Thursday, June 30, 2005

Friday Bloom Blogging

Red flowering maple, "Pineapple" coleus, red wax begonias Posted by Picasa

Just a Closer Walk...

There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with GOD: those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it; yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive; it is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because GOD would have us. Were I a preacher, I should above all other things preach the practice of the presence of GOD; and were I a director, I should advise all the world to do it: so necessary do I think it, and so easy too. -- Brother Lawrence

I was out for a walk with God tonight.

Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. Part of it is in response to my normally laid-back physician’s baleful glare and sober threats of impending medication when she got the results back from my last cholesterol test. Part of it has to do with – and this is surely proof of the Almighty’s rollicking sense of humor – my being tapped to serve on my workplace’s employee wellness committee, creating a certain incentive to “walk the talk,” literally.

So I’ve gotten back in the habit of taking an evening walk whenever the weather permits. I’m aided in this endeavor by living on a lake surrounded by pleasantly meandering streets, some of them on fairly challenging inclines that provide an extra cardio workout. And – I will confess – I am an incredibly nosy neighbor, so I like to see what’s going on in the ‘hood; who is building what (like Possum Lake in “The Red Green Show,” there is is a constant chainsaw whine going on in our neck of the woods); which summer people are up for the week; and a neighbor’s interesting, if illegal, Araucana chicken operation housed in a cute little Dutch shed in the back yard. (Shhh...don't tell the township zoning board -- I want pastel eggs.)

Anyhow, in the midst of all this self-improvement and self-amusement, I find something else going on; it seems that God is rather fond of a brisk jaunt too, so we’ve been spending more time together. Not that we do a lot of talking; we’re just happy to be in one another’s presence. And I am finding that simply enjoying the presence of God is helping me overcome my tendency to engage in extemporaneous prayertime blabbiness and “I want a pony” petitions. Speaking without words; listening without speaking; that's how it is between us, walking around the lake together.

It’s nice, sometimes, to just hang out with God.

The road goes ever onward... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Good News, For a Change

If you can, catch the series The New Heroes on PBS, which profiles "social entrepreneurs" -- individuals who've taken the initiative to create positive change in their communities and societies. I saw the first installment, and it was very heartening. It profiled Kailash Satyarthi, an activist fighting industrial slavery in India, both by rescuing slaves and by marketing Fair Trade Indian rugs; Mimi Silbert of the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco, which helps ex-cons, ex-addicts and others learn marketable skills and regain a sense of dignity and competence; and Zambian Moses Zulu, who is creating a self-sustaining village for AIDS orphans.

As someone who finds myself frequently angered and frustrated by the utter crap -- the constant fluff, fear-mongering and PR churnout posing as journalism -- presented in the American media, this program was like a breath of fresh air. Check it out. You'll feel happier for having watched these programs.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Holy Hospitality

We have this new guy at my church.

He dresses a little...uniquely; you can't miss him. And you can't miss him anyway, because he's appointed himself our church greeter, so that when you leave the sanctuary after the service he's right there at the bottom of the stairs, shaking your hand, saying, "God bless you." And every so often he's moved to stand up during the service and just talk -- usually about God-and-country-gemischt stuff that makes me brux my teeth.

Now, you might be wondering, what sort of Lutherans -- an Ordnung muss sein people if ever there were one -- would let these kind of shenanigans go on during church? I know I thought that, the first time this gentleman held forth during the liturgy. I just don't do worship spontaneity very well...when our kids perform their camp songs with full-body movement for the congregation before the service, I'm the geek adult who just sits there thinking, It's for the's for the's for the children...

So, anyhow, a couple of weeks ago the new guy got The Bag. The Bag is something we instituted several years ago -- when I first started coming to this church they were passing it around, and after a several-year hiatus it's started again. The Bag is a brown paper grocery store bag that members of the congregation are invited to take home with them, fill with three items symbolizing things important to them, then bring The Bag back the next week and explain what they put in The Bag, and why. It's been a catalyst for some amazing stories and self-disclosures; some of our shyest, most unassuming people have had some of the most articulate and moving stories.

But when the new guy got up to talk about the objects in The Bag last week, I found myself holding my breath in trepidation of what was coming next; and I rather suspect I wasn't the only one present doing so. Still, I listened. And what I heard was that this man was a Vietnam vet. His job, during the war, was to accompany body bags back to the States...over and over and over again. One of his mementos was a yellowed commendation letter from a church, thanking him for his presence at the funeral of one of the casualties he'd brought home and accompanied to the dead man's hometown. He also spoke about his faith, about his family's faith history and about how much our congregation meant to him; that after worshipping with us, he knew that this was going to become his church too.

Suddenly a lot of things came together for me.

Jesus tells us that when we welcome an evangelist, a prophet or one of the "little ones," the anawim, in Jesus' name, it's a very good thing.

I think, last Sunday, we won the trifecta.

Jesus on Family Values

This is the best commentary I've read on today's Gospel I'll let you read it too, on Dylan's Lectionary Blog .

Sts. Clare and Francis -- two of the anti-family types spawned by this dangerous Jesus person (Icon from St. Joseph Studio ) Posted by Hello

A Nice Lutheran Boy

Many of you know Rick Steves as down-to-earth travel guide and affable host of PBS's "Travels in Europe." (My mother is a Ricknik who absolutely has to watch this program every week.) What you may not know is that Rick is also a member of the ELCA, whose faith informs his travel philosophy and social conscience. Steves has created a series of programs called Faithful Travel for the ELCA's "Mosaic Television." You can order these through the ELCA website. Good stuff even for armchair travelers.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Real Family Values

It's 93 here in Outer Podunk and my brain has turned into a runny pudding, so instead of imparting any self-perceived words of widsome today I instead direct you to my friend Dash's blog for an excellent discussion of "family values." In the meantime...iced coffee...must have iced coffee...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Friday Bloom Blogging...and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

This basket hangs over my purple-and-orange annual bed. I just love those "Jolly Joker" pansies (see the cute little flower over on the far right)...they don't like hot weather, though, and tomorrow it's supposed to hit the 90's here...oh, well...

Meanwhile, I was shopping at my favorite produce market yesterday, wandering through its greenhouses, when I saw a four-pack of tomato plants left over from the big planting-season rush...Red Pear and Yellow Pear...they looked so forlorn, sitting there rootbound and unwanted...long story short, they are now part of my tomato collection. I can't help it; I root for the underdog, even if it's a plant.

One of my hanging baskets Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Best Li'l Lutheran Mag You Probably Don't Know About

Cafe' is an online magazine published by the Women of the ELCA and targeted toward women in their 20's and 30's. Each issue focuses on one spiritual or social topic -- the current issue is themed around "Forgiveness" -- and features short think pieces, sidebars, links and opportunities to post one's own thoughts. It recently won an Award of Excellence for its class by the Associated Church Press and the Religious Communicators Council.

I checked Cafe' out today -- I know I'm a little long in the tooth to be reading it, but the staff will just have to live with occasional visits by the middle-aged -- it's nice; good for a quick coffee break at work.

Seeing that the ELCA often seems to exhibit a kind of corporate shyness when it comes to letting people know who we are and what we do...I'll do the shilling for them. Go visit Cafe'.

Saluting the Captain

Air Force Chaplain Captain Melinda Morton, a Lutheran pastor who blew the whistle on religious intolerance at the U.S. Air Force Academy, has resigned her commission, after 13 years in the service.

Morton had been forced to resign her job at the Academy, and was transferred to a post in Japan, after her observations were made public. She also became the target of some vitriolic bloggery at the hands of the Religious Right, as evidenced here .

I salute Captain Morton for having the courage to speak truth to power despite the personal and professional cost. Her criticisms of the Air Force Academy only underscore what many of us know from personal experience -- that there are conservative evangelicals out there whose vision of Christianity is as a militant, nationalistic, triumphalist, bullying, take-no-prisoners movement that reminds this correspondent, at least, less of the Gospel and more of 1930's-era National Socialism.

Captain Morton makes me proud to be a member of the ELCA, and I wish her all the best. The Air Force's loss is our church's gain.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Body and Soul

I have a confession to make.

The last few days of my life have been about as unspiritual as you can get. Church on Sunday? I was there in body only. I pretty much phoned in my weekly blog reflection on the Gospel lesson. My prayer life -- flatlining.

And the really irksome thing about it all was that I knew this was going to happen. Because it always does, every month. I can almost graph my spiritual highs and lows on a monthly calendar. Whether this is due to sporadically effervescing hormones, or phases of the moon, or some subtle interplay of multiple forces, I don't know; it just happens.

And it bugs me, because part of me hates the idea that my physicality affects my spirituality. Which is very Greek, and very geek, of me. I had to laugh when I read
The Velveteen Rabbi's recent meditation on embodied spirituality, and her use of the term "brain in a jar," because as a kid (a chubby, clumsy kid) I thought that would be a really swell way to live. I remember watching a Star Trek episode about an alien species that had evolved itself into brain-in-a-jar existence, watching William Shatner's frowny-faced soliloquy on the tragedy of it all, and thinking, "I really don't see a problem here, Captain Kirk." Reading some of the Pauline epistles, I rather suspect that he might have found the idea of disembodied existence appealing as well.

This feeling of unease with the soul-body connection seems to be intensifying as I slouch farther into middle age, when my body has a greater tendency to let me down. One morning before work I stared at myself in the mirror -- like the old REM song says, feeling gravity's pull -- pondered my graying hair and thought, "So it's come to this -- I am a bona fide anti-hypertensive-pill-popping, calcium-carmel-chewing, triglyceride-monitoring, saggy-baggy middle-aged broad." It's a little frightening to think that the grinding gears of this jalopy have anything to do with my spiritual life, when it can't even get my blood pressure right.

But, as The Velveteen Rabbi points out, living into God's shalom includes acknowledging that, on the whole, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." In The Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas suggested that, if we truly understood the intricacies and even mysteries of our physicality, we would be staggering around in a constant state of stunned amazement.

I'm trying to get to the "thank you." Part of that is treating myself better -- paying more attention to what I eat; moving more. Part of it is being kinder to myself; learning to give myself permission to have an "off" day once in awhile. That's where the practice of fixed prayer becomes so helpful. The Daily Office is the Daily Office whether I'm in a state of near spiritual ecstasy or just muttering the lines as quickly as possible to get them over with. It's the saying of the prayers, and not my feelings about them at any particular moment, that matters.

And here are some morning prayers, courtesy of The Velveteen Rabbi, that bless our embodiedness. I suppose it doesn't matter how I feel when I pray them either, but I'd like to think I could muster at least a spark of wonder and gratitude, no matter what time of month it is.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Something To Chew On

As long as we're on the subject of food...

This book will help people learn to enjoy their lives more -- perhaps much more. Recognizing the goodness of God in our eating is one way to discover such delight and joy.

So begins Food For Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating by L. Shannon Jung (Fortress Press). In July I'll be part of a group discussing the book online with Jung.

I've not yet started the book, but glancing at the table of contents I note that it addresses its subject from both a personal and collective perspective. One chapter heading I found especially appealing was "Food As a Communal Expression of Grace." I like that; although frankly I'd find it difficult to appreciate the grace quotient of, say, lutefisk, the eating of which to me would be more of a penitential work.

Seriously...if you're interested, follow the link above to Fisher's Net, where you can sign up for the discussion. You don't have to be Lutheran to participate, although if you're not Lutheran you may not get our Jello and sauerkraut jokes. And you might also want to pick up, if you haven't read it already, Robert Farrar Capon's wonderful book The Supper of the Lamb, an extended meditation on the spirituality of food and mealtime hospitality.

"Go In Peace; Feed the Hungry"

I stopped into our local food bank today.

Every month I bring over a grocery bag of food -- usually boxes of cereal, since the manager told me that's what families ask for a lot. I wait until one of the local supermarkets has a decent sale on healthy, not-too-sugary cereal, then pick up a few boxes while I'm shopping. I know it's not a particularly efficient way to donate, but it's meaningful to me to shop for the items myself, instead of just sending money. And it seems that I spend so much time procuring food for my little, most decidedly non-hungry's not going to kill me to spend five extra minutes picking up a few more groceries for someone else who really needs them.

I'm sharing this not to toot my own horn -- usually I like to keep this small personal project under the radar, including my own, as much as possible -- but because I just found out that summertime is really rough for agencies fighting hunger on the local level. Kids who've been in school for most of the year, taking advantage of breakfast and lunch programs there, are at home now, making it hard for families on the edge to keep them fed. And the public tends to concentrate its giving around the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, leaving a gap in the summer months.

So if you've been meaning to clean out your pantry, or you've decided to turn in your empties, or the penny jar is overflowing and you need to clean it's a good time to do a good turn for your local food bank.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

By the Book

Purechristianithink of Rebel Without a Pew tagged me for the roving book meme. So here goes:

How many books do you own?

Hmmmm...a few hundred, maybe. The last time I moved, I downsized my collection by about half. And I enjoy giving books away; my rule of thumb these days, just to keep things simple, is to give away any fiction I purchase, and any books that I know I won't want to keep for future reference. But my book hoard has been slowly growing again, and I find myself playing the game, "How many more books can I fit onto this bookshelf before it collapses?" (Maybe I need to read Physics for Dummies.)

Last book bought: To Darkness and to Death by Julia Spencer-Fleming -- a gift for my mom for Mother's Day.

Last book read: Fictionwise, I'm in the middle of To Darkness and to Death (I love it when a plan comes together...) Last non-fiction book read: Loving Jesus by Mark Allan Powell

Books that mean a lot:

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, the top two books of my childhood.

My mother's big old green cookbook, a circa-1950 wedding present, which I loved to death as a little kid, looking at the photos; it is now minus covers and much of the introductory pages, so I don't even know the title of the thing. Many of the recipes, like Stuffed Goose Necks and a l'Italienne Wieners, have not stood the test of time, but every once in awhile I still find a good one in there.

The Children's Illustrated Bible, which I got for Christmas when I was about seven years old -- sometime earlier, I had overheard my parents murmuring concern that I did not seem adequately interested in religious matters(!), so this volume appeared under the Christmas tree. And, of course, since I knew my parents had a frowny-faced agenda in giving it to me, I refused to even pick it their presence. When they weren't around I surreptitiously read and re-read it. I can still see the illustrations in my mind's eye -- including a blond Jesus who looked like Chuck Norris; what was up with that?

My mother's, aunt's and uncle's 1930's-era high school lit books, which -- unlike my school -- introduced me to the classics of American and British literature at a very young age.

Time-Life science books: Ditto -- they filled the gaps where my public-school education failed me.

The Psalms, the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel of John -- when I finally got around to reading a real Bible.

Our Bodies, Ourselves. Um...that's all I'll say about that.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek -- The juxtaposition of natural history field notes and the asking of Big Questions really moved me when I first read it. And the prose reads like poetry in places.

Uprisings: The Whole Grain Bakers' Book -- how I learned to bake bread that didn't have the weight and texture of cinderblock.

...and a large and ever-growing host of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, by an assortment of authors, that has enlightened, moved, amused and inspired me.

What magazines do you read regularly? Anymore, I don't. I used to be a voracious magazine reader, but these days about the only ones I read are in waiting rooms, or if I'm hanging out in a Barnes & Noble. I do enjoy the magazine I get from Heifer Project , because it's uplifting; unlike the constant media onslaught of bad news from the developing world, it highlights stories of individual families and communities around the world who are empowering themselves and others.

Tag Five People: If you are reading this, and you haven't participated yet -- tag; you're it.

"Psst! Next book: Dog Grooming For Dummies!" Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Flying Without a Net; Living in the Leap

Suffering and rejection are the summary expression of Jesus' cross. Death on the cross means to suffer and to die as someone rejected and expelled. That it is Peter, the rock of the church, who incurs guilt here immediately after his own confession to Jesus Christ and after his appointment by Jesus, means that from its very inception the church itself has taken offense at the suffering Christ. It neither wants such a Lord nor does it, as the Church of Christ, want its Lord to force upon it the law of suffering.

This makes it necessary for Jesus to relate clearly and unequivocally to his own disciples the "must" of suffering. Just as Christ is Christ only in suffering and rejection, so also they are his disciples only in suffering and rejection, in being crucified along with Christ. Discipleship as commitment to the person of Jesus Christ places the disciple under the law of Christ, that is, under the cross...being expelled, despised, and abandoned by people in one's suffering, as we find in the unending lament of the psalmist, is an essential feature of the suffering of the cross, yet one no longer comprehensible to a form of Christian life unable to distinguish between bourgeois and Christian existence. -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

St. Teresa of Avila, the story goes, was hastily leaving a convent one night -- actually, she had been kicked out of it, after attempting to reform its complacent and unspiritual sisters -- when the wheel of her donkey cart hit a ditch along the road and sent the good saint sprawling into the mud. As she sat in the ditch, covered in muck, Teresa is said to have prayed to Christ, "Lord, if this is how you treat your followers, it's no wonder that you have so few of them."

Yet this is indeed the scenario that Christ foresaw for his followers in Matthew's Gospel. The first hearers and readers of this Gospel were members of a Jewish Christian community around 70 AD who, in the wake of Rome's defeat of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple, found themselves being expelled from their synagogues, as the larger Jewish community grappled with how to live faithfully in their new religious and political reality. Some commentators suggest that Jesus' comments about rejection and persecution did not actually originate with Jesus, but were redacted into the story because of this situation. But I can't help but think that Jesus and his disciples lived every day with the realization that proclaiming the inbreaking Reign of God was countercultural enough to put them at serious odds with the powers that be; I'm sure this was grist for more than one campfire conversation.

In any event, in last Sunday's and this Sunday's lesson both, we find Jesus warning his listeners that his message of reconciliation, of inclusion, of re-imaging community according to the values of God's Reign, was dangerous stuff. He talks about being called before the political authorities. He talks about being rejected by religious authorities. And, this week, he talks about, in this most family-minded of cultures, being rejected even by one's own kin. His message: Follow me, and you will lose whatever comfort, protection and group identity afforded to you in this world by political, cultural and familial power brokers who want to tell you who you are, how you should live, what you should think and what you should believe. Follow me and you fly without a net.

I suspect that a lot of clergypeople who follow the lectionary decided to preach on the epistle lesson, from Romans, instead today -- good, stern stuff about sin that plays well to the pew, especially since that's easily transferrable to Those Other, Bad People Out There -- or offer a painless paen to dads for Father's Day.

As Bonhoeffer notes in the quote above, the Church over the past two milennia has lost its grip on the radicality of the Gospel; it's become, in many cases, just an amen choir to the agendas of government, bourgeois society and its own internal quest for temporal power. And woe to the person (as St. Teresa, Martin Luther, Oscar Romero and countless others have found out) who actually seeks to refocus the Church on its original Christ-commissioned work in the world.

So...with all that in mind...why would any sane, non-masochistic individual sign onto the Jesus program?

Because that's where Jesus is. That's where God is. And that's where God's beloved anawim, or "little people" are -- all those who have been, in various ways, marginalized, disempowered, wounded, even crushed by political, cultural and tribal forces.

"Do not worry..." "...have no fear..." "Do not fear..." "So do not be afraid..." The same Jesus who prepares his followers for what to expect from the dominant culture also assures us of God's presence and saving power as we work for God's Reign. And instead of the safety net we think we can count on from playing by the rules as dictated by the powers and principalities, Jesus offers us the vision of a fathering/mothering God whose love and care extends even to a fallen sparrow, much less to the wounded friends and followers of God's Anointed One; who knows each hair on our heads; who offers, as one of the epistles puts it, the life that is life.

Flying without a net? Living in the leap. That's Jesus' challenge to us.

Lesbia Weeping Over a Sparrow, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Friday Bloom Blogging!

Frankly...I'm just showing off now, horticulturally speaking.

I planted these flowers in a little triangular bed next to my back steps -- "Firecracker" salvia, "Wizard" coleus and red-flowered, red-leaved wax begonias. I love them. On overcast days they practically glow.

You just can't beat playing in the dirt.

 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Interior Ministry

I haven't been talking much about my lay ministry program. That's because we're on hiatus for the summer; we don't have another retreat coming up until the end of September, when we're going to be continuing our study of the Old Testament and, if memory serves, practicing our preaching skills. (I'm looking forward to this because, even after several lay sermons under my belt, I don't feel as if I'm preaching; I feel like a writer giving a public reading; just not the same. I want to be able to wean myself away from the hard copy and just talk to people without my thoughts dissolving into gibberish.)

Our training break is a good thing for me, because after several months of immersing myself in this endeavor I have some time to process everything I've learned and experienced since February. We covered so much biblical material, both in our trainings and in my online Torah class, that I feel compelled to go over it again before the next retreat.

I'm still committed to sticking with the program as long as they'll have me. Technically, I'm still an applicant, not a candidate; when we had our orientation several weeks ago, and one of my fellow newbies asked how and when we are officially welcomed into the program, the response we got was somewhat vague -- there's a largely undefined evaluation process (With whom? Evaluating what? For how long?) that goes on before we get the acceptance letter in the mail. Me being an anxious sort with definite suck-up/overachiever tendencies, I immediately began to worry about not making the cut. I'm still mildly nervous, the way I am before an annual evaluation at work, but I'm not losing sleep over it.

An interesting phenomenon I've been noticing in myself: After these past months of mostly thinky, academic training sessions, I'm starting to shift my focus to actual ministry: What am I going to do with this? The other day I had occasion to be in a senior apartment complex where some local clergyperson was conducting a worship service for the residents; as I walked past, I found myself wondering how I'd go about setting up my own worship service for various small groups. While blog-surfing the other day, I thought about something my pastor had said about creating an online presence for our church, and I started thinking, "If I were going to design a blog for our church, what might it look like?" Or what other kind of ministry-oriented blog might I want to start, on my own time, for the virtual community? Is there some other activity I can do that involves writing? Or maybe my real vocation involves something I haven't even thought of yet.

The CEO is being very coy about details, by the way. The last time I asked, the response was, "You'll see." (He strings me along like this all the time. I think it's so I keep talking to him.)

This discernment process is something very interesting and mysterious and even exciting.

Cold Turkey

I'm sitting here, munching on a handful of pistachios, suddenly coming to the decision that I am no longer going to post on Beliefnet's Christian-to-Christian Debate forum, or even visit there. No goodbyes...I'm just quitting. It's too mean, and too weird, it wastes my time, and it isn't making me a better person.

I feel bad for some of my friends who are also regulars there, who are going to have to bear the burden of representing mainline Christianity and progressive social values. But I don't feel bad enough to go back. read it here first.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

What "Evangelism" Really Means

I just love this quote from Dylan's Lectionary Blog this week:

The great urgency I feel (and believe me, I feel it!) as an evangelist (by which I mean a person called to enflesh Good News in the world such that people experience Good News in the world -- it's a shame that the word 'evangelist' has come in the popular usage to refer to someone who yells at everyone within earshot about Bad News) is to build communities of mercy, love, and justice broad enough to take in the fullest extent possible of God's passion for Creation.

I want to be like Sarah Dylan Breuer when I grow up!

Under Construction...

Hey, come visit Open Thou Our Lips , a blog that some of my friends and I are creating to discuss the Daily Office, and our experience of God in our daily lives. (Thanks to bls , whose blog helped provide the spark for this project, and thanks, *Christopher , for setting it up.) If you follow the Daily Office, or would like to, or have an interest in Godtalk on a personal, experiential level, come join us as we get a conversation going. Work and pray; it's the best we can do any given day.

News From the Empire

Regular readers of this blog know that I do not often wax political -- partly because it's really not my blog's reason for existence, and partly...well, partly because I have a fairly new laptop, and I'd hate to ruin it by disgorging throw-up on the keyboard on a regular basis. But some days things need to be said, and this is one of those days. So, with no further ado:

Item: The Anti- Anti-Lynching Senators

You might wonder, here in Anno Domini 2005, what sort of knuckle-dragging Neanderthal would not endorse a Senate bill apologizing for the government's dereliction of duty in not condemning the practice of lynching. Well, actually, there are six, and counting:

Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama
Senator Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi
Senator Trent Lott, R-Mississippi
Senator Lamarr Alexander, R-Tennessee
Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas

Thanks to Bloodless Coup for this information, which is being updated. You might also find it interesting to read the official websites of these legislators to see what kind of legislation they are willing to publicly endorse.

Item: Kill the Messenger

A U.S. House panel has voted to eliminate all public funding for PBS and NPR. Their recommendation would cut 25 percent of federal funding for public broadcasting this year -- that's $100 million -- and end funding altogether within two years. This is just the latest salvo in an ongoing assault on public broadcasting. Kenneth Tomlinson, chairperson of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- an organization set up, ironically, to protect public broadcasting from partisan bias -- is a Republican with a close relationship to the Administration, spent public monies on ridding public broadcasting of "liberal bias," and conducted a secret investigation of the program NOW, formerly hosted by Bill Moyers. In doing so, Tomlinson appears to have been ignoring his own surveys of public broadcasting consumers, who express satisfaction with the fairness and balance of news programming.

To read more about this, check out "Keep the Public in Broadcasting" . And let your own legislators know how you feel about this attempt to kill public broadcasting.

Item: The Rich Get Richer

The increasing gap between haves and have-nots has become so worrisome that Alan Greenspan -- not exactly a raving Bolshie -- and other economic policy makers are expressing concern about the future of democratic capitalism. You can read more about it here .

When in Rome...have a cookie. (See below.) And pray that you won't be asked for a pinch of incense and a "Kaiser Kurios!" Sometimes it's all you can do.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Snack Attack

After all that heavy theologizing...time for a cookie break, I say.

The following recipe comes from my aunt -- also an enthusiastic berry picker and jam maker -- who baked these every year for Christmas for as long as I can remember. I've tried using different kinds of jam in them, but to me raspberry jam tastes best.

For some reason the people at my parish are particularly wild over these cookies, and in fact one of my fellow parishoners swoops down upon them every year at our big annual yard and bake sale, buys 'em all up and freezes them -- says they taste good eaten right out of the freezer. I myself prefer them still a little oven-warm and gooey. But since I'm trying to cut down on sugary, buttery things, I will be content to enjoy them in my imagination. You, on the other hand -- eat; you look thin.


350 degrees 25-30 minutes

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. soda
1 1/2 cup oatmeal
2TBS water (to start -- you may need a bit more)
1 cup raspberry jam

Spray 9 by 13 pan with cooking spray.

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift together dry ingredients except oatmeal; stir into creamed mixture. Add oatmeal and 1 TBS water. Mix until crumbly.

Firmly pat half the crumb mixture into the pan. Spread with jam. Stir remaining water into remaining crumbs. Sprinkle over jam filling and lightly pat smooth.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cut into bars.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Shaking Off the Dust

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Matthew 10:14

As I was thinking about today's Gospel lesson, I couldn't help but pause at this seemingly un-Jesusian instruction. I understand that shaking the dust from one's sandals as a sign of contempt was, in that time and place, some pretty serious street theater. Where's the "God of second chances" here? What happened to forgiving seventy times seven, and going back for the lost sheep, and "Father, forgive them," and all that other grace stuff?

In going through the process of "What does it say?"-"What does it mean?"-"What does it mean for me right now?" I came across a couple of commentaries that helped me better wrap my head around this passage.

The people Jesus seems to be targeting here are not folks who just don't get the Reign of God -- heck, most of the time the disciples themselves (and, by extension, the rest of us) don't get it. No; they're the people who, in some deep-seated, unequivocal way, don't want to get it, ever. They're people who have, for whatever reason, declared a final NO to God's YES to them. The shaking-off-of-the-dust is simply an acknowledgment of, and exclamation point to, the rejection of God that has already taken place.

Does this scenario exclude the possibility that, sometime in the future, these same individuals might experience a powerful metanoia moment that opens their hearts to the good news of God's redeeming, reconciling work? I don't think so; but in this story Jesus is concerned about the now: You are here. So is God. Deal.

And, in addition to this -- I think Jesus is also giving his disciples permission to walk away from the hard cases, before the hard cases break them. I think that's an important point for those of us who try valiantly, sometimes, to get others to understand God's redeeming, reconciling grace, only to get dope-slapped again and again and again by hateful people; not clueless, struggling people, mind you, but literally hateful people who have unequivocally rejected the good news of God's love and acceptance, who speak and act in ways completely oppositional to the way of Christ. Walking away from someone doesn't mean hating that person; it means...just that; walking away; stating our case, commending the situation to God and moving on. Sometimes, sadly, I think that's the "next right thing" we can do.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

To Be of Use

I was a third-grade Brownie dropout.

Inspired by an old Girl Scout handbook, desirous of winning a sashful of merit badges and performing feats of outdoor derring-do, I harrassed my parents until they allowed me to join the local Brownie troop. But -- alas -- there were no merit badges. There was no outdoor derring-do. Because I had the bad luck to join the lamest Brownie troop ever. Once a month we met in the elementary school gym, sat in a circle, sang "Whene'er You Make a Promise" -- and that was it. Our leaders acted as if they'd walked into the wrong afterschool program by mistake("You mean this isn't study hall?"?)...but then, much to my dismay, they kept coming back. I felt cheated; I wanted something to do. Four months later, I was out of there.

Many years later I started a new job. Upon arrival at the office on my first day of work, in that state of dazed confusion common to new employees, I was informed that there wasn't enough office space for me there, so I would have to go over to a satellite office across town. I was handed a large cardboard box containing a jumble of my predecessor's files and told to "look through them." When I asked what my first assignment was, my supervisor couldn't tell me. "Just -- look through the files and see what the other person has been working on," my boss kept murmuring. After several days of this -- asking for direction, getting evasive answers, paging through the files as directed and learning absolutely nothing from them -- it became quite clear to me that no one knew what I was supposed to be doing, including my boss and including my predecessor. In the long run, this proved to be advantageous for me because I wound up more or less writing my own job description. But it was a pretty surreal, "Ground Control to Major Tom?" experience. And, until I was able to earn my chops in that organization by carrying out successful projects of my own, I felt pretty devalued both as an employee and as a person: Who am I and why am I here?

In this Sunday's Gospel lesson , we find a Jesus who gives his disciples -- people who, in this story, are just barely past the "Hello, My Name Is _______" stage of their relationship -- a clear idea of who they are and why they're here. First of all, Jesus empowers them; gives them the authority to do things in his name. Next, he gives them a series of tasks: To proclaim the in-breaking of the Reign of God; to teach people what that is going to look like; to bring wholeness to their physical, mental and spiritual brokenness. Later in the Christian story, Paul calls this work the ministry of reconciliation.

A Native American elder from the Southwest was once asked by an anthropologist why his community was so accepting of those who differed from the norm. He responded, "In our tribe, we can't afford to waste people." Likewise, in the Reign of God, Christ wastes no one. We are all called to ministry. Some of us might still be wandering around in confusion, wondering how exactly we got here and if we're really in the right place...doesn't matter. "Get to work." And as we can see just by looking around in our own immediate circles and communities, let alone the world at large, there's work a-plenty in the reconciliation business.

Sure, this work needs to be done. But I think God knows that we need the work. God's gift of grace is like a Russian nesting doll with innumerable smaller gifts resting inside it; those gifts include the privilege and dignity inherent in our calling as Christians to be Christ's hands in the world. The world often makes us feel like nobodies; God, on the other hand, makes us somebodies, beloved members of the household of God and workers in God's inbreaking Reign. To be of use for God; how great a gift is that?

I, the Lord of earth and sky
I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in deepest sin
my hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send? (Chorus)

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people's pain
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
give them hearts for love alone,
I will speak my word to them,
Whom shall I send? (Chorus)

I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame,
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save.
Finest bread will I provide
till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.
Whom shall I send? (Chorus)


Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

"Here I Am, Lord," text by Daniel Schutte; music by Daniel Schutte, Michael Pope, SJ and John Weissrock

The Harvest Moon by George Mason Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Lectio With My Brother

If I could describe yesterday in one borrow one from Dilbert's triangular-haired Alice, GAAAAAAAH!

At work, a floppy disk containing a photo file I needed for a press release somehow became hopelessly corrupted, forcing me to go to Plan B. (I hate Plan B.) My day was further complicated by a sudden request for data from the "powers and principalities" in my organization that had me crunching numbers for most of the morning, a task I hate almost as much as Plan B. Physically...well, not to get into the gory details, but I felt like retiring to a faintin' couch with triple Advil, a hot water bottle and a pound of therapeutic M&Ms...but I couldn't. Then, when I got home, I found myself fighting the good fight, or at least a fight, on multiple fronts, on Beliefnet ("Must...restrain...Fist...of...Death..."). Same ol'- same ol'...intimations that I can't possibly be a Real Christian [tm], or that I need some major retrofitting to become one, or that I am "disordered" in some particularly horrible way, or that I'm just stupid and inadequate and baaaad all around.

So by the time I got around to the Evening Prayer, I had pretty much had it. One of the lines from the appropriately whiny/kvetchy/ingratiating Psalm of the day summed it up nicely: "My eyes have grown dim watching for your promise." But then I got to the Gospel reading, from Luke, and groaned. It was one of the "hard sayings" of Jesus, the grim parable of the three servants given sums of money by an unjust ruler to invest for him while he leaves town; two of them earn interest for their master, which makes him happy, but the third, who is afraid, buries his money instead of putting it to work, and gets punished bigtime...and then the pissed-off ruler demands that his enemies all be killed. The End.

Now, generally speaking, my rule of thumb with lectionary readings is that the more confusing or distateful they are, the more I need to pay attention for an especially valuable insight buried in there somewhere...but this evening, while I read and reread the lesson, trying to remember all the commentaries and discussions I've ever encountered of this particular parable, all that came to mind was a vision of The CEO giving a divine Powerpoint presentation in the conference room of the heavenly mansions,with my personal performance graph up on the screen, flatlining.


Now, as some of you may know, when Jesus hangs out with me, sometimes he's The CEO, "in whom and through whom and for whom all things were made." Sometimes he's Rabbi Yeshua -- challenging, provocative and occasionally downright aggravating, but in a good way, like your best college professor. Sometimes he's my Brother -- a bit of the other two, for sure, but also someone who is closer to me than anyone else in the world. Tonight Jesus was my Brother, with an arm around my shoulder.


It wasn't an angry "no." It was the kind of "no" I might say to someone I cared about who was beating herself up.


No. Let's not do this anymore.

"You don't want me to pray the Daily Office?"

Let's read something else. Where's your Bible?

I got out my Bible.

Just page through the Gospels. You'll know when you find it.

"Now, wait a minute," I protested. (You have to give me chutzpah points for arguing with Jesus Christ.) "That's like bibliomancy...the kind of stuff I tell newbie Christians not to do."

In my mind's eye my Brother started raising a Christ Pantocrator eyebrow.

"Oh, all right." The eyebrow went back down.

I flipped through a few pages.

There. It was the Gospel of Matthew, in the 6th chapter:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

My Brother, smiling, made a tah-dah gesture.

"I don't get it."

You will. Just keep reading it.

So I did. I read it several times. And the last sentence kept reverberating in my head.

What does it mean to lose something? It means you don't know where it is; right?


Where does this say you'll find your heart?

"Where my treasure is." This exchange was starting to feel like third-grade Sunday School, with me in the role of a particularly slow child; on the other hand, I felt as if I were on the edge of learning, or remembering, something important.

My Brother seemed almost excited. And where does this say you keep your treasure?

"In heaven..."

Another tah-dah.

And who's there?

"You are. I mean, metaphorically speaking. And, of course, not in a spatial sense,'up there'..." I was trying hard to get out of third grade.

I felt a hug.

Sister, you are SUCH a Lutheran. Stop overthinking it. Where is your treasure?

"With you. Oh...oh..."

An oldie but goodie from Lutheran hymnody, Jesu, Meine Freude, which I haven't sung or even thought of in ages:

Jesus, priceless treasure,
source of purest pleasure,
truest friend to me.
Ah, how long I've panted,
and my heart has fainted,
thirsting, Lord, for thee!
Thine I am, o spotless Lamb;
I will suffer nought to hide thee;
Nought I ask beside thee.

In thine arm I rest me;
foes who would molest me
cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Sin and hell in conflict fell,
with their bitter storms assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

Hence, all fears and sadness,
for the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in.
Those who love the Father,
though the storms may gather,
still have peace within.
Yea, whate'er I here must bear
stil in thee lies purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!

Lectio divina indeed.

Christ the Teacher, Bridge Building Images  Posted by Hello

Bach To the Future

Follow the link above...very cool news indeed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The First Church of Granola

It's a movement where everyone is welcome. It's a movement whose raison d'etre has a definite point of view, and members tend to freely share that with others; but usually not in an overbearing or triumphalist way. It's a movement where everyone has something to contribute. It's a movement where, in its local organizing units, people may disagree, sometimes profoundly, but conflicts generally get worked out via a process of consensus decision making. I was introduced to this movement by new friends at a spiritual retreat long ago, during my university days; I was once deeply committed to its principles...then grew apart from it for many years...recently dropped into one of its centers, and found myself very happy to be there, and might go back very soon.

I am talking cooperatives.

My first exposure to food co-ops came my freshman year in college. I was vaguely aware of something called a co-op down the street from my dorm -- my preppie dorm-mates noted that "Weird people shop there," which elicited an odd stirring in my small-town soul; but I never ventured into it. Then one weekend I attended a retreat with Lutheran Student Movement, where I was introduced to a lot of idealistic young adults, from a similar spiritual milieu, who were committed to living more lightly on the planet; they had what seemed to be an encyclopedic knowledge of geopolitical and environmental issues; they recycled, and bought stuff from cottage industries overseas, and ate low on the food chain. They were also fun, and friendly, earnest without being a pain in the ass, and irreverently reverent in an appealing way, and they quickly adopted me into their posse. They made me want to be a better person. So one day I wandered off campus to their mysterious little store next to the bus station...and just kept coming back.

I have a lot of food co-operative "firsts": My first exposure to foods ranging from tempeh to hickory nuts; my first exposure to the Grateful Dead (when I asked a volunteer who the band was on the stereo, he looked at me sadly and murmured, "You're very young, aren't you?"); my first eye-popping undergraduate look at Our Bodies, Ourselves, there in the book section -- a volume that, ironically, I still have to hide from prying parental eyes 20 years later; the first major growth spurt of my social comfort meter, thanks to a membership that included a local ueberconservative Christian cult whose Fearless Leader claimed that the Holy Spirit gave this co-op a special divine endorsement...academics...yuppie parents seeking wholesome food for young Betsy and Chip...old folks from a nearby senior highrise...a Marxist autoworker hailing from the UK who sounded in both accent and rhetoric like Eric Idle playing the peasant revolutionary in Monty Python and the Holy Grail...aging hippies and their Deadhead spiritual children...the sort of high-eyebrow New Agey types who might swing a pendulum over the produce to see what the elemental spirits had in mind for dinner that evening...various species of "alternative" folks, including my crunchy Lutheran friends...and persons who frankly defied categorization, like one frequent volunteer, a headshorn art major whose favored mode of dress was a Cannon bedsheet (we knew this because she always wore it tag side outward) tied into a sarong, accessorized by Doc Martens and unhindered by any undergarments that we could discern; I think this was an installment more than a fashion statement per se. The co-op also inspired my first public attempt at "thinking globally, acting locally" -- LutheranChik's Righteous Whole Grain Christmas, when all my friends and relatives received leaden loaves of my rookie attempts at homemade bread, many of which I'm sure are still surviving intact in landfill substrata. (But it's the thought that counts, I say.)

It's been awhile since I've shopped at a food co-op. But lately a food co-op in a university town about an hour's drive from my home has been sponsoring programming on our area public radio station; mention of their new greenhouse piqued my interest. And since my doctor yelled at me about my cholesterol, I'd been thinking more about reforming my diet. So, one recent Sunday afternoon when I was feeling a little stir-crazy and about to disturb the domestic equilibrium, I decided to take a little road trip.

I'd actually been to this establishment once before; at the time it was a shabby little cinderblock building, ill-kept inside as well as out, and it had been something of a downer to visit. Today, however, I found a completely renovated building with a new second floor, decorative cedar shakes and custom windows in the shape of the twin-pines co-op logo, landscaped front yard and the promised new greenhouse. When I opened the door and caught that whiff of co-op -- an intriguing mixture of spices, granary, ground coffee, a whiff of patchouli and lavender -- I was in the zone, as they say.

Handmade soap...oh. Every culinary herb and spice one can think of...oh. Industrial-size bottles of tamari...oh. Fair Trade coffee...ooh. Rows of beans and grain and granola...mmmm. Organic Swiss chard and portabella mushrooms...mmmm. Every imaginable soyfood, and organic meat Little handwritten educational notes scattered about, like maternal lunchbox letters, explaining where items are from, why they are or aren't being carried by the store...awww. A tiny deli area with cafe table...yeah. By the time I got to the greenhouse door I was biting my lip to keep from making sounds that might frighten the staff. Awhile later I arrived breathlessly at the counter with an overflowing shopping basket, plus several peat pots in hand. A pleasant, natural-fiber/cruelty-free sort of young gal stood at the cash register.

"I'm provisioning," I explained. "I live in [Outer Podunk]." The cashier's eyes widened in what may have been pity.


I get that a lot.

Anyhow...driving home from my excellent adventure, grooving to some entirely appropriate Afro-Celtic tunes on The Thistle and Shamrock, I thought: This was kind of like...well, church, on a good day. People working together for a good end, for themselves and others; a celebration of life and wholeness and diversity; giving gifts of time and talent; zigging where the dominant culture is zagging.

I'm happy to be part of a church home that "does co-op" pretty well. It makes me want to be a better person, not only out of gratitude toward God but out of gratitude toward my church family, for gathering me in and making me a part of their project. And if they ever ask me to bake bread...well, now they'll actually be able to eat it.

Monday, June 06, 2005


If you're reading may be an elder caregiver. Or you may one day be an elder caregiver. Or you may be a friend or helping professional for whom this is a relevant issue. Statistically, more of us are providing some degree of help to an elder loved one; and while this has been traditionally thought of as women's work, more men -- 44 percent of all caregivers these days -- are involved in caregiving to some extent. But statistically the average caregiver is a woman in her early 40's, caring in some way for an elderly mother in her late 70's while holding down a job and taking care of her own household.

My 80-something mom lives with me. While I tell my friends that at this point it's hard to tell who's caring for whom, in reality I find myself gradually taking on more responsibility as my mother becomes more frail; this year, for instance, she's resigned herself to using a cane, something she had been resisting despite several falls, including one that broke her wrist. She's always prided herself on being a good cook, and she is -- and in fact when I moved home we would engage in low-grade turf warfare in the kitchen -- but I notice now she no longer protests when I cook a meal in the evening to reheat the next day; it's a relief for her. And while she is still usually mentally sharp enough to tend to her own affairs, if she is unusually preoccupied, sad or otherwise not in a good place emotionally, our conversations become like the one I had on a Saturday morning a few months ago, when I was feeling sentimental for her French toast and proceeded to make that for breakfast; I used whole-grain bread, and added some vanilla to the eggs and milk, and griddled it to perfection in a little butter -- brown on the outside, custardy on the inside. Mom had gotten up achy and depressed, so I thought French toast would be a treat for her too.

"This is really good," she commented, as we sat at the breakfast table eating. Then there was a pause.

"What do you call it?"

I heard a metal-fatigue screech in my head, and saw a vision of my mother in a nursing home, slumped in a wheelchair, mewling like a baby, her eyes fixed in a thousand-mile stare. Oh, no. (I later had social-worker friends tell me that it isn't unusual for older adults to experience a sort of situational cognitive deficit if they're stressed, and that it is not necessarily indicative of something more serious. One of the nice things about working in a human services agency is that, when I wig out, I'm surrounded by helping professionals.)

Sometimes this caregiving thing can be a tough gig.

Two resources I'd recommend highly to anyone who is a caregiver, who may be one, or who counsels caregivers: And Thou Shalt Honor, by Beth Witrogen McLoed; and Counting on Kindness by Wendy Lustbader. The first book is a wonderful, comprehensive resource spanning everything from pre-caregiving planning when one's parents are "young seniors" to the concerns of persons providing 24/7 eldercare. McLoed covers issues like finding senior services, legal issues, calling family councils when important decisions need to be made, advice for caregivers whose loved ones suffer from particular disabilities or diseases, and self-care for caregivers themselves. The second book talks about caregiving from the perspective of the person being cared for -- the shame and frustration that dependent persons often feel, and how caregivers can minimize those feelings. Lustbader approaches this topic from a spiritual perspective, and talks about caregiving as a mitzvah, a good work, especially insofar as the caregiver protects the dignity of the person being cared for. For those of us whose peers tend to look askance at taking on this responsibility...well, sometimes it's good to hear some outside validation that we've made the right decision.

Anyhow...two excellent books. Whether you are assisting an elder or providing some moral or practical support to someone who is, you will find these most useful.

Rural Life is Not For Sissies

Life-and-death drama played out at Cold Comfort Cottage today.

When I got home from work tonight, my mother met me at the door with, "You need to do something unpleasant after supper tonight." (Mom has a talent for delivering these cheery messages just when I'm at the cusp of relaxation -- when I walk through the door at the end of a trying workday, Saturday mornings as I'm pouring my first cup of coffee, and so on -- but I suppose that's grist for another day's blog entry.) Turns out that a fledgling robin had killed itself against our front door; its body lay twisted and stiff on the porch.

I was sad. I'd been watching this robin, with its sibling, hopping around the lawn this morning as I was eating breakfast; now I had to bury it in the woods. To make matters worse, I could hear the parents fripping anxiously from a nearby tree. Damn, I thought; I hate this. I wondered what had caused the bird to hit the door at such velocity.

Later on, as I was planting my dillweed out behind the garage, I heard a strange swoop just over my head; too low-frequency for a hummingbird, too loud for an insect. A few minutes later, as I was back at the house, I turned toward the garage, and saw a sharp-shinned hawk shooting past it, maybe six feet off the ground.

I'm sure the hawk has been preying upon both nesting birds as they're foraging for their young and upon the young themselves when they're newly fledged, slow and clumsy. Perhaps the robin family were fleeing from the hawk when one of the panicked youngsters slammed into our door. Now I worry for my family of chickadees -- the youngsters are so loud and perpetually hungry, and the parents are constantly fluttering hither and yon. On the other hand...I'm sure that the hawk has its own nest of fuzzy, endearingly helpless chicks demanding to be fed.

Sometimes Gnosticism is an appealing philosophy: The material world sucks; it's all about death and decay; we need to escape it.

On the other hand...there are days when, as Lewis Thomas put it, we should all be staggering around in stunned awe of the vast and intricate universe around us.

Right now, in my head, L'chaim! is winning...but just barely. I think I need to go water my flowers, then come back in and make some tabbouleh for dinner tomorrow night, and otherwise get my hands dirty with material reality.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Public Radio: Give Early and Often

This morning on the way home from church I listened, as is my custom, to This American Life on my local public radio station. This week's theme was darker than usual: "Godless America." Ira Glass and Company spent the entire hour discussing how Christian fundamentalists are not only making inroads into our government and legal and educational systems, but are actively engaged in rewriting history to create a revisionist myth of fundamentalist Christian Founding Fathers creating a "Christian America" that is now under attack by the "godless." The segments gave despressing example after example of this. The show also featured a piece by Julia Sweeney, in response to the ascendancy of "Bible-believing" Christian culture, cataloguing instance after instance of mutually contradictory, nonsensical and downright horrific Scripture texts; this last piece was, I thought, as untutored, leaden and unnuanced as fundamentalist exegesis and hermaneutics, only going in the other direction; but the point was well taken.

Coincidentally, this morning before church, while my mother was channel-surfing the TV, she came upon "The Coral Ridge Hour" with D. James Kennedy -- one of the most vile and in fact dangerous televangelists I can think of -- and my experience listening to his paid political rant disguised as a "sermon" only made me happier to hear the "This American Life" crew go after the movement Kennedy represents.

So...after having just spent a very happy hour in church, the taste of bread and wine still on my lips, now listening to "Godless America" and reeling from the cognitive dissonance between the Christianity that I live and experience in my own extended community of faith and the nationalist pseudo-Christianity being shoved down our collective throats by fundamentalist activists, I thought, "You go, Ira. Keep telling it like it is. Keep this issue in moderate and progressive people's faces, so we lose our damned middle-class 'above it all' complacency in the face of this assault on secular government."

I'm sure that public-radio program directors around the country are going to have their fannies handed to them on a plate by outraged listeners after today's broadcast. And be prepared to hear about outraged legislators, transcripts of this show in hand, demanding that funding for public broadcasting be cut.

My request to you: Support your local public broadcasting stations. Collect those empties; clean out the penny jars; send in a donation, even if it's not pledge week. And, maybe better yet, e-mail your local public radio station, right now -- you're already online, aren't you -- and tell them you apprecicate the scope of their programming and their willingness to broadcast edgy, controversial shows like this one.

That's what I'm doing as soon as I post this.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Jesus Is For Losers

Hold out your right hand in a fist. Now hold out your thumb and forefinger so that they're perpendicular. Raise your hand, with your fingers still extended, to your forehead.


LutheranChik is well acquainted with that particular L-word, and that particular feeling.

Back in elementary school I was the last kid picked in gym; team captains bargained with one another not to get me on their side. In the spring, when we played softball, I was always assigned to the outfield, where I could do the least amount of damage. And, after the initial insult and injury wore off, I got accustomed to that -- to being a spectator at everyone else's game...invisible...relieved to be so rejected that people just stopped paying attention to me. I used to, and I'm not making this up, watch the killdeer and study the weeds there in the outfield, all the while praying to God that the ball wouldn't come anywhere near me.

Later on, when I had developed enough social skills to meet up with the other geeky rejects of my school -- we discovered the value of hanging together rather than hanging separately -- life got better for me. But I have certainly felt that big L pressing into my forehead at various times since then.

Today's Gospel lesson presents us with a trio of losers.

First we have Levi the tax collector, a man who, for whatever reason, has decided to trade his integrity and his place in the community for a little extra spending money. Oh, he has a certain civic authority, backed up by the Emperor and probably a couple of burly Roman soldiers. But that comes at the cost of his place in the Jewish community, since he would have been thrown out of the synagogue for collaborating with the Romans; at the cost of his family, who would have been forced to disown him lest they too be rejected; and at the cost of his self-respect, as he lives every day in that self-loathing space between his outraged neighbors and his contemptuous foreign handlers.

Next we have the woman with the hemorrhage who has, through no fault of her own, lost her dignity. Because of the nature of her illness, she is perpetually ritually unclean; probably rejected by her husband and by her own family, maybe reduced to beggary, dependent on the occasional coins tossed from a distance by uncomfortable passers-by.

And finally we have Jairus' dead young daughter -- already a "nobody" if ever there was one in a patriarchal society where a woman's only status came through marriage and bearing male children, now losing the very last of what little she had to lose.

Losers, all three of them, in the game of life.

One of the messages of our Gospel is that Jesus takes all these losers and makes them winners. Through Jesus' saving power, the toady of the occupying powers wins back his freedom from his craven servitude to both material wealth and the political powers that be. Through Jesus' saving power, the woman with the issue of blood wins back her physical and relational wholeness. Through Jesus' saving power he young girl wins back her very self.

But, more than that -- by his words and actions, Jesus rewrites the rules of the game. When confronted by The Way It S'posed To Be according to the dominant culture and the religious bigshots of his time and place, Jesus emphatically announces, Game over. Jesus demonstrates a radical willingness to reach out to anyone, to touch the untouchable and save the unsaveable, to upend "community values" that presume to judge which human beings are and aren't valuable. That radical willingness in turn radically transforms the people he touches. He tells his audience the ancient Palestinian equivalent of the contemporary aphorism about the definition of mental illness -- doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. New game in God's Reign -- new rules.

And, as we know from the rest of the story, Jesus' identification with the losers of society wind up making him the biggest loser of them all -- the one who bears the sin of the world as a dying, discredited criminal on a cross.

Except...this loser won't stay conveniently and safely dead. He keeps showing up -- first to this friends, then to his followers. He shows up when we get together in his name. And...he shows up whenever and wherever we, in whatever ways we can do it in whatever situations we find ourselves, reach out to a loser and raise her or him up to be a winner in the Reign of God.

(Thanks to Mark Powell's book Loving Jesus (Fortress Press)for giving me the perfect title for this post...first thing that came to mind when I read the Gospel lesson.)

"Woman With Hemorrhage" by Louis Glanzman  Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Why (Most) Dogs Make Good Spiritual Directors

Life moves fairly slowly in Outer Podunk, and last week at work the most exciting thing going on in the neighborhood around our office was a guy tearing down a decrepit old garage behind his house.

With the guy was a dog -- a huge, goofy mutt, maybe part St. Bernard, with a jowly black muzzle. All during the demolition process, the dog stayed maybe a foot behind the guy's heels, half-wagging his tail. If the guy turned, the dog turned; if the guy stopped, the dog stopped. At one point I saw the guy waving his arms in a "Get away from me!" gesture, and the dog obediently moved a few feet away, still wagging his tail, his eyes never leaving the guy.

All week long, as the project progressed, the dog kept gazing up at the guy with that canine look of sweet, confused adoration suggesting, "I really don't understand what you're doing...but you know what you're doing, and I'm with you on it. Yessirree. We're a team." (Actually, my own dog's demeanor expresses a sentiment more like, "I really don't understand what you're must be nuts." But work with me here.)

As I was watching this dramedy from my office window, it occurred to me that people of faith are a lot like this dog. We don't always get what God is doing, either in our own lives or in the big picture; it's a mystery to us. But we love God, and we want to be on God's team, so we keep following and watching and listening.

Lo, How a Rose is Growing...

A Luther rose ? Well, it's a LutheranChik rose. (That's my hand, with the Trinitarian Warrior Princess bling-bling.) For us Christocentric folk the white rose is emblemic of Christ's purity, and of the joy of relationship with Christ; for persons whose spirituality takes a Marian bent the rose symbolizes the Virgin, the "rose among thorns."

Believe it or not, this rosebush was grown from seed. About 15 years or so ago, on a visit home to the 'rents and their then-new retirement cottage, I had made them a little woodland wildflower garden along the margin of their yard. I like wild roses, and so on a lark I planted (in a very haphazard and inexpert way) some open-pollinated species rose seeds from J.L. Hudson, Seedsman , a delightfully eclectic and eccentric seed catalog. I thought of it as a sort of grownup science-fair experiment.

Much to my shock, the seeds actually produced plants the next spring...but they languished in the shade, and in the years that followed they failed to bloom. My parents eventually lost interest in the roses and the other plants, and so did I.

As they say, life happens, and I found myself living here. One day I got the urge to play in the dirt, and I decided to transplant two of the stunted rosebushes to a sunny spot on the east side of my garage. The bushes shot out into sprawling shrubs, and the following year one of them finally flowered, its branches laden with beautiful hot pink blossoms, for just about a week and a half in early June.

A couple more years passed, and the other bush sported blooms in the springtime. These burst into creamy white roses.

So if you can wait about 15 years for results, try roses from seed. As one (in)famous gardener we all know would note, it's a good thing.

In the meantime...I just wanted you to see my bloomers.

 Posted by Hello