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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Focus: A Fast Start to Lent

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 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."  Mark 1: 9-15

There are times when scripture seems to run on and on to make a single point. This week’s gospel is not one of those times. It is rapid fire, brief and to the point. A preview of Christ’s public ministry is condensed into a single line: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news. Every phrase, every word packs a powerful message.

Repent is the operative word for this First Sunday in Lent. Repent does not mean a burlesque of breast-beating and lamentation. It literally means to re-think; to put some quiet time aside; to stop; to interrupt our routines; to re-assess and adjust our priorities and our behavior. Jesus understands our natures. He knows we are a bundle of reflexes and instincts. He knows that we constantly need to reorder our lives to bring them in line with God’s plan for us. He knows we must constantly repent to get ourselves right with God. That’s why we have Lent.

From the time of Abraham, the chosen people had waited for the kingdom of God. They weren’t entirely sure what that meant; but they knew God had something big in store for them. Then Jesus comes along and tells them that their time of waiting is at an end. He is the Messiah – the Promised One of God. Doubtless, he is not what they expected. But God knew better. The kingdom he promised was not meant for us to lord it over our neighbors. It was meant for us to love them.

That the kingdom was and is near has sparked two millennia of speculation; little of it very productive. I find it more useful to frame the concept of near in terms of spiritual and psychic proximity rather than as a fixed position on a man-made timeline. In Christ we have Emmanuel – God with us, not just while he walked the earth, but as he promised – with us to the ending of the world. In Christ, God is not remote, not unapproachable. He is a palpable presence in our lives. He is near.

The mystery of the Trinity also begins to take shape in these brief lines from Mark. Later in Acts and in the Epistles, the Spirit will come to the fore. But here, we are only briefly introduced to the Spirit, urging Jesus into the desert to be tempered by solitude, sacrifice and temptation for forty days. All of which brings us quickly back to this fast start of Lent. These are precious days. Let’s not waste them. Repent. But also rejoice. For forty days let’s live his kingdom. Share his love. Spread his good news. It’s Lent and Jesus is near.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lenten Food for Thought

This entry was written by the Very Rev. Tracey Lind, is Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, OH.  Her blog, Interrupted by God, features both her writing and photography.  The sermon has most definitely given me a great deal to chew on and a hint of appreciating, savoring the food that I purchase.  Hmmm, perhaps some tomatoes in pots on the patio are in my future ...

What's  wrong with eating french fries - Ash Wednesday, 2012

At our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, a group of middle-aged adults started talking about favorite junk food from our childhood. On the top of the list for a number of folks were Krispy Kreme donuts. As I drove home, trying to focus on my Ash Wednesday sermon, I had junk food on the brain, and my ruminations turned to McDonald’s french fries. By the time I got to my house, I literally had a craving for those perfectly constructed, remarkably uniform, four-inch-long strips of Idaho russet potatoes soaked in sugar, corn syrup, and hot water; fried in oil; drenched in salt; and served in a little paper bag or box. And then I remembered my Lenten commitment of mindful eating.

But I couldn’t get those French fries out of my mind. I could have gone out and feasted on McDonald’s french fries. After all, it was still Fat Tuesday. But instead, I sat down with Food and Faith, one of the books I intended to read to inspire my mindful eating discipline. The book fell open to an essay by John Ryan and Alan Durning about the journey of a box of McDonald’s French fries that began on a one-half square foot of sandy soil in the upper Snake River valley of Idaho.[i]

I learned that during its 150-day growing period, my potato was watered repeatedly with a total of seven and one-half gallons of water from the Snake River. My potato was treated with a variety of fertilizers and pesticides to make it look so uniform and perfect. Much of the fertilizer’s nitrogen leached into the groundwater, making it unfit for even fertilization, and some of it washed into the streams that feed the Snake River.

Once my potato had grown to maturity, it was harvested by diesel-powered farm machinery and trucked to a nearby processing plant. Half of my potato’s weight (mostly water from the Snake River) was eliminated in the processing. The processing itself created an additional two-thirds of a gallon of waste water that included 1/3 gram of nitrogen, and was then sprayed on a field outside the plant and sank underground.

After my potato was processed into those uniform four-inch-long strips, it was frozen with hydro fluorocarbon coolants and electricity generated by a dam on the Snake River. It then was shipped, along with lots of other bags of frozen four-inch-long strips of potatoes, in a refrigerated 18-wheeler to my McDonald’s – one of 33,000 worldwide.

By the time I finished reading the essay, I should have lost my taste for a bag of those golden brown French fries, but I didn’t. However, I decided to begin my Lenten practice of mindful eating a day early.

In the traditional gospel reading from Matthew 6 appointed for Ash Wednesday Jesus, reminds us of three essential principles of Christian mindfulness: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Using french fries as my metaphor, I want to explore with you what he’s talking about and how it might apply in our daily lives.

In the abstract, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating french fries. Now, I wouldn’t go as far as Ray Kroc, one of the founders of McDonald’s who wrote in his autobiography that the french fry was “almost sacrosanct” for him. However, I might agree that "its preparation [could be] a ritual to be followed religiously.”[ii] If I grew a potato in my own organic garden, relying largely on rain water and no fertilizer; if I harvested that potato myself; if I washed it in my sink with small amount of tap water; if I sliced it into imperfect four-inch-long strips; and if I fried it in a little unsaturated oil; and if I sprinkled just a little sea salt, then my french fries wouldn’t be so bad.

Moreover, if I had grown my own potato and processed it myself into a plate of french fries, I would have been mindful of, and attentive to, the soil, the sun, the rain, my neighborhood critters, my body, and my environment. Once I got used to not coating my food with sugar and corn syrup, I’m certain it would have tasted better. And, for every calorie eaten, I might have burned up a few in the effort of tending my garden.

Knowing my gardening skills, I would have been saying a lot of prayers for my garden to grow. And if I had a decent crop, I could have shared my produce with others less fortunate.

But what if I didn’t have a garden? Well, I could have grown my potato in a community garden, or purchased it from a local farmer, a CSA or a farmer’s market. Moreover, as a discipline, for every potato eaten, I could give one or two cents to a local or global hunger program.

The point is, that in deciding not to buy my french fries in a box or bag from McDonald’s (or some other fast food restaurant), I would be making the decision to be mindful in my eating, prayerful in my choices, and attentive to the needs of the rest of the world.

As I reflect on Jesus’ advice for practicing self-denial, I have concluded that it really is about paying attention – paying attention to how we eat, how we pray, and how we share the gifts we have been given.

Lent is a time to focus on this practice of mindful living. It is a season to renew those good new intentions and begin taking steps in the right direction. In AA, they say – 90 meetings in 90 days. That’s the amount of time it takes to break an old habit and form a new one. The Lenten-Easter cycle is just that – 90 days: 40 days of Lent and 50 days of Easter. That’s 90 days to begin again and start anew. And, if one falls off the wagon, so to speak, you can start over. After all, we belong to a religion of second-chances and start-overs. It’s really a matter of intention, attention, mindfulness and practice.
As for me, I’m going to work on mindful eating as my Lenten practice and hope that it sticks. I think I’m also going to plant some potatoes this spring. I should be able to plant my crop on St. Patrick’s Day – right in the middle of Lent and harvest my potatoes after Pentecost. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to avoid those tempting McDonald’s french fries.

What about you? What are going to take on or give up this Lent as you pay attention to practice mindful living in the name of Christ?

[i] French Fries by John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning, Food and Faith (Living the Good News, The Morehouse Group, 2002), pp 123-125)
[ii] Ray Kroc, Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonald’s (1992)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Private Lenten Practices: They Aren't All Chocolate-less Any More

If, like me, you are of a certain age, the beginning of Lent meant that you were obliged to 'give up' something you really enjoyed until Easter.  The chocolate industry collectively rolled its eyes if Ash Wednesday began before Valentine's day because sales would drop significantly.
In 2012 we now have a many options to choose from.  In the event that you haven't yet selected a Lenten practice,  here is a listing of some of the many options available to you.  Enjoy (yes, that is permitted during Lent)!
1)  Exploring the Psalms with Barbara Crafton would, dear Farmers, top the list.  This e-course runs daily from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday.  You can subscribe to this series right now by using this link:
2) Two offerings by a) online Forward Day By Day - that little devotional booklet is online! Link:; b) Rev. Tim Schenck (one of  the 'A Few Good Writers' section of is teaming up with Rev. Scott Gunn (Executive Director of Forward Movement) for a series of battles between well and lesser known saints in  Lent Madness (it's a basketball reference).  Learn about an array of saints, tossed into competition for "The Golden Halo Award".  Join in with this link:
3) Search your diocesan website for local quiet days and retreats.  A listing of all diocesan websites are listed here:
4) Several Episcopal religious orders are offering retreats and/or quiet days either online or at their convents/monasteries.  Here are the websites of a few that have come to my attention: a) The Society of St. John the Evangelist - or another link that's intriguing -;  b) Order of the Holy Cross -; c) Order of St. Helena -; d) Community of St. John Baptist -

5) Promote Episcopal Relief and Development.  This organization saves lives and supports those in need both in this country and throughout the world.  Link:

6) If none of the above suggestions addresses your needs, you could consider donating a few hours as a volunteer either in your parish (before Easter every church has a 'spruce up' day, whether indoors or out) or some other organization which always needs volunteers: Habitat for Humanity -; your local animal shelter (walk a dog - which will do both of you some good); a local senior center or housing facility, just to name a few.

We here at The Geranium Farm wish each and every one of you an enriching, memorable Lenten journey.

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