each week, preparing to be broken open in ways we cannot anticipate. So we pray the liturgy, sing the hymns, go through the motions. Yet this seasoning of our spirits prepares us to be tender-hearted, open to prayer working on us.

This makes sense to me. There are so few places where we can bring our raw emotions without a self-conscious need to explain or escape to the nearest bathroom, which happens when we get teary-eyed at work or in line at Home Depot. Perhaps church is one of those last safe havens, where we can cry in public for no reason.

We Don't Need Your Cookies

Platter of cookies, robcocquyt /

Platter of cookies, robcocquyt /

Back in 2005, I attended a “church growth” seminar in Dallas, Texas. The keynote speaker was Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg United Methodist in Ohio, one of the larger and faster growing UM churches in the country. He shared an experience that sticks with me.

That church had a “Cookie Patrol” that takes cookies to first time visitors. So, every Sunday afternoon, a group of people would meet down at the church to bake fresh cookies to be delivered to potential members.

One day, a member of the church came to Rev. Slaughter and told him, “I just love to bake, and I want to help with the Cookie Patrol. I’ve got a great kitchen at home, so let me tell you what I’ll do. I’ll make several dozen cookies each Sunday and bring them to the church. I just don’t have time to spend at church on Sunday afternoons.”

Pastor Mike responded, “You don’t understand. We don’t need your cookies. We need you.”

Deportations are Not the Way to Show Respect for Veterans

Photo: Dogtags on the Constitution, Sergey Kamshylin /

Photo: Dogtags on the Constitution, Sergey Kamshylin /

When I go out with my Dad, he often wears a cap identifying him as a Korean War veteran.  Over and over again, people tell him, “Thank you for serving.” Over and over again.

I’m always struck by the contrast between that appreciation and the sad, hidden truth about our country’s treatment of some other veterans. I’m speaking of the government’s detention and deportation of many immigrants who served in our armed forces but who are not yet citizens. 

The first time I heard about this was 1998. My friend’s husband, a Canadian who grew up in Texas and chose to serve in Vietnam had recently gotten a deportation order based on some old drug charges, the kind of thing many vets experienced. What horrified me then, and still does today, is that immigration judges could not grant an exception. Nothing could stop the deportation except a change in U.S. immigration laws.

Serving Joyfully

Serving hands, AjFile/

Serving hands, AjFile/

Washing dishes. This is how I remember Momadu.

Washing dishes is a chore, you know. In the pre-dishwasher days in America, my mom put "wash the dishes" on my list of things to do every day. I washed them, obediently though begrudgingly.

In the pre-dishwasher days in Mali, though, we asked Momadu to wash the dishes, and he washed them with joy.

How could he do something as mundane as washing dishes and do it with joy?