Monday, February 28, 2005


More from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Self-denial means knowing only Christ, and no longer oneself. It means seeing only Christ, who goes ahead of us, and no longer the path that is too difficult for us. Again, self-denial is saying only: He goes ahead of us; hold fast to him.

I am so not there yet. I'm the one not watching Christ because I'm poking around in the purse: How much is this going to cost? I'm the one not watching Christ because I'm looking down at my own feet, and watching them start to sink under the waves. I'm the one not watching Christ because I'm tired: I know he said, "Stay awake and pray," but I'm just going to rest my eyes for a moment.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Human Trafficking

I'm sitting here watching a "48 Hours" report on the rise of human trafficking, here and abroad. Most of the victims are economically disadvantaged women and children from the East bloc and the developing world. One anti-slavery activist noted that there are now more slaves in the world than ever before in history.

Isn't it...not sure if ironic is the right word...that the self-designated moral guardians of our country are busy critiquing cartoons while all this is going on? Especially since some of the most outspoken abolitionists of the 19th century were Evangelicals?

Curiouser and curiouser.

Breadtime Stories?

On a lighter note...does anyone have a good bread recipe for a small-group Communion service? I have the Luther Seminary recipe in my list o' links, but I'm collecting other recipes. I am looking for something evocatively chewy and "wheaty," but not too crumbly. (I'm remembering back to my college days, when our church janitor had a real crisis of conscience over vacuuming up Christ's body after a particularly messy folk service using homemade bread.) I have a recipe for homemade pita, but I'm afraid that my electric oven won't generate the necessary heat. Thanks, anyone, for any help.

Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life

This Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote comes to me courtesy of my Beliefnet buddy prjp. It is part of a sermon Bonhoeffer preached in conjunction with a baptism. As we live through our own interesting times, it perhaps gains a new relevancy in its new context:

Today you will be baptized a Christian. All those great ancient words of the Christian proclamation will be spoken over you, and the command of Jesus Christ to baptize will be carried out on you, without your knowing anything about it. But we are once again being driven right back to the beginnings of our understanding.Reconciliation and redemption, regeneration and the Holy Spirit, love of our enemies, cross and resurrection, life in Christ and Christian discipleship—all these things are so difficult and so remote that we hardly venture any more to speak of them.In the traditional words and acts we suspect that there may be something quite new and revolutionary, though we cannot as yet grasp or express it. That is our own fault.Our church, which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation to the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christians today will be limited to two things: prayer and action…We are not yet out of the “melting time” and any attempt to help the church prematurely to a new expansion of its organization will merely delay its conversion and purification.It is not for us to prophesy the day (though the day will come) when people will once more be called so to utter the word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will be a new language, perhaps quite nonreligious, but liberating and redeeming, as was Jesus’ language…Till then the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair, but there will be those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time. May you be one of them.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Woman At the Well

As some of you might have ascertained from the name of this little online project, I have something of an acquaintance with the Rev. Kelly Fryer's book Reclaiming the "L" Word: Renewing the Church From Its Lutheran Core. As I read and live with the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, I've found myself thinking about the story in terms of the five "guiding principles" that Fryer and her congregation, Cross of Glory Lutheran Church in Lockport, IL, developed (and copywrited, LutheranChik dutifully notes, for any lawyerly types who may be visiting here) for their faith community as they live into the future. So...let's go to the videotape:

Jesus is Lord. Not "community standards." Not Religious Bigshots Du Jour. Not The Rules. Not "the way we've always done it before." So what do we see Jesus doing in this story? Engaging...including...inviting...all in defiance of the way it 'sposed to be according to the dominant culture.

Everyone is welcome. Including, it would seem, a half-caste, heretical female of questionable virtue who might be described as, in the words of an ex-Texan friend, "rode hard and put up wet."

Love changes people. Shown love and acceptance, treated like a member of Jesus' immediate family instead of something disgusting that's stuck to the bottom of his sandal, this woman -- who probably approached that well in a full-body clench, expecting either a faceful of spit or the ancient Palestinian equivalent of a Barry White come-on ("Hey, it hot out here, or is that just you?") -- becomes not only a budding theologian, but in the end a very persuasive preacher of the Word. I mean, compared to Nicodemus, the Religious Bigshot we met last Sunday, she kicks fanny. "Who knew?..."

Everybody has something to offer. See above. "Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony..."

The world needs what we have. "They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.'"

This is the way the Church -- which is to say, all of us -- should operate. It's the way our congregations should operate. If they don't, why not?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Meet My Spiritual Director

This is my dog, Cody, aka The Codeman. Here he's sitting next to his very favorite human being in the whole mother. (Not that I am bitter.) Actually, spiritual direction is just a part-time gig for him; his main jobs are to make sure we stick very closely to the daily household schedule (he herds me out the door to work each morning with the vigor and intensity of a border collie), and to sit next to Mom whenever possible.

Over the years Cody has taught me many valuable spiritual lessons. At the dinner table (especially on days when chicken is on the menu), he models the kind of holy beggary that Luther noted in his own mutt and commended as the proper attitude of the Christian -- a gazing heavenward with simple, patient faith that God loves us and will take care of us. Cody also reminds me, when I need to be reminded, that it's not all about me. (He's quite convinced it's all about him.) But, most of all, Cody has led me to a most profound truth about walking the path of faith:

Before enlightenment: Scoop poop.
After enlightenment: Scoop poop.

This is most certainly true. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Orare et Labore

It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren. -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from "Life Together"

This past Sunday I was pray-er during our Prayers of the Church -- recruited on the spot when our designated pray-er came down with laryngitis. (This is how it works at our place on any given Sunday -- one moment you're sitting in the pew, minding your own business, and the next moment you're front and center. Which is why, each Sunday morning before I depart for church, I need to be very careful about always wearing the same color shoe on each foot...but that's a story for a different day.)

During Lent, we ask people to write their prayer requests on small slips of paper, which we collect, then read aloud. Now, offering these petitions aloud is a humbling experience -- not only because of the numerous glitches that inevitably occur during live church ("Uh-oh...I can't read this...does it say angina or Aunt Ginny?..."), but because of the incredible trust implicit in my fellow parishoners' sharing their inmost concerns with the rest of us. Some people write poignant mini-essays on their slips, detailing difficult family situations or their own internal struggles; other people simply scribble a first name. We offer them all up in faith; "Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer."

Prayer is holy work. It's what we're supposed to be doing for one another; not as some pseudo-pious exercise in "team-building," but because we mean it, and because it matters. I'm ever more convinced of this. And when I neglect my own daily prayer time, as I'm sometimes wont to do, I'm later nagged by the thought that I'm letting people down. I don't want to let people down anymore. Something to work on this Lenten season.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Nature Note

(You really didn't think that I spend all my time brooding about theology, did you?)

I'm driving back to the office from lunch, taking a shortcut through the snowy alley of a strip mall on our main drag, when I notice a strange dark shape up ahead. The shape moves. I slow to a creep and approach. It's a ringnecked pheasant rooster. He's gorgeous; striking mottled buff plumage, with a shimmering, irridescent neck and elegantly long, striped tail. I'm about a yard away from him, thinking that he'll scurry into the weedy vacant lot next door, when he suddenly explodes into the air right over the hood of my car, almost touching the windshield, and glides onto the roof of the local delicatessen, a living kite with his beautiful banded tail trailing behind him like a banner.

There are days when I think that I am going to spontaneously combust from the multiple frustrations of living in a small town. There are other days when -- well, when you can almost reach out and touch a ringnecked pheasant in an alley behind a strip mall. I don't think this happens in Manhattan.

Monday, February 21, 2005

My Cross to Bear

This is the cross I wear every it from silversmith Alice Landis at an art fair many years ago. When I went through what I like to call my theological tantrum in my mid-30's, and divested my life of all things Christian, this cross somehow managed to survive, tangled in the flotsam and jetsam at the bottom of my jewelry box. When I was again "clothed and in my right mind," I was happy to find it there. So we have a history. And my cross is a little bit like me -- tarnished and rough around the edges, lost for awhile and found again. Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Today we heard the story of Nicodemus, the bigshot Pharisee who pays Jesus a secret nighttime visit and asks him, "We know there's something special about you. What's the rest of the story?" Jesus' enigmatic response completely flummoxes Nicodemus, who seems to be a real "Follow the shoe!" kind of guy.

That's the temptation, anyway -- to diss poor Nicodemus in this story. We hear the Gospel, we nod sagely -- "Well, of course we know what Jesus means! But that Nicodemus -- what a blockhead." My Lenten devotional reading today is from Kierkegaard, and even he takes a rhetorical swing at the Pharisee: "Despite the risk to his reputation, despite the effort on his part, Nicodemus was only an admirer. He never became a follower."

Hey...not so fast.

Nicodemus' response to Jesus is not so different from my own, much the time: "What? What did you say?" When Jesus says things like "Pray for the people who persecute you," or "Sell all you have and come, follow me," or "Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back isn't fit to be my disciple," my reaction tends to be along the lines of the original listeners who shook their heads and said, "Who can listen to this stuff?" So I can't get, as my grandparents would say, all high and holy about any presumption to superior, Real Christian[tm] insight on my part.

And...when do we find Nicodemus again in the Gospel of John? Near the end of the story. Jesus is dead. His disciples have bailed. Nicodemus is one of the people who risk their own reputations to make sure that Jesus -- dead criminal, seditionist, blasphemer, failure, as shameful and unclean as one can be -- gets a decent burial. However confused Nicodemus was after his initial encounter with Jesus, no matter how much head-scratching ensued over trying to get Jesus...Nicodemus came back.

I "came back" too. Even though Jesus -- aka The CEO, in whom and through whom and for whom all things were made, but who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing -- still blows my mind. So maybe I have a soft spot in my heart for Nicodemus...another dazed and confused person who, despite everything, just can't stay away from Christ.

The Nail in My Pocket

I'm carrying a nail in my pocket.

We have several dozen nails sitting up by our baptismal font at church. We've been invited to take one and carry it around for the duration of Lent, symbolically living our own struggle and pain and sorrow into it. On Good Friday, we will be pounding these nails into a board, nailing our suffering to the Cross; later, these same nails will be incorporated into our new building addition.

I've decided that I want to carry my nail, not only for myself, but also on behalf of all the walking wounded who have in some way been kicked in the teeth by the Church -- who have been rejected...excluded...patronized...unloved. Perhaps in one of those "big issue" ways that get Church folks all riled up. Perhaps in personal, individual, but equally painful ways. People who may in their heart of hearts be absolutely in love with Jesus Christ, but who feel the need to be protected from Christ's self-proclaimed representatives and followers; who feel as if they are always going to be left standing outside the church door.

If any of you are reading this: My Lenten nail is also for you. I want to carry it for you. On Good Friday I want to pound the hell out of it for you. And know that, someday, our new sanctuary is going to hold, right in its very bones, in that nail, your story. My Church is your Church too.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

You Too Can Be a Lutheran Chick

An attempt to serve both God and Mammon? You decide. I think they're kinda cute.

Lay Mis(sionary)

Just got back from my first Lay Missionary Training Program retreat weekend. It's a chemically unenhanced college flashback -- I'm dressed in rumpled sweats, I'm so exhausted that I could put my head on my desk and fall asleep right now, and my brain is ready to explode with all the knowledge that's been stuffed into it in the last 48 hours. All that's missing is beer and The Who.

Not that I'm complaining. I'm grinning from ear to ear (at least I think I am...I'm too tired to feel my face) .

This is a program designed to help empower laypeople to better serve the Church in a variety of ways. I've known about it for several years, and have resisted getting involved for almost as long. Part of it was the name -- for some reason it conjured up images of Katharine Hepburn in "The African Queen" or some frothing nutcase smashing idols with an axe. Part of it was simple fear. Part of it was the idea that I needed to wait until things -- things in my life, things in the Church -- were "right." And I help out in my parish now; what substantive difference would this training make?

Every once in awhile I'd get a nudge from my pastor, a former LMTP mentor: "Hey, maybe you should think about that program. I think you'd really love it." Or one of my online friends would suggest that I pursue some type of ministerial training. I could shrug these off. But then...well, when The CEO comes headhunting, the pressure is on. Talk about "The Hound of Heaven." I kept backing down the hallway...The CEO kept coming closer, with that smile and wink and beckoning finger. "You don't really want me," I protested. I kept backing up; The CEO kept approaching.

"Nooooooooooooooooooo!" I sounded like Mr. Bill.

Finally I ran into a wall. The CEO put his hands on my shoulders.

"You're hired!" he whispered in my ear. (For the record, The CEO has much better hair than The Donald.)

So that's how I wound up spending two days in a church fellowship hall with thirty other people -- most of whom, interestingly, report similar recruitment techniques on the part of The CEO -- cramming three weeks of Old Testament class into a few hours...spending a few more hours studying the Creeds of the Church and "name that heresy"...worshipping...eating...sharing our faith stories and describing our experiences at our parishes. I met some amazing people: An older gentleman who until about five years ago could not read at all, but wanted desperately to learn how to read so he could read the Bible; now he is a lector at his church, and an enthusiastic advocate for community literacy programs. A few restless retirees, active in their churches but wanting more. A quietly intense woman with a tupelo-honey accent whose evening reading of the Psalms was like music, and who actually got a bunch of Lutherans to shout "Amen!" (Near-miraculous, that.) A pastor whose pre-seminary journey out of and back into Christianity was eerily similar to mine, who gave me an encouraging word -- more than one. A couple of people with surprising, six-degree connections to friends from the past. All people who have spent some serious living time -- who, in the words of "The Velveteen Rabbit," have had some fur rubbed off somewhere, somehow, in the process of becoming Real.

I'm liking this. A lot. Thanks be to God.

Martin of Erfurt

It was 6 am on Friday, and I was praying the Morning Prayer via the Daily Office website. The website noted it was the commemoration day of "Martin of Erfurt."

Because it was 6 am, and because I'd not yet fed the caffeine monkey, it took me about a half a minute to process who "Martin of Erfurt" was: "Hmmm...I've heard of Martin of Tours...Erfurt...Germany...Holy Wah!* That's our Marty!"

I have to admit, that of all the "L" words that I can use to describe myself, sometimes "Lutheran" is the hardest to vocalize. Because Brother Martin makes people crazy. He makes me crazy half the time, the dumbass things he said about Jews, about women, about activist peasants...pretty much about anyone who disagreed with him. When he did say good things -- wonderful things, even -- about Christ, about grace, about the Sacraments, about the sacredness of everyday life -- I often find myself quoting him in an anonymous manner, out of embarrassment over the other things: "A famous theologian of the 16th century once said..."

Yeah. Luther could be a jerk.

Then again, so can I. A real jerk. In thought, word and deed.

This weekend I was part of a training retreat for my synod's Lay Missionary Training Program (more about that later). For part of the weekend we studied the Genesis accounts of the patriarchs and matriarchs -- a lot of jerklike behavior among that lot: A guy who passes his wife off (literally) as his sister; the wife giving her maid to him to impregnate, then driving the maid and her child into the desert to die; a son who, taking right after the old man, passes off his wife as his sister, to save his skin; a grandson, egged on by a mother right out of "The Manchurian Candidate," who cheats his brother out of his birthright and his father's special blessing. When our facilitator, an OT prof, asked our group what some of the underlying themes were in these stories, one of my fellow students put it succinctly: "God can even use jerks."

That morning at our celebration of the Eucharist the pastor-in-residence referred to Luther as a "nuisance," and she pointed out that the Church often really needs nuisances to call it to account and keep it honest.

I don't want to be a jerk. But a nuisance...let me think about that for awhile.

In the meantime..."Almighty God, we praise you for the men and women you have sent to call the Church to its tasks and renew its life, such as your servant Martin. Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit, whose voices will give strength to your Church and proclaim the reality of your reign; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

*LutheranChik gives a shout-out to any readers living north of the Mighty Mac...I just love listening to you folks talk.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Office Call

I love The Daily Office . It is not an exaggeration to say that following it on a daily basis has changed my life, and my faith, in a profound way.

For those of you who think of daily devotionals as the spiritual equivalent of flossing -- a healthy but onerous and easily forgettable discipline -- try the the Compline, the prayer service for the close of day. It is such a beautiful and healing way to end the evening. Here's a prayer from the Compline:

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here's another:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all your love's sake. Amen.

If you want to dip a toe into the Daily Office as a personal prayer discipline, start with the Compline. Or the Noon Prayer -- brief yet meaningful, a good reality check while you're sitting at your desk at work.

How it worked for me: After several weeks of praying the Compline, I felt that it might be nice to try the Noon Prayer. After a few weeks of that, I started wanting to read more Scripture, so I added the Evening Prayer. After a few weeks of that, the Morning Prayer felt like a good idea. I'd be fibbing to say that I pray every prayer every day, but I do like bookending my days with the Morning and Evening Prayer.

Try it. And if you have an LBW handy, and have more musical aptitude than LutheranChik (who sounds like a rusty hinge), sing it, even.

The Semi-Pelagian Narrower Catechism

Thanks to my friend Mel on Beliefnet for sharing this, courtesy of the Manila Drive blog, in the Lutheranism forum...we've been having a good collective chuckle over it.

I've only recently gotten acquainted with blogs, and there are some great ones out there -- "This is most certainly true." One of these days, when my HTML skills improve, I will list the "blogs in my own eye" here for your reading pleasure.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Lenten Dialogue Group

Here's a Beliefnet Dialogue Group I'm moderating...Towanda is my Beliefnet nom de plume/nom de guerre. Enrollment is closed, unfortunately, but you can still read the discussions. These groups can be great fun, and this is a wonderful bunch of people. (Some of whom have put up with me for three Dialogue Groups now.)

Who Am I and Why Am I Here?

I’m talking to The CEO one evening.

“You know, there don’t seem to be very many Lutheran blogs out there,” I say. “And the ones that I find…well, there’s not a lot of diversity out there, if you know what I mean. The Episcopalians have way cooler blogs. It’s just not fair.”

“So what are you going to do about that?” asks The CEO. (I should mention that The CEO is a rabbi, and has this unnerving habit of answering questions with other questions.)

“I don’t have enough to say to keep a blog going,” I demur.

“How many thousands of posts do you have logged over on Beliefnet? It’s into five figures, isn’t it?”

“But I don’t know HTML,” I protest.

“So what are you going to do about that?”

“I don’t have time to learn HTML,” I squirm. “I don’t have the time to blog. I’m a middle-aged person with responsibilities.”

Law and Order three nights a week? Oh, you’ve got time.” I hate getting busted by The CEO.

[Sigh] “Okay.”

“There’s the Spirit!”

I mean, I’m crazy in love with The CEO, but…jeez, as we say in the Upper Midwest.

Long story short…here I am. I’m a 40-something ELCA broad somewhere in the middle of Michigan’s “mitten.” I work for a nonprofit. I go to a little white clapboard church that sits across from a hayfield, in a hamlet so small that you probably can’t find it unless you’re lost to begin with. My congregation is one of The CEO’s more interesting projects; I’ll probably chat about that once in awhile. I pray the Daily Office and am learning about Ignatian spirituality, so I’ll probably blog about my encounters with Scripture and my experiences as a praying person. And I might share other things – Mom’s stollen recipe, pictures of my dog, stuff like that. I am in the process of finding an HTML tutor – someone with the patience of a nursery school teacher, who can ‘splain things to me like I’m five years old – to help me make this blog look like I know what I’m doing. (No reasonable offers of assistance refused!) So stay tuned for more LutheranChik in the near future.