Monthly Archives: May 2018

Pinochle and Grace


John’s Double Family takes the game. Image: TLClark, December 2007.

48 playing cards.  The usual four suits: clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades.  Two cards per suit:  ace, ten, king, queen, jack, nine.  A pinochle is a queen of spades with a jack of diamonds.

Whether four-handed (playing with a partner) or three-handed (you’re on your own), pinochle is family fun.  It is about being together, telling stories, sharing laughter, and occasionally holding really good cards.

When “family rules” are in effect – and they are always in effect – pinochle is also about grace.  A few examples:

  • Players new to the game get assistance, often in the form of an experienced player looking over their shoulder to help bid or to offer advice on what card to lead.
  • Young players are allowed an occasional hand signal when bidding – especially when bidding for 300 pinochle (was that two legs or three?).
  • Players of every age and experience are allowed to pull back a card just played when they realized they’ve played the wrong card.
  • When a game goes too long or ceases to be fun or it’s time for a nap or a meal, the cards are put away.

Goodwill.  Second chances.  Much love.  All signs of grace.


“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to …” Acts 2:4a (NRSV)

Of the Christian high holy days, Pentecost is my favorite.

I like lighting candles and singing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve just as much as the next person.  Easter isn’t Easter without singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” in a sanctuary adorned with flowers (lilies, but also tulips and hyacinths and more).  But Pentecost with its fiery red and without an expected favorite hymn makes my heart sing.

Christmas celebrates what was:  Jesus was born.  An universal human experience.  Christmas is not just past tense.  It also celebrates God with us, then and now.  But we tend to dwell on the baby in a manger.

Easter celebrates what is:  Jesus is alive!  The tomb is empty.  Death is defeated.  God says ‘yes’ to Jesus’ word and deeds.  But the good news of Easter is not enough for Jesus’ disciples.  The first followers of Jesus gathered behind locked doors afraid of what might happen next.  And Christians still struggle to venture beyond what is safe and familiar.

Pentecost celebrates what was, what is and what will be.  We don’t have a catchy phrase;  things of the Spirit are not easily summed up.  Pentecost – as celebrated by Christians – marked the beginning of the church.  Fear melted away.  Without quite realizing what happened, the first disciples became bold in speaking up, speaking out.  When they were accused of being drunk, Peter began to preach from the prophet Joel:

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see vision, and and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”   – Acts 2:17-18 (cf Joel 2:28-29) (NRSV)

New words!  New visions!  New dreams!  God raised Jesus up and has poured out the Holy Spirit, who know what might happen next!

The church’s annual Pentecost celebration reminds us that the Holy Spirit – God’s Spirit, the same Spirit that was in Jesus – is among women and men from youngest to the eldest.  She (the Spirit) continues to reside with Jesus’ disciples.  And She is eager to do a new thing:  burning away the old and worn out, blowing away the dried up and no longer needed, offering renewed hope and fresh courage to the weary and the fearful, pushing the faithful to speak up and to speak out wherever they are in the world.

May we heed the Spirit’s lead.

Open Gate



Open Gate @ Reiman Gardens, 5/4/18.  Photo:  TLClark

So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep.  …  I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. … I came so that they could have life–indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.”  (John 10:7-10 CEB)

Security gates at airports.  Entrance gates at sports fields.  Baby gates at the top of stairways.  Gates in barbed-wire fences and white picket fences and privacy fences.  Gates to control a crowd.  Gates to keep people or creatures in.  Gates to keep them out.

Jesus the gate often gets heard as Jesus the gatekeeper – the one deciding who’s gets into heaven.  But that is not what is written.  Heaven is not mentioned; a sheepfold is.  Another look at the prior paragraph reveals a gatekeeper opening the gate for the shepherd and the shepherd leading the sheep out of the sheepfold.  Out, not in.  The sheep follow the shepherd out of a protected, presumably safe space.  Out of comfort zones.  Out to new places.

Jesus says those who enter through him (into whatever it is being entered) will find life.  They will be be saved.  They will be able to come and go.  They will find pasture.  They will be offered life to the fullest, life abundant.

Being saved has to do with being made well, being healed, being restored.  It is a here and now thing, a down the road thing, a far in the future thing, and a whatever happens beyond death thing.  It is movement toward health and wholeness.

Being able to come and go sounds like freedom.  It is certainly physical – no longer chained in a cell or confined to a room.  And also mental – not limited by choice or opportunity.  Free to fully be the person God calls you to be.

Finding pasture is to find food and rest and, I dare say, opportunity to play and to dream.  Think Psalm 23 – a green place where there is a banquet and and you cup overflows.  Think open space with room to move and to imagine.

An open gate.  Life indeed.

Geese and Goslings

I should have taken a camera.

Just off the bike trail, at the edge of the pond, were five goslings and two geese.

A week or so ago I’d noticed two geese by a smaller pond not far away.   One sitting on a nest, pretending she could not be seen.   One day her neck was stretched out, parallel to the ground.  Another day her neck curled around her body, head tucked in tight.  Her partner was close:  floating on the little pond, standing near the nest, or keeping watch up closer to the sidewalk.

Now there were five fluffy yellow and black baby geese mimicking mom, pecking at the ground between the people path and the pond.  Standing guard just off the path, dad was none too happy with passersby.

At least I think it was mom and dad.  But I have to admit I can’t tell one adult goose from another.  After hearing Charity Nebbe interview wildlife biologist Jim Pease on Iowa Public Radio, I now know that it’s not only the parents who bring up baby geese.  (You can hear the interview here: Parenting in the Wild.)

The goose doing guard duty looked like he (I’m sticking with dad) was making a noise – neck stretched up, beak open, tongue darting in and out – but I couldn’t hear it.  As I got closer, he hissed at me.  Meanwhile the other goose ignore me and the brood kept moving around pecking the ground.

When I went back by toward the end of my walk, the geese had moved to another bank.

And I still wished I had my camera.

Vine and Branches

“I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”  – Jesus in John 15:5 (NRSV)


Tulips, Reiman Gardens, 5/4/18

My husband and I went to Reiman Gardens last week.  Besides wanting to see thousands of tulips in bloom, I was hoping to take pictures of vines.  The tulips were beautiful.  The vines were not.

I tend to think of a vine as an indoor plant growing in a pot in a corner with vines looped across the top of a window sill or curled across a shelf.  Outdoors vines are added to flowerpots to add background greenery to brightly colored blossoms.  Vines wind up and around trees along the bike path.  Gardeners grow vines that bear cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and more.  None of these have branches as I think of branches.


Reiman Gardens, 5/4/18  (It sort of looks like vine and branches!)

The vine Jesus mentions is more substantial.  Something, perhaps, like a grape vine.  The thicker trunk (is it called a trunk?) is rooted in place, staying put in all seasons.  Branches also remain throughout the year, drawing sustenance from the vine.  Leaves appear at the appointed time.  In good soil and with the right mix of sunshine and rain, pollination and pruning, the vine and its branches produce fruit.

Jesus, the vine, is rooted in God and nourished in God’s ways.  He offers us the nutrients needed for growing and bearing fruit:  welcome and acceptance, healing and wholeness,  loving-kindness and justice, encouragement and challenge.  But in order to receive all Jesus has to offer, we have to stay connected!  Remaining in relationship with Jesus requires prayer, study, reflection and gathering with others to worship.

Jesus doesn’t describe the fruit.  But letter to the Galatians does:  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience; kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV)