Thursday, March 31, 2005

LutheranShiksa Studies Torah (and Makes Soup)

I'm just beginning my online class on "Torah, Talmud and Mishnah"...mastering the challenge of reading the Tanakh, even an English translation, from right to left, and learning about the Oral Torah, the body of laws and commentaries used in concert with the Tanakh. Among other things, it enhances my appreciation of Jesus' essential Jewishness -- the way he tells stories, the way he explains himself. Read this rabbinical parable:

B. Seder Eliyahu Zuta 2:
[A heretic asserted that] Scripture was given to us from Sinai, but not Mishnah. [Elijah answered him thus:] My son, were not both Scripture and Mishnah given by the Almighty? Does the fact that they are different from each other mean that both cannot have been given by Him? By what parable may the question be elucidated? By the one of a mortal king who had two servants, whom he loved with perfect love. To one he gave a measure of wheat, and to the other a measure of wheat; to one a bundle of flax, and to the other a bundle of flax. What did the clever one of the two do? He took the flax and wove it into a napkin. He took the wheat and made it into fine flour by sifting the grain and grinding it. Then he kneaded the dough and baked it, set the loaf of bread on the table, spread the napkin over the bread, and left it to await the coming of the king.
But the foolish one did not do anything at all.
After a while the king came into his house and said to the two servants: My sons, bring me what I gave you. One brought out the table with the loaf of bread baked of fine flour on it, with the napkin spread over the bread. The other brought out his wheat in a basket with a bundle of flax over the wheat grains.
What a shame! What a disgrace!
So, too, when the Holy One gave the Torah to Israel, He gave it as wheat to be turned into fine flour and as flax to be turned into cloth for garments.

This is great stuff; I'm looking forward to digging deeper in the weeks to come.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that, as I am writing this, a huge pot of chicken soup is simmering in the kitchen. Here is my recipe (I don't measure, so you're on your own; relax, don't stress, taste as you go, it'll be fine): I take meaty chicken parts; chicken broth; a few peppercorns; salt; chopped onion, a generous amount of garlic, celery, carrot and maybe some other root veggies like parsnips and turnips to make things a little more interesting. I put all this in a pot, top it off with water, bring it to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer it until the chicken is cooked through. I add a generous amount of dillweed (fresh if you can get it, which -- alas -- one cannot here in Outer Podunk) and a generous handful of parsley toward the end of the cooking. If you want chicken and rice soup, that's the time to add some rice. Or you can pour the soup over cooked noodles of your choice. Tonight I'm making spaetzle -- the little freeform dumplings -- and dropping them in the simmering soup.

This soup will cure most things that ail you, and it will also make your house smell wonderful. So make it already -- you look thin. Mazel tov!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Meet a Few Other LutheranChiks

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the Peep is heard in our land. Posted by Hello

Monday, March 28, 2005

Going Back For Mary

I enjoyed playing hooky from work today to take my mother to an out-of-town doctor's appointment (a statement indicating how boring life really is here in Outer Podunk). In addition to a pleasant road trip during which we saw a real live bluebird perched on a wire -- LutheranChik the birder became all excited and almost missed a turn -- I also got to read, while sitting in the waiting room, a recent issue of Time magazine whose cover article, "Hail, Mary," was all about Protestants' increasing appreciation of the Virgin Mary. Feminism, liberation theology, the ecumenical movement -- all have made Protestants more comfortable thinking and talking about Jesus' mother and the role she played in Scripture and in the collective mind of the early Church. It was interesting to me that two theologians in my own tradition, Robert Jenson and Carl Braaten, are in the vanguard of the "going back for Mary" movement. I also enjoyed a quote by the Rev. Peter Gomes, who tells a joke about a Protestant theologian who dies, goes to heaven and is being introduced all around by Jesus, who says, "Now, I know you know my Father, but I don't think you've met my Mother yet."

I am still trying to decide how the BVM fits into my own personal spirituality. For me she's not an end run around Christian patriarchy, because I have no problem at all integrating the feminine face of God into Christianity. I have certainly experienced a Mothering as well as Fathering God; I once compared my initially reluctant return to the Christian fold to an exhausted, red-faced, post-tantrum toddler still gasping teary protestations while Mom patiently carries her out of the supermarket and takes her home. And -- I think this may be a mortal sin in some circles -- sometimes the Holy Spirit reminds me of one of my college roommates, an alarmingly hyper, perpetually positive Irish gal a la Mary Catherine Gallagher on SNL, who was always either encouraging the downhearted or persistently nudging us toward greatness: "Go for it! You can do it! I know you can! Try it! Did you try it? Go ahead! Come on! Hey -- I have an idea!..." And, as constant readers may have noticed here, outside my formal prayer and worship time I have what some might consider a frighteningly familiar relational style with all three Persons of the Trinity.

But the Mary the Mother of Jesus...even though I see her not as some ethereal young thing but rather an earthy, tough-minded, right-on woman, for some reason she makes me feel -- how can I describe this? -- shy; I want to keep my gaze directed down at my shoes while I dig the toes nervously into the dirt, mumbling, "Yes, ma'am." I'm not sure what that's all about. But I think I'd like to get to know her better. After all, her kid's my Boss.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

"Don't cling to me as if you're going to lose me again..." Doesn't that translation of Jesus' curious "noli me tangere" comment make much more sense than the quasi-Gnostic ("Don't defile me with your corrupt human flesh!") or misogynistic ("Ooooh...girl germs!") spins sometimes given to the text in John's Gospel? I think so. the way...isn't this an awesome William Morris stained glass window? Posted by Hello

He is Risen -- He is Risen Indeed!

Seven Stanzas at Easter
by John Updike

Make no mistake: If he rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as his Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of his eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that -- pierced -- died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

Artwork: "Easter Morning" by He Qi Posted by Hello

Friday, March 25, 2005

Nailed It

Back when I began this blog, around the start of Lent, I described how at our church we'd been encouraged to take a nail and keep it with us for the duration of that season, living our personal failings and burdens into it. On Good Friday, we could bring back our nails and pound them into a piece of wood, symbolically nailing our pain to the cross. I said that I was going to carry my nail on behalf of all the people who, for whatever reason, don't feel they have a home in the Church.

Well, tonight, at our Tenebrae service, we pounded those nails into a rough-hewn cross at the front of the sanctuary. It wasn't a sorrowful ritual; as our pastor noted of the entire evening, "This isn't a funeral for Jesus," and there was a palpable feeling of relief and gratitude.

Somehow -- not quite sure of the logistics -- this beam is going to be incorporated into our new building addition. I love that idea -- that all the physical and other pain, all the oppression, all the trouble that we've been carrying with us, is going to be transformed into "a new thing."

Behold the Bridegroom

But at midnight there was a shout, "Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him." -- Matthew 25:6

This is an icon of Christ as Nymphios, The Bridegroom of the soul and of the whole people of God. The irony of the Christian story is that the Bridegroom makes his trip down the aisle to meet us beaten and bloody; says his "I do" as he's being nailed to a cross. If you look at his hands here, you'll see that they're bound loosely; his suffering with us and for us is voluntary, entered into out of love...not some sort of high-minded, ethereal love, but a passionate love that will go anywhere and do anything for us.

Writes Mother Teresa, in the voice of Christ:

I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe my love for you: I thirst for you. I thirst to love and be loved by you -- that is how precious you are to me. I thirst for you. Come to me, and fill your heart and heal your wounds.

Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Maundy Thursday

I just got back home from church.

On Maundy Thursday, in lieu of the traditional service, at our church we have...a church supper, pretty much like other church fellowship meals, with bread and stew and dessert. But at our church we incorporate John's account of the Last Supper, in word and song, into our meal, and we celebrate the Eucharist as a part of the meal. Our observance also provides "teachable moments" for our pastor to explain the Lutheran understanding of the Eucharist, and to talk about how the way we worship is grounded in Jesus' last hours on this earth with his friends. We've been observing Maundy Thursday this way ever since "we" were "they" to me, which is something like seven years ago. Every year it runs a bit more smoothly; every year we attract more people.

If I had to pick a word that encapsulated the mood of the evening, I'd choose caring. Not in a saccharine, superficial way. Real caring.

Caring when my mother almost tripped down the stairs. Back on Christmas Eve she took a header off a step elsewhere in the church and broke her wrist, an accident that has made her lose confidence in her footing, and even more prone to falling than before. This time, though, she was gripping the railing with her good hand and caught herself. A disabled woman, someone new to me who was standing next to me, approached Mom and haltingly asked, "Are you okay? Are you sure you're okay?" She let us pass her in the line so we could get down the next flight of stairs together.

Caring when members of the worship committee washed our hands and rubbed them with lotion. They do this every year. It's a very moving act. It's ironic, isn't it, that in our culture the people we entrust to bathe us and otherwise attend to our intimate needs are usually at the very bottom of the socioeconomic scale. Not too long ago I was reading a book about caregiving in which a nurse talked about how important it was to her personally to do her job in a way that minimized the shame that dependent people often feel about having to rely on others for the most basic of care; that she felt this was a part of her caring vocation. I thought about that, having my hands washed for me. I also smiled to myself, remembering my dream this morning; sometimes it's nice to just have someone touch your hands.

Caring when we served one another at table. Because my mother is so frail, because she's hard of hearing and because she can get anxious and confused in out-of-the-ordinary events like this, I find myself always on guard, watching to see if she's okay, if she needs help or prompting. And -- I'm ashamed to say this -- sometimes I feel resentful having to do this, especially in a worship setting. I think, "I wish I could just lose myself in this moment, instead of having to divide my attention." Tonight, though, looking around...I saw so many people who are also taking care of parents or grandparents or kids. In one of our church families, every member carries the burden of a different medical condition; they all have to take turns being "the strong one" for one another. Sometimes we church people make "servanthood" sound like some sort of special ascetic practice, when for most of us at some point in our lives it's just what we do; it's the attitudinal aspect that needs work, not the work itself.

Caring when we shared the peace. I had been concerned about the disabled woman we'd met on the stair landing, because I couldn't figure out who'd brought her to church, and I wanted to make sure she was sitting next to someone who would look out for her. (I think one of the silver linings of always feeling different from the norm is that we different folks tend to look out for one another.) But the woman wound up at the same table as our pastor and his wife; a good place to be. When it came time to share the peace of Christ, she got up and made a beeline for our table, where for reasons I'm not quite sure -- maybe because I had said, "Thank you," and meant it, when she'd been concerned about my mom -- she threw her arms around me: "The peace of Christ be with you!" she exclaimed with a big grin. I responded, "You know, I am so glad that you're with us tonight. Is this your first time at our church?" "Oh, yes," she responded, beaming, "and it's wonderful."

Caring when our pastor read Jesus' High Priestly Prayer from the Gospel of John, where he prays for his friends -- for all of us, at all times and in all places:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Now the irony of the evening: The Jesus who prays this prayer for all of us, who has moved us all, for all our various reasons, to come together in our little parish week after week in his name, to care about him and what he has to say, and to care for others on his behalf, comes to the point in his life where the caring seems to disappear -- where his anguished prayers to be spared are not answered; where his friends won't stay awake with him in his distress; where they all run away, and leave him to his fate.

A Little Comic Relief

Our eyes have met
Our lips, not yet
But -- oh, you kid! -- I'll get you yet!

This post has nothing to do with Maundy Thursday, or with the Triduum in general, or with theological profundity of any kind. (If you can find theological profundity in it, you win an honorary doctor's beret.) No; this is one of those annoying watercooler moments when someone feels compelled to tell you all about the weird dream she had last night while you nod politely and brux your teeth because you so don't care. But this is my blog, and I can write about anything I want on it; learn to deal.

Anyway, in my dream, I'm on a first date. (The big tipoff that this is indeed a dream.) Actually, the object of my desire is spending an entire day with me, in a home I wish were mine in real life. We've just had a lovely dinner for two, which has inexplicably involved enough pots and pans to stock a Williams-Sonoma store; so we're doing dishes. Our soapy hands brush against one another. We exchange meaningful looks. I'm leaning over, just millimeters -- millimeters, gentle readers! -- from my sweet baboo's cheek, about to engage in a soulful, sudsy kiss...when someone interrupts us. And this scenario happens over and over and over again, in an escalating comedy of errors involving my deceased father come back to life, a lecherous stranger who looks like Onslow in "Keeping Up Appearances" and his vengeful wife, and the sudden realization that I'm AWOL from a very important out-of-town meeting for work. The best we two thwarted lovers can manage are occasional wistful gazes, from a distance, amidst the chaos.

"Drat," I thought when I woke up. (That's not really the word I used, but this is a family blog.)

I'm thinkin' we probably don't need to page Dr. Jung to catch the drift of this particular message from my unconscious.

Ah, well.

Suddenly I have a burning desire to wash lots and lots of dishes. Where's the Palmolive?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Thy Will Be Done

Whoever serves me, must follow me, and my servant will be with me wherever I am. If anyone serves me, my Father will honor him. -- from the Gospel of John

"Thy will be done," in its full extent, must be the guideline for the Christian life. It must regulate the day from morning to evening, the course of the year, and the entire of life. Only then will it be the sole concern of the Christian. All other concerns the Lord takes over. This one alone, however, remains ours as long as we live. And, sooner or later, we begin to realize this. In the childhood of the spiritual life, when we have just begun to allow ourselves to be directed by God, we feel his guiding hand quite firmly and surely. But it doesn't always stay that way. Whoever belongs to Christ must go the whole way with him. He must mature to adulthood; he must one day or other walk the way of the cross to Gethsemane and Golgotha.

-- Edith Stein

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Loving Extravagance

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was filled with the scent of the ointment. Then Judas Iscariot—one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him—said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contents. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; let her keep it for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’ -- from the Gospel of John

I wonder...if I let myself offer Jesus a spontaneous, irrational, non-utilitarian, extravagant act of love and worship, what might that look like?

Something to think about this week.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Making an Ass of Myself

I was going to write a really fabulous essay about our Palm Sunday Gospel lesson and post it here today. I tried to compose it last night...I had clever allusions to Monty Python, San Fransisco's late Emperor Norton I and the Burger King, and I was waiting for that wonderful "aha" moment in the writing process when it all comes together, like when you're kneading bread dough and suddenly you can feel the elasticity under the heels of your hands and know it's ready for rising.

I was going to do that. But then I went to church this morning (where, incidentally, I got to play the role of Peter in a dramatic reading of the Passion -- I told my pastor, "Exciteable; clueless; fails in the clinch; yeah, I can do that") and heard a message that's much better. I don't think my pastor will mind me paraphrasing it here. Probably not. I guess. Whatever.

My pastor shared with us that, once upon a time, he was asked to deliver the sermon at the ordination of a young man who'd been active in the campus ministry of the university parish my pastor had once served. My pastor decided to use today's Gospel lesson as the sermon text, and informed the young man that he'd be preaching about...the donkeys.

"The donkeys? You're going to talk about donkeys at my ordination?"

My pastor explained: Who better to identify with, in the Palm Sunday text, than the donkeys? Standing there on the street, minding their own business, thinking their own donkey thoughts, until suddenly strangers come up to them, grab their halters and say, "The Lord has need of you"? And before they know it, they are bearing Christ into the most important event the world has ever known.

"The Lord has need of you." That's the subtext of our baptisms...our conversions, if we've had those metanoia moments as adults...our vocations. Not that many years ago I found myself being dragged by the halter -- with the reaction you'd expect of your average jackass -- back into a life of faith; back into the job of carrying Christ into the world.

Later in the morning we sang a song with lyrics that went something like, "Ride on, Jesus, in our hearts; ride on, Jesus, in our hands."

The Lord has need of us.


Friday, March 18, 2005

He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother

I loved my first grade teacher, Mrs. Peters, with a fierce and loyal love. She thought I was smart; unlike my exasperated old kindergarten teacher, who treated me like a nuisance because I was bored to tears by school, intimidated by the other children and otherwise not easily pigeonholed in her normal-school pedagogy, Mrs. Peters encouraged me to read books and explore my interests beyond her lesson plans, and she stuck up for me. I was a sickly kid who always had to stay inside at recess, so Mrs. Peters let me help her decorate her bulletin boards. As far as I was concerned, Mrs. Peters was my savior. I would have walked over broken glass for her. And so when I heard other children say disparaging things about her -- "I hate Mrs. Peters! She's mean! She's ugly!" -- it was like someone stabbing me in the heart.

This is how I feel sometimes when I hear people who grew up in dysfunctional churches with terrible religious instruction, who were bombarded with macabre details of the Passion and taught to feel personally responsible for every whiplash on Jesus' back and every hammer-pound of nails into his flesh, say that they can't feel close to Jesus; that he creeps them out; makes them feel uncomfortable, and judged, and so they'd rather avoid him. I was listening to theologian Karen Armstrong on "Fresh Air" this evening on the way home from work, and this was her experience of Christ as a child and as a nun. I know someone on Beliefnet, a progressive Catholic who has mentioned similarly gruesome childhood catechetical messages, and who seems to feel the same way; if she's waxing theological on a topic thread and someone else mentions Jesus you can practically hear her hair stand on end. She changes the subject as quickly as possible.

This makes me want to weep; it really does. A knife in the heart again. Because this isn't the Jesus I grew up with, or the Jesus I know now. Even when I went on an extended Christianity vacation in my 30's, I was never angry with Jesus; I felt bad for him for having such insane, revolting friends, who seemed to think and teach and do the exact opposite of what he said and did in the Gospels. (A thought that still surfaces from time to time, although now I am more able to, on any given day, recognize myself in that number.)

Of all the things my old childhood Missouri Synod church and Sunday School got wrong (in my humble opinion), one of the things they got right was teaching me about a Jesus who was not only a Savior but a Friend, a Confidante, a Big Brother. One of my earliest childhood memories is of running around the sanctuary as a tiny kid, while my parents were doing janitorial duty, and being absolutely mesmerized by an old German painting of Christ the Good Shepherd at the front of the church. I was never afraid of him. I wasn't told, in graphic detail, that I had personally helped kill him. Instead I was told that he had helped me, more than I could understand, and that he would always help me.

That message, I see more and more, is a real gift. I just wish I could pass it along to Christendom's walking wounded who find Jesus someone to run away from.

'The Scariest Way to Die -- Disappearing in Plain View"

I work with older adults. One of our friends in another local agency faxed us a Mark Hare column in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, about a man named Charles Lyon, found dead in his home in Rochester. It's estimated that he had been dead for three months or more before he was found. He had no family in the area and no close friends.

Lyon had been ill for a long time and had regular visits from a county caseworker. When she visited the home in November and December of last year and got no response from Lyon, neighbors told her they thought he'd gone into a nursing home. When she couldn't find him in the system she called the police, who determined that they didn't have sufficient cause to enter the home. The caseworker contacted the police again, and 12 days later they did go inside the home, where they found Lyon dead.

Tony Powlowski, a neighbor of Lyon's, noted, "People need to pay more attention to each other."

Hare writes: "The death of Charles Lyon is troubling because it represents a reality none of us wants. Each of us wants to matter, to be important to the people in our lives. This is part of the human essence -- the deep desire to be a part of community, to impact those in our community, to leave something of ourselves behind, to know that we will be missed."

Hare goes on to say, "And then one day, probably in October, [Lyon] went inside his house and never left it again. Somewhere along the way, Charles Lyon became disconnected; he lost contact with family and friends. He knew his neighbors, but only superficially. It's not uncommon. We are acquainted with the people who live nearby, but that doesn't mean we have a relationship, or a key to their homes, or permission to check in when we suspect trouble...there is a natural tendency to keep our distance for the sake of our privacy. But that impulse carries a great risk. It is rare indeed to become as disconnected as Charles Lyon was at the end of life, but it is possible.

"More than 400 years ago, poet John Donne wrote that 'no man is an island, entire of itself; each man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.' Sadly, as Tony Powlowski says, if we don't 'pay more attention to each other,' some will drift out to sea."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Get the Net

Calling all theology geeks: Fisher's Net, which I learned about in my LMTP program, is a cool little website where you can enroll in both personal-enrichment and for-credit classes offered by various Lutheran seminaries (you don't have to be Lutheran to enroll); there's also a link to Faith and Wisdom, a more ecumenical website that also offers opportunities for adult learners. And you can hook up with some upcoming online book discussions, including "Loving Jesus" by Mark Allan Powell, and "Food For Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating" by L. Shannon Jung, both of which books have gotten some positive buzz.

I recently signed up for the "Torah, Talmud and Mishnah" class, taught by Rabbi Joan Friedman -- I'm looking forward to this. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pray the Psalms

Thanks to my friend Melancthon for his thoughts on Praying the Psalms . It helped me readjust my attitude today.

A good psalm for me tonight:

Psalm 32 Beati quorum

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt.

I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

You are my hiding-place;you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye.

Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; who must be fitted with bit and bridle,or else they will not stay near you."

Great are the tribulations of the wicked; but mercy embraces those who trust in the LORD.

Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the LORD; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Diary of a Clueless Lutheran Woman

For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. -- St. Paul

If you knew, through your own experience, that you could do something every day that consistently made you aware of the loving embrace of God, that brought you peace, that made you feel more loving and forgiving toward others, that helped you make sense of your'd do it; right?

Likewise, if you knew, through your own experience, that a behavior consistently made you angry and depressed, weakened your faith, caused occasion for you to sin against others, created disorder in your'd avoid that behavior like the plague; right?

I've been neglecting the Daily Office and my own extemporaneous prayers lately...missing prayers, missing entire days of prayer, or else just phoning it in. Letting myself get sidetracked by stupid, stupid distractions. Not taking care of myself, then finding myself too exhausted to string two thoughts together at the end of the day.

On the other hand, I have been embroiled in a series of fruitless, circuitous theological slap-fights on Beliefnet. This after intending to make the avoidance of recreational argumentation a goal for my Lenten observance -- a vow that lasted all of, I think, two hours, to be sure, but that I've been violating with increasing vigor in the last week or so.

How foolish -- utterly foolish -- can I be?

Sigh. Sometimes this Christian thing is just so hard.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Some Belated Thoughts on Lent

...he allows some of us to fall harder and more seriously than we have ever done before, as we imagine. And then we suppose that we are not entirely wise, and that all we have begun is nothing. But this is not so. For it is necessary for us to fall, and it is necessary for us to see it.
If we did not fall, we would not know how feeble and wretched we are of ourselves, nor should we know so fully the marvellous love of our maker…. We shall see in truth that we never lost any of his love, nor were we ever of less worth in his sight. And by the test of this failure we shall have a noble and marvellous knowing of love in God….
-- from Julian of Norwich on Sin, excerpted by Elizabeth G. Melillo

I know a pastor who, in discussing Lenten disciplines, points out that the value of keeping them is not in keeping them perfectly, but rather in failing at them...that it's at that point when we've fallen flat on our faces, when we're lying there bruised and breathing in the dirt, that we find ourselves in a place where we can meet the Christ who fell under the weight of his cross; who knows.

Today I've been feeling very displeased with myself for a number of reasons, including my spotty observance of the Lenten disciplines I'd placed myself under this year. Reading Julian helped me remember what I needed to, to make sense of the last few weeks.

Posted by Hello

Friday, March 11, 2005

Online Faith Community -- An Oxymoron?

It’s a scene out of an old movie. A train is about to leave the station. One person is inside a car, looking out; another person is standing on the platform, looking in. The two people reach up for the window; their hands align on either side of the glass . The train starts to move; the person on the platform walks, then trots, alongside the train, as long as possible, but finally is left there alone, waving, as the train steams away.

This is what the Internet community feels like to me sometimes. We form relationships; sometimes genial or even affectionate ones, sometimes antagonistic ones, sometimes a bit of both; but there’s always a pane of anonymity keeping things “virtual.” And there’s a transience as well; people come and go, often with no explanation, often after sharing their feelings and experiences in very self-disclosing ways that beg for some kind of supportive response. I know there have been countless times online when I’ve read a post that’s moved me profoundly to do something…but how do you communicate the equivalent of, “Hey – let’s take a walk outside and talk about this some more,” with a screen name? And if that person were me, how welcoming would I be of someone reacting in that way to my own gut spillage – would I be relieved, or annoyed, or frightened that I’d run into the friendly neighborhood online stalker?

How can people of faith be the Body of Christ for one another, take care of one another, in an online context? Is it even possible in any but the most superficial of ways? What about the person who, for whatever reason, has little or no connection to a flesh-and-blood faith community, who experiences Christian community primarily via the Internet? What is the best way for the rest of us to serve one another here?

This is ministry territory that I think we’re only beginning to chart, and I’d really love to explore this topic with anyone interested.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Every true call is a call to obey God; indeed the word obedience comes from the Latin audire, which means to listen. -- from Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community

Okay. I'm ready to share this. Here’s my religious experience story. Some of you will read it and think, "Wow – cool." Others will read it and think, "Got sanity?" Whatever. It happened to me.

This happened to me a couple of months ago. It was maybe 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning when I awoke suddenly. (Usually this is because my little dog is standing on my fanny – his signal to me to let him out – but this time I just woke up.) I opened my eyes; tried to get my bearings; yawned.

Get on your knees and pray.

You know the monkey-mind mental chatter that runs through our heads all day? This wasn’t it. It was a thought from somewhere else, inserting itself into my own thoughts. That's the only way I can describe it.

That’s weird, I remember thinking. This must be one of those lucid dreams. I patted my face; pinched my arm. No; I’m awake; I can’t be dreaming.

Come on. Get on your knees and pray. It wasn’t an imperious, James-Earl-Jonesian/Barbara Jordanesque command...when I thought about it later, it was more like the Gnat in Alice Through the Looking Glass; a quiet, friendly Presence. The Presence almost seemed...amused. Unlike me; at this point I was starting to break into a cold sweat.

Get on your knees and pray. The Presence had an element of tease; as if the next thought might be, I double-dog dare you. Which would have been funny, if I hadn't been so frightened of what was happening inside my head.

"WHY?" I finally addressed the Presence. (I love this part; this is so me.)

Just get on your knees and pray.

So...I did. I knelt down at the side of my bed, like a little kid, my knees quivering. I was certain that I’d finally lost it. Oh, least they’d find me praying and not, say, standing at the edge of the roof, ready to fly off.

"What should I pray about?"

Anything. Pray the way you always do.

So I did, there in the dark, kneeling on the carpet; for "the whole world, the whole Church of God and for all according to their needs," as I do every evening. Except at this point I was overcome by the sense that I was in the midst of something very real and important, that I was always going to remember, to the end of my days.

I finished praying, when it seemed like a good point to finish. A pause.

That’s fine. You can go back to bed now.

I got back under the covers. I was shaking all over.

"What just happened to me?"

I just wanted to see if you would do that if I asked you to.

That’s when I started crying. And laughing. You’ve got to love a God who does things like this.

But, being me, just as a reality check, when I got up later that morning I fired off an e-mail to a charismatic friend of mine, describing this encounter: "Was this God, or was this me?" The response came back quickly, "Honey, you know who it was. Keep listening."

Has this experience changed my life? Yeah; I think it has. In good ways; in ways that have underscored for me the conviction that I am being led, although I’m not quite sure where. The other day I found myself praying, "Thank you for giving me a job, even though I really don’t know what it is."

I wanted to share this story, because I suspect there are other people out there who have had similar experiences, who haven’t felt comfortable sharing them or who haven't gotten much validation from other Christians. If that describes you, and you are reading this: Don’t be afraid. Honey, you know who it is. And keep listening.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Into the Mystic

It’s Sunday morning adult class at St. Paul’s. A dozen people are sitting at the front of the sanctuary, flipping through their handouts, as Pastor Schneckenlaufen commences the next installment of “Fancy Greek Words That Lutherans Like to Use to Make Ourselves Sound Really, Really Smart.”

Pastor: I’ve been looking forward to today’s class because we’ve got not one but three great words to discuss…kairos, kenosis and kerygma. And, no, kerygma is not a skin disease. Hahahaha! That was a joke. So if Margie can get the ball rolling this morning by reading the first paragraph of our…Margie? Margie?

Margie: Oh…sorry, Pastor.

Pastor: You seem a little distracted. Is anything wrong?

Margie: Well, not wrong, but…um…hmmm…how do I…um…I guess I have something to say to you all…I just can’t keep it inside anymore…and I know this is going to for some of you to hear, but this...well, this is just part of who I am…and we’re all sisters and brothers in Christ, and I hope you’ll try and understand and not judge me…the thing is, I…aw, gee whiz…oh, God, this is so hard…I haven’t even told my parents…I…I…oh, Margie, just say it…[deep breath]…I have recently had a religious experience.

A collective gasp fills the sanctuary. Someone leaps up and runs to the church office to find the emergency number for Community Mental Health. Old Mrs. Carlson faints dead away.

Pastor: I don’t mean to be insensitive, Margie, but couldn’t you have waited, at least until I got through kenosis?


Lutherans don't do mysticism well. For people who grow up learning to ask, "What does this mean?" in a theological context, when that question moves from the academic realm to the experiential one, we get nervous; we tend to agree with theologian Karl Rahner, who once quipped that the problem with mysticism is, it begins in "mist" and ends in schism. I used to agree with that assessment. (Until The CEO persuaded me otherwise.)

I think the problem is less that Lutheran theology per se is antagonistic toward Christian mysticism -- we know that the medieval Rhineland mystics influenced Luther's thought, and there are certain thematic threads woven through Lutheran theology that I believe lend themselves to a more direct, receptive experience of God -- and more that, in our church culture, it's bad form to be "different" by talking about our personal encounters with God. In the words of the Lake Wobegonians, Who do you think you are?

One of the real benefits I have found in paying more attention to my prayer life and following a more structured personal spiritual practice has been an increasing feeling of closeness to God. Sometimes this has indeed manifested itself in that exciting, scary phenomenon of religious experience...things as subtle as feeling a divine hand of benediction on my shoulder in the course of the day or as dramatic as...well, I'm working myself up to sharing that incident here. And it can be rather lonely not knowing with whom I can be self-disclosing. I recall one online exchange with a fellow Lutheran -- someone I've known for years, who enjoys Godtalking with me -- during which I attempted to broach the subject of my own religious experience, and I could almost hear him, a couple of thousands of miles away, hastily sliding his chair away from his computer in distaste. Talk about the love that dare not speak its name.

Why is it so hard for us to talk about how God makes Godsself known to us?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Greetings From The CEO

I think this is a particularly wonderful icon -- and I'm not just saying that because I work for The CEO. In the words of the Gloria in Luther's Deutsche Liedmesse, "Happy are we who have such a fine Lord!"

I keep this Christ Pantocrator on my laptop desktop, to keep me honest...frankly, some days when I turn on my computer the image is so lifelike at first glance that it startles the stuffing right out of me. The face is rendered asymmetrically -- Christ's left, our right, portrays Christ the Righteous Judge, while his right side, our left, portrays Christ the Compassionate Savior. That raised eyebrow has readjusted my attitude more than once; on the other hand, when I've had a miserable day, I see, "I know. But it' s going to be okay. Trust me." And...every once in awhile I'm sure I detect a little smile. Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 05, 2005

So Many Books, So Little Time...

Since I've begun tackling the LMTP reading list, it's been surprising to me how much I enjoy being a student again. After several years of intellectual non-stimulation during which I felt my brain cells popping into oblivion one by one, like bubble-wrap blisters in the hands of an obsessive-compulsive, it's envigorating to actually be expected to learn things. (I wish I'd felt this way when I was, say, 20, and paying beaucoups bucks for the privilege.)

Right now for class I am reading:

the Pentateuch (with the benefit of my New Interpreter's Study Bible; worth the investment)

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism as a Way of Life by Dan Erlander (a great refresher on the basic principles of Lutheranism...the groovy hand-printed text also gets me waxing nostalgic for my crunchy-granola student days)

Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community by Farnham, Gill, McLean and Ward

Also on the nightstand, on the recommendation of others:

God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallis. Great book...a bit self-referential, a la Matthew Fox, but Wallis issues a stinging and timely critique of both "red" and "blue" mindsets.

No Experience Necessary: On-the-Job Training For a Life of Faith by Kelly A. Fryer. This is a nifty little primer for newbie Christians, especially Gen-Xers. Long-in-the-tooth, been-around Lutheran chick that I am, I was a little hesitant to get this book because in the reviews the content sounded so basic, but I'm glad I did. I've been recommending it all over Beliefnet, where I encounter so many Christian newbies with little or no guidance as far as practical living into the faith, other than the usual pop-Christianity platitudes. Fryer is colloquial, for sure, but the book has some there there.

On deck, on the nightstand:

Quarks, Chaos and Christianity by John Polkinghorne. I have to admit that I am not in a very quarky place right now (although I am quite acquainted with chaos), so I've not gotten beyond chapter 2 of this book, which discusses the relationship of science and religion, especially in light of the "new physics"...but I'm trusting that once my brain synapses have been sufficiently massaged by all my other reading material, my ability to process Polkinghorne will improve.

Jesus of Nazareth by Dorothee Soelle and Luise Schottroff. This book presents a portrait of Jesus informed not only by the historical and cultural contexts in which he lived, but also by feminist theology, liberation theology and dialogue with contemporary Jewish theologians. Great artwork, too.

Restless in Christ by Sarah Stockton. I purchased this book only because 1) I liked the title -- when I saw it on the shelf I said, "Hey -- me too!"; and 2) I am on a mission to support our new local independent a semi-literate blue-collar town of 3,000, it is a quixotic venture on the scale of, "I know! Let's build an opera house in the Amazon!" So I send my book business their way. (Obviously the proprietors are loving my new academic endeavor.) I've not begun reading it; hope it lives up to the blurb on the back cover.

In answer to the anticipated question: Every once in awhile I just read a Patricia Cornwell or Dan Silva thriller, and when I get to The Big City I've even been known to purchase a Funny Times.

Friday, March 04, 2005


An old buddy and coworker of mine – ex-Marine, Vietnam vet, Zen Congregationalist, hunter/angler, baker, gardener, musician, writer, surrogate brother; one of those riddle-in-an-enigma people we should all have on our life list of friends – was one of the most serene, peaceloving human beings I have ever known. But every so often some person or situation would rile him to the point where he could be heard to murmur, quietly but with great depth of feeling, “I’m just about ready to go out and commit slappage.”

That’s how I’ve felt for the past couple of weeks, toward a number of my sisters and brothers in Christ: I’ve wanted to commit slappage. Not only slappage, but in some cases knee-in-groinage. Hurtage.

When I encounter another bloodied casualty of Christian bigotry, ready to leave the family for good because it’s just too painful and tiring to endure any more abuse, I want to commit slappage.

When I encounter histrionic, culturally aggressive Christians like one of my state's legislators, who this week is embarking on a dog-and-pony show around Michigan with a slab bearing the Ten Commandments -- I want to commit slappage.

When I encounter Christians who so egregiously don’t get the holy mystery of the Eucharist that they kvetch about it, muttering and pointing at their watches even as it’s being celebrated (“It makes the service so loooooooong…”), I want to commit slappage.

When I encounter “usual suspects” online who delight in dropping rhetorical bombshells on Christian discussion forums because for them it’s all about “wrangling over words” and pissing people off, or who use the most tortured pseudo-logic imaginable to argue ridiculous points (“Be not yoked with unbelievers” = “We shouldn’t pay taxes”; I still haven’t been able to do the math on that one), I want to commit slappage.

If I were the Grand Wazoo of Christianity, I’d be doing the French Foreign Legion thing right about now: Leather glove in hand, stalking down a row of assorted Christian screw-ups, snarling, “You are a disgrace to the name”…miters flying, stoles ripping, WWJD necklaces yanked off necks…slap…slap…slap...slap...

So I’m reading this Sunday’s Gospel lesson. Great story. Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath, adding some guerilla-theater flair by kneading mud and spit into an ointment for the guy’s eyes in direct violation of the no-kneading-on-the-Sabbath rule. The religious bigshots freak out and direct their ire toward – hello – the (formerly) blind guy, kicking him out of the synagogue for having the audacity to get well on the wrong day of the week and not be as offended by this as they are. Jesus finds him, introduces himself (the guy having been...well, blind when Jesus healed him) and makes some caustic comments about who the “blind” and who the “seeing” really are in all of this.

I’m reading this, and suddenly the extremely uncomfortable thought pops into my head: I am a Pharisee. I am someone who wants to whap the rest of the Christian community into shape by making everyone else think and do all the right things, all the time. Because, deep down, I embrace the conceit that I have it right, or righter than most. Whatever noble intentions about "living Christ into the world" motivate me, in the end it all gets twisted into hitting back, into “those stupid [bleeps],” into “winning,” into what the old Transactional Analysis types called “Now I’ve got you, you SOB.” And instead of pulling more people onto the bus, I find myself wanting to push people off.

Now I want to commit slappage on myself.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Revolutionary Patience

From Dorothee Soelle's poem "Revolutionary Patience":

I don't as they put it believe in god
but to him I cannot say no hard as I try
take a look at him in the garden
when his friends ran out on him
his face wet with fear
and with the spit of his enemies
him I have to believe

Him I can't bear to abandon
to the great disregard for life
to the monotonous passing of millions of years
to the moronic rhythms of work leisure and work
to the boredom we fail to dispel
in cars in beds in stores
That’s how it is they say what do you want
uncertain and not uncritically

I subscribe to the other hypothesis
which is his story
that’s not how it is he said for god is
and he staked his life on this claim
Thinking about it I find
one can’t let him pay alone
for his hypothesis
so I believe him about

The way one believes another’s laughter
his tears
or marriage or no for an answer
that’s how you’ll learn
to believe him about life
promised to all

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Strange Bedfellows

Thoughts from Barbara Taylor Brown, in her essay "Truth to Tell":

One of the many things [the Passion] story tells us is that Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God's will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff's office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar.