Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Mesage of Hope: Jeremiah chapter 31


My first ever backsplash featured TBone, puppy dog



Sermon thoughts.... 3/18/2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34 The Message (MSG) Eugene Peterson 31-32 “That’s right. The time is coming when I will make a brand-new covenant with Israel and Judah. It won’t be a repeat of the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant even though I did my part as their Master.” God’s Decree.
33-34 “This is the brand-new covenant that I will make with Israel when the time comes. I will put my law within them—write it on their hearts!—and be their God. And they will be my people. They will no longer go around setting up schools to teach each other about God. They’ll know me firsthand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget they ever sinned!” God’s Decree.


What does it mean for God to place his laws upon your heart. Does it help to see moments to apologize. When was the last time you said you were sorry?
At work I have ample opportunities to inform students that they are messing up. There are ways that work and ways that make the situation worse. When it goes the wrong way, trouble can take place.
Recently a student said, “Don’t talk to me that way. I’m not a child.”  The moment of silence between us was beneficial because I chose not to exert my power, I just said, “OK.”  I think that stunned the student and the class moved on. There are other moments when I wonder why I became a teacher.


God chose Jeremiah and Jeremiah hesitantly chose God and then often wondered why he kept being in the vocation of prophet. The people did not want to hear about how their behaviors would determine their future. The people in exile did not want to hear that God wanted them to settle down and live lives. They wanted a God to smite their enemy and let them go back home. Those still in Jerusalem desired to smite the Babylonians with the help of Egypt; not to to be told to focus on living a daily life that matched their worship experience on the Sabbath.


The people for the most part were ignoring Jeremiah, and choosing to listen to the false prophets. Most people shunned Jeremiah. Most stood by when he was arrested and thrown into a cistern where a slow death awaited him.


Daunting is defined as “seeming difficult to deal with in anticipation; intimidating.”  It steals gumption and delays progress. Jeremiah would receive God message and think, “really, again. They are sick of the message. Can I just watch the basketball tournament and drink an Irish ale.”
At one point God responds to Jeremiah


Jeremiah 12:5 The Message (MSG) Eugene Peterson “So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses."

Jeremiah kept sharing the message.  Jeremiah did not have to run with horses by himself.  While most did not listen and respond accordingly to the message he conveyed, he did have friends. When commanded by God to the challenge of putting the prophesy on paper, a friend wrote as Jeremiah spoke. Then the same friend wrote it a second time when the first copy was destroyed. Another friend saved his life by pulling him out of the muck. And a potter reminded him of how God takes ruined vessels and reshapes them into beautiful and functional art. Jeremiah tells us to keep our mind open to messages.

Messages surround us and can surprise us from where they emerge. While watching the Marvel series Jessica Jones the other night, a character states that he was not kicked out of college. He was placed on academic probation; thus he chose to leave. He left and eventually regained his life. So, maybe I can say the same about my first college experience.  I did not fail, I chose to leave that college so that I could regain some clarity on how to live my life. It’s worth a try to see things in new light.

Friends support us when we need help. Sometimes they help to guide us into daunting situations. Is it irrational for Margaret and me to take on commissions that stretch us from what is comfortable just because the client trusts our creative abilities? Place a descending dove into a pendant. Create a large backsplash and send it to CA. Create a rainbow background around a word.

Jeremiah reminds us to live in hope during daunting times. The Babylonians are on the door step. Jerusalem is under under siege. Jeremiah is out of the muck and back in prison. He has a cousin who likely  believes Jeremiah is irrational.  So he asks Jeremiah if he wants to buy some farmland outside the city. A place that is inaccessible due both to imprisonment and to the enemy’s army. Jeremiah says sure. It matches the new message of hope. Look people, we have a future with God. A God who decrees a new covenant. I’m buying farm land because I have hope in God giving us a future beyond these daunting times.

Jeremiah provides the Lord’s decree “Love and forgiveness are yours. All of you; the rich and poor. Your sins are erased. I walk with you on the streets of your towns. Don’t listen to those who say you must study me to know me. I will know each and everyone of you firsthand.  I have touched your heart.”

How intimate is the God you live with. A distant and judgmental master. Or a somewhat local God who resides on Holy Ground and is hopefully a forgiving God.  Or a God walking by your side but is a mystery you cannot hear.  Or this God speaking through Jeremiah who touches us at our core, on our heart, and creates a seed of hope within us, unless we chose to not search within our heart.

"If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life's search for love and wisdom." Rumi

The message of Jeremiah is to have hope in daunting times. Times when all we can do is act out of hope. When we lose a loved one. When a friend is suffering. A disaster strikes your town. When a country is dividing. When you lack the faith in your own talents.


A friend asks for my help at the school, a place where I have had no desire for upward mobility for 21 years. I laugh, but dammit a seed is watered within my core. So I seek out sound advice from anyone who will tell me it is a bad idea. So I turn to my wife, and Margaret does not think I’m nuts for considering the co-lead teacher position. Chatting before a concert, a friend tells me to go for it. The next morning at a diner, a breakfast conversation with a second friend leads to more nonsense that includes praise for my abilities. I begin to wonder if anyone really knows me.


On Sunday I find the story of Jeremiah buying his cousin’s field in the next chapter in Eugene Peterson’s book. Pastor G’s message is not on board with my hope to be guided away from applying by God. Clearly applying for the job is irrational. Why is it so hard for anyone else to see the truth.
 So I apply for the job and by the end of the interview I am seeing this as an act of hope.  Accepting the job may seem as irrational to friends at the school, who were surprised, but I need to tell them it is sign of the hope emerging from working with our new principal. I want to support her. To build hope.


In subsaharan Africa there lives a bird with black feathers, but its name refers to what happens when the light of creation shines upon their iridescent feathers. These birds, Green Woodhoopoes, live in family groups centered around a tree. This tree has one nesting cavity in which one female will lay eggs. The rest of the community raises the young as their own. Life is daunting for these birds, which are surrounded by predators. One out of three will die each year. But the beautiful, the brightest, and the most foolish stick together. The hope of survival depends upon a community.


Our lives are filled with daunting moments often when trying to help and support those who we care for, and in these challenging moments, mistakes will happen. We can say we are sorry and hope for forgiveness. Lord knows we all need to practice accepting forgiveness.


God’s covenant clearly tells us to seek love and forgiveness that is given to us; and that covenant only got stronger and freer as Jesus walked toward the cross.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sermon 1.21.2018 Avoiding Whales, Leaping to Follow

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Leap, a special commission created by Wayne Stratz


Mark 1:14-20 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Simon, Andrew, James, and John made a decision that leads to sainthood.

Imagine this. You are at work or you are with family on a walk. A man walks by and says “The time is fulfilled!”  What do you think?  How do you react?

The stranger says, “The Kingdom of God has come near!”  And you look at him. Do you say anything? Do you walk closer? Do you back away?

He says, “Repent and believe in the good news!” Do you turn away from your current life; or do you turn your back to the stranger? 

What would you want your children to do? Your spouse? Your best friend?

Now imagine a loved one turning toward this stranger and away from you.

What would you say about their decision? Do you see them becoming saints?

Did these four men have great learning and insight to help them discern this spiritual path? If you read through the Gospel of Mark, you won’t find much evidence. You will find apostles who continually miss the point and Jesus trying his best to explain things to them.

How could they leave their jobs? Their families? How did they trust in this stranger, Jesus? How did they decide so quickly? Did they even think about it? What would I have done? Could I leave everything behind?
***

Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and author, suggests that we're missing the point if we linger on such questions; and that this is a story about God, not the disciples or us.  She suggests that we focus not on what the disciples gave up or whether we could do the same.

She calls this passage from Mark a "miracle story," and sees it as an example of "the power of God--to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before."

She continues: “What we have lost . . . is a full sense of the power of God—to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hopeless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them upside the head with glory.”

At a time when a Rabbi would wait for followers and then deem them worthy or not to be taught, Jesus shows us the kingdom of God. God did not care how learned they were. And God does not wait, God seeks all of us with a love that seems to throw discernment out the door. The four fishermen, two poor with their nets, two rich with their boat and hired hands; do not stop to think. They leap without discerning.

We want to make the right decisions. Then we ask God to judge us on how we have chosen the right jobs, the proper church, the nice neighborhood, and the decent friends.

But Jesus may simply just want us to leap into the Kingdom of God.

***

For some reason I chose not too doodle at a staff meeting a few days ago where on our laptops we were examining student test results from recently completed reading and math exams. Their scores fell into the red zone of needing improvement, the blue zone of being better than average and a thin green zone that separated the red from the blue. A friend, who had invited me to sit next to her, was looking up the reading results for our best readers. She seemed disheartened that one after another were in the thin green zone. I said, “That means they are okey dokey.”

Would Jesus place your career choice in the green okey dokey zone?

One of my favorite quotes is “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.” Frederick Buechner
Do you find joy at work? Do you help someone through your work? If yes, then its okey dokey. 
Is your job creating hatred for strangers, or making people hungry, or creating homelessness, or imprisoning the innocent? If no, then it is okey dokey.   You do not have to leave everything behind to work with the poorest of poor.
If you are unhappy and don’t feel right about your job, consider those stirrings to be the presence of the holy spirit. It may not lead to the perfect job for you, but to one that feeds your spirit more than the present not quite okey dokey job.
Following Jesus may not be anything more than moving by leaps and stumbles towards the Kingdom of God. Do I have to discern whether or not to feed the hungry? Is Jesus going to be upset about how I then choose to help. I can send a check to Manna, or buy a ten pack of tuna at the grocery, or volunteer on site.
We miss opportunities to help. We ignore some that we see. We act upon others. We are okey dokey.
***
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
When I read through the Bible twenty years ago, the story of Jonah caught my eye. It wasn’t just that Jonah spent time in a whale or that the people of Nineveh listened to the prophet. Though both of those are amazing. It was that Jonah did not want to be successful; in fact he was in the whale because he tried to flee his calling (think about that the next time you try to ignore a calling from God). Once the whale took him to Ninevah, then he wanted to fail so that he could watch God destroy his enemies. Clearly Jonah’s deep gladness was not in sync with God’s hope of expanding the Kingdom.
It is just so human of Jonah. Do we want our enemies to fail or succeed? From football teams to businesses, from politicians to foreign nations; are we that much different from Jonah? Do we feel joy when bad things happen to these teams, corporations, people? Are we hoping that those who we do not favor are ruined and humiliated; or are we be praying that we all repent and turn toward God?
***
Anne Lamott writes: "I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We're here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature...”
To survive winters without hibernating, shrews in Europe can shrink their skeleton, including their skull. Their brain loses a fourth of its mass, but they survive when food is scarce and their heart keeps beating 700 times a minute. Dwarf Lemurs on Madagascar store enough fat in their tales to hibernate through a seven month dry season.
There is science behind these abilities but they are also miraculous. I tell my students these things with the hope that they will be blown away by the life on this planet.
Anne Lamott continues: "… You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don't have time to carry grudges; you don't have time to cling to the need to be right."
Jonah was so heavy with hatred and grudges that he could not dance. Those four fisherman were more than ready to dance when a stranger invited them into the Kingdom God. The apostles didn’t stop and think about whether or not it was the right path. They would be baffled by the one they chose to follow, but they kept following Jesus. So go forth and meet the needy with joy, be blown away by the miracles of nature, and don’t let worries and grudges stop you from dancing.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

An Ocean Wave Mandala; celebrates a friend at the shore


Wave Mandala by Wayne Stratz


A friend and colleague of  twenty and half years asks me to stop by the classroom she works within; and tells me of a friend, who had offered up a home at the shore. A home at the shore, which allowed for vacations from Pennsylvania. She wanted something to thank them with and I am lucky that she thought of me.

She told me to think of the town and the ocean. The first design featured the name of the town, but didn't quite work. I am grateful it didn't work, now that I see what emerged when I removed the lettering and explored wave motion.

A few days ago, a student stopped by my room. He handed me a card and told me that my friend had wanted me to see it it. It was a note of gratitude my friend had received from the recipient of the Wave Mandala. Gratitude for the gift, for the willingness of my friend to accept the offer to stay at the shore house, and for the friendship they had with each other.

Two decades ago I was a new teacher at the school. And my friend, was not only a colleague who assisted in another classroom, but also the mother of a student in my room.

As I write this I am wondering of her initial thoughts of me. Parents place a lot of trust in us teachers, and clients place trust in us to make a gift that will express their emotions. My friend has experienced both sides of this trust.



Thursday, January 4, 2018

A return of Stratoz, some thoughts on drawing cards





There are things we step away from, and writing here has been one of them. Do you find it harder to return the longer you have been away? I wrote three posts in 2016 and not one last year.

November and December are rough months. Teaching and being an artist consume my hours. It has been that way for several years and I found myself missing the days of drawing cards and sending them out at Christmas time.

So I have set a goal of drawing 365 days this year*

  • To give to my favorite people at work and to give to people I barely know at work.
  • To celebrate birthdays.
  • To celebrate friendships.
  • To celebrate births. 
  • To say thanks to friends and strangers who buy my art.
  • and...
  • To celebrate lives.
A couple weekends ago I thought of two cousins I have not seen in years. Then I heard one had died that weekend. Today I sat down and drew card 4/365. It is for my uncle and aunt who are mourning the death of their child. A child who is older than I am. I drew the card with intention. And maybe the card will say what is so hard to place into words. "I am so sorry..."

------

I hear that stating one's goals can lead to failure. But I also know that stating my mistakes leads to improvement. My art of choice for many many pre-glass years was drawing cards. Stepping away, was a mistake.

At work I often walk about the campus in my free time. I visit people. Say hello. Check in on how they are doing. There are many rooms that have one of my cards hanging on the wall. It shocks me, but it should inspire me. To draw cards.

          * OK, so I cheated and got a head start. While on my Holiday Vacation, I drew 20 cards between 12/24 and 12/31 so I have a back up of sorts. I can draw 345 cards and still meet my goal. And really is this a failure if I only draw 221 cards? I don't think so.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Thoughts on creation and wisdom

Dogwood in front of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church; Lansdale, PA



I have been asked to reflect upon it at my church this Sunday (10-16-16). So I better get some thoughts flowing.

I have always struggled with the "created in God's image" bit from the first Chapter of Genesis:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
 Why us and not the Northern Shafted Flicker, or a virus that fractures a tulip in a dazzling array of colors, or a Dogwood Tree? Does God not resemble trees, diseased plants, and Woodpeckers?

Thirty years ago I gave a talk on Nuclear Winter in front of fellow biology students and biology professors. I was asked one question: Are you depressed now?

I remember my answer: No, because even at our most destructive self, we humans apparently cannot eliminate life on this planet.

And 30 years later, might I add: if you leave God a critter or two, God will be use the laws of science to recreate the image of God, which we see as a mirror.

And that is one of the things that has caught my eye about Sophia in the seventh chapter in the Book of Wisdom:

26 For she(Lady Wisdom, Sophia) is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. 
27 Though she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things...
Creation is a mirror and God's light shines off of it in the most amazing reflection. We see creation when a photon of light enters the lens of our eye and sends an electrical impulse into our brain. All of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly is all creation. We are meant to open our eyes and be moved by what is seen.

Don't ignore the good or the bad. Beauty fades. Ugly transforms. Creation is not static.
 
Creation unfolds with time and space. The master of understanding this relationship was Albert Einstein who said:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. To whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: their eyes are closed.

which sounds like a fine transition to my most recent post.

Then to make an ending in which I motivate all to be like God, be creative.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Bishop's Gift changes the tides



The seven prayer mandala by Wayne Stratz


What does it take to change the tides in your life? Once pulled away it takes a shift to bring us back to a place where we were progressing. This summer as we had far less rain than normal, I spoke of the need of a weather event to knock that prevailing dryness for a loop. Apparently my blog needed the same thing and it came one day at my church, when a friend asked me to create a gift for the new Episcopal Bishop for southe east PA

When I pray, awe in the studio, this is it what I mean: When friends and people I have never met, trust that I will create beauty; I am awed. 

When we are awed by God's presence, a flower, a bird, a piece of music, a meal, or a story; we are called to be aware of how amazing creation is, to be awed." 

When I am trusted to create a piece of art that will be seen as beautiful, is a gift of trust that I don't want to ever forget. So I keep reminders in my studio to keep me aware that God's presence is there. 

When someone sees my art on their computer or phone, they may or may not know about the spiritual side of my studio; but my friend has listened to me lead discussions to adults and youth at our church and so he knows me in ways that others may not. He trusted me to not only to be artistic, but also spiritual. 

The tide shifted. And that is why this commission meant so much to me. And I felt a need to write a post.

Here is what I wrote to the Bishop:


"Dear Bishop Gutierrez

It was an honor to be asked to create a piece of art to celebrate your visit to Holy Trinity Lansdale. Welcome.

When you look at this you may or may not see seven circles, but at one point that is all that was on a piece of paper. The circles represent what I pray each Sunday after I receive the Holy Eucharist.

Love in my home
Awe in my studio
Beauty in my garden
Music in my church
Joy in my classroom
Grace with my friends
and
Hope in all things.

I wrote these down at a silent retreat at The Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA in 2014. Over time they have not changed, except switching out music for jazz, however, show up on a Sunday when I am setting up coffee and you will hear some jazz.

However, I have seen them changed and how they flow from one place into another. My experiences of God in a sunflower help my eyes to see beauty everywhere. A hymn bringing tears to my eyes, only reinforces my desire to play music in my studio.

If I try to understand why I wrote down Grace with my friends, I am not sure, but maybe one day it will be clearer. A conversation at a memorial service yesterday seems to be a piece of the picture.

And maybe it is the blending of these circles in my life, that shaped the design in front of you. As I listened to Clark Terry play ballads, the circles that I wanted became blurred. It was not my plan, but luckily I let it unfold into what it became.

And a thought about the colors: The colors were chosen from memories of a trip to New Mexico in the late 90’s and the landscapes of Cezanne. I started with the green and chose a variety to flow through the mandala. That left 14 pieces. Seven for a red created by the Youghiogheny glass company here in PA and a deep amber that took me to NM and Cezanne.

Again, welcome to PA. My day job prevents my presence today, but I do hope to meet you in the near future."
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