Friday, November 29, 2013

The Day After Giving Thanks

Doesn't it seem a waste to be sick on a holiday? I mean, beside missing the chance to call out sick to work, I also had to call out of two thanksgiving dinner invitations.

On the bright side, other than a low-grad fever on Wednesday evening and coughing fits the last 3 days, I haven't really felt that bad, I just am not good company. No ones the green bean casserole passed to them by a phlegmy, hacking anyone.

So the cat and I had a quiet Thanksgiving Day together here in my cluttered apartment. Honestly? I think the cat likes me best when I'm sick and lying around a lot. He would also rather I not be coughing all the time and I understand. I wouldn't want to sleep on a convulsing bed, either.

Last night, I slept over 12 hours. I'm thankful for the opportunity to do that and I guess I needed it. Today, I didn't do much but I did get out for a walk. It was a beautiful day here in Houston, on the upswing from a few cold, rainy days. I'm thankful that was the most pressing thing on my agenda today, a walk.

Despite my better judgment, I decided to walk into the epicenter of Houston's Black Friday. I live a 30 minute walk from the Galleria and I was surprised to find it not nearly as crowded as I expected it to be. I suppose most of the nonsense happened earlier in the day and maybe the epicenter these days is really a Walmart or something. I honestly don't know. I'm thankful I have a life that doesn't require me to keep up on Black Friday deals. I don't know if anyone has a life that requires that, but apparently, some people find the crush of mad crowds somewhat . . . fulfilling? Exciting? What do people get out of it? Being an introvert, I can only assume most of these people are extreme extroverts, but maybe I'm being uncharitable to extroverts.

More and more, I find myself slipping out of mainline culture, if that's what it is. I find myself more and more looking around me and seeing extravagant luxury, wonders that just 3 or 4 generations ago would have been unthinkable, treated as necessities.

Or if they're recognized as not necessary things, we're told we're somehow deserving of it. And so I guess we advance bravely into the maelstrom of commerce, fighting for our right to . .  have.

I have a lot. I mentioned my apartment is cluttered. And really, I'm thankful for the opportunity to have a cluttered apartment. I also know . . .

I don't know what I know. I feel the world, or maybe just this country, or maybe just some aspects of this country's priorities are gravely out of balance. I don't know how to right it. It may not be my job. Maybe my job is, in part, to sit here quietly blogging about how unhealthy it all looks to someone on the outside of it.

Here's what it looks like: It looks like peer pressure of the worst kind. To be "normal" and "acceptable," one should have X, Y, and Z and the latest upgrade to them all. I was born late into my parents' generation, so I'm maybe among the youngest people on the planet who had Depression era parents, but I definitely grew up with an attitude of using things until they were worn out and not working. I gather not everyone with a flat screen TV got it because the old TV quit working. I'm guessing, but that's my general understanding of how this economy works.

And that's what's on my mind this Black Friday. I worry how our economy depends on people purchasing very few things they need and a whole lot on things that are, simply, new. And advances in technology come so quickly these days that my 5 year old cell phone---a marvel to people only 10 years ago---is obsolete. It was a discontinued model when I bought in in 2009. And it does what I need it to do, but it doesn't give me directions to the movie theater or restaurant. If I ever upgrade on it, the next iteration is going to be so advanced I'll need a class to use it.

Maybe. I probably exaggerate. But . . .

Yesterday, we all gave thanks. Today, businesses were counting on madness in their aisles to keep them open another year. Thankfulness and greed? Something is out of whack.

I see a lot of people on Facebook urging one another not to shop on Black Friday. Is that the answer? Maybe the start of one, but only if it's not a delay to eventual consumerist madness.

It's going to take a lot to change this culture. I find it a little scary to consider what could do it.

Need, want, entitlement. My place in it, my desire to get out of the cycle.

Not the usual Thanksgiving weekend thoughts, maybe. Maybe I wish more people had them.

Blame it on being sick . . .

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Retreat and Devastation

Outdoor chapel at Camp Allen. 

I'm writing on a Sunday evening after a weekend retreat with people from my congregation (St. Stephen's Episcopal Church; Houston). They actually don't like to call it a "retreat," preferring to call it a "parish weekend." The term "retreat" has become so misused that instead of a time away for rest and rejuvenation, it has become a synonym for more work and busy-ness, only in a different location. That's worthy of a rant, but for another time.

This congregation knows how to retreat. The only things scheduled were meals, a couple of prayer/worship times, a craft time for the kids,  with optional activities offered by the camp itself. There were people tossing around footballs, folks sitting on decks just chatting, kids running around, fishing, wandering trails . . . I don't really know what all went on because I was one who wandered off on my own a few times, exercising my introvert muscles as much as possible.

We all took turns in the kitchen, preparing meals, cleaning up after meals, etc., but those were small burdens (the folks who actually planned and shopped for all the food---they maybe had some burden, so I will shout out kudos to them for the work they did to make the actual prep work easy). At the end, when we were cleaning up, plenty of people stayed around to make even that last round of cleaning fairly light work.

I came back feeling (1) that it was too short and (2) that I am nonetheless somewhat refreshed and decompressed.

Sunday morning, people make their way down to the outdoor chapel for Morning Prayer.
It has been ages since I've been on a retreat. I'm pretty sure well over 10 years. There were times I was near tears or actually wiping away a tear or two. If anyone noticed, they were kind enough to not mention it. What were the tears for? Hard to say, really. They're a little bit of a mystery to me. I think getting to go to this retreat, coupled by all the ways my life has changed, particularly ecclesiastically, in the last two years or so, and the general waves of gratitude I have about life right now . . . it's all mixed up in there. That there were connections---songs, conversations, sights, sounds, smells---between college retreats from 30 years ago and this weekend was also a part of it. A religious life, however bumpy, manages to lend some continuity to a person's existence. So much has changed and some things remain the same.

+ + + + +

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the Philippines are devastated. I disconnected myself from all media on the retreat, and while I knew that enormous storm was headed toward land before I went on retreat, I did not hear anything of it all weekend. Someone lifted up the Philippines during Morning Prayer, a reminder of the storm, but not news, exactly. 

I've read an article or two about it now. It is horrific. Reports of whole towns disappearing, human death toll estimated at 10,000+, just unimaginable loss . . . 

While we rested, played, rejuvenated, thousands were dying. 

And what can we say? On any corner of the planet, at any time, there is suffering, there is rest, there is destruction, and there is new life. This can be flip and I don't mean it that way, of course. The point I hope to make is that while we took time for re-creation, the point of the new creation is to carry on the work of God. 

The work of God goes on. 

So we pray for comfort and the presence of God among those so devastated. We send money and aid workers to do what they can to bind up the open wounds. We do what we can in the face of such news. It will not be enough and it will multiply. 

May we all find times of rest, may we all find ways to work, may the Spirit of God move among the suffering and may our prayers, in whatever way prayer works, alleviate the pain of people we'll never know.

If we rest and rejuvenate on retreat, we should keep it ever before us that we are new creations for the work of God. That work goes on.

Lord have mercy and grant us strength.