Category Archives: Christian

The Parable of the Teacher and her Students

I am but a sower of seeds… to the ones entrusted to me…

Those along the road
come to class and hear the lecture,
but as soon as friends say, "free beer at the frat house!"
they forget about class, drop their notes 
and head out for some fun.

Those along the gravel
listen in class and take good notes,
but there are so many classes and so many notes;
surely they can get by with just a quick review
before the test.

Those in the weeds, well,
they've come to class, listened, taken notes and even read the textbook,
but seeing all their REALLY smart peers, they panic.
All they've studied gets twisted in anxious confusion
and becomes irretrievable on test day.

But...those who've found rich earth,
say, a quiet place at Swem library or a supportive study group in the dorm,
they dive into class notes and textbook
digging deep for full understanding,
even quizzing each other to prepare for the test.

These will reap the highest grades on test day,
harvesting insights and bubbling in correct responses.
Theirs will be a happy day
when I post the exam scores on Blackboard.
And I will be happy, too,
perhaps the happiest of all.

****
Road, gravel, weeds, rich earth,
which of these?
May your way be plain and your soil nourishing
****

The Story of the Seeds 
As told in The Message Bible, Luke 8: 4-14

As they went from town to town, a lot of people joined in and traveled along. He addressed them, using this story: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some of it fell on the road; it was tramped down and the birds ate it. Other seed fell in the gravel; it sprouted, but withered because it didn’t have good roots. Other seed fell in the weeds; the weeds grew with it and strangled it. Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop.

“This story is about some of those people. The seed is the Word of God. The seeds on the road are those who hear the Word, but no sooner do they hear it than the Devil snatches it from them so they won’t believe and be saved. “The seeds in the gravel are those who hear with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm doesn’t go very deep. It’s only another fad, and the moment there’s trouble it’s gone. “And the seed that fell in the weeds—well, these are the ones who hear, but then the seed is crowded out and nothing comes of it as they go about their lives worrying about tomorrow, making money, and having fun. “But the seed in the good earth—these are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no matter what, sticking with it until there’s a harvest.

Last to Lunch: No one deserves to be first

Honestly, I’m not used to lagging behind when things get physically demanding. I’ve always been more of a front-of-the-pack, encourage-people-up-the-hill kind of a person. But this week was different; this week of bike touring in Columbia Gorge and Willamette Valley, I was the last. Always. Everyday, I was last to lunch.

When my cycling group whizzed by me, I’d shout, “I’m slow but I’m coming,” trying to sound upbeat (and hide my frustration). “Have a great ride!” I would add, as the last of them passed me by. One bemused farmer called out, “Yur falling behind. Better catch up.”

I would have if I could have. But in the rolling hills and quite steep regions of Oregon, I was no match for any of my companions. Neither the “older” cyclists zooming by on e-bikes (motorized bicycles you dial in your level of assist) nor the younger set who barreled through unconcerned about preserving their knees or conserving their energy, were waiting around for me.

The younger set who were traveling together all hailed from Chicago. We called them the Chicago-7, although there were actually 8 of them. Four couples, each with elementary and middle-school-aged children attending the same private school and, at present, all enjoying time away at camp. Good for the Chicago-8, I thought, taking time away as couples and time away from demanding jobs and schedules. This was a high-achieving bunch. Even on vacation, their morning ride was a full-on sprint to lunch at the daily winery, followed generally by a van shuttle back to the hotel for a dip in the hot tub before dinner.

All of my tour-mates were extremely friendly, even when they had to wait for me in order to load the shuttle we all planned to take up the big hill. One brushed aside my apology for slowness saying, “Oh Wendy, you’re in great shape, for your age.”

Oh those words… “for your age.”

But I knew that already, didn’t I? I knew it for SURE when my quads refused to keep pedaling and my gasps of breath barely drowned out the pounding of my heart. Several times over the 6 days of cycling I (gasp!) got off and walked my bike up the hill. This would include on the last day, after riding into a stiff head wind all morning, when I struggled up the pebbled path toward lunch at the Keller winery. I was last by far.

Cresting the hill, I scanned the scene: checkered tablecloths adorned picnic tables which welcomed us into the shade of towering beech trees. Rows of sunflowers bent shyly before the expanse of rolling hills covered with Willamette Valley vines.

My biking companions took no notice of my arrival; they were fully engaged, enjoying each other’s company, smiling and laughing, wine freely pouring, the tables now littered with empty plates, the only remnant of the luxurious buffet lunch they had enjoyed. By the time I got a plate (I had to ask for one because they had run out), my choice was a picked-over cheese plate, some greens and whether or not to challenge the half-dozen bees greedily enjoying the only salad left — chicken salad or tuna — I couldn’t tell.

I took my mostly empty plate to a seat at the last table and guzzled from my water bottle, warm from the morning’s ride. As no one approached me with an offer of wine for tasting, I ventured to the “happy” table to examine the bottle of white everyone seemed to prefer. There was hardly a swish in the bottom, which I declined. The guy looking on drained it into his already full glass. Waste not, want not, I guess.

After the obligatory group photo, they called “First shuttle leaving!” As I boarded, I heard one of the tour leaders ask in a sheepish voice if they could possibly have 2 more bottles of white for the Chicago Table, who would be taking the second shuttle back.

Before you shout SOUR GRAPES, let me say that I don’t begrudge these young professionals their success, good fortune and fun. They work hard, get their kids to all their activities, and still manage to dress in style — showered and put-together — their affect proclaiming their readiness to take on the world. Bike trip or home: same status.

Oh, and my goodness how they danced with technology! Multiple notifications managed, emails caught up, scanned through daily camp photos, even ordered text books for the upcoming school year — all while shuttling to the the morning’s ride. “Look how productive I’m being,” one adorable woman cried with glee. And you couldn’t disagree. She had the most infective laugh I’ve ever heard, and she was a surgeon, to boot.

Clearly I have fallen waaaay behind this group. It’s no wonder I’m last to lunch. But the view from behind turned out to be quite eye-opening, for me who normally leads the way. No, I do not begrudge these “youngsters” their due; rather, I see myself in them. I see the me who was proud of my accomplishments, felt deserving of my rewards, and eager to celebrate my self-sufficiency and productivity.

Graciously, on this occasion, God allowed me to see myself through different eyes.

The me who is often oblivious to the last and the least
The me who, amidst the plenty, helps herself to more than her fill
The me who allows my joviality to dull my sense of proportion 
The me who becomes too easily absorbed in my own revelry 

Suddenly these words from the Gospel of Matthew take on new meaning: “So the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

I have often interpreted this verse as the promise of a God-assist, proclaiming that in the end of times God will lift the poor suffering ones to the front of the line. This, I presume, helps me feel better about their plight and my distance from it. But in this, my week of perpetual Lastness,* I was introduced in the smallest sense to the nature of Last.

The Last don't want to be "encouraged" with hollow qualifying words. ... 
  ie. You're good in spite of your obvious incapacitation. 
The Last don't want to cut to the front of the line. 
The Last aren't looking for a hand out or a hand up. 

The Last just want us to leave them room.
... a fair share, 
... a proper portion, 
... a helping of what we ourselves have helped ourselves to. 

Because NO ONE deserves to be first. Hard work may earn you a blue ribbon, a gold medal or first prize but it may not. Some are too young to keep up; some are too old. Some have been supplied with extra resources, while others have to pay their own way or pave their own path. For some, every step is a struggle. Others have circumstances holding them back. Some started further back so they have further to go. Some are just unlucky.

But NO ONE one deserves to be first. This may be the primary lesson and not-so-hidden meaning of “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” When those who arrive first leave room for those coming behind …

... when we notice,  
... when in our plenty we pause,  
... when we quiet our reveling to listen,  
... when we emerge from our self-absorption to see
... and we say, "Please, you first."

Then, the last will be first and the first will be last. And we will all enjoy lunch together at the Kingdom Table.

*My brief experience of Lastness, of course, does not even approach the plight of the last and least that is the day by day of so many in our world. Please forgive my pretense of this here. I was offered a simple and indicting God-glimmer and it was surely a means of grace.

Softening the Surface

Have you ever watched water striders, the spindly-legged creek-surface-dwelling bugs, scoot along the surface of still water? (Did you know that not everyone refers to these wonders as water striders? Some call them Jesus bugs. Ha! They walk on water… Jesus bugs!!)

Anyway, amazing isn’t it that a creature can be so nimble and light they can walk on water? And how? Isn’t it astounding that a water molecule can be created with such precision that its chemical bonding supplies a tension sufficient to hold this creature up?

What a cool feat! To travel oblivious. To not worry about falling, drowning, being submerged or over your head in life’s travails. Amazing … and yet think of all that bug is missing underneath what he travels across.

That little guy has me wondering if I’m not part water spider. Because if I’m honest, I am often pretty darn willing to skirt the issues and keep things at surface level, too. It’s easier that way, and I can operate on my reflexes and survive on my instincts a good while before I am really called to task. Tactics, not strategy has always been my mantra.

So today as I wandered past a rather unkempt lawn sporting dry patches and dried-brown hard pan, my inner water strider felt a bit of a nudge. We’ve had enough rain to support the greening of that lawn, if only the homeowners had sprinkled it just a bit to prepare it to receive the nourishing rain. If only they had softened the surface to let the water seep in.

Oh how that seems true in a dozen other arenas too.

If I research the company, I am better prepared for my interview.

If I read the text before class, the lecture makes so much more sense.

If I practice my sporting skills before the big game, I play so much better.

If I prepare the ground to receive the seed

If I plan the steps before needing to execute them

If I bring extra seats around the table in case of later-comers

If I put out feelers so I know the objections

If I ask the questions so I can address them

All of this, to soften the surface. Seasoning, tenderizes. Marinade, flavors. Swim lessons allow the deep dive. Prayer, softens the landing.

Yes, if I take the time do the groundwork, the provision that follows flows so much deeper.

Just don’t ask me how those Olympic spring board divers rip the surface and enter without a single splash. I, in my exceedingly short diving career, landed my back dive splat on my back. Felt like concrete. I wasn’t prepared for that.

I’ve heard ripples are a good idea. Bubbling the waters softens the landing. Of course, if you’re Jesus, you can walk on water at will and dive under when a rescue is required. Thank goodness for that.

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