Thursday, May 31, 2012


Directions: Finish the work you came to do. Pause for a picture with the first and last people who have made a home for and with you. Remember all of those who have come between. Say their names as you drive down Texas 6, away.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How to say goodbye

Today I am cleaving.  The word has a strange double sense; it can mean both to divide and to hold fast.  Tonight, several roads and a few hundred miles separate me from a home I have loved. Soon, more roads and more miles will join me to a new place, new work, new friends.

Goodbyes announce departures and divisions. However, like the paradox of cleaving, a wise farewell can also join us one to another. "Goodbye"--a contraction of "God be with ye!"--should remind us that within God's household we cannot be lost to one another. 

How to say goodbye if your friend is leaving
  1. Name the ways and reasons you have appreciated your friend. Explain how they have made a difference in your life and community (see here for some examples).
  2. Have a party. Come early, stay late, and bring a meaningful gift, like a framed travelers' blessing (for example, like this).
  3. Give hugs. 
  4. Print out some picture of you and your friend. Especially in a day of digital dominance, a tangible photo can be a comforting and encouraging token.
  5. Help with the practical aspects of leaving--packing boxes, loading trucks, etc.
  6. Whenever your friend mentions leaving, scowl and yell and say "This is not allowed!" (Note: Only very close friends should attempt this, and it must always be combined with #3 and #7). 
  7. Say, "This is good. This is time."
  8. If you help your friend pack, hide little messages in the boxes, so your friend will be surprised by encouraging words when he or she unpacks in a new place. 
  9. Arrange one last trip to a place you have enjoyed together. This could be day trip to Austin or a quick trip for frozen yogurt. 
  10. Promise to write letters. Go buy stamps and begin the first epistle the day your friend leaves.
How to say goodbye if you are leaving
  1. Have all your friends write their addresses on envelopes or postcards. Once you move, write a note explaining why you have been thankful for that person. 
  2. Bless the places you are leaving. If you live with others, rise early one morning and walk through the house you have shared, whispering prayers at the front door (peace to all who enter), in the living room (joy to all who gather), and in the dining room (strength to all who eat). 
  3. Become a shutterbug. Pester your friends for pictures, and snap photos of the ordinary places that have been the settings for your work, play, rest, and worship.
  4. Purchase seeds for golden chard, butternut squash, or purple-hull peas. Keep them safe until you can plant them in a new garden. 
  5. See # 3, 4, and 9, above.
  6. Pray with your friends. Hold hands and ask God to watch over those you are leaving.
  7. Begin planning your first visit back.
  8. Rise early on the day you must leave, and spend the morning drinking tea with a friend. Keep the kettle going. Add sugar to the tea as though it were a holy day.
  9.  As you leave, listen to songs that are heavy with the strange, inseparable joy and sorrow of cleaving.
10. Say what you mean

How do you say farewell when a friend leaves home? When you are the one leaving? How can ways of saying goodbye bind us together?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Call

I'm hardly headed off to war, but this song is in my ears and heart nevertheless. Tomorrow I leave one beloved home in search of a new one. This is my song for that day.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wonder and Scorn

“What can this mean?”
“They must be drunk.”
Backwoods Galileans begin speaking in the languages of the vast world, telling stories of God’s mighty deeds. Rumors of a rushing wind and tongues of flame flicker through the crowd, and the witnesses respond with wonder--what can this mean?--or with scorn.

Peter the Apostle answered both the amazement and the scorn of the crowd, explaining that he and his provincial friends were swept in the power of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the words of the prophet. 

This is the legacy of Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian Church. As children of this Church, wonder and scorn are our birthright.

Discussing this passage in Sunday School, our teacher asked, “Are you living your life in such a way that it makes no sense without the Holy Spirit?”

Throughout worship, and even during the quiet, companionable hours of my Sabbath rest, this question haunted me. When I have seen men and women who handle money, organize time, enter relationships, refine professions in ways that cannot be explained in any terms other than “She has been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus?” or “See in him the words of the prophet fulfilled?” Does my own life manifest such holy nonsense?

It is not too difficult to come up with dramatic examples--MotherTeresa’s brilliant labor in Calcutta, for example, or Lottie Moon’s apostolic work among the Chinese. But I spent more time pondering how we should be amazing the world in our own ordinary times. When the wind is still, the flames have vanished, and my tongue knows only in its faltering English, does my life provoke wonder? Does anyone ask, “What can this mean?”

Have you ever known anyone whose life could only be explained in terms of his or her faith? What are some “ordinary” ways you hope your life speaks of God’s mighty deeds?

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Directions: Accomplish something important and make plans for a new adventure. Invite friends to celebrate with you. Hand your camera to Grant so that you can play hostess. Once the guests have gone, brew a cup of tea and load the pictures. Be amazed that so many people would come to share your joy. Give thanks.

Friday, May 11, 2012

To my teachers

To the teaching staff of Farrington Grove Elementary School, Oubache Elementary School, Sarah Scott Middle School, Terre Haute South Vigo High School, Carson-Newman College, and Baylor University:

On my last kindergarten report card, one of you wrote, "Bethany has made real progress. She no longer cries every day."  You had spent plenty of time coaxing me out from under the table after another child had hurt my feelings, or the fire drill had frightened me, or I didn't get the color of crayon I wanted. I wonder, though, if you knew that I also cried at home -- every Saturday morning, in fact.  I was terrified of you, and of my classmates, but I cried every week on the day that I didn't get to go to school. I loved the morning walks from South 9th Street to Farrington Grove, loved the room full of blocks and crayons, loved the order and structure of the mornings I spent there. By second grade, I had decided that my first daughter would be named "Elementary," because school was my favorite place to be.

As teachers, you kindled and sustained the fires that have fueled twenty-three consecutive years of formal education. You bestowed knowledge that inspired wonder (geometry, European history, Latin conjugations); skills that enriched my work and play (cursive writing, typing, swimming strokes, sentence diagramming);  questions that continue to guide me (what is justice? how do beauty and truth depend on one another? how does reading shape action? how does writing direct thinking?).

Thank you for guiding me so faithfully through my timid childhood, eccentric adolescence, exuberant undergraduate days, and intensive years of graduate study. Thank you for demanding that I speak up, for insisting I audition for that musical, for urging me to keep writing. In your classrooms, I found a home, and I can only pray that among my own students I practice such gentle and joyful hospitality.

Tomorrow I graduate as a "Doctor of Philosophy," and I wish they would translate the title from its Greek and Latin origins: "One who leads others into the love of wisdom." If I am any good as a guide, it is because I have been following all of you for years.

Ever your student,

Dr. Bear

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Signs of the time

Directions: Recruit 10-20 clever undergraduates whose brains have been addled from end-of-term writing and studying. Allot 1-2 pieces of sidewalk chalk to each student. Leave students to their own devices for the rest of the day. Return before the next rain. Consider whether you might legitimately incorporate hop-scotch into future lessons on essay-writing.

The Gettysburg Address, in sentence diagrams.

Sic 'em, Katniss!

"Sally Sparrow, beware the weeping angels!"

The TARDIS at Baylor? Sic 'em, Doctor!
Note: Despite my tongue-in-cheek intro, I cannot claim any credit for these pictures. I was just glad to have my camera with me on campus!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Leaving Church

"I've never met someone in whom wisdom and gentleness are so perfectly combined."

"At a time when many people fear or exploit the Middle East, you are going there to serve orphans."

"In your presence, I feel no pressure to make small talk. Thank you for welcoming silence."

"I admire that you don't have to agree with someone to respect the strength his or her convictions."

"People hang on your words. They know you don't speak without weighing and crafting your words."

"I think it is beautiful that you are going on a pilgrimage in Spain this summer. I play with pilgrimage as a metaphor all the time, but you're actually going to walk 500 miles for the sake of holiness."  

"Your notes and hugs have been a light during a dark time. Thank you for the faithfulness of your friendship."

"You live out your singleness in a way that is holy. No one would think that your life is a time of waiting simply because you're not married."

On Sunday, members of my Sunday School class spoke these words of affirmation to those who are leaving this summer. Andy, Stephanie, Sara and Jeremy, Christopher and Tiffany are all moving on to new jobs, new states, new countries. They have been among us in deep and dear ways, and Sunday was a time to send them off. I know each of these men and women, and I contributed to the mantle of words woven around them.  I could speak to their kindness, their loyalty, their hunger for righteousness, their humor, and their wit, thankful for a chance to praise their virtues publicly. At the same time, I loved hearing how they had touched and strengthened others. Hearing Kelsey's words to Andy, or Sam's words to Christopher, or Alexis's words to Tiffany, I was reminded that even the people we know well have strengths and skills I have never seen.  Not even my wide eyes can catch all that is true of my friends.
We laughed and cried together, but even in our sorrow, the refrain was "And now it is time."  "We can hardly imagine life without you, but we know it is time for you to begin your work in Lebanon." "It hurts to watch you go, but you will bring so much joy when you serve in the church that calls you." "It is time. Time to go."
Gathering, welcoming, inviting, establishing: these home-making acts can be unequivocally joyful. When old friends return or new ones arrive, there is a feeling of should-ness and gladness that makes our happiness solid.  We know that a home is doing its job when people want to come inside.

Bidding farewell is more complex.  Even when the reason for a departure is timely and joyful, something in us revolts against sundering. The Ephesians wept when Paul left them (Acts 20.36-38). So much of what we know about the early church, in fact, comes from its accounts of departures, deaths, missionary journeys, arrests. The beautiful sorrow of being joined in heart but distant in body is inscribed into the Bible itself.  It can be hard to remember that a home is not meant to be a fortress, but a haven or harbor, a place that fits us for going out.
What we did on Sunday prepared those who are leaving in a strange and mysterious way. Along with Stephanie, Andy, and the others, my time in Waco, at Calvary, is also ending. As my friends and mentors spoke, my heart was pounding; I was overwhelmed.  This person they described amazed me, even as some voice in my mind sneered, "You are not this woman. You are not the strong, whole, loving person they describe." And it is true that sometimes I diminish myself: when I allow fatigue, or hunger, or anger, or loneliness to direct my thoughts and actions. But false humility belies the truth: I am she because God made me beautifully and wonderfully. My friends see this--see more of me than I have known or named.

It is a strange and glorious thing to glimpse yourself in the mirror of Christ's Church. All those eyes, seeing us in so many ways, become God's eyes. Perhaps it would not be good to see ourselves so shining and strong each day -- perhaps we are not wise enough to bear the weight of our own beauty until we are fully redeemed.

But what an amazing glimpse to strengthen us for our journey. Just as we are about to go to new places, settle among new people, begin new work -- when all the outward signals of our identity and homes will change -- how precious to be assured of our unchanging home in the heart of our Creator.
Every person who leaves a church should receive such a blessing -- an annointing -- to carry onto the road. Over six years I have learned that a good church welcomes and receives.  Today I understand that the Body of Christ also makes leaving a mighty joy.

How do you bid farewell to friends? Have you ever been sent out from a church, group, or relationship in a way that was especially meaningful?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fare Thee Well

When I calculate the number of boxes I will need for my books, my eyes are dry. My hands are quick as I type emails about housing options, or scribble lists of pre-moving tasks. But these songs still my hands, calling me to listen, remember, and give thanks. I have tried to assemble songs fit for this season: hopeful in their sadness, timely in their joy: beautiful music to enrich the process of bidding fare-thee-well and God-be-with-you.  I began compiling this list months ago, but only in the last week or two have I begun to listen.  Now I want you to listen with me.

What songs help you say farewell? Do you have any suggestions for songs as I prepare this soundtrack for departure?

Friday, May 4, 2012

To a friend who is estranged

Dear Friend,

Do you remember the stories I used to tell as we were drifting off to sleep? You would ask for tales about "Joyous Garde," our imaginary house hidden in the mountains.  We populated the rooms with our few favorite people, and I would tell of idyllic hikes, secret passages, and many other mild adventures. That ramshackle daydream still comes to mind whenever I think of you.

Those were children's tales, and I could be petulant like a child, too, when things didn't go my way. You taught me so much about what it means to be a generous, just, and affectionate friend, and eventually I realized Joyous Garde's fault: it was never built to house only four or five favorites, hidden away and self-satisfied.  The path should have been more clearly marked, the table set with an extra chair for pilgrims and wanderers and runaways.  As I've grown up, I've learned to mark the trail with colored pennants and well-lettered signs. As spring turns to summer, I've thrown all the windows open.  A crowd has gathered on the front porch, and someone is coaxing a hymn from the old piano in the front room.  The rooms are full, the meal ready.

But during this season--with its fierce storms and brilliant mornings--you have left Joyous Garde. After two years of silence I am still baffled. I tell myself that you are on a pilgrimage through the desert, with no chance to send messages home.  That is a happy illusion, a heart-suture.  There are so many here I would have you meet: Joyous Garde has become a hostel, studio, library, and cathedral.  We are content, and yet I hope: I hope that someday soon you'll be the welcome stranger who steps through our open doors.

Ever yours,

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fourth Floor

Directions: Begin on the ground floor.  Climb the stairs you have climbed most mornings for five years. Don't trip as you read the school paper or mentally go over your lesson plans. You'll be out of breath by the time the fourth floor is in sight, so stop to rest before you mount the last flight. Consider the way the sunshine falls in from the skylight, and the precise grace of so many wooden angles.  Think, "I never noticed how beautiful this was." Wonder what else you have missed.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012