Saturday, July 30, 2005

Enough Already!

How much is "enough"?

In our society, and in the depths of our psyches, the answer may well be "Never enough."

The powers and principalities, the various impersonal systems that run our world, keep us in a state of constant perceived want and in constant fear of not having enough -- enough money; enough stuff; enough status; enough power; enough love. But these systems can only be as good as the people running them; and because we are flawed, inward-curved creatures the gaping maw of "never enough" exists within each of us. Whether we're a two-year-old howling in rage at being asked to share a toy...a teenager tormented by self-loathing because we don't perceive ourselves to be loveable or attractive or adult caught in the game of "whoever dies with the most toys wins" elderly miser with a death grip on our wealth, to the point of self-neglect...any of us in between, with our own secret bottomless pits of wants and lists of fears...we can find ourselves enslaved by the twin masters of disordered wants and fear of not having enough. L. Shannon Jung, author of Food For Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating, likens this brokenness to the Tibetan Buddhist concept of the "hungry ghost" -- an entity always eating, yet always famished, never getting enough of what it desires.

This dyfunctional dynamic, aided and abetted by our institutional religious experience, can even affect our spiritual lives. We may grow up in a religious milieu where we are constantly exhorted to be perfect or "good enough" to make God love us or at least keep from damning us, where it's all about "earning points by doing stuff"; and when we fail to live up to expectations, we live in terror of God's wrath. Or our fear of not enough may give us a distorted perception of God's grace and mercy as a limited quantity, and that if grace is extended toward the "wrong" person, or to too many people, it somehow diminishes our grace, our relationship with God.

That is the way it works in the world, when we run the show. But in today's Gospel lesson, Jesus gives us a lesson in God's economy, in God's reign.

Jesus has just received terrible, shocking news: His cousin John, his precursor and fellow preacher in proclaiming the inbreaking reign of God, has been beheaded by Herod. Jesus would have been heartbroken on a personal level; perhaps John's death would have also led him to question the validity of his own mission. He wants to go away with his disciples to a quiet place, and attempts to do so by boat; but the people whom he has taught and healed won't leave him alone. They follow him by the thousands on foot along the shore as Jesus heads for a deserted place. They meet him there. In the midst of Jesus' own sorrow, he feels compassion for these needy people, and helps them, until day turns into evening. The disciples -- evidently feeling that the crowds were imposing on their teacher's time and energy -- suggest sending them all away to scrounge up something to eat on their own. Jesus responds, "No -- you feed them." The disciples sound not only a little incredulous, but a little reluctant to part with the small stash of food they have on hand; nonetheless, they give what they have to Jesus, who blesses it, breaks it and gives it back to them to give to others. And we know the end of the story -- twelve baskets of leftovers after feeding a massive crowd.

Here is what Jesus says to us in this story: There is enough. There is enough of the things we need if we acknowledge God -- the crazily generous God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, who wants to give us an abundant life, heaped up and running over -- as the source of what we have. There is enough of the things we need if we trust in God's providence over and above our own attempts to figure out how to obtain and hang onto what we have. There is enough of the things we need if we model God's generosity in sharing with others. And God wants us to share what we have with all comers, not just the perceived "good enough." That's a point that is often overlooked in this story. What does it say, in a culture obsessed with ritual cleanliness, where a myriad different things can render a person ritually impure and thus contaminate someone who even touches him or her, when Jesus says, "Let's eat!", has thousands of strangers all sit down together and starts passing out food? What does it say about the person and power of Jesus that an individual in this culture, having experienced the Word made flesh, is moved to share his or her own store of food with the strangers next to him or her, until all are fed and then some?

And, in this story, not only is there enough food to go around, there is enough God to go around. Note Jesus' response to the people crowding around him: He heals them. He takes care of their needs, even when his followers want to shoo them away. God does not want to be hoarded, to be protected from our needs and wants. God wants to be poured out into them, filling them in ways that make us whole. Likewise, God does not want God's grace and mercy rationed to "the right sort of people"; God wants to spill it out generously, in an unending supply. And, just as Jesus gave his disciples a job to do in meeting the people's physical needs, Jesus gives us a job to do, in proclaiming and in sharing God's care and generosity as each situation calls for it.

Shannon Jung asserts that God's purpose in making us enfleshed creatures with appetites and desires is twofold: delight and sharing. We are, each of us, gifted in marvelous ways by God every day. Let's delight in them, just as the crowds who followed Jesus no doubt delighted in their unexpected picnic supper hosted by Jesus himself. And let's share that delight, as we're able, with those who need to hang onto the hope that God is a God With Us, who loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.

Loaves and Fishes by John August Swanson  Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 29, 2005

Friday Bloom Blogging

These are mini-fuschias I have in a pot with some chartreuse coleus. I didn't know this was a miniature plant when I bought it; it's only about 5 inches tall. I usually like old-fashioned, unfussy red fuschias, but these colors are so gorgeous and unusual I couldn't resist. It's definitely a keeper for over the winter.

My mini fuschiasPosted by Picasa

More From the Wandering Outer Podunkian

Today was the last day of my mini-vacation, so I took a trip up all the way up to Leelanau County, the little finger of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. It was a beautiful day for traveling -- not too hot, not too cold, blue skies, blue water.

Some trip highlights:

The very nice co-owner of The Gallery of Empire , who showered me with maps, brochures and insider off-the-beaten-path travel advice. If any of you are ever in Empire, stop in; it's a cool art gallery showcasing local artists and crafters.

The view. I can't tell you how beautiful the view was. There's a spot on the main highway where you climb a hill and -- boom -- there's Lake Michigan, today in a breathtaking shade of blue. And rolling hills...forests...orchards...awesome.

Noting the number of Mercedes and Beemers in Leelanau County -- more than I've ever seen in one place, including a German auto dealership. I tried counting 'em, and I'd say that about every sixth car passing me on M-22 was aus Deutschland. Tooling around in my used Intr pid, I felt quite...well...poor in comparison. No -- make that pore. As in po'. (Ah, the irony that right-wing demagogues accuse folks like me of using our alleged boatloads of childless-household discretionary income to promote our "agenda" and bring down Christian civilization.)

The Sleeping Bear Dunes. For a fee, you can drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, with numerous scenic overlooks, picnic areas and deep-woods meanderings. Awhile back one of the park rangers made news by reporting that while hiking through the park she'd found herself uncomfortably up close and personal with a cougar, an animal officially extinct in Michigan, but the subject of numerous sightings of late. Officials, typically, issued a semi-denial that there are cougars in the park -- you know, maybe it was a deer with a malocclusion, or a tourist's Great Dane, or maybe a really, really, really big kitty-cat. I was rather hoping to see a cougar slinking through the forest, especially considering that there were so many succulent tourists roaming around, but...alas. But I did see a lot of the native flora unique to the dune area.

And, of course, as noted, there were plenty of homo touristus. I like tourist-spotting. Lots of families; lots of seniors; a couple of visitors exhibiting the sort of behavior -- whining, loud cell phone blathering -- that reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw on a vehicle, not a Mercedes, back in Beulah: If They Call It Tourist Season, Then Why Can't We Shoot 'Em? One Mennonite couple -- the woman was wearing the cotton dress and black prayer cap -- was actually perched at the very edge of the big dune drop-off, where one false move can send you sliding all the way down to the lakeshore, with no way back up except navigating back up the almost 90 degree slope of sand; sometimes people can't make it, and they have to send the Coast Guard to fetch them off the beach. That's a long way to fall down in a cotton dress, I fretted from my safe perch at the observation deck. I noticed a lot of foreign tourists at the scenic outlooks, which always makes me feel good, because with all the negative press about the United States, and the warped Hollywood version of our country that's usually disseminated abroad, I'm happy when visitors can actually experience some of the beautiful, delightful things about America. One group of tourists was German -- perhaps on a fact-finding mission sent to learn where all their automobiles went -- and they were into the Dunes experience...they even broke into song at one point. It was like "The Student Prince" with Bermuda shorts and sunburn.

Stone House Bread in Leland, a bakery and cafe. Downtown Leland and Fishtown can be preciously and generically touristy, but there are some truly unique local businesses in town if you know where to look. The Stone House is one of them. I had lunch here -- a fabulous, dilly Hungarian mushroom soup and a chicken salad half-sandwich on ciabatta. (For those of you with scruples against eating fruit and meat together, be warned that in northwest Michigan odds are 10 to 1 that your chicken salad will have dried cherries in it. These are people who put cherries in hamburgers, whitefish sausage, dog biscuits and other items where you might not expect to find cherries.) The cafe wall features rows upon rows of smallish paintings of one particular Lake Michigan landscape painted at different times of day; they really capture the colors and feel of the area, and I enjoyed them immensely. The Stone House also, of course, has many wonderful varieties of artisan bread -- I bought a souvenir multigrain loaf that I hope to be enjoying soon, and a small wedge of locally crafted Raclette cheese that was -- mmmm -- like buttah. An enjoyable sign seen in the vicinity: "Dr. Atkins is Dead -- Eat Some Bread." (I do cheerfully admit to embracing an agenda of turning my fellow Americans off squishy white bread and rubber cheese. I already have one convert, too -- my mom.)

Well, that's it for LutheranChik's summer recreation. Back to work tomorrow, at a public service gig. But thank you all for being my virtual travel companions.

At the Sleeping Bear Dunes Posted by Picasa

Fishtown in Leland Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 28, 2005


I had a few more days of vacation time coming to me this month, so I went on a road trip yesterday and brought Mom along. And we had a good time.


It should be explained that my mother and I have almost nothing in common. One day while we were having a difference of opinion over interior decoration or where to go for Sunday dinner or some other inconsequential matter, she exclaimed, "I don't think there is one thing that you like, that I like too." And that made me sad, because it's true. We're like matter and anti-matter most of the time. When I first moved back to the old hometown to help her out, several years ago, we initially got along swell, just because she was lonely, and because, without my father's overpowering Prussian pater familias presence, it was a way to reacquaint ourselves with one another, to intereact as two adults. It was kind of fun watching her slowly gain the confidence to become her own person, and encouraging her to do so.

But -- sometimes we have issues. There is friction, and whining, and miscommunication, and frustration, and just not getting one another. So when Mom intially suggested using my long weekend to shop for a new recliner (to replace the Frasier-esque monstrosity, from the Days of Dad, currently favored by our dog), I had visions of three miserable days schlepping an 80+-year-old around the state (if you think, "I'm hungry," "I have to go to the bathroom," and "Are we there yet?" are the exclusive province of young families -- guess again), and engaging in hissed altercations in countless furniture stores.

The day before yesterday, Mom said, "You know -- instead of shopping for a chair, why don't we go to that place in Blanchard?"

"That place" is Loafer's Glory , an old false-front hardware store that has been rehabbed into a kind of mini-mall of faux-vintage kitsch. I became acquainted with this place many years ago, back during a time of my life when I had a fascination for Victorian women's culture -- the hearts and flowers and faeries, the pagan-revival imagery, the subtle homoeroticism. (Although at the time, even thinking that word would have sent me to my fainting couch with a case of the vapors.) Anyhow, in addition to being a purveyor of knock-off Victoriana, Loafer's Glory also had a nice little tea room inside, two beautiful perennial gardens outside, and was situated in a lovely, historical little village in the middle of nowhere. I love old buildings, am distressed when I see them left to slowly disintigrate, and am happy when someone can bring them back to life in a new context.

So -- Mom wanted to go to Loafer's Glory. I hadn't been there in awhile.

"Cool," I replied. "Let's go tomorrow."

So we did.

The Victoriana is all gone's just so late 1980's. That's how it goes in the manufactured nostalgia biz -- you need to keep people buying new new old stuff instead of being happy with their old new old stuff. Colonial-era primitives are all the rage, as is faith-based merchandise (Fruits of the Spirit handcream, anyone?) and some items that defy categorization, like reprints of the Dick and Jane readers I loathed in first grade. Chickens are in, but not the taxidermied chickens that Loafer's Glory used to sell; I always got a macabre kick out of them. The place has a new grotto devoted to cabin culture, where shoppers can find needful things like a plush standing bear, maybe three feet tall, with a spool for holding toilet paper in one paw and a sign in the other paw saying something like, "Do Your Paperwork at the End." And there is merchandise everywhere, hanging from every inch of wall space and covering every flat surface; there's even merchandise in the restrooms, for the thoughtful buyer who needs a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

And -- Loafer's Glory is majorly estrogen-intensive. There are more double-X chromosomes per square yard there than, I think, any other venue that doesn't have "Womyn" in the name. Every once in awhile you'll see a very sad, confused man being vigorously yanked through the place by ecstatic female relatives, like a sacrificial bull being led to slaughter at some ancient women's mystery.

Now, you may be sensing that my snark factor was turbocharging in this atmosphere, and you'd be right, but not in a malicious way. It was fun. And...the place does something to you. You're laughing to yourself over some absurd objet d' art like an outrageously overpriced fake-antique running-stitch sampler bearing the sentiment, "Simplicity Is A Gift"...and then the potpourri and baking cinnamon bread aromas get to you, and the dulcimer music coming from the overhead speakers, and the ceramic chickenry and stamped-tin weather vanes, and pretty soon you're finding yourself thinking, "That might be kind of cute in the right house," until your rational self dope-slaps you upside the head: What are you thinking? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?

Mom is hard of hearing, so it was difficult to share some of these observations with her in the midst of the shopping crowd, but we did manage a few mutual raised-eyebrows over this or that. She is also not much into "stuff," so she seemed to be approaching this adventure with the same pop-culture-field-trip mentality as mine. (Aha -- one thing we have in common!)

We had a great lunch in the tea room, featuring all the foods my doctor wants me to shun, served by an earnest young waitress decked out like a Colonial serving wench. We sat at a long communal table next to a half-dozen costumed Red Hat Society women rather seriously tucking into their chow; on our other side was a group of ladies-who-lunch who, after making a point of saying grace, proceeded to viciously trash some absent mutual acquaintance -- I thought it an evocative public example of simul iustus et peccator. The piece de resistance of our repast was buttermilk pie, the house specialty, loaded with enough eggs and butter to infarct an elk and topped with broiled coconut besides. It was so tasty that the prospect of suddenly falling over dead to a dulcimer rendition of "Holy, Holy, Holy" didn't seem like a half-bad way to go.

We didn't buy anything. But we had a jolly good time.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

BVD's -- Bona fide Virgin Drawers

Just when you thought that the Kristian Krap industry couldn't get any tackier or weirder...behold, courtesy of Ship of Fools , virginity underwear.

Now, maybe this is just me being dense, but...if you're letting a significant other read messages (in small fonts, yet) printed across your crotch, isn't that kind of a strong indication that maintaining your virginity isn't a real big priority for you?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Confession: Good For the Soul?

For all this I am sorry and I pray for forgiveness. I want to do better. -- from "Individual Confession and Forgiveness," Lutheran Book of Worship

My friend Christopher posted a thoughtful essay today on preparing for individual confession. This is a subject that intrigues me, because we Lutherans just aren't into individual confession with a clergyperson, even though Brother Marty himself was a proponent -- waffled about including it with Holy Baptism and Holy Communion as a full sacrament -- and even though we have a rubric for individual confession in the Lutheran Book of Worship. For most folks in the ELCA this is terra incognita, like The Litany or the front row of pews.

I wonder how comfortable I would be asking for an appointment with my pastor for individual confession. (I can imagine his initial reaction: "Wow! What'd you do?") For that matter, I wonder how comfortable he'd be if I asked. Not because I have any particularly spectacular sins to get off my chest; if I went the route of anonymous penitent in the confessional of one of our local Catholic parishes, I imagine the priest would wind up copping a few Z's while I nattered on, or maybe use the time to read the paper. ("Excuse me, my child -- as long as you're catching your breath, 'Ring, to Tolkien villain,' eight letters, third letter E -- any idea what that is?")

No, my usual sin list is pretty banal: a tiresome litany of selfishness, unkindness, pettiness, impatience and laziness. Our prayers may rise up before God like incense, but from my penitential perspective, the aroma of my confession would seem to bear a greater resemblance to what rises up from my garbage can on trash pickup day -- the disquieting funk of a great many festering little items I'd rather not have to examine.

I suspect that describes the confessions of most of us on any given day. And I also suspect that that is why it's helpful to at least occasionally air ourselves out, out loud, to another human being willing to be Christ for us.

I'd be interested in hearing about readers' experiences with individual confession, especially if you are in a tradition like mine where it is not the norm -- not the content of your confession, obviously, but what it was/is like for you to place yourself under this discipline. Was it hard to go through the first time? Is it a helpful practice for you?

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Prayer For Good and Useful Labor

Gracious God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, in whom we live and move and have our being: You are at work always, and have given us, your children, dignity and meaning by calling us to labor on your behalf in the world. Yet we live in a world where, in changing times, the impersonal forces of economics, technology and government interact in ways that leave us vulnerable to unemployment and underemployment. We lift up before you all who cannot find work; all who cannot find work that pays a living wage; all who cannot find work appropriate to their talents, interests and experience. We pray for all those who live in anxiety over the prospect of losing their jobs. We also hold in prayer all who seek your will in discerning a vocation to serve the Body of Christ. We pray that you will raise up leaders in the public and private sectors who have both vision and humanity to promote policies leading to meaningful, dignified work for all who seek it. We pray that our leaders in the Church recognize the gifts of all those you have called to service in your Church. We pray that you will help each of us in our own work or our search for work. We ask all of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, in whom and through whom and for whom all things were made, whose own most holy work of redemption and reconciliation makes us bold to pray. Amen.

72 Things About Me

I've been noticing really interesting lists on other blogs: "100 Things About Me."

I tried compiling a similar list, but foundered after about 30 things. I put the list away, brought it back out, tried again and added about a dozen more things. Rinse and repeat; I somehow got up to 72. It's the best I can do.

So here they are. And if these 72 things are as boring to you as they seem to me, this would be an excellent time for you to check your e-mail or take a bathroom break.

1. I was 3 ½ pounds when I was born, and spent the first month of my life in an incubator. (The last time in my life I was ever petite.) My anxious parents arranged for an emergency baptism at the hospital.

2. I never put off until tomorrow what I can put off indefinitely, especially if it’s really, really unpleasant.

3. I once had a pet turtle named Arnold, after Arnold the pig on “Green Acres”; Arnold was liberated in an irrigation ditch after he made a break from his tank in my playroom and wound up wedged inside the heat register.

4. I would rather mow the lawn than vacuum the floor.

5. I would rather spend $100 in a book/music store, or in a greenhouse, than $100 in a clothing store.

6. But I clean up well for the public.

7. Things that make me nervous: making pie crust; left-hand turns; babies; Excel spreadsheets; living in the most economically sad-ass state in the Union; multilane freeways; The Diane Rehm Show; malls.

8. Things that make me less nervous than most other people: snakes and spiders; thunderstorms (I kind of dig them); writing; dentists; public speaking; deadlines (structure is good).

9. One of my favorite things to do is knead bread.

10. I am a two-thirds vegan who loves and craves MEAT.

11. The strangest food I ever encountered at a potluck was barbecued beaver. (This was not a church potluck, by the way. And stop laughing. Think of the poor beaver.)

12. I am easily amused, but I am also easily bored.

13. 99 percent of the time I would rather read a book, listen to the radio or go online than watch television.

14. My favorite church tasks are lectoring and helping with the Eucharist. And bake sales – sign me up.

15. Church tasks I’m happy to leave to others: council (never again) and tending unhousebroken, pre-verbal children. (On the other hand, precocious older kids – kids who read Harry Potter, who know about dinosaurs, who are artistic, who are regularly tormented by non-precocious kids, who don’t get chosen for teams in gym – I will gladly be their Auntie LutheranChik.)

16. I have a veddy Victorian, fan-rustling sensibility when it comes to "rules of engagement." Which probably explains why I'm living with my octogenarian mother and a geriatric dog. (Maybe I'm paying attention to the wrong Victorians.)

17. My idea of a rilly hot date would be something like October leaf peeping up north in God's country, followed by a picnic lunch out in the woods. (Fill in the narrative blanks.)

18. I am an introvert who, in the right circumstances, can’t stop talking.

19. My top three vices are anger, followed by gluttony and sloth in a photo finish for second place, with pride coming in third. All depending on what day it is. But those are the general winners’ circle vices.

20. Thanks to my farm upbringing, I am quite talented at barnyard impersonations, including a very believable impersonation of a happy chicken. (Which sounds quite different than an unhappy chicken.)

21. I am an early riser whose energy level pretty much tanks around 3:00 p.m.

22. I studied Latin for four years in high school, but barely remember any of it.

23. I majored in advertising in college. I wonder if there’s a good penance for that.

24. I’ve always had more older friends than friends my own age. Which makes me wonder what’s going to happen when I’m, say, 95. (If they haven’t set me out on an ice floe to quietly and conveniently expire.)

25. I have gotten every good job I’ve ever gotten by answering a want ad. I have never gotten a good job doing the things all the job-hunting experts tell you to do.

26. I usually prefer nonfiction to fiction.

27. I usually prefer heirlooms to hybrids.

28. In school I loved geometry and hated algebra; but I think if I audited an algebra class as an adult, I might like it more.

29. My hairdressers have an alarming tendency to cut my hair in the style of the Three Stooges’ Moe. I carry a laminated photo of how I actually want my hair: “Make it look just like this.” They usually don’t.

30. I have an aversion to home repairs...I know I should be the kind of woman who spends Saturday mornings at Home Depot discussing gutter brackets and caulking and whatnot, but I'd really rather eat waffles, drink coffee and read the paper.

31. I often get overly stressed over unimportant things.

32. I have an aptitude for putting things together by following written instructions and schematics -- but there's usually some verbal obscenity involved in the process.

33. Actually, I swear like a sailor if I'm sufficiently provoked.

34. Like while listening to talk radio.

35. Things I'd be perfectly happy to never do again: attend elementary school; take driver's training; take an economics class; get passed-out drunk, and gut-puking hung-over the next day; undergo a uterine biopsy (said the doctor: "You may experience a brief, moderate amount of discomfort"...I think there are probably still fingernail marks gouged into that exam room ceiling); petition for legal guardianship of an elderly loved one with mental health issues and then have her involuntarily hospitalized -- sheriff's deputies, screaming and cursing, the whole schmeer.

36. I have a tendency to whine. (Especially to God.) Wait -- it's not whining; it's lamenting.

37. When I was a child I wanted to be either Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes when I grew up. Or Mr. Spock. Or the dad on "Daktari." When I was very little I wanted to be the Queen of the Animals.

38. When I was in junior high I had a brief fascination with becoming a nun -- pretty hysterical for a good Lootern girl.

39. Then I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore -- at least I wanted her job and her apartment. (How did that huge apartment fit into that old house?) I wanted such a fabulous life that I'd be tossing my beret in the air all the time, just like ol' Mare.

40. I actually do wear a beret in the wintertime, but I hardly ever toss it. And never on a street corner.

41. I would on a dare, though.

42. I won my 5th grade spelling bee.

43. I once owned 15 different varieties of English ivy. Then I purchased Number 16, which turned out to be infested with spider mites, and soon I had zero varieties of English ivy.

44. I am sports-indifferent until the Olympics roll around, at which point I get a little obsessive about them.

45. I once read a book, on purpose, about how to get attractive and unusual houseplants by planting seeds and pits of supermarket fruits and vegetables.

46. I have a thing about earrings.

47. If you are smart enough to make me think and funny enough to make me laugh, I want you in my posse.

48. I once had to stop trying to learn tai chi from a video designed for seniors because the instructor was going too fast for me.

49. I have dimensionality issues -- if I am sharing space with another solid object, there is a very good chance I'll run into it or fall over it.

50. I'd rather walk than ride a bike.

51. My worst cooking disaster was wholegrain bread containing buckwheat flour, back in my college days. It came out of the oven like cinderblock. I suspect that's what that loaf is being used for right now.

52. My favorite PMS, don't-give-a-damn, self-medicating snack: popcorn mixed with plain M&M's.

53. Favorite books of the Old Testament: Genesis for the stories; Psalms for the kvetching; Isaiah for the poetry and "vision thing"; Jonah for the grace thing.

54. Favorite books of the New Testament: The Gospels, especially John's.

55. Favorite Christian hero/ine of yore: Julian of Norwich.

56. Favorite contemporary Christian hero/ine: Jury's still out, but Bonhoeffer and Desmond Tutu are on the short list.

57. I love continuing education classes, on many different subjects.

58. Things I still want to learn before I pass from this mortal coil: how to swim; how to read music; how to sing with confidence; how to speak Spanish.

59. I agree with the bumper sticker that says "Life Without Art is Stupid."

60. I have a nosebleed-High Church soul, but I attend a do-the-limbo-Low church. Yet I keep going back. Go figure.

61. I find myself getting a little depressed if no one responds to my blog posts. ("Well...isn't that special?")

62. My favorite Beatles were George because he was deep, and John because he was a smartass.

63. I enjoy popular music from the 70's more now than I did in the 70's, when I was in mourning for the 60's.

64. The best slumming job I ever had: working in a bookstore.

65. The worst job I ever had: Working as an adminstrative assistant for a dean's office at a medium-sized state university. It was so awful that I gladly gave up its bodacious benefits, including tuition for full-time employees, and literally burned all my work-related documents after I quit. This job was worse than my gig doing janitorial work in college...and that includes cleaning toilets.

66. My coworkers give me the phone line when telemarketers call our agency because I am in expressing our collective disinterest in purchasing their products.

67. I love my dog even though he's messy, and more or less psycho, and likes my mom better.

68. I have a peculiar aptitude for making friends with cats -- even battle-scarred, feral barnyard tomcats. (Hint: The secret is in the voice inflection.)

69. I actually enjoyed 8th grade catechism class, even though the pastor was kind of clueless. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it.

70.I can knit, but don't.

71. I need coffee. Lots and lots and lots of coffee.

72. If I ever join a gym, you'll know that hell has officially frozen over.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Is LutheranChik Live, Or Is She Memorex?

My corporeal existence (of which there is -- ahem -- much) can now be vouched for by one fellow bloglodyte.

J. Collins Fisher and I had an enjoyable meet-up in Okemos, in the metro Lansing area, at Traveler's Club , a funky little restaurant that boasts its very own Tuba Museum and a tuba fountain. (And, for a few hours, the spiritually uplifting, intellectually challenging and visually stunning presence of two bitchin' bloggers holding forth on the patio.)

Thanks, J.C., for the pepper (being steamed, as we speak, with zucchini, crookneck squash, garlic, onions and red bell pepper for supper) and the good conversation.

Preach It, Sister

One of the reasons I put myself under the discipline of writing an essay every week on Sunday's Gospel lesson...I've been tapped to give the sermon at our Wednesday evening service next week. This is a laid-back little service we recently began holding to give shift workers, weekend vacationers and others who can't make our Sunday service an opportunity for corporate worship and Holy Communion.

I'm looking forward to this. And I might sneak-preview my Deep Thoughts here (as soon as I find some).

And Now For Something Completely Different!

Imagine a clergyperson stepping into the pulpit for a sermon on today's Gospel text.

S/he begins: "The kingdom of God is like a hooker who hid some of her earnings from her pimp, invested it in the stock market, made a million dollars and was able to get off the streets for good."

Or maybe: "The kingdom of God is like a black mold spore that got into a house, and grew into more mold until the mold took over the entire house; the owners had to tear down the house, and then they wound up building a better house than they had before."

Or maybe: "The kingdom of God is like someone who met a stranger on the Internet, and fell so head-over-heels in love that s/he sold everything s/he had to move cross-country and be with that person."

Or maybe: "The kingdom of God is like a bag lady with a tin-foil hat who put everything she found in the alley into her old shopping cart, then pushed it back home to her cardboard box and sorted out the useful things from the worthless things."

Now, those stories might jolt you out of your reverie about the pot roast simmering back home, or what you have to do at work on Monday. The little Sunday School kiddos would probably not be coloring pictures of those parables for display in the fellowship hall.

I am indebted to Brian Stoffregen's exegetical notes on this text at Crossmarks for helping me better understand both the humor and the radicality of Jesus' parables.

These aren't quaint village-life tales designed to "comfort the afflicted" or provide wagging-finger moral instruction. These parables are meant to rock the world of their hearers.

As Stoffregen points out in the link above, Jesus' stories, as understood by their original audience, contain elements of ritual uncleanness or moral ambiguity. You have mustard planted in a ritually unsuitable place. You have a woman -- hardly a suitable protagonist for a positive parable anyway -- not only messing around with an unclean substance like leaven (those of us who have ever tried to make sourdough starter from wild "yeast beasts" have a special appreciation for this image), but "hiding" it -- a very interesting and deliberate verb. A rather shifty fellow who finds someone's treasure, hides it in the ground on someone else's land, then buys the land to make sure that he is understood to be the rightful owner. A merchant overcome with desire, to the point of folly, for just one pearl. A wasteful haul of fish. One can imagine the reaction of the first hearers: "The kingdom of heaven is like -- whaaaa...?"

Why didn't Jesus create a parable about the kingdom of God being like a Pharisee, full of piety and moral uprightness and exemplary attentiveness to things divine, separate from everything unclean and disreputable? Isn't that the story many churches nowadays would want Jesus to tell?

But he didn't.

In Jesus' parables, the Reign of God breaks through in the context of everyday life's mundane activities -- planting, baking, buying and selling, catching fish -- but in completely surprising, perplexing, even outrageous ways. And it doesn't simply break through -- it explodes. Mustard seeds shoot up into trees; yeast expands a bowl of dough like a balloon; nets are full to breaking with fish. And people's reaction to this irrational exuberance on God's part is their own irrational exuberance -- doing anything and everything to hang on to these surprising manifestations of grace in their lives.

Jesus tells us that the people who get what he's talking about, who as the saying goes "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" it, are like servants who can pull from the household stores treasures both old and new. As Christians in the catholic tradition, we are stewards of many fine old treasures -- our affirmation of the Scriptures as the vessel containing the Word, the Christ, God's ultimate revelation of Godsself; our respect for and preservation of Christianity's ancient statements of faith and practices that nurture that faith. But we are also called to live that faith, live God's extravagant and expansive grace, into the future. Semper reformandis -- always reforming -- is what we're to be about; on one hand holding fast to the foundations of our faith and reality-checking ourselves when it seems we are losing our grasp, but on the other hand responding to the reality of our own time, our own collective Sitz im Leben, as we seek to communicate and live out the Gospel message.

But the beauty of the Gospel is that, no matter what the time or where the place, it proclaims a Reign of God that is bigger, better, wider and more surprising than we can imagine.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed, rose window, Hyde Park Union Church Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Bloom Blogging: Poultry Edition

These are Millefleur bantams at our county fair...dapper little chickens with tweedy feathers (good for trout flies, I'm told), fancy plumed feet and a very assertive posture. As you can see, these birds were feeling pretty much like the rest of us here in Outer Podunk. It's not the heat; it's the humidity.

Two other chiks from Outer Podunk Posted by Picasa

Paging bls...

Here is my first red tomato!

"Sausage" heirloom tomato Posted by Picasa

Bonhoeffer on Pious Purists and a "Perfect" Church

Strong and weak, wise or foolish, talented or untalented, pious or less pious, the complete diversity of individuals in the community is no longer reason to talk and judge and condemn, and therefore no longer a pretext for self-justification. Rather this diversity is a reason for rejoicing in one another and serving one another....Every Christian community must know that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the community. -- from Life Together

Thursday, July 21, 2005

What Church Model Are You?

From Quizfarm :

You scored as Sacrament model. Your model of the church is Sacrament. The church is the effective sign of the revelation that is the person of Jesus Christ. Christians are transformed by Christ and then become a beacon of Christ wherever they go. This model has a remarkable capacity for integrating other models of the church.

Sacrament model


Mystical Communion Model


Servant Model


Herald Model


Institutional Model


What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Too Darn Hot

It's too darn hot. And it's not a dry heat.

When I went on my walk this evening, even in the relative cool of dusk, it felt as if I were inhaling Silly Putty with each breath. Silly Putty is also what I think my brain has turned into.

The Daily Office? Fuggetaboutit. I couldn't even manage the short-form prayers today. And my copy of Bonhoeffer's Ethics lies unread in the back seat of my car. I can't even think of one worthwhile thing to post here.

Not that I am alone. My book discussion group members have all gone AWOL...I think perhaps to the beach. Where they're not reading the book in question.

"'Rest and quietness,'" notes The CEO. "'Be still and know that I am God.' Try it. Don't just do something -- stand there!"

"Is it okay if I lie down instead?"

It's too darn hot.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Springtime For Hitler

Breaking local news when I got home: The City of Cadillac, which I passed through today, is getting much unwanted attention from all over the world after a city employee presented a local neo-Nazi group with thank-you certificates for picking up litter during a city park clean-up day in May. The group showed up at the event in their Nazi regalia -- swastikas, boots, shaved heads.

I'm sorry, but how stupid are people who can't recognize a gang of Nazis descending upon their city park, and who would sign off on a certificate of appreciation for self-identified "National Socialists"? D'oh!

More of What I Did on My Summer Vacation

LutheranChik's Day Trip Journal
Part II: Hanging Out; Going Home

1:30 p.m., out and about I'm doing the tourist thing, shopping along the main drag, checking out the very nice mom-and-pop bookstore (sadly, not the selection of local authors I'd hoped, although they do carry Jim Harrison's The Raw and the Cooked, a book I enjoyed) and a wonderful kitchen store with the sort of merchandise -- Mack-daddy Viking mixers and other high-end appliances, every kitchen gadget imaginable, funky table settings, local preserves -- that get foodies all verklempt. (And Sinatra singing Cole Porter in the background -- very cool.) There's a nice antique store on the corner -- once upon a time they had on display an entire set of Candlewick tableware that blew my mind, but since Antiques Roadshow I notice that there are fewer really exceptional pieces in stores like this, and more junque.

Resort-town stores come and go from year to year; I note, with sadness, that there are fewer real art galleries on the main drag. A gallery featuring decorative art pieces from northern Michigan artists is no more, replaced by a store selling the sort of generic bling-bling that appeals to suburban shoppers missing the galleria back home. Suncatchers -- ponderous ones made of coiled wire and marbles and faceted glass beads -- are in this summer; and if you feel that there isn't enough stuff hanging on your suncatcher, you can actually buy additional jewelry for hanging on your suncatcher. (In the greater geopolitical context I think purchasing suncatcher jewelry must be at least a venial sin.) I hurry out of there and head across the street to a kitchen store looking for some artisan bread to take home. There's a semi-Jewish deli (the ham in the deli case being a tip-off that this is perhaps not a kosher establishment) in town that usually sells wonderful bread, but it's all gone by the time I get there. Oy. I wander into the natural-foods market and deli next door, looking for bread; no bread, but they do have this great deal where you can buy grocery grab bags filled with community-supported-agriculture produce from local farms. I want badly to purchase one -- there are fresh flower bouquets, egg cartons, romaine lettuce peeking out from the tops of the bags -- but I doubt they'd survive the two-hour trip home in a hot car trunk. Oy. But what a good idea. Why doesn't someone try this in my part of the state? I think. Why is mid-Michigan always 25 years behind the curve?

I have better luck with food back on the highway, at the local market -- fresh local raspberries, which I risk toting home, and dried cherries for cheap.

I get a kick out of the local bumper stickers; definitely non-Outer-Podunkian: "Got bliss?" "I'm a Tree-Hugging Dirt Worshipper." Many vehicles have decals in their rear windows that proclaim, simply, "Life is Good." And it is, today, up here in the warmth and sunshine; it's very good indeed. L'chaim!

Now I take a drive around the north side of the lake. Crystal Lake is huge...a confused, nearsighted tourist could easily mistake it for a bay of Lake Michigan. It's surrounded by pricey vacation bungalows, some of which sell for a cool million; across the street from the lake are more modest but still impressive summer homes built right against the verdant bluff that surrounds the lake. Side streets lead up into hidden gated communities. It's great fun to rubberneck in this neighborhood. I especially enjoy a very festive purple house -- actually dusty aubergine -- landscaped with purple and lavender perennials; if you put a black light on the porch the whole thing would strobe, I think; I know I lead a sheltered life, but I've never seen a house quite so...purple. Driving around to the north side are the older vacation homes, set back in the woods -- older, more lived-in, but still impressive in terms of size and view of the lake. At one place the houses give way to solid trees that almost meet above the road; I'm driving through a green tunnel. And the color of the water, and the sky, and the hills on the horizon; I can't describe how lovely it all is.

After a brief stop in Frankfort for a look at Lake Michigan -- the road doesn't go aroud Crystal Lake; you wind up at a cul-de-sac in downtown Frankfort, looking out onto the lighthouse -- I circle back to Benzonia, along a scenic road paralleled by a bike trail. I pass the Betsie River; I brake for a bluebird -- a bluebird! -- that comes flying out of an old orchard to chase an insect across the road. This just stuns me: How cool is this? I pass by the Gwen Frostic studio, a local landmark selling prints and stationery designed by the late local poet and artist, and I stop at Beedazzled -- my source for star thistle honey and scented beeswax soaps. The herb garden outside the store is beautiful, and filled with the famous honeybees; inside the store has a funky, hippie feel. I stock up on soap in my favorite fragrances (the bayberry rum, and frankinsense and myrrh, are especially nice), and wish a Happy Wheatland to the proprietor.

I'm so happy driving around this area; I find myself wishing that I had a good reason to hang out here for about a week. But I also find myself, a few miles later, wishing I had a boon companion to share this experience. Even the subject of a more serious relationship aside, I don't have pals in the ol' hometown, the way I've had in other communities. (When I lived up north I was sort of a reverse beard for a wonderful,witty, canny group of older married coworkers who used me as a convenient and willing excuse to get away from their menfolk for a day -- we had a blast time after time.) I can't think of anyone at work, for instance, who would get any of this. They'd be wanting to drive to the casino or the mall; they'd be afraid to eat at a restaurant that wasn't a franchise; they wouldn't want to visit the local art galleries or hike along the trails; they wouldn't understand the "farmers' choice" grocery bags back at the market. I'd wind up, I think, shoving these women out of my vehicle with extreme prejudice. Snap out of it, I scold myself sternly. Get over yourself. You could be home mowing the lawn.

4:00 p.m., south of Cadillac I stop at the Northwood Country Store -- the Amish store does have a name, after all. As I leave my car I smell the tantalizing aromas of baking chocolate -- brownies maybe -- and fruit. Inside the store a pleasant older woman is at the register; there are bulk goods, a few groceries, an ice cream freezer and a refrigerator case. (The Amish use gas to run these appliances.) I find the summer savory I've been looking for, some homemade oatmeal bread and a tiny personal-sized blackberry pie to take home for Mom. I find the Amish most perplexing sometimes -- their legalistic theology seems quite grace-less and hopeless (their communities are thrown into internal turmoil over theological issues like the propriety of hook-and-eye closures vs. straight pins); I don't like the way they treat women and children, and how they guilt their young people into staying in their sect; but I've always had good experiences interacting with the Amish in contexts like this -- and I figure that since my shorn, bareheaded, bejeweled and brightly hued self makes me Babylon on two legs for them, I probably provide some needed entertainment; I'll maybe wind up as a topic for discussion around the dinner table.

4:50 p.m. Home again. Mom's in a better mood. I think maybe it's the pie.

And that is what I did on my summer vacation.

Frankfort Lighthouse, on the Big Lake Posted by Picasa

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

LutheranChik's Day Trip Journal
Part I: Getting There

Brief notes on my adventures today:

9:45 a.m. After a morning of deliberation, I have decided to head up north -- way up north. Mom, despite having her own excellent northern adventure this past weekend, is starting to exhibit symptoms of Jewish Mother, Goyische Edition -- "That's all right. You go and have fun by yourself, and I'll sit here alone with my arthritis." I hurry out the door before I change my mind and wind up staying home watching "The Price is Right."

11:00 a.m., M-115, north of Cadillac Monday is a great travel day; traffic is light in tourist country, and I have my lane mostly to myself. As I've driven up from the flatlands into the hillier part of the state, I find myself becoming seriously relaxed. I'm lost in a pleasant reverie, in fact, when suddenly I notice it's getting awfully dark; I take off my shades and see that the sky is an ominous gun-metal gray. A few moments later I am caught in a heavy downpour; steam rises as sheets of rain hit the asphalt, and I can't see where I am on the road. I pass a car that's simply given up and pulled to the shoulder, but I'm afraid to put on the brakes, so I just pray (one of those short, to-the-point "Help!" prayers) and plow through the water. The wind is whipping the trees on either side of the highway, and thunder booms overhead. It's like those scenes in Twister just before cows and houses and semis start flying across the road. Here's a story for the blog, I find myself thinking.

11:40 a.m., downtown Beulah Hello, gorgeous! I feel my entire body unclenching, until I reach that altered state known as up north. The sun is shining; summer people are wandering the sidewalks on the main drag; there's a volleyball game down on the beach, and speed boats criss-crossing Crystal Lake. The lake is surrounded by wooded bluffs, and the view is breathtaking. I park in the municipal lot, next to a little brook that runs through town; sometimes kids come here to fish.

I'm hungry, so I head to the Phoenix Cafe, a pleasant downtown coffee bar that offers terrific breakfasts and lunches. (Their ginger scones are exceptional, too, although, alas, they are all out today.) A sign on the door advertises a job opening for a barista; I ponder this career change for a second or two. (Anyone out there contemplating a lifestyle downscaling: You could do worse.) The cafe is committed to supporting community farms and cottage industries, and uses local produce and prepared foods whenever possible. The day's specials include a red lentil soup with locally grown vegetables and fresh sage, served with foccacia; I order some and it is very good.

Sitting at a window seat where I can people-watch, I linger over my soup and some French-roasted Mexican Fair Trade coffee and read one of the local newspapers. There's an interesting article about a local shipwreck and a community-based agriculture initiative. The ads make me smile; resort communities like this are places where it is sometimes hard to find mundane articles like Jello or a claw hammer, but where Reiki practitioners and windchime emporia are a dime a dozen. There's an ad for a bodywork studio that counts among its specialties something called Russian sports massage; sounds a little frightening, unless you're into that sort of thing. Another ad, for a restaurant serving Asian-fusion cuisine, features a photo of a woman extending chopsticks toward a plate of sushi; I think the intent was to convey surprise and delight, as in, "My, what an attractive and unusual repast!", but the expression on the model's face suggests, "What in the hell is that?" For some reason I find this so funny that I almost snort lentil soup up my sinuses.

(to be continued...)

"Cherry Jerry" -- unofficial mascot of Beulah, Michigan Posted by Picasa

Crystal Lake -- the view from downtown Beulah Posted by Picasa

Playing Hooky

You know, there's something about taking a vacation day -- even one that I've scheduled for over a month -- that feels so...well...naughty.

I'm getting in the Intr pid and just driving somewhere (especially before anyone from work calls and says, "Sorry to bother you on your day off, but...."). Maybe I'll take my camera along.

From the LBW's collects:

O God, give us times of refreshment and peace in the course of this busy life. Grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Last week St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ in Middlebrook, VA, was vandalized by fire and grafitti, in apparent response to the UCC's recent affirmation of blessing same-sex marriages. Read all about it at Talk to Action; follow the link above.

If you would like to help this historic congregation with a donation and words of support, contact:

St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ
1515 Arbor Rd.
Staunton, VA 24401

If you don't think this is "your" issue, prayerfully consider Pastor Martin Niemoller's warning against complacency in the face of bigotry and oppression:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Hat tip to bls for this news item (which, unsurprisingly, did not seem to be burning up the wires in the mainstream media).

Forgotten Emergencies

I broke the piggy bank the other day -- actually, I emptied the coffee can where we put our found change at our house. In deciding what to do with all this emptied-pocket/bottom-of-purse/under-the-sofa-cushion treasure, I checked out the Lutheran World Relief website. Lots of good stuff. If you follow the link above, check out the "Forgotten Emergencies" in places like Darfur, Colombia and Haiti, see what LWR is doing there, and maybe direct some of your bottle-deposit/sub-sofa-cushion money their way (or the way of your equivalent relief organization, if your church is down the street from mine). You will also discover that LWR is starting a virtual "university," with regular online classes and an interactive book club, to help educate people about poverty and development issues, and about the theological underpinnings of the Christian response to human suffering and need. (The book club starts in September with a discussion of Jeffrey Sach's The End of Poverty.) And...Fair Trade coffee tends to be scoffed at as a feel-good but essentially meaningless guilty-suburban-liberal response to poverty issues in coffee-growing countries; but if you're a small-scale farmer in one of those places, I'd bet a tall cappucino that you'd be really, really happy if more people bought your coffee beans. Now LWR has a special "signature" Fair Trade Coffee. Try a bag or two; if you're personing the parish coffee pot, brew some up some Sunday for the gang.

...And Just One More Thing About Wheat and Tares

This is courtesy of our sermon this morning.

Our pastor noted that his wife is a research scientist by trade, and knows a little something about level one and level two research errors.

Level one errors have to do with including data in the research that shouldn't be there. Level two errors have to do with not including data that should be included.

The parable of the wheat and the tares, said the pastor, is a message to the church to which the gospel was originally written -- a church struggling with issues of self-definition, of apostasy in the face of rejection and oppression, of living in an atmosphere where distinguishing "us" vs. "them" had become of primary concern -- that, when we err, which we will always do because we're human -- we need to err on the side of inclusion, the level one error, because when we err in the other direction we create a much bigger, more destructive and hurtful mess.

This is why I love my parish.

A Glad Bag

Thanks to all the regular bloggers here and my friends from elsewhere on the Internet who sent greetings to my parish family! They were a big hit -- and the references to Asbury Park ("BRU-U-U-UCE!") and the sleepy backwater village of Berkeley got laughs. I posted the "hellos" on our fellowship-hall bulletin board.

Consider yourselves all members-at-large. If you're ever in Michigan and can actually find where we're cover charge, I promise.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Goodness of Whole Wheat

From the Talmud: Every blade of grass has its angel bending over it, telling it "Grow! Grow!"

From a conversation between Lars Clausen, the cross-country unicycling Lutheran pastor, and a rabbi he met along the way: We have the choice to live in fear, and we have the choice to live in awe.

I read both of the above this evening, and for some reason they put me in mind of tomorrow's Gospel text. They remind me that it's God who calls us into being as the grain in God's field, who nurtures our growth and maturity. They remind me that the response to this gift is wonder, and gratitude, and trust; our "yes" to God's "yes" to us, in heeding the nudge and whisper to "Grow! Grow!"

I think that's what we need to know about being wheat.

"Threshing" by Carl Larsson Posted by Picasa

Taking a Culture Break

Feeling a distinct need to get out of Dodge today, the Momster and I got in the Dodge Intr pid and drove up to Cadillac for their annual art fair. It's held in a shady downtown park across the street from Lake Cadillac, with musical and dance performances in the bandshell at water's edge. We had a swell time looking at the artists' booths and people-watching/dog-watching in general; familial bonding was effected; and I was fiscally responsible, mostly. We had a great lunch at The Bistro, a tiny, funky downtown cafe in a subdivided old downtown building; Mom went for the chicken gyro, while I ordered another Greek-inspired sandwich (exceptionally good hummus, feta, cucumber, spinach, onion, in a grilled tomato wrap); both yummy.

Cadillac, a city of about 10,000, goes through periodic booms and busts; a couple of years ago they saw an exodus of their downtown anchor stores, but the buildings are gradually being subdivided into interesting little specialty shops selling high-end kitchen equipment, patio furniture and whatnot, and the downtown area has been given a facelift; noble attempts, I think, at creating what our governor calls a "cool city." I ventured into one place I thought was an art gallery, only to find a sort of alternative-culture boutique and coffeehouse that was hosting a trippy high school reunion for culture warriors of a certain age, who were sitting in the shabby-chic lounge area pouring over their old yearbooks; imagine "A Mighty Wind" in an Amsterdam hash cafe, and you'll have some idea of this scene. But it was fun, in a surreal way; friendly staff, multiply-pierced young'uns hanging out with the older people, a clean-cut young professional type busily keyboarding his laptop. I bought a pair of earrings there.

We wanted to stop at an Amish store we enjoy on M-115, on the way home -- sort of the yang to the yin back in town -- but we were caught in a fierce thunderstorm, and decided to just keep driving. (If any Michiganians are reading this and plan on making the trek up 115 sometime -- this store is cool in its own low-tech way; stop in. I don't think it has a name. It's a couple miles north of the M-61 junction, on the west side of the road, next to an Amish farm.)

Overall, a good time was had.

This is the kind of stuff I do when I'm not online, or working, or reading, that makes me happy.

 Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 15, 2005

Friday Bloom Blogging

Here is the fancy-leaved geranium (I believe this variety is "Vancouver Centennial") that came back from apparent death this spring. Usually the flowers on fancy-leaved geraniums are nothing special, but this plant has amazing strobing red blooms -- since I took this photo, they've increased exponentially. Also in the pot -- a "Scarlet Emperor" runner bean, left over from an unfortunate experiment in edible landscaping last year, that I stuck in the pot on a whim. The vine twining around the back of the planter, and I'm going to train it up a string to the eaves of the garage.

 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 14, 2005

LutheranChik's Bedroom Secrets!

Oh, I knew that would get your attention.

I have been tagged by bls to participate in a "What's on the Table Next to Your Bed?" meme.

I'm afraid that I have a very boring bedside, since I spend almost no conscious time in this room of the house. Cold Comfort Cottage is my parents' downscaled retirement home, and what is now my bedroom was never really intended to be a fulltime bedroom; it was just a tiny, monastic-cell/dorm-single-sized spare room set aside for my periodic visits. I also hardly ever read in bed, because if I keep the light on too long at night my geriatric dog carries on so -- sighs in exasperation, turns around in circles, digs at the comforter and grumbles until I finally give in and turn off the lamp. ("Now you know what it's like to be married," noted my mother when I related these bedtime shenanigans to her.)

So, with that's what's on my bedside table right now:

earrings du jour

a nail scissors

a small stack of "round tuit" correspondence, mostly people asking for money: my local public TV station; Lutheran World Relief; a medical bill for my annual spelunking.

my Itty-Bitty Book Light

my combination flashlight/radio, which I had to use the other evening when the power inexplicably went out in our neighborhood

a CD, Gregorian Chants For All Seasons by the Choir of the Vienna Hofburgkapelle

my Book of Common Prayer

and last, but not least, my retainer

I think I'll use this for my next personals ad.

(Note to any frowny-faced ecclesiastical busybodies reading this: I know that irony doesn't come easily to some of you, so allow me to explain that the above comment was a joke. And "retainer" is not naughty subcultural slang. I happen to brux my teeth in my sleep. I wonder why.)

Meanwhile...let's see; whom can I tap for this meme? How about...J.C. Fisher? That's what you get for posting multiple comments on my blog in one day, J.C.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Best Honey In the World

As long as we're on the subject of weeds...

The flower you see at the bottom of this post has begun blooming here in Michigan...a common sight on road shoulders, empty lots and other poor-soil areas. If you hate 'em you call 'em knapweed. If you love 'em you call 'em star thistle. But if you love honey, you will love star thistle honey most of all; it's a mild honey, but it has a very distinctive drinking flowers.

Sleeping Bear Farms, up in Benzie County, Michigan, sells star thistle honey, and a host of other honey products. Their dill honey mustard is dee-lish, especially as a pretzel dip. Check out the above link for more products. (And check out my list-o-links for Beedazzled, a sister operation that makes soaps and other toiletries, candles and other items using beeswax, honey and other bee products. Beedazzled's retail outlet in Benzonia is great fun, and you can wander through their herb garden as well. They also always have a booth at the Wheatland Music Festival, whose website you can link to from the list to your left.)

So the next time you see those straggly gray plants with the lavender flowers along the side of the road, or in an empty lot -- there's more to them than meets the eye. And should you invest in a jar of star thistle honey, here's a great cookie recipe that my mother clipped from a 1965 calendar. It was billed as a Christmas cookie, and decorated with colored coconut, but I like them plain.

Honey Drops
350 oven 10-14 minutes ~5 dozen cookies

3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg, separated
1 tsp. grated orange rind
1/4 cup honey
2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. salt
baking spray
shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat egg white just until foamy; reserve. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg yolk and orange rind. Blend in honey. Sift together flour, baking powder, mace and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Drop by teaspoons onto prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Flatten cookies with a fork dipped in flour. Brush tops of cookies with egg white; if desired, sprinkle with coconut. Bake 10-14 minutes. Remove to wire rack and cool.

Knapweed, aka star thistle Posted by Picasa

Wheat or Weed?

My gloomy meditation, based on this online discussion :

If I am wheat in God's field
but am treated like a weed
by the other green stalks around me
is this a good thing or a bad thing
in the bigger picture?

(A nudge from The CEO: "Welcome to the club.")

Cradling Wheat by Thomas Hart Benton Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 11, 2005

Turn! Turn! Turn!

These are my largest tomatoes so far -- tennis-ball sized. According to the tag they're an heirloom variety called Amish Paste, although they sure don't look like a paste-type tomato. Whatever they are, I sure wish they'd ripen soon.

Unfried green tomatoes Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Tasteful Conversation

You've got to love a Christian book that starts out with a quote by Virginia Woolf: "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."

I've just begun an online book discussion of L. Shannon Jung's Food For Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating, facilitated by the author (who is traveling and eating through France -- nice work if you can get it! -- describing his experiences as he checks in on our message board). We're going to be discussing issues like our own relationship with food; food as a sign of God's goodness and generosity, and hunger as a metaphor for our hunger for relationship with God; how food relates to our life as relational beings; eating disorders and food system disorders as indications of our human brokenness; transforming our personal and corporate actions and attitudes in ways that can restore our enjoyment of and appreciation for food as a good gift of God, as well as our desire and will to share that gift with others.

This discussion has come at a timely point for me, because I've made some significant changes in my own eating and shopping habits -- admittedly mostly self-serving changes, to benefit my health, but ones that have led to other positive outcomes -- rediscovering my sense of adventure and experimentation in cooking; shopping and eating more mindfully and gratefully; relearning the concept of "enough"; readjusting how food fits into my sense of the larger scheme of things. On the other hand, I think the fact that I do have to watch what foods I eat these days tends to sometimes put me in an almost adversarial relationship with food, which damages the sense of food as a good gift. So I'm looking foward to exploring some of these issues with others.

One thing that has helped me change my eating habits is giving myself a day off, once a week or so, from my usual regimen. As an example: Today after church Mom and I took a road trip to Standish for lunch at Tony's Tacos. Tony's isn't even a restaurant; it's just a seasonal taco stand and a couple of picnic tables located in the parking lot of a butcher shop at the city limit. The proprietor is from Mexico -- he goes back down south in the fall -- and makes some of the best Mexican fast food I've ever eaten. Today we had delicious, corn-y pork gorditas with tasty shredded pork topped by fresh pico de gallo, washed down with Mexican pop and accompanied by canned tejano music. It was worth every calorie and fat gram. A woman ahead of me in line noted that the place was so busy yesterday she couldn't find a place to park...she drove back and forth waiting for the crowd to thin out, but it didn't, and she finally had to give up. A middle-aged Midwestern surfer dude who sat at our table -- it's that kind of place; strangers wind up sharing tables -- opined that Tony's food was more authentic than that in Mexicantown in Detroit. We enjoyed it muchly; it was a good gift, and we gave thanks. If you're ever on Michigan's sunrise side, going up M-13, just inside the Standish city limit, look for the taco wagon on the west side of the road.

Soil With Good Heart

I first learned about good-hearted soil when I moved back to my hometown to help my mom. After many years as a yardless renter, I was eager to get my hands into the dirt, so I decided to rehabilitate the vegetable garden in my parents' backyard.

One of my gardening references talked about "soil with good heart." The key to this, it said, was keeping the soil rotated and amended with lots of organic matter. It advocated a practice called double digging, which involves an annual process of digging, enriching and then refilling a series of trenches in your garden, lengthwise and then crosswise, until you've accomplished a very slow, labor-intensive equivalent of shoveling your garden soil into a giant bowl, adding big scoops of compost and manure, and then stirring it all together with a few dibs and dabs of minerals. The goal is to produce a balanced soil loose enough to aerate plant roots and allow them to grow, but substantial enough to feed the plants and retain needed moisture.

Today's Gospel lesson talks about seed -- the seed of the Gospel, of God's invitation to shalom -- that falls into good soil and yields an astonishing crop. How interesting that the same characteristics of good garden soil -- an internal "spaciousness" and ability to yield combined with substance and sustenance -- also describe the heart that is most hospitable to the indwelling of God. And note that the soil with the best potential to grow things is not fallow soil, but soil that's been mightily stirred up -- plowed and trenched and amended. Likewise, the hearts most receptive to God seem to be hearts that have been broken in some way, or perhaps in many ways.

But we don't hear anything in Jesus' parable about the sower's soil preparation. In fact, the farmer in this story doesn't seem to care very much about either efficiency or success. Contrary to the instructions in my gardening book, which talked about laying out my properly double-dug garden in a grid and carefully planting my seeds to maximize yield in a minimum of space, the sower in the parable just tosses the seeds anywhere and everywhere in what would seem to be random acts of agriculture and senseless acts of wastefulness. Remember -- Jesus is talking about God here: What does Jesus' illustration have to say about the generosity of God's grace and invitation into relationship? And what does it say about second-guessing God's "big picture" in making Godsself known? As many of us also heard in church today, " thoughts are not your thoughts, or my ways your ways." Perhaps one of the many lessons one can take away from this parable is that patches of good-hearted soil may lie in unexpected places; that there's method to God's madness.

Soil with good heart -- I think that is what we would all want to be, pray to be, in the Reign of God. But God transforms us all into sowers as well. Do we multiply our yield by scattering it with God's "irrational exuberance"? As Jesus reminds us more than once in the lesson today, listen -- listen! -- to the story.

"Four Soils," James B. Janknecht Posted by Picasa

In the Bag

Some of you may recall that at our church we have an ongoing project called The Bag where, each week, one of our parishoners brings a shopping bag filled with three items symbolizing things important to him or her, and tells the rest of the congregation about them.

I have been tapped to bring The Bag next Sunday. Actually, I'm kind of a default presenter; after one of our little kiddos completed a charming and meaningful review of her three items this morning, our pastor asked for volunteers for next week, and when no one raised a hand -- the congregation was unusually bashful today -- he picked me. (Lay ministerial service with a smile -- LC reporting for duty, sir.)

Now, I have been a Bag lady before, maybe a year after I started hanging out with this congregation. But that was then, and this is now, and I am going to place three new items in the Bag. One of them will be my laptop computer, because something that's very important to me is my amazing network of online friends, and the real excitement I feel in our ongoing collective project of being the Church in this new modality.

With that in mind...if you would like to send your greeting to the fine folks at Hope Lutheran Church -- talkin' 'bout my congregation, in a little white-clapboard country church next to a hayfield, in a place that's hard to find unless you're lost to begin with -- just post your hellos here, and I will convey them to my friends there next Sunday.

The Official BagPosted by Picasa

Friday, July 08, 2005

Friday Bloom Blogging

Here's my little herb garden. It started out with a leftover purple sage and lemon thyme plant from one of my planters last year that, in the fall, I'd just stuck in the ground behind my garage, not really expecting them to survive the winter. They did, and I felt sorry for them, languishing away back there. So I wound up planting them in this long planter with a couple of leftover annual salvia that I didn't know what else to do with, and then filled in the blanks with other herbs I'd picked up here and there: a variegated culinary sage; some marjoram; a silver thyme; dillweed; bronze fennel; pineapple sage; purple-leaved basil; salad burnet. For a project that "just growed" with no planning whatsoever, it turned out pretty well, and I've already started snipping herbs for recipes...except for the pineapple sage, which is a bit overpowering, and I think more valuable for the pretty red flowers than for its culinary value. (It really does smell like pineapple, by the way.)

 Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Way We Pray -- The Way We Believe

My friend Dash, over on her blog Dash Goes to Church , laments the casualness and at times what seems to be near embarrassment with which some Lutherans approach ritual.

My response? Amen, sisterfriend. And, having discussed this issue ad infinitum with other Christians for years on the Internet -- if I had a dollar for every time someone expressed to me his or her longing for structured, dignified and mindful worship that truly sought to create sacred space...well, I'd be typing this in the comfort of my lovely sunroomed beachfront cottage on Crystal Lake.

I know that quoting a 5th century theologian probably won't make much of an impression on those for whom five years ago is ancient history, but bear with me. Lex orandi, lex credendi -- loosely translated, the way we pray is the way we believe. And you know what? It's still as important an insight in 2005 as it was back then. Lutherans are a reforming movement within catholic Christianity. That is who we are. And as catholic Christians we are heirs not only to the theological framework of apostolic Christianity, but also heirs to the form of worship common to catholic Christianity. And as Lutherans, our dual emphasis on Word and Sacrament is only enhanced by the traditional orders of service.

Some people will respond, "But the way you want to worship turns people off -- especially younger people and seeking, church-shy people." Balderdash. Ca-ca. Ecclesiastical urban legend. Liturgical worship isn't what keeps seeking people out of church; in my own AWOL experience, and in the experience of countless others I've met, it's people, acting in various and sundry un-Christlike ways, who keep other people out of churches. And...ahem...the Church is my church too. And Dash's. And all the other Christians who find beauty and dignity and meaning in traditional worship modalities.

Marva Dawn's Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship For This Urgent Time, is an excellent discourse on creating thoughtful, theologically sound worship. Anyone interested in this topic -- read Dawn's book; you'll be glad you did.

"O God, Make Speed to Save Us...O Lord, Make Haste to Help Us"

I was newly awake, bleary-eyed, checking my e-mail, when the local news -- cheery little features about the National Cherry Festival -- was interrupted with breaking news of the bombings in London. The local newscasters, who'd been chattering about sand castle competitions and cherry-pit-spitting contests, were suddenly befuddled, not quite knowing what to say, not having much to say because they didn't seem to be getting any information from the network. When the program broke away for the network news, those anchorpeople too seemed confused and frustrated. It was all eerily similar to the morning of 9-11, when I'd just gotten to work and found coworkers and clients huddled around a television, not sure what was happening other than that it was something very bad.

I've thought about this all day; prayed for all the people involved, especially a nurse interviewed on BBC, who'd had to work in the midst of all the carnage and, despite what seemed like a gallant effort at remaining professional while talking to the reporter, was clearly on the verge of breaking into sobs as she described some of the wounded she'd seen and attended. I suppose I could write an essay about our inhumanity to one another, or the dangers of religious extremism...but instead I will share a prayer I found online, from the Diocese of Chichester's collection of prayers for time of war. I've changed it just a bit; but when all is said and done, it encapsulates what I most wanted today:

Almighty God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the Sovereign of all:
govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring all of us, everywhere,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to Christ's just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Feel the Burn

Word of Life, Jesus Christ,
All glory to you!
Word of Life, Jesus Christ,
All praise to you!
Our hearts burn within us
While you open to us the Scriptures
Word of Life, Jesus Christ,
All glory to you!
Word of Life, Jesus Christ,
All praise to you! -- Gospel Acclamation

Today's Gospel lesson put me in mind of one of my favorite parts of the Sunday worship service at our church, the Gospel Acclamation. We usually speak the liturgy, but this part we sing; it's a lovely melody, and it's sung with gusto.

But it isn't only the music that resonates with me -- nor, I suspect, with my fellow worshippers. The Gospel Acclamation moves me because I know it's true. One of the great gifts of the liturgical tradition is our exposure, over and over again throughout the year and from year to year, to the same texts, the same stories. They etch themselves into our memory...sometimes whether we like it or not, as was the case for me when I tried to Molotov-cocktail the Christianity bridge back in my 30's, only to hear those passages cycle in my head while I was driving, or working, or trying to get to sleep. I couldn't get them to stop. My heart burned within me -- an uncomfortable burn, like falling in love when you don't want to: Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!

Every once in awhile -- maybe more often than that -- the burn still makes me wince. I'll be in a snit, nursing my wrath to keep it warm over one thing or the other, only to find the lectionary readings focusing on grace and mercy. Or I'll be feeling just a leeetle bit spiritually superior to someone else -- "My, I've been an upstanding individual" -- and then I inevitably hear words of warning about the sin of pride and the yeast of the Pharisees. Ouch.

But these days, when I "hear a word," when I hear the revealed Word, I usually feel more of a beckoning warmth that makes me want to hear more. May I always want to "feel the burn."

Easter Window/Road to Emmaus, Stephen H. Hackney, Holy Comforter Lutheran Church, Belmont, NC Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Debate Forum Detox Report

I haven't posted on Beliefnet's Christian-to-Christian Debate Forum in about three weeks now.

And it feels mahhhhvelous.

Today I stopped in just to read through the topic threads...and I'm quite sure that catholic Christianity will not stand or fall on the basis of my continued non-presence there. Whew! What a relief. (That was a joke.)

A Justification Proclamation

Today I read a visitor's post on my friend Melancthon's blog , complaining that ELCA blogs never talk about justification by grace through faith, arguably the cornerstone of Lutheran theology.

Actually that's a good point, and one that -- ahem -- does not only apply to our particular flavor of Lutheranism. Fact of the matter is, most of Marty's kids, especially if we're cradle Lutherans, have been marinated in Lutheran theology for so long, and tend to talk amongst ourselves so often, that we can forget what a radical and liberating concept sola gratia, sola fides can be, especially in the larger context of American Christianity. want justification? You got justification. This is from Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism As a Way of Life" by Daniel Erlander, one of the books I'd put on my short list of recommendations for someone exploring Lutheran Christianity:

We are justified by grace through faith.

Justified: We celebrate God's action, his declaration that, because of Christ, all are accepted into the covenant people. All are invited -- the weak, the oppressed, the depressed, the sinners, the alienated and the outcasts. God calls infants, children, adults and the elderly. He invites all races, nations, tribes and classes. No one is excluded. God calls everyone into the family of the new order. This is God's righteousness, his justice. This is JUSTIFICATION!

By Grace: The covenant people into which we are invited is the church -- the ECCLESIA [Greek for "called out ones"]. The church lives as the family which has received the gift of the new age -- forgiveness, reconciliation, liberation -- and has been commissioned to proclaim the new age in word and deed. We, the church, do not deserve to be this covenant people. Our inclusion is a gift of God. This is GRACE!

Through Faith: Faith is the trusting, obedient YES of the heart which enables us to enter and live in the covenant community, the family in which we receive and share the gifts of the kingdom -- forgiveness and reconciliation. We stand in awe and wonder, realizing that even our trusting in God is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, even our faith is a gift. (p. 27)

This is good news indeed! So let's pass it on...and on and on and on.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A Glorious Fourth

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore. -- John Adams, writing to Abigail Adams

I just came inside after enjoying my neighbors' annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration. I live on a large, serpentine lake, and every year some of the summer people on the other side of the water throw what amounts to a two-evening block party, complete with hours of dee-jayed party music and magnificent fireworks that rival the nearest municipal Fourth of July observances.

During holidays like this my pathos-meter tends to be racheted up into the whiny zone -- frankly, it sucks to be not only sweet-baboo-less but without a general peer group in my neighborhood to pal around with. And this morning at church our pastor's sermon had some rather sobering observations about the rapid restructuring of the world's economy, our increasing class stratification, and the fact that our future looks a lot poorer and scarier than it did to our elders. I found myself pondering how long we'll have a "cottage culture" here in northern Michigan -- middle-class downstaters with enough money to afford an up-north weekend getaway, and local people who can find work allowing them to live here. I was feeling like a pretty glum chum at suppertime, despite celebratory picnic vittles.

But tonight, sitting in my backyard with an iced tea, watching the sky light up in technicolor, grooving to a delightfully eclectic mix of par-tay tunes, living in the moment and being grateful for that, was not a bad way to spend a summer evening. And this year I experienced the added excitement of almost getting run over by a whitetail who'd been spooked by M-80s and came crashing through the woods right at me...there's nothing like a near-collision with a large, crazed wild animal to clear one's mind powerfully.

So...anyway...lifting my glass of tea to all my online friends...have a happy Independence Day, and watch out for deer.

A reasonable fascimile of the fireworks over our lake. (Thanks, Wikipedia ) Posted by Picasa