Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Five: "Child's Play" Edition

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five quiz was a toughie for me, folks. Bear with me.

1) On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being I can’t do this now I am about to jump into a pit of plastic balls at the mini-mall and 1 being I can’t do this now until I can get all of the fonts on my blog to match – where are you?
I am probably right up there at 4.99. I was, as they say, "born old."

2) What is the silliest/most childlike thing you have done as an adult?
Possibly play miniature golf at Disney World at 11 pm, in the dark, on about the coldest day ever in Orlando. And do an end-zone victory dance when I won.

3) Any regrets?
Gloves would have been nice.

4) What is the silliest thing you have ever seen another adult do on purpose?
Take a pair of (clean) underwear out of the laundry basket, put them on her head and sing "Dominique." (Names will not be named.)

5) What is something you wish you did when you had the chance?
This is a stumper. I can't remember missing out on that many things I wanted to do when I was a kid. Maybe learn to do cartwheels...I was always a little chunky-monkey and didn't have the coordination to pull it off.

BONUS: For our ‘I told you so’ sides – what thing did you skip doing and you’re really glad you did!
Fall out of a tree and break my arm, like so many of my peers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Neighborhood Church

I spent my lunchtime today, here in the vicinity of the church, down at the township cemetery with Gertie -- she spun around the empty section and then down the quiet country cul-de-sac while I walked among the gravestones.

This cemetery actually has two sections separated by a farmstead; both are on sandy, rough, botanically challenged hillsides. It reminded me of the rural cemetery on the opposite end of the county where many of my relatives are buried, and that back in the pioneer days our ancestors didn't waste green, fertile land on the dead.

Some of the gravestones are very, very old, with surnames that no longer reflect the names on neighborhood mailboxes or our church rolls. One small stone next to a man's larger obelisk, both dated in the late 1800's, simply reads, "[So-and-So's] Wife"; the poor woman lost her name along with her life. A sinister-looking flat cement crypt whose lid is just askew enough to be creepy contains...well, I don't know; there's no corresponding headstone. A tiny headstone in the relatively newer section of the cemetery memorializes a two-year-old, whose death date corresponds with the scourge of the Spanish flu. Newer graves are festooned with whirligigs, flags, windchimes and other currently popular funereal effluvia; one display included a weathered knit watchcap that I'm sure held a good story.

As I walked up and down the hillside, getting to know the relations of many of our church members, I thought about our last lay ministry meeting. Our pastor, who just got back from a cross-country motorcycle adventure, recounted how, almost the moment he walked through the door of his home, he was awash in waves of local pain and suffering that had seemed to wait for his return to develop. There was a the tragic death of a young father who'd been battling chronic disease. A local family had lost their trailer home to creditors and had been reduced to living in tents. Terrible family secrets, buried for decades in the victims' minds, were finally coming to light, creating anguish and tension and side-taking among relatives. A neighorhood resident suffered an acute, mysterious medical event and was now in intensive care in a regional hospital as doctors tried to sort out her condition. More stories of the people immediately around us.

As our pastor noted, this was actually "situation normal" in our neighborhood; we lay ministers had simply enjoyed a short respite during our watch. But the more interesting thing to me was, as he shared his pastoral-care concerns with us, that most of these events that were marshalling the care and attention of our church were going on among people with a minimal, if any, formal connection to us. And in at least one case, it was one unchurched person, whose life had been previously touched by our congregation, that referred another unchurched person to us. "They can help."

Our pastor says that he wants to gradually move people out of the mindset that "church" is a one-hour event that happens on Sunday mornings and holidays; that "church," that Christ's body in the world, is happening all the time when we serve as Christ for one another. In this way, Christ will come alive for the people in our neighborhood, whether they're members of our congregation or not.

This struck me -- me, the one who is constantly questioning what I perceive as the highly conventional, non-visonary goals of our Evangelism Committee -- as something that I needed to hear.

I would love to strengthen our presence in our neighborhood -- not by somehow wheedling warm bodies into seats on Sunday mornings, but by helping people where they need help, without questions or strings or games or emotionally finagling them into some type of formal commitment to our congregation. What would happen if more of us in our congregation took that goal to heart?

Departure Emcee

We got an interesting call last night.

It was from Fellow Traveler's high school BFF, with whom FT has kept in contact over the years and who is one of our collective Facebook friends. Last week our friend's oldest brother -- this is one of those families whose elder children are an entire generation removed from the younger siblings -- died suddenly. Almost as suddenly, his spouse decided to have him cremated, sans funeral.

Well, of course, this didn't sit well with his family, and wheels were set in motion, and now -- with the wife's consent and participation -- the larger extended family is going to hold a "Celebration of Life" in his honor in two weeks.

The family is nominally Lutheran but not observant. One brother did join a fundamentalist church -- which, according to FT, led to a family funeral disaster several years ago when the family matriarch died and the brother enlisted his own, fundamentalist pastor for the funeral service. The pastor opined that Mother was likely in hell now, and that the assembled were on the short track there as well if they didn't make a decision to ask Jeezus to be their personal Savior right then and there. Well.

When D called, saying, "I have a huge favor to ask of you two," we wondered if she wanted to spend the night at our home, since her brother spent his summers in a resort community not far from ours. What she asked instead was if I -- me, lowly lay minister -- would be willing to lead, in an ecclesiastically off-the-reservation way, the memorial for her brother. The event would be at another sibling's home on the 8th; on the day we were to be happily vacationing in Hessel at the Wooden Boat Festival.


Thoughts of vacation disappointment (this is the second wrench to be thrown in the direction of our trip -- I momentarily thought, "Maybe God doesn't want us in the Upper Peninsula") as well as panic ("I don't know nuthin' 'bout doin' no Celebrations of Life, Miz Scarlett!") passed through my mind.

But I said, "Yes." Because this is Fellow Traveler's very best friend, from way back. Because they don't have a family clergyperson they can call upon for this task. Because this is a chance to help communicate God's love and grace to a group of people who need to hear it, and to demonstrate that we church folks aren't jerks all of the time.

So FT's friend and I are going to e-mail back and forth for the next few days, help me get to know her deceased brother's story, share some ideas for the memorial. I have the beginnings of an outline in my head.

The vaycay gets moved back a day and a half. The Chris-Crafts will be gone but Hessel will still be there. It's going to be okay.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Five: "It's Perfection" Edition

RevGalBlogPal SingingOwl offers this challenge:

Please pardon me for talking about church in the summer when many of you may be on vacation. However, the church we are talking about today is the one you dream of. I've been thinking about this because I miss pastoring and preaching, because I am sending in resumes, and because...well...jut because. So have some fun with this. Tell us five things that the perfect church would have, be, do...whatever.

We can dream, right?

Oh, my.

Should I be serious or ironic? Or both?

Okay. Here goes, in no particular order:

Five Unrealistic Wish Dreams For a Church

1. In my perfect church we would have a comprehensive program for catechesis/spiritual formation that would include easy entry points for newbies as well as challenge and support for us long-haulers, and strong support for "the domestic church" -- for giving households the tools and support to (re-)sacralize lhome life. And our "Lutheran from home" members would finally shed the idea that one graduates from religious education/spiritual formation at confirmation.

2. In my perfect church we would be a more active, open spiritual and practical go-to community resource for the people who live in our church neighborhood, no matter what their affiliation or level of connection to our congregation...we would be a place that neighbors would think of as their neighborhood church. And this would be a two-way street -- with our lay leadership "getting out there" into the 'hood with the pastor, as well as neighbors visiting us. I'm thinking of the old-school model of, say, my dad's childhood church, which really was the hub of his rural neighborhood.

3. My perfect church would have a music program that wouldn't have to be of symphony-hall quality but would be something competent and worship-oriented.

4. My perfect church would be diverse -- a lively mix of gender, ages, economic levels, life experiences.

5. My perfect church would have excellent coffee. No stale Maxwell House in the industrial-size can, rationed out to last the better part of a year -- nosirree. We're talking Green Mountain or Just Coffee or some other righteously-grown-yet-skillfully-roasted java.

Just a few things.

Monday, July 20, 2009


One of my rediscoveries, this first summer sans paid employment in a couple of decades, is the pleasure of working with my hands.

Every day when I walk down to the garden, I experience momentary amazement that the theoretical garden patch I'd plotted out in my head back in March has become a living reality. It tickles me to nurture the plants one day -- water them, weed them or loosen the soil around them -- and see them respond positively the next. It frankly also stuns me, one of the more untidy individuals on the planet, to have created a tidy garden -- it isn't antiseptically free of weeds nor is every row precicely straight, but to borrow a phrase from my Presbyterian friends, it's growing decently and in order. Even my garden failures haven't been that devastating to my sense of competency in agriculture; I learn, make adjustments and move on. The first two rows of bush beans ravaged by wet cold and cutworms? Plant succession rows. The fingerling potatoes that for some reason didn't come up? Great space for transplanting some of my rapidly growing Savoy cabbage. Too many seedling tomatoes? Keep them around to fill in spaces. Patience; perserverence; problem-solving; it all happens in the vegetable garden.

My stained glass classes are also stretching my sense of manual prowess. I've always loved looking at stained glass -- being a product of the late Sixties and early Seventies, when the Victorian and Edwardian periods influenced everything from fashions to posters to homecrafts, I've always been fascinated by the glass arts; always wanted to live in a house with fancy glasswork transoms and door windows and suncatchers. But I never envisioned myself making such things myself. And when Fellow Traveler first expressed her desire to pursue this as a serious pastime, I saw myself as more of a drag on her progress than a true partner. But our hands-on coursework -- and our instructor is of the "Just do it and ask questions later" school -- is helping me lose my fear of not being perfect -- "perfect," of course, being the enemy of the good. I'm finding out that if I do mess up in certain ways, there are other ways to finesse it; that there's a lot of grace in the process. And after getting multiple stitches and a tetanus shot in my hand a couple of years ago when a frame slipped off my storm window as I was hauling it up the stairs, there's a feeling of regaining power over a potentially hazardous substance as I score it, cut it and grind it to my liking.

I also pulled out the bread pans this weekend and loafed my own homemade bread for I think the first time since I bought my first bread machine. I made challah; mixed it and rose it in the bread machine, then braided it and placed it into my pans. (My grandmother's cheap-but-useable way to get a decorative loaf while still maintaining sandwich-sliceability.) It turned out great. It felt good to knead the dough, to work out the various design problems of braided loaves, to watch them slowly rise under a dishtowel on the kitchen counter. "I've still got it," I thought.

I'm truly feeling a sense of detoxing from my past job, all its frustrations, all its assaults on my self-confidence. Getting my hands into things -- whether bread dough or glass tools or dirt -- is, I think, becoming an important part of grasping onto my true self and pulling it back into me.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Gertie and Mollie, sharing the sofa for an afternoon chill-out.


The Garage Kenosis Project continues at our house, as we sift through the contents of two previous homes and try desperately to get as much as possible out of the office space in the rear of our detached garage so we can be about the business of turning it into a family office and "woman cave" -- a space with a cottage feel without the added expense and upkeep, and only a few dozen yards from the house.

It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff we have both collected, and why I brought so much stuff with me over here, instead of throwing it or giving it away when I had the chance. Well, I know why -- because I got the offer on my house and was then given only a couple of weeks to move out; toward the end we were just tossing things into moving boxes.

But that was then and this is now. So far I have donated two very large boxes of clothing to the local mission, as well as boxes of unused medical supplies dating back to Fellow Traveler's major operation shortly before we met. After our garage sale we donated leftover furniture, books, tools, collectibles and assorted tschotchkes to the yard sale of the ELCA congregation down the highway, and in the last week, after opening boxes of "keeper" items we'd saved before our sale and reevaluating them, I found myself filling at least one big box with duplicate kitchen equipment and dishware fated for our own congregations' big Labor Day weekend yard sale.

Things. So many things. At times I feel like Alice in Wonderland in Sir John Tenniel's illustration where she's being bombarded by flying playing cards...except instead of cards I'm being pelted with superfluous mismatched juice glasses and silverware and mixing bowls.

Recently on the Ship of Fools a discussion ensued on possessions, and I found myself arguing against a broad application of the "sell all you have" asceticism in service to the Gospel that Jesus advocates for some who come to him. It was suggested that Jesus' words weren't intended only for the spiritual elite but for everyone, and that those on my side of the debate were practicing a bit of eisegetic Scripture reading to salve our guilty consciences. I still don't agree; but I do agree that possessions have a tendency to take over our lives and priorities.

And it's not just a matter of greedy acquisition. Most of my stuff, for instance, represented a 50+-year accumulation of a very modest working-class family; and a good proportion of it was worthless -- just family documents that had been stored for decades. But it's the learning to periodically take stock of it and if necessary let go of it that gets hard, particularly if we're preoccupied with other things. Otherwise stuff can just grow and grow until the anxiety involved in accomodating it spacewise, caring for it and wondering, in a vague way, what's to become of it push more important (not to mention more interesting) issues out of the priority queue. It's a form of attachment, even if it's not a positive emotional attachment; it's like a sticker from a weed lodging itself in one's sock during a hike and then constantly scratching against one's ankle.

We were frantic to clear out the front part of the garage. That has now been cleared out, and Fellow Traveler has done a beautiful job storing our garden tools and other such items vertically, on the walls, to free up space. Now that that's done and our studio space is more or less set up and ready for business, we've given ourselves permisison to empty the back room in a more gradual way. My personal goal is to rid the floor of one box per day. And it's become easier. The other day I found the box where we'd hastily thrown all my family cookbooks. It would have been easy to linger over every magazine recipe my mother or aunt had cut out, every manufacturer's cookbook Mom had sent for back as a newlywed in the 50's, books I recall fondly from my childhood -- but I tried to stay focused on what documents were truly useful and/or truly keepsakes. And I wound up throwing most of it away.

I'm trying hard to make this new spaciousness a household baseline for the future, so we're no longer so possessed by our possessions.

"Got Game" Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five invites us to get our game on, so to speak:

1. Childhood games?
Being an only child, with parents not terribly interested in playing games (in large part because they were too busy farming), I was often on my own when it came to pastimes. My grandmother, bless her heart, would give each grandchild -- age irrelevant, siblings or no -- a board game for Christmas, so I amassed a decent stack of them by the time I was old enough to be interested. And I'd play them mostly by myself, taking turns as one player or the other.

When I'd spend a week each summer with my child-friendly Aunt Marian and Uncle Leonard, they would play Monopoly or War (the card game) with me on rainy days when they weren't outside farming and gardening. They also introduced me to Consequences, the Victorian ancestor to today's Mad Libs. (See an explanation of the rules here .) When I got a little older we got a set of Jarts at my house -- ah, those were the days, before they heyday of litigation-as-income or child safety rules! -- a game that my father could occasionally be persuaded to join.

It's really only been as an adult, thanks to my "got game" partner, that I've been able to learn and enjoy a lot of games that I never really played as a child.

2. Favorite and/or most hated board games?
Scrabble is my favorite board game, because I like words. By contrast I hate Yahtzee, which I really don't understand no matter how often people try to explain the rules to me. I think it would be quite interesting to take scans of my brain while playing each game to see what's going on (or not going on) in each case.

3. Card games?
Please, dear God, no. Well, I shouldn't say that; I do actively enjoy SkipBo. But other than that particular game, evidently sometime during the human developmental process my mother failed to ingest whatever nutrient it is that gives one the interest in or the ability to play cards. I have tried -- oh, how I have tried, especially in a euchre-intensive Lutheran social milieu -- to learn how to play. I can't. Not only can't I remember the rules from time to time, I can't seem to make myself care enough to fully understand them. It's nothing personal against card players; I admire and envy all of you. But think about how interested you would be in, say, a symposium on particle physics or a several-hour session of plastic-canvas needlepoint down at the senior center, and try to understand that this is exactly how I feel about the games that you love so much. I will be happy to make canapes for your card game, or run down to the party store for more beer and chips, or sit at the table and banter wittily if that's allowed...but please don't make me actually play your card game. Is that so wrong, to ask that? Thank you.

4. Travel/car games?
We traveled so seldom when I was a child that I was usually completely entranced just rubbernecking out the window at the passing scenery; I didn't need games. That's true today as well; the trip is the thing.

5. Adult pastimes that are not video games?
At our house we like Scrabble and dominoes. Darts are fun, but other than the video kind we don't have a good place to play. As far as things like lawn games, I myself enjoy horseshoes, and think I'd love bocce if I were able to play it more. The problem is, Gertie the part-retriever tends to think that anything involving thrown or rolled objects is a game of catch for her -- most annoying in bocce, and potentially lethal in horseshoes. I'm too chicken at this point to attempt real golf (minus Miss G), but I do likes me some putt-putt golf once in awhile.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Meeting a Neighbor

The other day while poking around our detached garage (where we've been spending most of our days trying to divest ourselves of our accumulated junk and refashion the space into a craft studio and office) I saw a most amazing thing: a lizard.

Amazing because in Michigan lizards are few (only two species) and far between. I remember my father, a farmer who'd lived much of his life out of doors, commenting that he'd only seen an actual lizard (as opposed to salamanders and mud puppies, which some of the country folks lump into the same category) in the wild perhaps twice during his agricultural career. I myself had only ever seen one once as a child. During our trip to Orlando a couple years ago I couldn't get over the ubiquitous and at times Jurassic-Park-ishly disquieting presence of the little green anoles who seemed to be lurking in all the shrubbery.

So anyway, there was this lizard sunning itself on the landscaping stones around the garage foundation. I was fascinated by its sleek profile and curious, quirky manner. We spent a second or two sizing up one another. Then it quickly shot up underneath the siding.

I looked up the little creature I'd seen, and discovered that it was a six-lined racerunner, a lizard that, as its name implies, has a need for speed. It also seems to not only tolerate but enjoy hot temperatures, which makes our garage's sunny south side a logical choice for its summer R&R.

I'm kind of tickled that this critter has taken up residence at our place, and hope it lives a long, fulfilled life hunting bugs around the building and in our nearby garden.

Swearing on a Stack of Bibles

For some odd reason -- odd because I don't listen to contemporary Christian music unless I'm forced to -- I found myself, the other day, reading a blog dedicated to that musical genre. There is apparently a kerfuffle going on in those circles about the "explicit lyrics" of a song by someone named Derek Webb.

I read the lyrics. I read the frowny-faced comments by concerned CCM fans. And suddenly I had a flashback to 1979, when I was a freshman in college surrounded by members of groups like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Navigators and Campus Crusade. These were the kind of undergraduates who worried whether saying darn was taking the Lord's name in vain because it was just a bowlderized version of Goddamn, so anyone who actually knew the etymology of darn and said darn anyway was more or less saying Goddamn, and "I really need to pray about this, and if it is a sin I need to repent, because if I don't, when I die God is going to ask me why I loved saying darn more than I loved Him..." We Lutheran students, generally unsaddled by this degree of scrupulosity even in my then-LCMS congregation, would later wonder over our beers what in hell these people were going on about.

But anyway, back in the day, the same subset of Christians were having the same fits of moral outrage over then-CCM-identified-musician Bruce Cockburn's song "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," where he, speaking for all conflicted pacifists everywhere, waxed ironic with the confession, If I had a rocket launcher/some son-of-a-bitch would die. You would have thought he'd actually set the thing off and taken out a few dozen innocent civilians, the way some of the Christian listeners were carrying on. My reaction to that reaction was the same eye-roll I found myself giving this latest episode of goody-two-shoes angsting. I mean -- these lyrics will never (please, God) make it into an Oxford anthology of sacred music -- but if the singer/songwriter's intention was ironic, to call out the sanctimony of his demographic by eliciting a predictable response, then it was in its own way quite clever; although apparently not clever enough to lead the subjects to understand the "gotcha."

In high school my English teacher -- a part-time gentleman farmer and full-time conservative Baptist -- affirmed the judicious use of cusswords in literature. His observation: "When you're up to your knees in shit, there's not much else you can call it."

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Physical Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five asks us "about you and your beautiful temple of the Holy Spirit":

1. What was your favorite sport or outdoor activity as a child?
I was a great hiker through our farm fields. And -- believe it or not -- I enjoyed mowing the lawn.

2. P.E. class--heaven or the other place?
Definitely the other place. Back in the 60's and 70's, PE class had nothing to do with inculcating a personal health regimen or even awxappreciation of one's physicality. Naw -- it was all about burning off kids' excess energy between academic classes and, later on in middle and high school, identifying elite athletes for school teams; oh, and following a state reg. I'd like to think that things have changed, but I'm told that at least in my locality PE is the same-ol', same-ol', only with perhaps even less student enthusiasm.

3. What is your favorite form of exercise now?
I enjoy walking. I enjoy gardening, which can provide a pretty good non-aerobic workout. And, all appearances to the contrary, I do enjoy going to the gym and working on the machines. (Our best intentions to this fell by the wayside when our lives started getting busy again in the mid-winter, and I frankly don't know when we'll be able to start up again.)

4. Do you like to work out solo or with a partner?
I have to say, I enjoy walking alone, which is like a moving meditation for me -- and that way I only have to worry about my own pace. I enjoy working the gym machines with Fellow Traveler so we can talk while we exercise, and for the friendly competition.

5. Inside or outside?
Walking outside; everything else inside.

My own bonus question: A type of exercise I'd like to take up but haven't yet: Tai chi. I love watching tai chi practitioners doing their thing. Sadly, the last time I attempted this discipline -- using a DVD designed for older adults, I might add -- the instructor went too fast for me. Which tells you something about my ability to move easily in space.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Fashionista Friday Five

Image is everything in this week's RevGalBlogPal's Friday Five:

1. Are you a hoarder, or are you good at sorting and clearing?
Definitely the former. It was just this spring that I let go of my 20-year-old collection of paisley rayon work skirts. Because you just never know when one might come in handy...

2. What is the oddest garment you possess and why?
I have a Lost and Found souvenir T-shirt, purchased at our church, that features a chalice and the question "Sup?" When I wear it in public I get looks.

3. Do you have a favourite look/ colour?
For casual dress, I like L.L. Bean preppy. Well...if I don't have to be in public I like my flannel lounge pants and a T- or sweatshirt on top. If I am in public -- L.L. Beany. For more formal wear I like classic/tweedy. If I really have to put on glad rags...for some reason I'm fond of the drop-waisted styles of the 'Teens and Twenties, but since people who design clothes don't seem to share my enthusiasm I'll settle for something tailored looking.

4. Thrift/ Charity shops, love them or hate them?
I love to donate stuff to them. Shopping at them not so much. They never have my size, for one thing, and the whole foreign DNA/unknown history aspect makes me a little hesitant to purchase anything even in a well-kept store...which many around here are not.

5. Money is no object, what one item would you buy?
I would buy a classic, timelessly designed tweed jacket that really, really fit well.