Meetings? Why do we dislike them so much? What is a “good meeting” like?

Wikipedia defines “meeting”:

“when two or more people come together to discuss one or more topics … for the purpose of achieving a common goal through verbal interaction, such as sharing information or reaching agreement …. [by actual face to face or via digital conferencing.] One Miriam-Webster dictionary defines meeting as ‘an act or process of coming together’….”

I hear people express displeasure at having to attend meetings, but appear to mostly accept their inevitability.

Why do we dislike meetings so much?

  1. There are too many of them. They keep us from actually getting anything done. People confuse “meeting” with actual “ministry” (in my profession.)
  2. They are so inefficient in time usage.
  3. It is so uncomfortable to watch some attendees:
    • monopolize the meeting
    • come to the meeting unprepared
    • are more interested in their personal agenda than in the success of the group or the good of the whole
  4. That pervasive feeling afterwards of what a waste of time it was. (“There’s 60/90/120 minutes of my life that will never be recovered!”)

What are the characteristics of a GOOD MEETING?

I arrived at these characteristics by reflecting on worship committee meetings I used to lead. The format was simple. The scriptures for 4-6 Sundays (2 months away) were given to the participants in advance. The group met twice in one month, for 90 minutes each meeting, to come up with (1) a worship theme for the 4-6 week time period, (2) specific sermon theme sentences, and (3) ways to elucidate/present that specific them each week. The first meeting was almost always chaotic – “popcorning” of ideas. All were recorded and given to the members in written form, shortly after the conclusion of that first meeting. Everyone returned to the second meeting two weeks later, and, somehow, the end result was always reached after 90 minutes. I LOVED these meetings (and I for the most part dislike meetings.) I think everyone else did as well. Why?

  1. Committee membership is self-nominated. No one is there who does not want to be there voluntarily.
  2. The purpose of the meeting is very clear in advance. The end product is not known by anyone in advance.
  3. The purpose has a history of being met. Success is assumed, based upon experience.
  4. The 90 minute time limit is always kept.
  5. There is never any individual competitiveness. There is no “me” versus anyone else. There is no “pride of authorship/ownership.”
  6. Success is recognized as necessarily resulting from mutual collaboration. i.e. Everyone believes that the success depends upon collaboration; it simply can not be done without true sharing and listening.
  7. No one’s idea is ever demeaned, and yet everyone is interested in achieving the best overall result.
  8. Although there is a leader (to facilitate and take notes) there is total equality of authority. No one has a veto. (Oh, I suppose as senior pastor, I had an inherent power to veto, but in all the years we did these meetings, that was never done. The collaborative creativity was better than any single person’s ability, including mine. I learned a lot from that!)

I understand that those kinds of factors cannot be adopted realistically for every type of meeting. When they cannot, is there an alternative mechanism for accomplishing the goal?

I also understand that sometimes the real purpose of a meeting is not the stated goal.  e.g. the real purpose of the meeting might be:

  1. team building
  2. trying to identify people who are desired for leadership in the organization, based on how they act in a meeting:
    • being real team players, more interested in the group than in personal success
    • creativity
    • listening skills
    • not domineering nor need-control people
    • diplomatic
    • empowering, rather than overpowering
    • OR the reverse of all those characteristics, if that is your notion of good leadership

There is also the type of meeting in which the leader (whether in the leader’s chair or not) merely wants to be able to inform and convince others of the beneficence of their pre-ordained plan, and in which that leader feels a deep need to control the outcome and the process. I believe that these types of meeting are the ones that most people (except that leader) really hate to attend, and do so only upon pain of some punishment, and really have no desire to participate, due to their perception of the futility of trying.

I recently heard about an alternative meeting format, which fascinates me, although I’ve not participated in it. It would not work for the collaborative creativity, where a certain time for percolation is required. But it might work for other types of meeting purpose, e.g. exchange of information. I’d love to hear of folks’ experience with such a meeting:

It’s a FIVE MINUTE meeting in which all the participants STAND throughout.
(You can read the linked Wall Street Journal article for more information.)

These are my musings on meetings at this point. Your thoughts?

January 14, 2019 Prayerspitality

The following was posted on the FaceBook page “Prayerspitality – a Marriage of Prayer and Hospitality”  Please feel at ease posting replies here or on the FaceBook page.

.    We live in, what Henri Nouwen called, “‘the continuous state of emergency.’ Our world believes itself to be and in many ways is in a continuous state of emergency.  The needs are deep, the needs are immediate and if seen in the collective, the needs are overwhelming. Even if we close the doors all together, the state of emergency is still there.”
.    What do PRAYER and HOSPITALITY say about this state of continuous emergency?
.    When we open the door to invite someone in, (HOSPITALITY) it is becoming vulnerable. We need some sort of confidence or strength to do such a thing.
.    When we open the door to invite God in, (PRAYER) it is also becoming vulnerable. We need to recognize some sort of need to do this.
.     Prayer and Hospitality are inextricably tied. They involve recognition of need and willingness to accept help beyond ourselves. And then they require a response.
.     Like the dance to which the Trinity calls us to be the fourth partner, the circle of Prayer & Hospitality feed, direct and empower.
.     And this Dance may indeed be the only thing that can release us from Nouwen’s described ‘the continuous state of emergency.’

What are YOUR thought or experiences along these lines? Please share them in a comment below.

Nouwen quote above from a wonderful piece found at

‘Twas the night after Christmas story

For a number of years, it was my job … and people actually came to hear me do it … to tell a story on the night before Christmas (actually December 24, after sundown is the beginning of Christmas … “and there was evening and there was morning, a first day … and there was evening and there was morning, a second day, …etc. — the day begins in the evening, not in the morning)

Well, I’ve been put out to pasture (they call it retirement) and no one comes around on December 24 to hear me tell a story. But I still had one bubbling up inside of me. So here it is. Perhaps, two nights later, there will be someone with insomnia, in need of a bedtime story:

A Pastoral Call to the Rabbi
© Monty Brown 12/26/2018

         He stopped by my office and seemed upset. “I know I don’t have an appointment, but do you have a few minutes?”

“Sure,” I said. “Come on in. Sit down. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“I’m not sure where to start. It seems like my whole world is falling apart. And I didn’t do anything wrong. I just don’t get it. Why me?”

Joe was not prone to hysterics. In fact, I’ve never seen him anywhere close to his wit’s end. He was always one of the stable people, who could be counted on to be a rock when others seemed to be unraveling. “Why don’t you start at the beginning … or wherever it seems like a good place to jump in. Sometimes the ‘beginning’ is hard to nail down.”

“You’ve got that right. OK, let me start with Mary.”

“Your fiancé?” I asked.

“Right. So, we were out a few nights ago, and she seemed a little strange.”

“How so,” I asked.

“Well, it was just little stuff to begin with. But it seemed, as the evening went on that she was nervous and kind of jumpy, and then she seemed irritable, and she didn’t want me to touch her in any way … she pulled her hand back when I even touched her.

“I decided that she just needed to get to it in her own way, and so I didn’t push her. I asked her some open-ended questions, trying to give her an opening to let me know what was wrong. We had not been having any problems, so I was at a loss.”

“Did she ever tell you,” I primed.

“Finally. It just came out in a rush, like someone pulled the cork out of a bottle that was tipped over, and everything just came pouring out. She got really quiet for a few seconds and I decided to just let the silence do its work. And then her next words were, ‘I think I’m pregnant.’”

I just sat there and let the silence do its work in this situation, because I didn’t really know which way to head with this. And then, after a few seconds, silence did its job and Joe went on.

“I was not sure that I had heard her right, and so I said, ‘What?’ And she said, ‘You heard me; I think I’m pregnant! But before you get the wrong idea, you need to know that I didn’t do anything wrong. I did not cheat on you, Joe. I swear. I didn’t.’

“I didn’t know how to respond to what she just said, because it seemed like an obvious contradiction: ‘I’m engaged … we didn’t have sex … I think I’m pregnant … I didn’t do anything wrong.’ So, I waited, and she didn’t say anything. Finally, I said, ‘Tell me what you mean.’

“I’ve got to confess that my brain was racing way ahead of what I was saying. And what I was feeling was running way past what my lips were saying. I felt stunned, and then angry, and then confused. While I was trying to sort out the contradiction of what she said, she began to explain to me that she had had a visit.”

“From another man?” I interjected.

“Well, kind of. She said his name was Gabriel.”

“Do you know this Gabriel guy?” I asked.

“No, she said he was an angel.”

I didn’t interject. I think I leaned back in my seat. I probably put my fingers together in a steeple fashion. I do that sometimes to demonstrate that I am thinking deeply. It actually means that I’m totally at a loss.

Joe didn’t say anything, so I said, “An angel?”

“Yea. An angel. She said he came to her while she was out pruning some grape vines. She told me that he came up and sort of startled her, because she didn’t hear him approach. And then she went through it all kind of fast – almost like she didn’t believe what she was telling me. She told me that he was an angel named Gabriel and that he stood in the presence of the Lord G-d Almighty, may His Name be praised. And that I was going to bear a son, and that this was going to be God’s son, so God was going to be the father, but I wouldn’t really have sex, but somehow get pregnant through some spiritual intercourse, but it would be a real human baby, and would be the son of God and would be holy and that everyone would call her blessed. And that she didn’t ask for this to happen, but it did, and what can you say when the Lord G-d, may His name be praised, sends His right-hand angel to give you the news. So, she told this Gabriel, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word.’”

“Then what?” I asked.

“Well, what would you do if your fiancé told you this?” Joe answered my question with a question.

I was hoping that this was a rhetorical question and not the one he really came to ask me, because I didn’t have any idea. So, I said, “Well, what did you do?”

“Yea. I didn’t have any idea. So, I just said, ‘Wow! That’s pretty heavy.’ And she said, ‘Don’t you know it! So, what do you think, Joe?’ And I didn’t know what to think, let alone what to say. One thing I have learned in my years of living: when it’s really important and it’s not easy, don’t be in a hurry. Let it sink in. Let it percolate through all the layers. Give it time to sort itself out before saying anything, let alone making an important decision that affects others as well as you. So, I told her, ‘Yes, Dear, it is very heavy. I need to ponder this for a while. Let me sleep on this, OK?’”

“Smart man,” I congratulated him. “And …?”

“And …” he picked up on my question as a conjunction, instead. “And I went home and thought a lot about it. I mean, she could be telling the truth. But it’d be a first. But, another voice inside me said, ‘But, of course, it’s a first; it’s the son of God!  ‘ But, that first voice, the realistic one, told me that she just made a mistake and didn’t know how to tell me the real truth. And you and I both know that under our law, the punishment for that mistake is death by stoning. Well, I still loved her, and I certainly did not want to put her to that. So, round and round I went through most of the night until I finally fell asleep, not having decided what to do.”

“I’m not sure how to answer this one for you, Joe,” said I. “You know that …”

He interrupted my answer, thankfully, because I didn’t have an answer in head when I had started talking. I was hoping one would come to me. But, he did interrupt me, to tell me the rest of the story.

“No, wait,” began the interruption. “That’s not the end of it. After I fell asleep, I had this dream. At first, I thought it was just the voices inside my head continuing the debate while I was asleep. But, no, there was something more than that. This angel came to me in the dream and said that his name was Gabriel. And he confirmed every detail of what Mary had told me. And then he told me that I was to go ahead and take her for my wife, but not to consummate the marriage until after she had borne the child. And the angel told me to call the baby by the name of Joshua. And then …”

“And then?” I asked.

“And then I awoke.”


“Hmmm,” I said. “What do you make of that?”

That is the question I came to ask you. What do you make of it?”

“Do you believe an angel really came to visit you in your dreams, Joe.”

“I think I believe it as much as Mary believes an angel visited her in the grape arbor. Do angels ever come in dreams, really?”

“Well ….“ I was pausing. My  fingers were definitely steepled, as I tried to think. “Well yes, there are examples of this in scripture. And in the book of Job, Elihu is the only ones of Job’s friends whose counsel was not contested by anyone. He said that God speaks to us in one way and in two: in our dreams and in our sufferings.”

“Well, this qualifies on both counts.” Joe said. “Do you realize what my family, and her family, and everyone in the community is going to say, let alone think, about her and about me, if we go through with this.”

“Do you really believe it was an angel, Joe?” I repeated myself.

“Who? With her, or with me?”

“You can’t answer for her; you can only know your own experience,” I counseled.

“True that. I really can’t answer for her. But I would have had to have taken just her word for it, if I hadn’t had the angel visit me. Did it really happen? I don’t know, for sure. But it felt real. I’ve never had anything like that happen in all my years. Nothing! So what do you think?”

“I think,” I said here in my best attempt to be wise and hoping to not must be ducking the issue. “I think that just like you can’t know what happened with Mary, but only with yourself, then I can’t know what happened to either one of you. Now, if an angel comes to me tonight and lets me know; I’ll be sure to get in touch with you right away. But, in the meantime …” Here I paused, not to give emphasis to my counsel preceded by a pause, but because I was trying to say the thing that was being birthed in my mind, in the right way.

“I think that sometimes, in the right circumstances, certain people … and maybe all of us at some time in our lives … get into a situation where there comes a feeling upon us, like a dawning of the morning sun in our recognition, that we are involved in something much bigger than us. That we are being caught up into a story that is not about us and is certainly bigger than us, but in which we have a role to play. Do we have a choice as to whether or not to do that which is required by the larger story? The Lord G-d, may His name be praised, is always in charge, but I believe He always allows us to exit out of taking on this role in His story. But, if we allow Him to be the author, and trust in Him to use us to His glory, then we can’t go wrong. And that means, regardless of what anyone else says.

“So what I’m saying is this: if you have that sense down deep in the recesses of your very being that you, and Mary, have been caught up in this larger story that is not about you, but in which you have been nominated to have a starring, or at least best supporting actor or actress, role, then you have to decide if you will trust that.”

Joe just looked at me. Then he said, “Yea. I think that’s it. That’s how it felt. Thanks, Rabbi. That helps.”

And then he left.

I never saw Joseph again. He died several years later, I’m told. I did get a letter from him about a few years after that. It came in a caravan of some traveling merchants from Egypt. It was just a short note. It read like this:

“Rabbi Matthew,

“I just wanted to thank you for that conversation we had. You are indeed a wise man. I took your advice and stayed with Mary. And she had that baby boy that was promised. She never wavered in her story of the baby’s fatherhood. And it seemed to help both of us when I told her about the angel coming in the dream to me. We had to both just go on the basis of our feeling that it was real; that it was part of something much bigger than her or me. But, you know, even with all that, we never were completely sure.

“The night the baby was born, we had gotten caught up in all that census taking that the Emperor had commanded. We were in Bethlehem when the baby was born. Long story short: the night of the birth, a bunch of shepherds came in from the hillside (it was lambing season, so they were not in the fold.) And, somehow, they knew how to find us, and (I wish I could see your face when you read this) they told us that angels came to them and confirmed the whole story that Mary and I both believed angels had told us.

“So, here I am absolutely convinced, on the basis of what some hitherto unknown shepherds told us happened to them, outside of Mary’s and my personal experience. Isn’t that wild? We each have an angel visit us, but what really convinced us was the word of complete strangers?

“Guess what really did it was the confirmation from three entirely independent sources that this definitely was all part of a bigger story, and we were just players in it. Mary and I returned the favor and told the shepherds of our personal angel visit stories to confirm their own experience. You should have seen the look on their faces when we told them!

“I hope that I can see you again. We had to go to Egypt with the baby. But that’s a wholly different story … or, no, maybe it’s not wholly different at all. Anyway …. Thanks for listening. May the blessing of the Lord G-d, may His name be ever praised, follow you every step of your own journey. I think you were part of that bigger story, too. What do you think?

“Joseph, the carpenter.”


Was I? Was I part of their story? Of THE story, as Joseph explained it. I don’t know if I had much of a role in that part of the story. I have had a sense, many years later, when I heard stories of this Jesus (the Greek translation of Joshua) that they were all confirmation of a larger story for sure. A story in which all of us might at one time, or another, might feel like we are a part of.

And, Joe was right, it is often only when we pay attention to other people’s stories that we get the confirmation of that much larger story. A story that really is meant for all of us. And a story that includes all of us.

It makes me feel like the details of my own little life might really be important, after all, particularly when fit into the stories of other lives like pieces of a puzzle, in which the big picture is one that only the Lord G-d, may His name be praised, can see. But a story, when we allow, we can actually feel is gathering us in.


Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd

I am preparing to lead a group of 21 pilgrims to Ireland, an island of mystery and imagination, to rediscover the Kingdom within us. It was Jesus’ primary message: Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. And, no, Jesus was not talking about just the place to which we go after passing through the doorway called “death.”

The Kingdom of Heaven is AT HAND.

A video that I am asking the group of pilgrims to watch before our trip is placed here. Perhaps you would like to view its four and a quarter minutes, and give it some thought, as well. You might even post your thoughts and comments on this blog.

The Unity of the Body of Christ

When will they ever learn … when will they ever learn?

Jane Brown used to sing: “Is not the cup we bless and share the Blood of Christ outpoured? Do not one cup, one loaf, declare our oneness in the Lord?” https://montybrown.files.wordpress .com/…/2006-1006-you-sati…
“You Satisfy the Hungry Heart” (Westendorf, 1991)

Henry H. Tweedy penned these words in 1935 (verse 3 “O Spirit of the Living God” UMH 539)

Teach us to utter living words
of truth which all may hear,
the language all may understand
when love speaks loud and clear;
till every age and race and clime
shall blend their creeds in one,
and earth shall form one family
by whom thy will is done.

“…the language all may understand when love speaks loud and clear … [until all] their creeds blend in one.”

There was a graduation reception recently for women who celebrated their sobriety from drugs and alcohol. Three women in the kitchen were working on the reception for these former “losers” turned “winners.” They came from three remarkably different theology based churches. They noted, as they worked together so well: Isn’t it amazing how much good we can do for the Kingdom of Heaven when we just focus on acts and ministries of love and not deal with all that doctrine stuff over which our churches differ.

“Imagine all the people …” (John Lennon)


It does NOT always make sense.

     “Why? Why do I have to make daily journal entries?” he complained again. “I don’t like to do it; I’ve never liked to do it. I don’t see how it does my any good.”

     “So, why don’t you go ask the master, instead of complaining to us?” Jeremy said to Marcus. “The master is the one who gave us the discipline. Our job is to just lovingly hear one another’s confession. And you complain, more than confess, about this part of the master’s prescription every time we gather. Of course, I only say that in love, you know.”

     “Got it,” Marcus replied, with obvious belief in Jeremy’s sincerity. “And, you know, maybe I should. Maybe I should go ask the master why I need to do this. I really don’t see the point of it. Not at all. Not at all.”

     So later in the week, when Marcus had his monthly appointment with the master, he resolved that he would address the issue.

     “Abba,” why do I need to keep a journal each day?”

     “Why do you ask, my son,” queried the Master, who was famous for answering questions with another question.

     “I know that you have given it to us as part of our spiritual discipline. But it is something with which I have always struggled. And, with all due respect, I don’t see the purpose of it for me. It may be good for the others, but I just don’t feel any good coming out of it.”

     “You do it every day, and you find nothing good coming from it?” asked the Master.

     “Oh, well … I don’t do it EVERY day. If I just understood why I was doing it, then maybe I’d do better about keeping the discipline,” answered Marcus, with complete sincerity.

     “Oh. I see. Let me ask you: has it ever hurt you to do this?”

     “No, my lord. It doesn’t hurt me.”

     “Have you ever felt like your keeping of this discipline was harmful, in any way, to other beloved children of God?” repeated the questioning Abba.

     “Well, of course not. It’s just that ….”

     The Abba cut him off, gently, but firmly, “Do you not have faith in the one who gave you the discipline?”

     Somewhat embarrassed now, Marcus tilted his head downward from their eye to eye contact, and somewhat mumbled, “Of course not, good father. It’s not that at all. It’s just that ….”

     “It’s just that you feel like it’s not working for YOU ….”

     This time Marcus unintentionally interrupted, “Exactly!”

     The Master gently made Marcus’ interruption apparent, when he repeated and finished his prior statement: “It’s just hat you feel like it’s not working for YOU … simply because you can’t figure it out ahead of time, and because you haven’t felt the results yet.

     “Let me tell you a story:

     “Once upon a time (as all good stories begin, for they are timeless) my namesake Ananias was working for a rabbi in Jerusalem.

     “Ananias was learning the way of Kabbalah from his master. He did whatever the master told him. At least, he tried to.

     “But there was this one week, where Ananias’ master told him early in the morning to go outside and fill a large jug of water – 20 gallons full – and to walk into the street, turning right, and to carry it to the end of the street. Then he was supposed to set the jug down and rest. Then he was to pick up the jug and retrace it steps and beyond their house until he got to the market place, where the street ended. Then he was to put the jug down and rest again. He was instructed to repeat this pattern all day long, and then come back home in time for supper.

     “Ananias did as his master directed. After midday, he began to wonder why he was doing this. He thought that perhaps he should be praying as he did his walking and carrying. And so he earnestly prayed as he walked and carried, for the next two hours. Then he thought that, instead of praying, maybe he should be paying attention to every detail in his journey up and down the street. He had been told by the master before that if he knew what was in front of his face, then what was hidden from him would be revealed unto him.

     “But, by the end of the day, nothing had happened. The next morning, the master told Ananias to do the same thing again for the duration of that next day. And, again, he did as he was told. But ‘nothing’ happened. That evening, he asked his master why he was doing this.

     “And his master asked Ananias, ‘Has it ever hurt you to do this?’ When Ananias replied, ‘No,’ his master asked him, ‘Have you ever felt like your keeping of this discipline was harmful, in any way, to other beloved children of God?’ Ananias replied, ‘Of course not.’ And then his master asked Ananias, ‘Do you not have faith in the one who gave you the discipline?’”

     At this point, Marcus’ head, which had returned to eye level for his master’s story, felt his gaze began to wander downward again when he recognized these same three questions from just a few moments ago in their own conversation.

     Abba continued: “So the master said to Ananias, ‘Well, I suggest you continue, then, just as you have been instructed, even again today. But, if you should encounter two men, and if they decide to follow you, listen to whatever they may ask of you. If, after they have followed you, these disciples ask where their Teacher may celebrate the Passover, then show them to our upper room, and do whatever they ask to assist them in their preparations.

     “And, so it was. About mid-afternoon, Ananias encountered the two men who asked the question his master had predicted. And Ananias did as he was told. And later that night Ananias was the only one of his household who was invited to be a part of the Passover celebration in that upper room. And Ananias was included in the bread and the cup received by each person there from the very hands of Jesus.”

    With that Marcus’ spiritual father said no more. Silence hung in the air for moments. Then:

     “Yes, Abba. I will keep my journal. Thank you, Abba.”

© March 15, 2013 

     The foregoing is a “midrash” on Mark 14:12-16, in this continuing series of midrashes on the unnamed little people making cameo appearances in the Gospel of Mark. (For definition of midrash, please see January 14, 2103 blog: “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)


Mark 14:12-16  The Man with a Jar of Water

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, ‘Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples? ’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

How easily we forget, even the really good stuff.

    There are some days when I just wish I had never gotten out of bed. From the time I got up, it seemed that something has gone wrong, on top of something else going wrong. My wife irritated me before an hour of my day had expired. I don’t even know what it was that she said or did, but it just set me off. I tried to not respond meanly, or even angrily. But then something else happened and then another thing, and before I knew it, it was just some little tipping point that set me off. And she happened to be right there to catch the full force of my venom release.

    I felt bad right away, but didn’t know what to do. I left home not long after that, but things just did not improve. It seemed that wherever I went, whatever I did, there was going to be something that would go wrong. I ended up being like a bear with a sore head. I didn’t like how anybody did anything, and I certainly did not like how I was acting. I wouldn’t have wanted to be around me either. But I had no choice, and neither did they. We were just going to have to get through the day and hope that tomorrow would be better.

    I got home that night, after resolving on the way home to do better, to make amends for the morning gone wrong. When I walked in the door, my wife looked at me, and I looked at her. I wasn’t sure how this evening was going to go, but I surely could not stand a repetition of how the whole day had gone. “God! why are some days like this?!”

    “You forgot something this morning.”

    Oh, yeah, the kiss. We made it our daily ritual to kiss each other good-bye as we parted each morning, the same as our habit each night before we went to bed. “Sorry,” I said, and I gave her a peck on the cheek.

    “No, besides that,” she said.

    “What?” I ended up saying a little more sharply that I intended, or even meant.

    She just pointed. She pointed over to the corner. To the mat. The mat rolled up and leaning against the wall in the corner.

    “Oh.” Oh, yes, the mat. She was right. I had forgotten. Forgotten to look at it. Forgotten that it was there. Forgotten to allow it to shape my day.

    It was the mat that once had been my daily home. Then one day, five years ago, I had “a day that I would never forget.” At least that’s what I used to think.

    It was the last day that I lived as a paralytic. It was the day that those crazy friends of mine, Asher, David, Asa, and Levi picked me up, clutching the four corners of my mat, cut through the thatched roof on Jesus’ house and lowered me down on hemp ropes. I was scared to death: that I would fall and break my neck, that Jesus was be really angry for us messing up his roof, that everyone was going to laugh at me, that Jesus really was a fraud and that I would look like an idiot. I didn’t even believe in this guy, but my friends did.

    And apparently that was enough. A man who is awake to see night turn into day may not have believed in “sunrise,” but the reality of belief must give way to the reality of truth. I hadn’t believed that this man Jesus had the power to forgive sins or to provide healing. But the arrogance of that belief was humbled when my legs began to work and I got up and walked. Before I left him, though, he gave me one final instruction: roll up your mat and take it home with you. Since that day it has sat rolled up, there in the corner, a talisman to remind me of Jesus’ power and of my natural response of gratitude.

    That kind of gratitude and recognition of power changes everything about life. As long as I remembered.

    Time passed and some days I forgot to look at the mat. Forgot to remember my blessings. Forgot to remember what Jesus did for me. And on those days … well, they were like today. It’s strange how something so great can just “be forgotten.” But my wise wife reminded me: look into the corner; see the rolled up mat. Remember.

    Remembrance of Jesus’ power. Remembrance of the power of gratefulness framing a day.

    I looked at the mat, remembered, and gave her a kiss.

© March 9, 2013 

     The foregoing is a “midrash” on Mark 2:1-12, in this continuing series of midrashes on the unnamed little people making cameo appearances in the Gospel of Mark. (For definition of midrash, please see January 14, 2103 blog: “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)


Mark 2:1-12 Jesus Heals a Paralytic

 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”



     When the day comes to draw our last breath, what will be the story from all our breaths that will most be remembered? What will be our legacy? 

     I haven’t always thought of such things. I used to only live for the pleasure of each day, and to make sure that others were impressed by me. Most of all, I wanted my Mama to be proud of me. I wanted her to love me as much as she loved the men, all the men in her life., She’s the one who taught me how to be a woman, from the time I was just a girl. She taught me how to carry myself, how to hold my head; how to posture my body. She knew all the ways that a woman can make a man do whatever she wanted.

     I used to dance like she taught me. I practiced in front of the girls my age, and it made them sneer. They were jealous of me; that’s what Mama told me. I practiced my dancing in front of the boys my age, and they were rapt in their attention, but that didn’t do anything for me.

      But when I danced for the men, for all the men that Mama held in her hand, that’s when I felt the power. That’s when I knew that I had control over them, and the thrill of that power was stronger than any feeling I’d ever had.

      One night, Mama talked my stepfather, the king, into letting me dance for him and all his important friends. I moved slowly, passionately, powerfully. I made each one of my seven veils draw the men in as each one fell to the floor. I had them!

      When the dance was over, my stepfather was looking at me like I’d never seen. He just sat there and stared, seemingly unable to say a word. Finally, the words came out. He promised me the moon. Whatever I wanted, he told me, was mine. I felt so powerful; I felt so weak.

      I lost my composure and acted like a child; I ran out of the room to my Mama. I didn’t have to go far. She was right outside the door, where she had been watching me. She glowed. She hugged me.

      “What do you think, Mama? Did I do well?”

    “Oh, baby. I’ve never done better. Now, you can have anything.”

      “What do I ask for, Mama?”

      For just a second, she looked puzzled, and then I saw a light appear from the back of her eyes. As it moved to the front, the corners of her mouth drew up in mounting pleasure. She leaned down and whispered into my ear. Then she hugged me again, told me how proud she was of me, and pushed me back into the room.

      I was fully composed now. I had these men in my power. My Mama loved me more than she ever had. The was the finest moment of my life. I told my stepfather exactly what Mama had whispered into my ear.

      And then, just as I had seen the light grow in her eyes, I saw the color drain from her husband’s face. He was not pleased. I began to wonder if I had done wrong. I just stood there and he just sat there. It was only a moment, but it seemed so long. Then he snapped his fingers and one of his men came over.

      He bowed down and the king whispered into his ear. Then the man nodded and left the room.

      The king motioned for me to come sit on a chair beside him. And everyone else in the room went back to their party – eating, drinking, talking, drinking, laughing.

      It was probably half an hour later, when that man came back into the room. He was carrying a plate in his hands. As he moved between the revelers, they parted to form an aisle to the king and me. As the aisle formed, silence came in its wake. Then I saw it.

      It was what I had asked for. But the sight was more than I could have imagined. There was a man’s head, blood congealed on the plate and still dripping. The man’s eyes were open. I could see the terror captured in them.

      “Your majesty,” he said as he bowed, and the plate with the head came lower, close to the floor with the depth of the bow.

      The king simply nodded and tilted his head toward me. “There it is, Salome. Take what you asked for. Take it and give it to your mother.”

      I didn’t want to take the plate, but it was pushed into my hands. I held it as far away from my body as my shaking arms would allow, without dropping it. I practically ran from the room. My Mama was in the same place I’d last seen her, just outside the door. She was delighted as she took the plate from my hands, and said over her shoulder, as she walked away, “That’s my baby; that’s my good little girl.”

      Is that my memory? Is that the one thing in my life for which I will be remembered after I take my last breath?

      I saw another man die. He was a cousin to the first one. The one I killed was John. The second one was Jesus. Although I had killed him, I never knew the first one. The second one forgave me for what I did to John. His forgiveness was more powerful than anything I had done that night of dancing. His forgiveness saved me from my memory, from my hatred of myself and of my family. His forgiveness gave me the power of love.

      And I was there when they killed him. And I was there when we found out that he was risen from the dead. In his kindness, John Mark told my story as part of Jesus’ story. He didn’t mention my name in the first part, but he did in the second parts.

      I am the same Salome. But when I take my last breath, it will be the forgiveness and the new life that Jesus gave me that will be remembered of Salome. That, thanks be to God, is my legacy. It is the gift that I have passed on with everyone who has heard my story. It is more powerful than the worst thing any of us can ever do. This I know.

 (c) March 5, 2013

     The foregoing is a “midrash” on Mark 6:17-28, in this continuing series of midrashes on the unnamed little people making cameo appearances in the Gospel of Mark. (For definition of midrash, please see January 14, 2103 blog: “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)

     Mark 6:17-28

     For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.

See also Mark 15:40 (There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.)

 and Mark 16:1 (When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”  And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”)