Sunday, October 30, 2005

Put-and-Take Prayers

No; nothing to do with shooting pheasants.

My congregation's worship committee was also retreating this past week, and one of the ideas they brought back to our church was this: Beginning next week, we'll be placing a prayer request slip in every bulletin. People can fill out a prayer for themselves or others, in a completely anonymous manner. At the end of the service these slips will go into a basket. As people leave, they may take a prayer request out of the basket. If they do, their job, for the next week, becomes praying for that particular person or situation. And this is going to be an ongoing, all-hands-on-deck project from now on.

Another God thing happening in our parish. Someone upstairs must love us.

Like Buttah!

While I was communing with God and my fellow lay ministry students in Michigan's north woods, our church youth group was busy cooking up apple butter...actually, they helped with KP duty while adults with canning expertise actually made the stuff, in a big kettle in our church's back yard.

When I got to church this morning, I got the second-to-last pint of apple butter; it had all been sold, and the kids made $270 for confirmation camp; almost enough tuition for one camper.

They have been busy raising money since this summer, doing everything from making sloppy joes at our church yard sale to hosting an evening spaghetti dinner/talent show. In a couple of weeks they're going to be selling "deer camp care packages" filled with baked goods to sell to the army of hunters that descends upon our area every November.

This is just so cool.

I never got to confirmation camp when I was a kid -- my father, balking at the cost, said, "You don't really want to go there," which in my family was code language for "Fuggetabout it." But I made up for this deficit in my spiritual formation in college, where I got involved in Lutheran Student Movement; one day early in my freshman career I'd seen a poster advertising a regional LSM retreat...thought, "That sounds interesting"...and wound up traipsing with gee-tar and bedroll almost a half mile to The Other Lutheran Student Parish. (I was in the LCMS at the time, so this was very daring behavior...ah, if they only knew it was just the beginning...) I wasn't sure what sort of reception I'd get -- but five minutes after showing up I felt as if I'd met a bunch of long-lost siblings. I had a swell time; kept going back; brought some of my other LCMS friends with me. My experiences at these retreats were so important in my spiritual formation; they played an important role in my learning to speak freely about my faith, in examining social issues from a Christian justice perspective, and in making me comfortable doing worship "front and center"; at LSM retreats I cut my eyeteeth leading small groups and helping write informal liturgies. Even when I felt the most estranged from the Christian faith, many years later, I looked back at those days with a certain discomforting wistfulness. (And in hindsight I think perhaps the Holy Spirit was messing with my head, in a good way, bringing up those happy memories despite my best attempts to shoo them away.)

Long story short, I think that youth ministry is important. I don't think that it is my particular charism, but I have nothing but respect for laypeople and pastors who work with teenagers and young adults. Any way that I can help the kids in my parish enjoy some of the same fellowship and spiritual support that I was blessed to experience in my younger years is time and money well spent, if you ask me.

And this apple butter is...mmmmm...delish. You'll have to take my word for it.

Apple butter Posted by Picasa

Always Reforming

Today was Reformation Sunday at church -- the great annual Lutheran tribal gathering. The church was bedecked in red; the pews were packed; the air was redolent with aromas of various caloric potluck dishes warming up in the kitchen; we sang "A Mighty Fortress" and "The Church's One Foundation"; the tradition lives on for another year.

But more importantly for our congregation, this Sunday was Confirmation Sunday. This is a new thing for us, and perhaps for readers as well; at least when I was a kid, confirmations happened around the Easter season. But we have found that, at our church, we can get junior-high and high school kids involved in religious education if we put them through what amounts to a two-week theological bootcamp and a week of church camp in the summertime...this after easing them through the door with an afterschool program where kids hang out afternoon a week with the pastor, engage in Godtalk, play music, and on occasion go on pastoral-care rounds and help out with various churchly tasks.

This morning eight nervous white-robed confirmands sat in the front row. One of them had been so desperate to attend confirmation class that he intially fibbed about his age so he could get in. (We would have let him in anyway, but it's a great story.) Another, a girl with minimal evident adult support for her faith journey, who got involved with our church through her friends, was recently baptized, and when she was her adolescent peers from confirmation class stood up for her as sponsors. (Which I suspect is probably against "the rules," or falling under the dreaded category of "But we've never done it that way before." But our response as a congregation was happy wonderment -- imagine a bunch of teenagers, unprodded by adult authority figures, being the Church for their friend.)

We followed the liturgy for the Affirmation of Baptism. Each kid was asked the traditional question: "Do you renounce all the forces of evil, the devil and all his empty promises?" A series of quiet responses: "I do." "Do you believe in God the Father?" The entire congregation then joined in, response after response, to affirm the articles of the Creed.

Finally it was time for each kid to be confirmed. As he or she knelt at the altar, our pastor invited parents and godparents to join him in the laying on of hands. And when it came time for our newly baptized, sans-adults teenager to be confirmed, all the rest of her class, her friends/peers/sponsors, stood up in unison, returned to the altar and laid their hands on her.

What should the Church look like? I think at its best it looks a lot like this.

Lutherans like to describe ourselves as catholic, evangelical and reforming. We're catholic because we affirm the witness of the Apostles, the formative theologians and the ecumenical councils of the early Church, and the praxis of worship as has been handed down to us from those times. We are evangelical because our primary goal in being the Church is to proclaim the very good news of God's unconditional, no-strings-attached Yes! to a loving relationship with humankind, personified by Jesus Christ, God With Us. And we are reforming because, whenever some aspect of our life together impedes that message of God's love and grace, we believe that it's our job to make a change. That's the ideal. That's what we strive for.

I am happy and blessed to be a part of a faith community that takes this always- reforming ethos seriously; that tries its darnedest to erase the lines, whatever they may be, that work to keep people outside our church family.

After the service, I was talking with our pastor -- we were both grinning from ear to ear -- about what a great congregation we have, and he said, "I go to these pastoral conferences where other pastors talk about the problems they have keeping their congregations going, and when they ask me why ours is always bucking the trend, I tell them it's because we've made the decision to stop fighting about stuff; about who's 'in' and who's 'out.'"

When the Son sets us free, we are free indeed. Thanks be to God!

Luther Rose, stained glass David Hetland  Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Clicks For Cures

Breast cancer has always been one of those issues that, for me, was something of an abstraction, even though statistically speaking I'm at a somewhat higher risk than average for developing it. Until Melissa Etheridge was diagnosed. Because we're about the same age. And seeing her on the Grammies, while she was undergoing chemo, hit it home: That could be me.

The Breast Cancer Site , one of the sister sites to The Hunger Site , is currently running a campaign to raise money for mammograms for poor/urban/minority women. Those of you familiar with these "donate by click" websites know that all you have to do is click a button on the website, and a small amount of money will be donated by the site underwriters to the cause in question. This isn't a joke; it's the real deal. And this month, every click on The Breast Cancer Site counts triple for fundraising. (You can only click once a day per computer.) So -- g'head. Click it.

I know it's easy to roll one's eyes at these "no pain" fundraising programs. It's not costing us anything, other than a couple minutes of our time; the contributions are miniscule; the websites are junked up with a lot of fundraising bling-bling, feeding the bottomless maw of our aquisitiveness. There's just nothing noble, or sacrificial, in it.

That may be true. But I look at it this way: If I opened my back door one day to find an emaciated child holding out a plate -- I'd feed her, wouldn't I? If I were confronted by a poor woman without health insurance who needed just a couple of bucks to finally get the money to get a mammogram -- I'd dig into my jacket pocket and give her enough money to make up the difference, wouldn't I? It's the same principle. If you know that you can help someone by doing something, even if the something is a dinky little insignificant thing -- you do it. It's a no-brainer.

So -- head over to The Breast Cancer Site and click the button to help fund a mammogram. And check out all those other websites that promote health and literacy and concern for the environment, and give them a click too.

 Posted by Picasa

More Service Stuff

I'm getting ready for my retreat tomorrow...getting packed (strange how much stuff I wind up packing for a retreat), packing two brownbag meals -- the Chik being on the economy lodging plan -- making sure I have all my assignments done. (I tried the Luther Seminary Communion bread recipe, and it didn't come out right either -- I think there's some sort of bad mojo going on with my baking capabilities -- so I wound up going to Plan C, supermarket pita bread. Sigh.)

I'm not going to write up my entire service here, because most of it is out of the hymnal, but here are the parts I tweaked:

The Confession: We confess that we have not loved you with our whole hearts, nor have we loved those whom you love. We confess that we forget "the least of these" among us. We confess that we take comfort in our prejudices, our complacency and our silence when you call us to mend the broken places in our world and to speak the liberating prophetic word, in your name and to your glory. Hear us, O God, for your mercy is great.

I chose Psalm 33 for the Psalm reading. I picked three short Scripture readings -- still, a somewhat heavy load for a Compline service, but it's my liturgy, so there: Isaiah 61:10-11; Hebrews 13:20-21; Matthew 14:14-16.

And you've read my benediction, in the post below.

Every time I read through my work I see things I want to change, but I am resisting the impulse. We'll see how it plays in Peoria (or, more accurately, out in the woods of northern Michigan).

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Work of the People, Indeed!

I've just spent all evening working on the Friday-night service I was assigned for this weekend's retreat.

I've got to tell you -- this is hard. I used to be on my student parish worship committee back in my university days, and helped with a few home-grown liturgies, but this is the first one since my spiritual meanderings took me away, and then back, to the Church.

Our weekend is focused on justice. I wanted to address that...but I also wanted to do it in the context of the Compline, which to me doesn't exactly lend itself to the sort of revved-up prophetic words we're going to be hearing and discussing. But I somehow pulled it together, kind of. We'll see. This time tomorrow I might be Googling "Purpose-Driven Devotionals" or some such thing. (Just kidding.)

Anyway, here's my benediction, which I found elsewhere on the Internet:

A Franciscan Benediction
May God bless us with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger,
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears,
To shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness,
To believe that we can make a difference in this world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

The Write Stuff

Shameless promotion alert! If you scroll down the ol' sidebar, you will see an ad for A Light Blazes in the Darkness. This anthology of Advent essays, including a couple of my own, is a collaborative effort of the RevGalBlogPals webring, of which I'm a member. Not to pressure you into buying our book or anything, but all proceeds go toward Gulf Coast hurricane relief.

And if you're sitting there thinking, "Hmmm...I wonder if I could write a devotional" -- plans are in the works for a follow-up devotional book for the long "green and growing" season after Pentecost. If you might be interested in writing for our new book -- remember, there are a LOT of days in Ordinary Time -- send an e-mail to for more information.

I believe very strongly that the intentional communities we form online are an exciting "new thing" that the Holy Spirit is working in our society. This endeavor is a good read, a wonderful way to introduce others to "holy blogdom," and you'll be helping out people who need it. So journey through Advent with us!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Theses I Will Ponder Now

Since I am going to be busier than Martin Luther in an indulgence-kicking contest this coming weekend, I thought I'd pass this challenge along now: A new inductee into our RevGalBlogPals webring, Jan of A Church For Starving Artists , asks us to name 95 Ways in Which the Church Needs to Change in 2005.

What a great question.

And I'm sure there are many great answers out there.

Feel free to share your ideas here. I'll help get you started .

"In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. The Church needs to reaffirm that Jesus Christ -- not itself as an institution, nor its current or potential members, nor particular ideologies -- is at the very center of its life and mission, its reason for being and its goal, and redirect its energies accordingly, actively listening and responding to Jesus' directive to "Follow me."

2. As a sign of unity within the Body of Christ, in the interest of justice and equity, and as a prophetic message to the dominant culture, the Church needs to affirm full inclusion of all the faithful in the active life of the Church, including leadership positions, and vigorously repudiate bigotry in all its forms both within and without.

3. The Church must reclaim the Reformation's emphasis on educating the laity in the Christian faith, and must create a culture in which religious formation is seen by clergy and laity alike as a lifelong endeavor -- an endeavor which will bring challenge and growth and, yes, at times discomfort.

4. The Church must reclaim the wisdom of its great saints in teaching, promoting and supporting spiritual disciplines that assist all in the Body in their individual and collective faith walks.

5. The Church must reclaim its calling as a nurturer of the fine arts, and encourage excellence and creativity offered to God's glory in service to the people of God and the rest of humanity.

6. The Church must affirm that both religion and science are in the business of telling the truth, and as such are allies, not enemies; and must strongly oppose attempts to create false dichotomies between spiritual truth and scientific truth. you only have 80-something theses to come up with. Have at it!

Question Time

I have written homework for this weekend's lay ministry retreat. Part of the retreat will be spent in class with our synodical bishop, talking about justice in the Church. To prepare for that, we've all been asked to write responses to these two questions:

What is your understanding of justice?

In what areas should the church be responsive to injustice?

Hmmm. Hmmm.

I know what I'm writing.

In the meantime...discuss amongst yourselves.

Monday, October 24, 2005

St. James of Jerusalem, Bishop and Martyr

James of Jerusalem’s feast day tends not to be a major red-letter day on the Lutheran calendar. Martin Luther had, as they say, issues with the emphasis on good works in the Epistle of James (thought to have been, if not actually written by James, then written for him); Luther’s friend Phil Melancthon had to do some major convincing to get Luther to consider that James’ and Paul’s respective viewpoints on grace and works were perhaps complementary and not contradictory, and even then I don’t think Marty really bought it.

So, anyway, perhaps it’s not surprising that I didn’t give St. James the blog-nod on his special day, this past Sunday. (That and my preoccupation with pancakes.) But in thinking about him, I’ve decided to take another look.

James is widely identified as Jesus’ brother – which, depending upon your theological point of view, may mean anything from biological brother to stepbrother to cousin. If this is true, then he was among those family members who didn’t get Jesus; who at one point even decided that Jesus was off his rocker, and came in an entourage to fetch him back home, presumably before he further shamed the family and got into more trouble. Yet James was one of those to whom the resurrected Jesus appeared. He became a leader of the nascent Christian movement, along with apostles Peter and John. James and Paul had a dust-up about the propriety of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians eating together, which apparently was resolved when Paul successfully argued his case, and James and the others finally gave their blessing to Paul’s ministry. James was known throughout the early Church for his goodness, hence the moniker “James the Just,” and his piety; even his detractors among the Pharisees gave him good-behavior points for his observance of the Law. (Although James nonetheless wound up being martyred for his faith.)

As I’ve been thinking about James, and what his life may have to say to us centuries later, one of the things that comes to mind is grace...and the freedom to be wrong. How would you like to be, not only one of the many who’d gotten it wrong about Jesus, but one who was also Jesus’ own flesh and blood? I wonder how often, after Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to James, that James replayed the details of their life together, and the events of their last few years of apparent estrangement, thinking of all the times that he’d been dismissive of or disgusted with or ashamed of his brother. How many times do you think he pounded himself in the head? D’oh! I know that’s what I would have done. But what went on during that reunion of brothers that transformed and empowered James to become one of the great leaders of the early Church? And how did that experience of being wrong in a really big way inform James’ later experience of coming to the realization that the Holy Spirit might be moving the young Church in an unexpected, broadly inclusive direction, and having the courage to publicly change his mind?

James reminds us that we don’t always get it right. And that, thank God, we don’t have to. Jesus keeps showing up nonetheless, pulling us back on our feet and setting us in a right direction. That’s really good news. Thank you, James of Jerusalem, for reminding us of that.

St. James of Jerusalem, Bishop and Martyr Posted by Picasa

In-a-Gadda-Da-Pita, Baby

This is what happens when little grade-school nerds grow up: One of my jobs at my retreat this weekend is bringing the Communion bread. So, around 6:00 p.m. last night, I get this brilliant idea: I'll make it myself! And then I get an even more brilliant idea: I'll make pita bread! I've never made pita bread before, but that's just a minor complication in an excellent kitchen adventure.

I get out my trusty old friend Uprisings: The Whole Grain Baker's Book, an artifact from my crunchy-granola college days. I make a sponge with two teaspoons of yeast, a cup of warm water, a tablespoon of honey and a cup of whole wheat flour. I let that sit for awhile, then stir it down and add about 3 and a quarter more cups of flour, a tablespoon and a half of oil and a half-teaspoon of salt. I knead that for awhile, then let it sit for awhile, then punch it down, roll it into about 5 balls, roll the balls into flat circles with a rolling pin and let the circles rise for about 45 minutes.

Now comes the tricky part. Pita bread has to be baked in a really, really, really hot oven, or the pockets don't pop. My recipe calls for 500 degrees -- the hottest temperature my oven is capable of. I don't think I've ever cranked up the oven to 500 degrees before. But I do it, placing a flat pan on the lowest rack to preheat.

The moment of truth: The oven light goes off and I quickly slip two dough rounds onto my preheated pan. I watch through the oven window: Yes! They're puffing up! Whoo-hoo! Another kitchen first for moi! I imagine myself pulling a Martha Stewart, smugly explaining to my admiring friends, "Oh, they look like they're a lot of work, but they're really quite easy and fast to make."

When the rounds come out of the oven I tap them on top. They sound promisingly hollow. But then I slice into one -- What has it got in its pocketses? -- and find...solid bread. I's a decent whole-wheat bread. But it's just...bread. Darn.

A serving of humility to go with my complex carbohydrates.

If anyone out there has ever managed to pop a pocket in your pitas, let me know how you did that. In the meantime, I think I need to go to Plan B...boughten bread.

Strange breadfellows Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tough Love

"We Christians are really lucky," exclaimed a pastor of my acquaintance, preaching on this text one Sunday. "Our Jewish friends have 613 -- 613 -- commandments to follow, and we only have two!"

The joke, of course, was on us. Because, as the pastor explained, the two we have, that we've been given in today's Gospel reading, are the basis for Judaism's 613 mitzvot; they are the why to their what.

What does it look like, do you think, when someone loves God with all her heart...all her soul...all her mind...all her strength? What does it look like when someone loves his neighbors, looks out for his neighbors, helps his neighbors, in exactly the same way that he takes care of himself?

I have to tell you, I don't know what it would look like if I did those things, because I don't. Not all the time. Every great once in awhile I will experience perhaps a flash, a fleeting moment, where those things may be the case, but the very act of noting that introduces an element of inward-turning that effectively ends that moment.

Just two commandments: Love God with your whole heart. Love other people the way you love yourself. How difficult can that be?

Shema, stained glass, Temple Valley Beth Shalom, Encino, CA 

Jesus Washing His Disciples' Feet, Tiffany, Montclair UCC 

Diary of a Delinquent Churchgoer

I stayed home from church today.

It was the one Sunday this month that we weren't doing anything special at our parish, and/or where I didn't have a job to do front and center. My mother -- for whom getting ready for church on Sunday mornings is equivalent to preparing for an ascent up K2; that's what happens to you when you hit your 80's -- wasn't keen on going to church today. I'm headed on retreat this coming weekend, which means a double-dose of church. The aching Gordian knot in my upper back, which only goes away on weekends, was still in the process of loosening up Saturday night. And I wanted pancakes.

So that is what we did...stayed in bed until 8:00 a.m. Then we had pancakes. They were very good. Then I prayed the Morning Prayer, and noted with irony the first appointed Psalm ("I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go the house of the Lord'..."), and the Old Testament lesson, from the Book of Haggai, talking about the complacent and irreligious lolling around in their own houses while the house of the Lord lies in ruins. Yeah, I get it.

But sometimes -- sigh -- you just need to loll.

Friday, October 21, 2005

LC's Friday Five

What was the last CD you purchased?
"Guard Us Sleeping," by the Brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist

Did you like it?

Is it the kind of music you would call your favorite?
Let's say it's on my short list.

What was the first album (CD for you youngsters) you ever owned?
The Beatles' classic "Revolver," which an extremely indulgent maiden aunt (who otherwise wouldn't have known the Fab Four from Fab detergent)bought me for Christmas one year when I was about 13, because she knew I liked the Beatles. (This was back in the day, kids, when grocery stores had bins of LP records; that's where she'd found my album.)

And what was your favorite cut from that recording?
I'm not sure I had a favorite...I remember enjoying all the musical experimentation -- George's sitar music, the electronic monkeying-around on "Tomorrow Never Knows."

Friday Botanical Blogging

A very Maxfield Parrish moment outside our satellite office this morning at about 8:00 as the sun was still rising. This tree is across the street from our building; it's absolutely gorgeous.

We are expecting wind, rain and even snow showers this weekend, meaning a soggy end to most of our autumn color. Ah, well -- it was lovely while it lasted.

Fleeting autumn beauty Posted by Picasa

Is Dis a Movement?...

Folks who know me know that I frequently pound on my bully pulpit about Lutherans' lack of emphasis on adult spiritual formation. ("There she goes again!...") Well...yesterday my heart was cheered, perusing the Fisher's Net website for continuing education, to find an upcoming online book discussion of Lisa Dahill's Truly Present: Practicing Prayer in the Liturgy . You bet I've signed up for this. Check it out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

For that beloved physician
All praise, whose Gospel shows
The healer of the nations,
The one who shares our woes.
Your wine and oil, O Savior,
Upon our spirits pour,
And with true balm of Gilead
Anoint us evermore. -- Horatio Bolton Nelson, "By All Your Saints in Warfare"

Almighty God, you inspired your servant Luke the physician to reveal in his Gospel the love and healing power of your Son. Give your Church the same love and power to heal, to the glory of your name; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

St. Luke, Edward Burne-Jones, Lanercost Priory, 1877 Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bugged By the Common Cup?

Not really, according to this study .

The Apples of My Eye

Inspired by a post on Feminary about gleaning fruit, I took Mom and the dog on a leaf-peeping/apple-hunting excursion around our county yesterday afternoon...sampling wild apples growing along the side of the road. It has been a fantastic growing season for all kinds of fruit, and even the neglected "volunteer" roadside trees -- perhaps the products of a farmer's or schoolkid's discarded core lobbed over the fence many years ago -- are bent over with apples. Some of the trees were next to farm fields, or even at the edge of wooded areas; one tree grew in front of a long-abandoned township hall building. When we got home we had a little tasting party, and some of these were very good...the little ones you see in the photo below were especially tasty. I would hope that some of our financially hurting families in the area -- and there are many -- might avail themselves of some of this free bounty.

Blessed are you, our Sovereign God, Creator of the Universe, who brings forth fruit from the earth.

A different kind of road apple

Sunday, October 16, 2005

What Bible is He Reading?...

What we're trying to show really is that following Christ is normal, balanced, intelligent, fun, family-centered, which is what it's supposed to be. -- Luis Palau, interviewed at his Evangelism Festival at the National Mall, as broadcast on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS.

Lord, have mercy.

"Jesus Rejected at Nazareth," Alexandre Bida Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 15, 2005

In God's Treasury

Adam, the first human being, was created as a single person to show forth the greatness of the Ruler who is beyond all rulers, the Blessed Holy One. For if a human ruler mints many coins from one mold, they all carry the same image, they all look the same. But the Blessed Holy One shaped all human beings in the Divine Image, as Adam was…And yet not one of them resembles another. (Sanhedrin 38a)

Well, here I was, all ready to wax eloquent (or at least wax) on Sunday's Gospel lesson. And then I found this .

There's really not a lot to add to Rabbi Waskow's essay. As freed, forgiven, called people of God, we know who we are, and we know Whose we are, as Jesus reminds his interrogators in the Gospel text. The question we can now ask ourselves, the one we can live into from now on, is: How can we, "minted" in God's image and redeemed by Christ, gratefully and lovingly respond to God's tremendous investment in us?

A denarius (photo from Ancient Greek and Roman Coins) Posted by Picasa

Hey Sister, Go Sister, Soul Sister, Go Sister

Teresa of Avila is something of an unknown quantity in most Lutheran circles...but today is her commemoration day.

A plaster saint she ain't: A rambunctious teenager...a reluctant convent student who wound up running away from home back to the convent...a reformer who sought to bring discipline, purpose and equity back to a religious order that had become a class-stratified ecclesiastical Cinderella story, with nuns from rich families living a sort of nonstop debutante ball all day while their poorer sisters were kept segregated and marginalized...a teacher and spiritual intellectual and mystic whose spiritual experiences and ideas often got her on the wrong side of the powers that be...a Doctor of the Church (posthumously, of course) individual crazy in love with Christ...and a tough broad with a sense of humor, who according to one story could even get away with back-sassing the Lord himself. (Teresa, on the lam from her latest tussle with the church authorities, falls off her ride. As she's sprawled in the road, cartoon stars spinning around her head, bemoaning her circumstances, she experiences Christ telling her, "This is what happens to my friends." Teresa to Christ: "That's why you have so few of them.") A right-on woman, in other words; someone good to know.

Almighty God, we praise you for the women and men you have sent to call the Church to its tasks and renew its life, such as your servant Teresa. 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 your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

St. Teresa of Avila by Janet McKenzie  Posted by Picasa

My Saturday Ten

As many of you know from reading about my Five Idiosyncrasies, I am an out-and-proud procrastinator, so it will probably not surprise you that I am a day late with this week's RevGal Friday Five, and a week late with the last Friday Five. Well, now you will learn much more about me than you probably thought you would. Or that you really would ever want to. Anyhow...for the next several paragraphs, it's all about me:

What is your earliest memory of church?
I remember dangling my little Mary-Janed feet from a pew of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, in the neighborhood where I grew up -- a quaint old brick church, still standing but, sadly, unused and looking the worse for wear these days -- enjoying the sung liturgy and fascinated by the large painting of Jesus the Good Shepherd up at the front of the sanctuary; a kind, welcoming Jesus, with a Scripture verse in German,in gold Fraktur print at the bottom.

How old were you when you first took Communion?
Fourteen, and newly confirmed, with smarting earlobes from my newly pierced ears -- my confirmation present from the 'rents -- terrified that the wafer would lodge on my upper palate and I wouldn't be able to swallow it.

What is your favorite Bible verse/passage?
The entire Gospel of John, particularly Jesus' farewell discourse.

What verse/passage nicks you uncomfortably?
The sermons and parables in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus is setting the bar really, really, really high in terms of our loving and forgiving the people around us. Gulp.

What's your favorite hymn or praise song? (Please tell me it's not "Shine, Jesus, Shine." Some of our members will cry.)Don't worry; that's not it. (Oy veh.) No, it's really Earth and All Stars...the lines about the "loud boiling test tubes" and "loud building workers" and "loud praying members" choke me up every time.

Just kidding.

You know, it really depends on what day it is; I hate being pinned down to just one hymn. Holy, Holy, Holy, Beautiful Savior , O Sacred Head Now Wounded , At the Name of Jesus , "All Creatures of Our God and King" and Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise are on the short list, though...I mean, relatively speaking, since it's obviously not a short short list. Oh -- and I can't forget A Mighty Fortress -- which I've found to be a comforting, empowering hymn at times when I am feeling particularly beaten up and disheartened over The Troubles in the Church; an appropriation that I'm sure would send some of the folks on the other side into foaming fits of righteous apoplexy.

The weather in your location:
A lovely, breezy fall day, about 60 degrees, sunshine alternating with overcast skies and a few sprinkles. Autumn has been very slow in coming here because of unseasonably warm temperatures, but the leaves around my house seem to have colored up, as we say, overnight.

Where you are typing this?
From my mother's chair in our living room. My mother, in turn, is in what we refer to as the dog's chair (picture Frasier's dad's battered La-Z-Boy, and you have some idea of the condition of this piece of furniture), because the dog wants her there with him. He's quite insistent about this; he herds her there until she sits down and then whines until she picks him up and puts him next to her. Good thing he's a Maltese and not, say, a Great Dane.

Where you might like to be sitting if you could be anywhere? Oh, let's see...I'd like to be sitting in the Phoenix Cafe, in a quiet, mostly tourist-free downtown Beulah, Michigan, with a mug of their delicious locally roasted Fair Trade coffee and one of their fantastic ginger scones, grooving to some jazz. (Actually, I'm sitting here with my own cup of Fair Trade coffee, grooving to some jazz, so I'm halfway there.) Or maybe I'd like to be sitting on a bench taking a breather while walking down one of the area Rail Trails.

A chore you have to do this weekend: Getting my blood drawn for my six-month cholesterol test, mowing the lawn and washing outside windows. Two down, one to go.

Something delightful you will do or would like to do this weekend:
I haven't reached my leaf-peeping quotient yet this year; I'd like to just ride around and do that. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday Botanical Blogging

Along the road on my walking route Posted by Picasa

Asters along the road Posted by Picasa

More local color Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"No Hands But Ours..."

Blogfriends Annie and *Christopher have been thinking and praying about our grace-ful response, as people of God, to the disasters that have been buffeting the planet. They have challenged their readers, in the Anglican Communion and beyond, to pray and to work on behalf of all who are suffering. Here is their letter:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer have a long foundation in the Christian tradition stemming from our Jewish matrix. This triple counsel calls us to share signs of tangible grace with one another, reminding each of us to live in such a way that our very lives declare “God is gracious and bountiful, generous and merciful.”

Our holiness is found in loving our neighbor as ourselves. Many saints past knew this. Fasting was not simply a matter of individual piety, but a matter of personal responsibility to sisters and brothers with whom we are intertwined. And so we find St. Catherine of Sienna fasting and giving her meals away to the hungry. We find Desert Elders selling their woven wares to purchase food not for themselves, but for those without sustenance.

In the last few weeks, a series of natural disasters have ravaged the earth, striking brothers and sisters far and near. Some leaders within the Christian community have taken this as a sign of God’s wrath, singling out one or another sort and condition of human being for blame. Others are speaking up about taking care of our own first.

Rather than seeking to lay blame, to raise dividing walls for deciding who is our neighbor, or to get caught up in speculation about the end of days, we choose to discern in the signs of the times, that now is always the time for solidarity with those who are suffering. The signs of the times call us to live graciously as our Heavenly Father is gracious toward us.

To this end, we pledge to be signs of God’s generosity through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in solidarity in a particular way with our brothers and sisters: To begin each day with the Lord’s Prayer, remembering that the Bread of Heaven at Holy Eucharist is intricately tied to striving so that all shall have daily bread; to abstain from a meal or simplify our eating habits each day; and to give the cost of this meal or savings from simplified eating to Episcopal Relief and Development or equivalent relief organizations for the work of disaster relief amongst our sisters and brothers both far and near.

At a time when our Communion is impaired by conflict and many search far and wide for signs of God’s tangible grace, we invite you to join us in the work of Christ, living into our Baptismal Covenant as we seek to serve Christ in all peoples, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

lux Christi vobis,
*Christopher and Annie

To all my fellow Lutherans, and to others of good will, reading this blog: I challenge you, as I have challenged myself, to join in this effort. I know that many of us are laboring under tight budgets, anxiety about our jobs and life commitments, and other stressors that often make us feel disempowered and overwhelmed; that tend to turn us inward. Yet Christ's "Follow me" is a call to follow him into the heart of the world's suffering and want. But he also promises to stand by us, to walk with us, and to give us his peace -- a peace that helps us "give until it hurts" with joy and gratitude and compassion.

So please feel free to copy this letter and issue your own challenge on your weblog, and/or link to this post, and/or copy the artwork. Please share this message with other online friends and favorite websites; pass it along to your faith community. Please share information about how to contribute to your church's relief agency, and other agencies helping disaster survivors. And please share your experiences as you undertake the suggested disciplines, as an encouragement to others.

Not only do I thank you for taking this letter, and my own postscript, to heart, but I thank God for you; because I know that, through this amazing online community, through your hands becoming Christ's hands in the world, God's love and mercy will be made real for many. Soli Deo gloria!

 Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Giving Peace a Chance

Good news: My online friend and I have resolved our conflict. I'm glad not to be sad about this anymore.

Recite Impaired

So I'm listening to these tapes, by the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, on how to chant the Psalter. They're great. You need not have any musical training whatsoever to get going. She starts you out simply singing the Psalms in a soft monotone, until you're comfortable with that, and then adding one note, and then trying other notes. I can do this. (Even though it makes the other two members of my family look at me funny.) And the act of practicing these simple exercises has helped me remember other tones I have heard back in the days when I belonged to a congregation that chanted the Psalms.

But here's what I've found interesting: For the past couple of days, I've had these simple melodies running through my head, longing for Psalms...but I'm in my car, or in some other place where I have no access to a psalter. And it's made me a little sad that I don't have more Scripture memorized. The same thing happens if I try to pray the Noonday Prayer or Compline in a place where I have no access to a prayer book; I can remember most of it, but not all of it, and it frustrates me; you'd think it would be imprinted in my brain by now, but it isn't.

Memorization is something of a dirty word in pedagogical circles these days. This wasn't always the case. My parents grew up at a time when recitation of memorized material was expected. One of my uncles memorized William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis in its entirety when he was in school. My dad had to memorize the responses in Luther's Small Catechism in German and in English.

Sometimes I think we lose individually and collectively in not having more touchstones of our faith and culture within easy access of our memories. Contrast our contemporary disdain for rote memorization with cultures proud of their oral tradition, where professional poets and storytellers can recite the great epics of their people verbatim, sometimes for hours or even days.

Imagine being in, say, a prison, or displaced, or traveling, without a Bible or hymnal or prayer book; how hard would it be to keep our connection to The Story, and to one another as the community of faith, without these things?

Psalm 119 puts it this way:

With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Good Grief! I'm Rerun!

You are Rerun!

Which Peanuts Character are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Saints Be Praised

One thing about following a Church calendar -- sometimes it's hard to keep up with all those minor festivals and commemorations. But these two individuals are good for us all to know, and thank God for.

If you have ever enjoyed reading or listening to New Testament texts from the King James Version of the Bible, you can thank William Tyndale ,
who translated all the New Testament and part of the Old Testament into English -- a very dangerous thing to do at the start of the Reformation. Tyndale was passionate about making the Scriptures available in the vernacular of the people. When Tyndale was forbidden from working in England, he left the country under an assumed name and traveled to Germany and the Low Countries, where he met Martin Luther and other Reformers and began translating and printing pocket-sized editions of English-language Bibles, to be smuggled back into England. Because of a friend's indiscretion, Tyndale was discovered, accused of heresy, strangled and burned outside of Brussels in 1536. Subsequently, Tyndale's translation was incorporated almost word for word into the Authorized Version. Tyndale is remembered by the Church on October 6.

October 7 is the commemoration day of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg , sometimes called the Father of American Lutheranism, a German pastor from Halle sent to help lead scattered, pastorless and sometimes fractious Lutheran congregations in America, starting in colonial Philadelphia. Muhlenberg soon found himself traveling the new country extensively by horseback, ship and even canoe, working tirelessly not only to pastor extant Lutheran congregations but also found new ones. He helped Lutheran faith communities clearly define themselves in a culture where they were a religious minority, and sought to set a tone in the American Lutheran community of "practical, active Christianity"; he created common liturgies and a common service book; he helped congregations used to operating under the Old Country state-church model learn to govern themselves in ways more appropriate to their new circumstances; he strove for connection and cooperation between Lutheran congregations. Muhlenberg also became the patriarch of a famous family that included noted clergy, scientists and a decorated Revolutionary War hero.

Gracious Lord, in every age you have sent women and men who have given their lives for the message of your love. Inspire us with the memory of martyrs for the Gospel like your servant William, whose faithfulness led him in the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to your Son's victory over sin and death. We also praise you for your servant Henry, to whom you gave gifts to make the good news known. Raise up, we pray, in every place, heralds and evangelists of your Reign, so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

William Tyndale Posted by Picasa

Old Trappe Church in Pennsylvania, founded by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg -- the oldest continuously used Lutheran church building in the U.S. Posted by Picasa

Lending a Hand

I checked the ELCA website to day to see how our denomination is responding to the natural disasters in central Asia and southern Mexico/Central America. The ELCA is working with Church World Service to respond to the earthquake crisis in Pakistan and surrounding areas, and Lutheran World Relief is also partnering with other church-affiliated relief organizations to help out.

And here's an organization that I have a special fondness for: The Central Asia Institute helps build girls' schools and fund development projects with a special eye toward empowering girls and women in the mountainous regions of central Asia. Greg Mortenson, the founder, is a mountain climber who, after climbing in the Himalayas, meeting the people and seeing the poverty and lack of opportunity there, particularly for young girls, sold all he had to help build a school. And that's how CAI got its start. Mortenson is a real-life hero whose compassionate action comes not only with a financial cost but a personal one as well, as he and his family have been threatened in various ways by reactionary mullahs and others in the areas where CAI is active.

I know many of us are on the brink of compassion fatigue in the wake of all the recent natuional disasters here and abroad, but -- $10 or $20 goes a lot farther in Pakistan or Guatemala than it does here. And you might want to consider that even some of these very poor countries nonetheless offered what little aid they could to the U.S. when Hurricane Katrina hit. So please send what you can, even if you have to reach into the depths of that scary place under your car seat, or spelunk in that kitchen drawer where you throw stuff and then forget about it, for some spare change. It all makes a difference.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dressing Down

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’ The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

"You're not going dressed like that."

If you're like me, you heard that phrase, or a reasonable facsimile, more than once in your teenage career. In my case, I usually heard it in the context of some familial-obligation event -- a wedding, an anniversary -- that I didn't want to attend; and my passive-aggressive way of indicating that would often be to want to dress down...way down. A sort of sullen, non-digital bird-flipping to the universe in general and to my clueless, embarrassing extended family in particular. (It makes sense when you're 14, anyway)

This is, I think, the attitude that Jesus is addressing in this parable...a parable which is problematic for a lot of us, coming at the heels of another parable that seems to illustrate God's generosity and inclusivity. Reading today's text, I wanted to say, "You had a good thing going with that story, Lord -- why didn't you quite while you were ahead?" The cruelty of the king, whom we tend to associate with God, troubles us. And the issue of the appropriate wedding garment seems to carry with it a subtext of works-righteousness that doesn't play very well in Lutherland.

But in talking about today's Gospel text, our pastor made a couple of good points. First, he noted that the Gospel of Matthew was written to a Christian community being actively persecuted by the political powers that be. The wrathful king in this parable would not be an unfamiliar figure to the Gospel's hearers; they were living, and sometimes dying, through just such a brutal imperial reign. He also contrasted this parable with the example of Jesus' entire ministry. Did Jesus ever call down the wrath of God on persons who violated ritual rules? No; he violated a few of his own. How often did he become furious at people for just being human -- flawed in predictable, everyday ways? Not much. No; Jesus saved his strongest invective for those who willfully sought to demean and thwart the inbreaking Reign of God as proclaimed and modeled by Jesus.

In Jesus' time, choosing to "dress down" for a wedding would be seen as a dishonoring of the host. At one end of the scale, rich invitees would indeed be expected to wear fine wedding robes; at the other end, poor persons who may only own one article of clothing might simply be expected to merely show up "freshly scrubbed." So no matter who you were, you showed respect for the family holding the wedding by making an effort to affirm the goodness and blessedness of the occasion by one's appearance. To show up for a wedding in the ancient Palestinian equivalent of casual wear told the hosts, in effect, "Your special occasion isn't special to me."

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is confronted by religious authorities -- people who think they've cornered the market on God -- who challenge his authority to teach and heal; who judge the good things he says and does to be bad; who nit-pick at his words and actions; who've placed arbitrary, artificial barriers before the everyday folks, the "little ones," in living out their relationship with God. The religious bigshots' message to Jesus is, "Your 'good news' isn't good. Your good works aren't good. The people you care about aren't worth caring about."

Jesus' message to us, through this parable is: Look at the people who've responded to me...who've said yes to my yes, who recognize that they're now part of something big and wonderful and who respond in trust and hope. I have dressed them in my very own robes. Now look at those people who want to be treated like spiritual VIPs but who hold my words and my actions and the values of my reign in contempt; who hold the "little ones" dear to me in contempt; who reject my offer of a robe because they think they look fine just the way they are. Which of these guests really understand what my feast is all about anyway?

Walter Wangerin, in his famous story Ragman , puts it this way:

I myself walked up to the Ragman.

I told him my name with shame, for

I was a sorry figure next to him.

Then I took off all my clothes in

that place, and I said to him with

dear yearning in my voice: "Dress me."

The Wedding Banquet, Alessandro Botticelli Posted by Picasa

Meet My Idiosyncrasies

When bls tagged me to list my five top idiosyncrasies, my first response was, "Only five?" Because I am nothing but a bundle of idiosyncrasies. My next response was, "Hey, sister -- yer takin' all my idiosyncrasies!" Because if you read through hers you will find a certain resonant harmony with my own list...stuff like my obliviousness to my living space (even while nursing fantasies of a very mindfully created arts-and-craftsy Carl Larssonesque home), the disconnect between my desire to be organized and my disorganized reality, and my short-lived magnificent obsessions with certain subjects or authors or artistic genres.

But, because I do have a long list, I was finally able to come up with five of my own (more or less). They're not necessarily the main ones at this very moment, quirks tend to cycle, so tomorrow they very well may be. And they are:

1. I am at once very easily bored and very easily amused; more the former, which can be a dangerous condition in a world where a large percentage of daily life is...well...boring. Damned boring, in fact. (The other day, trapped as an unwilling listener in a gaggle discussing nail extensions in excruciating detail, I thought for a moment that I might actually die of boredom, right there in front of God and everybody.) I often find myself gratuitously multitasking, or investing in self-study courses (with varying degrees of sucess), or inventing little mental games, to unbore msyelf. This is why I always think I'm on the cusp of full-fledged Internet addiction; because when you're really, really bored, the ability to summon vast amounts of information and entertainment at a mouseclick is a lot like those bars that lab rats press for rat's easy to just keep pressing, pressing, pressing the bar. (And yet -- here I am.) The things that amuse me, on the other hand, tend to be things that bore the people around me: nature; people-watching; lazy, rainy days indoors; certain repetitive tasks like kneading bread or mowing the lawn or sewing cross-stitches -- which brings me to:

2. Short-lived craft obsessions. It's been this way ever since I was a little kiddo, eagerly pursuing and then discarding nylon-loop potholder weaving, spool knitting and the like. Every five years or so, it seems, I get a crafting bug -- usually needlework of some kind. I pursue it with passion. Then I wake up one morning and I've lost that lovin' feeling; the needlework basket gets pushed back into the dark recesses of the hall closet. Five years later the cycle comes around again.

Many years ago, when I was heavily into the Textile-Crafting-As-Sacramental-Sign-of-Powerful-Female-Archetype mode, and also had a friend with a great passion for quilting, I decided to empower my womynself and honor the discounted creativity of my female ancestors by taking up crazy quilting...I had an aunt who in her younger days had made beautiful ones out of very homely, cast-off fabrics, and her example also inspired me. So I got into it full-tilt boogie. Until I found out that, while I loved selecting my fabrics and embroidering around the pieces of the finished blocks, I really hated the actual piecing process, because I honestly don't know how to sew; and I couldn't figure out how to do the actual quilting. So I got over it. (But I wound up with a nice framed wall hanging that's still in my kitchen.) I went through the same process with counted cross-stitch -- not those sissy, childish patterns you find in women's magazines, but patterns from A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and neo-Prairie School samplers. (One of my craft downfalls is my tendency, in my burst of enthusiasm, to push the envelope of my skill. I'm like the kid who wants to play jazz without knowing the scales. Monograms on tea towels are boring -- let's try a recreation of the Bayeux Tapestry!) A few years ago when I was having some health problems that left me nervous as a cat both out of anxiety and because of the meds I was taking, I decided to take up knitting; I'd read the story of a 100-year-old blind woman in an area nursing home who knitted, by feel, hats for charity, and I thought, "That's how I want to go out -- doing something useful." So I taught myself how to knit, using one of those "Knitting For Drooling Idiots" books. I even taught myself how to make mittens. I made, like, 12 pairs of them for the local mitten drive, plus hats. I was cranking out hats and scarves and mittens every week; a regular knitting fool. Then I got busy, and one day I realized I wasn't knitting anymore. And didn't want to. So the craft club at the local senior highrise wound up with my yarn. But I still have my needles, and all my other crafting tools, never know.

3. I am a procrastinator extraordinaire. And the thing works for me. When I read time-management books that tell me how much more I will accomplish, and how much better it will be, if I don't wait until the last minute, my reaction is, No, I won't. No, it won't. Whenever I fuss over my writing, edit and re-edit it, it winds up mediocre; it's when I'm under the gun, surfing the adrenalin rush, that the words spill out in just the right way. Back in junior high school, my first academic all-nighter involved a report on ancient Egypt; this for a teacher who warned us repeatedly, "No one who procrastinates on projects will get an A in my class." As usual, I waited until the day before the due date to even begin writing the thing, and was still finishing up shortly before the schoolbus arrived. It was 30 pages long, including appendices. I got an A+; vindication.

4. I have an unnatural affection for 1)soap; and 2)indoor plumbing. The way I figure it, if you have to have a jones, a jones for sudsy, herbally handcrafted soap made by righteous backwoods hippies is a fairly innocuous one to have. Some people are offended by gifts of soap; I say, "Bring it on!" (I remind myself of a woman I once read about, a native of the Solomon Islands who married a European sea captain back during the days of copra trading in the early 1900's, who was fascinated by soap; it was the only artifact of western society, other than her husband himself, that seemed to interest or please her. He'd would come back from his travels with a whole crate of soap for her, and she'd be as happy as a child at Christmas.) Now, the indoor plumbing thing is obviously problematic for someone like me who otherwise loves being out-of-doors, since activities like camping usually require varying degrees of bear-in-the-woods personal hygiene that test my balance, my dexterity, my bladder control and, as St. Teresa said in another context, my ability to be displeasing to myself (and possibly to others). I haven't quite worked this one out to my satisfaction. But obviously I want to pack extra soap. And TP. Maybe an empty coffee can. I really don't want to think about it too much.

5. I hate left-hand turns. Especially in strange-big-city driving, which I find a white-knuckle ordeal anyway. (This is what happens when you grow up in a small town, with highly unenthusiastic drivers for parents.) My philosophy is that you can get anywhere in the world by making right-hand's just a matter of spiraling toward your goal, which is kind of an evocative way of getting around in the world anyway. That's what I tell myself.

Anyhow -- five of my quirks. Now you know.

And...hmmm...let's see...I tap J.C., Kathryn, Songbird, Lorna and Cathy.

Postscript: You know, I have to add one more idiosyncrasy, because this one is probably more self-defining than #5; don't know why I didn't think of it sooner: I am a softy. Not to the casual observer; I put on a good show of, depending on the context, brisk, dispassionate professionalism or mildly amused detachment. But I'm really a sentimental sap. I weep copiously at the flicks; at predictable moments, like Bergman and Bogie on the tarmac in Casablanca, Ruth's death scene in Fried Green Tomatoes or the "You make me want to be a better person!" scene in As Good As It Gets...but also at the oddest moments during the oddest films. Cold Comfort Farm, one of my favorites, is a very funny, quirky British comedy that is not exactly It's a Wonderful Life; yet in the final minutes, when all the loose ends of the plot come together and everyone lives happily ever after, I get all sniffly. I tell you, it's embarrassing. I don't want to be like Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. (Which I think I may have shed a tear during, come to think of it.)

Exhibit A, Quirk #2 Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 07, 2005

Real Life as Parable

I'm in a local gift shop, purchasing an appreciation thingamabobbit for one of my agency volunteers. It's a nice day; this is a fun store to poke around in, and I'm in no great rush to get back to the office. I patiently wait at the cash register while the clerk is busy on the phone; she keeps making apologetic gestures to me while addressing her caller in a brisk, wrap-it-up voice. Finally she returns to the register.

"I'm so sorry," she exclaims as she rings up my purchase. "That was my husband. He's always calling me at work. It drives me crazy." She rolls her eyes in exasperation.

I shrug. "Don't worry about it. I'm not in a hurry."

The clerk continues, "He calls me every day to tell me he loves me." She sighs a martyr's sigh.

I'm a little confused. Maybe I didn't hear her right. "Pardon me?"

"He calls me up every day," she explains, sounding mightily peeved, "just to tell me that he loves me. He's always interrupting me right when I'm in the middle of something here."

"Gee -- that sounds like a nice problem to have," I murmur, as I'm thinking, What is the matter with you?

"He's nuts," she continues, shaking her head. He's always writing me dumb little notes, too. I don't know what that's about."

My God -- the horror.

She hands me my package, managing a brief, retail smile. "Have a nice day!" Then the frown returns. Another irritated sigh.

I wonder if this is how we seem, what we sound like, to God, sometimes: "...always bugging me...sending me these goofy messages...telling me, 'I love you'...what's up with that?..."

Friday Botanical Blogging

March of the jellyfish? Caspar the Friendly Ghost and a couple of ghostlings, out for a leaf-peeping trek? Nope. These are mushrooms. I found them in my woods, along the road, the other evening.

There's fungus among us! Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Singing in the Reign

A few weeks ago I was noodling around in the Psalms, and I found myself wanting to sing one to a familiar LBW psalm tone. I kind of liked that. One thing led to another, and I ordered this set of tapes: Singing the Psalms: How To Chant in the Christian Contemplative Tradition by the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault.

I've just barely begun the first tape, but I already know that I'm going to enjoy this. Bourgeault says, of chanting the Psalms as part of one's spiritual discipline, "I love it. And it works." Sounds like a good reason to try.

 Posted by Picasa

Why I Love Going On Retreats

I was on retreat last weekend.

I would have written about it sooner; I guess it needed time to fully work its way through my system.

The retreats I attend through my lay ministry program are not the solitary, contemplative kind spent on one's knees on a prie-dieu, or baring one's soul to a spiritual director. There are about 40 of us right now, from all over our state. We spend a very long Friday, and half of a Saturday, at a hosting parish, learning about the Bible, about Lutheran theology, and about various issues in parish ministry -- preaching; teaching methods for various kinds of learners; conducting small-group ministries; assisting in administering the Sacraments. Our Bible instructors are professors, usually from a seminary, and our other instructors are parish pastors with special expertise in their topics. It's extremely fast-paced. And just when we think our minds can't absorb one more thing, we break for meals or devotionals or for our weekend Eucharist. Our resource-pastor-in-residence that weekend celebrates the Eucharist, with volunteers assisting, and then students are assigned devotionals. And the meals -- well, you'd think we were out in the fields literally bringing in the sheaves, the way the church ladies (and sometimes gents) feed us. Friday nights, we crash at a local hotel; I'm usually so weary that I literally crash into bed as soon as I can get undressed. Saturday we're back at it by 8:00 a.m.

So it ain't exactly Julian quietly pondering the Mystery in her anchorage. But it's great -- exhilarating. It's hard to describe being so tired that you can barely string together a coherent sentence, but so mentally and spiritually wired that you just want to do something, immediately, with what you've learned.

This weekend's retreat was great. Our Old Testament lecturer was a religious studies prof from one of our denominational universities. A genteel fellow with a bit of a Southern accent. But when he launched into his lecture about the Books of Isaiah and Hosea -- wow. He made the Book of Hosea sound -- well, hot; a longing, lovesick God crazily devoted to Israel, the Bad Girl, no matter what she does. This guy was quoting lyrics from old Elvis and Connie Francis songs, for pete's sake, to make his point: "It's the same thing!" He compared Isaiah to Bob Dylan. He'd break out into passionate extemporaneous Hebrew, startling some of the people in the front row. "It's poetry!" he cried. "When you're up there on Sunday morning lectoring, do you read it like poetry? Do you read it like it's meant to be read?" I will now.

Our preaching lecturer was a pastor from a parish near the church that hosted us. He had a kind of Herr Pastor aura that reminded me of the ones I grew up with; but as soon as he got to the lectern he had us laughing, and continued to do so for his time with us. He gave us really valuable advice about crafting sermons, about keeping not only the context of the sermon text but the context of the hearers' lives in mind as we composed our sermons.

I always come away feeling remarkably grateful for the generosity of time and talent exhibited by our teachers. I'm touched by the hospitality of the hosting congregations, who except for the kitchen workers and maybe the pastors never even meet us. I appreciate the support shown to us by clergypeople, our resource pastors and others; one of the pastors in our synod who also happens to be a potter created Communion ware just for our program. And these retreats usually come around right at a time when I really need a restorative shot in the arm to remind me why I boarded this train in the first place.

My pastor once said to me, "Wouldn't it be great if everyone in our parish went through your program?" You know, I think it would.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Get Your Irish Up

Hey, U2 fans! Conan O'Brien will be hosting the band for the entirety of his Thursday night show.

I'm not much of a nightowl. I might be forced to finally learn how to program my VCR.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

So Who's That Other Guy on the Calendar?

Theodor Fliedner , another renewer of the Church who is remembered on the 4th of October, was a German Lutheran pastor, prison chaplain and social reformer of the 19th century who, inspired by the Moravians, helped revive the order of deaconesses in the German church. Read all about him. (And, no, I don't know why the link lists tomorrow, not today, as his commemoration day.)

The Feast Day of St. Francis

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

It was a hard day for me to think about St. Francis. For one thing, I'm still working out what happened to make me lose one of my longtime online friends; teasing out from our last exchange what culpability of my own led to my friend's very angry and bitter reaction.

For another, yesterday I was told by a couple of self-assured fundamentalist homophobes elsewhere on the Internet that I needed to die. Yes, you read that right; capital punishment for gays and lesbians. Now, these individuals later qualified their comments -- they pointed out to me, after I'd asked them whether they preferred stoning or hanging or Zyklon B or some other means of dispatching me, that it wasn't their job to kill me; that that was God's pleasure and prerogative, one way or the other; "Watch your back," in so many words. Thank you. I feel so much better now.

So, between these two events, I didn't feel like I could pray the prayer of St. Francis with a great deal of personal integrity. I wonder if Francis himself ever had down days; days when cold and hunger and other deprivations of his monastic rule, and when the fatigue of always helping, of always being accessible to needy others, would get to him and, even for a second, he wondered if he'd gotten it all completely wrong. I wonder if he ever became sullen or snappish. I wonder if, in his attempts to reform the Church of his day, he ever heard hissed warnings to watch his back.

Maybe this is why Francis loved nature so much. Perhaps, when things started not making sense, he'd go off for awhile and regain his bearings in the fields and forests and hillsides, where he could see the hand of God again.

Today at lunch I took a long walk down the paved trail that winds along a local river from Outer Podunk's city park up to the middle school. This trail is fairly new; unbelieveably, I'd never walked the whole route before. Leaves are just beginning to turn; scarlet sumac and Virginia creeper, a hint of yellow and orange in the maples. I turned off the mental churn and just enjoyed. A patch of funny, conical mushrooms that looked as if elves might jump out from behind them. Sprays of asters and star thistle and butter-and-eggs along the path. The plashing of the water in the river, and the brief glimpse of a darting minnow. The startling gold of apples hanging from a "volunteer" tree around a bend. The pterodactyl call of a pileated woodpecker in the nearby woods, and the chittering of young squirrels as they frolicked in the oak trees.

I still don't feel like an instrument of God's peace. But I think that perhaps the world along the walking trail became an instrument of God's peace for me...enough to get me back to a place where I can even think about love and peace and service and renewal again.

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 Francis. 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 kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

St. Francis preaching to the birds, Wissington, Suffolk, C13-14 Posted by Picasa

A Memo To Franklin Graham


To: Franklin Graham

From: LutheranChik

Re: Your CNN Interview

Franklin: I caught the transcript of your CNN interview, where you talked about Hurricane Katrina being God's vehicle for "bringing revival" to New Orleans. I was glad to see you repudiating the idea that Katrina was divine punishment upon N'awlins for its free-and-easy lifestyle; among other things, the fact that the notorious French Quarter came away relatively intact, while the poorest, most vulnerable residents of the city suffered the most casualties, might suggest to an unbeliever that God has really lousy smiting aim. So it was smart of you to stay away from the Pat Robertson School of Theological Meteorology.

In your interview you noted,in regard to the rebuilding of the city, "Well, I certainly hope that the gospel of Jesus Christ will be preached." Hey -- me too. When people lose their homes, their jobs, their loved ones, their hope, I'd certainly hope that we who claim Christ are living Christ into those circumstances as best as we are able.

"I want to see men and women converted," you said. "Jesus said, 'I am the way, the way and truth and light. No man comes to the father but by me.' I believe that the only way that we can approach a holy God is through the person of Jesus Christ." Well, I think we'd probably have a run around the mulberry bush arguing what "but by me" really means, because in my soteriology it means that Jesus' salvific work is what has redeemed humankind -- not that we are saved by thinking the right things about Jesus. But I'm Lutheran; you know we like a good gniff-gnaw once in awhile over stuff like this. And I'd think that, even if you couldn't agree with me, you'd at least respect my point of view, which is held by a sizeable number of our fellow Christians.

You added: "And Jesus Christ came for sinners. I am a sinner, and Jesus Christ gave his life on Calvary's cross for the sins of this world. We put our faith and trust in him. God will forgive us and he will cleanse us of all of our sins." I'm with you on that one.

But then, Franklin, you start to lose me. You said:
And I would certainly pray that the gay and lesbian movement, the people that have this lifestyle[sic], will come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and experience their sins being forgiven. God -- the Bible says -- "God so loves the world" -- that includes New Orleans -- "that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shouldn't perish but have everlasting life."

See, the thing I'm not getting is...there are a whole lot of gay and lesbian Christians out there. We've come to know Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. We've experienced our sins being forgiven -- every day, just like you. Yet you make it sound as if "gay" and "Christian" are mutually contradictory adjectives. Why is that, Franklin? Do you really think that?

See my blogroll, over there to the left? If you scroll down it, and click on the links, you are going to find yourself reading the weblogs of gay and lesbian Christians who love Jesus every bit as much as you do, who seek to follow Jesus every bit as much as you do, who strive to be decent, honest, caring people, mending the broken places in the world just as you do. You're also going to find the weblogs of straight Christians who walk with us; who affirm us unconditionally as sisters and brothers in Christ.

My parents used to watch your dad's crusades religiously -- pardon the pun -- when I was growing up...even though his decision theology was pretty heretical stuff for them. They just liked hearing Billy Graham preach. So I grew up hearing him. And I actually read a couple of books by him, when I was old enough to do so. Even though I don't always agree with your father, I think he's a class act, as far as TV preachers go. And one of the things I admire about your dad is his ability to admit he's wrong, and to change his mind. I remember him relating, somewhat wistfully, in an interview that he wished he'd had a more rigorous theological education; that he knew he had a deficit in that area. I thought his humility was admirable. I also remember when he became an advocate for better relations with the then-Soviet Union, and how some of his fellow conservative evangelicals turned on him, even suggested he was getting a little dotty. That took courage -- to go against the party line within the Religious Right and be his own person in service to a more peaceful world.

I think, Franklin, that you could do worse than to follow your father's example and take the risk of living a more examined life of faith. You might start by considering the fruit of the faithful gay and lesbian Christians, and asking yourself how people you seem to consider depraved and unsaved can and do live Christ into society, and into their relationships with others, every day.

Finally, Franklin: I'm a student in a lay ministry program. I don't know where my new vocational road will take me; whether I'll wind up primarily as a helper in my own parish, with this blogging sideline, or spin my knowledge and training and passion into other endeavors to further the Reign of God. But one thing I do know: I don't want voices like yours to be the only Christian voices that gays and lesbians ever hear.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

Hoarding the Harvest

This Sunday was designated "Harvest Sunday" at my church. Our worship committee collected numerous bushel and peck baskets, and as people entered the building they were invited to drop non-perishable groceries into the baskets, to be given to the local food bank. At the Presentation of the Gifts, our little kids helped the adults carry the filled baskets up to the front of the sanctuary as our servers also brought up the bread and wine for the Eucharist. Especially in these difficult times, it was amazing to see how many baskets had been filled with food.

We had a good harvest. But today's Gospel lesson is about a hijacked harvest.

Jesus -- certainly with Isaiah's image of the unfruitful vineyard, in chapter 5 of that book, in mind -- tells a parable about an absentee-landlord vineyard owner faced with renegade tenants who won't hand over the harvest -- not to the owner's slaves, who wind up killed or beaten up; not even to the owner's own son, whom the tenants kill, the better to lay claim to the vineyard.

When we read this story today, we tend to focus on the narrative as Jesus' indictment of the religious leaders of his day, who don't recognize the religious establishment's complicity in the murder of the prophets that they now lionize, and his self-identification as God's son, sent to claim God's vineyard but facing the same fate as the prophets who went before him. What we don't pay too much attention to in Jesus' story is the harvest itself; that which the vineyard owner considered so important.

What is it that we Lutherans usually pray when we bring our weekly gifts up to the altar every Sunday? "We offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us -- ourselves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love." At the retreat I attended this weekend, in talking about Isaiah's denunciations of superficial religion, our lecturer asked, "Do you really believe all that stuff we recite week after week in the liturgy? Do you really experience God as 'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty'?" Likewise -- are we really willing to give back to God all that we are and all that we have? I know I'm not. How many times on a given day do I try to negotiate terms with the Lord God Almighty? -- "I'll give you this and this, but please don't ask me to give you this." And, as faith communities and as a nation, we also try to dictate the terms of our relationship with God and God's expectations of our relationship with others: "I feel sorry for poor people, but don't ask me to pay more taxes or give more money to charity." "I know we need to protect the environment, but don't ask me to change my lifestyle."

In Jesus' story, the vineyard owner's son goes back to the vineyard, even knowing the bad outcomes of the servants who went before him -- and, predicably, he is murdered. Jesus knows, even as he speaks, that he is headed in the same direction, headed for the same fate. Today in his sermon, my pastor made this observation: What if we lived our lives in a way that makes Jesus glad he went through it? What if that's the harvest of the vineyard that is our endeavor as the people of God?

"Basket of Grapes," Pierre Dupuys Posted by Picasa

It's How LutheranChik is Done

Do you or a loved one need a personal slogan? Has your boss assigned you the task of creating a snappy catch phrase for your organization's latest marketing campaign? Are you on the church outreach committee, looking for that "hook" that'll reel 'em into the pews? Well, here you go: Advertising Slogan Generator .