Talents in the Ground (a Rationale)

So why bury my $100? Actually, to my way of thinking, it’s the Bible’s fault:

For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. Matt. 25:14-18

Over the years I’ve noticed that Scripture tends to take the side of underdogs—shepherd boys, an unwed pregnant teen, the jilted women and crippled men. After so much exposure to this mind-boggling anti-heroism it has become my own pattern. When I read one of Jesus’s parables, I reflexively start to see things from failure’s side…

The guy who built his house on the sand was probably in too big of a hurry to get a roof over his head to do much site investigation, a mistake any doofus with a dream and poetential oceanfront view could make. At least he wasn’t one of those weekend carpenters, full of promises who never ever really gets things done. This guy set to with his hammer and he built himself a house—for as long as it lasted.

And the man who stored up all that grain in the barn and then died without benefiting from it. I want to at least give him credit for being a really good manager of crop yields. He was not a lazy grasshopper; he was just an ant for whom this time the clock ran out.

The prodigal son? Is it so awful that he refused to be a good boy and stay with his father and older brother? If he had, I imagine him feeling a lifelong dissatisfaction sitting on the porch as the sun went down each day. Perhaps the prodigal was like someone I know too well who could not initially swear loyalty to God, much less the church. The young man I’m thinking of first had to find out for himself, experientially not theoretically, that the grass truly is not greener on the other side. In fact, he learned that a steady diet of verdant vegetation will infest your soul with worms.

Maybe I just want to give these sorts of illustrative biblical failures and foul-ups a second chance because I sympathize. I still need a daily shot at starting over and getting things right with God. Call it my keen reliance on the divine do-over. Amen.

When it comes to the parable of the talents, it’s not that I desire to fully emulate the unwise slave. After all, when the master returned this slave received a horrible rebuke, even eternal condemnation (“cast into outer darkness”).

What drives my madness and my back yard digging is that I think I know this erring slave a little bit. I know his fear of doing the wrong thing and how it can make him so falsely prudent that he sees a hole in the ground as his best ally. Better to mess up there in the shadows and the dirt than out in public where if he loses all the master’s money everyone will see his out-turned pockets and the glaring shame reddening his face.

I suppose it’s possible too that he might have imagined he would dig the money up in time to find some way to gain a return before it was too late. He might have even thought he was composting his options, that they would ripen in the soil of his subconscious and one day he would be ready to open the hole, pull out his stash of coins and finally invest wisely on behalf of his master. But perhaps he never got around to acting upon his plans. Or the inspiration failed to come before time ran out.

The hole in the ground, and the waiting that goes with it, is a definite risk.

I’d better have something to do with this money by June 1.



Al Haley (and a Hole Lotta Money)

Oct. 15, 2006

Today we buried the money in the back yard.

My 8-year-old son had the garden trowel. I had the money inside a Zip-loc bag. Cole dug in the flowerbed where the West Texas clay was least hard. The money inside its plastic prison looked green and vulnerable as we shoveled crumbles of dirt over the face of Ulysses Grant. I placed a flat stone on top. This marker will help me find the money again, and it’s supposed to also keep squirrels from digging up the money and doing who knows what with it. Install a satellite dish in the mesquite tree and start watching 24/7 Chip and Dale cartoons? More likely they might gnaw the bills (the General Grant fifty, 2 twenties, a ten, and a bonus two-dollar bill). In a flash they could turn them into ribboned confetti, which though festive would not be a hoped for outcome of this project.

October 16, 2006

This morning it is raining. Heavily.

Rain is a big deal in arid West Texas. We go for weeks with the sky remaining an unblinking, uncompromised blue minus even a breath of clouds. The sun bakes the ground into cracks. The weeds turn crisp. To date we are one inch behind in the modest annual rainfall we normally expect of just over 20 inches.

But today’s rain is changing that. I listen to it drumming on the roof as I type this. I’m thinking about the money in the back yard. The rain is seeping past the stone, the surrounding mulch and it is beading up on the plastic in the darkness underground. The money, hopefully, remains dry even as the moisture sluices past it toward the deeper stores in the earth. Underground rivers and lakes lie at well appointed places beneath the surface of the land. The money I’ve placed in the ground is inert potential whereas the rain is liquid life. The rain is actively looking for a seed, a snarl of roots, a crust of mineral, a speck of dirt, a touch of warmth. With autumn upon us, it’s too late for this particular rain to bring green to the yellowing and browning land. It is, however, insurance for the spring when the farmers plant their wheat, cotton, and corn.

Tomorrow the sky will clear and the puddles will start to disappear. The rain will be gone, its effects not yet known or complete. So some day could be the case with the money, I think.



Joonna's current writing projects

Okay, so I have no publications to write about. But hating to be left out, I'd thought I'd create a label "New and current writing projects" so that we could share a little about works in progress. I've currently got 4 articles out at publishers, waiting to hear back.

1--An article on Octavia Butler and how she uses gothic conventions in her science fiction. This has passed two levels of review and is in the third level which will determine if it gets in the anthology.

2--A creative non-fiction piece at Big TexT on the physical and spiritual places of West Texas and Northwest Iowa.

3--A creative non-fiction piece at JAEPL. A teaching narrative.

4--An article with an anthology on M. Night Shyamalan

But the thing that excites me just now is an opera libretto. It's a feminist and spiritual reimaging of the Dracula story. A friend in Mississippi is a composer, and we just decided to do this--to finally stop dreaming about it and plunge in. I'm sitting in Karen Baker's husband's playwriting class to spur me on. I have about 20 pages so far and will probably get a whole draft by Christmas. Doing something a little further away from scholarship is really energizing.

What is energizing the writer in the rest of you?



happy to share about my new thread in article

Dear friends from the Seminar: I am happy to report that Christianity Today has published a follow-up I wrote to the respondents of my earlier article on their "Out of UR" Leadership blog site. The follow-up is generating really good conversation -- thoughtful, spiritual, wise, enjoyable, challenging, etc. There is more response to the follow up than there was to the original article.

Debra, this whole exercise in writing definitely came from the course you gave, if you need to point to "results", etc.

Kind regards to all. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, etc.

Nick Overduin.



recent publications

Welcome to the new blog! And thanks, Joonna, for bravely posting first.

Once you are on the blog, look to the upper right for the little "new post" button. Click on that and you will get the posting window. Very simple. Please feel free to ask questions if any function isn't clear. You can ask me or Ron at ron.rienstra@gmail.com.

Also, if you would like your contributor name to link somewhere other than where it now links, just send me or Ron an e-mail to that effect.

When you post, try to fill in a word or two in the labels window at the bottom right of the posting window. Maybe we could agree to use "money" as the label for anything having to do with our project. Once you have used a label, it will be available to choose from the next time anyone posts.

Meanwhile, I am wondering if folks could take a minute to post notice of any recent publications. Jana has posted some great snarky and insightful reviews to her blog (use her link under Contributors). Hope you're all keeping up there. But there's more from this group. Let's hear it.

Al and I have a couple things in the latest Ruminate magazine, a new literary journal. It's a print journal, but they have samples online.



News from Joonna

The posts have been wonderful. Truly. I have to tell you all a story about Karen B. The other day, and pardon me if I've already written about this or she has, we were at a meeting of the faculty. Later I saw her and she said that all she could think was--could we just have our Calvin group back to work and think together with? One does miss the oasis we found in the desert of the summer.
Yes, I'm swamped as well. Unbelievably. Karen and I have had practically no time even for lunch together. But the work is good and mostly fulfilling. I think I've found a use for my 100 bucks. It's not glamorous, but it seems right to me. I'm the treasurer of a new group which is just getting started. The Iowa network for Women in Higher Education. We find ways to foster the growth of women into positions of leadership in all Iowa colleges. Of course, we have no start up funds. So, I'm opening an account this week, and using my hundred bucks as the seed money. We need to apply for non-profit status and do mailouts. Now we have the money to at least get started. Who knows where this will lead? I hope the organization grows....I'll keep you posted.
On another note, my husband was laid off his job this last week. He is looking, but he is also 55 years old. He seems to be fine, but he hides his feelings very well. He really, really loved his job at blue Bunny ice cream as a programmer/analyst. My first thought was that I better not give up a hundred bucks for such a project, but then I rethought and felt that I needed to trust that all things would work together for good as promised. So, I'm still in. And I have the relief that I have thought of something to do with the money.
I miss you all.....we need a reunion!