Thursday, March 30, 2006

Carnival Update

I'm still going to try and post the first Walking the Midway blog carnival tomorrow evening...but because of my life circumstances it may be more like April Fool's Day. And if I miss someone's submission -- a distinct possibility given my state of distraction -- please e-mail me and I'll fix it.

She's Up

Sort of.

I went to the hospital today with a gingerbread birthday cupake bearing the icing message "HB MOM" (that's all that would fit on it) but no great expectations... but to my surprise I found my mother sitting in a chair by the window. She was awake and alert -- in a pretty glum mood, because she felt lousy, but certainly lucid.

I stayed there for three hours, during which time she had physical therapy -- they had her reaching and doing arm curls, and I was told that they were going to periodically help her stand -- and ate half her lunch (after some energetic coaching on my part -- my boss, who's gone through this experience with a loved one, warned me that the meds they give open heart patients take away their appetites, and they need to be pushed to eat enough food to keep up their strength). This is a huge improvement over yesterday. But by 2:00 p.m. Mom had pretty much had it for the day, and told me to go home. Although she did ask for her glasses and for the magazine I'd bought her down in the gift shop. So I took that as a good sign.

The roller-coaster goes up...the roller-coaster goes down...the roller-coaster goes up...that's how it's going around here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Celling My Soul

Another life change for me this week -- after holding out for as long as possible, I finally purchased a cell phone...a basic, non-blingy $20 pay-as-you-go cheapie from the local Cheap Crap of Dubious Origin store. Considering that I'm spending over three hours on the road every day, and monopolizing my land line with the computer when I'm home, it seemed like the right thing to do.

But I have no love for the thing. Oh, I was geeky enough to program a Bach partita ringtone, but I'm not particularly curious about any of the features other than the actual ability to call people on it, or to receive calls with it,under duress. To steal a phrase from theologian Marva Dawn, who critiques our technophilic culture quite harshly, I feel fettered by my new cell phone. And I do not want to turn into one of those people who are surgically attached to their phones, engaged in inane "Whassup?" conversations everywhere. (I haven't yet seen or heard anyone using a phone in a public bathroom, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.) can't be helped. I have a cell phone now. Whoo-hoo for me. At least it's really, really little.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward

This is how the past week has gone for me.

I call the hospital in the morning and ask how my mom is. If the response is negative, when I get there I'll find her doing better than what I was led to expect. If I get a positive report, when I get there I find her slipping backward.

Today I didn't call ahead. I was somewhat relieved to have her in on a regular ward, and figured that as long as the phone didn't ring things were going fine. I get to the hospital this afternoon, and Mom is so sound asleep that I am unable to wake her at all. Her lunch try is lying uneaten. I go downstairs and wait for awhile, then go back up again. She's still snoring. I try talking her and touching her awake; she doesn't wake up.

I find one of the doctors. He tells me that this morning she was fairly animated, and engaged in conversation, and even ate breakfast, but then she fell asleep. He says the staff can't figure this out; he wonders if she had some sort of mild stroke during the operation, but notes that when she's awake she's lucid and has no trouble speaking, and that she's able to move her extremities. It may be the drug cocktail she's on, he suggests, or she may be this exhausted. But if she hasn't snapped out of it by tomorrow they're going to do a CAT scan and find out if something neurological is going on.

Oh, God, I think. Not something else. A succession of worst-case scenarios tumble through my mind.

"If you can stay and help her eat dinner, that would be great," says the doctor.

If you can't wake her up and I can't wake her up, then how the hell am I going to do that? I think. And I can't stay. I mentally kick myself for attempting to put in a few hours at work this morning. (My employer has been more than generous with giving me time off, and I wanted to reciprocate by tying up my deadline loose ends for the week.)

But I smile wanly and say that, no, I won't be able to stay, but I'll be able to be around for awhile tomorrow. That's because tomorrow, March 30th, is my mom's birthday. I'd put in for a vacation day some time ago so she could have a festive outing somewhere. Not a hospital.

Surgery day aside, I've been pretty publicly stoic about this whole thing, but when I got in the car to drive back home, I just lost it. I honestly don't know how I navigated my way home from downtown Saginaw without killing someone, or myself. I don't even remember driving home. But somewhere in the midst of this it occurred to me that, maybe if she were a bit awake tomorrow I could cajole her into eating a piece of her favorite cake, so when I got back to Outer Podunk I stopped in at the supermarket -- me in dark glasses, sniffling -- for gingerbread ingredients. And I bought myself some mint chocolate chip ice cream because, damn it, I wanted some.

I came home and hugged my dog -- my poor dog, who is so befuddled every day by my ever-changing, interminably long schedule away from home, who piddled on the floor but did it on newspaper like a good boy, because on some level he seems to get that he needs to be on good behavior so things don't slide completely off the trolley here -- and I ate ice cream. And now I'm sitting here on the floor with my laptop next to the sofa, with the dog whimpering into my ear, getting ready to make gingerbread cupcakes for a birthday that was supposed to be a good day.

I am just so tired right now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Another Mom Update, and Waiting-Room Field Notes

My mother was moved to a regular hospital room today. This is good news, after her spending four days in cardiac intensive care instead of the usual day-and-a-half. She is still very weak, and groggy from pain meds, and can't really keep up a conversation for more than about a quarter-hour; but today she seemed to finally be cognizant of her surroundings and her operation, and kept saying, "A triple bypass? I can't believe this happened to me." I've been telling her that we're very fortunate that we went to the emergency room when we did, not knowing how sick she really was; that this was really the best outcome considering a lot of not-very-good alternatives.

It's funny; in my day job, which involves outreach on behalf of an aging services agency, I spend a lot of time encouraging caregivers of seniors to develop a "care team" of people they can turn to for support. Little did I know, just a week ago today, that I'd be the one needing a care team. Many thanks to all of you who are team members helping on the spiritual front; your prayers are appreciated. And -- maybe this is just me, but I think there's a reason why, no matter how weak and sleepy Mom is, her vital signs are very strong and the physical aspects of her surgery are progressing on schedule.

Needless to say, I've spent a lot of time this past week sitting in a waiting room. To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, this has the effect of concentrating the mind powerfully, although perhaps not on the situation that's brought one to the hospital in the first place; I was telling a friend that I think we loved ones go through a kind of anesthesia during health crises like this that keep us from dwelling on the gravity of our loved one's condition until we're too mentally and emotionally paralyzed to function. So we think and do other things -- things that disinterested people might find odd, in the circumstances. But it gets us from Task A to B to C, which is where our loved ones need us to be.

Anyhow -- some random thoughts while sitting in a waiting room:

When I started feeling too sorry for myself, I'd look around at the other families clustered in various areas. One family was pretty much camped out on a group of sofas they'd moved together; they were there on Thursday morning, and they were there yesterday afternoon. Today they weren't. I thought I overheard a comment about "my father dying," so I suspect it was a gathering of the clan for that sad time, although there wasn't a lot of crying or sadness in the family...perhaps it had been expected. But there was that family. There was the elderly woman there for her husband; I heard her tell a hospital staffer that they had seven children, but all seven lived far away, so it was just her, waiting. There was the family ushered into the consultation room, off to the side of the waiting room; I watched them entering with some trepidation, and watched them leave a few minutes later, all smiles. That was good. This is actually the hospital where my father died, of a burst aneurysm, many years ago -- I remember that moment where the surgeon appeared with a grim look on his face; that's when you really don't want to go into the consultation room with him. But -- sitting in a large metropolitan hospital like this, watching the various dramas enfolding around me -- like the song says, every picture tells a story, don't it.

Here's irony for you: This hospital is considered one of the best in the state for cardiac surgery. It contains a separate cardiac care outpatient clinic. But when you walk into the cafeteria, one whole side of the place is like a shrine to fried food -- rows of onion rings and french fries and battered fish filets and deep-fried everything else. Over on the entree side, there's exactly one "healthy" choice, and more cheesy, fatty, cholesterol-laden stuff; the other healthy options are the salad bar or the premade salads and sandwiches. I found it interesting that the staff seemed to choose the healthy vittles, while the visitors went after the deep-fried cheesy cauliflower, et al. Maybe it's because of what the staff sees all day.

I seem to recall that this hospital once had Lutheran roots; at some point it merged with the city hospital, but it maintains a "faith-based" feel, with crosses in the hallways and a very nice chapel off the end of the waiting room -- a kind of beautifully stark, Danish-modern design, except for an evocative sculpture of Christ cradling a sick person in his arms up above the altar. In the almost-week that I've been hanging out in the waiting room, I have seen exactly one other person, besides myself, enter the chapel. I went inside and said the Noonday Prayer Friday, after the surgeon came down and told me that everything went fine. I was glad it was there.

The Cardiac Care Unit has hospital chaplains bring family members up to the CICU for the first visit. I was wondering about this -- it's not standard for other surgeries -- but it's because of the gravity of the operations, and because the patients look terrible -- it can be a shock for the unprepared. The chaplains sit down with you beforehand and give you a very detailed description of what you can expect to see and hear as you go up to the recovery area. I had one chaplain prep me and another take me to CICU; the one who went with me said, "Sometimes the visitors pass out up there -- usually the men." Fortunately for her and the rest of the staff, I remained upright and conscious.

My pastor -- who, by the way, both by himself and then later with his wife, sat with me for several hours on Friday; they are the best -- passed along a great line: We were talking about Mom's recovery, and I was expressing my anxiety about how we were going to engineer her care at home, and he quoted a friend of his as telling him once, "We all spend an awful lot of time and energy clearing away the wreckage of the future."

Surprisingly -- or maybe not, because there's so much waiting going on in a waiting room that you have to do something with your brain to keep it from imploding -- I read three books in the past week. And I retained so much from all of them -- unlike my usual distracted, multitasking way of reading books. I read Joan Chittister's Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, a very good book about incorporating Benedictine spirituality into one's daily life; I read Marva Dawn's Unfettered Hope, about living joyfully and counterculturally as a follower of Christ in an alien culture; and I read (don't all start laughing at once)Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. The first two books dovetailed so perfectly together it was almost as if the two authors had collaborated with one another; I really felt God's "Listen up!" in stereo. The last book -- well, I had expected the author to be a scary, anal-retentive Martha Stewart clone, but she wasn't half bad, even though she is a lawyer by trade and includes a scary chapter on homeowner liability that will make you never want to have anyone else set foot on your property ever again. (Especially if you have a neurotic old dog who's been known to clamp his mostly toothless but still pain-inflicting jaws onto the calves of persons he does not happen to like.) And she also included instructions on how to iron sheets, although she noted that she was doing this mostly as a hat tip to the good old days and not because she actually expects her readers to iron sheets. And I learned stuff. Did you know that banana oil removes Wite-Out stains from clothing? Except that I'm not quite sure what banana oil is. Oh, well.

Finally, a sign at a gas station next to the exit I take to get onto the freeway: "WORLD'S SECOND LARGEST SELECTION OF JERKY." (For my international readers, jerky is dried, smoked, extremely chewy meat of various kinds -- beef, turkey, venison, bison -- these days often specially flavored in various ways; Cajun, teriaki and so forth.) Honesty in advertising -- you've got to love it.

It feels good to be back talking to people not wearing scrubs and disposable slippers. Thanks again, everyone.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mom Update

My mother is having triple bypass surgery tomorrow (Friday) morning at 7:00 EST. Her doctors have given us a positive prognosis for her full recovery, but she was a little shaken today because the surgery is happening so soon.

Thanks to all who've sent encouraging words and prayers. They mean a great deal to us. Thank you for being Christ for us.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I am going to be on hiatus for the next couple of days: My mother is in the hospital with what appears to be a mild heart attack. She'd been having what she thought was muscle pain in her shoulder for the last couple of days, but this morning it got much worse, and she began feeling short of breath, so I took her to the local ER. A few hours later we were 70 miles away at a regional medical center that specializes in cardiac care. So I expect I will be commuting back and forth for at least the next couple of days.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Going Back For Joseph

I remember, not too long ago, deciding that I was going to periodically spotlight some of the church calendar feasts and commemorations listed on my Augsburg Fortress webfeed.

Like many good ideas of mine, this one is languishing due to my lack of attention. But I did want to go back for St. Joseph, whose feast day was yesterday.

Actually, I guess he has two feast days. This week we remember him for his role in raising the young Jesus; in May he is recognized as Joseph the Worker, whose example of good and useful labor underscores how our work is really God's work in the world.

Sadly, Joseph hardly even ranks one feast day in my tradition...he just gets no respect around here. Even though his courage in responding to God's call in a radical way -- trusting God's message to not abandon his pregnant fiancee, which also put him in a socially precarious position and no doubt, as the neighbors started doing the gestational math, caused community tongues to wag about his "righteousness lapse" -- makes his actions an example of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call the cost of discipleship.

And Joseph also reminds me of the dads and grandpas and uncles and other caring men I know who are not afraid to hold and hug and comfort little kids, who are not too macho to carry diaper bags and binkies, who willingly spend quality time with kids, who co-parent in ways that their own fathers and grandfathers may have never imagined.

O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Postscript: Evidently the link I provided to Bridge Building Images took the viewer...erm...somewhere else, somewhere else not nice...when my life returns to normal this will be funny, but until then, if you're interested in Bridge Building Images, you're on your own; Google it.

Nancy Oliphant, "St Joseph of Nazareth," Bridge Building ImagesPosted by Picasa

Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring Cleaning

I'm sitting here luxuriating in the scent of a freshly steamed dining room carpet (we won't talk about the color or density of the water I emptied from the carpet steamer) laptop is squeaky clean, thanks to a vacuuming and application of electronics cleaner...the ceiling corners are free of those insidious, filmy little cobwebs that tend to escape notice for weeks at a time.

I'm doing spring cleaning at Cold Comfort Cottage.

So I guess the Apocalypse has arrived.

Which is to say: Susie Homemaker I ain't. In addition to sheer obliviousness and a multitude of far more interesting and rewarding distractions, as well as the fact that I have no particular emotional attachment to this place -- my parents built it as their retirement cottage when I was away from home, and to me it's like any number of temporary rentals I've ever lived in; just an ill-constructed, unattractive little box that keeps me warm and out of the elements -- my reticence about getting into the homemaking thing has also been in large part due to a power struggle in my home.

My mother has always prided herself on her housekeeping skills. She's now at an age where she just doesn't have the energy or mobility to keep house the way she wants, but she has also been very equivocal, to say the least, about my helping out. On one hand, when I've tried to pitch in she's been so critical of my efforts that half the time I just give up in frustration; or else she steps in and sighs, "Oh, let me do it." But then she's complained that I don't help out enough.

"Okay," I told her one day. "Make me a list of what you want me to do, and I'll do it. I like lists. They help me."

"I shouldn't have to do that," she retorted. "You should know. This is your house too." (Could have fooled me, I thought sourly.)

Or I'd start doing some household chore on my own, and she'd stop me: "Why are you doing that first? Can't you see that you should be doing ________ first?"

"What difference does it make? At least I'm starting somewhere."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

This past weekend we had a Saturday-morning breakfast-table Intense Conversation on this subject again -- for some reason Saturday morning seems to be when mother-daughter frustration reaches its weekly peak, which is sad, because it spoils the pleasure of pancakes -- and I finally told Mom, "Do you know what it's like to be treated like an idiot? Because that's what I feel like when I try to help you, and all you do is criticize me. Nothing I ever do is right. How do you think that feels? What's my motivation to help you?"

Now, if this were an Afterschool Special, we'd cry and hug and make up; instead Mom got pouty and quiet. But this time, when I got out the vacuum cleaner and proceeded to vacuum behind the sofa, which had been the original plan that day, she did not protest or "supervise." Encouraged, and losing my cringe, I then vacuumed the rest of the floor...and the upholstery...and the curtains...and the walls. I vacuumed the whole house that day.

And, miracle of miracles, my mother said, "You did a really good job."

Followed by: "You make me feel very inadequate."

Have I mentioned that I take medicine for hypertension?

Comic interlude: How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb? None. "It's all right. You go and have your fun. I'll just sit here alone in the dark."

But anyway, this attitude readjustment has been a great relief to me. And it's readjusted my attitude.

As I've mentioned, I like lists, I think for the same reason that I like liturgical worship and fixed prayer and my workplace day planner; they're all ways of wresting order from chaos. So I've been looking for books that give me some structure for doing housework; some workable timetables. As opposed to my usual crisis-management housecleaning plan: "The carpet is crunching. Maybe I'd better do something."

I've got one book here from the library, the Country Living Home Almanac, which is great because it has a schedule for outdoor maintenance tasks as well as indoor ones. And then I selected an encyclopedic tome by Cheryl Mendelson entitled Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Mendelson is a former J.D. attorney and university professor turned domestic scientist. She's into it; imagine a cross between Mrs. Beeton and Martha Stewart, with OCD, on speed, and you have some inkling of this individual's intensity when it comes to questions like how long to keep an open bottle of chutney in the fridge and how to fold boxers. In other words, she's pretty scary, and that's even before you get to her chapter on homeowner law. But she has provided me with -- caloo, callay -- a comprehensive yet surprisingly flexible schedule for doing everything around the house. Yes! Thank you! You can go back to the boxers now.

At the beginning of Lent I pondered the wisdom of trying to make more room in my life for God not only by creating more mental space but more physical space as well. But then I got all Kantian and started second-guessing my intentions: Oh, come on...that's like fasting to lose weight. But -- you know what? When part of your brain, one of those programs running in the background in your head, is always stressing about the not-quite-rightness of your home, or worrying about your making an adequate contribution to its upkeep so that people who have to live with you don't have to stress about it, it's a distraction; it's something that affects your relationship with God and with the people around you.

I'm still not enamored of Cold Comfort Cottage. But at least it's getting to be a cleaner cottage. And I suspect that my mother and I will both enjoy our pancakes much more this coming Saturday morning.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Blogging the Rule

I've just begun reading Joan Chittister's book Wisdom Distilled From the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today; it "hits the spot," so to speak, where I'm at in my faith life right now.

Chittister notes that Benedictine spirituality is grounded in openness of heart and, in her words, "a willingness to be surprised by God" -- an openness that makes space for regular prayer and reading/hearing of Scripture; for learning; for hospitality.

This is great stuff. But what does it have to do with bloggery?

I've struggled for a long time with how to adequately honor the circles of Christian bloggers in which I travel. This is partly a function of hospitality -- I know I certainly enjoy it when others visit my weblog, and assume that the rest of us feel the same happiness and satisfaction when we connect with other human beings on an intellectual and/or emotional way -- and partly a function of wanting to learn from others; to explore and exchange experiences and insights; to seek to discern together the "whats" and "hows" and "whys" of living in Christian community.

My bloggy circles of friends include people I affectionately refer to as The Instigators, who got me started on this enterprise a little over a year ago, and other bloggers I met via The Instigators' blogrolls; there's the community of Lutheran bloggers; there's the RevGalBlogPals and the Reconciling bloggers. I've never had a real system for visiting others' blogs; if one graphically portrayed my usual blog-hopping, even among my good friends' blogs, it would be reminiscent of the experiments I heard about as a kid, when scientists fed spiders caffeine and then watched them spin frenetic, anarchic freeform webs. The problem with this as-the-mood-strikes method is that it tends to lose people; people with engaging, funny, thoughtful, profound, inspiring posts. To add to that oversight -- sometimes I get busy; busy with myself; that curvatus in se thing. And that is not only disrespectful to others, but it also puts me at risk for becoming too enamored of my own Deep Thoughts,unmediated by the comments and counsel of others -- to, as Chittister puts it, elevate my arrogance to the level of inspiration.

So I'm making an effort to "get out more" in the blogosphere, and make the rounds more consistently, even if it means I don't post here as frequently. Because I think we're all doing something really important here; I think we're "being the Church" in a new and profound way that brings together people of faith who would otherwise never have an opportunity to meet. That's worth quality time and attention, I think.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dishonoring God

If preaching is about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, then today's Gospel lesson should have afflicted us all in some way this morning.

All the Gospels mention Jesus' routing of the moneychangers and animal dealers, but place this incident at different points in his ministry. John places the story toward the beginning of his gospel rather than near the end; but in any case, he identifies Jesus as visiting the Temple before the Passover. This would have meant that Jerusalem was besieged by pilgrims; the Temple compound, busy any time of year, would have been filled with noisy, confused, awestruck visitors, as well as the army of Temple hangers-on set up to handle them and keep the mechanism of the institution running smoothly.

Because the coins of the day were stamped with the image of the Roman emperor, they were considered blasphemous, and unsuitable for an offering in the Temple. But -- no worries -- for a fee, official moneychangers were happy to exchange the coin of the Empire for other, inoffensive coinage suitable for a Temple gift. And if you didn't bring animals with you for Temple sacrifices -- again, for a fee (one resource I found noted that livestock prices inside the Temple grounds were inflated 15 times the going rate) merchants would sell you whatever sacrificial animal you could afford. Annas the High Priest, his sons and son-in-law, made something like $170 million a year, in today's money, running the Temple business.

This was what Jesus walked into as he entered into the Temple grounds -- the din of buyers and sellers and animals. Business as usual.

And it's what infuriated him -- infuriated him to the point of causing a very (in our perception) un-Jesusian public disturbance. Imagine Jesus overturning the tables, and showers of coins falling to the floor; imagine him, homemade whip in hand, going after the livestock sellers as their living wares bleated and flapped and bellowed in panic.

Jesus was driven to direct, physical confrontation in his passion to defend God's honor. And God was being dishonored -- and, in our own faith communities, continues to be dishonored -- in a number of ways.

Injustice done in God's name dishonors God. The Temple mechants practiced extortion; they exploited the poor -- people who felt compelled, according to the Law, to make certain sacrifices and gifts to the Temple, this ultimate dwelling place of God in their tradition. Before we shake our heads at the Temple racket of Jesus' time, we might want to think of all the ways that institutional Christianity has done evil in God's name over the past 2,000 years; all the ways in which it has hurt people -- in various times and places killed people -- ascribed to God its own bigotries and avarice and ignorance, and held up itself and its own institutional self-preservation, and not God, as that which is worthy of the faithful's ultimate concern.

Turning God into a device dishonors God. This is the mindset that a pastor friend of mine calls "gumball theology," where for some people religion is all about inserting a requisite number of good works or ritual actions into the cosmic gumball machine and -- botta-boom -- waiting for the gumball of grace or goodies to come tumbling down from the heavens as a reward.

Resenting the claim of God on one's life dishonors God. I wonder how many worshippers in the Temple, on the day that Jesus confronted the buyers and sellers there, were there not because they wanted to be but because they felt they had to be -- who chafed under the religious obligation that had compelled them to spend time and money coming to this place. One of my friends recently told me about a church council meeting where members of his parish groused about weekly Eucharist "because it makes the service too long." What do attitudes like this say about people's underlying love and reverence for God, and their motivation for coming to worship?

Finally -- and the points above all ultimately speak to this as well -- God is dishonored when God is not the focus of our common life in our faith communities. An absurdly obvious truth -- but is it? When our worship becomes entertainment -- and this isn't a shot across the bow in the "worship wars," because for some of us Gregorian chant or Bach cantatas, and the choreography of ritual, can degenerate into entertainment even as uptempo contemporary music and worship can become entertainment -- God has lost God's place as our ultimate concern. When a church's focus becomes so distracted by concerns about its physical/infrastructural/financial upkeep, or about attracting new members, or anything else that is not God -- then that thing becomes that church's de facto god. And when we come to worship unwilling to give ourselves over to space in our hearts and minds reserved for God -- what does that say about our god, our ultimate concern?

God does not, in the end, want our busy-ness; or our success in promoting Religion, Incorporated; or our crumbs of time, money or attention grudgingly thrown God's way. What God wants God, in Christ, has shown a willingness to do absolutely anything and everything to have us as God's own. Do we worship, individually and in community, in ways that truly honor God's love and commitment to us? Do we truly, in the words of the liturgy, lift up our hearts to the Lord? If we did worship in this way, what would our worship look and sound and feel like?

"The Moneychangers," Iaian McKillop, Glouchester Cathredral Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday With the RevGalBlogPals

The RevGalBlogPals Friday Five asked participants to share five spring break stories. I'm a pretty boring individual who doesn't take spring breaks, so I fear I don't have five stories, but I do have one story.

I was in 5th grade, and just before school let out for the summer we took a day trip to Mackinac Island; boarded a schoolbus in the wee hours, drove up to the Straits and took a ferry to the island.

We went to Fort Michilimackinac and learned history. We stood on the porch of the Grand Hotel, where the po' folks are relegated. We looked at lilacs. We visited churches. We watched fudge being made -- lots and lots of fudge. We ate fudge. We bought tacky, overpriced souvenirs. We dodged tourist bicycles and seagulls and horse carts and horse buns in the streets. We swatted black flies. We watched the boats.

All in all, it was a swell time. And soon we were back on the bus, going home.

We'd been instructed to bring along a light sack supper from home. I was especially looking forward to mine, because I knew my mom had packed a can of pop in it, and back in those days soft drinks were an occasional treat, not an everyday beverage. So with great anticipation I pulled my brown lunch bag out of the ice chest in the back of the bus. There was my peanut butter sandwich. There was my apple. There was my... beer?

It seems that, in the bleary early-morning hours, as my mother was packing my supper, she'd grabbed my dad's can of beer instead of my can of 7-Up.

I was terrified. I was certain that one of my classmates would see the can and tattle; that some Authority Figure would get me into trouble; that I'd probably be arrested. (I was a dramatic child.) What should I do? Should I drop the bag on the floor and let it slide around? Should I hang onto it?

For reasons I don't fully understand now, I hung onto it. (It's a good thing that I never considered a life of crime, or else I'd wind up as a footnote in one of those world's-stupidest-criminals news nuggets.) I jammed it next to me, between my body and the bus, and threw my coat over it. And those next two hours on the bus were sheer hell as I imagined the bus stopping and a teacher shakedown of our class: "And what's this we have here? A can of beer? Beer?"

It was an unusually quiet ride home from school with my dad, my brown bag clutched in my hand. When I got home, my mother asked, "So how was your big adventure today?"

I produced the bag. "YOU GAVE ME BEER," I informed her, with feeling.

It's a pretty funny story, now.

 Posted by Picasa

Friday Poetry Blogging

In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, some poetry from the Auld Sod:

Almighty God, Creator:
The morning is Yours, rising into fullness.
The summer is Yours, dipping into autumn.
Eternity is Yours, dipping into time.
The vibrant grasses, the scent of flowers,
the lichen on the rocks,
the tang of sea-weed.
But creation isn't enough.
Always in the beauty, the foreshadowing of decay
The lambs frolicking careless:
so soon to be led off to the slaughter.
Nature red and scarred as well as lush and green.
In the garden also:
always the thorn.
Creation is not enough.

Almighty God, Redeemer:
The sap of life in our bones and being is Yours,
lifting us to ecstasy.
But always in the beauty,
the tang of sin, in our consciences,
The dry lichen of sins long dead,
but seared upon our minds.
In the garden that is each of us,
always the thorn.

--The Rev. George F. McLeod

Thursday, March 16, 2006

I Had the Strangest Dream Last Night...

My friend RuthRE has been doing a lot of dreaming lately. And it seems to be catching, because I just had an interesting dream this morning – a morning when, by the way, my dog did not wake me up.

In my dream, I’m visiting City With Two Big Lakes, in northern Michigan, where I lived for about a decade before returning to Outer Podunk. City With Two Big Lakes may be four times the size of Outer Podunk…but that still makes it a pretty small city, one that I got to know well during my time there.

Anyway, I have in my hand a city map, with places of interest noted on it. And there’s a big red star, just a few blocks away from the downtown area, that indicates – well, darn it, when I woke up I could no longer remember what it indicated, but in my dream it’s a place whose presence in this city where I used to live stuns me, amazes me and then makes me downright giddy with delight. Who knew? I look at the streets; there are unfamiliar streets listed near this destination, ones I have no memory of existing during my sojourn in this city, but they provide a quick, easy route to the place.

“How could something like that be here and I not know that it’s here?” I exclaim to myself. “And when did they construct those streets? But – it doesn’t matter. This is so great! I can’t believe it! Wow! And it’s so easy to get to! I have got to drive there right now.”

So I get in my car and proceed to make what I think is going to be a quick trip to this wonderful, incredible destination. But for reasons I can’t explain I miss my intersection. And then I’m in the wrong lane, and have to make a last-minute correction, right in front of a county mountie sitting at a corner that vees into the main street, and I’m afraid I’m going to get pulled over. I don’t, but the sight of the cop car in my rear-view mirror rattles me. “I’ll just turn onto one of these side streets and backtrack, off the main drag,” I think.

So at the point of my waking up I’m jittery, and annoyed with myself, and incredibly impatient to get where I want to go.

Paging Joseph? Daniel? Dr. Jung?

P.S. Check out Ruth’s latest post. It’s a lot more exciting than this one: She’s getting headhunted by The CEO!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Crash: See It

Outer Podunk has no movie theater; and the ones in surrounding towns generally do not show movies unless they feature talking donkeys or undead serial killers; so I'm usually several months behind the curve when it comes to things cinematic.

But -- in case you missed the film Crash when it first came out, See it. I finally did. It's a gripping exploration of the ways in which bigotry and classism permeate all our lives and attitudes, no matter what our ethnicity or our socioeconomic category. There are some ugly, disturbing scenes, and if you have children you should be warned that the language gets pretty raw -- but the film also has some profound redemptive moments. If you see it with other adults or older teens, you will have thoughtful conversations about it afterward.

In the Watches of the Night

My soul is content,
as with marrow and fatness,
and my mouth praises you
with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you
in the night watches.
For you have been my helper,
and under the shadow of your wings
I rejoice. -- from Psalm 63 (RSV)

Some of you know about Cody, my charming but cantankerous geriatric dog.

One of Cody’s less charming, more cantankerous habits is pouncing on me in the early hours of the morning – sometimes 2:00, sometimes 3:00 – and insisting that I let him out…where he spends about 30 seconds doing what he needs to do, and then five or ten more minutes staring into the dark, communing with the spirits of the night, until I’m forced to go outside, grab his lead and reel him in, like a recalcitrant fish who's taken nonviolent resistance lessons.

Needless to say, it is sometimes hard to get back to sleep after these moonlit melodramas. So I spend a significant amount of time lying in bed, thinking.

Sometimes I’m thinking non-nurturing thoughts about my dog. Sometimes I do virtual landscaping; perhaps those of you who like to garden can relate. Seed and nursery catalogs get me geeked on virtual landscaping – rose gardens, fruit orchards, perennial beds – you can get pretty wound up lying there debating whether or not to train your imaginary Delft blue clematis up through your imaginary white climbing rosebush or let it ramble along your imaginary decorative split-rail fence.

Sometimes I indulge fantasies of what I would do if I had a limitless, vaguely defined source of money at my disposal that would allow me to live anywhere and do anything. (One early-morning fantasy involved a sort of spiritual bed-and-breakfast up at my favorite northern Michigan lake. Unfortunately, running a B&B requires…well…household skills. Dang.)

Sometimes I spin little soap-operatic vignettes about meeting a Special Someone in one of the about three – well, probably make that two – brick-and-mortar venues in my life where such a thing would even have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever actually happening:
“Oh, I’m sorry – you were going to take this Swiss chard.”
“No – you can have it. Really. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? And certified organic.”
“It’s one of my favorite leafy greens.”
“Me too. I love to saute it in olive oil with some garlic, and then toss it with pasta.
“Me too. [eye lock; pregnant pause] Do you shop here a lot?”

(Okay; I’m never going to be head writer for The Young and the Restless. And what do you expect at 2:30 a.m. anyway -- Dr. Zhivago?)
But lately I've gotten back into the habit of using this quiet time, in the dark, to pray. On one hand I can feel somewhat guilty for relegating my most focused attention to God to this brief, expedient time -- what would a friend say if I rang them up at 3:00 in the morning and said, "Well, I was up anyway and didn't have anything better to do, so I thought I'd give you a call"? On the other hand -- what better time to talk to God than in the watches of the night? Monks know this.

Not fixed prayer; once it's lights out at my house, I can't bear to turn them back on before morning, and except for Compline I don't have the liturgy down by heart. No; this is my time for just talking, and just listening, to God. It's when I do the lion's share of my intercessory prayer; it's when I can best focus on each person or situation and lift them to God. And even when I'm angriest at or most estranged from or most confused by God, it's when God is most present to me, except perhaps for the Eucharist. And, ironically, there in the dark, there's nowhere to hide. No way to hide. No personas. No excuses.

What does hanging out with God in the wee hours feel like? Every once in awhile it's not so wonderful. I remember, one early morning, feeling God's displeasure. I had been flippantly unkind to someone earlier in the day but had forgotten about it until that moment; suddenly I was overwhelmed by a sense of disappointment that seemed to come from outside myself, and I became aware -- really aware -- of how that one rash comment had hurt the other person; I felt it, like a knife stab. There have been times when I've experienced what felt like God's absence; it's frightening, and it upsets me -- Where are you? -- but it doesn't last. Most often I perceive God as a quiet but very imminent presence; oftentimes almost droll, ironic; but still holy, still Other, still Someone whose claim on me fills me with a mixture of awe and humility. Who am I to have a conversation with God -- God -- in my room? Who am I to lie here offering God my endless lists of requests, and my kvetchings, and my sleepy, half-coherent Deep Thoughts?

But that's The Story, isn't it? A God who loves us not in an abstract, distant way but in an intimate way; not only in a collective way but in a personal way. A God who wants us, and who helps us to want God. This is the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel.

I told you, once upon a time on this blog, that my dog was my spiritual director. I was joking then. But...maybe the joke is on me.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Announcing: A Blog Carnival!

Check out the link above, to Walking the Midway: A Lutheran Blog Carnival. The theme for our inaugural effort is Lutheran spirituality. Tell your Lutheran friends. Publication date is March 31st. And if this goes well and you'd like to host a future carnival, let me know.

Water and the Word

Funny thing: Yesterday morning I was noodling around with a response to someone's question on a Beliefnet forum. I found a quote from Dan Erlander, in Baptized, We Live, that seemed apropos. But then one thing led to the other, and when I re-read it again I thought, "Nah," and answered the post in another way. I forgot about the Erlander quote.

This afternoon I encountered two other conversations over there where the Erlander quote made perfect sense. Aha!

If good things really do come in threes...I'll just post the quote here too, just in case it's what someone needs to hear today:

Because of Baptism we are Christians. Never does our status before God depend on...
- how we feel
- having the right experience
- being free of doubts
- what we accomplish
-our success or our position.

Hmmm...maybe I need to hear that today.

Spiritual Direction: The Fantasy vs. the Reality

Me: Waaaah! I'm lost. I'm lonely. No one understands me. I don't know what I'm doing. I can't find "sacred space" for worship. I can't find my motivation. I don't know what "ministry" means anymore. Everything that comes out of my mouth sounds like insipid nonsense. I'm no good to anyone. I've lost my focus. I'm depressed. Help!

Fantasy Spiritual Director: You poor lamb...why, you're experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul. We specialize in those! Don't worry -- we'll fix you up in no time. You just sit right here next to me and cry on my shoulder for as long as you like, and then we'll set you up for a nice, quiet retreat -- praying the Hours, lectio, examen, daily Eucharist...spirituality just the way you like it! You'll be a new woman!

Real Spiritual Director:

...well, actually, I suspect a real spiritual director would be kicking my ass right now. In Christian love, of course.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Lutheran Carnival For the Rest of Us?

Listen up, my Lutheran readers:

Is anyone out there interested in organizing a blog carnival? I've visited one online Lutheran Carnival, but the midway is pretty scary for anyone who doesn't belong to the Sturmtruppe of Lutheranism's rightest wing.

Here's how carnivals work: A carnival is a roundup of blog entries on a particular topic. The organizer picks a theme and a deadline, sends out a call for posts, accepts submissions and then, on the designated date, posts links to the posts. It's like a blog magazine.

I propose a carnival around the theme "Lutheran Spirituality." What does this mean? Is it an oxymoron? How do we nurture it in our faith communities and in ourselves? I will shoot for a publishing date of March 31th.

I haven't set up a separate blog page, and I don't even have a clever name for this project, if it actually gets off the ground. (Suggestions cheerfully accepted.)

Let me know if you'd like to participate, and spread the word to your blogfriends or other non-blogging friends who nonetheless want to join in.

Paging ICU...

Since many of you asked about how my Sunday went, here's a recap:

The first part of the service went fine. Doing the announcements made me feel like a talk show host; I was thorough, and funny, and able to ad lib -- heck, if I'd boogied down the aisle and given away fabulous prizes it would have been just like "Ellen." Our guest musicians, Lutheran camp counselors who muchly impressed our confirmation kids this year, did a terrific job, and even got uptight yours truly moving a little in the pew. My AM did a good job; when it came time for the Gospel Acclamation it sent shivers down my spine to direct the congregation to rise and then to read the text. Then came the sermon.

Now, it's not like I think I'm St. Paul at the Acropolis or anything, but I thought I'd written a good little sermon on the theme "Blessed are the meek." But as I gave it, I looked out into the congregation and saw several sets of glassy eyes. Oh, crap, I thought (or the dynamic equivalent). The gaggle of Brownies in the front rows were nattering and squirming, and none of the adults attached to them were shushing them. I heard other people talking. I have to tell you, people talking in church after the service begins drive me insane even when I'm not front and center, and now it just seemed to underline my perception that I was dying up there in the pulpit. Why can't you be as interested in this topic as I am? I thought desperately.

So I was glad to finally descend from the pulpit and turn the proceedings over to my AM, who's a graduate of my lay ministry program and has a situational dispensation from our bishop to consecrate the Eucharist if our pastor isn't available.

But as I sat in the front pew, next to some of the Brownies, they started squabbling with one another over our imminent Eucharist.

"You can't go up there. You haven't been to class."

"Yes, I can! That minister said I could! And my mom said I could!"


I felt a tug on my alb. "Can she go up to Communion? She didn't go to class."

Sotto voce, I told the little girl that, yes, she could go to Communion -- if she held up her palms, they'd give her the wafer, and if they didn't, she'd get a blessing. The first little girl looked daggers at me and started whining.

My attempt to remind myself of Piaget's stages of development -- This is how kids this age act, they aren't capable of nuanced thought, they're very rule- and fairness-oriented, they can't help it -- was short-circuited by annoyance: Where the hell are the moms? Why didn't they prep these kids beforehand on what to do in church? How did I wind up babysitting these miniature harpies? This must be what hell is like -- surrounded by bitchy little Heathers-in-training.

I got mad. I put on the disciplinarian face. I raised the pedagogical index finger. I want all of you to be quiet right now, I hissed sternly. You're disrupting the service during a very important part. I almost told them, but didn't, that they were making the Baby Jesus cry. Now they were all glaring at me.

My post-Communion prayer: I am about to lose it. This is not how I wanted this morning to be. Help me.

Despite handshakes and hugs after the service, by the time I got into my car, I was ready to breathe into a paper bag.

I know that some of this sounds pretty comic, and I suspect that one day I'll be able to look back on it and laugh...but my Sunday morning experience led to a downward spiral that's still headed south.

What's my motivation? I want to help people find sacred space, space to worship; how do I do that in a church that is at times so noisy and anarchic, with people seemingly not engaged in what's going on? I love to learn about the Bible and about theology -- how do I transmit that love to people who don't seem all that interested? And, most importantly, how can I presume to be a minister of any kind when I can't even seem to minister to myself?

And how do I nurture my own faith? Some Sundays I am so desperate for a spirituality that acknowledges the holiness of God and supports a reverance for God. I want to be able to genuflect, to genuinely express the awe of encountering "Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty"; I want to be able to get down on my knees in the context of the worship service; I want to be able to rest in holy silence; I want to enter into that place where heaven meets earth. But people in my congregation just don't seem to be where I am. And is it fair of me to expect that they would be?

Sometimes I feel so alone in my church. And then I feel guilty for feeling alone: Who do you think you are?

Good question.

I think I need to be checked into a spiritual ICU and let other people, people with some expertise in spiritual direction, take care of me for awhile. But I don't know who or where or when or how. I just don't know.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Tom Fox: Requiem in Pace

Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Tom triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember him with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A Lenten Prayer

Hat tip to Sarah Dylan Breuer for this poem, by the Very Reverend Dr. Jeffrey John:

Lord, do something about your Church.
It is so awful, it is hard not to feel ashamed of belonging to it.
Most of the time it seems to be all the things you condemned:
hierarchical, conventional, judgmental, hypocritical,
respectable, comfortable, moralising, compromising,
clinging to its privileges and worldly securities,
and when not positively objectionable, merely absurd.

Lord, we need your whip of cords.
Judge us and cleanse us,
challenge and change us,
break and remake us.

Help us to be what you called us to be.
Help us to embody you on earth.
Help us to make you real down here,
and to feed your people bread instead of stones.
And start with me

"Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me"

If you walk away...I will follow. -- U2

Regulars here at my little Lutheran variety show know that I devote a post every week to Sunday's Gospel lesson. Standing on the shoulders of many people much smarter and better educated than I am, I write a short, usually third-person "think piece" on the text, say "Amen," and then wait to see how others "hear the Word." I've found that it's a way for me to get more out of the Sunday lessons and sermon at my own church, and hope that it does the same for other people; and frankly it's good practice for the sermons I'm occasionally asked to preach and the devotional pieces I'm occasionally asked to write.

But today I'm going to stray from my formula a bit. I want to get personal. Because a number of conversations this past week have made me think about the time in my life when I, contrary to Christ's words in today's text, put down my cross and ran away from him.

Or, I should say, when I ran away from the Christians. Because that's how it was. There came a point in my life in the Church where the dynamics in my own congregation at the time, which was imploding in an ugly way after a beloved pastor took another call, and the religious dynamic of my community at the time -- where the fundamentalist bullies on the local ministerial council would harrass our pastor by turning their backs on her when she spoke, or talking loudly to one another as she tried to address the group -- as well as the religious dynamics of the country in general, at a time when the Religious Right was in ascendancy, drove me to the point of saying, No mas.

Actually, that's not what I said. I remember the day when I told Christianity to take a hike. It was after a depressing church service, our congregation eviscerated by infighting and grief over the loss of our clergyperson. As I drove home, it felt as if I were standing alone on one side of a great chasm, and on the other side was the face of Christianity that was presenting itself to me at that moment. Petty people verbally slapfighting one another and otherwise causing division in my congregation, unraveling all the good that our pastor had done. The loud, aggressive, intolerant contingent in the local Christian community. Falwell, Robertson, Kennedy and the other Grand Dragons of the Religious Right, and their mindless foot soldiers. I saw beyond this front line, too -- back to the bigots I knew in my childhood church...back to the "good Christians" who subjugated and lynched African-Americans, who gassed Jews and gypsies and disabled persons and queers, who killed and enslaved indigenous peoples. I saw back to Martin Luther inveighing "Against the Jews and Their Lies," and back to the Christian conquerers of Eastern Europe who lined up the pagan population at the water's edge at swordpoint and said, "Either we baptize you or we kill you -- you decide." I saw back to Tertullian and his description of women as slimy vats of filth. I saw back to the early Christian community where, as I understood it, women were told to sit down and shut up and where same-sex relationships were declared an abomination that would certainly separate one from God forever. I looked across the divide at these people, this self-identified Body of Christ.

Fuck you, you assholes, I said. Fuck all of you. I am through with this. And that is what I said -- I remember it -- so to those of you who are easily offended, I'm sorry, but I have to tell the truth here, and this is it. This is how I felt; this is what I said.

And now I sit here, lay-minister-in-training, working out my "Blessed are the meek" sermon for our Beatitudes series and wondering if I need to press my alb for tomorrow.

So what changed? Well...I did, thanks be to God. When I was struggling with regaining my faith -- and it was a struggle, because at the time I didn't want it -- one of the nagging suspicions that would not leave my mind was that losing my grip on Christianity had been a function of losing my grip, losing my focus, on Christ. Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow me." Follow me. Not them. Me.

But taking up our crosses and following Jesus is a rough road to travel. During a recent training retreat our visiting professor talked to us about the standard Roman crucifixion, and how the condemned man or woman -- who'd already been tortured nearly to the point of death -- would be forced to carry his or her crossbeam to the place of execution, reminiscent of the contemporary Chinese practice of making one pay for one's own execution bullets. It was another way, in an honor/shame society, to add to the psychological as well as the physical agony of the prisoner. Oftentimes the prisoners were so weakened by their pre-crucifixion whippings that the soldiers would wind up having to carry them part of the way. One can imagine the scorn and disgust this would elicit in the executioners. And then there was the crowd of onlookers -- perhaps some feeling compassion for the condemned, but others scornful, judgmental and angry. That's the Gospel witness of the atmosphere surrounding Jesus' walk to Golgotha.

Our taking up our crosses has often been framed by the Church as bearing the burden of personal hardship, or enduring the suffering inflicted by the "powers and principalities," the corrupted impersonal systems that run our world. But it's very seldom that the institutional Church counts itself as one of the "powers" doing the inflicting. And yet it has been, in various manifestations over and over again throughout history.

The fact of the matter is, sadly and ironically, that "good Christians" and the institutions they claim as their own have often watered -- perhaps poisoned is a better word -- the tree whose wood winds up abrading the backs of the faithful as they stumble along in Christ's bloody footsteps.

But, again, this is also a part of "Follow me." Who wanted to kill Jesus of Nazareth -- a faithful son of Abraham, a man who loved Torah, whose words and thoughts and actions were infused and propelled by the Law and the Prophets? Oh, the secular occupying forces wanted him dead, because he was a dangerous, destabilizing nuisance. But it was the self-identified righteous, "Torah-believing" holy folks who also came to the conclusion, for various reasons, that the world would be better off without Jesus in it.

Here's a miracle, though; here's a God thing: Despite this -- despite being beaten and bloodied by the very people who claim to represent Jesus Christ -- the despised and rejected respond to Christ's genuine call. They follow nonetheless. Historic women of faith like Hildegarde of Bingen and Mechtild of Magdeburg and Julian of Norwich who, even as they were being marginalized and dismissed by the powers in the Church, preached and taught and counseled and did theology in a way that provides inspiration for their enlightened and emancipated sisters and brothers today. Indigenous and enslaved peoples who, despite having Christianity in many cases imposed on them by their oppressors even as their pious "saviors" denied them the dignity of equality, came to embrace Christianity as their own and enlivened it both by the influence of their cultures and by the theological influence of their experience as people seeking liberation. Gay people who, despite being told either that they're unholy abominations -- or, in the "kinder, gentler" version of homophobic bigotry, are offered a kind of conditional, minimal toleration as long as they sit alone in the weepers' row in the back of the church and stay out of the active life of their Christian community until/unless God "heals" them of their disturbing condition -- have responded with a "Yes!" to Christ's "Yes!" to them; who live Christ into the world around them and into the faith communities of which they're part; who have been good and faithful servants in God's vineyard, the seed fallen into good soil and yielding an astounding crop. All forgiven, freed, commissioned members of the household of God who have found themselves saying, with the Apostle Paul, "We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

I have days when "Follow me" is a joy; when my feet seem to stay a foot off the ground, and the burden I bear is featherweight. There are days when "Follow me" almost crushes me; when I find myself face down on the ground, struggling with the weight on my shoulders, listening to the derisive laughter and angry condemnation of the crowd. There are days when I want to cut and run, or when I find that I'm one of the crowd, looking down with contempt on someone else, because I've taken my eyes off Christ again.

But then I find myself back on the path.

"Follow me," says the voice ahead.

I will follow.

"Ecce Homo," Georges Rouault Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hair Today -- The Hair Meme

This week the RevGals (and guys) are talkin' hair:

Do you like your hair?
It’s one of the few things about my appearance that I do like. Hair stylists are fascinated by it, too, because it’s so thick; they’re always running their hands through it, marveling at its texture. (This is, by the way, the closest thing to a social life that I enjoy.) I had one enraptured stylist exclaim, “Oooh, your hair is just like my Malamute’s!” She meant it in a good way.

Have you ever colored your hair? If not, would you consider it?
I haven’t tried coloring it. I’m thinking that when I hit 50 and feel particularly cronely and outrageous I’ll try some subtle shade of red, since it has natural reddish highlights anyway. Not reddy-red/Esau-red red. I’m not that outrageous. Yet.

What's the longest you've ever worn your hair? The shortest?
Believe it or not, in eighth grade I could sit on my hair. No kidding. Carole King, Yoko Ono and Cher were my role models. (Yes; I was a strange child.) Nowadays I wear my hair in what used to be called a boyish bob (give or take various brands of hair goo that I run through it in the morning, in what passes for “styling” at my house. Have you ever really taken a look at some of this stuff? I have some that looks and feels like blue slime – like a science experiment gone very wrong. I have some that looks and feels like bathtub caulking. I have some that’s like car wax. Sometimes, as I’m sliming or caulking or waxing my hair, I think, You’ve got to be kidding).

When and what was your worst. haircut. ever?
Well, there was that punkinhead pageboy back in third grade – that was pretty disturbing, in retrospect. But I think the award has to go to my one attempt at permed hair, in middle school, when frizzy hair was “in.” My mom did it, with a home perm kit and those teeny-tiny rollers. But because my hair is so thick, the bottom layer of hair wouldn’t stay in the rollers…leaving me with a halo of chemically fried curls and a bowl of perfectly straight hair underneath. Imagine Barbra Streisand’s 1970’s ‘fro sitting on top of Ringo Starr’s “Let it Be” cover coif; not a pretty picture.

Tell us a favorite song or scene from a book or movie dealing with hair.
Wow…well, there’s the theme from Hair; that’s a fun tune, although I’d look pretty silly singing it. And that line in the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere,” about There, running my hands through her hair/Both of us thinking how good it can be/Someone is speaking/ but she doesn't know he's there... (Maybe it's that annoying guy in the cell phone commercial who plants his folding chair right next to the canoodling couple in the park and starts munching on a drumstick from his picnic Tupperware.)

Anyhow...that's what I've got to say about my hair.

Friday Poetry Blogging

The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
and all the strings
which are touched in love
Must sound.
— Mechtild of Magdeburg

Thursday, March 09, 2006


My pastor is in Israel this week.

I'm giving the sermon. I haven't written it yet, but I'm giving it.

I also think that I'm presiding during the first part of our service; my AM, who's actually a real-life commissioned lay minister, will have to lead the Eucharistic portion of the service. Unless she doesn't show, in which case I'll have to figure out an impromptu Service of the Word finale. But I don't know for sure until I call her. ("Planning? We don' need no stinkin' planning!")

I don't know if anyone knows how to turn on our sound system, and my little clip-on wireless mike. I don't. (See above.)

Oh...and we're having guest musicians.

And 20 Daisy Scouts, in uniform, who I'm told are going to "help" usher.

And a church raffle.

And our resident Person With Serious Issues, who likes to interrupt the service mid-liturgy with "Can I say something?" and then proceeds to give a rambling, impassioned speech on patriotism and/or piety. The likelihood of his doing this, by the way, seems to be in direct proportion to the "specialness" of the Sunday and the number of people who show up.

(Before leaving, my pastor e-mailed me: "I'd love to be a mouse in the corner on Sunday!" Yeah, I'll bet.)


Git-R-Done. Just Git-R-Done, LC.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I'm Just a Bird in a Guilted Cage

From Stacey at First Year Minister : The Guilt Meme

Culinary Guilt: I have a guilt trifecta:
salty, crunchy things
Buffalo wings
Explain Yourself: What's really cool is if you can double up on the guilt -- chocolate-covered potato chips or cashews, for instance, or Buffalo wings with crispy French fries. Chocolate-covered wings -- not so much.

Literary Guilt: True crime a la Ann Rule
Explain Yourself: I tell myself it's an example of the cosmic battle between good and evil, order and chaos. But it's probably just unhealthy voyeurism, like watching Entertainment Tonight. Which leads us to...

Audiovisual Guilt: Regis and Kelly
Explain Yourself: I only watch them if I'm home sick, and my other options are Sesame Street or a Ron Popiel infomercial.

Musical Guilt: The Rolling Stones
Explain Yourself: I know they're sexist and self-derivative and rapidly approaching self-parody. And I know it's only rock and roll. But...I like it.

Celebrity Guilt: Isabella Rossellini
Explain Yourself: In interviews she's very funny and down-to-earth. And I think she's a gal who appreciates a good meal.

If you're reading this...tag; you're it.

International Women's Day

I'm fortunate. I'm a free woman, living in a free country where I can go to school, vote, follow my own career path and otherwise make my own way in the world. I belong to a denomination that affirms the equal partnership of women and men in society and, more importantly, in the Reign of God, where there is neither male nor female. My own parish is one where women's leadership skills are welcome and exercised freely.

But I know that other women -- women in other countries, women in other churches -- aren't as fortunate as I am. Women who are killed for daring to demand their rights as human beings. Women abused and exploited. Women physically mutilated. Women killed to protect the "honor" of their male relatives. Women sold into marriage as children. Women denied education, decent healthcare, legal and political rights, sexual autonomy, and equal access to the workplace. Women whose God-given gifts to society and to the Church are dismissed or denied by male religious leaders. Women who are treated like incompetent children or chattel by their clergy, husbands and male relatives, and who are often complicit in their own oppression because "the Bible tells me so."

What do we do for these women?

We pray. And we work.

The education of women in a society has been proven, time and again, to be the key to improving the quality of life for all people in that society. If you read Parade magazine this weekend you learned about the Central Asia Institute, which helps fund development projects, especially those improving the lot of women and girls, in the mountain regions of Asia -- places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's a low-overhead, grassroots organization founded by a mountaineer who was moved by the poverty and lack of choices for women he encountered on his mountain-climbing expeditions. If you would like to help support schools and healthcare resources for girls and women in this part of the world, visit CAI's website .

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are two organizations that document human rights violations against women. Become a part of their grassroots advocacy. Help create the critical mass of international concern and censure that encourages women's rights advocates in oppressive societies and helps pressure governments to change.

And -- this is a plea particularly to my younger sisters out there -- do not discount your power in your society and in your church. Whenever you refuse to vote, whenever you refuse to inform yourself about legislation that impacts the lives of women and advocate on women's behalf, whenever you decline to take advantage of the leadership opportunities offered to you in society or in your faith community, whenever you give up your voice in the marketplace of ideas, you are in effect creating a vacuum that social reactionaries are only too happy to fill. Women have died for the right to vote. They have faced incredible opposition, scorn and ridicule to empower themselves, both in society and in the Church, in ways that many of us now take for granted. Don't dishonor these women by slipping into apathy and complacency.

God of love and justice, who creates both women and men in your own image, whose Son counted women among his closest friends, who empowered them to preach his Resurrection and who even now calls women and men to service as equal partners in his Reign: Forgive us for leaving some of our sisters behind. Forgive us for treating our own freedoms and responsibilities so lightly. Give us the anger, the compassion, the courage to work for justice and opportunity for all persons everywhere. Let our example encourage women everywhere who live under the burden of oppression. Let us speak the truth to the individuals and institutions and systems that subjugate women so that they too might be liberated and transformed. We pray all these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

Photo: Bangladeshi women marching for equal rights. AFP/Shafiq Alam

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Here's a definition of irony: Having your pastor intone "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return," while smudging your Olay-Regenerist-slathered forehead with ashes.

That's almost laugh-out-loud funny.

Other things aren't.

Your pastor's nervous jokes about heading on a trip to the Middle East, at this time in history, with a group of other Christian clergypeople. Your nervous rejoinder that, "Well, it could be worse -- you could be traveling with the Danish Political Cartoonists' Association."

The death, within a couple of days, of Kirby Puckett and Dana Reeve -- people your own age, dying of diseases you like to tell yourself happen to old people. Your getting winded and sore shoveling your car out of two feet of snow, and worrying for the first time in your life that you might have a heart attack if you keep this up too long.

Your noticing your mother's declining health and cognitive ability; the increasingly Groundhog Day quality of life in your household as you tell her the same information over and over and over again; the increasing scope of her not remembering; knowing that this is probably going to get worse, not better.

Your thinking about your own life's winding down...about the distinct possibility that you are going to be all alone when this happens; about the equally distinct possibility that the at least decent quality of life that most older people in this country now enjoy will no longer exist.

I know I'm sometimes slow on the uptake, but it seems to have taken Ash Wednesday a whole week to percolate through my psyche.

I'm standing on the edge of the wilderness where I know that things are going to be gradually stripped away...stripped away...stripped away...but there's no other direction to travel. I think back to something I think my blog-friend Emily shared from a sermon: Why not die to yourself now and get it over with.

Begging To Differ

We are all beggars. -- Martin Luther

I just spent this evening asking a panel of community representatives next county over for a significant chunk o' change to fund one of the programs my employer offers to older adults in that area.

All I can say is...I'd rather preach a sermon, any day.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Blog sister St. Casserole asks about our crosses in a recent meme. I blogged about my cross last year, so I'll just direct you to that .

Sunday, March 05, 2006


As much as I identify with the Church Online, I am also a part of a brick-and-mortar faith community -- and here's our sanctuary, with its Lenten paraments.

Today I was called into last-minute duty as an assisting minister when our scheduled AM couldn't make it; our pastor was away on assignment, and one of my fellow lay ministry trainees did the preaching. (Next week I get a turn at preaching. I was initially bummed to learn that for Lent we were going to ditch the lectionary Gospel lessons and instead use the Beatitudes, but since I found out that I get to preach on "Blessed are the meek" I'm -- well, I'm geeked to talk about the meek. Especially since I'm going to blow the minds of my hearers by informing them that what they think this blessing is all about, isn't. Big hat tip, by the way, to Sarah Dylan Breuer for inspiring me with her comments on this text.)

How did our service go, led by two semi-trained professionals? Not so bad. Just a couple of Keystone Kops moments. I find that worship leadership is doing a lot to temper my inner control freak. Because:

No matter how carefully you plan worship, the service will never go exactly the way you want it to. And if you don't plan worship, it will be even more not the way you want it to go.

The more people involved in leading/assisting, the more the opportunities for messing things up.

You, personally, will mess up in some way, even if you're the only one who knows this.

Despite these facts of life, the service will still work out in the end, because it's a God thing, not your thing.

So get over yourself

It's hard, but I'm learning.

Here -- Have Psalm

Check this out -- my friend bls found the website of the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood, and lo and behold, they have the sung Psalter on downloadable mp3's or mail-order CDs. You can download Psalms here . I suspect the LLPB might be a bit bemused by receiving an LC endorsement but -- God moves in mysterious ways.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Yearn To Learn?

Check out the ELCA's Select Multimedia Resources -- all kinds of great DVD's, videos, study guides and learning packages on a wide variety of topics -- practical ministerial skills, topical studies, theology and much more. The religious studies department at the Greater Podunkian Community College leaves a little something to be desired, so this is a great alternative for rurally marooned middle-aged wage slaves like myself who would otherwise not have much of an opportunity to see and hear folks like Robert Farrar Capon, Marva Dawn and Mark Allen Powell.

And -- if you have $80 burning a hole in your pocket, the ability to make very quick decisions and a desire for some meaty reading and discussion this Lent, the Fisher's Net distance learning clearinghouse is advertising an online class, Not Above the Teacher: Reading the Narratives of the Trial of Jesus , utilizing the text Christ on Trial: How the Gospels Unsettle Our Judgment by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. It starts March 6th; hence the need for speed if you're interested.

Into the Wild

What do you think of when you think of the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps you think of hymns like "Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh On Me" or "Like the Murmur of the Dove's Song." Perhaps you think of charismatic Christians joyfully raising their hands in praise. Perhaps you think of Holy Wisdom, calling from her window to the street below, inviting all who would be wise to come to her feast.

I suspect you don't think of the Spirit as driving and relentless.

Yet this is what happens in our Gospel lesson this week. Jesus has just been baptized -- has just had what we might call a "peak experience" with a manifestation of the Holy Spirit described as like a dove -- but the next thing we read is that Jesus is driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. It's a jarring verb; one that we may not associate with "Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness."

But that's where Jesus winds up.

At my recent lay ministry retreat our visiting professor illustrated his lecture on the Gospel of Mark with slides from his trips to the Holy Land. Several of them were of the wilderness -- vast stretches of sand and stone that bring to mind Gertrude Stein's "There's no there there."

Alone in the wilderness, you lose your everyday points of reference -- people you know and love, people you are used to being around; your daily activities; your occupational identity; the visual and aural and olfactory backgrounds that normally frame your world. You lose your possessions. You lose the certainty of obtaining the things you need to live -- food, water, shelter. You lose physical safety.

All you're left with is yourself.

And that can be dangerous. Mountaineer and author Jon Krakauer wrote a book, Into the Wild, that explored the life of Chris McCandless, a young man who sought to live in ever more remote wilderness, psychologically as well as physically, until he journeyed into oblivion. Recently filmaker Werner Herzog's film Grizzly Man chronicled the life of Timothy Treadwell, a free-spirited amateur naturalist and filmmaker whose time in the wilderness amplified his narcissism and rescue fantasies, until he lost hold of the fact that he lived in the midst of dangerous carnivores; Treadwell and his partner wound up being killed and eaten by the grizzly bears they imagined they'd befriended. In Mark's text, in his terse manner, he simply notes that Jesus "was tempted by Satan" there amid the rocks and wild animals, buffeted daily by scorching heat and bone-chilling cold, howling wind and deathly silence.

But this lonely, dangerous, uncomfortable wilderness is also a place where God happens. It's a catalyst for change in a Godward direction. The Old Testament, from the story of the desolate Hagar and her son being saved by God as they languished in the wilderness, to the desert journey of the Israelites, to the images of a refreshed, renewed wilderness in the Book of Isaiah, is filled with references to wilderness as a place where humanity encounters the saving power of God.

My pastor has observed on more than one occasion that in his experience, most people do not have transformative encounters with God when life is going swell -- when their relationships are dreamy, when they're heading up the career ladder, when their bank accounts are burgeoning, when they've got it all together. More often than not the scenario is more like that in Madeline L'Engle's poem "Lines Scribbled on an Envelope," quoted by Dr. Luke Bouman at Goettinger Predigten im Internet :
To learn to love
is to be stripped of all love
until you are wholly without love
until you have gone
naked and afraid
into this cold dark place
where all love is taken from you
you will not know
that you are wholly within love

Wherever, whatever our own wilderness, the Gospel lesson for this week tells us that Jesus has been where we are; has experienced the same dislocation, the same desolation, the same inner turmoil. When we say, with Kanye West, "God show me the way because the Devil try to break me down," Jesus tells us, "I'm the way. Because I've been in this place before. Come with me; follow me to the other side." And when we do, we will be changed.

"Christ in the Wilderness," Ivan Kramskoy Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

Today you get a two-fer: Some Leonard Cohen, thanks to my friend Mata H -- see her response to my post "Rend Your Heart and Not Your Garments" -- and this poem by Christina Rossetti:

A Better Resurrection
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall--the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

Friday FIve with the RevGalBlogPals

Tell us four things you have made a practice at some time or other in your life. Feel free to interpret the word "practice" as widely and deeply as you like. Did you stick with it? Was it too much? Did it change you?

Yoga. I had the mumps -- really, really bad mumps, both sides, mondo painful -- the summer after third grade. It wasn't a happy experience, but it did have the happy aftereffect of trimming about 20 pounds from my chunky little torso. I resolved to not gain the weight back, so I started my own diet and exercise regimen, with help from the women's magazines lying around our house. (As I'm recollecting this, I'm in awe of my young self. What happened to that spunky and resolute little kid?) This was when all things Indian were popular, thanks to the Beatles, and yoga was the hot new exercise craze. I learned several asanas, enough to be able to go through a routine of them every day. I remember feeing coordinated and graceful for the first time in my life; my yoga practice also alarmed my parents, who were generally alarmed by my precocious and exotic interests anyway, which only added to its cachet for me. I think I kept yoga up for at least six months before I got distracted, which is pretty much the story of my life. Sigh.

Tai chi. Fast-forward thirty-some years. I'd been fascinated by tai chi ever since I was in college and used to pass the campus tai chi club in the morning on the way to class, doing their exercises by the university carillon. Well, actually the tai chi people were on one end of the common, and the equally fascinating morris dancing club was jingling bells and whacking sticks over on the other end, and they both intrigued me. But, anyway, a couple of years ago I got the idea that I wanted to try tai chi myself. Living in Outer Podunk, a community with a dearth of tai chi masters, I opted for a video. It was a video for seniors, with a very patient instructor. I tried -- dear heaven, I tried -- to get through this video...but I never got past the third lesson, because the lessons went too fast for me.

Journaling. From the time I was in junior high, all the way through high school, I was a very prolific and disciplined diarist. I'd buy triple-thick spiral notebooks with college-ruled pages and fill every corner with writing during the wee hours as I hunkered in bed with my AM radio listening to WLS or Wolfman Jack. Of course, it was all completely self-absorbed adolescent brain detritus -- Samuel Pepys I wasn't -- but at least I was faithful.

The Daily Office. I was first introduced to the Book of Common Prayer when I was a college student working in a bookstore; my bosses were Episcopalians very involved in their parish, and they introduced me to all things Anglican, everything from the BCP to Desmond Tutu. I loved the beauty of the language in the BCP, and I was especially taken by the Compline service. But I got busy (this is a running theme), and the book languished in various bookcases and in storage for many years. I went through a Christianity-hostile phase where I gave away most of my Christian books; I think the BCP escaped only because it was too small to notice. After awhile I was a Christian again, involved in a church again, and I was glad to rediscover my BCP among my things.

But I didn't do much with its contents until a couple of years ago, when I started feeling restless and dissatisfied with Sunday worship. It just wasn't enough for me. I happened upon the Online Daily Office . I began praying the Compline. It felt right; it added something spiritually to the day. I added another prayer; then another. Soon I was praying all four prayers of the day -- sometimes the truncated, "household" versions, but praying them nonetheless. And my life started changing in unexpected, wonderful ways; my extemporaneous prayer life exploded; I started experiencing God in a very immediate, intimate way. When I met with my pastor to talk about my enrolling in lay ministry training, I told him that praying the Daily Office had been the vehicle by which God had gotten me to this point; and he wasn't especially surprised.

Then tell us one thing you might like to try that requires practice, attention or commitment.

I have always wanted to be able to sight-read music. And these days, I am most interested in singing Psalm tones, being able to read the pointing. I haven't yet found anyone in my area who can help me in this endeavor, but sometime, somehow, I want to be able to do this, and am willing to put some time and effort into it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Go in Peace; Remember the Poor"

Those were our pastor's parting words when our Ash Wednesday service ended last night.

If you're an American citizen who would like to do that -- remember the poor -- consider this: Our federal government has not renewed the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) for the next fiscal year. This program helps needy seniors, as well as low-income moms with young kids, obtain nutritious food. You can read more about the CSFP at the America's Second Harvest website.

I have firsthand knowledge of how access to commodity foods helps older adults with limited incomes maintain a decent quality of life. Money that poor people don't have to spend on food is money they can use for their utilities and gasoline and doctors' visits and prescriptions.

Please contact your elected officials. Remind them that budgets are moral documents. Suggest to them that if they want to be known as "values" legislators, they might want to promote the value of caring for "the least of these" in society. If they're the kind of politicians who wear their religiosity on their sleeve, at least during campaign time, you might want to direct them to the Book of Isaiah, the 58th chapter: after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinances of God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
"Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness,
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

(If your elected officials are the ones who have been militating to display the Ten Commandments on governmental property, then I'm sure they'd be delighted to have you quote more of the Word of God to them.)

Oh -- and please feel free to share this information.

Stuck and Unstuck

Here's a picture of my car. As you can see, it's inside my garage.

This morning, around 11:00 a.m., it was not in my garage. It was stuck, on the diagonal, just outside my driveway in the 22 inches of snow that fell in a great heap upon our community this morning.

When I left for work the roads were challenging but passable; by the time our director decided to send us all home, snow was pouring out of the sky in palpable sheets. Visibility was almost zero; oncoming cars were almost invisible even with headlights on.

As I drove home my thoughts kept time with the overworked windshield wipers: Shit; shit; shit. (Just so you know, I have not given up situationally useful monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon words for Lent.) Every time I made a turn I wondered if I would hit, or be hit by, some unseen other driver. I turned onto the main drag of my subdivision, which was in even worse shape than the other area roads: Shit. Then I came to my own road -- solidly blanketed in snow, way past axle height: SHIT. I gunned it; my vehicle hesitated for a moment, then began plowing through the powder. One more turn; just one more turn, and I'll be in my driveway and in my garage, and this will all be over with.

That's when I got stuck.

A van was behind me -- a fact of which I was not aware, because the visibility was so poor. When I began turning into my drive the van tried driving around me, and then it got stuck. Our two vehicles blocked the way of a third vehicle.

I tried -- unsuccessfully -- rocking my car into some traction. It wasn't going anywhere; I could smell the burning rubber as the tires spun.

These are a few of my unfavorite things: Failing. Failing at tasks I don't have a lot of confidence in to begin with. Machines not working the way they're supposed to. Inconveniencing other people. Having to ask for help. Second-guessing myself: Why didn't I just call the office and say I couldn't get out of my driveway? Would that have been such a lie? Why didn't I call my mom and have her call the plow guy? Why didn't I just stay in town until the storm passed? Being cold and tired and frustrated.

It was a very Lenten moment.

But here's what happened. The guy in the stuck van emerged from his vehicle. Turned out he was my down-the-road neighbor. He sent his adolescent-aged kids trudging home through the snow, and after a few minutes they returned with snow shovels. I got out my snow shovel, and some of that gritty cement-floor-sweep stuff you use to clean garages. Meanwhile, the person in the third vehicle came over...and it turned out to be my junior-high-school math teacher -- back then a very young man fresh out of college, now someone who seems just a wee tad more middle-aged than me -- who lives at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Everybody pitched in, and Van Guy finally got unstuck. Then they turned their attention to my car, and after a Herculean effort it finally found some traction and made it off the road and partway into my driveway before the volume of snow stopped it again. At this point I was dripping from head to toe with melting snow, and went inside to change and have some coffee; when I looked out the window, other neighbors had arrived with a snowblower and kids with shovels, and they helped dig a pathway toward the garage. I took over, with about 12 more feet of driveway to go; just as I neared the garage doorway, my Plow Guy arrived.

At this point my car was fairly clear of snow, so I thought I could just start it up, drive into my garage and let Plow Guy tidy up the driveway. I was wrong. My vehicle was stubbornly stuck. Plow Guy and I did some more digging and grit-spreading. Finally -- finally -- he was able to move it past the patch of ice the tires had been resting on, and drive it into the garage for me.

Afterward, thawing out in the house, I thought about the learning experience that had just happened to me. Here's the lesson:

Sometimes I make dumb decisions that make my life harder.
Sometimes I can do the right things, and life still doesn't go the way I want it to.
Sometimes I can't help myself.
Playing the blame game, including the self-blame game, doesn't fix things.
God's love and grace are often made manifest by other people.
I want to be one of those people.

At our Ash Wednesday service last night, our pastor talked about the "unholy Trinity" that leads us away from our relationships with God and with one another: sin; our fear of death; and our sense of alienation -- our sometimes wilful conviction that we're all alone in the world. My small army of helpers today -- perhaps they could be counted among the angeloi? -- were, I think, another reminder to me that I need to put down my gun of defensiveness and my pride in my rugged individualism, and let other people help me once in awhile.