Wednesday, August 31, 2005

HELP

O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, hake haste to help us.

For the people I know who need you
For the people I don't know who need you
For me
For all of us
Help.

Christus der Allm├Ąchtige by Viktor Michailow Wasnezow (thanks, Mel) Posted by Picasa

Let's Start a Flood of Aid

Hat tip to bls for clueing us in about The Truth Laid Bear's growing list of bloggers working to rustle up some flood aid money for the relief agencies of their choice, to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Here's how it goes: If you're reading this blog, why not round up some spare change and send to...oh, I don't know... Lutheran Disaster Response . Or the agency of your choice. Wherever you choose to send it, do it now. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Quality of Mercy

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. -- William Shakespeare

I don't know about you and where you live, but from the safety of rural mid-Michigan, the unfolding crisis in the Gulf states in the wake of Hurricane Katrina -- which is now being described as the worst natural disaster ever in this country -- seems strangely far away...in a way, farther even than last year's tsunami. To me, news coverage has been understated, to say the least. Maybe this is simply because news organizations can't get to the most stricken areas; we're not seeing them or hearing about them because reporters aren't there yet. Or maybe we're all still in a kind of shock; when we do see fleeting footage of bodies, of refugees, it seems like something that's happening in another country -- somewhere in Africa, or the Caribbean, or on the Indian subcontinent.

The plight of the hurricane victims drifted far from my consciousness today, despite my frequent check-ins on the Internet to read news updates. One report talked of a man who lost his wife when their house literally broke in half; they'd been holding one another through the brunt of the storm, but when the house split in two he lost his grip on her, and never saw her again; it seemed more like a sad, terrible myth of the ancients than something that happened yesterday. At one point I was totally lost in my work; at another I was bored and daydreaming; I had to remind myself, finally, "You know, there are dead bodies floating in the streets in the streets of New Orleans right now -- what is the matter with you?"

So when I got home, it was important to me to watch the news, to see what was happening in Louisiana and Mississippi...not out of a sense of voyeurism, but just to put a human face on words like "refugee."

I did see that -- faces of the displaced, the bereft, the stunned. As far as that went, even the usually dapper and unflappable newspeople sent to the scene seemed more human and vulnerable tonight, wet and dirty, almost overwhelmed by the mayhem around them. But what stayed with me for the rest of the evening, was a report on looting in New Orleans -- scores of people wading through thigh-deep water into supermarkets and drugstores and emerging with armfuls of food and dry goods. Police were present, but made no attempt to stop the looters; at times they even helped them carry their stolen goods through the flood waters. One weary looking police officer put it simply: "People gotta do what they gotta do."

I'm sure there were many law-abiding citizens around the U.S., watching the evening news from the comfort of high ground, who found this story disturbing and objectionable. And I don't want to sound as if I endorse thievery as a practice. But to me the police officers who, in some circumstances, held back from arresting the desperate, were a sign of grace and mercy in the midst of a merciless natural disaster. People in the neighborhood were hungry, cut off from their homes and possessions and the outside world; the merchandise in these stores was a loss anyway -- maybe soon to be covered by the rising water. Better that it not be wasted; that people who needed it had access to it. And better that violence not be added to the chaos. Someone who truly understands both the rules and the reasons for the rules also understands when the rules can be set aside; that's wisdom.

Last night, in my prayers, one of the things that I prayed for was that, in the midst of destruction and mayhem, that God's hands might be made manifest in the hands of helping others. I want to think that when desperate people went foraging today for things they needed to keep going, and experienced not judgment and punishment at the hands of the police, but kindness and solidarity, that those officers' hands became God's hands.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Something You Can Do

I just checked out the Lutheran World Relief . They are preparing to organize their disaster relief efforts in the areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

If you can spare some money to help the effort, the website has a secure online giving option. If you're in a place in your life where you can provide some hands-on assistance, they can tell you how to do that too. You can also visit the Red Cross website for more information on how to help. And we can all hold the people in this area -- particularly evacuees, those in harm's way from the expected flooding, and all those involved in rescue, maintaining order and other relief efforts -- in our prayers in the days and weeks to come.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Be a Groupie!

I have just begun two Beliefnet dialogue groups -- one on the Daily Office , one on lectio divina using the Sacred Space website. The groups are each three weeks long, and are a way for persons interested in incorporating these disciplines into their own daily spiritual practice to talk about their insights and experiences and receive support from others. You can follow the link above to find out more.

I often have a dicey relationship with Beliefnet, but I had a very positive experience facilitating a Daily Office group last year -- in the beginning I thought I'd attract the bare minimum number of participants necessary to make it a going concern, but wound up instead with a large, lively group. And the dialogue groups provided an entre for me into the world of blogging, thanks to bls ...and my experience "dialoguing" played a role in my decision to get involved in lay ministry training. So I am entering into this new project with the hope that The CEO has more surprises in store for me in the month to come.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Ministry of Bearing

The Bible speaks with remarkable frequency of "bearing." It is capable of expressing the whole work of Jesus Christ in this one word. "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows...the chastisement of our peace was upon him" (Isa. 53:4-5). Therefore, the Bible can also characterize the whole life of the Christian as bearing the Cross. It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other. If one does not experience it, the fellowship he belongs to is not Christian. If any member refuses to bear that burden, he denies the law of Christ. -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Once upon a time, during some interminable family holiday gathering where I wound up sitting cross-legged next to a bookcase and reading my much older cousins' books to combat my intolerable boredom (I was that kind of child), I came upon an interesting little tome all about child martyrdom. Each chapter was a fictionalized account of a child in a foreign land who wound up dying for his or her faith in Jesus -- killed by the godless Communists in Red China, killed by intolerant Muslims in an Arab country, and so on. Being a kid, and kids having a certain morbid fascination with blood, gore and heroism, I found the book quite inspiring. But the idea of suffering for one's faith seemed like something that happened to other people, far away.

And, really, that's where we like to keep suffering -- far away. That's where Peter wants to keep suffering, in our Gospel lesson today. He's just acclaimed Jesus as the Messiah -- in his mind, the great deliverer of Israel from the hated foreign oppressors and incompetent religious leaders, one who would usher in a new righteous kingdom of peace, prosperity and goodness. How strange, then, that Jesus should begin to talk about coming events -- suffering and even death at the hands of the authorities -- that didn't fit the conventional picture of Messiahship. It's no wonder that Peter should interrupt Jesus' gloomy prediction with what amounts to a prayer: "God forbid that such a thing should happen to you!"

What a shock it must have been to be rebuked so forcefully by Jesus -- the same Jesus who, not so long before, had called Peter a "rock"!

But Jesus was in the truth business. And one important truth he tried to impart here and elsewhere to his disciples was that God's people -- God's agents in the world -- will inevitably find themselves on the wrong side of those who are invested in the status quo. It happens every time. It even happens within the Church. As Jesus points out in his stern response to Peter, denying this truth about the inbreaking of the Reign of God is, in effect, "working for the other side"; it's abandoning one's charge to mend the broken places on God's behalf, and instead follow our own human tendency to choose complacency and even collaboration with what Walter Wink identifies as the "powers and principalities."

That's the big-picture, macro aspect of the Reign of God; facing the oppressive powers head-on and bearing the consequences. But the Reign comes down in innumerable individual acts of people bearing one another's burdens. Jesus models that; we read in the Gospels of Jesus seeing the needy crowds flocking to him, each individual with his or her own story of pain and need, and his being "moved with compassion" -- literally, "moved to the bowels"; gut-wrenched. When Jesus tells us to take up our crosses and follow him, he asks us to be willing to bear the weight of others' pain; of others' wrongdoing; of all the things about the people around us that may make us sad or angry or confused or uncomfortable. Bonhoeffer puts it this way: "To bear the burden of the other person means involvement with the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it...to cherish no contempt for the sinner but rather to prize the privilege of bearing him means not to have to give him up as lost, to be able to accept him, to preserve fellowship with him through forgiveness."

This sounds like a pretty tough job. And it is. I once held a worldview that allowed me to define my own reality, which also allowed me to continually redraw the parameters of my engagement with others. It was a pretty convenient way to live; if some world situation or interpersonal friction displeased me, I could just walk away -- as long as I wasn't purposely injuring someone or something, no harm/no foul. After Christ came back for me, he wouldn't let me off the hook that easily. And I found that, ironically, my life hurt more, because I felt more. When the hollow eyes of the starving children stared at me from the TV screen, I was no longer able to just switch the channel; when the crazy lady in the supermarket parking lot started talking to me, I was no longer able to assume the urban-commuter stare and hurry past her.

It's a tough job, but not a job we have to bear alone. Because we know that Christ bears it with us. And, as Bonhoeffer points out, we who live in Christian community are being borne by others just as we are bearing them. There's a Jane Siberry song about how sometimes we pull the wagon and other times we're pulled along in the wagon by others, that always reminds me how it's supposed to go among the people of God. I often speak of intercessory prayer in terms of work; I wonder if any of us really appreciate what important work it is in the household of God.

Back in the summer before I started college, when my church youth group had a final summer picnic before we all scattered to our destinies, we played a volleyball game that turned into an "un-game" -- after awhile we got bored with keeping score, and decided instead to see how long we could keep the ball in play. Our very Ordnung muss sein pastor, increasingly disturbed by this subversive turn of events, became so agitated that his ears turned red -- something I hadn't seen since we disussed the 6th Commandment back in catechism class -- and he actually made us stop. "What is the point of playing a game," he demanded, "if there's no winner?" I suppose one could ask the same of those who claim Christ, as we insist on "losing" -- losing ourselves in giving ourselves to others even when it hurts, losing popularity contests in the public forum, seemingly losing again and again to everything that's wrong in the world. In the Gospel lesson for today Peter, too, operates from a paradigm where there is a clear "winner" on the world's terms. But what Christ tells him, and tells us, is that in God's Reign we win precisely when, from the world's perspective, we lose.


"Simon Helps Christ Carry the Cross," Chris Woods, Stations of the Cross Posted by Picasa


"Veronica Wipes Christ's Face," Chris Woods, Stations of the Cross Posted by Picasa

The Laity Qualification Test

This week my friend Derek's blog features an hilarious clergy want ad whose qualification list will resonate with both clergy and laypeople who have ever sat on a call committee. (Been there; done that.)

Derek's ad made me want to compose a church want ad for laity. Until I read through the Epistle lesson for tomorrow. Pretty much sums it up, don't you think?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Don't Hit People and Don't Leave the Playground

I've gotten a good head start on Margaret Guenther's Toward Holy Ground: Spiritual Directions For the Second Half of Life. It's a wonderful book about growing up spiritually -- a process that, as Guenther points out, has less to do with reaching a particular age than it has to do with growing into an inner maturity.

Even though I'm barely into chapter four, I've already gleaned some valuable insights. I love Guenther's thoughts on intercessory prayer, especially her suggestion to broaden and deepen our prayers by using "icons" of the real people we know and love to remember and lift up others in similar situations and conditions. In other respects, Guenther stretches my sensibilities -- in talking about exemplars of mature faith she talks about her own identification with St. Anne, grandmother of Jesus; perhaps due to my thready Lutheran hagiographical knowledge base, or my anxieties about my own slouching toward older adulthood, I just can't relate. (I'd rather think of myself as a sort of fun maiden aunt who is a cheerfully subversive ally of precocious children, or maybe the gray-haired-terror-with-a-heart-of-gold one finds in novels like Anne of Green Gables -- stern and intimidating on the outside, a soft touch on the inside.)

But here's a phrase that jumped out at me from the book's pages the other day: Guenther, describing a St.-Anne-like, serene, unflappable director of a nursery school, noted the school's only two discernable rules: Don't hit people and don't leave the playground.

This pretty much sums up the Law and the Prophets, doesn't it?

Mechtild of Magdeburg, a medieval German mystic/ecclesiastical gadfly/right-on woman, used the imagery of play when talking about our relationship with God; in fact, she referred to God as her Playmate. And indeed, when we ignore our Playmate in favor of self-serving adventures beyond our playground, we get ourselves into trouble. And loving our neighbors the way we love ourselves means -- no hitting.

I have to tell you -- I don't earn too many gold stars in either column. I am so prone to wandering out of bounds that sometimes I think I need one of those harnesses that anxious parents use to rein in their wayward toddlers. (And on several occasions I've felt that elastic yank.) And I suspect that "Does not play well with others" shows up in my student file quite frequently -- weekly, in fact; at least.

Don't hit people and don't leave the playground -- words to live by; words to practice examen by.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Kitchen Confidential

It sucked to be me in the kitchen this week.

I am not in any way a trained cook -- I'm sure a real chef would spontaneously combust upon watching me work -- but I like to think that what I whip up is fairly edible. I do my bit for potlucks, bake sales and whatnot without breaking into a nervous sweat. People ask me for recipes; that's good, right?

But this week, for some reason, I lost my touch.

First there was the Bar Cookie Incident. I'm not sure how you can ruin a bar cookie, but I managed to do it while trying to reprise my successful Polka-Dot Blondies -- I forgot something, or put too much of something else in, and completely ruined them; wound up scraping half-melted M&M's off the top with my finger and eating the technicolor mess just to keep from wasting it. (Bonus loser points for violating my diet.)

Then there was the Kasha Incident. The paternal side of my family hails from Eastern Europe -- the German colonies that Catherine the Great established in Russia, as well as that border area between Prussia and Poland that changed hands about every sixth months back in the old days -- so every once in awhile we'd have borscht or kasha or some other Slavic dish at home. And back during my crunchy granola student days, I'd occasionally buy a scoopful of bulk kasha at the food co-op and cook it. Well, the other day I noticed some kasha at our local bulk store and bought about a cup of it to make, for old times' sake. So last night I'm being the Good Daughter, getting a head start on tonight's supper, and I'm trying to make the kasha. I brown some onion and mushrooms; set them aside; make some seasoned broth and set that aside; brown the buckwheat groats a little. For reasons not immediately clear to me now as I'm writing this, I decide to skip the traditional step of first mixing the kasha with some beaten egg before heating it in the pan. You know what happens when you omit this step, then pour the cooking liquid on the kasha and bring it to boil? Oh, let me tell you: You wind up with a disgusting bruise-hued mush, punctuated by a few hard buckwheat kernels. It looks like something you're fed in Treblinka, in solitary, if you've been very, very bad. I was so aghast I immediately took the pot outside and dumped the contents in the woods, where I suspect it probably disgusted a host of other life forms as well.

I was able to redeem the supper menu by quickly cooking up some bulgur to mix with the onions and mushrooms -- had this with pork chops and winter-mix vegetables; it was pretty good -- but my two-fer of culinary disasters has me spooked. We're eating takeout tomorrow night.

"Now I'll never have my own show on The Food Channel!" Posted by Picasa

(Almost) Friday Bloom Blogging

I gave this clematis plant to my parents many years ago, not that long after they moved to Cold Comfort Cottage from the farm. They planted it on the east side of the garage...and waited...and waited...and waited. It never amounted to much; I think one year it had some decent blooms, but then it fell into a decline, and pretty much remained a stringy little vine with a couple of flowers appearing on it in August. My dad wound up giving up on the thing and planting a trumpet vine against the trellis instead. But he left the clematis where it was.

I've thought about moving it, but haven't. And now it's surrounded by the trumpet vine and my rugosa rose. But this year, possibly because we've finally gotten a decent rainfall, and possibly because its feet are kept sufficiently cool by the other foliage, I got a few more blooms on it. I kind of like the way the vine snakes up through the other plants. So I probably won't move it after all.

The little clematis that could Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Not-So-Green-and-Growing Season

What week after Pentecost is it?

Bet you had to look it up. (I did.)

Like a trip down a long stretch of rural two-track, we’re on the winding road to the end of the Church year; a journey where we, having encountered the Word made flesh in the course of the Advent and Christmas seasons, and having lived through the Word’s earthly suffering, death and ultimate triumph in the Lenten and Easter seasons, internalize that story and live it back out, individually and collectively as the Body of Christ.

That’s the way it’s supposed to go, anyhow. But I fear that the long Pentecost season -- largely unpunctuated, in these days of truncated Church calendars, by festivals and commemorations that might give more form and focus to our faith walk at this time of year -- tends to dull the edges of both our inner spiritual lives and our response in the world.

Last night I took my evening walk around our wooded neighborhood. I felt a hint of chill as the sun slipped away, noticeably earlier than it had last week. The air was redolent with the scents of ripening fruits in the forest undergrowth and late-summer roadside flowers – but also with the ferment of dying vegetation. I noted that the foliage around me was looking the worse for wear this time of year; tattered, galled, some leaves even beginning to turn color. Restless birds – some older, some visibly younger, smaller, less steady – sat on overhead wires. My trek became a multisensory meditation on the truth that late summer is the time of greetings and goodbyes; of gathering in and emptying out; of success and failure; of new life and sacrifice. I thought of areas of spiritual growth and fruition, and areas that need healing attention or even pruning, in my own life, the life of my parish and the life of the Church.

Once upon a time, back in my early 30’s, I was a pagan. I’m not being metaphorical; I really was, for a few years. I was not a particularly good pagan; I’d call myself a skeptipagan, someone who was in it largely for the poetry and ritual and folk psychology of it all, because it felt empowering on a number of levels, because it respected and celebrated the created world and because I’d embraced the political philosophy that if history hasn’t treated you well, then you may as well make up your own, because everyone else has. The novelty of this new spiritual path wore off after awhile and eventually I slid into postmodern irreligiosity, at which point I found my previous interest in neopaganism cringeingly embarrassing; I chalked it up to some sort of delayed adolescent acting-out or pre-midlife crisis. It all seems so long ago now; indistinct, shrouded in a cloud like a scene out of The Mists of Avalon.

But, even these days, from my profoundly changed perspective, I think that my old friends get it right in some ways. One of those ways is their acknowledgement that, as enfleshed creatures on this planet, we live according to the rhythm of days and months and seasons. Many Christians, especially spiritual children of the Reformation, seem so terrified by anything even remotely capable of suggesting pantheism that any talk of integrating the rhythms of earthly existence into our spiritual lives sounds dangerously syncretic – forgetting, of course, that we share a faith heritage with Judaism, whose rituals and holy days integrate a celebration of our earthly lives with worship of the Sovereign of the Universe, and that until fairly recently in history our own worship had a greater connection to the land. (Even in the austere and otherworldly minded church of my youth, we recognized Soil Conservation Sunday each year.)

Another way they get it right, I think, is in recognizing the power of mindful, integrative, full-participation ritual. The first days in August are a time, on the pagan calendar, to simultaneously celebrate the firstfruits of the harvest and to recognize the death that is necessary to sustain life; so you might bake a loaf of bread in a human shape and eat it, to act out that cycle; alternatively, you might weave a corn dolly out of ripened stalks of grain, to bury in the ground later; you might adorn a personal altar with jars of summer produce you’ve canned, or with the results of creative projects you’ve started in the early part of the year; you might make a donation to an organization that saves heirloom seeds or feeds the hungry. You spend time thinking about the things in your life that have borne good fruit, that should be celebrated and nurtured, as well the plans and activities and attitudes in your life that haven’t been fruitful, that shouldn’t be held onto into the darkening of the year, that need to be let go of now; you create ritual actions that illustrate this process of personal inventory.

With all that in mind, my question to readers: What are your ideas for ritually marking the time during the long Pentecost season in a Christocentric, cruciform manner that also acknowledges the world as we experience it (and as Jesus experienced it) in creative, evocative ways? How do we keep the green in the green and growing season, and help it bear more fruit in our individual and corporate lives?

"Cornfield at Ewell," William Holman Hunt, Tate Gallery ;Posted by Picasa

My New New Favorite Tomato

This is one of my "Green Zebra" tomatoes -- my new favorite. These are not heirloom tomatoes, per se, but are an open-pollinated variety. Once I finally figured out they were ripe (hint: it's when the fruit becomes slightly soft to the touch and the background color turns a yellowish chartreuse), I found them to be pleasingly tart-sweet, like salsa verde. They also look pretty cool sliced on a plate with dark red and orange tomatoes. Two (green) thumbs up.

"Green Zebra" tomato Posted by Picasa

So, Pat -- Tell Us What You Think About Everything

Now, I know that Pat Robertson , to the extent that Lutherans and other catholic types pay attention to him at all, has the same credibility level in our circles -- probably less -- than that guy down behind the supermarket who argues with himself and wears a tinfoil hat to keep the alien mind-meld rays from penetrating his head. But, just for your further edification, in case you're not acquainted with Robertson's other deep thoughts, here is a Big, Scary List of Pat Robertson Quotes .

It's just too bad that there don't seem to be all that many Christians out there who are willing to call him on his comments. Just because he appears to be barking mad doesn't mean that he's harmless. The educated churched folks in Germany dismissed Hitler as a crackpot too. And did you ever notice that, when the Sunday-morning talking-head news shows devote a broadcast to "Whither Religion in the United States?", it ain't Bishop Hanson or other mainstream church leadership who shows up -- it's Robertson, Falwell, et al. That's scary too.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Blogworthy

Ever experience this phenomenon? You’re going about your day, and as you do, you find yourself thinking, Is this blogworthy?

I know other bloggers have written about this. And I find it happening to me a lot. One recent evening I was kneeling at the bathtub, soaping up my highly excitable dog’s nether parts after an anxiety-induced episode of lower-GI distress that in our household is referred to by the veterinary term “poopy-butt.” (It’s amazing, if you share living space with both a pet and a geriatric parent, how much of your life begins to revolve around your housemates’ bowel and bladder activities, or lack thereof.) Of all the things that I could have been pondering at this time, I couldn’t help but think, How can I make this blogworthy? What sort of pithy, Lutheresque observation about enfleshed spirituality can I make in this situation? But no lightning strikes of insight were forthcoming. Here I am…washing my dog’s butt.

After several months of keeping a weblog, I feel like a singer-songwriter phenom who, after a remarkable debut album, comes out with a disappointingly mediocre sophomore effort…because I’ve stopped writing about real life and started writing about a songwriter writing about real life.

I suppose one solution to this dilemma would be to stop blogging, go out and do some interesting things, then come back and write about them. But I don't think I want to do that. Because, ever since I was a tiny child, when I used to write, illustrate and publish (using typing paper, crayons and staples) my own books -- I've wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a writer when I got to college; I majored in advertising as a reluctant concession to my practical pater familias, but I planned to make writing my real vocation while I suffered through my day job -- like the Bronte sisters hiding their writing under their knitting, or Kafka furtively scribbling during quiet moments at the insurance office. Later on, when I entered my 30's and my young-adult vision of being a novelist or essayist or creative writing teacher grew blurrier and more distant as my idealism kept running up against the realities of adult life and the necessity of making a living, I felt a real sense of loss; a sense that I had somehow missed my window of opportunity.

The funny thing is -- and believe it or not, I just realized this the other day -- in retrospect, I've pretty much been able to do what I set out to do. I've had the good fortune to work in jobs that involve writing (and even churning out PR hackery, ad copy and newsletter natter is not a bad gig, if you like to play with words); and now I write almost every day in a medium where my work can be read by people all over the world. Who knew, back in 1966 when I was stapling together my Crayola'd opus Queen of the Animals, that I'd actually pull this off someday? It's mind-blowing. God is good.

But the even more mind-blowing thing is: I find myself headed toward another goal. But I don't know what it is. Yet. I've just begun to read Margaret Guenther's Toward Holy Ground: Spiritual Directions For the Second Half of Life , a book that found its way into my hands by a series of meaningful coincidences, and she says this is what happens when you finally grow up; you get the urge to embark on new adventures, very often in a Godward direction.

And you'll get to read about it here.

Preserve Us...Direct Us

My date with the Morning Prayer today ended as soon as I tried getting through the Old Testament reading:

Now Adonijah son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, "I will be king"; he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, "Why have you done thus and so?" He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab son of Zeruiah and with the priest Abiathar, and they supported Adonijah. But the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and the prophet Nathan, and Shimei, and Rei, and David's own warriors did not side with Adonijah. (NRSV)


Now, it's not as if I suffer from an aversion to reading about wars and rumors of wars. As a child I was steeped in battle imagery -- the Rat Patrol versus Rommel, Bullwinkle and Rocky versus Boris and Natasha, the United Federation of Planets versus the Klingons and Romulans...you get the picture. Today I enjoy reading war memoirs; for better or worse, it's who we are as human beings -- people whose history has been largely defined by political strife and violence. But there's something about Biblical tales of wars that (especially at 7:00 a.m.) turn my brain to mush; even more so than the endless procession of incompetent kings who "did evil in the sight of the Lord."

I knew that my busy morning was simply not going to let me get into the readings, and indeed the rest of the Prayer, the way I should...so I fell back on the Morning Prayer for Individuals and Families. I used to feel as if this were a poor second choice -- the Cliff Notes Morning Prayer for slackers. But is it? As I read through the prayer today, the Collect -- something I've prayed countless times -- made a particular impression on me:

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


What better way to begin the day than to ask for God's protection and guidance? I was particularly taken by the phrase "direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose"; not only because I'm discerning a vocation in a more formal sense, in the context of service to the Church, but because this petition underscores the fact that, in the household of God, we have chores to do. Some of them may seem holier than others; but no matter what they are, they are ultimately a "God thing." Sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Just Who's In Charge Around Here?

Letting Jesus be Lord of our lives -- and of our own congregations -- means making sure that no thing and no one else is allowed to be. -- the Rev. Kelly Fryer, Reclaiming the "L" Word: Renewing the Church From Its Lutheran Core


Upon my first read-through of today's Gospel lesson, I have to admit that my first thought was an equivocal one: Here's a real good-news/bad news text.

First the good news: At Caesarea Philippi -- ironically, a place home to a popular Roman shrine and a center of imperial influence -- Jesus asks his friends as the song says, "What's the buzz" on the street regarding him and his ministry; he gets a variety of interesting answers -- the common perception seems to be that Jesus is the re-embodiment of John the Baptist, or one of the great prophets of yore. Then Jesus directs the same question toward them: "Who do you say I am?" At that moment the irrepressible Simon Peter blurts out the credo that has defined followers of Christ for two milennia: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." Jesus seems happily astonished by this insight on Peter's part, and identifies it as nothing less than a revelation from God.

Whew! Glad we cleared that up.

But then -- Jesus gives Peter, and by extension everyone else in the Christian community to come, a job: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

I don't know about you, but my reaction to reading this verse was something along the lines of, Yeah -- and we can see how well that's worked out.

The Office of the Keys -- the "binding and loosing" -- was never my strong subject in catechism class. Our pastor's either -- I think we spent maybe 20 minutes talking about it, and I got the distinct impression that he was almost as much in the dark as the rest of us. And I suspect that's still true for many of us. When's the last time you attended an excommunication, or the last time that Rome issued an interdiction? Because the Office of the Keys is often presented in these medieval terms -- the institutional Church's power to offer or rescind forgiveness on a personal or collective level. And, frankly, looking at the historical record, it seems that throughout the ages the Church has used its self-serving interpretation of this office as a means of individual and collective intimidation, bullying and consolidation of power.

So I was glad to read an essay on "binding and loosing," by Mark Allan Powell of Trinity Seminary, that helped me understand what this part of the text is really all about. Powell notes that the same binding/loosing verbiage used in Matthew was used in the Jewish community to refer to community discernment of God's will in interpreting Torah to apply to specific situations.

I got a taste of this earlier this spring, when I took an online class in Torah, Talmud and Mishnah. The rabbinical commentaries on Torah provide a real insight into this group discernment process. Take the Sh'ma, the morning and evening prayer central to Jewish spirituality, to be said in the morning upon awakening and again just before going to sleep. For pious people "on fire for the Lord," as our evangelical friends might say, it was vitally important to understand the best way to pray this prayer. When do "morning" and "evening" begin and end? Must one get physically out of bed to pray the morning prayer, or into bed to pray the evening prayer? What if some unforeseen circumstance made it impossible to say the prayer at the correct time? What if someone said the prayers in a "going through the motions" way instead of from the heart -- did they count if they were't prayed sincerely? Rabbis argued passionately about issues like this, in a way that underscored the living, adaptive character of Torah.

In the Gospels we see Jesus involved in this same process of intepreting Torah, "binding" laws pertaining to things like divorce, and "loosing" laws that had developed around issues like performing various activities on the Sabbath. Jesus' pattern, as recorded in Scripture, is to make God's mercy paramount. When the moral laxity of contemporary religious practice -- granting divorces to men for trivialities like a wife burning one dinner too many -- hurt the disempowered and marginalized, Jesus gets tough; but when the standard of practice becomes a burden because of its stringency or lack of concern for those whom the rule affects negatively -- "no work" on the Sabbath being interpreted to mean any kind of activity, even life-saving/healing/redemptive/renewing actions -- then Jesus unbinds the rule. God's mercy, God's saving action, God's mending of the broken places in society, are Jesus' touchstones, it would seem, in his understanding of God's will expressed in Torah, and by extension of his own ministry.

So what Jesus is talking about in "binding and loosing" is about authority, within the Christian community, to interpret his teaching as situations arose, based upon his own words and example.

But -- and this is a big one -- the ultimate authority is vested not in the Church as an institution, nor even in the discourse going on in the marketplace of ideas within Christendom...it is invested in Christ: "I will give you..." As people of faith throughout the ages have pointed out, whenever we take our eyes off Christ, whenever we forget the answer to "Who do you say I am?" -- or, worse yet, even forget to ask that question -- whenever we try to write Christ out of our own individual and group discernment processes and try to figure things out ourselves...bad things happen. We see that dynamic even in Simon Peter's later experience in the early Church, when confronted by Gentile converts -- when he insists on interpreting God's will through the lens of his own cultural prejudices, he becomes exclusionary, something other than an agent of Christ's redeeming, renewing power, and ultimately needs a supernatural corrective to readjust his attitude. When we ignore Christ in our midst, Christ's will isn't done, and God's mercy, reconciliation and restorative justice are not made manifest in our thoughts, words and actions.

If we truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, then we ipso facto dethrone ourselves -- the conceits of our own intellect, our feelings, our self-serving actions and attitudes, our enculturated preferences and prejudices -- and we dethrone the "powers and principalities" of the dominant culture as authorities in our lives. Our focus will be, not on these, but on the One Who Goes Ahead of Us, leading us into God's Reign, encouraging us to see ourselves and others, and discern God's will for ourselves and other, through the cruciform lens of his own life, death and resurrection.

Gracious God: There are many "lords" -- some internal, some external -- who vie for our loyalty in this world. May we always keep our gaze on the real Sovereign of us all, and may we as the Body of Christ always "bind" or "loose" with his measure of grace and mercy and justice. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.



Illustration for the booklet "The Ten Commandments" by Martin Luther, 1520 Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Weekend Bloom Blogging

Since my own flowers are starting to show the wear and tear of late summer, I decided to take a stroll around our property and see if God has anything interesting growing around here right now.

And God does. Behold the Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora. (And, yes, I had to look that up.) It is a member of the heath family, like a blueberry, but it is a saprophyte -- having no chlorophyll to manufacture its own food, it gets all its nourishment from decaying matter on the forest floor. I found this group of flowers under a maple tree near the swale behind our garage. The photo really doesn't do them justice -- up close, they look as if they have been sculpted from wax, touched here and there with the merest hint of mauve.

"Stop and consider the wondrous works of God."

Monotropa uniflora Posted by Picasa

Bake Sale Sneak Peek

It's rather a dull and dreary day in Outer Podunk -- rain off and on, not much in the way of sunshine, LutheranChik nursing a headache (Julian of Norwich's headaches always seemed to result in astonishing revelations -- unfortunately for me, I just get crabby and unambitious). But, as my old buddy the ex-Marine would say, "Persevere!" So I am, by getting a head start on my cookies for our church bake sale.

I had some souvenir food (which tells you a little bit about my usual locus of concern) from my travels up north that needed doing something with...here's what I did. These are really, really good, and certainly amenable to whatever regional ingredients you may have on hand.

Benzie County Cherry Granola Bars

2 cups prepared granola (I used a no-fat organic apple-cinnamon granola)
2 cups quick oatmeal
2 cups chopped nuts
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup Michigan dried tart cherries, chopped
2 beaten eggs
2/3 cup Michigan honey
2/3 cup oil
1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar (it's plenty sweet with the smaller amount)
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

Line a 9 by 13 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl combine the granola, oatmeal, nuts, flour and cherries. Stir in the eggs, oil, honey, brown sugar and cinnamon, if you're using it. Press mixture evenly into prepared pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Cool on a wire rack; lift out of pan by foil liner. cut into bars. Makes about 48.

One recipe down -- about seven to go.

Perpetual Lent

It's always great running into old friends on the Internet after losing track.

Cory, a former Beliefnet regular and one of the most insightful young Lutherans I've met in awhile (quoth this increasingly gray-haired and codgerly Lutheran), authors a personal journal, Perpetual Lent, which you can visit by clicking on the link above. Thoughtful, at times provocative content and a great layout.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What Does This Mean?

Our lay ministry program, on hiatus for the summer, is starting up again at the end of September, with a "working retreat" downstate. In November one of our visiting professors, who has an interest and expertise in Islam, will be facilitating a special, overnight short course on Islam for current students and program graduates at a conference center "up north"; shortly thereafter we're having another retreat weekend.

Even though I'm the new kid on the block, I've missed meeting with my classmates. I've made a couple of good friends. Over the summer there have been occasional group e-mails back and forth. I'm looking forward to the September retreat.

But I'm feeling -- I don't know -- stir-crazy. As I think I've blogged about before, part of it has to do with the fact that I am still officially an "applicant," not a "candidate," and the process of being moved from one category to the other was so vaguely explained to me that I feel like the proverbial mushroom in the dark. Part of it has to do with not having a spiritual director, which I believe, more and more, I really need. I don't fully understand the role of our assigned mentor. I'm uncomfortable with the lack of feedback. And...we've had a great deal of book-larnin', but not so much practical application -- just one skill day on teaching a variety of audiences, plus a communication class I took as an elective.

Maybe this is parallel to a freshman-year identity crisis. What am I going to do with this? What is the point of it all?

This spring I tended to hang back a bit in class; just listening, observing, trying to figure out how things work in this program. I think, in September, I am going to be more proactive in getting my questions answered. What I would like is to sit down with someone, getting clear on mutual expectations, and mapping out what my next 2 1/2 years will look like in terms of translating my class experience into ministry. Perhaps I am trying to push a left-brained construct onto a right-brained process, but that's just me.

What does this mean? I don't know. I just don't know.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get...Cooking

I am in a mood tonight.

For a whole lot of reasons. I'm still detoxing from last week's denominational broughaha, and from recent encounters with a few of my coreligionists (they might argue that point) who make me want to throw things, at them. On Monday I was blindsided by an inexplicable episode of one-sided intergenerational friction here at Cold Comfort Cottage; always delightful to come home to. I am worried about a number of people I care about, who are laboring under some heavy burdens. I have been biting my nails over some event planning at work, as well as the definite possibility that my stable of volunteer drivers, a vital part of our agency staff -- many of whom are retirees on fixed incomes -- will quit en masse if gasoline prices go any higher. The news is getting me down, not only the various worldwide geopolitical messes but even fluff like the fahion and marketing world's misogynistic hand-wringing over
Dove's Campaign For Real Beauty
.(My God, the horror of gazing upon real women's un-airbrushed bodies!...you poor, poor boy, Seth. Shield your eyes, if you must.) Oh, and there was this little news nugget adding to my sense that the jerks of the world are winning, and everyone else is just giving up. And I am feeling, in general, if you haven't already kind of picked up on this, stressed/distressed/oppressed/unloved/unappreciated/pissed.

I figure I'm allotted a certain number of pissed-off days per year, so I'm giving myself over to my current pissed-off-ness -- "Whatever you do, do it will all your might." Well, all right then, dammit.

So...I'm cooking. Even though it's past 10:00 p.m. It makes me feel better.

I just got done putting a pot roast in my crock pot...a couple of pieces of forgotten chuck steak (the unlikely precipitating factors of our domestic rowdy-dow...don't even ask)at the back of the freezer, thawed and browned and added to some vegetables, seasoned broth and some snippets of herbs from my planter. In the meantime, I cooked up some fresh green beans from a local market -- oooh, baby, they are so good; their taste recollects the scent of the bean blossoms -- and made them into an old-fashioned three-bean salad, spiffed up a little with wine vinegar, olive oil and a dash of Dijon mustard. Some crusty rolls from the bakery, and I think we'll call this a meal.

Tomorrow we feast. I wish I could invite you all. I wish I could invite the Dove women, too -- a little pot roast once in awhile is good maintenance for womanly curves. Cherchez les femmes.

But I'd rather be cooking happy, to tell you the truth.

Monday, August 15, 2005

For Sale: Two Horses, Cheap

Someone in our parish neighborhood donated two horses to our church yard sale, scheduled for Labor Day weekend.

I love this.

So...if you, or someone you know, is looking for fossil-fuel-free transportation that will also add some good biomass to the ol' backyard compost pile...come on over.

We'll even feed you. Our kids are planning a food-related fundraiser for confirmation camp (no horses involved in this endeavor, I promise), and we're also having our annual parish bake sale. Yours truly will be contributing bars -- pumpkin; applesauce; banana-nut; trail mix; zucchini.

And, of course, we will have plenty of gently used stuff for bargain-minded shoppers to paw through. I travel pretty light (I don't know whether to treat this as evidence of my financial failure or good news in case I have to leave the country quickly), but it always seems that I can find items to contribute to the cause. This year it's the Exercycle of Pain, a relic from another yard sale, a machine evidently engineered for NBA players, not those of us bred from short peasant stock; I've adjusted the seat as low as it will go, but I still can barely get my feet to reach the pedals. Ouch. And I'll throw in a few books and cassettes. (I'm sure my pastor, who always gets dibsies on my donated music, will find the Saami women's throat yodeling especially fascinating listening.)

Lots of stuff for cheap. And horses. And food. Prices are negotiable, but all sales are final.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Glory Be To God For Dappled Things...

...like heirloom tomatoes!

Here's what's getting ripe in my garden right now: Black Krim, Sausage, Red Calabash, Italian Climbing, German Striped, Matt's Wild Cherry, Yellow Pear, Garden Peach. The Garden Peach -- that's the round yellow one over toward the right -- is my new favorite. They actually are somewhat fuzzy on the outside, like a peach, and have a much more assertive, tangy flavor than any other yellow tomato I've ever tasted.

Variety is the spice of tomatoes!  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Wideness in God's Mercy

What do you do with a story about Jesus that makes Jesus look like a jerk?

I know what I would do if I were a redactor of Matthew's Gospel; I'd leave it out. Not only does the Jesus of this story not fit the image of the radically compassionate, radically inclusive Jesus we find looking through the combined lens of all the Gospels, it doesn't even fit the Jesus we find elsewhere in Matthew -- a Jesus who willingly heals a Roman centurion's servant, and uses that occasion to proclaim the universality of God's salvation story; a Jesus who, at the beginning of the tale, has crossed the border of Galilee into Gentile territory, where of course he is going to encounter non-Jews; a Jesus who, just a couple of lines prior, is roundly criticizing the Pharisees for their superficiality and culture-bound rules of ritual cleanliness. And considering the largely Jewish audience who first heard and read the Gospel of Matthew, why would the author include an account of an event where the Messiah gets outargued not only by a woman but by a Canaanite woman -- the most depraved of pagans, the most disliked of ethnic neighbors, the very lowest of the low?

And of course that doesn't even take into account our contemporary discomfort with a Jesus who appears prejudiced, surly and equivocal, who seems to need a jolt of verbal jujitsu in order to take action. Some theologians argue that Jesus knew exactly how this encounter would end, and was only testing the Canaanite woman's faith, and perhaps also pointedly playing on the crowd's bigotry in order to teach a lesson in tolerance; but this seems, frankly, like a hopeful interpretive stretch designed to protect Jesus' honor. Some scholars note that when Jesus speaks about not giving the children's food to dogs, the word used for "dogs" is a diminutive form of the noun used in reference to household pets; for anyone who has ever been the target of hate speech, this argument -- that calling someone a lap dog as opposed to, say, a junkyard dog -- is unsatisfying at best. Some commentators even suggest that the interplay between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is a kind of humorous banter, an argument that is certainly contraindicated by the desperate context of this encounter; it's not exactly a moment where one would expect Jesus and a grieving mother to break into shtik.

All of which lead me to believe that this story is the real deal. Whenever I encounter folks who want to argue with me that the Gospel stories are mostly made up of whole cloth, I like to point to this text. I think it's been a puzzlement to Christians from the beginning, which is why it wound up in the Gospels -- because Jesus' earliest followers knew that it meant something; that it was important enough to keep wrestling with.

When we read the story of the Canaanite woman today, oftentimes we see ourselves in the role of the Canaanite woman -- someone desperate, someone with nothing left to lose, who literally throws herself on God's mercy. And that's an important insight; "We are all beggars," notes Luther. And sometimes when we read this story we see a metaphor for the institutional Church and its reluctance to confront its own prejudices and lack of love. "Send her away! She's loud and annoying!" is a sentiment echoed over the years in Christians' treatment of any number of marginalized groups seeking inclusion and justice.

But in thinking about this story yesterday (it needed extra time to percolate), the thought came to me: What would happen if we tried to identify with Jesus?

Imagine that you feel a deep, profound, focused call to help your people -- whoever your people may be. Imagine that this vocation consumes you with a kind of holy passion. Imagine that you even find, in the holy writings of your faith, a kind of confirmation of your mission. And imagine that, when you follow this call as you hear it, amazing things happen around you; you find yourself a channel for God's saving, healing power. Your life appears to be scripted for you by God Godsself, and as an obedient servant to God's will you feel called to follow that script no matter what.

Now imagine that, as you are living in obedience to your call as you understand it...life stops following the script. The parameters of your mission begin to grow fuzzy around the edges, as you encounter needy people from outside your religion, your culture, your experience, who push you out of your comfort zone as your self-understanding as someone sent only to serve your people, comes into conflict, more and more, with your sense of shared humanity with all people. What if you begin to suspect that you are part of something larger -- much larger -- than you can possibly imagine? What would you feel? What if you didn't think you could carry this burden? What if you didn't want it? And what if you began to second-guess whether this new, larger task was truly a part of a new script, or a distraction, even a self-delusion, impeding your real work?

Maybe this is what we're seeing in Jesus in this story -- his very human struggle to understand his place in the world and in the Reign of God. As I reread his comments to the Canaanite woman, they almost seem like self-talk, like he's working it out in his own head: But I'm only sent to the lost sheep of Israel...it's not fair that I use my gifts in the Gentile community when I haven't yet reached all of my own people.

Some people are made very uncomfortable by the idea of a Jesus who isn't a Superman; who lives with the sorts of limitations that the rest of us do as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. But isn't the whole idea of kenosis, of God's emptying of Godsself into our humanity, inclusive of the idea that Jesus labored under the same limitations of knowledge and perception as other human beings? Is it so hard to believe that a God-Man who had to learn to walk and talk and read and work with his hands also had to learn what his messiahship meant in the course of living it day by day? I don't think so.

When Jesus finally resolves his dilemma -- it's on the basis of compassion. As Kelly Fryer notes in Reclaiming the "L" Word, if you have to choose between leading with the Law foot or the Love foot, lead with the Love. And that's what we see Jesus choosing to do...despite his enculturated attitudes toward non-Jews in general and Canaanites in particular, despite what other people want him to do, despite his own self-understanding of what God has sent him to accomplish in the world.

There's a hymn entitled "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy." I believe that Jesus, in his encounter with the Canaanite woman, found that wideness; perceived it in a way that perhaps he had not before. And, as the One Who Goes Ahead Of Us, he now points us to that same vision, where "the love of God is broader than the measures of our mind."

Christ and the Canaanite Woman, Rembrandt Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 12, 2005

Friday Bloom Blogging

As the rest of my garden begins to wind down, here is one plant that is just coming into its glory.

I got this plant at an end-of-spring clearance sale; a couple of pale leaves on a spindly stalk; one step away from getting tossed into the Dumpster. I brought it home, replanted it, and waited. And waited. And waited. Unlike other tuberous begonias I've had, this plant suffered from a definite failure to thrive.

But I hung in there. And a couple of weeks ago, it suddenly perked up and started sprouting more leaves. And this week it began to bloom.

My redeemed, renewed tuberous begonia Posted by Picasa

Before Churchwide Assembly...

...chop wood; carry water.

After Churchwide Assembly...chop wood; carry water.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Can I Get a Witness?

I love the blues. As the extremely cool Ray Ford of my local public radio station likes to point out, The blues is the truth. So imagine my pleasure at finding the Blues Name Generator over on Ship of Fools .

What's your blues name?

Mine is: Judicious Esther Coolidge. I like it.

Whatever happened to my old guitar?...

The Reformation Blues

Got them "Here I stand, can't do nothin' else, Lord help me" Reformation blues
Got them "Here I stand, can't do nothin' else, Lord help me" Reformation blues
Gonna keep on testifyin'
Ain't got nothin' else to lose

Marty woke up one morning
Sick o' the Man's Roman jive
Started writin' him a thesis
Wound up with ninety-five...

Got them "Here I stand, can't do nothin' else, Lord help me" Reformation blues
Got them "Here I stand, can't do nothin' else, Lord help me" Reformation blues
Standin' here testifyin'
Ain't got nothin' else to lose

Five hundred years later
Still workin' out the solutions
Lookin' for some "semper reformanda"
In those Assembly resolutions...

Got them "Here I stand, can't do nothin' else, Lord help me" Reformation blues
Got them "Here I stand, can't do nothin' else, Lord help me" Reformation blues
Standin' here testifyin'
Ain't got nothin' else to lose.

Darn Spammers

After erasing the umpteenth spammed comment on this blog, I have been forced to change the settings, so that only registered users may post here.

I know that registration isn't a big deal, but I also know that some people, for whatever reason, prefer not having to go through this step, and I wanted to keep this place as accessible and user-friendly as possible.

If you're new to blogdom, visit me and want to post -- what can I tell you; you have to register. It's pretty painless. You can also e-mail me via my profile.

Spammers = assholes. I'd no more buy a spammed product or service than chew on a piece of gum I found sticking to the bottom of my shoe. And those of you who do buy the assholes' products and services just encourage them to spew more spam. And then what does that make you? Yeah-huh. Well, stop it.

There. I said it and I'm glad.

UPDATE: I have changed my mind about banning non-registered comments -- turns out that the spammers have now hit upon registering fake names, so they are posting anyway, while people I want to post here can't. I have complained to Blogger about this state of affairs...in the meantime, I'll just have to be more vigilant about deleting fake posts. Gaaaaaah!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"Better Because of the Mistake"

As often as I said, "My foot has slipped,"
your love, O LORD, upheld me. -- Psalm 94

One of the better recipe titles I've ever run across in my foodie-sideline Googling is "Better Because of the Mistake" Sugar and Vanilla Scones. Evidently its inventor had forgotten to put sugar in her scone dough, tried rolling the scones in the sugar instead -- and wound up with something more special than the original recipe.

C.S. Lewis opined that perhaps one's most persistent flaw as an individual -- the personal weakness that each of us struggles with the most, that tends to create a running subtext of pain and frustration and failure in our life scripts -- is actually a primary conduit for God's redemptive, transformative work. He imagined us, one day, in the fullness of God's time, sharing the stories of our now glorified wounds of living in the same way that old soldiers at a reunion might compare battlefield scars.

The other day, on a non-debate online forum where people can ask questions about Christianity and others can answer, I was trying to explain the symbolism of the Cross to a curious non-Christian. As I thought about all the things I could say about the Cross, the phrase that kept coming back to me was God's strength made perfect in weakness -- as Dan Erlander puts it, God meets us there, hidden in weakness, vulnerable, suffering, forsaken and dying. So God is not only a God who can redeem the dark, frightening places in our own souls, but who can redeem even something as terrible as this particularly cruel instrument of torture, created by the powers of an entire society gone wrong, and turn it into the means by which God saves us once and for all.

Our pastor, in his Great Thanksgiving, regularly thanks God for the people of God throughout history who have made Godsself known to us -- in his words, "We thank you for everything they did right, and for everything they did wrong." The first time I heard this, I admit it was somewhat jarring. But the more I think about it, the more truth I hear in it; the more I hear an echo of "All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well."

When I practice examen, when I think of the things I do and say and think that tend to dishonor God and other people the most, one of my persistent sins is anger -- not a proactive, other-serving anger that leads to positive change, but a hair-trigger, self-defensive, inward-turned, put-yer-dukes-up anger that is often misdirected or out of proportion to the real or perceived injury. I also have a persistent tendency to choose the path of least resistance; a sin of omission, of failing to take an opportunity to act in a helpful, healing way, on others' or even my own behalf, in a given situation -- sometimes falling into faithless despair of my actions making any difference at all. These two dynamics tag-team one another day after day, and I suspect that will be true for the rest of my life. Do I ever win the good fight? Well...as one of my friends likes to put it: Some days you get the bear. Some days the bear gets you.

As one who claims the Christ who makes all things new, I hang onto the hope that, even on the days that the bear gets me, or gets us, my failure and our failures are a conduit for God's redeeming action -- that, in God's big picture, we're made "better because of the mistake."

Darn Deer

They nipped off the tops, including the blossoms, of several of my tomato plants -- even the ones I have up against my house.

I'm feeling very Elmer Fudd right now. Braised venison tenderloin -- it's a good thing. Too bad I never picked up the family talent for hunting.

I used to know people -- sweetly naive back-to-the-landers -- who, when the whitetails ravaged their garden for the umpteenth time, walked out into the woods and had a chat with the deer. I'm not making this up. They'd read about kything, or communing with the animals, in a book. They formally addressed their hooved neighbors, something to the effect of, "We know you need to eat, but so do we. We depend on our garden. We know you have a lot of other food growing around here. So can you please leave our garden alone?" The deer's collective response was, "Love that salad bar! All you can eat! Whoo-hoo!" So my gentle acquaintances wound up buying an electric fence.

Annie Dillard, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, wrote about the chewed quality of the world around us -- how, if you take a good look around you in a field or forest, it seems that everything has bites taken out of it. This is most certainly true. Ask my tomatoes.

Monday, August 08, 2005

...And That's All I'm Going To Say About It

A prayer for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Orlando this week, and for all of us in the ELCA, based on a prayer by Thomas Merton:

LORD GOD, we have no idea where we are going.
We do not see the road ahead of us.
We cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think that we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so.
But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And we hope we have that desire in all that we do.
We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire.
And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road though we may know nothing about it.
Therefore will we trust you always though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
We will not fear, for you are ever with us, and you will never leave us to face our perils alone. AMEN.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Oh, Well, Why Not -- 28 Other Things About Me

Note: This is a work in progress, because every time I read it I think, "Why would I write something that lame?" So I keep changing things.
73. I recently crossed the 49th Parallel.

74. I once underwent a sauna -- the real deal, including the rolling-in-the-snow part, except in my case there was a snowstorm outside, so my fellow saunees and I just stood on our hostess' deck and let the snow roll around us.

75. Actually, despite the fact that I have spent quality time alternately poaching and freezing naked in the presence of others, I can be a real prude.

76. Despite my prudery, I am known to have a quietly wicked sense of humor that often expresses itself in deadpanned double entendres. But I have to be around the right people.

77. When I was a small child I once climbed up our tall farm elevator and fell into our corn crib. Had I fallen down onto the cement floor of the crib proper I would have most certainly died, but instead I landed in the inner core, which was filled with empty corncobs. I suffered no injuries -- I just cried because the corncobs hurt muchly upon impact, and because I was trapped -- and my frantic parents had to run and get the neighbors to help fish me out of the structure. I told the adults I was playing "Jack in the Beanstalk."

78. Not too long afterward my mother caught me chewing on a shelf fungus pulled from a stump. I said I was Alice in Wonderland and was trying to make myself bigger and smaller.

79. I also, as a small child, shocked myself right across the living room by sticking a frayed plug into a wall outlet. Again I lived to tell the tale. Never a dull moment at my house back then.

80. I once sat in a field late at night with a bunch of studiously wild women and bayed at the moon. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

81. I have a vascular birthmark on my hand. I have found that how people react to it is a fairly accurate indicator of their character in general. (Apart from a minor range-of-motion issue -- alas, I shall never be a concert pianist -- it doesn't bother me. And, if I may say so, it makes my hand squeezably soft.)

82. I was a teenage transistor sister who used to listen to Wolfman Jack's live show from New York, very late at night, on my old AM radio. I also used to listen to WLS in Chicago -- I'd keep twirling the dial back and forth between the two stations until 1 or 2 in the morning.

83. A geeky loser in elementary school, I hated and/or feared girls my own age. I thought they were stupid, silly and mean. For a time in 3rd grade I was exiled to playground Loserville with another loser girl totally obsessed with human reproduction. She insisted on playing something called Pregnant Barbie, which involved rubbing Barbie and Ken together, sticking a tiny baby doll up Barbie's skirt, then pulling the doll back out. (Babies were born, she told me gravely, through women's belly buttons.) This experience gave me the incentive to learn to shoot marbles so I could get away from her and all her weird shit, and play with the boys instead.

84. My guy pals and I also used to play World War II. Because I was the girl, and because I had a German pedigree, I had to play the Nazi, and I was killed at the end of each recess. But I modeled myself after Rommel, a "good" Nazi who was just in it for the honor of the Fatherland and the glory of battle, and I strove to die with an officer's dignity. My friends would even apologize for shooting me.

85. We would have bizarre discussions about our favorite television shows: "If the 'Rat Patrol' guys fought the Klingons, who would win?"

86. I can be a real boo-hoo-ing sap when it comes to cinema. (Ruth's death scene in Fried Green Tomatoes; the "You make me want to be a better person" scene in As Good As It Gets; A Charlie Brown Christmas has turned me into a quivering waterworks nearly every year since 1966.) On the other hand, I also delight in finding editing mistakes, anachronisms and the like.

87. I have never met a vegetarian hot dog that did not both taste and smell like a tire fire. I'd rather just drop the pretense and eat the empty bun.

88. Because of a number of family circumstances too tedious to explain here, there are huge gaps in my childhood and young adult experience; I never had an opportunity to do a lot of things most American kids take for granted as a part of growing up. Sometimes this makes me feel totally incompetent..."How did I ever get a license to be an adult? They must have made a mistake."

89. I've been in therapy.

90. I've never told my mother that I've been in therapy.

91. I didn't get braces until I was an adult. My orthodontist suggested that I get my jaw broken and lengthened -- then, evidently seeing the look of horror on my face, said, "Well, I guess we don't need to do that." But in retrospect I wonder if I shouldn't have let him do it. I could have lost a few pounds, too, that month with my jaw wired shut.

92. I also declined getting caps, because it seemed silly spending so much money for things that only last 10 years -- and especially since I suck down vast quantities of enamel-staining coffee. Sometimes I second-guess this decision too.

93. I like to think that I am a self-actualized, self-sufficient individual, but in my heart of hearts I crave constant approval and coaching and cheerleading, and I get so tired, sometimes, of always having to do everything myself.

94. I once crocheted an entire afghan myself. I still have it. I can't believe I made it myself.

95. There are certain hymns that I absolutely refuse to sing in church; I just can't do it.

96. When I was a tiny, incubator-esconced infant, I was constantly kicking and flailing my little fists. My nurses' nickname for me was Butch. No jokes, please. (My temperment has mellowed considerably. Most of the time, anyway.)

97. I once considered, very briefly, painting henna tattoos on my feet. Now; at my age. (I bet that would have made a big hit at work.)

98. If I had a choice between a week's stay in Maui or a week's stay at Loch Ness, I'd opt for Loch Ness.

99. I could listen to Fiona Ritchie reading the Edinburgh white pages all day long.

100. I am chronically cold. I suffer from air conditioning all summer long; I dress in layers, but sometimes I even have to get up and go outside for five minutes to warm up in the sun, like a lizard. Wool and flannel are my friends.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Transfiguration

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, a day that's slipped quietly passed many of our churches. Judging from the Zeitgeist in mainline churches these days, that may be cause for some to breathe a sigh of relief that they don't have to deal with another one of Jesus' miracle stories.

My friend Derek has written an excellent meditation on the Creeds, and the tension we 21st century Christians experience as we try to reconcile our own contemporary ideas about how the world works with the affirmations of the ancient Church. I agree with his conclusion: that it's possible, viewing the story of Christianity through a faith lens, to simultaneously understand it in light of several, sometimes seemingly contradictory, worldviews; that that is a tension we can and do live with as people of faith.

That is how I tend to read Scripture these days. I don't have a need to read every story of the Bible as an historical, factual account to make it a true, reliable account of God's engagement with humanity; on the other hand, I don't have a need to deconstruct the Bible into a series of quaint, engaging campfire stories with little or no basis in historicity. To me that's a false dichotomy, and I'm just not going there.

So what do I think about the Transfiguration? I think that something happened to Jesus' close associates with him there on that mountain; whether the something was exactly as described in the Gospels or not is not of particular concern to me. I believe that Theophany Happens. (Wouldn't that be a great bumper sticker?) Heck -- I know it happens, because it's happened to me.

Which brings me to my point. I've had skeptical people ask me, if all these remarkable things were happening around Jesus all the time, as the Gospels record, then why were the disciples so damned stupid? If Jesus' friends experienced this particularly dramatic and amazing numinous event, which practically spelled out "Hey -- here's your Messiah!"...why didn't they get it? Why did they let Jesus down in the end? How on earth could they lose their grip on their personal experience of Jesus' special connection to Divinity over and over and over again?

To which I'd reply: Because they were people. People like me.

It's amazing how soon you can forget large chunks of the most formative, dramatic events of your life. I was thinking about this the other day, during one of my evening walks. The day that, as a small child, I almost fell to my death after climbing to the top of a farm elevator and tumbling into our corn crib...the day I arrived at college, after a bitter several-year battle with my father, who was not a proponent of higher education -- a day I'd longed for since I was a child, and a day upon which I knew my future hinged...the day my father died...the day I came out to myself...the day I decided I was through with Christianity...the day I gave up, and told Jesus, "You win" -- you'd think these experiences would be permanently seared into my memory. But I just remember flashes of them -- an image here, a feeling there. Even my recent dramatic encounter with the Divine, the night it became clear to me that I was being called to do something with my faith...at the time it felt more real to me than my sitting here typing at this moment, but now my recollection of the event is fuzzy; I actually had to reread what I'd written about my experience at the time to refresh my memory. And that was true even shortly after these things happened. A week after my peri-midlife metanoia experience...pretty much business as usual.

So to me it's entirely believable that the disciples experienced event after event that pointed to Jesus as someone and something other than just a particularly charismatic reformist rabbi, but then...life happened, and things got blurry. I've lived this; I continue to live it. One day God seems so close to me that I have almost a tactile impression of God's presence; the next day I'm in a bout of existential despair, the previous day a dim memory at best. This is just how it goes with us.

So why doesn't God fix this sad state of affairs, so that we live in a constant state of theophany, instead of a haze of half-rememberings? I don't know. Maybe it's because our minds can only process so much, whether an event of everyday life or an event when God breaks through to us in a special way. But once upon a time, in the now-defunct magazine Daughters of Sarah, I saw a most evocative drawing; it showed a woman, walking along a path, caught by the artist in the moment of half-turning to respond to...well, we don't know what. But the woman's expression of surprise and expectation and hope -- I think that, for whatever reason, we need that. We need that sense that there's a next chapter in the story. The forgetting "makes all things new," over and over again.

"Transfiguration," batik, Solomon Raj Posted by Picasa

Saturday Bloom Blogging

One of my hanging baskets: A little bit of this, a little bit of that.Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 05, 2005

Are You Sailing With Me, Jesus?

(With apologies to Malcolm Boyd)



Are you sailing with us, Jesus?



Because I’m on this boat that is supposed to be your boat, with crewmates who also report to you. We’ve got our orders. We’ve got a compass, and a rudder, and a sail. So you’d think that we’d know what we’re doing. But we don’t.


Sometimes it’s a real mess here onboard, Jesus. We have people fighting for the wheel and the spyglass; arguing what to do next; tripping over the riggings; falling on their backsides when the deck gets slick. Things don’t get done that should be done to keep things shipshape. Sometimes, when I really need help, I look around me, and everyone else has gone below; I’m here all alone. And every so often we have a man or woman overboard, Jesus. It’s terrible – in the midst of our not getting it right we hear a scream, and then we see them, flailing in the water; sometimes we can pull them out of the drink but sometimes the waves are too high, and the boat is going too fast, and all we can do is cry, and pray. And sometimes, Jesus, I think about the ones who may quietly slip off the deck and into the water, and we don’t even know it.



Are you sailing with us, Jesus?


We’re always moving against the current. Sometimes we get so tired, Jesus. And then when the storms come, and the waves crash into us, and the boat lists crazily from side to side until we’re sure it’s about to go under…sometimes we start wondering if you really are in charge, Jesus. We lose heart. We begin to think that maybe you were just a unique and engaging individual caught up in a Big Idea spun out of control, and that our enterprise here on the sea is romantic folly; that you're mostly a story that we tell ourselves so we can stop shaking for awhile. We worry that maybe you are not only one of us, but nothing more than one of us…another terrified, confused person hanging on for dear life like the rest of us, until a wave heaved you over the side and into the chaos. And that terrifies us even more, Jesus, because that would mean that we're out here all alone.



Are you sailing with me, Jesus?



Sometimes, on those days when it seems that everyone has fled the deck and it’s just me up here, looking out onto an endless horizon with no shore in sight, it gets lonely. And frightening. I know -- I mean, I think I know -- that you picked me for your crew. Once when I was so small that I didn’t know who you were, or what a boat was; I only knew what water was, but I didn’t make the connection until years later, when they told me. And then there was the time when I jumped ship, and you came looking for me – that moment when our eyes met again -- they were your eyes, weren't they? -- there in that foreign country, and something about you made me want to get back on board even though I didn’t want to. But – the thing is – I don’t know what I’m doing here, Jesus. I don’t know my fore from my aft; to tell you the truth, I don’t even know if that sentence makes any sense. I can’t tie knots. I can’t climb up the mast. I don’t know how to work the rudder or the sails. Jesus, I don’t know how to swim. All I know is that I’m here, now.

Jesus, there's something odd out there on the water. I need to get a better look. Where's that spyglass? Maybe it's the moonlight. Maybe I've spent too much time here at the railing, staring out into the void. But I need to see what it is. I've loved talking with you like this, Jesus; I hope we do it again, soon.

Walking on Water by Bertrand Bahuet Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

But...There Are Always Tomatoes...

Okay. Preliminary taste test results:

Matt's Wild Cherry: This is a cross between a currant tomato and a cherry tomato. The tomatoes are red, about ring-fingernail size, and grow in clusters. Good points: Intense tomato taste -- sweet, but with character. Bad points: They ripen one by one, so unless you had a row of about 20 plants you'd scarcely harvest a handful a day. They're definitely a snackin' tomato.

Amish Paste These are, despite the name, not really paste-type tomatoes. They're heart-shaped; juicy; have a real summertime-tomato flavor. Very good.

Sausage This variety has had the richest flavor so far -- good sweet/tart balance, almost a spicy aftertaste, very meaty interior. I'm looking forward to eating the rest of these!

Italian Climbing These tomatoes have been my big disappointment. The plants grow like gangbusters and are covered with sprays of oblong tomatoes...but the tomatoes themselves are tough and bland; nothing special.

Red Calabash Another disappointment; small, bland and mealy inside. They're a pretty tomato, though -- they're squat and somewhat ruffled, like a French pumpkin. They're nothing like the Purple Calabash tomatoes that I grew a couple of years ago, that really were the best tomatoes I have ever tasted.

More varieties to come...stay tuned!

"Traditional Values" Come to Outer Podunk

"Group Aims to Bring Religion, Ethics Into Government," trumpeted the front page of our weekly newspaper today.

It seems that a group called Citizens For Traditional Values is forming in our general area. One of the concerned citizens notes, somewhat ominously, "There are changes that need to happen in our nation..."

Well, I'm with him there. Although I suspect that if we compared lists there would be, as they say, a difference of opinion.

I'm all for traditional values. "Love the Lord with all your heart...love your neighbor the way you love yourself" -- there are two of the most traditional values I can think of, and I'm all for 'em, as much as my often lackluster faith and commitment allow me to live them out. But, again, I think if I compared my list of traditional values with this group's list...there would be a difference of opinion.

The letters to the editor this week included a wingnut screed, penned by some non-native and inserted in our paper I'm sure at the behest of the nascent CTV, claiming that our Founding Fathers were not Deists, but Real Christians [TM]. Oy veh. (And the nature of my work makes it necessary for me to quietly brux the enamel off my teeth while this stuff goes on.)

I think these people are finally going to drive me to slapping a bumper sticker on my car. If anyone knows where I can get one that reads, "Hate Is Not a Traditional Value," let me know.

It's Also Amazing...

...how you can show up at church expecting to deliver the sermon, be informed by the commissioned lay minister that, no, you're also going to lead the service up to the point of the Eucharist, with no liturgy other than an extremely truncated order of service in an otherwise blank midweek bulletin...and still pull it off.

It helps to have an easy crowd. (If you can call 9 people a crowd. Our new service is attracting maybe 10-15 people on average each Wednesday evening. The thermometer hit 100 here in Outer Podunk today, so a lot of folks weren't about to leave their air-conditioned homes to do church.)

I pulled a bit out of the LBW, a bit out of the WOV, and riffed the Prayer of the Day and the Prayers of the People. I hope they sounded okay...I honestly don't remember what I said.

I think this was some sort of test. Wonder if I passed.

Here is how my meditation on Sunday's Gospel text translated into a sermon:



What does "enough" feel like?

Do you ever feel that you have "enough"?

I was recently reading a magazine article about healthy eating, and it described how, in our culture, we eat so much and so fast that many of us can no longer recognize when our bodies tell us we've had enough to eat...that we actually need to relearn what "enough" and "not enough" feel like physically.

But we live in a larger world of "not enough" -- a world where we can never seem to fill our needs and wants, and where, because of that, we keep an iron grip on the things we do have. If you've ever seen a two-year-old in a toy store or under the Christmas tree -- you know that "not enough" is a part of who we are pretty much from the beginning.

This inward-turned, anxious, grasping sense of "not enough" extends beyond ourselves and into the systems that run our world. These systems -- what St. Paul calls the powers and principalities -- are fueled by our collective fears of "not enough"
-- not enough money; not enough stuff; not enough power or status; not enough security; not enough information; not enough popularity; not enough beauty. Our anxieties run our political systems...our economic systems...the entertainment industry...our business and marketing strategies; the social pecking order in our schools and places of work. L. Shannon Jung, author of Food For Life: A Spirituality and Ethics of Eating,likens this gnawing feeling of want to the ancient image of the hungry ghost -- a desperate being always eating, yet always famished, never getting enough of what it desires.

Even our spiritual lives are tainted by the fear of "not enough." We may have been brought up with a religious background that demands "earning points by doing stuff," following lists of rules designed to make us "good enough" for God to love us, or at least not toss us into hell. When we can't meet those demands, we may feel the terror of not being "good enough" for God. Or our anxiety over "enough" may make us feel as if God's grace is in only available in a limited quantity, so that if it's given to the "wrong" person, or to too many people, that somehow takes away from our own grace and our own relationship with God...so we'd better guard that grace; fence it in; ration it out.

That's the way it works in the world, and in our hearts, when we insist on running the show. But in today's Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us a lesson in how things work in God's Reign.

Jesus has just received terrible, shocking news: His cousin John, his predecessor and fellow preacher in proclaiming the inbreaking Reign of God, has been beheaded. Jesus is certainly heartbroken on a personal level; and perhaps John's death has led him to question his own mission. He wants to go away to a quiet place where he can, as they say, "process" all this; and he attempts to do so by boat; but the people whom he's been teaching and healing don't want to let him go. They haven't had enough of Jesus. So they follow Jesus by the thousands, on foot, along the shore as his boat heads to its destination. And they meet him there. In the midst of his own sorrow, Jesus has compassion for these crowds of broken, needy people, and he heals them, until the day stretches into evening.

The disciples decide that these people are taking a toll on Jesus' time and energy. The disciples seem to want to ration Jesus. So they ask him to send the crowds away to nearby towns for the evening to fend for themselves. Jesus' response? "No -- you feed them with what you have." This instruction doesn't go over very well...in the story, the disciples not only seem a little skeptical of Jesus' plan, but also a bit miffed that he's asking them to part with their small cache of food. But -- as directed, they bring the food to him; he blesses it; he breaks it and gives it back to his friends to share with the hungry people. And we know the rest of the story...or, I should say, we know the end of the story; a crowd that has had enough to eat, plus 12 baskets of leftovers.

Shannon Jung's book describes food as having three qualitites: food is meaning-laden; food is relational; food is performative. Which is just social-science fancy talk for saying that food tells a story; it's something that connects us; and it involves action. So I don't think that it was by chance that Jesus picked food to tell us something about what God is like and what God's will for healed lives and communities is like.

God's message to us in the loaves and fishes is that There is enough. There is always going to be enough if we acknowledge God as the ultimate giver -- the extravagantly generous God of the Bible, who creates abundance, who wishes for us an abundant life, heaped up and spilling over, to enjoy and to share with others. There is enough if we trust in God's ability to give us what we need, instead of trusting in our own schemes to get and keep what we have. There is enough if we, in gratitude toward God, model God's generosity in our own generosity to our neighbors, whether that be our next door neighbor who needs a meal or a family in Niger or Darfur who receive help from people like us as we give to relief efforts.

And God wants us to share with everyone, not just the people we think are "good enough" or "deserving enough." That's a point that may be overlooked in this story. Think about the fact that Jesus lives in a religious atmosphere where ritual cleanliness means everything. In Jesus' world, there are a multitude of things that can make anyone unclean, and if an unclean person even touches something or someone else, that person or thing becomes unclean as well. Think about sharing food with strangers, say, on a city bus or at a concert venue, and think of the germ-squeamishness you may feel touching food that others have touched; amp that way up, and you may just begin to have some idea of the fear that a pious person of Jesus' time and place might have touching food that a stranger has touched. And yet -- Jesus blesses the loaves and fishes, says, "Let's eat!" -- and food is shared from person to person to person. What does it say about the person and power of Jesus that someone whose religious and cultural training makes him or her obsessed with remaining "pure enough" is moved to share food with the stranger next to him or her, who may or may not be "pure" according to the common understanding?

So in our lesson, there's enough food to go around. And not only that -- there's enough God to go around. Note Jesus' response to the needy crowds who've followed him on his retreat. He helps them -- even when his friends try to shoo them away. Jesus not only gives them food; he gives them himself. God does not want to be protected from our needs and problems. God wants to be poured out into them, filling them in ways that make us whole. And God does not want to be hoarded, or rationed to "the right sort of people." God wants God's grace spilled out generously; because there is an unending supply. And just as Jesus gave his disciples a job to do in meeting the needs of the hungry and hurting crowd, Jesus gives us a job to do, as individuals and as the Body of Christ, in proclaiming and sharing God's love and care to anyone and everyone as the situations present themselves in our lives.

This lesson came alive for me today at lunch. I went to a local coffee shop and ordered a dish of no-fat frozen yogurt to eat while I reviewed and revised this sermon. I learned that the coffee shop's "dish" of frozen yogurt was a tall coffee cup heaped to overflowing. While I was sitting there, wondering how I could possibly eat this mountain of frozen dessert, and if I really wanted to, my friend "Marie" came over. Marie is developmentally disabled; she is a volunteer for the agency where I work. We're friends. I really wanted to spend my lunchtime working on this sermon...but I knew it was important to talk to Marie. So I did. And she shared good news with me. She informed me that she had quit smoking; that whenever she'd craved a cigarette, she prayed to God, and God finally told her, "You do your part, Marie, and I'll do mine, and everything will be all right"...and it worked. We talked about our respective churches a bit. We also talked about our heat wave today, and she gave me a great tip on cheap pedestal fans in town; I've been shopping for a fan, and that was news I could use.

As I sat there listening to Marie, I thought, "This woman, who is dismissed and disdained by so many people, and whom I almost dismissed in my mind today as an interruption, is a real gift. She has given me a witness to God's healing, transformative work...and she's shared information with me that is going to help my household. How great is that?"

I looked down at my ginormous cup of frozen yogurt. "Marie," I said, "there is no way I can eat all this. Would you like the rest of it?" She smiled slyly and took the cup away from me while I got her a spoon and napkin.

This was Jesus' message being lived out right here, right now, boots on the ground. It was a God thing.

Shannon Jung's study of biblical stories involving food leads him to suggest that God's purpose in making us enfleshed creatures with appetites and desires is twofold: delight and sharing. We are, each of us, gifted in marvelous ways every day by our generous God. Let's delight in them, just as the hungry, tired crowds who followed Jesus into a dusty wasteland suddenly found themselves sharing a welcome picnic supper hosted by Jesus himself. And let us share that delight, as we are able, whenever we are able, with those around us, and those around the world, who need to hear the good news: that there is enough -- enough food; enough caring others; enough God. Amen.