Monday, October 30, 2006

The Return of Aunt Flo

She's overstayed her welcome by about -- oh -- two months now. Definitely a trick, not a treat. But, as a Japanese sage once observed in a completely different context, there is nothing left for me to do but laugh. And call the doctor, again.

It's a Whole Week Before the Election...

...and if I see one more negative political ad on TV I think I'm going to have to shoot myself in the eyes with a nail gun. Dear God, make it stop...please make it stop...

Memo to Paul: Talk Like a Person

There's nothing like Youth Sunday, and a pubescent lector whose shaky reading confidence wound up shipwrecked upon a verbose segment of a Pauline epistle, to remind me that Paul is one of my least favorite biblical authors. I know I might have to give up my union card now, but -- there; I said it and I'm glad.

Asking the Wrong Questions

If you're looking for another reason to waste time online, you'll want to visit the newish Yahoo! Answers feature. You can register, ask a question -- any question at all -- and then sit back and wait for people to answer your question. Be advised that the experts weighing in seem to be mostly 14 years old, or drunk, or crazy, or a combination of these things; but every once in awhile you'll get a serious response from a grownup. I asked a question about interesting things to do with an underused bottle of garam masala in my pantry, and actually got some useful advice.
And you too can be a question answerer.

I went over to the Spirituality and Religion section to see if I could be a question answerer. It's an interesting experience, reading all the questions. While some of them fall squarely within the parameters of 14-years-old/drunk/crazy, others are worth answering. But sadly, the lion's share of questions directed toward Christians seem to be on the same theme -- the Book of Genesis. They're questions about issues like Adam and Eve, and talking snakes with legs, and how all the animal species fit on the Ark, and the linguistic implications of the Tower of Babel story.

I don't think that all of these questions are being asked by 14-year-olds. But even if the are -- to me, these questions speak to a real deficit in the biblical education we give older kids and adults in our churches. We don't teach people how to read the Bible. We don't give them the tools to understand the when and who and to whom and why of biblical texts. We don't talk to them about things like genre and context...and in so doing, we don't give them a context in which to understand these stories.

I don't think that middle school is too young an age to start moving beyond the "Bible story" model of religious education, and start educating kids about how to read the Bible in a contextual way. For that matter, I think that such stuff should be addressed in adult religious education as well.

My sense is that it very often is not, because it might make some people angry -- people invested in ideas like the factuality of the talking snake with legs. With all due respect to deference to the weak in faith -- I'm not sure why the least academically or emotionally equipped people in a faith community should be the people driving its religious education program. And I think that for every person who has to believe in the talking snake with legs, because to doubt its existence is to begin to dangerously tip the applecart of faith, there is another person who, given some academic insight into the story and allowed some space to ponder it creatively and even playfully, will say, "Thank God -- now I can take this seriously."

A Ghoulish Monday Five

Do you enjoy a good fright?
"Good" as in briefly shocking moment during a well-made thriller -- yes. "Good" as in, say, doing a 180 with your vehicle on glare ice in January, or contemplating the collective IQ of your state Legislature -- not so much.

Scariest movie you've ever seen
I don't think that gory movies are particularly scary. To me The Birds was one of the better cinematic thrill rides...remember that scene where the birds slowly collect on the telephone wire?

Bobbing for apples: choose one and discuss:
a) Nothing scary about that! Good wholesome fun.
b) Are you *kidding* me?!? The germs, the germs!

I'd have to pick A, although to me biting into a fresh, handmade caramel apple is much more fun than bobbing for one. When I was a kid I had buck teeth...I never had the opportunity to bob for an apple, but I think I would have had excellent luck stabbing an apple.

Real-life phobia
Just one? Heights; don't much care for them.

Favorite "ghost story"
My paternal grandmother -- to m knowledge not a particularly superstitious or easily frightened woman -- related that she once met a ghost on the road next to the family farm; she was walking down the road for some reason, looked up and saw her deceased neighbor, walking in the other direction. According to the family story, he even acknowledged her; then he was gone.

This is just the first part of the ghost story. The second part, which is actually much creepier than the first, is that, when was a small child, I was afraid to walk the fence line on the west side of our house, which ran parallel to our road from our toolshed, along our west hayfield, all the way to the corner. For some reason, once I got behind the toolshed, the hair at the back of my neck would stand up. Perhaps it was because there was a dead, creeper-draped elm tree there along the fence -- when I was a kid I had a phobia about dead trees -- or perhaps it was because, as my father pointed out when I later admitted my squeamishness about being in that particular place, that was exactly the spot where my grandmother, many years before, had seen the ghost.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Attention, Friends of Aslan!

The things you learn about your own state: There is a C.S. Lewis Festival in Petoskey -- one of the prettiest little towns in northern Michigan -- going on; gets bigger every year. Check out the website.

Friday Poetry Blogging

My mother was never too big on Halloween -- she got nervous at the thought of strange families with overexcited little children coming to the door, and worried about our overexcited dog causing a lawsuit by taking a chomp out of one of these children, and generally considered the evening too much of a fuss -- but this year the LutheranChik household is turning on the porch light and treating the local ghoulies and ghosties to a delightful assortment of treats -- Snickers, Fair Trade milk chocolate nuggets from the food coop, Starbursts, caramels, Hershey kisses, and little packets of Goldfish crackers and chips. The Codeman, and his blonde girlfriends, will be properly supervised and distracted.

And here is a poem in anticipation of the evening, from none other than Robbie Burns .

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Be a Clown

I was thinking about last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, on servanthood, this week – maybe this is the read/mark/learn/inwardly digest stuff I keep hearing about – and, curiously, the same image kept popping into my head:

Rodeo clown.

I am not a rodeo aficionado, but I know a little bit about rodeo clowns. Part of their gig is, as you might expect, simply to entertain the crowd through broad, clownish cowboy slapstick. But part of their job description is deathly serious: If an angry bull is endangering the life of a rider in the rodeo ring, the clown is the one who, despite the risk to his or her own life, distracts the beast, giving the cowboy an opportunity to get away or, if injured, be carried to safety and attended to. That’s pretty serious stuff.

I got to thinking about the rodeo clowns who live in our midst.

The comics whose humor has an edge that cuts through the hype of political boilerplate and consumerism and entertainment fluff, and points us to the reality of our common life hidden underneath, even while making us laugh.

The activists who poke, prod, irritate and outrage, in a way that gives their less outspoken and flamboyant allies room to work quietly, within the system. And all the change agents who put on their face paint and false noses as duty calls, and flummox whatever beasts are savaging the wholeness of the world and the people in it, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, party pin on his lapel, playing dutiful Nazi in order to have access to the means of forging passports for Jews.

Servanthood is a tricky concept, one that is often misunderstood and misused – self-serving leaders trying to pass as public servants; classes of people forced into involuntary servitude by those who disingenuously extol servanthood as a virtue even as they themselves refuse to practice it and instead expect to be served. There is also a servanthood, a kenotic emptying out of self that is self-evident and self-explanatory – the love and care of a parent, or the self-sacrifice of a peace officer or first responder or aid worker who puts his or her own life at risk to help others.

But there’s another kind of servant – the one who serves by irony; or by self-parody; or or by craft, like the fox in Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer’s Manifesto, doubling back on his or her tracks, running circles around the powers and principalities.

Be a clown.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Blog Ate My Homework

Why haven't I posted this week?



Writer's block?

Well...two out of three...but, more importantly, I have just had Blogger swallow into oblivion a post I spent over a half-hour composing. I just don't have the energy to re-write it. I don't have the energy to compose the other three posts I was all fired up to write tonight.

Between Blogger and my dial-up connection, perhaps it would be faster for me to write out my posts on a piece of paper, place that in an envelope and mail them.

Monday, October 23, 2006

It Was a Good Thing

Our potluck was a great success. It felt very good indeed to be able to offer some scattered members of the Sisterhood a relaxing afternoon of food and talk -- it was well worth our sometimes over-the-top Martha Stewartian party prep, and our middle-aged-broad exhaustion afterward. What's interesting is that the afternoon was mostly talk -- we'd set up a card table, and had the U of M game on, but people just wanted to sit around the living room and tell their stories...which is much more interesting anyway. We all had such a good time that we're going to keep on getting together.

And our pets -- Katie and Cassie the golden retrievers, my Cody the Maltese, Mollie the cat and Charlie the pointer from next door who comes by Fellow Traveler's home for treats several times every day -- proved to be on their best behavior -- while the irrepressible Cassie did manage to crawl onto a couple of laps ("I don't know you, but I love you! I love you so much I want to lick your entire face! I love you so much I want to stick my tongue down your throat! I love you so much I want to give you this shoe!"), the others conducted themselves well. The Codeman, drinking in the attentions of a roomful of dog-loving females, bounced around in what I call the Butt Dance: "Who da man? I'm da man! Say 'Yay!'" Katie won hearts by putting her big, furry paw on visitors' feet and then looking up with her soulful brown eyes: "Please pet me." Mollie, whose presence in Fellow Traveler's home is like that of a small, silent tuxedoed sprite, made a brief appearance near the end of the gathering. Charlie, a sad old soul who is neglected at his own house and comes to Fellow Traveler's for dog biscuits and companionship, seemed to cheer up even more walking into our party.

We had fun, anyway.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

It's a little late for "An Early Frost," but it's still a good poem. It reminds me of my own stumbling around outside in the wee hours to fill my bird feeders before I go to work.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Picture This

I am so missing my camera, which is still being repaired, somewhere far away. I think I've actually experienced camera withdrawal.

I can't tell you how many times during the day I come upon blogworthy scenes that I long to capture for posterity and for your viewing enjoyment. And -- I mean -- this is autumn; it's like I'm in the middle of an Impressionist painting every day, and I have no camera.

Now, if I did have a camera, some of the things I'd be showing you would include:

A still life of my Moore Orchard heirloom apples. You can't believe these apples -- huge, bronzy russets with a ponderous German varietal name -- very crisp and sweet; an eponymous Mahogany apple, pleasantly tart, probably a great cider apple; a yellow-and-pink Holstein apple; a rosy streaked apple whose name I've forgotten; these amazing little green and russet apples, maybe a little bigger than a crabapple, that are insanely sweet and spicy and crispy.

The hand-lettered sign
at a local petting farm that advises, "WARNING: OSTRICH MAY BE DANGEROUS." If you're close enough to read the sign, chances are that you're also looking into the eyes of one very angry ostrich, who doesn't take kindly to rubberneckers slowing down along the road to gawk at it. I mean, you don't see a sign like this every day, and certainly not in a place like Outer Podunk. It deserves to be blogged.

The strutural steel framing of our new church addition, which has just begun going up. This is really exciting stuff. Members and neighbors have been kicking in great amounts of sweat equity, and our congregation has received quite astounding offers of help. And our parishoners are daring to dream a little. A local stained glass artist expressed an interest in creating a rose window for us, so we're doing some special fundraising for that project.

The Codeman and his friends. Now that the novelty has worn off, Cody and The Big Blondes have settled into a really wacky kind of love/hate/toleration relationship. Especially when I'm present, Cody is The Little Prince -- bossy, whiny, petulant, jealous and generally insufferable. He and Katie, his older friend, are both marathon eaters; she steals his treats, and he in turn taunts her with his kibbles, which he will bring out one by one and parade in front of her nose. He and his other gal pal Cassie are constantly vying for my attention, looking daggers at the other if he or she gets it instead. But when they get sleepy, they dogpile -- Cody usually curled up on top of Katie, sometimes even on top of Cassie. Cody finds male solidarity with Charlie, the neighbor's large, elderly bird dog; and he also has a genuinely sweet and gentle relationship with Mollie the cat, who seems fascinated by the idea of a dog that's the same size as she is. Who knew that my little canine was a social butterfly?

The leaves. Well, there's not a lot of those left, but there's still some color here and there. Michigan is really underrated as a leaf-peeping state, but we have gorgeous fall color here. In their honor, I recently mounted some artistic leaves on my wall-- they're made out of polymer, molded using real leaves, and hand-painted; I found them at an art fair last month, and knew they'd wind up on my wall. I'm also in the process of framing some of the photographs I found at an art fair this summer. Slowly, very slowly, I am turning my house into my house. I don't know how long I'll stay here, but as long as I am here I have a need to make it feel more like me.

Anyhow -- that's what you'd see if I had my camera back. Camera Guy promises I'll have my camera by Thanksgiving. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Radical Hospitality

It's ironic, considering that a couple of Fridays ago on the weekly RevGalBlogPals quiz I let you in on my basically introverted, Lone Ranger self -- but I am about to embark on a gig as co-hostess of a party. A party consisting mainly of people I don't know.

Fellow Traveler and I are throwing a potluck for women in our general neck of the woods with whom we've been networking online...geographically scattered women, single and partnered, who are just looking for some support and connection in a nice, safe, affirming atmosphere. We are providing a couple of cool-weather entrees, and inviting our guests to round out the menu with a dish to pass; we have a big-screen TV for the big game, and a card table in the next room for the euchre crowd. (Just for the record, I have made it known that I will not be among the card players...which should evoke sighs of relief across mid-Michigan. I've found that behavior I can get away with while watching sports -- repeatedly falling asleep, getting poked awake and mumbling, "Huh? Whaaa? Who's winning? Oh -- okay...snork" -- doesn't go over well at a card table, especially with one's card partner.)

The response has been amazingly positive -- amazing considering that these are people who, upon receiving a mysterious e-mail from two strangers inviting them to a party in some faraway community (everywhere seems far away from Outer Podunk), have trusted us enough to say, "Okay -- I'll be there." As far as that goes, we've had our own living-in-the-leap experience in deciding to embark on this adventure, offering hospitality to people outside our circle of friends, whose relationship to us is as tenuous as a couple of e-mail exchanges. FT and I sense that our little fall soiree is meeting a need in our area, and even though we're having some Lucy and Ethel moments as we work out the party preparations, we're looking forward to doing this. I don't want to get too theological about it, but this feels like a good place to be -- inviting strangers to our table.

All I Have To Say About My State Election Is...

...a pox on everyone connected with election advertising.

There are not one but two ads starring male candidates' winsome 20-something daughters, asking the electorate to vote for cardigan-clad "Dad" because he's just so swell.

There's an ad sneering at the candidate's opponent because the opponent used to be a UPS driver. So much for the Cincinnatus-style citizen patriot, I, we need more lawyers and business tycoons in public office.

And of course we have the nonstop multimedia onslaught of "I know you are, but what am I?" attack ads. (The two cardigan-clad dads, by the way, also run the attack ads, sans winsome daughters...sort of a Good Dad/Bad Dad thing going on there.)

I think the most appropriate punishment for all concerned would be to lock them all in a room filled with television screens and make them watch these things 24/7 until they start going fetal.

This is Way Cool

All the cool people are taking the Personal DNA Quiz . I did, and I discovered that I am a
Generous Artist.
Which creates a pretty nifty graphic, except that it doesn't seem to copy here. Oh, well...follow the link and you can spelunk my psyche, in technicolor.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sitting Out the Codependent Polka

I know that I've been somewhat scarce around here in past weeks. Part of that has been due to -- marvel of marvels -- actually gaining a personal life; but part of it has been about getting involved, again, in a pretty dysfunctional Internet forum that has been sapping not only my time and attention but, in a real way, my spirit. (Constant Readers will remember this same sad tale last year.)

This week, after grinding down my tooth enamel yet again over homophobic blather, theological ignorance and general silliness, I started a topic thread where I opined that Christians are really their own worst enemies -- that every time I've wanted to bail off the Jesus bus, it's been not because of him but because of his self-professed friends. In response I received enough negative comments to wake me up, again, and realize how much time I have wasted on this forum. I bid my adieus, citing Jesus' advice that there's a time to just hand the situation over to God and get out of Dodge, and was then treated to frowny-faced lecturement about how Real Christians[tm] stick with their communities no matter what. Which reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw, "I Heart My Codependent Relationship."

Well, I guess I'm just not good enough to be in this august company (many members of which, I should note, remain silent on a serial basis while others vomit homophobia and other "I'm right -- you're going to hell" sentiments over that forum -- so much for holding hands with the Christian sisters and brothers and singing "Kumbaya"), so I'm happy to retreat back to my other home on the Internet, where the standards are much lower.

If I say anything here, ever again, about getting involved on an Internet discussion forum, please help me -- organize an intervention, or dope-slap me, or something.


My mind has been a slow moving vehicle over the last couple of weeks, so it's no surprise that it's taken a couple of days for me to mull over Sunday's Gospel lesson, about the rich young man who came o-so-close to following Jesus, then pulled away after counting the cost he was asked to pay.

Growing up -- in a respectable congregation of industrious farmers and split-level-dwelling middle-classians -- the spin put on this story went something like thusly, in my Cliff Notes version: Jesus wants us to be willing to give up everything, including our family and friends and wealth, to follow him. We don't want to do that because of our sinful self-centeredness. That God's grace is sure a good thing for us, huh? 'Cause otherwise we'd be toast. Thanks be to God. The end.

You get the general idea. I don't know about you, but my gut reaction to this hermeneutic approach consists of continued low-grade guilt -- how dare I care about my family and friends, and about not starving or freezing! Because if I were really holy I would really want to be an ascetic in a loincloth, completely indifferent to human relationships and needs of everyday life -- and helplessness -- Well, I just can't do that. Sucks for me. Write a big "L" on my forehead, God, next to the other ones.

(To any pastors reading this: Sometimes you really don't want to know how your sermons go over with the great unwashed in the pew.)

But last night, pondering the text, I was reminded of a family I knew when I left up north, two teachers/musicians and their gaggle of kids and animals who lived in a big old house in the city where I used to live. A family of extravagant generosity, and hospitality, and caring.

It was the kind of rumpled, anarchic, crunchy-granola family that made their Izod-shirted neighbors in the community's immaculately tailored subdivisions roll their eyes. Their house was described by one of my friends, who baby- and pet-sat for them on occasion, as "Pippi Longstocking's house, but with adults." This couple had, right from the beginning of their marriage, decided that their household was going to be one hospitable to kids and strangers, to art and music and nature and peace. And that's how it played out. Their house was the neighborhood congregating place for local children, including and especially the sad and neglected, who could always find a meal and a story and adult affection there. Their household was also a hub for the local arts community, and local peace and justice activists (a rare breed in northern Michigan.) The couple hosted foreign exchange students as well -- teenagers looking for the American experience, who instead found happy, creative chaos with a revolving cast of children and pets (including a hermit crab and a rooster who walked on a leash), musicians and storytellers and idealists. If you were stuck in a snowbank some blizzardy winter evening -- not an unlikely occurrence in this part of the world -- and somehow found your way to this family's neighborhood, chances were good that you'd be invited to have a cup of cocoa with the clan and pull out the sofabed for the evening.

It wasn't all fun and games with this family. They were castigated by some in the community for their involvement in unpopular social causes; their Woodstock-by-way-of-Salvation Army fashions tended not to blend in with their peers' preppy norm; the children, when young, had a reputation for being a little too free-spirited; the rooster caused some consternation in the neighborhood. But despite all this, it was apparent that this household held a lot of love and generosity and creativity.

I thought about this family -- intentionally, militantly poor in things but rich in spirit -- and thought about how maybe, just maybe, this is what Jesus was talking about when he invited the rich young man into the adventure of giving everything he had to the poor. It wasn't about undergoing an onerous journey into deprivation and disconnect from the rest of human life; it was about saying "yes" to living out a what-if of sharing in God's exuberent extravagance, "brimful and spilling over."

Monday, October 16, 2006

"That Special Time"

One of my fellow middle-aged coworkers has a great idea about uteri: Since women only use them on an occasional basis, if at all...shouldn't they be removeable? Shouldn't natural selection have worked out something like a ziplock mechanism, with maybe a handy little storage pouch somewhere in there, like those little glove pockets inside parkas?

I am moving into that stage of life my doctor calls "that special time"; between that and the sorts of disruptions that life upheavals can wreak upon one's natural rhythms, I am about ready to manually unzip my uterus and drop-kick it into my garbage can next to the chicken-wing bones and mutating past-date mayonnaise. A more useless, messy and annoying organ I cannot imagine at this moment.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

In honor of a hard-luck team that might -- just might -- make good this year: May Swenson's Analysis of Baseball .

Comfort, Comfort, O My People

A comfortable Friday Five, on a blustery day (at least here in Outer Podunk and surrounding state) from the RevGalBlogPals:

Comfort beverage: Just Coffee's Ethiopian Yrgicheffe, piping hot...a light roast that's o so smooooooooth going down.

Comfort chair: My loveseat, which is not only comfortable but in a comfortable color -- kind of an antique brick red with a mum pattern in buff and brown and ivory.

Comfort read: Cookbooks, especially those with some literary content, not just recipes and photos; gardening and botany books.

Comfort television/DVD/music I think "comfort television" is something of an oxymoron, other than my beloved Northern Exposure...for me comfort movies are the old black-and-white classics, and comfort music can be anything from the sung Daily Office to Bach to piano-bar standards to the blues. New discoveries include the Coffeehouse channel on Sirius radio, as well as the Yahoo! radio stations themed around a particular performer -- if you select a favored performer you can hear a variety of music from other performers on the same general musical wavelength.

Comfort companion(s) Fellow Traveler and blended menagerie, and a good pillow; I'm a pillow hugger.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Candidate We Can Both Support

"Hi. My name is Cody. I'm a Maltese. As some of you know, I live with LutheranChik.

"I watch television all day, and I have to tell you, I hate political advertising. And it's really bad here in Michigan, with hot gubernatorial and senatorial races, and a lot of 'I know you are, but what am I?' negative ads. They make me growl. If it were up to me, I'd get all Hound of the Baskervilles and rip out these losers' throats. Except I'm not big enough to do that; I'd have to chew their ankles instead. But still.

"Anyway, I was one of those disillusioned, hellwiddumall non-voting types...until I saw an ad for Spoiled Yappy Dog. There was something about Spoiled Yappy Dog that just...just spoke to me. I think she'd be out there biting ankles with me.

"This isn't a partisan blog, so I'm not going to tell you how to vote. But when you do stand in that booth in November, please make an informed choice -- one that takes into consideration a diversity of species, including my own. I know how I'd vote, if I could reach the voting machine and read the ballot. My suggestion to you: Spoiled Yappy Dog -- you can't do much worse."

Not a Company Gal

I've never been a particularly happy affiliator.

I was a Brownie dropout; as soon as I found out that Brownies didn't spend all their time camping and orienteering and other interesting stuff -- that, at least in my troop, the typical Brownie meeting consisted of an hour sitting cross-legged in a circle doing nothing except making dorky felt crafts -- I got bored and quit. I got bored with any number of organizations during my high school and college days. During my short and unhappy sojourn at my first post-college "real" job, as an advertising representative for a small weekly newspaper, I was given a membership in the local Business and Professional Women chapter by my boss, who thought it would be a good networking opportunity; sitting there that first meeting, watching some starry-eyed True Believer muckety-muck with a chestful of bejeweled pins from her various BPW conventions, engaging in some kind of quasi-religious kumbaya mojo with candles and singing up in the front of the banquet hall of a local restaurant, I remember thinking, Just kill me now.

As regular readers know, I came away from my last lay ministry retreat feeling disheartened and alienated. Over the past few weeks I've been turning this experience over and over in my mind, trying to tease out the various reasons for my unhappiness that weekend.

My discomfort with the proposed Visions and Expectations requirement is one part of that, sure. But I think another factor affecting my comfort level with my program is the sort of hive-mind esprit d'corps that one finds in denominational interest groups: people who are totally immersed in the organizational busy-ness and political machinations of the denomination, who live for assemblies and the latest issue of The Lutheran.

I don't have much of a stomach for such stuff. I'm not a company gal -- not even when I've worked for a company. For me, when push comes to shove, institutional Christianity is something to put up with because that's what we have...and as soon as someone gets the bright idea of creating a kind of ecclesiastical counterculture for disaffected church members, that in turn tends to become institutionalized.

One of the things that keeps me interested in ministry despite this is the realization that every person of faith who ever inspired or mentored me was someone who treated Church, Inc., with something between wry amusement and contempt -- who played the game if they had to, but who knew it was a game, and didn't ground their faith in it.

The other thing is my sheer stubbornness. Which shouldn't be underestimated.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Go Tigers!

It's a blast from the past -- the Detroit Tigers making it to the playoff season.

I haven't paid a great deal of attention to baseball since I was in college, but when I was a kid I watched a lot of baseball. I had a pair of bachelor great-uncles -- brothers whom I found fascinating because they lived like children would live if they could, in simultaneous simplicity and chaos in their rickety old family farmhouse sans electricity or indoor plumbing -- who'd come over during the summertime to watch Tigers games on our TV. Uncle A was a rumpled, wiry old World War I vet whose favorite adjective was "Goddamn," who rolled his own cigarettes and would leave great blue clouds of smoke in our living room; his brother Uncle E was tall, thin and meticulous in dress, and considered slow by the rest of the family, although to me he possessed a surprisingly canny wit. The two of them seldom visited together because they tended to get on one another's nerves. But usually every weekend, and oftener during the haying season when they'd help out my dad, one of them could be found in our living room, watching the ball game. This was back in the days of Al Kaline and Willie Horton.

I loved sitting there in the smoke, listening to my dad and his uncles talk about the game and the world in general. I was for some reason treated like a peer during these get-togethers, which pleased me a great deal; none of my friends seemed to have the same easy familiarity with family elders, and none of the other females in my family were particularly welcome to participate in this ritual gathering.

This past week I've thought about Uncles A and E, and those baseball evenings with my dad, cheering on the home team. They were good times. Thanks, Tigers, for helping me remember, with affection and gratitude, this part of my story.

There's No Place Like Home

So what have I been doing for the past several days?

I've been, mentally speaking, home. Which is to say, concerned about household things -- getting up the storm windows; tidying up the outside before the snow falls; ordering some landscaping stone to mound up against my house foundation; tinkering with art; trying desperately, and mostly unsuccessfully, to wrest order from chaos around here. (Fellow Traveler took pity on me and helped me clean out my garage, which was filled with accumulated parental and personal detritus of almost 20 years -- actually, she managed the strategic planning and sorting and cleaning and tidying, while I, mostly banished from the premises, just provided periodic brawn for moving heavy stuff.)

Remember that film The Money Pit? To me my house is an attention pit -- a giant maw that is constantly demanding my time and energy and focus, without a great deal of emotional, intellectual or other payoff. Desperate housewifery indeed.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Foley Affair

I suppose it's inevitable that the more despicable and opportunistic operatives of the Religious Right have begun to spin the Mark Foley page scandal into a tale of a nefarious Washington gay cabal. And it's equally inevitable that Democrats are indulging in some Schadenfreude that a DC pants-around-ankles scandal is, for once, not involving a Democratic pair of ankles.

To me, the issue is pretty clear, and it's not really about sex. It's all about power -- the infamous droit du signeur; the presumption of people in power that their subordinates owe them sexual attention and favors. It's a dynamic as old as Potiphar's wife putting the moves on young Joseph, as new as the latest CNN headlines and as mundane as the lecherous boss on Main Street.

There will, sadly, always be persons corrupted by power. What disturbs me more are the enablers -- persons who seem to operate under the principle, "He may be a jerk, but he's our jerk." Well, Foley ain't my jerk. Shame on everyone involved in this mess who didn't do the right thing. And shame on the popular nudge-wink acceptance of power-over sexual harassment and coercion that goes on far from the high-powered halls of state.

The Feast of St. Francis

Sadly, it was not an evening conducive to a Franciscan blessing of the resident four-legged beast at Casa LutheranChica this evening -- my dog wilfully whizzed in the house not once but three times, eliciting some non-celebratory commentary on my part and leading to his repeated exiles to the back yard -- but I did spend some time thinking about St. Francis, a man who literally abandoned everything to follow Christ.

It's hard for me to comprehend the holiness and wholeheartedness of Francis. But there's a little part of me that wonders if I would find a face-to-face encounter with Francis compelling or off-putting. I often feel uncomfortable reading about the great heroes and heroines of Scripture and Church history, and suspect that if I met some of them I'd be repelled by them -- by their single-minded fervor, by their odd behaviors, by their "otherness."

On the other hand -- history records that Francis was a friend to peasants, to lepers, even to the wild animals...less of a plaster saint and more of a fellow traveler. Maybe, if he'd been visiting me tonight, he'd have gotten out the stain remover and sponge, rolled up his rough-woven brown sleeves and helped me clean my carpet.

Here are some prayers for the day, as well as a reflection on Francis' legendary encounter with the wolf, and the broader implications of that story.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I got an invitation to attend a three-day retreat for women based on the Liturgy of the Hours.

Something right up my alley. Something I'd love to attend.

Trouble is -- two of the days are work days. On top of the work days I need to take off for my regular retreats, plus some personal days I need for my life maintenance activities, plus a number of Saturday classes that I'm supposed to attend. Had I had more advance notice I could possibly have juggled my schedule to accomodate a two-day absence, but this came up too fast for me to deal with.

So I've had to take a pass on this opportunity.

This makes me sad, and frustrated. But I'm thinking that if I somehow finagled the two days off, I'd wind up needing an extra two days off just for a post-retreat wind-down. I have so much to do just in terms of maintaining my house and my life, and so much I want to do, for myself and with Fellow Traveler. But I'm just tired...bone tired. There just isn't enough time. I'm physically run down and cranky and anxious.

As you may be picking up, I'm feeling some major church burnout. What's my motivation here? Especially after my last training retreat experience, I'm finding myself questioning why I'm making such an investment of time and money in service to an organization that would appear not to want me in the end. Actually, I feel like I've had my motivation stolen from me.

I wish I had it back.

A Dash of Salt

Of all the grist for thought in this past Sunday's lessons, the image that's remained in my mind is that of salt -- Christians acting as the salt of the earth. Maybe that's because I like to cook; because I have myself stood over countless bowls and pots, adding salt in tiny increments to various dishes. It's funny how just a dash -- an almost impercetible amount -- of salt can enhance certain foods; you can't taste the salt, but you can taste the diffference if it's there.

I think it's interesting that Jesus, in various places in Scripture, uses the metaphors of salt and yeast in describing the working of the Reign of God in the world. Both substances are best used sparingly; a little of each goes a long way. How contrary that is to both the "Christ over culture" triumphalist paradigm and to our own spiritual ambitions and the frustration when we, inevitably, do not live up to them.

What Jesus seems to be suggesting is that the inbreaking of the Reign of God is going to be in slow, small, subtle ways...and perhaps, by extension, that's how it is with us as well, as we grow into our callings in the Reign. But no matter how slow or small or subtle...if not us, who else is going to season the world?