Saturday, April 30, 2005

Fair Are the Meadows...Fair Are the Woodlands...

...robed in flow'rs of blooming spring...

I just had to share this photo, because juneberry blossoms are very short-lived. This tree is in my back yard. Our local woods are filled with lacy sprays of juneberry flowers that seem to float like clouds amid the other trees, still gray and bare.

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord,
all the whole earth.

Juneberries in bloom Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 28, 2005

L'Chaim, Campephilus principalis!

Some days there's actually good news to report: Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers Sighted .

"Have No Fear, Little Flock"

One of my more interesting endeavors, as a kid growing up on a farm, was raising chickens – starting with my own peeping boxful of “The Rarest of the Rare” chicks that came in the mail one summer day. I managed to keep most of these alive into adulthood, and they in turn increased and multiplied into a sizeable flock of free-range chickens in a multiplicity of colors and shapes.

The downside of free-range chickens is predation. “Nature red in tooth and claw” was a fact of life I got used to as a child, frequently coming upon the half-eaten remains of one of my birds or even watching helplessly as a hawk descended upon a chicken who’d made herself an attractive target out in an open field.

The worst scenario was when a predator killed a hen with a brood of chicks. If the chicks were tiny, even if they’d somehow escaped being eaten themselves they were most certainly doomed, even when we tried to slip them into the nests of other setting hens. Sometimes the substitute mother would attack the orphaned chicks; sometimes she would accept them but they would not accept her; they’d wander off, cheeping piteously, and slowly disappear, one by one. Sometimes an orphaned brood would be half-grown – fully feathered, able to find their own food, but simply not old enough to be on their own. At the bottom of the literal flock pecking order, constantly harassed by the other chickens, these poor creatures would become bedraggled, stunted, wounded…oftentimes they would finally either succumb to predation themselves or just sicken and die.

In the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday we hear Jesus reassuring his friends that he was not going to leave them orphaned; that they would be taken care of by a Comforter, an Advocate. The first hearers and readers of this Gospel were in a Christian community that needed a lot of comfort. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, yet Jesus had not returned as they had assumed he would; they were being thrown out of their synagogues and disowned by their families; they were alienated not only from their own culture but from the Greco-Roman culture around them as well. One can hear, in their experience, the words of the old spiritual: Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.

What the Word says to them, and to us, in this text is: You are not alone. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how lonely and lost you may feel, you are not alone. God’s very Spirit is with you.

I have heard this message myself. And the interesting thing is…so have a lot of other people, in the context of their own lives. And those of us who have heard it seem to have a remarkable tendency to wind up running into one other in interesting ways, and introducing ourselves, and sharing our stories: “Yeah – that’s how it was with me too!”

Like a hen gathering her chicks, Christ gathers us in. "Gather us in and hold us forever, gather us in and make us your own."

Mother Hen With Chicks by Helen Ann Buteau Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

With Wan Voice

I have an embarrassing confession to make.

I am a Lutheran who cannot sing.

Well, perhaps I'm being a little harsh. Let's say I am a Lutheran who cannot read music and who, while able to hold a tune fairly well, possesses a reedy voice lacking in confidence; it just has no oomph.

And that's bad enough.

Every time I go to one of my lay ministry get-togethers, I feel altogether inadequate during our chapel worship. These services are usually quite informal affairs, but the worship leader often includes a hymn or two and perhaps some sung liturgy, and I find myself surrounded by clear, resonant voices and spontaneous harmonies. It's simultaneously delightful and depressing. It's like bringing a tiny plate of Easy Bake Oven brownies still warm from the lightbulb to a dessert reception held by professional pastry chefs.

I've tried to learn to sing. When I was in college I sang in our church choir, mostly in order to hang out with my friends; my main role was in providing visual ballast to our small group. One of my choir buddies was a fellow student with an Ethel Merman voice and stage presence -- much to the distraction of our choir director, a droll fellow with a formidable background in Anglican choral music, who spent a lot of time trying to restrain Auntie Mame so she didn't completely overwhelm the other singers. Anyhow, my musically exuberant friend tried to explain the mechanics of singing to me, but as soon as she started tossing around terms like "diaphragm" and "solar plexus" I was completely lost. I also spent a couple of my college years strumming a gee-tar in an interparish folk group -- again, mostly to hang out with my friends -- but my only real contributions to this endeavor were, as they say, three chords (sort of) and the truth.

Maybe this is just midlife-crisis crazy talk, but...I want to learn to read music, and I want to learn how to sing for real. I don't know how, and I don't know when, but I'm going to do it. And you read it here first. So don't say I didn't warn you.

Florence Foster Jenkins -- patron saint of the musically challenged Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given

I am happily rediscovering my old friend Henri Nouwen. If you follow the link above...I had bookmarked this sermon, from 30 Good Minutes, back during the Lenten season, but when I reread it tonight it made much more of an impact.

Nouwen says:

We are little people, but if we believe that we are chosen, that we are blessed, that we are broken, to be given, then we can trust that our life will bear fruit. It will multiply. Not only in this life, but beyond it.

Nouwen's own life is witness to this. Thank you, Henri, beloved child of God.

Phoebe of Cenchrae by Dina Cormick Posted by Hello

Monday, April 25, 2005

No Shirt, Sherlock

"My God Can Kick Your God's Butt."

This inspiring message -- sort of an edgy retro henotheism thing going on here -- is emblazoned upon T-shirts sold at the Extreme Christian Clothing store in Lawrence, Kansas.

Says owner Lori Devins of her retail venture, in a recent Associated Press article, "I couldn't feel any other way than doing this is doing the work of the Lord. He filled us with this purpose to do this."

Frankly -- and this is just me saying this, and I could be wrong -- I can't quite picture The CEO wearing this T-shirt. But since we have it on pretty good authority that he ate and drank with sinners, I can imagine him borrowing one of my own favorite souvenir T-shirts, "I Partied at the Bucksnort Saloon." (A place that, come to think of it, could use a friendly visit from The CEO.) Up here in lake country one of the more popular T-shirts is a takeoff on the No Fear logo: "Fear No Fish." That would be amusing paired with an Icthys symbol instead of a bass. But probably not "extreme" enough.

Oh -- here's a shockingly extreme T-shirt message: "Love One Another As I Have Loved You." Maybe with the red hearts, like the "I [Heart] New York" tees. Wonder how long they would languish on the rack? Because, at least in this store, "extreme" seems to equal "mean," which seems to be the prevailing mood in some quarters of Christianity these days.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

My Chiksa Exodus

This past week I suffered a bad bout of TLF -- Temporary Loss of Focus.

It all started on Beliefnet -- that mixed blessing and bane of my online life -- on the Lutheranism forum, where I got into it with an individual over The Troubles in the ELCA and the upcoming Churchwide Assembly. Frankly, I have been loathe to discuss this issue a lot, partly because it tends to throw me off my game spiritually and partly because it makes some people less willing to listen to me when I am talking about basic God stuff, which is my primary motivation for spilling my guts all over the Internet in the first place.

But -- get into it I did. And my antagonist -- one of those "This hurts me more than it hurts you, but...," kinder-gentler bigots -- said things that cut me to the quick. Now, I have been known to give as well as I get in these Internet rowdy-dows, and I responded in what I thought was a pointed, yet measured and thoughtful, way. But it just got to me. And it got to me in, of all places, my vehicle, as I was on my way to a speaking engagement for work the next day.

I couldn't get this individual's smiley-face hatred out of my head. I imagined it multiplying exponentially. Worst of all, I imagined it metastasizing into my own congregation. I was overcome by sorrow.

I found myself crying, there in the car. And I couldn't stop. It went on for miles and miles, despite my best efforts to pull myself together. Our local public radio station's classical music host had impishly added the London Symphony's version of "You Keep Me Hanging On" to the playlist that morning, something that normally would have me laughing out loud and perhaps even singing along, but now I was sobbing to what seemed like the saddest music in the world. I finally pulled off at a gas station and just sat there for awhile until I could compose myself and repair my rapidly liquifying makeup. (This was in a community that's become regionally famous for an ongoing price war between local service stations, so perhaps the proprietors and customers thought I was weeping in relief over finding $1.87-a-gallon gasoline). Somehow, I temporarily stopped the tears from flowing, got to my engagement, mumbled something about the heartbreak of pollen season and did what I had to do. Then I got back in my car...and cried all the way home. Help me, I prayed -- Ms. Liturgical having run out of anything else to say. Help me.

Help was on the way. As it always is, even though I am inclined to forget that.

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I had been talking about Henri Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal Son, a book that had come out during what I call my religious tantrum period and that I hadn't read even though I'd been a fan of Nouwen's back in my college days. (Nouwen was such a kind and good person, who modeled his Christianity so powerfully in ways that I personally find so difficult -- whenever I think of the phrase "the saints in light" I think of Henri right in their midst, interceding for all of us.) I'd special-ordered a copy, and when I got home I learned that it had arrived.

This was exactly the book I needed to read. It's a meditation on the parable of the Prodigal Son as depicted in Rembrandt's painting "The Return of the Prodigal Son," one in which Nouwen also shared, in a very intimate way, his own struggles to feel loved and accepted, and his tendency to seek these things outside the circle of God's unconditional love and acceptance. He spoke of identifying with both the younger son's sadness, shame and fatigue, there in "a far country," and with the elder son's cold resentment of his father's impartial, unconditional love. He spoke of his resistance to living into a more mature and kenotic faith -- of wanting to remain the perpetual needy adolescent instead of answering the call to serve others as the giving parent. As Nouwen journeyed into the story, I felt myself moving from role to role along with him. And something clicked.

Then...I went on retreat this weekend. There is something very energizing about being in a small group of people who are in love with God and want to do something about it. And it's not that we're always shiny, happy people holding hands. Several retreatants were having major issues with our visiting theologian, who had to spend a lot of extra time explaining the difference between "truth" and "factuality" to some highly skeptical people in various states of upset over the thought that "Moses" might be a composite character, and that the Exodus might have been less like the Cecil B. DeMille version and more like the Joads loading up the jalopy and heading to Californ-i-a; and during our breakout group time people were getting testy about everything from the Terri Schiavo saga to inclusive language. But -- we all hung in there together. And people amazed me: a very quiet, shy woman leading a really beautiful devotional she'd written herself; a discussion of Bonhoeffer's Life Together that underlined for me my companions' longing for and commitment to that kind of in-it-for-the-long-haul faith; extemporaneous intercessory prayers that blew me away in their sincerity and eloquence. We ended celebrating the Eucharist; because of our retreat themes of Exodus and the Sacraments, our retreat pastor asperged us with a cedar bough that had been dipped into the baptismal font, so we passed through the water again, so to speak, as a reminder of God's saving acts large and small.

Bonhoeffer wrote that whenever we take our eyes off Christ, we get into trouble. I believe this. We get into trouble when we start looking for validation outside the embrace of the God who calls us beloved, who loves us constantly and without reservation. And we get into trouble when we curve in on ourselves, as Luther put it, and lose our Godward perspective. Both things wind up enslaving us; placing us under the tyranny of the world's approval and our own perpetually dissatisfied inner critic; burdening us with disappointment, with shame, with emptiness, with the weight of our own heavy hearts. I found that out the hard way this week. But help is always on the way -- always -- help that lifts us out of our sad state as self-exiled strangers and aliens, and helps us hold fast to the promise that we are beloved children in the household of God.

"Once we were slaves in the land of Egypt..." No more!

"Miriam" by Shraga Weil Posted by Hello

Microscopic Jesus

I'm getting a head start on Mark Allan Powell's Loving Jesus, for an upcoming online discussion group (see link above).

Powell's thesis is that we Christian mainliners need to reclaim the concept of piety -- not a wholly subjective, "my imaginary friend Jesus" type of piety, nor an embrace of Church-Ladyish moralism that often passes for piety these days, but what he quotes Paul Ricoeur as calling "a second naivete" -- an acknowledgement that our Christian faith is a heart thing as well as a head thing, grounded in an external reality of the historical Jesus but also in our experience of...well, of falling in love with the Christ who has chosen us and called us into relationship, and who lives in us and through us in the context of the faith community.

So far Powell is something of a challenge to me; as an alumnus of the "Jesus freak" movement of the 70's, he and I don't quite see eye to eye on a number of issues (like church music). But I liked this passage from his book, critiquing the mindset that my own pastor likes to refer to as "me and Jesus under the blanket with a flashlight":

American piety drifts toward a cariacature that I call "the image of the Microscopic Jesus." According to this model, I invite Jesus to come into my life. He accepts my invitation, and then I have a very tiny Jesus inside me (sitting on that throne in my heart) -- he has, in essence, become a part of my body, and I can take him wherever I go. The Bible, however, offers us a different image: Jesus invites me to become a part of his life. I accept his invitation, and makes me part of his body, taking me where he wants me to go.

I'm thinking this is going to be the catalyst for some good discussion.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Reggae Passover

No...there's no punchline.

I was in the car, listening to World Cafe on public radio, grooving to a really good reggae band. (LutheranChik's musical diet does not consist entirely of Bach and the St. Olaf choirs, rumors to the contrary.) But there was something...well...different about this band's sound, and I thought I heard the word Ha'shem. Well, it turns out that the musician's name is Matisyahu, and he's an Hasidic reggae singer. Not only that, but there is a whole subcategory of Jewish reggae music; you can read all about it here . I see there are also female Jewish reggae artists. Maybe it's because I've just spent three weeks studying Exodus, but...I like this stuff. It's way cool.

Friday, April 22, 2005

"Let's Err on the Side of Grace"

Technically I'm on retreat.

Technically. Fact of the matter is, our lay ministry retreat is a half-hour drive from home, so the Chik came back for a pit stop rather than staying at a hotel. And our retreats are pretty fluid affairs -- we had an hour and a half of free time this afternoon, and I spent most of it at a Barnes and Noble, spending way too much money on music: Anonymous 4's A Mass for the End of Time, an album of Bach cantatas for the Pentecost season and some Gregorian chant. I have to tell you...I'm very easily amused. Give me some books and music and art, and I'm in the zone. It's probably divine Providence that I live in a small town, because I suspect that if I spent any amount of time in the big city, I'd be so constantly stunned by all the culture around me that I'd wind up walking in front of a bus or something: "Gollleeee!...look at that!..." Screech. Splat.

I had a real "aha" experience this week that I want to share, and will, once I process it a bit more. But until of our regular training facilitators is a parish pastor from the area who has a real gift for teaching. Think back to your favorite, coolest college professor; the kind of professor who made you lose track of time, who made you want to learn more, who was always surrounded by a crowd of students after class, wanting to keep the conversation going: This guy is like that. Today he was talking about the sacraments, and how they are "rightly administered."

Class participants were asking questions about how pastors deal with situations like clueless visiting communicants, or unchurched parents coming to church and asking for a "fire insurance" baptism for their kid with no indication that they intend to follow up with any kind of meaningful Christian fellowship and education for the child. Our teacher's response, after expressing his own frustrations over people who just don't get it yet: "I think that, if we in the Church are going to err, let's err on the side of grace."

Or, as Kelly Fryer puts it, when she has to decide whether to lead with the Law foot or the grace foot, she chooses the grace foot, every time.

Amen. When we are being the Church in the world, and when we err -- which we know we're going to do, because we're not perfect -- let's err on the side of grace.

More tomorrow...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Home Is Anywhere You Are"

The best wedding I've ever been privileged to witness was that of an old friend of mine -- someone who, after a disastrous marriage and acrimonious divorce in his early 20's, had remained resolutely single and commitment-phobic until he hit the big 5-0 and finally met his ladylove, a woman with her own story of heartache and disappointment. With apologies to anyone out there who married young and happy and has stayed that way -- I always find more profundity in marriages between older couples...people who like the Velveteen Rabbit have had their fur rubbed off, so to speak, by the vicissitudes of life, but who have hung in there, kept hope alive and finally found someone to share the journey.

It was a splendid, low-key, grownup wedding, with a beautiful sermon that talked about a mature love grounded in the shared experience of knowing pain, disappointment and loss but also rich in faith and hope for the future. We guests were already reaching for the Kleenex when my friend, who also happens to be a musician, brought out his guitar and serenaded his bride with the folk ballad by Tom Paxton, "Home is Anywhere You Are," and the collective waterworks really started to flow. ("Definitely a three-hankie wedding," one of our mutual friends sniffled approvingly afterward.)

The Gospel lesson for Sunday brought that song to mind for me. When we hear about the Father's house with many mansions, perhaps our first inclination is to think about heaven -- which is indeed a valid way to understand what Jesus means -- but as one commentary pointed out the text also implies, here and elsewhere, the sense of indwelling with God, and by extension with Jesus Christ, not only in the hereafter but in the here and now.

One of the paradoxes of Christianity is that, while we experience life as pilgrim people -- strangers in a strange land (some days even more than others) -- in a sense we're always home. Because we are always in Christ -- our lives always, as Scripture puts it, hidden in Christ.

"Home is Anywhere You Are." And that's a good place to be.

 Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bonhoeffer on Public Radio

Check out the link above to hear a "Speaking of Faith" feature on the life and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer; lots of other information too. Our local public radio station recently picked up this program, and it's great.

Giving Shy Persons the Strength to Do What Needs to Be Done

A few weekends ago I had an interesting experience with a Lutheran clergyperson.

We were talking about outreach as a function of lay ministry, and I was trying to explain online Christianity to him and why I thought it was a pretty exciting place to be; online discussion forums and weblogs and e-mail groups, all being visited by the seeking; the disillusioned-but-hopeful; the misinformed; the clueless; the angry needing someone to vent to who understood and cared and "had a word" for them; the spiritually disconnected trying to "find their people."

At first the pastor looked at me quizzically, but then his expression changed to one of the steeple-fingered Helping Professional. As in: "Und zo...venn you are talking to zees imaginary friends in schpace, are zay zaying tinks to you? Vat is it zat you tink zay are zaying to you? How often do you schpeak mit zese friends in schpace?"

He just didn't get it.

(And, for the record, this wasn't my pastor, who really does get it.)

It gets lonely out in cyberspace if you're a Lutheran; especially if you're an ELCA Lutheran. Where are we? Why aren't there more of us around?

Maybe Garrison Keillor has it right. Maybe we're a shy people (present company excepted) who just don't like engaging in public gut spillage: Who do I think I am?

If that is so...well then, gosh darn it, get over it. If Herr Doktor Luther were alive today, where do you think he'd be? Online -- you know it! (Probably ranting about the new Pope Benedict even as I type.)

Have a Powdermilk Biscuit. Have two. Feel that courage starting to warm your blood. Here I blog...I can do no other...God help me! There's the spirit!

It's fun here in Blogdom. It really is. And you needn't be a computer genius to run a blog. As some of my readership knows from trying to explain HTML to me, I'm kind of a techno-blockhead. So if I can publish my own blog -- even occasionally stick a picture in it -- so can you.

We need more ELCA blogs. So if you've been toying with the idea...go for it. Come on. I dare you. I double-dog dare you. You can do this.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Sarah Vowell, and the Fields White and Ready for Harvest

If you listen to "This American Life" on public radio you are no doubt acquainted with Sarah Vowell, the essayist with the droll, deadpan delivery suggesting a grown-up Lisa Simpson crossed with Peppermint Patty. She's recently published a book of her essays, Assassination Vacation.

I really like Sarah Vowell, even if she does frequently cause me to break the Fourth Commandment by shushing my mother in the car on the way home from church Sunday mornings, when "This American Life" is broadcast in our neck of the woods. You see, Vowell is an ironic smartass. So am I.

I crave the company of ironic smartass friends, and in fact have been blessed with many of them over the years. I used to work in an office with an entire department of wiseacres -- overeducated, underemployed liberal arts majors with an acute sense of the absurd -- and there were days when my sides literally ached from laughing; now, there's a job perk better than a dental plan. Ironic smartassitude is also high on my list of Significant Other qualifications, along with faith or openness thereto, relative sanity and, for potential candidates' own sake, low vision. (Said list being a torn, yellowed document that I seem to be hanging onto solely for sentimental reasons.) And -- this thought may constitute a mortal sin in some circles, but I definitely detect IS qualities in The CEO; there have been moments in my prayer life when a quietly mirthful aside has asserted itself into my thoughts and I've almost chuckled out loud.

Anyhow, last Friday I listened to Terry Gross' interview of Vowell on "Fresh Air." Gross asked her about what it was like growing up in a strict Pentecostal family; then Gross asked her if, as an adult, she missed having a religious faith. Vowell's response was thoughtful and, I thought, quite poignant; she did, she said, feel a kind of void, a loneliness in no longer being able to speak to God like an intimate friend.

This made me so sad. I wondered how many smart, funny, insightful people have been driven away from religion altogether by a relentless diet of grim, dim-witted, ham-handed, authoritarian Christianity. I wanted to talk back to the radio: "Sarah! Come to church with me! Hang out with my online friends! You're one of us! We want you on the bus with us! Be our partner in crime!"

The lay ministry program I'm involved in is called, for reasons I can't fathom, the Lay Missionary Training Program; this has always made me cringe because to me it conjures up images of a drooling fundamentalist lunatic attacking tiki statues and forcibly stuffing indigenous peoples into rummage-sale-reject clothing. My pastor -- something of an ironic smartass himself -- told me, with a twinkle in his eye, "You're a missionary to the Christians." After thinking about this for awhile I've decided that, if I'm going to be a missionary, I want to be a missionary to the Sarah Vowells of the world. I want the Church to be filled with reverently irreverent people who can help us all laugh until our sides hurt as we live into the reign of God.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

"...With All Your Heart..."

Hear, O Israel! The Eternal is our God, the Eternal alone.
You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.
Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.
Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead;
inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

This past week in my Torah, Talmud and Mishnah class we've been reading selections from the Mishnah, the Jewish collection of legal and homiletical commentaries on Scripture. Specifically we've been reading commentaries on the Sh'ma, the twice-a-day recitation from the book of Deuteronomy that is a focal point of daily Jewish practice.

In the Sifre Devarim, an antecedent text, where rabbis comment on the Sh'ma point by point, one line really struck me. In talking about the phrase "You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart...," there is the following interpretation:

...with all your heart: With both of your inclinations, both the good inclination and the evil inclination.

How on earth do you love God with both your good and evil inclinations?

This was a head-scratcher for me.

Then I thought about that aphorism of Brother Marty so beloved of Lutherans, "Sin boldly, and trust in the Lord more boldly still." Which itself hearkens back to Augustine of Hippo's advice to "Love God and do as you like."

It' s not always easy to tease out what is a good inclination and what is an evil inclination. Sometimes we do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Sometimes what seemed like absolutely the right thing to do was actually the wrong thing to do. Sometimes we just bamboozle ourselves.

Maybe the insight here is that, in a life that has been turned in a Godward direction, that lives itself out in a state of radical trust in God, even when we get it wrong we get it right, from God's perspective, because we did what we did in love...imperfect love, to be sure, love with a tendency toward self-interest, love that doesn't always understand all the consequences of one's actions, but love nonetheless. David -- one of the most full-tilt-boogie personalities in all of Scripture -- seems to embody this "Whatever you do, do it with all your might" way of living in the hand of God. So does Mary, Mother of Jesus, whose radical "yes" to God carried her all the way to the foot of the cross and beyond, even with her intermittent questions and even profound public doubts about her Son.

In Baptized We Live: Lutheranism As a Way of Life, Dan Erlander writes:

...we depend on [God] for our strength, our security, our validation. Thus the game is over. We are free! Free to embrace our humanity and to walk as creatures of this earth. Free to be weak, to be honest, to be interdependent, to be vulnerable, to LOVE. We are free to live at the foot of the cross! We are free even to die!

With all my heart -- that's how I want to love God.

"Glory Be To God For Dappled Things..."

We interrupt this blog for a little partisan horticultural lobbying.

I love fancy-leaved geraniums. They are a product of the Victorian age, and reflect the busy, colorful aesthetic of that era. Their flowers tend to be simple and not that spectacular -- most of the visual interest is in the multicolored leaves. Surprisingly, a couple of gardening venues around here, as well as the gift shop of a large public garden located within reasonable driving distance, offer a few varieties of fancy-leaved geraniums; so I try to have one or two pots of them around here in the summertime. Unlike those unkillable, happy-to-be-neglected red zonal geraniums that some people keep going on their windowsills for years, fancy-leaved geraniums are prima donnas -- they need more water and less sunlight, and are more susceptible to disease and plain ol' failure to thrive. (Sort of like an overwrought Victorian lady, lying there upon her chaise lounge, hand upon her brow, sipping her Lydia Pinkham's.) That weakness, and their fussy appearance, contributed to fancy-leaved geraniums falling out of favor with gardeners for several generations. But -- gosh darn -- they're so pretty. They're always a featured plant in my fantasy, if-I-won-the-Lotto greenhouse.

Because of deer predation, I've completely given up on in-the-ground gardening at my house. (My one ill-fated attempt at Internet romance imploded when, after the local deer herd utterly destroyed my vegetable garden -- reduced my lovely rows of beans and tomatoes to bare nubbins sticking out of the ground-- I opined in a dejected e-mail to my new friend that as far as I was concerned the only good use for deer was as a source for venison tenderloin, with perhaps some nice wild mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes on the side. Turns out that my correspondent was a militant vegan whose philosophy of non-violence toward sentient beings did not extend to omnivorous humans. Well, alrighty then.) So container gardening is what I do. And that's all right. It's like haiku; the limitations of the medium impose a creative discipline that can result in some nice flower and foliage combinations.

I haven't been in a gardening mood at all this spring, but after spending some time outside raking this afternoon I started getting the bug again; wanted to get my hands in some good, humus-y black dirt and plant something. If you feel that way too, consider some fancy-leaved geraniums. Posted by Hello

Saturday, April 16, 2005

This Is Most Certainly True

I received this in an e-mail from a friend today:

Trouble and perplexity drive us to prayer, and prayer driveth away trouble and perplexity. -- Philip Melancthon

My Hero, the Shepherd

If your community is like mine, you have a war memorial in a public place like a courthouse lawn or a city square. Perhaps it's dedicated to a particular local hero. It might be inscribed with some patriotic paen, ancient or modern, to the glories of self-sacrifice for the greater good; maybe accented by laurel wreaths...war eagles...a winged Victory.

Now imagine that same memorial -- the same design, the same high-falutin' inscription, the same appeals to honor and nobility of heart -- dedicated to, say, an unfortunate local pioneer, dying in childbirth, whose lonely sacrifice in a drafty homesteader's cabin in the woods long ago allowed a new generation to carry on. Or a farm worker, body broken by a life of hard physical labor, injury and exposure to toxic chemicals, who nonetheless did what s/he had to do to make sure that his or her kids could grow up in America, and have more of a chance at a decent life than s/he could ever hope for.

Last night I was reading a commentary on the "Good Shepherd" passages of the Gospel of John. The author pointed out that the language and themes used in the text parallel the honors bestowed upon war heroes in Greco-Roman culture; in fact, he suggested that the good in Good Shepherd is perhaps better translated as noble.

In the classical way of thinking, a noble warrior gives his life to save others. A noble warrior owns his own actions; he does what he does of his own volition. A noble warrior honors his family name.

How ironic, then, that in the Gospel of John these images of strength and character and purpose are applied to...a shepherd; among the lowliest of the low in ancient Palestinian society. I once heard that shepherds held such a disreputable place in the Jewish community of old that they were considered ritually unclean; I'm not enough of a scholar to know if that's true, but I will hazard a safe guess that "my son the shepherd" probably didn't earn many bragging points for Jewish mothers down at the community well.

And how doubly ironic that the Noble Shepherd gives his life for...sheep. Sheep are -- how can I put this? -- dumb as a box of rocks. They're pretty helpless; one day as I was driving home from work, as I passed by one of our local petting farms I encountered an unhappily bleating sheep stuck firmly in a barbed-wire fence, like fluff in a lint trap, and I wound up having to call the farmer so he could rescue his animal. Sheep are very vulnerable to predation; even here in a relatively populated area of our county, our local sheep farmers have to contend with both coyotes and neighbors' pet dogs savaging their flocks.

Kind of stupid...easily hurt...easily led into error or misfortune; yup, sounds about right on any given day of my life.

The Gospels are incredibly subversive documents. And what is more subversive than the image of a God who stoops to conquer -- stoops as low as a sheep pen. Who picks up the pieces when the predators attack and the hired hands run away. Who rejects the world's assessment of who is "out" and who is "in," who reserves the right to gather in whomever God wants. Who will go anywhere and do anything to find us and bring us home, and who somehow empowers the "found" flock -- clueless, silly, smelly sheep that we still are -- to assist in this process. And who does all of these things not out of necessity, not out of duty, but out

The King of Love my Shepherd is. Amen!

Christ the Good Shepherd, Roman sculpture, 2nd century Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 14, 2005

My Close Encounter With a Latte of Amish

I'm getting out of work, stopped at the corner by my office, waiting for an Amish buggy to pass so I can make a left-hand turn. I live in an Amish-intensive community, so this is not a particularly unusual occurrence.

As the buggy approaches, I notice that it is filled with pimply, peachfuzz-faced Amish boys, all dressed up in their Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes. I also notice that they're holding takeout coffees from our local coffeehouse.

As they pass my car, they tip their heads to me, rakish grins on their faces, and lift up their coffee cups.

Good Lutheran that I am, my first thought is, "What does this mean?"

Are they thanking me for not broadsiding their horse? Are they paying homage to my Intrepid? Are they so starved for female attention that they're showing off for...well, for me? What else is in that coffee, anyway?

Being toasted by a buggyful of latte-drinking Amish...even Garrison Keillor couldn't have invented this story. Only in Outer Podunk...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Building a Mystery

For any mystery lovers out there looking for books with a strong female protagonist and a clerical twist: My mother and I both enjoy Julia Spencer-Fleming's series featuring the Rev. Claire Fergusson, ex-Marine-turned Episcopal priest who fights crime while serving her parish in the Adirondacks. (Now, stop laughing; because I know you're laughing. You will only be asked to suspend your disbelief for a few pages per book.) The series includes In the Bleak Midwinter; A Fountain Filled With Blood; Out of the Depths I Cry; and, coming in June, To Darkness and To Death.

The Rev. Claire is actually one of the more multidimensional sleuths I have come across in genre fiction; and the author's insights into the inner workings of parish life -- the interpersonal frictions, Vestry Members From Hell, major church controversies played out on the congregational level -- are, as they say, spot on. The Rev. Claire possesses a very real, very thought-out and lived-out Christian faith, which I find refreshing. There is also an ongoing subplot involving the priest and the local sheriff that -- well, I'm not going to spill the beans, but the last novel ended at a critical juncture, and Mom and I are both anxiously awaiting the next book to see how things will shake out.

I think the Rev. Claire is swell. She'd make a great action figure too, with major potential for accessorizing -- her Roman-collared daywear, clerical robes and vestments in appropriate liturgical colors, her old Marine dress uniform, maybe some martial-arts gear. She'd kick Barbie's butt in more ways than one.

Anyhow...check out these books. Good beach reading for the coming summer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Practicing Resurrection

Everyone should have at least one arcane, eccentric interest. Cryptozoology -- the study of unknown animals -- is one of mine. So I've been quite interested in recent reports of thylacine sightings in Tasmania. (Now, there's a sentence that you won't see too many other places.) The thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, was -- or is -- a doglike carnivorous marsupial that by most accounts was wiped out of existence by Tasmanian farmers in the first part of the 20th century; the last known specimen died in the 1930's.

Yet reports of thylacine sightings have continued -- 4,000 in the last 50 years; some very recently (see link above). Scientists and government officials, typically, tend to be highly skeptical of these reports. (The same dynamic is at work in Michigan, where despite increasing, compelling eyewitness reports of cougars -- which were thought to have gone extinct here in colonial times -- the Department of Natural Resources is loathe to acknowledge their existence. I asked a DNR officer about cougars once, and he became so officious and evasive that I wondered what was so hard about saying, "You know, we don't know if there's really a breeding population or not, but we're keeping an open mind.") If thylacines have managed to escape total annhilation at the hands of human beings, if they've succeeded in quietly keeping on keeping on in the farther reaches of the Tasmanian forest, they are canny beasts indeed.

I am one of the people rooting for the thylacine. For one thing, I'm happy whenever some wonderful, unique example of God's creative process in the world evades total destruction at the hands of human beings. For another -- well, frankly it tickles the hell out of me when experts get it wrong and just-folks get it right. And I just like to celebrate the mystery; I like the idea that we don't understand everything. It keeps us humble.

Accounts of the post-Resurrection Christ remind me a lot of the elusive thylacine. The people who see Jesus are so convinced that they've seen him that they simply can't shut up about it. They can't not say something or do something about it. That's the excitement that gripped the infant Christian community and sent the Gospel message throughout the world. That's the excitement that leads some of us to go on and on about our own varied encounters with the risen Christ. On the other hand, the people who didn't see Jesus then, and who today don't see Jesus...they think we're insane. If they can't literally get their hands on Jesus, if they can't take his photograph, if they can't solve Jesus like an algebraic equation -- then he must not exist, at least in the way that the Church has traditionally understood him to exist.

There is a certain canniness in the risen Lord's brief appearances to his friends that reminds me of the thylacine. Or Wendell Berry's fox, in his poem "The Mad Farmer Liberation Front," who makes more tracks than necessary/some in the wrong direction./Practice resurrection. I think that is why, when the living Christ chooses to make himself known to us, in any way he has, or does, or will, it is such a gift. And why, when he does, we can't help but tell others. He's risen! Risen indeed!

Posted by Hello

Monday, April 11, 2005

Greetings From Podunk

You thought I was joking when I said that I live in Outer Podunk. Au contraire. There really is -- or was -- a Podunk, Michigan. This is the old Podunk School, the last intact building. Once upon a time Podunk also had a Free Methodist church and a dancehall. The dancehall was quite the hot time in the old town, I've been told -- a 35-cent cover charge; hamburgers for a dime; BYOB moonshine; knife fights; the occasional airborne body flung out the door. As you can see from this photo, the neighborhood has calmed down quite a bit.

Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

I have to admit that I'm posting this mostly because I like the Velasquez painting below, "Kitchen Maid With the Supper at Emmaus." Check out that priceless expression: "Whoa...something really big is happening in there..."

But I also wanted to share something our pastor noted this morning in his sermon. When does Jesus tend to show up in these post-Resurrection visits to his friends? When the chips are down; when they're disheartened; when things have fallen completely apart. And he shows up in the context of community.

Our pastor talked about The Troubles in the ELCA and elsewhere in Christendom...about the radical reshaping of our economy and social safety net that's destroying any sense of security in the lives of many...the "powers and principalities" of consumerism and pop culture that continually bombard us with messages that we are not good enough and keep us in a constant state of dissatisfaction and anxiety. The world's message to us is -- You may run, you may hide, but eventually we are going to break you.

But the good news is...that's the point when Jesus comes around. And Jesus comes around when we get together as the people of church this weekend when our church's confirmation class graduates plan to prepare and host a special evening supper and "welcome to confirmation class" party for the younger kids in our congregation...when we invite a friend to lunch...when we help someone out...and -- I'm absolutely convinced of this -- when we scattered pilgrims connect via the Internet and create community. Thanks be to God for the victorious Christ who always -- always -- comes to dinner, and to anywhere else where the people of God get together.
Posted by Hello

As We Believe, So We Live...?

Melancthon, one of my favorite LutheranDudes in blogdom, recently wrote an excellent meditation on "Theology and Its Consequences" over at Melancthon Sins Boldly . Here's part of what he has to say:

If we imagine that the lost deserve God's wrath and receive it by God's choice, it's easier for us to justify our lack of compassion for the socially and economically disadvantaged, especially when they live in non-Christian parts of the world. God, by grace, will lift some out of their plight. The rest receive what they deserve.

But if instead our image of God is of one who cares obsessively for the lost, who would do anything for them, then surely we must be called to a different sort of action. What limit can there then be to what we must do to help our neighbor (in the universal sense) in need?

How do we reflect the love of a God who is madly in love with us? Do we?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Seeing Jesus

This coming Sunday's Gospel lesson hit home for me this morning in a rather amusing way -- not particularly surprising, if you know me, but amusing nonetheless.

I left the house for work in my usual state of rushed disarray, compounded by taking in the last half hour of the papal funeral, preoccupation with my cranky octogenarian mama and the bleariness of sleep deprivation. (I’m still looking for that hour I lost on Sunday; and my dog, for reasons known only to himself, has decided that 4:00 a.m. is now time for breakfast.) Forty-five miles later, as I was getting out of the car, I noticed that my pants were not the color that they should have been. They were navy blue. They were supposed to be black, to match the black-and-tan rest of me. The pants I thought I was reaching for this morning were still on their hanger, a county away. So today I've been a big ol’ Fashion Don’t; I look like a walking bruise.

Sometimes we just don’t see things. Because we’re not paying attention. Because we’re tired or sad or mad or multitasking or woolgathering.

I’ve done this to people too. I’ll be in the supermarket, in hyperactive mode, running around to grab some forgotten grocery…and I’ll walk right past someone I know. I just don’t see them. (Fortunately most of my friends and coworkers are used to my overcaffeinated personality, and cut me some slack.)

I love the Emmaus story. I love Jesus’ mischievous interaction with his disheartened friends: “Things happening in Jerusalem? Oh, really? What things?” I love the way he explains the story to them again, and how it still doesn’t click for them; it makes you wonder what they were thinking as they were listening to this articulate stranger doing theology as they walked along. I love the way Jesus pretends to want to keep going on down the road, and how his traveling companions urge him to stay and eat with them instead. (They at least got the table fellowship part right.) And, most of all, I love that “aha” moment when they finally see Jesus for who he really is. I’d call that the biggest surprise party of them all.

Elsewhere in the Gospels we read of Jesus encountering a blind man, asking him, “What do you want me to do for you?” and the man earnestly responding, “Lord, I want to see.”

Lord, I want to see. I want to see you. I want to see you when I’m so sad that it seems impossible to see you anywhere. I want to see you when I’m so happy that I’m in danger of floating off into the ether and forgetting you. I want to see you when I am so appalled at my own behavior and thoughts that I'm afraid to look up. I want to see you in my sisters and brothers in Christ, even when they mess up. I want to see you in the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, the marginalized…and I also want to see you in people who make me uncomfortable and angry -- people in whom, deep down, I really don't want to see you. I want to see you in the world that surrounds me – the world that Scripture tells us came to be in you and through you and for you.

Lord, help me see you.

Les pelerins d'Emmaus by Corinne Vonaesch Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"That They May All Be One"

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. -- John 17:20-21

For anyone who listened to Jesus' High Priestly Prayer during the readings of Holy Week, or read today's Gospel lesson, and sighed, "Yeah...that'll happen" -- a few recent breakings-through of the reign of God here in Lutherland and elsewhere to cheer you up:

Lutherans and Eastern Orthodox finding common ground: A book causing a big buzz in Lutheran circles these days is Christ Present in Faith: Luther's View of Justification by Finnish theologian Tuomo Mannermaa. Mannermaa's thesis is that Luther's view of justification by faith can be harmonized with the Orthodox concept of theosis, or divinization -- the idea that Christians, achieving union with the person of Christ, participate in the fullness of the life of God, becoming actual partakers of the divine nature, rather than simply having grace imputed to them. (LutheranChik feels as if she's writing a term paper; her palms are becoming moist as she wonders if she actually wrote what she meant, and if what she meant was actually what Mannermaa says in his book; it ain't exactly "Justification for Dummies.") Now, this may sound like the sort of theology-geek, angels-dancing-on-heads-of-pins stuff that drives average laypeople into the arms of the nearest happy-clappy megachurch...but it's a huge concept. For one thing, it provides new talking points in our ecumenical relations, especially with Eastern Orthodoxy, which I think has been something of a terra incognita for most Lutherans. Mannermaa is also helping reclaim the inherent mysticism of Lutheran Christianity, which has taken a beating over the decades both from what some might characterize as the soulless deconstructionism of the academy and insipid populist piety, and that has the potential to reconnect us with the mystical tradition of the historic Church. And Mannermaa's book may help our tradition strengthen what I think is its weakest theological link -- the connection between justification and sanctification, between "saved" and "saved for what?" Lutherans have historically had, because of our emphasis on grace and rejection of anything that might even suggest trying to earn our way into God's favor, a hard time articulating the transformative nature of the Christian experience...even though Luther himself wrote quite emphatically on this subject. Mannermaa will help give us, I think, another new voice with which to express the concept that, as Kelly Fryer puts it, "Love changes people." Melancthon Sins Boldly and The Thinklings have both featured thoughtful posts on this book in recent weeks.

Lutherans, Episcopalians and Catholics getting together. A bit closer to Outer Podunk, where I live: in one of the communities here in the middle of the Michigan mitten, the local ELCA, ECUSA and Catholic parishes have enjoyed very cordial relations for several years, doing everything from pulpit exchanges and joint worship services to interparish fellowship activities and educational opportunities. This past Reformation Sunday, they held a Service of Reconciliation in which the clergyperson of each parish read a confession asking forgiveness for the various ways in which his or her tradition had hurt people in the other traditions; I'm told it was a very powerful, moving event. A few weeks ago, the three parishes entered into a formal covenanted relationship with one another, saying in effect, "No matter what happens in any of our denominations, this is how we want to continue to relate to one another as sisters and brothers in Christ." You can read all about it at In these days of fractious relations even within our three traditions, this example of three congregations embracing their catholicity in embracing one another is good news.

Lutherans and Methodists getting together. I Am a Christian Too reports that the ELCA and the United Methodist Church may soon enter into "interim Eucharistic sharing." This is something of a moot point, since both our denominations practice open Communion now, but it would formalize ELCA and UMC congregations' holding joint Eucharistic worship.

Lutherans engaging the "emergent church." Xphiles has an interesting discussion going on about the "emergent church," what Lutherans can learn from it and what it can learn from us.

Meanwhile, this week two more of my favorite blogs, Father Jake and The Topmost Apple , feature some thoughtful ponderings on what this is all about

Is it just me, dis a movement?

I Want To Hold Your Hand

I was talking to a friend yesterday about Henri Nouwen; which got me to thinking about Nouwen's classic book about love and service, The Wounded Healer; which got me to thinking about an experience I had in church on Easter Sunday.

But first of all I have to tell you about my birthmark.

I have a vascular birthmark that covers half of my right hand. It's not a big deal...oh, it was a big deal when I was a newborn and my hand was swollen into a huge, angry-red balloon; and when I was in elementary school I remember being extremely self-conscious about my birthmark, praying to God to heal it. Now it's not all that noticeable unless you're up close and personal, and apart from a slightly decreased range of motion in my little fingers -- not even enough to slow down my keyboarding -- it doesn't give me a problem. Frankly, it wouldn't be on my short list of personal extreme makeover projects.

After I was born my maternal grandmother had told my mother that I'd been specially marked by God; while that statement I'm sure had more to do with maternal psychology than theology, in the long run I believe my birthmark really has been a kind of gift. I think it helped me develop a sense of empathy for "different" people at an early age. I think over the years it's been an effective jerk detector; I find that people who can handle my birthmark tend to be good friend material, while people who can't handle it tend to have a skin-deep mentality in other areas of life as well. My birthmark is even a good conversation starter (really); healthcare professionals especially are fascinated by my hand.

But I don't think about it too much. And I wasn't thinking about it at all on Easter Sunday, sitting near the aisle in one of the front pews, waiting to assist with the Eucharist. Next to me were a young family who've been coming to our church for a few months now; they have a couple of charmingly irrepressible little girls who are just a hoot, often doing extemporaneous junior theology with our pastor during the service. (And they're good at it; they get it.)

The point came in the service where we share the peace of Christ with one another. I automatically held out my hand to the dad, who was sitting next to me; he held out his hand, then paused, looking down. Uh-oh, I thought, suddenly recalling this scenario being played out countless times throughout my life; he has a thing about shaking my hand.

I followed my eyes down to my hand and his hand, poised in mid-air.

His hand was missing several fingers.

We glanced up again; our eyes met, just for a moment.

We shook hands, strongly.

I think this might be what they mean by "being the Church."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

More Irrational Exuberance

O gracious light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

A glorious day here in Outer Podunk -- sunshine and 60 degrees; windbreaker weather. Oh, it wasn't all smiles and sunbeams. The drainage hose of our flowing well became blocked and the water backed up, spurting out of the wellhead and dribbling into our basement; but the well guys are working on it; it could be worse. (Like last winter, when the corroded main pipe sprung a major leak and I woke up one morning to find most of the basement ankle-deep in water.)

I went for a walk around the neighborhood tonight after work. Physical self-improvement is generally not a goal of Lenten discipline, but one of the lessons I came away with this year was a sense that I should not squander the good gift of life. (And, truth be told, I had a couple of Gregor Samsa moments staring at myself in the bathroom, if this were the Paleolithic Age I'd be a babe, but we have to keep up with the times, and the Venus of Willendorf look is just so yesterday.) After several weeks of schlepping my avoirdupois up and down the stairs of our building at work, or around and around the basketball court down at the civic arena (scary flashbacks of junior high gym class strobing in my brain), it was wonderful to actually be able to walk outdoors in the fresh air, enjoying the springtime songbirds and newly budded pussy willows and indulging in a little nosy-neighbor rubbernecking.

I live on a lake, which is still partially frozen over, so every once in awhile I enjoyed a refreshing breeze coming off the receding ice as I made my way down our road and up a long, paved cul-de-sac. The open, backwater part of the lake was filled with Canada geese and passing migrants like buffleheads, little butterball-shaped black-and-white ducks that pop up and down like manic bobbers in the water, and sleek mergansers with rakish iridescent crests. I even saw a lone mute swan, enormous next to the other birds, floating like an elegant white sailboat in their midst.

Sometimes I have equivocal feelings, to say the least, about this midlife sojourn in my hometown. But -- it could be worse. And this evening, enjoying the "vesper light," it was a pretty good place to be.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


I should subtitle this post "The Week That Should Have Sucked, But Didn't."

My mother's trip to the neurologist to check out hand numbness following her wrist fracture didn't result in the sort of conclusive diagnosis and course of treatment we were hoping for...leaving her frustrated and impatient.

I found out that the Bush administration is proposing cuts in social programs for the next fiscal year that could well make my job redundant by October. And in the meantime I am going to have to spend more of my work time fundraising, just to add an extra unpleasant dimension to my walk down the plank.

Every time I listen to or read the news, the litany of geopolitical mess is like another punch in the gut. "How long, o Lord, how long?"

I watched, with the rest of the world, two slow, sad, complicated public deaths.

I continued to put up with a couple of relatively silly but persistent internal melodramas that tend to generate low-grade verklemptitude in my life.

Despite all of this, I'm -- how can I put this? -- happy. Today the old Shaker hymn, "How Can I Keep From Singing?" kept running through my mind. I was even singing the liturgy, which we don't actually do much of in our church, in the car today, on the way to Sunday dinner: Word of Life, Jesus Christ, all glory to you...our hearts burn within us while you open to us the Scriptures...Word of Life, Jesus Christ, all praise to you. (My mother giving me a quizzical look suggesting, "How much wine did you drink this morning?..." Or maybe, "Turn up Ira Glass before you break a window.")

Maybe this is sort of a delayed reaction to Easter...I tend to be slow on the uptake anyway. But I think it was also part of our Gospel text this morning: The risen Jesus visiting the frightened disciples and telling them, not once but twice, "Peace be with you." Now, The CEO and I generally have a droll, ironic sort of relationship (which, I'm learning, is entirely consistent with the inherent irony and playfulness of the Torah I'm really not just making this stuff up)...but every once in awhile, when I really need to be remedially brothered, he shows up and does that for me. (The CEO also notes that at other times I need to be remedially bothered, and he's quite happy to do that for me too.) I've felt very brothered today. That's been a gift.

All of which brings me to the title of my post. I never used to pay a great deal of attention to prayer posture, but I am finding that there are times when the orans position, hands raised, is the way I want to do it. (Even though any time now I expect the ELCA to come and pull my union card.) Tonight's one of those times. It's been a good day, one filled with the peace that passeth understanding.

Let my prayer rise before you as incense;
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Christ Who Comes Back

This Sunday most of us liturgical types will be listening to the Gospel of John, the 20th chapter, where "doubting Thomas" encounters the risen Christ. As Sarah Dylan Breuer notes in her lectionary blog (see link above), Thomas tends to get a bad rap in sermons; and I remember, back in my childhood, hearing numerous post-Easter sermons smugly contrasting Thomas' unbelief with our own superior faith. But let's take a more careful look at Thomas.

Thomas is a Realpolitik, just-give-me-the-facts kind of guy; and he's got heart. When Jesus makes it clear that he's headed for Jerusalem and big trouble, it's Thomas who says, "Hey -- we may as well follow so we can all die together." Later, during Jesus' farewell discourse, when Thomas doesn't get something Jesus says, he asks for clarification; he doesn't just sit there nodding and smiling sans clue the way that some of us ( might. Now, as the other disciples are cowered in their locked room, Thomas is the one who ventures outside. And when his friends tell him about their amazing interaction with the risen Lord, Thomas -- characteristically -- says, "Wait a minute. I have to see this myself. I have to touch him myself."

And -- this is so Jesus -- Jesus comes back for Thomas. And when he does come back, he doesn't punish Thomas for needing the reassurance of sight and touch; Jesus doesn't smack Thomas upside the head or yell at him or de-commission him as an apostle. Moreover, when Jesus tells him, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe," Jesus is not making a negative contrast; instead, he's pointing the way to the future, where Thomas' (and the other disciples', and our) witness to the reality of Christ will continue to gather others in to the family of God, to make the peace and joy of Christ real for more and more people.

At the risk of exceeding the Lutheran load limit for spiritual self-disclosure on this blog -- once upon a time, not all that many years ago, Jesus came back for me. Unlike Thomas, I wasn't even all that keen on the reunion, because it meant admitting I had completely screwed up my life. But Jesus came back anyway. And he keeps coming back -- every week when I hear the Word and receive the Sacrament; every time I pray, or just sit and wait for him to show up; every time I talk to a friend who's "seen the Lord" too, and is trying to be Jesus for me; every time I'm out there trying to be Jesus for someone else. The Good Shepherd is like the bad penny; always turning up. Thanks be to God for the One who always comes back -- for you, for me, for all of us. And that is good news indeed. Posted by Hello

Artwork by Hanna Cheriyan Varghese

A Confession

I have a confession to make.

I am not the person you think I am.

Who I am, really: I am an ex-Lutheran, fundamentalist housewife in the Milwaukee suburbs, homeschooling my five children and submitting graciously unto my husband. I play tambourine in my church praise band. My favorite things are Christian radio, "The 700 Club," NASCAR and our godly President. I have a secret crush on Alan Jackson, although I am trying to repent of this, the way I repented after sneaking to the beauty parlor once without my hubby's permission and having my hair cut in an unwomanly way, contrary to Scripture, because I was tired of the split ends. (Now I wear a headscarf as a sign of my female subjection, which also solves that problem. And my husband locks me in the house during the day, for my own good.) No "L"-words here, nosiree; just lady.

And yet...this blog has been an unfortunate, misguided attempt on my part to add some excitement to my sheltered life by pretending to "walk on the wild side." I am a deceitful evildoer, full of unclean thoughts, and I know I should be publicly stoned, then fed in pieces, like Alpo, to roving packs of dogs. I repent, again, in sackcloth and ashes.


Anyhow, for a chuckle today read the latest issue of Ship of Fools .