Saturday, October 31, 2009

O The Horror!

Halloween wouldn't be Halloween without terrified Real Christians[tm] whimpering about Satan and his demonic minions lurking under every rock and behind every curtain. Evidently, according to the frequently amusing blog Stuff Christian Culture Likes, Harry Potter is still on the fundie short list of Tools o' the Devil.

If that's not frightening enough...turns out that we Lutherans are also in league with Satan.

I know; making fun of Real Christians[tm] is too easy, and not scary unless it's Election Day.

But here is something really, really frightening, especially if you possess a Y chromosome or an unsteady hand.

Hope you had a fun Halloween. Go ahead -- eat the rest of the chocolate.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Bishop and The Boys' Club

Like many of my fellow ELCAers, and as someone of German heritage, I was delighted to hear that a woman, theologian and Bishop of Hanover Margot Kaessmann, had been elected to become head of the Evangelical Church in Germany.

Kaessman has some impressive street cred. Active in the church since her youth, she has been a parish pastor; a scholar and teacher; a EKD official; a member of the World Council of Churches' Central Committee. (She resigned from the WCC in protest after the WCC appeared to be waffling on its commitment to ecumenical fellowship, in deference to its more conservative members.) She has been an active opponent of right-wing extremism in Germany. She has been a strong advocate for progressive social policies as well as an advocate for re-spiritualizing the German church by placing more emphasis on prayer, Bible study and devotional life. She is also a mother of four, and a survivor of breast cancer.

I didn't know anything about Bishop Kaessman before reading about her online. But, interestingly, most of the information I just shared with you was nowhere to be found in most of the articles announcing her election as head of the EKD. Oh, no.

"German Protestants on Wednesday elected Margot Kaessmann, a divorcee and the Lutheran bishop of Hanover, to lead them, the first woman to take the post and only the third woman to head a major Christian church," reported Reuters. This meme was repeated in several other online news features...that and a reference to her as "Mother Teresa crossed with Demi Moore."

What decade are we in, again? I mean, when I was in grade school a "divorcee" was an exotic and dangerous creature whose stereotype was clad in jungle-print stretch pants and indolently puffed on alimony-funded Pall Malls while adolescent boys leered and decently married housewives tut-tutted. But we're not living in 1967 anymore. So why is the lead sentence in an important news story, from a respected news syndicate, about a respected woman with a lengthy curriculum vitae and significant spiritual as well as professional gravitas identifying her principally in terms of her marital status, and then adding insult to injury by completely ignoring her personal story as a church leader?

The worst part of this: The reporter who wrote the story is female.

At least she didn't refer to the Bishop as "perky."

Friday Five: "Lifesavers" Edition's been awhile since I've tackled a Friday Five. (Or blogged, for that matter...great to be back!)

This week's Friday Five asks us about our personal "lifesavers" -- things that keep us afloat when life tries to drag us down.

1) Your lifesaving food/beverage.
Those would be, respectively, chocolate and coffee. For me coffee is necessary every morning before I can truly assume a locked and upright position, physically and mentally. (This is maybe why my goal of early-morning yoga hasn't yet happened -- for some reason it seems wrong to precede yoga with a cup of joe, but on the other hand without the coffee I am in a defacto Corpse pose.) And chocolate's natural mellowing agents take the edge off sadness, frustration and anger. I've recently developed a real taste for chile-infused dark chocolate, which seems to amp up all those good qualities.

2) Your lifesaving article of clothing.
When I am safely esconced in my home, my favorite thing to wear is a pair of men's flannel night pants, preferably plaid. I'm not making a statement about the constructs of gender; it's just that the guys' styles have more room to move for someone who likes sitting cross-legged. In the summer the flannel gets a little lighter and is paired with a T-shirt; in the wintertime the flannel gets thicker and is topped with a hoodie. It's a human cocoon. I like it.

3) Your lifesaving movie/book/tv show/music.
If you're speaking in terms of spiritual and other profundity, I would have to say the Book of Common Prayer's Daily Office; the prayers and Scripture readings ground me even if I'm only half-attending to them, even if I don't get through an entire prayer, even if I don't want to be reading them. In terms of welcome mindless distraction, I do loves me my Deadliest Catch. In terms of general "making any day go better" -- I enjoy music of all kinds; and when I'm down or depressed, nothing beats the blues.

4) Your lifesaving friend.
The first three years of my school career I was a geeky, unloved and frequently bullied loser. Sometime during the third grade, though, I was befriended by a group of boys who shared my academic interests. We remained fast friends for the rest of our public-school careers, even when we got to middle school and found ourselves rising to the top of the school pecking order. Many years later, working in northern Michigan, my coworkers in my department -- fellow overeducated, underpaid former  liberal-arts majors -- and I developed a close friendship that extended beyond working hours; it would have been a lonely decade without those pals. And, of course, my most lifesaving friend is Fellow Traveler, who's not only saved me from loneliness and self-absorption but has expanded my life in so many ways.

5) Your lifesaving moment.
I had an actual, physical lifesaving moment when I was about 2 1/2. While my parents were distracted by one thing or another during a typical day on the farm, I -- playing "Jack in the Beanstalk," I later explained -- crawled up our farm elevator and fell into the interior chimney of our almost-empty corn crib. I could have easily -- easily -- fallen to my death; instead I landed on a pile of old corn cobs, where I wailed indignantly until our neighbors, called by my frantic parents, came and somehow extracted me from the wire tube at the center of the corn crib. One of my less dramatic but no less profound  psychological lifesaving moments came when I went away to college -- that day I felt a freedom that, for too many reasons to relate here, I'd never felt before. And another lifesaving moment was that moment I came out to myself -- that sense of utter relief and self-affirmation that is sometimes frankly very hard to convey to straight people.

Bonus question (my own): What is your favorite Lifesavers flavor? I'm not even sure if they make this anymore, which tells you how often I eat Lifesavers these days...but I used to just love the mango melon flavor inside the tropical-fruits pack.

Daffodils for All Saints

This week I visited the family graves; something we've always done in my family around this time of year to remove weathered decorations and tidy things up for the winter.

I was on a mission. I came armed with gardening tools, some grass seed and a large bag of mixed daffodil bulbs.

Part of my goal was aesthetic: Local and family custom to the contrary, I hate artificial flowers and other assorted manufactured junk on graves. Fellow Traveler and I have warned our extended family that if our graves ever look as if a dollar store vomited on them we are personally coming back to haunt them, and not in a good way. So this year I said "No mas" even to the relatively small and tidy bouquets of silk flowers I have dutifully placed on the relation's gravesites these past years.  Now I'm looking forward to coming back in the spring and seeing bright, cheerful, real flowers. Especially for my Aunt Marian, who was a skilled and enthusiastic gardener; I think they're a fitting tribute to someone who enjoyed them so much in life.

But there's another reason I've suddenly become interested in cemetery perennials.

Fellow Traveler and I have been talking about the possibility of moving out of Michigan. Not anytime soon; not until our house is paid for, at least; but someday. We want to live somewhere with open spaces and four seasons but with progressive values, where our relationship is respected legally as well as socially. We honestly don't see that ever happening in Michigan, a state that used to have a progressive reputation but that in our perception is slipping ever farther backward into the redneck zone.

In our frequent travels to cemeteries to humor Gertie's need for steeplechase games around grave monuments, I notice the untended graves of persons whose families are apparently no longer in the area to care for them. When we were in the Upper Peninsula we came upon an old graveyard, up by Seney, filled with several dozen flat, weathered wooden plaques inscribed simply with the names of men; we figured they were lumberjacks or other itinerant workers who died there in the northern forestland, far from home and family ties. It's a sad thing; but inevitable in our mobile age. On the other hand, I'm always a little cheered when I find a clump of iris or daylilies or violets atop an old, otherwise forgotten grave; once upon a time someone cared enough to leave something lasting, ever-renewing, there before they themselves left.

So I've planted my daffodils. With any luck they'll multiply like the daffodils back at Cold Comfort Cottage.  And even if we leave this area physically, they'll help us continue to honor the ancestors who remain here.

Con-Evs Invade New England!

I was all set to get angry about this story .

"Please don't let them ruin Vermont before we get there," I muttered to Fellow Traveler as I summarized the article, about a new influx of politically and theologically conservative Evangelical missionaries to New England, trash-talking the liberal church tradition there and eager to manifest some new rightward-turning Great Awakening.

Take a combination of militant moral superiority and the annoying enthusiasm of a dog that won't stop humping your leg, and cross that with the knowledge that these same individuals want to disempower and marginalize me by any means necessary while destroying my family -- well, let's just say that I have serious issues with these sisters and brothers in Christ. I don't believe that their primary purpose is a sudden desire to save souls in New England; I think their goal is political and social domination of that region. Because in their jihadian heads, it's all the same thing.

While it gives me no pleasure to say this, two days ahead of All Saints Day: I would rather spend the rest of my life as a puzzling but accepted religiously observant oddity in an overwhelmingly and cheerfully irreligious society than spend one minute under the rule of a Southern Baptist or Orthodox Presbyterian vision of God's kingdom come to earth. And I will do everything I can as a citizen in a democracy to keep the latter from ever happening. And if it did anyway -- O Canada.

But I digress. Anyway, I'm reading this article, and I feel the smoke starting to curl out of my ears...but then I started thinking about Fellow Traveler's life in Maine. She spent about a dozen years there. She's got stories.

A picture developed in my mind. I saw an earnest young theological heir to Jerry Falwell or D. James Kennedy, re-wrapped in tats and a jazz patch in an attempt to appear hipster, standing at a Maine farm-field gate. I can hear the Mainer speaking to the eager young missionary.

"New church? Don't need a new church. Got an old church in town. Bean suppah Sattaday night."

And suddenly I was in a good mood again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In Which We Explain It All...

A seminarian friend of mine sent this. It's just so...funny.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

OMG! Facebook Idolatry!

My attention was recently directed to a post on the blog Pretty Good Lutherans, discussing the fact that ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson has a Facebook page.

Since Lutherans are a pugnacious bunch, and since we have always seemed to have a Puritan rump -- what Garrison Keillor calls the Dark Lutherans -- in our midst, it is completely unsurprising that some people find +Hanson's Facebook presence an affront -- specifically an invitation to idolatry.

Idolatry? Really? Seriously?

After snorting a few cc's of coffee out of my nostrils reading some of the frowny-faced comments regarding the good bishop's page, I went to my own list of "fanned" Facebook pages. There I found:

Bob Dylan
The New York Times
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
The Old Fraunces Tavern
Trader Joe's
The Indigo Girls
Irshad Manji (progressive Muslim activist and author of The Trouble With Islam)
The Detroit Tigers
Michigan State University
Dow Gardens
Tell Dick Cheney to Shut the Hell Up
Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland
The Hunger Site
The Deadliest Catch

There are about 20 other persons, businesses and institutions I've "fanned."

Out of all these...there aren't any that I would call  the ground of all being, none that I would consider my ultimate concern; none that I pray to, burn incense before or otherwise venerate. Bishop Hanson seems like a swell guy and all, but -- I mean, he's on the same list as Sonic limeade. Come on.

Bait-and-Switch Bible Study

When my day is going too smoothly -- when I don't have enough tension in my day to ramp up my blood pressure to a satisfactory level -- I read the comments on the ELCA's Facebook page.

Don't get me wrong. I think that this project is one of the smartest things the ELCA has done in a long time. Each day some Internet-savvy elf on Higgins Road posts prayers or quotes, and a question of the day. It's encouraging to see the interaction and information sharing going on. And perhaps the folks at the other end of the computer are learning more about the laity from reading their responses.

But inevitably the conversations, no matter where they begin, seem to wind up in the realm of The Troubles. And I have to read, again, about people's "pain" and "struggle" and "anguish" about being asked to accept partnered gay and lesbian members of our denomination as full participants in all ministries.

My gut reaction is, "Pain? Oh, please." An ileostomy is pain. A breast biopsy is pain. Being asked to share a church body -- not necessarily even your own congregation! -- with a pastor or deacon or other rostered leader who happens to be gay and partnered is not pain. Get over it.

But there's this one guy who keeps writing on the Wall, who keeps reiterating his state of upset, whose recent comments inadvertently stumbled upon an issue that I think actually underlies much of the controversy over the role of gay people in the Church. The other day he said, more or less: So what else are you going to tell me is wrong in the Bible? Because apparently, through his attempts to understand the CWA vote, he was exposed to people discussing the Bible using an historical-critical interpretative methodology. This stuff is honestly news to him. His applecart of faith is starting to shake.

I grew up in the LCMS. I cut my theological milk teeth on the Seminex controversy; my ueber-conservative uncle subscribed my sympathetic, but not quite as exciteable, father to a newsletter that breathlessly reported, month after month, on the heretical, Bible-hating shenanigans going on in Lutheran seminaries. I didn't find the accusations, once one got past the hyperbolics of the authors, all that awful; it was kind of a relief, actually, for a pious but precocious Missouri Synodian teen, to discover that I didn't have to believe in a six-day creation, or in an historical Adam and Eve, or a real guy named Jonah swallowed by a real fish, in order to be a Christian. And then I went away to school and took biblical studies courses (taught by two excellent professors, one Methodist and one Presbyterian, who happened to be pastors as well as scholars) that provided more context with which to understand what I was reading, and the controversy between biblical literalism and a more nuanced reading of the texts.

But that illustrates the gap between people whose biblical education is more like mine and people whose understanding of the Bible has been formed solely by grade-school-level religious education,  Sunday preaching and devotional reading (which is what most adult Bible studies are, really). The Troubles with Teh Gay in the ELCA are, as personally frustrating to me, just a symptom, I believe, of a bigger Trouble -- the Bible gap.

The confused soul on Facebook feels as if he's been played in a game of biblical bait-and-switch. And you really can't blame him.

I told him that I don't think that that is the intent at all of preachers and teachers. But I do wonder what damage has been wrought in our church body and its predecessors over the decades by the sort of intellectual elitism that, in both children's and adults' religious education, has tended to provide only lightweight, principally devotionally oriented Bible study to the laity. This is the Reformation that Luther risked his life for? Bunny-slope Bible study for average laypeople, versus a rigorous, contextual Bible study for a special few? Because the peasants really aren't up to learning how to read the Bible critically and contextually, and besides, we don't want them getting all riled up? Really?

I think the ELCA's Book of Faith Initiative is a modest attempt to rectify this situation. I hope it works. But I think it may be too late for some church members who have taken the apparent low expectations of Church leadership to heart, to the point where they can't/won't process what they're hearing when the elite exegete and hermeneute. And honestly -- how are our kids learning to read the Bible? Same ol', same ol', so that by the time they hit adulthood we'll have the same conceptual gap?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Putting the Garden to Bed

Since it finally stopped raining today, it presents a great opportunity to put our garden to bed for the year.

Last weekend I planted garlic; our only overwintering crop other than the late-planted savoy cabbages that are flourishing in the cool weather but not forming real heads, that I'm going to show mercy on by mulching with leaves for the forseeable future in an effort to at least harvest some useable pot greens or roll wrappers. The garlic, though, I planted in a raised bed; I raised it by lowering the walkway around it by about 5 inches all around. That's what the whole garden will be next year; a series of French-style raised beds, with slightly sloping sides. I double-dug the bed, amending the soil with our first homemade compost, some organic fertilizer and a few generous handfuls of crab-shell fertilizer (my personal paen to "The Deadliest Catch" -- and the crab shells are supposed to be quite beneficial for crops). I planted "Chesnok Purple" and "Music" hardnecked garlics, and filled up the last empty section with a half-dozen shallot cloves from a package I bought at the grocery store. All that's left to do is rake about 2 inches of leaves -- which are in plentiful supply now, thanks to the rain -- over the top and let Mother Nature do her thing.

My garden has been one of the most therapeutic projects I've undertaken in the past year, despite the fact that some of my experiments on this first-year plot have been abject failures. (I've thought, many a day, that it's a good thing I'm not a pioneer woman depending on the garden to keep me alive through the winter.) Gardens are good that way, because they're alive, and changing, and changeable; there's always a way to wrest some element of success, or at least wisdom, out of misfortune. They're the "Serenity Prayer" writ in green.

While failures are of course disappointing -- as was the case the other day when I dug up my little row of "Chioggia" beets, which had been crowded out (through my own fault) by potatoes and found only 2 normal-sized, useable roots -- they're opportunities for learning. I don't know why I can't apply that good sense to the rest of my life, but in the garden it seems to be a gentler lesson. Next year: more attention to spacing. I've also had great successes: Ruby-red "Mascara" lettuce that, despite frank neglect on my part, produced all season long without bitterness, only bolting at the end of last month; beans that survived flooding and chill; cutting celery, planted late, that I dried into some beautifully fragrant, tasty flakes for winter soups and stews -- definitely a crop for next year, and more of it. I found that pruning tomatoes around the bottom, keeping all the branches off the ground, and pinching out all the side shoots as they appear, really does keep the plants healthier.

So anyway: Today I pull out the tattered remains of vegetable rows and add them to the compost. I lime the soil, raking it in a little but letting the elements really work it into the ground. I mulch my garlic. And then that's it; goodbye until April.  Thank you for being my classroom, my chapel, my palette.

The Stealth Breviary

I almost entitled this, "What I did on my summer vacation," since I've been mostly AWOL on this blog for months.

One of the things I did was set up a Facebook page, and a blog, for our congregation. Our website, like most, can be very unwieldy to update, and is fairly static -- and thus forgettable -- from season to season. Even though only a small percentage of our people even own computers, much less have a competency in getting around well online, many of our leaders and information disseminators do. And it seemed to me that we needed a couple of different online vehicles; one to add some depth to our ministry, one to keep people plugged in to what's going on.
So this is what I did. I created a blog, updated almost daily (Saturday is this blogmeister's sabbath) , with a theme for each day. Yesterday was Mission Monday, which is pretty self-explanatory; this week I talked about the ELCA inviting individuals and congregations to send Thanksgiving greeting cards to missionaries this year. Today is Tuneful Tuesday, when I post a music video appropriate for the Sunday lectionary or Church calendar.  I write special posts for saints' days and commemorations, and anything else worth blogging about. I'm not sure that anyone else finds it interesting or helpful, but if nothing else it's imposed a welcome sense of structure in my life and made me better prepared for each Sunday, whether I'm assisting or in the pew.

Meanwhile, I created a Facebook page for our church. (And since you're my peeps, I'll invite you to "fan" us -- search "Hope Lutheran Church" and look for the stained-glass window.) This is, for our congregation, the 21st century version of calling Aunt Bee down at the store to spread the news about what's going on in our parish.

In an effort to keep readers interested, I've made a commitment to post something on Facebook every single day, even if it's just a teaser for something on our blog. One day, searching for something worth posting, I thought, "Why don't I just post a snippet of liturgy from The Daily Office?" So I did. And I kept going. I'm very random -- one day I might post a prayer from the short-form individual/family devotional; the next I might post a few lines of a Psalm from the Morning or Evening Prayer; the next I might draw from the Noonday Prayer or Compline. And in response to persons wondering why I'm cherry-picking from the Book of Common Prayer rather than a Lutheran prayer book...frankly, it's easier, because my Anglican friends make better use of the Internet in the realm of daily devotions. Just sayin'.

But here's the real interesting thing: Of all our new and improved online activities, the random daily prayers are what draw the most feedback. Our readership loves them. I was ill for a couple of days, and someone mentioned to me that she missed the daily Facebook prayers. This has been a real "aha!" phenomenon, for me anyway. So if any of you are contemplating hooking up your people to Facebook -- go for it. And try this.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday Five: In the Presence of the Lord

The RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five this week asks:

Where do you find God's peace and presence?  Is there:

1. A place that holds a special memory?
Morningstar, a retreat center for women in the woodlands of northern Michigan, has a certain spot on its property with some very old, enormous trees...I remember misty morning walks in this place that literally gave me gooseflesh. For me at least it's one of those "thin places" where the divine Presence is easier to discern.

2. A song that seems to usher you into the Holy of Holies?
The Agnus Dei, in any number of settings.

3.A book/ poem/ prayer that says what you cannot?
Definitely the Daily Office in Book of Common Prayer. When I don't have the words, it has the words for me.

4. How do you remind yourself of these things at times when God seems far away?

5.Post a picture/ poem or song that speaks of where you are right now in your relationship with God...