Friday, August 29, 2008

Free To Be You and Mean

We had our monthly lay ministry team meeting last night.

Our pastor is trying to find preaching/presiding experiences for us outside the boundaries of our own congregation, and has been doing some networking around the state to let congregations in interim situations know that we're available to lead on any given Sunday. In going over the list of churches who might be open to such an endeavor he included one that, to maintain its anonymity, I'll call St. Vitus.

St. Vitus is a tiny, pastorless rural mission congregation that is -- what is the PC term? -- troubled. Its couple dozen regular members meet in an inadequate worship space that doesn't encourage growth. And its lay leadership, so I'm told, wants to go off the ELCA reservation in terms of ideas like banning female clergy, and is oh-so-close to winding up in a serious come-to-Jesus meeting with the bishop. And it's an angry congregation, evidently, with people always in a dustup about one thing or the other.

"So," my pastor said cheerfully, "who might be willing to help out at St. Vitus some Sunday?"

We all looked at one another.

"I'm not going back there," announced one of my colleagues -- someone with past professional experience in one of the roughest public school systems in the state. "They're mean."

Then someone noted, snarkily, "If you're passive-aggressive, there might be a certain amusement factor in taking on a service or two."

"You must be crazy," Fellow Traveler informed me when I got home.

Yeah. I must be.

A Laborious Friday Five

This Friday the RevGalBlogPals say, "Put down that hammer, that spoon, that rolling pin, that rake, that pen, that commentary, that lexicon, and let's have some fun."

1. Tell us about the worst job you ever had.
It has to be a tie between restaurant salad girl (a high school-era position I held for exactly two weeks, for the good of all concerned) and advertising sales rep for a weekly newspaper whose crotchety editor literally growled when he was angry -- which was a lot -- and at one point threw his X-Acto knife into the ceiling in a fit of pique over our reporter's misspelled word.

2. Tell us about the best job you ever had.
I have to say that helping my dad make hay -- a task that paid for much of my college education -- was one of the most satisfying jobs I've ever had. Maneuvering the tractor around the windrows in a way that allowed the baler to capture all the loose hay was an acquired skill, as was negotiating low, mucky spots, steep hillsides and deep ditches with baler and wagons in tow; and I was very proud when my father, a man of few compliments, told me that I was a better hired hand than any of the high school lads he had hired before I got old enough to help. I also felt an incredible sense of accomplishment when we unloaded the very last load of hay into our bulging barn for the season; it always made me think of "All is safely gathered in/'ere the winter storms begin." My dad, who hardly ever drank alcohol, would invite me to join him for a beer after the last bale went through the hay maw and the equipment got put away for another year. That was pretty cool.

I am also very much liking my unpaid position as lay minister at my parish. We went around at our ministry team meeting last night sharing our "joys and sorrows" related to our responsibilities, and I could honestly say that I didn't have any sorrows related to lay ministry. Now, sometime in the near future my pastor may send me and another colleague up the road to what we religious types delicately refer to as a "troubled congregation," currently between pastors, to help out with worship leadership on given Sundays...but more about that later.

3. Tell us what you would do if you could do absolutely anything (employment related) with no financial or other restrictions.
I think I'd like to spend my days in some diaconal role on the congregational level, and volunteer at our food cooperative. I'm quite serious. FT and I also want to try our hand at stained glass -- a hobby that absolutely fascinated me as a child in the Sixties, during the last renaissance of such crafts -- and maybe someday work the art fair circuit at our leisure/convenience. Now, if we really did win the Powerball and were able to retire up to the Leelanau or some similar haven of tranquility in another state -- we thought it might be fun, and a source of extra income, to have a rental unit of some sort on our property -- perhaps an over-the-garage apartment or out-back cottage -- and judiciously rent it to simpatico tourists we'd advertise to in selected media. I'm not sure we have landlord/innkeeper temperments, though.

4. Did you get a break from labor this summer? If so, what was it and if not, what are you gonna do about it?
Well, I've just come off a very nice break with The Kids, although between our frenetic touristing and their constant witty repartee, which made us feel compelled to keep up, both FT and I are still wanting to sleep for about 48 hours straight; our bodies and brains are pretty much shot.

5. What will change regarding your work as summer morphs into fall? Are you anticipating or dreading?
Our fiscal year begins in October, which always means a certain amount of craziness as accounts are closed, books are balanced and end-of-year reports are shot off to the Powers That Be. It's the second most stressful season in our office, next to our regional funding agency's annual review in the springtime. Even after nine years, it all makes me want to curl up into a mushy little ball under my desk. Or go bale some hay.

Bonus question: For the gals who are mothers, do you have an interesting story about labor and delivery (LOL)? If you are a guy pal, not a mom, or you choose not to answer the above, is there a song, a book, a play, that says "workplace" to you?
The fact that we are not allowed to keep Dilbert cartoons or other references to that comic strip in our workspaces may tell you as much as you need to know about my workplace.

Vox Populi Speaks!

Seen amid blog comments regarding Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention:

"Michelle Obama sounded warm and smart. I just didn't like her weird facial expression, she sniffs a lot."

Coming soon to a voting booth next to yours.

God help us.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

And -- Hey -- Let's Be Careful Out There

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” -Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk

A discussion during my lay ministry meeting tonight made me remember this incident from the past weekend:

It was Sunday morning, and I was on my way out the door, alb in hand, to go to church to assist. Visiting Semi-Son-In-Law -- a non-churchgoer who respects Fellow Traveler's and my faith and involvement in our faith community but who doesn't really understand it and at times even seems a little afraid of it -- saw us to our vehicle. I could tell that he was struggling to find some appropriate comment with which to send us off.

" two have a good service," he finally said. Turning to me, he added, "and... be careful."

I chuckled all the way to church. But he has a point.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wheaton By Way of St. Louis

I’m still recovering from our whirlwind vacation with The Kids, which involved daily travels up and down the Lower Peninsula, from Glen Arbor down to Westland and then back up and then back down to Frankenmuth on Monday.

Frankenmuth, particularly Bronner’s – the world’s largest retailer of Christmas bling -- was the high point of The Kids’ visit. You’d think that working for over a decade in the Orlando entertainment industry would have inured these guys to the charms of themed kitsch, but the two of them practically sprinted into this store, whose ginormity and blingosity defies description. We didn’t see them again for about five hours. I’m serious.

I enjoyed myself too, although I always have equivocal feelings about Frankenmuth. Being a German-American ex-Missouri-Synod Lutheran born and bred just north of the Saginaw Valley – well, these are my peeps. I get them; I get the schmaltzy sentimentality for idealized, several-generations-removed memories of Das Vaterland, and the strong Pietist roots of the community that manifest in everything from crosses prominently displayed in business windows to Bronner’s own “CHRISTmas WONDERLAND” logo. If you bow your head in a local restaurant and pray “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,” your dining neighbors, instead of staring at you like a space alien, are probably thinking, “So what took you so long?” On the other hand, I always feel like the Dissonant Daughter when I visit this town, after several decades and many torrents of water under the theological bridge; I’m always waiting for a pair of ushers, Luther Roses on their lapels, to quietly slip on either side of me, hiss, “Excuse me, ma’am, but can you please step this way,” and firmly escort me outside the city limits where Auslander infidels belong.

So anyway, FT and I, having finally located our wayward and freespending children, are at the checkout with our own merchandise. I see a pile of small booklets next to the cashier, a fuzzy sentimental photo on the cover and a title like “A Time For Everything.” I think that perhaps this is a memoriam for the recently deceased, much beloved Wally Bronner, founder of Bronner’s and one of the local marketing geniusi who transformed Frankenmuth from a small farming community into a major tourist destination. I see the cashier slip a copy of the booklet into my bag.

Later on, when I get the chance, I dig through my purchases and find the booklet. I start reading it – and it’s a religious tract. It’s the kind of religious tract that informs you you’re a sinner – well, no surprise there – and then presents you with the good news that you need to make a decision to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior…or else. The Sinner’s Prayer is even helpfully printed to assist you in this task.

What the hey? I think. This doesn’t look like it came from Concordia Publishing House. I check the bottom of the back cover and see that it’s actually from an Evangelical publisher in Wheaton, Illinois. I feel the sting of theological whiplash cracking my vertebrae, and remember theologian Jaroslav Pelikan’s comment that he turned to Eastern Orthodoxy when Missouri Synod Lutherans started sounding like Southern Baptists and the ELCA started sounding like the United Methodist Church. I even check the Missouri Synod website’s FAQ page to see what it has to say about decision theology. Whoa…major disconnect. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Of course, I remember back in the day when my childhood church – a church that wouldn’t let members’ kids join the Scout troop sponsored by the local Roman Catholic parish, and wouldn’t allow our youth group take part in the community CROP Walk because it was an ecumenical event where our theological innocence might be tarnished by prolonged exposure to heresy – nonetheless sent a busload of members to a downstate Billy Graham Crusade. Alrighty then!

All I can say is…if anyone reading this has an in with Concordia Publishing House, you might want to put a bug in that person’s ear that it may be worth Concordia’s while to come up with a shopping-bag tract for Bronner’s before Herr Doktors Luther, Walther et al spin completely out of their graves.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


It's been hectic around here with The Kids. So much so that when I got to church Sunday morning, robed up to assist and opened the bulletin I found that I'd written our Prayer of the Church based on the wrong lectionary texts. Oops. Good thing I can improvise when necessary. My entertainment-industry stepkids would have been proud.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Where It's All About the Food

Inspired by some of my readers, I've decided to start a separate food can check it out at

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Four-Letter Word Indeed

Read this .

Are these people freaking kidding?

The Real Roots of the Religious Right

If you missed today's Fresh Air on NPR -- listen here to Terry Gross' interview with Randall Balmer, author of God in the White House, discussing the origins of the Religious Right.

Was its ascendancy due to Roe v. Wade? A groundswell of Christian indignation over the eroding morals of our country? Oh, no. The "Moral Majority," it turns out, came together as a movement to support Bob Jones University in its racism when the government went after BJU to revoke its tax-exempt status because of its discrimination against people of color.

But you can listen to the interview.

...Mood Goes Up Again

Woot! Looks like we'll get a credit for our bed-and-breakfast payment after all.

FT called again today; this time she got the husbandly half of the innkeeper team. She explained our kids' tale of earthbound woe in Florida; she mentioned our love of the Leelanau area, our frequent visits there and our hope that we might find reliable lodging for future excursions. He immediately said he'd make things right, then changed our reservations to a two-night stay, for just the two of us, in the autumn...when we were planning on traveling up north again anyway.

I'm not sure if we've just been good cop/bad-copped, or whether one innkeeper is really more empathetic to the vicissitudes of life than the other. But we're grateful.

Mood Goes Up...Mood Goes Down

We've had a roller-coaster 24 hours here as we're waiting for #1 Son and Semi-Son-in-Law to get here from Florida.

The kids were only going to be here for five full days. They wanted to visit FT's 90-something-year-old aunt downstate; they wanted to go to Frankenmuth and revisit Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, the mack-daddy Christmas bling store of all time; and they wanted to do something that we enjoy. Well -- we enjoy traveling up north; so we devised the bestest Leelanau Peninsula itinerary ever, especially to showcase it for native Southerner SSIL, who already thinks that Podunk County is over the edge of the known world. We even arranged to have one of our friends dogsit for us so that we could stay overnight at a bed-and-breakfast. We found a centrally located B&B that, on the map, would make a great way station for our tour of the peninsula.

We had it all planned. The kids had made their plane reservations a couple of weeks ago. FT was going to pick them up at the airport around noon today. Thursday night we were going to be esconced in our rustic inn, soaking up all that Leelanau atmosphere. We'd sent the boys scores of websites of vineyards and parks and other places of interest.

Yesterday #1 Son called in a panic: In the aftermath of the Florida hurricane, flights had been cancelled, including theirs, and they couldn't get a new flight anytime before Thursday afternoon.

Last night FT called the bed-and-breakfast owners, explaining the situation, and asking if we could use our payment as a credit for some future stay there, especially since we try to get up north at every opportunity and would certainly be repeat customers if we were pleased. The response she got was so abrupt and -- there's no other way to put it -- mean -- that FT was taken aback. And FT deals with the Veterans Administration on a fairly ongoing basis, so rude people taking her aback takes some doing.

"You read the terms on our website," she was informed frostily. "Your receipt will be in the mail." There was no acknowledgement that we'd been hit with an unforeseen circumstance; that we'd called to cancel our reservations for any reason other than to be thoughtless, capricious, clueless tourists.

"Why do people have to be so mean?" she said after she hung up the phone.

And the thing is -- this is really bad business. After all, we're people who refer businesses we like to others, who blog, who fill out customer comments on Trip Advisor and Purple Roof and everywhere else. If this particular businessperson had been at all sympathetic to our plight, and willing to work with us to reschedule a stay later in the year, we'd have sung the B&B's praises throughout the land.

That's not going to happen now.

So there is no joy at The Big House today, nor in Little Bungalow in Florida.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Second Bananas

I guess our pastor got in hot water with the church council last night.

He's spent several Sundays shepherding various assortments of church kids at various church camps. This Sunday he'd been scheduled to guest-pastor at some special event elsewhere in the state, but when the council got wind of it they got upset, and told him he needed to be at our place on Sundays. So he cancelled his special event.

The bottom line is...well...the bottom line. When the pastor isn't at church, attendance drops and the collection goes down.

While I understand this -- and to be honest, in the past I've been an all-too-willing participant in this trend -- since I've become a lay minister, it hurts me on some level to think that people in our congregation are reading the church calendar, seeing my name (and that of our other three lay ministers) as presider, and concluding, "Whoo-hoo! We can sleep in that Sunday!"

No matter what we tell people about the priesthood of all believers, the fact of the matter is that lay-led worship services simply don't "count" in many laypeople's minds. And I've had other lay ministers who help in their parish's hospital and shut-in visitations share the same thing -- that when they show up on some doorsteps they're considered second-string ministers.

I don't really think there's a remedy for this perception either. In my darker moments, it makes me wonder whether all the effort of going through lay ministry training had any meaning other than my own intellectual and spiritual stimulation. Don't get me wrong; sometimes I need to be stimulated in those areas. But it begs the question of what sort of "service" one is rendering if one's fellow laypeople don't perceive it as a service at all, but rather sloppy seconds that aren't worth their time or donations to the church.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Locovorious Feast

We're still getting over our respiratory ailments, so we had a very lazy day today --at lunchtime FT whipped up some cucumber sandwiches and we took them, some cheese and early apples from the farm market to the recreational area down the road for a simple picnic, and to let the dogs romp.

For supper I retrieved some forgotten veal steaks from the basement freezer -- I am trying to use up my embarrassing meat hoard before the big move -- and marinated them in a mixture of leftover white wine, olive oil, garlic, lemon thyme and rosemary.

Meanwhile I made up a potato salad inspired by a photo I'd seen in a magazine some time ago. I had a small bag of lovely little purple "Caribe" potatoes from the food coop -- actually the family that makes our weekly CSA flower arrangements also grow these and other heirloom potatoes; I had some green beans from a local Amish family produce stand where we buy a lot of veggies; I had some food coop lentils. I boiled the potatoes in their jackets while I cooked the lentils. I cut and steamed the green beans. I mixed these together while they were still quite warm -- I'd say I had about a pound of the potatoes, skinned and sliced, one cup of lentils or so and an equal amount of green beans. To this I added maybe a quarter cup of finely diced sweet onion; about a quarter cup of unreconstituted sundried tomato slices; a small garlic clove finely chopped; and about a half bottle of white balsamic dressing I happened to find in the pantry. I let this soak into the vegetables for about 15 minutes; I did a taste test and decided that the salad needed more tang, so I splashed some of our own balsamic vinegar into the mixture. I added some kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper.

I grilled the marinated steaks on a little Grand Gourmet tabletop barrel grill/smoker that FT got on sale for an incredible $16.

The steak was okay -- I don't know what the butcher was thinking when he cut them, which is maybe why I got them on sale at our local butcher shop -- but the salad rocked. It was absolutely fabulous. We ate it all. The only thing I'd do differently next time is whip up our own olive-oil-and-balsamic-vinegar dressing instead of using the bottled kind. But you have to put it together while it's warm, to get all that flavor-melding action going.

Sidebar: I'm also trying to use up my wine stash before the move; we tried a pinot noir from Ciccone Winery, owned by Madonna's dad up in the Leelanau Peninsula, with our meal. FT absolutely hated it. I didn't, but it's not my favorite wine; there was a pleasant earthiness to it (which is why I guess they always say to drink pinot noir with mushroom dishes) but otherwise not a lot of there there. So I guess we'll be making something in a red-wine marinade in the near future.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Environment Fatigue

On the drive to work this morning I listened to "Morning Edition," as is my custom, and the following story came on the air. I turned it off.

I find news stories about the degradation of the environment too painful to listen to or watch. The same goes for nature programs that always end an episode with a dire warning that whatever it is we've been watching for the last hour is disappearing thanks to habitat destruction or global warming. These things make me so depressed that I'll be affected for the rest of the day.

Why are you telling me this? What am I supposed to DO about this? I keep thinking.

I try to reuse and recycle and eat lower on the food chain and not use as much energy. I support environmental causes; I vote "green."

So why do I feel personally resonsible for dying coral and disappearing fish?

But I do.

A Transformative Friday Five

It may only be mid-August here in Outer Podunk, but hints of fall abound: nightfall creeping in earlier and earlier...cooler evenings...goldenrod and asters beginning to make an appearance on the roadside...the faded and insect-ravaged foliage of late summer suggesting a turn of the season on the horizon.

So this week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five resonates:

For this Friday's Five, share with us five transformations that the coming fall will bring your way.

Bonus: Give us your favorite activity that is made possible by the arrival of fall.

1. Well, the big one for me is loading up the aptly named Intrepid, and the Jeep, and moving from Cold Comfort Cottage. Considering that I already spend half my time there, and seem to have half my belongings there as well, this may not actually be much of a change, practically speaking. And given the current real estate market, unless my rich neighbors decide to snap up my two-lot parcel to extend their family compound to the end of the road, we may still be hanging out at CCC for many weekends to come. But it's still a change. And I'm a bit anxious about Hank, the disembodied presence of my father whom FT is convinced still hangs out in the man cave back in the garage. I've only ever experienced one Hank manifestation, pre-FT, coming home from work one lunchtime to find the neglected garage radio blaring my dad's favorite talk-radio station. So I'm still something of a skeptic, especially because this whole thing really throws a wrench in my theology/cosmology. But if Hank, or part of Hank, is out there, I'd hate for him to be lonely. FT thinks he enjoys her tinkering around in there, and the dogs and cat coming in to visit. Since we're taking Hank's grinder and other selected tools back to The Big House, we might suggest to Hank that he hitch a ride to some new digs...although from what I've heard from ghosthunting types, ghosts aren't very portable.

Oh...and I will now be living in my current community's traditional cross-town rival, which still means something in small-town America. Garrison Keillor fans, think of the infamous Millet, down the road from Lake Wobegon. That's where I'm headed: the Millet of Outer Podunk.

2. Given that my Bucket List has been sadly neglected this summer, I suppose it needs revisiting. Golf lessons maybe. Or perhaps I'll let myself be seduced by all those do-it-yourself-language-class commercials on Discovery Channel and finally take the plunge into Spanish.

3. As soon as The Kids leave, after next week, FT and I are becoming gym rats. No kidding. We have decided that we are only going to make a true, lasting commitment to getting fit if we actually pony up some money, make ourselves go to a gym and work out together in public. (As painful as witnessing that may be to the rest of you...we're not exactly Bow-Flex Babes, if you get my drift.) FT's doctor gave her an all-clear to start using exercise equipment that doesn't stress her healing hand. We figure this plus a walking regimen will do us good.

4. This transformation has already taken place mentally, but...I want to make my current job my former job; even if it means temporarily working part-time or in some low-mental/emotional-commitment position. I feel like an eight-track-tape salesperson in 1978;it is time to move on. Now.

5. Finally -- and this is a tricky one -- I see my role at church changing somewhat; but I don't know how. I just feel it coming. It may have to do with a class or small group.

Bonus Question: Leaf-peeping is one of my very favorite activities -- especially accompanied by pleasant, mosquito-less picnic-ing in the great outdoors -- so I am looking forward to that. Ditto apple-orchard crawling.

Mennonites With an Attitude

I just found this graphic, on the website of a self-described Mennonite artist. I really don't know what to say other than, "You go, girl."


Despite feeling fatigued and all-around punky from my illness I decided to shuffle to work anyway -- especially since I'm taking time off to hang out with The Kids when they visit from Florida.

Anyway, I was in the shower defunkifying myself from a day of sickbed inertia when a familiar foul smell wafted through the bathroom window. Yeccch, I thought. Some morning commuter must have run over a skunk. But the smell was eye-wateringly powerful. That smells like it's coming from behind the garage. My virally compromised brain cells, normally slow to connect in the morning anyway, were particularly sluggish today; it took a good 30 seconds, and the jangling of dog tags outside, to put together the puzzle.

Oh. My. God.

"Hodey," I called out to my equally disease-ridden partner, in the living room trying to revive with a cup of coffee, "I thig dere's a skug oudside. Add da dogs are oudside."

I heard a screen door. More jangling. Finally FT spoke.

"I hab sub good dews," she breathed. "Odly wud dog god skugged. Add I cad sbell id addyway."

I, however, could.

Now, Cassie can be a smart dog -- even scary-smart, like when she spends hours lying on the porch in a mysterious, thoughtful reverie, or when she plays practical jokes on us that actually make her smile. On the other hand -- just when you start anthropomorphizing her a little too much, she does something so utterly doggy that just it takes your breath away...sometimes literally, usually involving deer poo generously self-smeared all over her back and head. But this morning it was skunk. Lucky us.

And these doggy incidents always -- always! -- without fail occur right before we leave for a trip, or before company shows up, or before I go to work.

FT -- probably because she has the life experience of living with small boys -- was matter-of-fact about the whole thing; my head literally hurt from trying to figure out the logistics of fixing this odiferous problem, so I hurried up and went to work before I found myself, long after the fact, yelling at Cassie for the crime of being a dog. Thank God I don't have children, some of you are probably thinking.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Don't Mind Me...It's Just My Existential Crisis

The Joy of Yogurt.

That's what I found myself having to promote the other day, on The Day Job, as a topic for discussion at one of our senior centers.

Here's the thing: There is no Joy of Yogurt for the targeted demographic of this informational chat. There never has been. There never will be.

The healthy, active older people coveted by public senior centers are all out playing golf or taking master gardening classes or working at a part-time job; they do not have the time or inclination to spend a large chunk of a perfectly good weekday enduring bureaucratically regulated cafeteria lunches, earnest self-improvement lectures and Happy Harry and His One-Man Band. That leaves the sort of senior that Bart Simpson's chainsmoking aunts grow into -- persons happy to spend the day in the La-Z-Boy watching game shows while alternating between bottled oxygen and Pall Malls; elders equally uninterested in hooking up with the senior network.

My task is to try and get both these groups, and everyone in between, excited by yogurt and Happy Harry and Salisbury steak.

I remember sitting, with a couple dozen other providers, at a heavily promoted senior health fair inside a local casino. The casino was filled with older adults who were...duh...all on the gaming floor gambling, instead of making their way through our pastel displays of hearing aids, assisted living facilities and prepaid funeral packages. How odd, that "You're old and sick and probably going to die really soon" isn't a message that inspires our older citizens.

I'm sitting at home today trying not terribly successfully to stave off a fever and sore throat...and trying to strategize my way out of this cluster-canoodle before I lose whatever portion of my sanity that's still intact.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Preached

Since I gave a very short, it's-August-and-only-50-people-will-show-up sermon on Sunday, I thought I'd share it here. I will freely admit that, after reading a lot of scholarly exegetical background stuff, I pretty much ignored it and went off in a different direction...toward Dutch Harbor, Alaska, actually.

How many of you watch the TV show “The Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel?
I have to admit that this is my very favorite television show; Tuesday night, when it’s on, is my must-see TV night.

This show is about crab fishermen off the coast of Alaska. It follows boats in the crab fleet as they sail the Bering Sea in an area that stretches nearly to Siberia. Even in good weather, this is one of the most dangerous fishing areas in the world; and these guys fish there all year ‘round, even in the wintertime.
These fishermen are tough customers. They smoke too much; they drink too much; they fight too much; they sleep too little. They live on caffeine and booze and adrenalin, and maybe the ink from their tattoos. Because they do have one of the deadliest jobs in the world. One careless move on deck can send them overboard into icy water that will freeze them solid in minutes. One careless move with their fishing equipment can kill or maim a shipmate. One rogue wave can sink an entire ship. Every fishing season the sea claims members of the fleet; after the last episode of each season it’s almost inevitable that you’ll see memorials to the dead scrolling down the final credits.

But here’s a funny thing about these rough, tough fishermen. At the start of every crabbing season, the show films the moments before the fleet goes out to sea, when a clergyperson from their home base in Dutch Harbor gives an invocation over the two-way radio, praying for the fleet’s safety. And you will see these tough guys, to a man, bowed in prayer. Real, heartfelt prayer. Because they know what’s out there; they know what they’re sailing into when they pull out of the harbor.
So in our Gospel lesson, when we find Fisherman Peter beginning to sink under the waves he thought he was going to walk upon, when he cries out, “Lord, save me!” – how ironic that he’d thought he was any safer in the boat than out of the boat. Because sailors should know better. The boys in the crab fleet up in Dutch Harbor know better.

We all construct boats around us that we think will keep us safe. Sometimes we want to build our rickety little boats out of wealth – if only we had enough money, we think, we’d have smooth sailing. But changes in the world economy are teaching us a hard lesson right now – that we can’t always count on being the most affluent country in the world; that we can’t always count on cheap fuel, cheap food or good jobs; that the things we’ve always counted on to preserve our wealth, like pensions and real estate, can suddenly become worthless. And sometimes, even if we are still blessed in material things, we can be swept overboard by a rogue wave of life-threatening illness or other crisis that sends us into the depths.

Sometimes we craft our boat out of our perceived righteousness or personal honor or social status – we imagine ourselves in a magnificent yacht of our own design next to our inferior neighbor’s leaky S.S. Minnow. Well, guess what – the storms of circumstance don’t care; if you recall, the Titanic was the most impressive ship of its time.

Sometimes we try to build our boat out of a cause – we think that if we just back the right political leader, or join the right action committee, we can steer society through the shoals of history into favorable winds and calm seas. You know, it’s not wrong to think that caring people can make a difference in the world But people are people – fallen, broken people who don’t always get it right. A social or political platform is only as good as the people who embrace it; and sinful, fallible human beings have a talent for taking good ideas and messing them up – as one bumper sticker I saw recently put it, never underestimate the power of stupid people acting in groups. And we’re all stupid and self-serving and shortsighted in some ways at some times.

And perhaps that’s why sometimes we decide that the safest boat of all is our own little canoe – we’ll just paddle away by ourselves, try to stay out of the wake of the other boats, and attempt to sail the seas of life alone; no crew, no compass, no chart, no anchor. How does that work for you? How does that work for people you know out there in the storm?

The safety of our perceived boats is a short-lived, temporary safety at best. In the long run, we all wind up in the drink. So maybe that’s why Jesus invited Peter out of the disciples’ boat, onto the sea with him. Perhaps it was Jesus’ way of giving Peter and the other disciples a reality check: You are here. And that is why you need me.

Do you know Martin Luther’s favorite prayer -- the one that got him through his toughest times, his deepest depressions, his most dangerous encounters with the powers of his day? It was very simple: “Lord Jesus, save me.” Anne Lamott, a contemporary author who has written about being drawn to the Christian faith as an adult, notes that the prayer she finds herself praying most is “Help!”

The good news – the GOOD news – is that Jesus hears our prayers, as we’re all sinking down through those rolling waves. The good news is that Jesus knows this prayer from the inside out…because if we read farther along in the Gospel narratives we find him, on the eve of his arrest and torture, as the waves of history crash around him, praying the same thing: Help me. Jesus knows what it’s like to feel life dissolving into chaos; knows what it’s like to see trusted friends being swept away; knows the feeling of sinking into a bottomless deep. And as Jesus notes, when we meet him, we meet God. So in Jesus we can see that God isn’t some distant deity watching our pain from far away – but that God is truly a God with us. And this God, whom Scripture says poured himself into the depths of our human condition, also raises us up and will raise us up, as Christ, the One who goes before us and shows us the way, was raised from the dead.

Jesus’ invitation to us still stands – to leave the false security of false safety in all those things in which we tend to place our trust, and to instead trust him…not to make the choices and chances of life always go smoothly, not to take away the risk of living faithfully and mindfully and passionately in this world..but to trust him to stay with us step by step, through this life and into life eternal. Amen.

Monday, August 11, 2008

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

With the disclaimer that it's Monday, and that I'm in a pissy mood because I left my handbag with my car keys and all my worldly documentation at the ice cream parlor last night, and had a cell phone die in mid-conversation with the local radio station bright and early this morning as I was shilling for one of our programs...

What is it about shy Lutherans?

At our church we have a real problem with people who will not talk about their own pet programs during our morning announcements. Yesterday morning, as always, we prefaced the service proper with morning announcements, but were met with dead silence from the congregation. We have a yard sale coming up...a work day...Rally Day/Blessing of the Backpacks...all kinds of stuff; other than a kind of "Oh...yeah..." reminder about the work day, nary a peep.

FT and I have taken to acting as volunteer prompters during announcements; we'll wave our hands and say, "Does anyone know anything more about the yard sale Labor Day weekend?..." until one of the organizers is forced to respond publicly. But even then it's like pulling teeth getting information from these people.

And then, of course, when the big day arrives and the event is under-staffed or under-attended, the organizers grump about "No one wants to help," or "No one will participate." Well, duh -- if the organizers can't be bothered to open their pie holes for thirty seconds on Sunday morning to explain to people what's going on, or even communicate with the office or with the webmeisters to get the information disseminated another way, what do they expect? Geez-us.

There. I said it and I'm glad.

I really miss my handbag.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Preaching and Procrastination

I just got tomorrow's sermon done.

It's amazing how easy it is to procrastinate during the writing of sermons. Some of my procrastinatory byways today have been:

-Freezing four quarts of snap beans

-Making a new batch of hummingbird nectar ("They're so hungry...")

-Pondering the construction of a terrarium, for capturing a small bit of Cold Comfort Cottage woodland to take as a keepsake to The Big House

-Spec-ing my future garden plot at The Big House

-Comparison-shopping for a new bread machine

-Watching CNN, Olympic women's soccer, Run's House and Psychic Kids

-Looking for chutney recipes in the Ball Blue Book

-Volunteering to make dinner (BLTs and nuked corn on the cob)

Good thing I don't have to preach a sermon every week.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Dog Days/God Days Friday Five

Are the "dog days" of summer also God days? That's the RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five theme this week.

1. What is your sweetest summer memory from childhood? Did it involve watermelon or hand cranked ice cream? Or perhaps a teen summer romance. Which stands out for you?
I remember, as a little kiddo, happily swinging on my swing in our old Duchess apple tree, enjoying the scent of ripening apples and fresh linens drying on our nearby clothesline.

2. Describe your all time favorite piece of summer clothing. The one thing you could put on in the summer that would seem to insure a cooler, more excellent day.
I really enjoy the "wet shorts" I got this year to go canoeing/kayaking. They're men's shorts -- nice and roomy and cool, while preserving my modesty in the upper-thigh region. (You really don't want to see that anyway.)

3. What summer food fills your mouth with delight and whose flavor stays happily with you long after eaten?
Berries of all kinds. Fresh green beans. Fresh tomatoes. Summer squash and zucchini sauteed with onions and garlic and tomatoes.

4. Tell us about the summer vacation or holiday that holds your dearest memory.
I've had some great vacations with FT -- our Upper Peninsula trip, around this time two years ago, was such fun; and I love the UP. And I very much enjoyed last summer's trip to Detroit. I remember sitting in Comerica Park, looking out at the skyline of Old Detroit and thinking that my mom would have loved to have been there, pointing out her old haunts as a downtown secretary during the war years.

5. Have you had any experience(s) this summer that has drawn you closer to God or perhaps shown you His wonder in a new way?
This summer has been less a contemplative summer and more a working summer. We've had the opportunity to assist people in our congregation in personal, practical ways that have made us feel that we're living into the "hands to work, hearts to God" ethic we affirm. I always feel more introspective in the autumn, anyway...I believe that the rhythms of the year do dovetail into the rhythms of a life lived in faith, and not in an accidental way.

Bonus question: When it is really hot, humid and uncomfortable, what do you do to refresh and renew body and spirit?
A house with air conditioning makes that condition less burdensome, to be sure. I don't do well in very hot weather, so back pre A/C I'd just plant myself next to a fan with a book or magazine and wait out the heat wave. On those kinds of days, though, I find that it's nice to go outside at dusk or later and enjoy the evening air. (Mosquitoes and deer flies not included in the enjoyment factor.) There's a certain scent in the air this time of year in the woodlands -- bergamot, and what we call sage even though it really isn't, and warm pine needles, and dried's the best natural potpourri in the world.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Last One Out of the State, Please Turn Out the Lights...

And maybe it would be poetic justice if one of our big state utility companies had the honors of hitting the switch.

Read this , from the Michigan Land Institute, an advocacy organization promoting sustainable energy and agricultural practices.

This is a wonderful example of the leadership-by-inertia among Michigan's power brokers -- government, industry and unions alike -- that is sending Michigan's fortunes oozing through the sewage chute.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

An Easy Supper -- Two Ways

We're awfully busy around here lately. Last night, given the task of creating a quick supper, I foraged through the refrigerator/freezer and found about a pound of zucchini and summer squash from the farmer's market; half an Amish onion; half a can of diced tomatoes with jalapenos left over from our mole experiment; and three frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

So -- I sliced the squash, along with the onion, and sauteed/steamed them with olive oil, a good spoonful of jarred minced garlic and some Trader Joe's seasoning. After the squash was tender I added the tomatoes and turned the heat down to simmer.

Meanwhile, I sprinkled the chicken breasts with more Trader Joe's seasoning and stuck them in the contact grill until they were nice and brown on the outside, tender on the inside. While this was going on I put a pot of water on the boil and cooked up a small package of Trader Joe's rainbow radiattore.

When the pasta was tender I drained it and added it to the vegetable pan, tossed everything together and plated it. I sliced up two of the chicken breasts on the diagonal (the third was a treat for Cassie and Gertie) and placed them on each pasta plate. I added a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan/Asiago/Romano cheese mix to each plate.

Great meal, with the added bonus of leftovers.

Tonight when I got home I added just a touch more olive oil to the refrigerated pasta mixture, added a few good splashes of balsamic vinegar and a grind of pepper, and topped everything off with more grated cheese. Instant pasta salad -- this, I think, was actually better than the hot version the evening before. more leftovers. I guess it's back to the drawing board tomorrow.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Preach It, Sistah

Our pastor is going to be at camp with the kids this coming Sunday, and the designated presiding lay minister for the day has a scheduling conflict, so...yours truly is on deck for the sermon.

And -- woot! -- I drew a great Gospel text for the day: Jesus walks on the water.

I was so inspired that I pretty much composed my sermon in my head last night. And -- I'm so very tickled -- I am using as an illustration my very favorite television program, The Deadliest Catch. I'll tell ya -- I loathe the idea of projection screens in churches, but if I had one I'd play the show opening and theme song. (My contribution to audio-visual aids is requesting our organist to play "Eternal Father, Strong to Save"...which I suspect she was going to do anyway.)

Of course, this being August, with the older kids at camp and other families off on vacations, I'll be lucky to get 50 people in the pew. But that's okay.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

My Cranky Thoughts on Public Servanthood...

...on the eve of August primary elections, without going into great, wearisome detail: My experience in the public sector has taken my idealism about working in public service and squashed that sucker flat. 'Nuff said.

Revival Music

You know how you just get a song in your head and can't get it out?

This week it's been Melissa Etheridge's Oscar-winning, anthemic "I Need To Wake Up," from the film An Inconvenient Truth. The song is on a best-of anthology that we've been playing in the Jeep, and for some reason it is speaking to me powerfully, about all the contexts of my life. I am not a "revival" person by any means, but if I had to go to one I'd take my fingers out of my ears if they played "I Need to Wake Up" as the come-to-Jesus song. (Yeah...that'll happen.)

I'd love to embed a YouTube clip with "I Need to Wake Up" as a soundtrack on our church website, but the accompanying videos are either really cheesy or direct shots from An Inconvenient Truth, which I'm sure would open an unpleasant can of politicized worms among our parishoners. Actually, one of the better YouTube films is of a middle-school band playing its version of the song; I wish the sound quality were better, but even in this version the kids rock:

And for those of you not familiar with the lyrics:

Have I been sleeping?
I’ve been so still
Afraid of crumbling
Have I been careless?
Dismissing all the distant rumblings
Take me where I am supposed to be
To comprehend the things that I can’t see

Cause I need to move
I need to wake up
I need to change
I need to shake up
I need to speak out
Something’s got to break up
I’ve been asleep
And I need to wake up

And as a child
I danced like it was 1999
My dreams were wild
The promise of this new world
Would be mine
Now I am throwing off the carelessness of youth
To listen to an inconvenient truth

That I need to move
I need to wake up
I need to change
I need to shake up
I need to speak out
Something’s got to break up
I’ve been asleep
And I need to wake up

I am not an island
I am not alone
I am my intentions
Trapped here in this flesh and bone

And I need to move
I need to wake up
I need to change
I need to shake up
I need to speak out
Something’s got to break up
I’ve been asleep
And I need to wake up

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ole' Mole

Last Sunday, while I was assisting, Fellow Traveler sat in the back of the church with R, a thirtysomething parishoner of ours who is recovering from a series of strokes; he is now permanently disabled, and he and his young family have been through a lot -- a lot -- in the past few months. R is Latino, and in the course of chit-chatting with him, FT found out that he likes chicken mole.

"Oh, I make that for my kids for the holidays," FT told him. R's eyes lit up.

"I love it," he said. "My mom makes good mole. I wish I had some." He told FT that when he was in the hospital one of his family members made it and brought it to him, and he enjoyed it so much."

"Well, why don't I make you some," offered FT.

So for the past week we've been planning to make mole. FT, who learned to cook Mexican from her Mexican ex-mother-in-law, bases her recipe on a couple of jars of prepared mole, amended with various extra ingredients to suit family tastes, so we figured we'd just go to the store and buy the boughten mole.

Except that there is no boughten mole within a 30-mile radius of Outer Podunk. Oops.

As the clock ticked away this evening, we decided that instead of making a half-hour desperation trip to the nearest purveyor of mole, we would be brave and make our own. So I looked up some recipes online. Some were easy but not terribly tasty-sounding. Some were so complex that they required a couple dozen ingredients and about a three-day prep time. We just had very basic Mexican cooking ingredients at home. Yikes.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. So, with several different online recipes in mind, I just made mine up as I went along. And -- amazingly -- this tastes a great deal like FT's recipe. Here it is -- written for posterity as much for us as for you. We like it; we hope R does and hope you do.

Not-Very-Authentico Chicken Mole

2 chickens, cut up
chicken broth to cover
onion, garlic, salt, pepper

Place chicken in a large saucepan; cover with broth and add vegetables and seasonings. Simmer until tender. Meanwhile, make mole sauce:

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 TBS minced garlic (I used jarred)
2 TBS olive oil

Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil until onions become somewhat transparent. At this point add:

between 1/3 and 1/2 cup flour
Stir until vegetables are coated, and continue to saute until flour becomes just barely golden in color -- you may need to add oil. When flour just starts coloring, add:

3 TBS chili powder
1 TBS cumin
salt and black pepper

Stir until spices are incorporated into the roux. (Sauteeing spices tends to take away the "raw" flavor and grainy texture of some blends like chili powder and curry.)

Place chicken pieces in a crockpot, reserving broth in the saucepan. Stir floured onion mixture into the simmering broth until smooth. Add:

1 square unflavored baking chocolate
equivalent amount extra dark chocolate eating bar (I had a 71 percent cocoa Trader Joe's bar in the freezer and hacked a piece of it off for this experiment)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 TBS peanut butter (some of the mole recipes I saw had mixtures of almonds and sesame seeds in them -- if you have different nut butters at home you can probably mix and match here)
1/2 can minced Mexican tomatoes with jalapenos
maybe a half-tablespoon of sugar, or more

If all is going well, this mixture will thicken quickly. Simmer for maybe 10 minutes, until the flavors really start to meld, and then add to the chicken in the crockpot. Add a bit of water to the bottom of the crock to prevent sticking, then cook on Low overnight.

If you have some canned chipotle peppers one of them might taste really good in here, as might other south-of-the-border specialty peppers...but we just worked with what we had, and were very pleased with the results.

We just eat our mole in tortillas, but you can also eat it over rice or pasta.

Friday, August 01, 2008

They Made Me Do It

There's an interesting conversation going on on Beliefnet, about the wisdom of expecting your children to go to church.

I had no idea that this was such a startling or unreasonable expectation to some, nor that it evoked such strong negative memories in people. Jesus. (Whose name I invoke in the prayerful sense.)

This is truly going to date me as an Old Broad, but -- it just seems that there is a randomness about families with kids these days that I find troubling; a lack of sense of vocation on the part of parents; an idea that God has called them to be more than breadwinners, entertainers and taxi drivers for these little people running around their home.

Friday Five: Barrier-Free Edition

This week's Friday Five is all about barriers, literal and otherwise.

1) How do you amuse yourself when road construction blocks your travel?
Because I am an impatient person, usually I amuse myself by slipping off onto a side street and trying to find a route around the construction. If this isn't possible, I listen to the radio, drum the steering wheel and mutter to myself.

2) Have you ever locked yourself out of your house? (And do you keep an extra key somewhere, just in case?)
Yes and yes. I've also locked myself out of my car; one time at church -- I'd inadvertently locked my keys in the trunk while putting away a potluck casserole dish -- which was highly embarrassing, and necessitated my borrowing the pastor's beaten-up back-garage emergency hoopty to drive all the way home to get my spare key, which of course I didn't have on my person.

3) Have you ever cleared a hurdle? (And if you haven't flown over a material hurdle, feel free to take this one metaphorically.)
The last real hurdle I was ever faced with must have been in about the eighth grade, and I'm sure I fell over it. Yesterday, young Gertie the wonderpup almost gave her human Mama a heart attack by hurdling, without warning, over a half-open Jeep side window as FT was driving the dogs into our local park for an afternoon run. Gertrude has the flexibility of a snake, combined with a lack of common sense -- a dangerous combination.

4) What's your approach to a mental block?
"Run away! Run away!"

5) Suggest a caption for the picture above; there will be a prize for the funniest answer!
"Preparations are underway for Cold Comfort Cottage's 'Alligator Room' Cleanup."