Thursday, September 29, 2005

Irreconciliable Differences?

I was very shaken today by a conversation I've been having online that's become polarized between evangelicals and persons in the broadly catholic tradition. Some of us in the latter category were sharing our negative, indeed hurtful experiences being judged, proselytized and verbally bullied by culturally aggressive evangelicals and fundamentalists. This didn't go over very well, to put it mildly, and in the course of things someone whom I consider a friend "went off on" me, somehow interpreting my characterizations of some evangelicals/fundamentalists as a criticism of her.

The sad thing is...all I, and I think the other catholic folks, in the discussion wanted, was a simple validation of our experience. Instead, the wagons circled on both sides, and now it's a real mess.

We have such different theological frameworks, and such different vocabularies -- even different definitions for the same terms -- that I wonder how we can ever have conversations that lead to mutual understanding instead of mutual alienation. Maybe the most ecumenical dialogue we can manage is while passing the sandbags or spooning food on plates in a soup kitchen or engaging in other "no preaching, no praying" endeavors.

Thursday Night Blog Party

Skipping through blogdom tonight...

Meet my Swedish friend Jonatan at Liturgia Semper Reformanda , where he's been talking about worship as a multisensory experience; he's now discussing how incense engages the sense of smell in worship. Pastor J, you are My Hero.

On a related note, bls at The Topmost Apple longs to recapture a sense of awe and majesty before God.

On Bending the Rule , *Christopher describes how our balance and focus affect our faith walk.

Pastor Grover at Grover's Corners muses on the discomfort of confronting one's mediocrity.

Derek at Haligweorc shares a hymn to St. Michael for this day -- any musicians out there are welcome to suggest an appropriate melody.

A sad farewell service at the Rebel Without a Pew's church.

Check out Melancthon's labor of love The Truth About the Trinity .

Pastor Pink Shoes shares a transcendent Little Child Moment during the Eucharist.

First Year Pastor is the latest among us to be stricken with that antsy, unsettled feeling inherent in change.

And now...I go to pack my bag for my weekend retreat in Kalamazoo -- major lecture time interspersed with worship and meals. I'd like to say that, at the end of the day, I go on to a late evening of intensive personal prayer and meditation, feet of clay may experience a peppermint-rosemary pedicure while I watch The History Channel in my hotel room. (All together now: GEEK!) Maybe I need to read *Christopher's blog again...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Calling All Angels

Let us praise Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Powers, Authorities and Principalities, Dominions, Archangels and Angels for they are the Bodiless ministers of the Unoriginate Trinity and revealers of incomprehensible mysteries. Glory to Him Who has given you being; glory to Him Who has given you light; glory to Him Who is praised by you in thrice-holy hymns.

The other day I told someone that I never really thought much about angels on a daily basis, but maybe I should. And I suspect I'm not the only Christian these days who doesn't quite know how to fit these beings into my cosmology.

It wasn't always like this. When I was a young child I had a habit of endangering my life in creative ways -- playing Jack in the Beanstalk up the farm elevator and falling into our corn crib, or sticking a severed electrical plug into a wall socket because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was informed, numerous times, that I owed my life to my guardian angel, and the adults around me were not being facetious when they said that; they believed it.

But times change. These days you're more likely to hear an affirmation of angels from outside the Church. Angels make mainline Christians a little nervous -- in some circles talking about angels as real entities is a little like talking about faeries in your garden. Angels would appear to be another casualty of a skeptical age.

But here is what I think: If I can affirm a God who is a Creator -- who absolutely delights in creating -- and who also loves relationships -- so much so that God is a relationship -- why would I dismiss out of hand the idea that God's creativity and desire for relationship is only limited to this world? Why shouldn't there be angels? I don't mean Renaissance cherubs and Victorian ladies-with-wings floating about from cloud to cloud with harps in hand. I mean some strange, wonderful class of being that I can't really imagine, whose reality somehow interacts with mine and with the rest of the material world's...beings who, as the Talmud put it, may stand over each blade of grass commanding it to grow; beings who, perhaps, bring messages from God to people who need them, in ways those people can best understand.

An old college friend of mine, taking a summer semester abroad, found herself broke; flunking her classes. A romance she'd thought was The One had distintigrated. She was no longer sure of her career choice. She seriously considered ending it all. She'd taken to spending some time each day in a city park, listening to music. One day, as she was pondering dark and distressed thoughts, an old man sat next to her on her park bench and asked her why she seemed so sad. At his words all her sorrows and fears tumbled out. After listening for awhile the old man said, "Don't be afraid...everything is going to be all right." And he proceeded to tell her that she'd salvage her grades; that her finances would reverse; that she'd find love again. The next time my friend went to the park, the old man was there; and the next time and the next time. And each time he assured my friend that her life was going to change for the better. And suddenly it did; things started turning around for her all at once. She wanted to stay alive again. She went back to the park as usual, wanting to tell the kind old man that his hunches were correct. But he didn't show up that day. He never came back again, for the rest of her stay. She came back home convinced that she had been visited by an angel.

I'd like to think she was.

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals. Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

St. Michael,stained glass by Harry Wooldridge, St. Michael and all Saints, Weybridge, Surrey  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Meet Jehu Jones

In recent weeks I've been discussing the Communion of the Saints on various blogs and discussion forums, and bemoaning the way that we in the ELCA and elsewhere outside Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy neglect remembering our sisters and brothers in faith who have gone before us into glory, whose lives set an example for us to follow. In the interest of putting my blog where my mouth is, because I think it's important, I am going to spotlight, now and then, some of the people of faith recognized in our lesser festivals and commemorations.

Jehu Jones, whose commemoration day is tomorrow, was the first African-American pastor ordained in America, in 1832. The idea was to have him accompany freed slaves to Liberia as a missionary -- at the time repatriation of African-Americans was considered an enlightened solution to the "color" issue in this country -- but when he couldn't find support for his mission, Jones instead began an African-American Lutheran congregation in Philadelphia, and eventually in other communities as well, serving thousands of parishoners. He was also active in civil rights causes and community work. Despite often being treated downright despicably by Lutheran church officials and suffering numerous setbacks in his work, Jones remained loyal to his Lutheran theological roots, and lived in the hope that one day the transformative power of the Gospel would effect racial harmony. You can read more about Jones by clicking on the link above.

God of grace and might, we praise you for your servant Jehu, to whom you gave gifts to make the good news known. Raise up, we pray, in every country and in every community within our society, heralds and evangelists of your reign, so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Exegetin' With Bob

Oh where have you been my blue-eyed son
Oh where have you been my darling young one
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it's hard and it's hard and it's hard and it's hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall -- "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," Bob Dylan

Last night I saw the first PBS installment of No Direction Home, Martin Scorcese's bio of Bob Dylan; it's a great film. At one point in the film Dylan is giving a radio interview -- I think with Studs Terkel -- about the song "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" . Terkel begins, and I'm paraphrasing: So you've written this song about atomic rain. Dylan interrupts him; no, it's not about atomic rain. Terkel: It's not about atomic rain? Dylan, impatiently: It's about a hard rain.

As I'm preparing for a weekend of exegetically dissecting the prophets, I wonder how many of them, and the other poets who wrote the texts in Scripture, would listen to our classes, and read our commentaries, and say, No; it's not about that. You're overthinking it. Just listen.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Grace Under Pressure

Pssst...anyone know a good table grace?

I have been tapped to say grace at one of the meals at my retreat this weekend. While I'm happy to wing it -- it's a matter of honor for me, since I am always engaging with evangelical types who don't believe that Lutherans are capable of extemporaneous prayer -- I would also be happy to share a prayer that others have found meaningful at community meals. Thanks, everyone!

"Autumn Fruit" at  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Taking a Daily Break with Henri

For those of you who appreciate the work of Henri Nouwen, or would like to make his check out the website of the Henri Nouwen Society, by clicking on the link above. Among other things, you can sign up for a daily e-mail meditation based on Nouwen's writings.

The Kingdom and the Power


Everybody wants power. Including church folks. That is why authority is such a hot-button issue in our parishes, in our denominations, and in the intersection of faith and public life.

Who makes the rules and sets the agenda in our faith communities and denominations? Who is considered worthy of preaching the Word, of administering the rites and sacraments, of exercising moral and practical leadership in our churches? How much authority should people of faith be able to exercise in creating and promoting public policy for all citizens? These questions, and the inevitable conflicts they raise, roil in the Church, on both a local and a large-scale level.

To me, the lessons many of us heard this morning all address the issue of power in the Reign of God. The issue is addressed most explicitly in the Gospel lesson, when Jesus visits the Temple and is confronted by the chief priests and elders -- perhaps understandably perturbed by this upstart yokel rabbi whose preaching and associations and actions run counter to their understanding of righteousness and ritual holiness. "By whose authority are you saying and doing these things?" they demand; in other words, "Who do you think you are?"

Jesus does something interesting here. He engages the religious bigshots on their own turf, in their own terms, using a rhetorical device called pilpul; he answers a question with another question. Jewish scholars would engage in rounds of these rhetorical challenges, in a process that, ideally, was supposed to result in insight and mutual understanding. One wonders if the religious authorities are momentarily taken aback when the rube from Nazareth meets their challenge and leaves them unsure, equivocating, trying to figure out the answer that will get them in the least amount of trouble with the people, whom one presumes from the text have gathered around this group to hear the exchange.

Now that he has their attention, Jesus returns to a favorite teaching device, the parable. To quote the theme song from Cops, his story is about "bad boys" -- two young men who don't do right by their father, a vineyard owner. When Dad tells the first son to get to work in the vineyard, the son says, "No way" (who knew that ancient Palestinian kids backsassed the old man?) -- but, after awhile, the kid thinks the better of it and goes to work. The second son, told by his father to get to work, says, "Right on it, Dad!" -- but he isn't. This, says Jesus, is what's going on here. God has given all God's people work to do in the world -- to mend the broken places and bring it back into a right relationship with God. The studiously holy folks, the ones who think they know the score when it comes to doing God's will, say, "Right on it" -- but they're not. They're good at thinking about it, talking about it, arguing about it; doing it, not so much. Meanwhile, notes Jesus, the presumed delinquents of society, in the eyes of the holy folks -- the hard cases, the clueless, as well as the average Moishes and Sadies who simply couldn't keep up with the ever-more-complex corpus of ritual law -- they are responding to Jesus' message of God's in-breaking Reign in ways that matter.

What Jesus seems to be saying here is that the authority, the power, to speak and act on God's behalf comes with the doing of God's will. Not in the sense of following the T-crossing, I-jotting minutiae of second-hand ritual laws and religious convention, but in the actual living out of God's redeeming, reconciling work in the world; the living out of the "new heart and new spirit" the prophet Ezekiel refers to; the turning toward life and wholeness. And Jesus also seems to say that this living-out can and will be done by the very people the holy folks believe least capable of doing so -- because, as Jesus implies and as the letter to the Philippians underscores, it's God who confers the power to do just that.

So the nature of power is different in the Reign of God than it is in the world; it's a power made manifest in saving, in transforming, in reconciling, in renewing. And it's a power not grasped by force, but given by God. But what does the exercise of power, of authority, look like in the Reign of God? Is it about coercion? Is it about "carrying a big stick" in a personal, congregational, denominational or political context, in order to make things turn out right? No. In the Reign of God, power is exercised by giving it away; about giving oneself away for others, as Jesus did. The Kenosis Hymn of Philippians spells it out. And it's important to realize that this isn't a paen to a kind of masochistic, "kick me" mentality; as Christ pours himself out voluntarily, from a position of power, so do we, empowered people of God, siblings of Christ and members of the household of God, voluntarily give ourselves away. Think of Jesus' example of turning the other cheek; not an expression of weakness and passivity, but rather a deliberate, mindful giving up of the power to slap back; a moral and indeed cosmic martial art as we live in an antagonistic, death-dealing world.

How good at I at wielding this sort of divinely sanctioned power in the world? I'm terrible at it. I want to slap back. I want to be the one making the rules and exercising payback. I'm the kid who, when presented with the real work of God's Reign, is inclined to say, "Right on it," and then I don't do it. Or I'm the kid who, when presented with God's work, simply says, "Don't want to." One of my old college friends was an audiology grad student whose first solo audiology test was of a recalcitrant five-year-old who responded to each of her testing requests with "Don't want to"; he intoned this mantra, in various cadences and degrees of crankiness, for a good half-hour. Well, that tends to be me, on any given day, with The CEO asking me, "Can you hear me now?" and my answering "Don't want to."

The good news? Sometimes, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I do "hear him now." The turning is going on; in fits and starts, to be sure, but I feel it. And I believe that is true of all of us who claim the Christ -- and some of us who don't. God is slowly, patiently, helping us divest ourselves of our own claims to power and authority, so God can instead fill us with God's own -- so that we in turn can give it away, like a perpetually overflowing, perpetually renewing fountain to quench the thirst of a world that's never tasted this kind of power before.

Pelican Feeding Young, Tiffany stained glass window Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Weekend Frog Blogging and Garden Wrap-Up

This is, the weather people tell us, the last truly summery day we can expect this year, so I have been busy in the yard -- pruning, mowing the lawn, attending to the somewhat melancholy task of emptying out pots of spent tomatoes. (More on that in a minute.) The wood frogs (rana sylvatica)are particularly abundant outside this afternoon, and I was able to catch one, just for a moment, just long enough to (more or less) take its picture -- as you can see, it wasn't too happy sitting on my hand, and I was able to get a shot of it only about a nanosecond before it sprang off again. Considering the dearth of frogs and toads in many areas -- a symptom of water pollution and, it's thought, an overabundance of ultraviolet light, thanks to what we're doing to our atmosphere -- and considering the strange birth defects the frogs we do have left seem to be manifesting, also as a result of the various environmental insults being inflicted upon them, finding a healthy frog with two eyes and four legs these days is good news. Live long and prosper, li'l buddy. the sunlight dwindles and the gardening season winds down here in the Upper Midwest, I give you a summary of my garden hits and misses:

Best Tomato: A tie between Green Zebra and Garden Peach.

Most Prolific Tomato: Italian Climbing. (These, by the way, for some reason, improved in taste as the summer went on; they got sweeter and more flavorful. I have no idea why this would be.) Runner-up: Yellow Pear. Interestingly, the Red Pear didn't produce nearly as much fruit.

Greatest Disappointment: My two purple tomato varieties, the Black Krim and Purple Cherokee, which were not only rather watery and tasteless, but were also subject to spoiling on the vine just at the point of ripeness. Runner-up: Matt's Wild Cherry, which was initially loaded with tasty little fruit, but pooped out in mid-August. Many years ago I tried currant tomatoes, the unimproved species tomato that's a parent of Matt's Wild Cherry, and I have to say I think I'd rather grow them again -- they yield and yield and yield right until frost.

Best Flowers: My miniature red flowering maple. It has flowered nonstop since I got it, and looked really nice in its pot with red wax begonias and chartreuse coleus. Runner-up: My lavender fuschia, which gets extra credit points for the amazing color, but had a rough time getting going this summer.

Most Disappointing Flowers: My purple-and-orange flower bed under the kitchen window. Early summer heat killed off my Jolly Joker violas, which were supposed to be the unifying flower in the bed, and I also had a hard time keeping the dark purple petunias and salvia happy. On the other hand, I had quite a beautiful lavender petunia, almost iridescent, and some purply-cerise strawflowers and annual verbena that thrived in all kinds of weather...and of course the workhorse marigolds were fine. Oh, well.

Not growing again: Pineapple sage. It smells nice when touched, but this year I couldn't get it to flower...and it's very weedy looking and invasive in a small herbal planting. And despite some diligent Googling, I couldn't find any good recipes for it.

So there you have it -- another garden season passes in Outer Podunk.

Say hello to my squirmy little friend. Posted by Picasa

Good News/Bad News Quizzes

I just took two quizzes on *Christopher's blog. The bad news is...I am a Geek...more scientific in my thinking, much less empathetic, at the cusp of very smart and very stooopid.

No suprises there. True story: I'm in a butcher shop, not all that long ago, and the counter person is exhibiting aggressive eye contact, calling me by my first name (I sometimes have to wear a name badge), leaning way over the counter to talk to me, even touching my hand. My initial impression? "Wow -- she's getting mightily excited about meat. She must really love her job." Honestly; that's what I'm thinking, at the time. It's only in the car, miles away, that the creaking gears of my social-intelligence mentation finally kick in, and I realize that I've just been hit upon. Which probably explains why I'm 45 and single. And, of course, there goes my Preferred Customer discount.

Now, the good news: I am a Devoted Lover. I just wanted to share that. For the record. You'll have to beat me over the head with a 2-by-4 to get my attention, but once you do -- I am yours.

Friday, September 23, 2005

David -- King of the Blues

You are the Lord;
do not hold your compassion from me;
in your love and faithfulness keep me safe forever,
for innumerable troubles have crowded upon me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see;
they are more in number than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails me.
Be pleased, o Lord, to deliver me;
o Lord, make haste to help me. -- Psalm 40

I used to have plenty of money, the finest clothes in town,
But bad luck and trouble overtaken me, bound to get me down.
Please have mercy, Lord have mercy on me.
Well, if I've done somebody wrong, Lord,
have mercy if you please. -- "Sinner's Prayer," Glenn & Fulson

Today I've been listening off and on to Eric Clapton's From the Cradle , his tribute to blues classics. Listen to those samples...have mercy, indeed!

I think if David were alive today he'd be jamming with Clapton.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Quiz: Can This Wardrobe Be Saved?

Why post a canned quiz when you can invent your own?

The sentence best matching this article of clothing, pulled from LutheranChik's own closet, is:

a. "I went to the Pride parade, and all I got was this lousy jacket."
b. "My kid's birthday is next month. I wonder if she juggles and make balloon animals."
c. "Don't drop the brown acid,'s bad..."
d. "Festive colors...clean, classic lines...and it goes with almost anything. Yeah, right!"
e. "Hello? Fashion Police? I'd like to report a felony in Outer Podunk..."
f. "We now conclude another broadcast day..."
g. "Hmmm...which festival would be the most liturgically appropriate for that?"
h. "Taste's less; great filling!"
i. Other

I like to call it my Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday Night Blog Party

Zipping through blogdom tonight...

Dash encounters Christ in an unlikely guise.

The Lutheran Zephyr points out some good things about being Lutheran, and also explains why Lutherans don't "bring people to Christ."

Lorna at See-Through Faith encounters a fellow unhappy with, using his punctuation, "female 'pastors,'" and responds in a firm but gracious way. (Lorna, you have better people skills than I do, for sure.)

The Rebel Without a Pew ponders the wisdom of keeping congregations on life support instead of living into the future. And speaking of pilgrimage, Sacramentality compares the monarch butterfly migration with the Christian journey.

Jules at Faith or Fiction , reading Thomas Merton, writes of becoming real by telling the truth.

And if you'd like to help a Katrina victim in a practical way, Ann at What Is Your Only Comfort? is helping a young woman evacuee who could use some stuff as she settles into her new living situation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My Name Is Earl

I was home from work today with a bug...the achy, feverish, run-over-by-a-truck kind. I feel somewhat better this evening, but my head is still in Twilight Zone mode, which may explain why I was watching network TV -- usually an object of my scorn and derision -- tonight.

This may be the virus talking, but I really like the new NBC show My Name is Earl. It's about a loveable lowlife named Earl, in a small town remarkably similar to Outer Podunk. Earl wins, then loses a Lotto fortune -- quite painfully, I might add -- and in the "Why me?" aftermath, he has a metanoia moment while watching Carson Daley on TV discussing the law of karma. Earl decides that he needs to make amends with all the people he's ever hurt in his life; he draws up a list and proceeds to do just that. In this initial episode he tries to help a lonely neighbor whom he'd tormented as a child find love -- a task complicated by the revelation that the guy is gay, which necessitates some additional consciousness raising on Earl's part.

Witty and sweet -- two adjectives that usually don't go together when discussing a television show, but this one manages to be both.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Message From Our Sunday School

This morning we were greeted at the door by our Sunday School kids -- mostly real little crumb-crunchers -- shyly passing out these handmade refrigerator magnets. I thought they bore a message worth here 'tis. Thanks, kids! Once again -- you get it.

Right back at ya, kids! Posted by Picasa

What's So Fair About Grace?

You may be familiar with Phillip Yancey's book What's So Amazing About Grace?

It's a great title. But I think a better question, in light of today's Gospel lesson, is...What's so fair about grace?

Human beings care about fairness. Getting what we deserve. Deserving what we get. Keeping score. Making the equations of life together come out right.

But the God we find in the story of the Vineyard Owner is a God who doesn't seem to give a fig for fairness. Work all day in the hot sun? Earn a denarius. Spend an hour or two on the job before the whistle blows? Earn a denarius. "Hey -- my vineyard, my rules."

Over the centuries this parable has been used as an object lesson in dealing with a lot of issues in the Church -- everything from the friction between Jesus' original followers and converts, to the tension we sometimes find in today's congregations between the Old Guard and new members, to general spiritual one-upsmanship within the Christian community. But I think there's a way to understand it in even simpler terms.

There's nothing fair about grace. And that is very good news indeed, because if there were we would all be out on the curb. None of us deserve grace, because it's not about earning points by doing stuff. In God's economy, Mother Teresa and Bishop Tutu stand shoulder to shoulder with murderers, drug dealers and your Uncle Frank the SOB. The mentally challenged guy in your congregation who screams out an incoherent "Jesus Loves Me" at inappropriate moments in the service, and the most renowned doctor of the Church in all of history -- here's your denarius, fellas.

Which also illustrates another aspect of God's economy -- there's zero unemployment. God keeps pulling people off the sidewalk as fast as they gather there; isn't picky about qualifications or references: "Come work in my vineyard."

And God's grace is enough. In Jesus' parable, all the workers receive the ancient Palestinian minimum wage -- enough to get by for another day. Sometimes I think it's hard for us to get our heads around this: We don't have to clutch at or hoard or fight over God's grace because there is enough for us all. How much of the discord in Christendom today, when you get right down to it, is essentially a grab for grace? -- "It's mine! Mine, I tell you!" -- as if God has not already given us the grace we need? God's grace, properly understood, is a unifying agent between people; by divorcing grace from merit, God refuses to play our human game of dividing ourselves into "us" and "them." "You're all 'us,'" is the divine message in the vineyard owner's unconditional denarius.

Madeleine L'Engle, in an interview with The Door magazine many years ago, observed that we tend to want justice for everyone else but lots and lots of grace for ourselves. Because we just want what's fair; right?

Thank God that God's grace isn't fair. Thank God that God doesn't give us what we want, but instead gives us what we need -- freely, lovingly; not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

Red Vineyard, Vincent Van Gogh Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Touch Me, Fall

Peer pressure has finally gotten to me (and I am procrastinatin')...I'll take a stab at the Fall Meme making the rounds:

Favorite fall dessert: My mom's pumpkin pie -- very creamy, light on the cloves -- with her famously good pie crust.

Favorite fall holiday: Thanksgiving. Turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie -- what's not to like? Time to don the stretchy pants!

Best fall memory: Autumns in college...our campus was beautiful. I remember how much I enjoyed walking to class surrounded by the amazing foliage. And we always had delightful Lutheran Student Movement autumn retreats in Indiana or Ohio, at remote locations in the woods. One retreat was at a place called the Center For Peace and Justice, run by a radical priest and two nuns; we loved them. There was an environmentally friendly house on premises that amazed me at the time -- it had a greenhouse filled with tomatoes in, I think, November, and a lovely kitchen with a big cast-iron stove and blue-and-white Delft tiles on the wall, and a whole gallon bucket of hickory nuts from the surrounding woods sitting in the corner; I thought, "Someday I'd love a kitchen like this." (The necessity of splitting wood somehow not factoring into my grand plan.)

Worst fall memory: Starting a Job From Hell, on the administrative staff of a university. It was so bad that I'd quit by Christmas, even though I'd gotten stellar reviews from my boss...even though it meant that I gave up the opportunity for free grad school tuition. It was so bad that I literally burned my employee documents upon giving my notice. Real bad.

Most puzzling fall memory: I don't remember a lot of my mid- and late 20's...not that I was altering my consciousness or riding the Disoriented Express or anything; I just don't remember specifics of that time in my life.

Best thing about fall walks: Everything. That heady scent of curing foliage and fruit and autumn flowers; the colors; the crisp air, and the warmth of wool. The arrows of geese flying overhead. Fall is by far my favorite season.

Favorite fall chore: Raking leaves.

Least favorite fall chore: Cleaning gutters and washing windows.

Best change in the home: Being able to snuggle under an afghan.

Favorite flower: New England asters -- incredible color.

Best tree in the fall: Sugar maples, and the ashes whose leaves turn burgundy. Some juneberries are quite beautiful in the fall, with multicolored leaves. Sassafras are pretty too, but they're hard to find around here. I like the bronze leaves of beeches, and their smooth trunks. And the odd, appealing, almost metallic look of ironwood bark, which becomes more noticeable in an autumn woods.

Fall ritual: Packing away summer clothes and bringing out the cold-weather wear.

Most frustrating thing about fall: Shorter days. It's really depressing driving to work in the dark and driving home in the dark.

Favorite childhood game: I don't remember having a fall childhood game.

Favorite childhood memory: Whenever my dad went to the grain elevator in town, I'd go along. There was an ancient Coke machine in a corner, and Dad would give me a quarter for a Coke, if I'd split it with him...that was back in the days of the green, hourglass-shaped bottles. I'd hang out with him in the office, which was always interesting because they'd have fascinating things in there like cats or boxes of puppies for sale or horse tack or a large jar filled with a real pickled tapeworm demonstrating why you should worm your cattle. And when we took our corn to the elevator to grind, I'd always get to sit in our truck while the hoist lifted the cab, tipping the box so that the grain would fall out. It was like a carnival ride.

Favorite decorations: Natural fall wreaths that use wild grasses and fruits. Indian corn and gourds.

Favorite clothing: LutheranChik, not being a slave to fashion, generally favors functional L.L.-Beanish wear most of the time anyway, but especially in the fall. I have a special affection for huge Peruvian sweaters and voluminous flannel nightgowns. (Yeah, I know -- this is like an anti-personal ad. What can I say? -- I get cold.)

Best scenery: Michigan's hillier counties in the northwest.

Best fall travel tip: Watch for deer.

Favorite drink: Cider, fresh from the press.

Best method of transportation: Anything that gets you to a good leaf-peeping destination.

Traditional fall candy: Remember Kraft Fudgies? They don't sell them around here anymore. We always used to buy pounds of them for Halloween back in the day. I love them.

Favorite Sound: The crunch of leaves under my feet, and the rustle of leaves overhead; the sound of the geese. And I will admit to a certain sentimental fondness for the sound of the MSU Marching Band practicing out on the green outside the "Virgin Isles" dorms where I spent my college career.

Best for fall sex: Um...hmmm...well...I suppose that would ideally include a real live Sweet Baboo with whom in the autumnal splendor. And, as long as we're taking a bus trip to Fantasyland, I am imagining a lovely weekend in Benzie or Leelanau counties, which is as beautiful a place as you'd want to be in this state in the fall, especially with someone you love. But you'll have to fill in the blanks, gentle readers. (Which is probably what I'm going to be doing too, now that I'm thinking about it...)

Fall song: Nun danket alle Gott.

Reliable prediction: MSU's football team will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The new television season will be a disappointment. I will eat too much on Thanksgiving.

Best fall television show: Is there such a thing?

The Gospel According to Vox Populi

Here is an essay on what happens when American civil religion runs up against what's actually in the Scriptures, in the context of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. While I don't necessarily agree with all the author's comments, I'll shout out an "Amen" to her observation about the general disconnect between our civic values and Christian values as modeled in the Gospel message. For me the point, I think, is not so much attempting to impose the values of the Reign of God on an uncomprehending and unwilling population, but rather getting more churchy, self-described "Bible-believing" folks to finally understand that the civic God of "one nation under" usually bears more of a resemblance to Wotan or Zeus, or perhaps more accurately to our own inward-turned, vengeful, grasping impulses, than it does to the God we meet in Jesus. What is it they say about realizing that you have a problem being the first step in making a change?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Getting Real on a Friday Night

I have a confession to make. So to speak.

I was recently in an online conversation on a Lutheran forum with someone who felt that we Lutherans have a tendency to focus too much on our sinfulness, instead of on the joy of Christian living. The regulars, myself included, responded with the usual party line about the Law being a mirror that shows us our inability to get it right on our own and our need for God, and how regular confession is a reality check that keeps us from becoming too cocky and complacent -- from forgetting who we are and who God is.

Good, righteous talk. But, as in many other areas of my life, I talk a better game than I play.

Following the Daily Office , you do a lot of confessing in the course of a week. Sometimes, especially if I'm preoccupied (which is a lot), confession can become slapdash and cursory, instead of a thoughtful self-examination.

The confession in the Friday Evening Prayer refuses to let me off the hook by mumbling generalities. It's more than a mirror; it's a hall of mirrors, and every time I turn my head from one mirror I am confronted with another:

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,

We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

I don't know about you, but each item in that litany of ways that we mess up with God and mess up with one another stings me almost palpably.

But that's not the end of the song.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;

Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,

That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,

Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.

"Accomplish in us the work of your salvation." It's a comforting reminder that we are a work in progress, like a piece of stone or wood slowly being shaped into a sculpture -- or, as a sculptor might put it, a work of God's art slowly being revealed by the Great Sculptor. Perhaps those stings of conscience are just the taps of the divine tools reaching down into our true selves: "I know you're in there; let me help get you out."

Friday Bloom Blogging

Today was a dark, raw, wet day here in Outer, as a valedictory salute to the summer soon to pass, here's an image from earlier in the season when I visited my old stomping grounds in Cadillac. These flowers -- they were annual verbena mixed with...I'm having a brain burp regarding their official name; I call them "miniature petunia thingies," a phrase which doesn't Google well -- were gorgeous; the baskets were huge, perfectly round, and hung at regular intervals all the way down the main drag. And I can't describe the colors; much more vivid than this picture suggests. I literally stood underneath the street lamps with mouth agape, like...well, like the tourist I've become.

Flower power in downtown Cadillac Posted by Picasa

"What Does This Mean?" -- Ask Dr. Science!

Especially in light of my last post, I was delighted to, while surfing the ELCA website, land on The ELCA Alliance For Faith, Science and Technology . Note the "Ask a Scientist" feature under construction. I'm glad to be part of a church body that takes science and technology seriously and non-antagonistically.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Never Underestimate the Power of Stupid People in Large Groups

Constant Readers know that I do not often wax political on these pages, but I just have to say...I listened to "Fresh Air" today on my way home from work, and Terry Gross' interview with Robert Walker , a lobbyist, former congressperson from Pennsylvania and former chairperson of the Science Committee, made my hair stand on end. Give that interview a listen. With knucklehead idealogues like Walker helping shape science and technology policy in our country, God help us all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Wednesday Night Blog Party

This is going to be a relatively short post because I am supposed to be writing my Advent devotionals instead of blogging -- some of you know how that goes -- but I wanted to point out a few blogs I enjoy reading, that I just haven't gotten around to adding to my blogroll, as well as one of the blogs on my list that I missed last week.

Two faith-based blogs that will take you right into the heart of the territory ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, visit Hurricane Katrina Response and St. Casserole , the latter blogged by one of our RevGalBlogPals whose parish was in the path of the hurricane. Meanwhile, Clark Smith, Mild-Mannered Blogger offers a thoughtful response to the "God caused the hurricane" sentiment.

Lutherpunk discusses the Lutheran understanding of the Communion of Saints, and why some of us Lootern types think that asking for the intercession of the saints is as much of a non-issue as asking any of you to pray for us. Meanwhile, Real Live Preacher has a numinous encounter with Martin Luther, Diet Coke and a can of soup.

And, on a lighter note, Suburban Lesbian comes out of the closet as an enthusiastic consumer of Mary long as the Mary Kay ladies keep a safe distance. I have a stealth Avon lady -- I get my stash through a third-person drop -- so I can relate. And I also have a fondness for girlie-girl foot therapy. (Actually, when I'm feeling unloved and neglected I have a tendency to self-medicate via fragrant lotions and potions of various kinds, so if you see me in a Bath & Body Works store sadly sampling the merchandise you know I have had a Very Bad Week.)

So many little time...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bono...Closet Lutheran?

Chris Halverson shares a link to an interesting Christianity Today interview of Bono , speaking very explicitly about his Christian faith. In places he even sounds...well...downright Lutheran:

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff...I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

I think Bono might dig my parish -- he could jam with my bass-playing pastor, feast at our groaning potluck board and meet a lot of people who have absolutely no idea who he is...but if he chose to expound on what he said in the quote above, people would go away saying, "He's got a funny accent, but he's one of us."

Taking a Prophet

Speaking of things that bring me joy and engage my mind and soul...I have been assigned to write two Advent/Christmas meditations for the upcoming RevGalBlogPals devotional booklet based on lectionary readings from Isaiah Chapter 61. How cool is that?

Restless in Christ

God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we will be saved, in quietness and confidence will be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. -- Prayer for Quiet Confidence, Book of Common Prayer

It's a restless season. A large flock of robins has been bivouaced in my back yard for the past couple of days, foraging like there's no tomorrow. Geese-arrows fly over the lake, and swirls of gray seagulls hover over harvested fields. I've had to hit the brakes almost every morning for dithering whitetails -- making a run for the other side of the road, then stopping in mid-sprint and skittering back into the brush.

Last spring I bought a book called Restless in Christ; maybe I should start reading it, because that's how I feel these days -- like a deer wavering at the roadside. Where do I go? What do I do? What happens if I move forward? What happens if I don't?

Today at work I definitely felt the urge to flee for more promising fields. It all started earlier in the morning, when I was scrolling through a couple of Christian discussion forums I enjoy -- forums where people are usually just talking about their lives or asking sincere questions, not beating one another over the head -- and was able to help a couple of inquirers. The words just seemed to flow from the keyboard. It felt good; I was happy with what I'd written, and hoped that it would be of use to the original posters. But then at work I sat at my desk staring into a day of tasks that I knew would bring me no sense of accomplishment, including a boring, pedantic PowerPoint presentation for a wheel-spinning work team I'm on that I don't want to be on -- and I hate even watching PowerPoint presentations, let alone creating them.

Most of the time I enjoy my job -- I'm just a small cog in the wheel, but I've always thought of myself as being a useful and creative cog -- but today it all felt so pointless. (Or, more accurately, PowerPointless.) The things that really bring me joy, that truly engage my mind and soul, that make me feel like I'm doing something in the world that matters -- most of them happen outside the scope of my day job. And even on my job, some of the tasks I enjoy the most are other people's jobs; for instance, doing what I call practicing social work without a license -- helping callers, some of them very confused or frustrated -- while my colleagues are out of the office. I feel guilty for feeling this dissatisfaction: What is wrong with you? How many people would love your job...or any job? I think about my father, a guy whose dad pulled him out of school in the 8th grade, who never had a job he enjoyed and who once told me, somewhat wistfully, "I never expected to like a job. You just do a job."

The Spirit may be moving, but she's moving in a disconcerting, dislocating way for me these days. I'm ready to be "lifted up," as the Prayer for Quiet Confidence puts it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Telling the Truth

Inner Dorothy tells the story of a person in ministry whose webblog got her in trouble with her church council -- who had to, at least for the time being, stop publishing.

I occasionally wonder if anyone I know in real life reads my blog unbeknownst to me...if my pastor has ever seen it, or a fellow parishoner, or a lay ministry classmate, or church bigshot type. I don't give out my blog address offline, so I have no reason to believe that they have...but on the other hand, in our six-degrees world it wouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to read through my posts and connect the dots.

And, if they have read it...well, then they have. And they know all about my dog, my tomatoes, my Amateur-Hour theologizing, my hormones, my feelings-n-stuff and everything else. If they keep coming back they'll keep learning more.

Which Saint Are You?

I am: Julian of Norwich. (Boo-yah! And I didn't even pick what I thought was the ringer question.) Hat tip to Yodabeth of Wide-Eyed and Laughing for this quiz.

You are Julian of Norwich! It's all about God, to
you. You're convinced that the world has a
happy ending. Everyone else is convinced that
you're a closet hippie, but you love them

Which Saint Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Forgiveness is Heart Work

"Why Forgive and Forget When You Can Remember and Blame?" It's the title of a song I heard a long time ago. It's a sentiment that I think resonates with all of us, individually and collectively. Because, whether the issue is a personal hurt or a public outrage, I think we all have a natural impulse to seek justice -- to try and balance the moral equation when something goes awry. The way we see it, in the words of Willy Loman, "Attention must be paid." It's a matter of justice; of settling accounts; of making life come out right.

Today's Gospel lesson spotlights Jesus' famous parable of the unforgiving servant -- someone who receives mercy and a new start from his master, but who refuses to extend that same mercy to his own debtor. It's a parable many of us have heard so often that we're inclined to think, "Yeah, yeah, yeah...I get it...seventy-times-seven...don't hold a grudge...keep on forgiving."

But, at least for me, the phrase that stuck in my consciousness after reading this text a few times was Jesus' warning at the very end of his story, about the perils of not forgiving from the heart.

You know how you can think you've forgiven someone for a serious injury -- its gravity just seems to slip away from your consciousness for a while, maybe even for years -- and then suddenly one day you're startled by a vivid memory of the way in which you were wronged, and all the old feelings of anger and outrage and desire for payback wash over you with renewed intensity? I've had that experience. So on some level I haven't really forgiven these people who've hurt me. I'm still bound -- honor-bound, one might say -- by this compulsive need to even the score.

What does Jesus tell us in the text? Game over. That's the only way to escape the endless cycle of injury and payback; tear up the scorecard. Because that is what God does for us.

Gracia Grindal, in discussing today's text , notes that when we can't forgive others from the heart -- what we need is a new heart. She quotes poet Stevie Smith's "The Repentance of Lady T":

I look in the glass.
Whose face do I see?
It is the face of Lady T.
I wish to change. How can that be?
Oh Lamb of God
Change me, change me.

The Unforgiving Servant, artist unknown, Reformation era Posted by Picasa

...And For Something Completely Different...

On my way to Remus this morning I was listening to a Morning Edition feature on Thomas Tallis' Spem in alium -- an amazing Elizabethan-era polyphonic choral work. Morning Edition only played snippets of it, and I found myself thinking, "Shut up! I want to hear the music!" Follow the link above to an album definitely on my wish list now.

(More or Less) Happy Wheatland!

I played hooky from church today -- which was Rally Day, not my demographic anyway -- and went on my annual pilgrimmage to the Wheatland Festival outside Remus, Michigan, a little town between Mt. Pleasant and Big Rapids.

Wheatland started out in the 70's as a group of local back-to-the-land hippies grooving to bluegrass music out in a sympathetic farmer's hayfield, but over the years it has grown into a regional phenomenon -- well over 10,000 Wheaties descending upon Remus and creating a kind of three-day tie-dyed magic kingdom of music, art and neighborliness. There's now a main stage, a smaller stage for more intimate performances, a dance area and separate kids' and teenagers' activity programs. Wheatland boasts a juried art fair, a smorgasboard of meal options ranging from vegetarian fare cooked up by the Happy Farmers food coop (free if you volunteer in the kitchen) to various local civic groups' offerings like barbecued chicken dinners and elephant ears.

And there's just a lot of music all over the place -- music classes, and people just jamming in their camps. I love how people tote their instruments all over and just start playing them. I was standing in an extremely slow coffee line this morning when some guy in front of me groused, "This is getting really borrring..." -- then whipped out a mandolin and gave an impromptu concert for the rest of us.

Wheatland is also the kind of place where you can see things like a middle-class, Dockers-clad Ned Flanders kind of guy walking around nonchalantly wearing a clown nose, or a multiply-pierced college gal flowing past in a diaphanous ballet tutu accented by hiking boots, or adults skipping for no apparent reason, and think, "Well, alrighty then!" (I know for some of my bicoastal readers this is just another day on the sidewalk, but if you're from Outer Podunk and starved for diversity of any kind, it's wonderful. And, anyhow, I'm always relieved to not be the strangest person in a group.) Having to work in a milieu with other women desperate to turn back the hands of time by any means necessary, I was also happy to be in an environment with so many women evidently comfortable to be themselves -- salt-and-pepper hair, non-extended nails, womanly physiques. It was positively -- ahem -- friskifying.

I got there near the start of the traditional Sunday morning gospel sing. One of the singers, Rachel Davis, is a slight young woman with a huge set of lungs; she plays the folk circuit, so if you ever get a chance to hear her sing, do it. (I used to go to her parents' church when she was just a little kiddo, and remember her busking at Wheatland for violin-lesson money.) The singing and backup musicianship was excellent; the band performed everything from standards like "Amazing Grace" to a very moving and thoughtful rendition of Dylan's "With God on Our Side" to -- and I can't believe I'm typing this -- what I think was a contemporary Christian song that wasn't half bad. (Thanks to un-lame lyrics, a slower tempo, mellow acoustic instrumentation and a singer with a raw, bluesy, broken-hearted voice.)

The afternoon's Main Stage performances were great -- the Red Stick Ramblers, Robert Jones, Pierce Pettis and Maria Maldaur and Her Red Hot Bluesiana Band, who really got 'em dancing in the aisles. There were many musical references to the Gulf area; and the Wheatland Music Organization is donating a portion of its T-shirt sales this year to the Acadian Arts Council, on the recommendation of Wheatland artists with Louisiana ties because the council is currently trying to help its local musicians and other artists who've suffered displacement because of Hurricane Katrina.

It was a pretty fun day. My only disappointment was in not finding any of my old buddies from Cadillac who've usually made it to Wheatland. Only children may be good at making our own fun...but sometimes, frankly, it really sucks to go to a festive event like this alone. Not enough to stay home, mind you, but...still. I comforted myself by hanging out at the art fair and engaging in some necessarily modest retail therapy; bought some honey from my favorite honey purveyors at the Beedazzled booth, and interesting herbal soap. (This helped -- especially the amber-scented soap. Whoa.)

It was a quieter Wheatland this year, I think because of Hurricane Katrina and because of the 9/11 anniversary today. But I could still wish my hosts a "Happy Wheatland!" on my way out of the exit gate this evening.

The Spirit of Wheatland, enjoying the Main Stage from her her hilltop vantage point. Posted by Picasa

Not a bad place to be today. Posted by Picasa

Maria Maldaur and Her Red Hot Bluesiana Band Posted by Picasa

Wheaties doin' the mojo mamboPosted by Picasa

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Friday Bloom Blogging

Here are some wild asters that are growing at the edge of the woods around my house. They're the faintest lavender; very pretty. I almost picked a bouquet of assorted wild asters and goldenrod today, but decided the flowers looked best right where they were.

Asters Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 08, 2005

...And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

In the midst of the horror and incompetence and general chaos in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, here's a great story about a little boy in northern Michigan who simply decided to do something to help. And by golly, he did: Child's Lemonade Stand Raises 10K For Flood Relief .

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Wednesday Night Blog Party

I really appreciate the frequent RevGalBlogPals teasers highlighting interesting discussions on ring members' weblogs, so I thought I'd scroll through some of the blogs on my blogroll and see what's happening. I didn't go through all of them -- if you're on my list and don't see your blog mentioned below, not to worry, your turn is coming -- and if you want to check out highlights of RevGalBlogPals blogs, click on the link above.

The Bag Lady reflects on the ethic of a preferential option for the poor , and both
and friend Dash at Dash Goes to Church discuss the supposed "feminization" of Christianity.

At Bending the Rule, *Christopher talks about growing up working class, and also shares some surprising, metanoia-ish news about... Jerry Falwell?

The Pooper Scooper at Blind Chihuahua Speaks provides a way of understanding Islamist hatred for Western culture , especially its relative gender egalitarianism, as a function of traditional honor/shame societal systems.

Church Gal ponders racism's rearing its ugly head in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Meanwhile, Father Jake provides a poignant, personal insight into why it is so important that people of faith allow themselves to be Christ's hands in helping heal the hurting in this unfolding tragedy.

Chris Halverson begins an exciting new ministry adventure in all about it.

The Feminarian gives forgotten women of the Bible a voice in a series of first-person midrash essays.

Grover's got a right to sing the blues -- as do many of us -- after our Churchwide Assembly; read about it, and also check out his featured musical recommendations. (And if you'd rather read, check out Melancthon's book bag.)

Derek makes a good point about our use of fossil fuels -- we all know there's a problem, and it's not going to get better, but what are we doing in our own lives to cut down our use of fossil fuels?

If you like to take Internet quizzes, you will love Life's Laundry , which features a smorgabord of life's more interesting questions, as well as evocative snapshots of everyday life. This week you can weigh in on the favorite thing about your kitchen. (Can I vote for the food inside my refrigerator?) Speaking of food, Charlotte of Love and Cooking shares a mouthwatering recipe for Cajun Stuff . Charlotte also provides some info on how to help New Orleans' hospitality workers .

J.C. of Not of This World ponders Internetting as prayer .

Bls at The Topmost Apple suggests here and here that the Church could learn, or remember, something important about inclusion from the history of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Velveteen Rabbi shares thoughts, in the context of Hurricane Katrina, regarding theodicy , or why God does or doesn't do what God does or doesn't do.

Happy reading!

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Coffee Cantata

Here's a cute quiz, especially for those of us who consider coffee the third Sacrament: What Kind of Coffee Are You? . (I am, unsurprisingly, an Espresso.)

And...if you like your coffee organic and Fair Trade, let me recommend a roaster from my own fair state: Higher Grounds Coffee . We have been drinking their Justice Blend at our house -- light roast, smooth and mellow, very good.

Music, Music, Music

T of Joyful Mayhem tagged me, awhile back, to list five indispensible albums or pieces of music.

Funny thing -- back when I was younger, this would have been a no-brainer. I used to fall in love with albums and play them pretty much until the vinyl wore out (which also tells you how old I am -- yes, kiddos, once upon a time they pressed music onto flat vinyl things called records; you know, what rap DJ's scritch-scratch on their turntables).

But now I've turned into a statistic -- one of the growing number of middle-aged folks who just don't buy albums anymore. It's not that I don't like music anymore, or don't like new music; far from it. (For the past week I've even been enjoying Fresh Air's hip-hop retrospective...found myself bouncing around in the Intr pid, grooving to Queen Latifah the other day.) But it seems that, except for sacred music, I have less and less of an attention span for albums by one artist or group. I like compilation albums -- the ones put out by Putomayo and Green Linnet, for example. My idea of the perfect radio station would be KBEAR, the radio station on Northern Exposure (my absolute favorite television series ever), where Chris the disk jockey might mix it up with a little reggae and zydeco and pretentious album rock and moody folk music here, a little Sinatra and Leonard Cohen and k.d. lang there, with a generous splash of Inuit chanting and Motown and arias and scratchy 1920's Tin Pan Alley and bagpipes and Patsy Cline and Beethoven and the Strawberry Alarm Clock thrown in. And those Tibetan monks who sing in chords. Some sad Swedish fiddlework, and real country music, and doo-wop. Maybe some cabaret music of pre-war Berlin; some rap; some piano jazz; Gregorian chant; a polka or two, if I were in an exuberant mood; Cuban dance tunes; other stuff I'll remember later. Yeah; that'd be my fantasy radio station. (Actually, that pretty much describes an iPod, doesn't it? Except that, with dial-up Internet, it takes the better part of a day to download one song.)

So it's really hard for me to pick five pieces of music or albums that I can't live without. The list would change from day to day, at least. And I'd want to have subcategories of music, like "Music To Drive By," "Music to Pray By," "Music I Listen To When I'm Pissed Off," and so on. So I'm not even going to try to follow the rules, nor am I going to tag anyone else for this exercise. But if I had to live in solitary confinement, with only my music for comfort/entertainment, I'd like to have access to the following:

1. Some wonderful High-Churchy choral liturgy -- not too fussy about who's doing the singing.

2. Orthodox liturgy -- again, not too picky about the choir. The Easter liturgy is particularly stirring.

3. Bach Orgelspiel.

4. Some African-American Gospel music -- something by the Barrett Sisters or the Blind Boys of Alabama.

5.. "Take Five." This is my local public radio station's Saturday jazz/blues/swing program, hosted by the mondo cool Ray Ford. On any given morning you may hear some pop standards styled by Sinatra and Clooney...some Afro-Cuban dance music...B.B. King...Miles Davis. It's all good.

6.. "The Thistle and Shamrock" on public radio. Well, actually, I'd be happy just listening to host Fiona Ritchie talk for an hour -- but the music is also great.

7. "World Cafe" with Dave Dye. I enjoy listening to this, just to hear what the kids are paying attention to these days.

8.. "Divas of Swing." This is a cheapie compilation album I bought in a gift shop. It features songs by the greats -- Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney, Anita O'Day and others. This is my "feeling mellow" album; also my "There's nothing good on TV" album; also my "My God, I'm going to die alone in a cardboard box in an alley," feeling-sorry-for-myself album.

9. A couple of Putomayo worldbeat albums with a wide range of world music represented on each one.

10. A few representative albums from different eras of my life -- the Beatlemania period; the Who period; the I Am Now An Educated Person With Catholic Tastes in Music period; the U2/REM/Indigo Girls period; the Sudden Dawn of Radical Self-Understanding Period; the Witchy Woman period; the Blue period; and whatever it is that I'm in now.

11. Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

Being the Church

To tell you the truth, I was going to skip my little weekly sermonette this week, because the text simply didn't speak to me.

Wouldn't that be a kick -- you go to church some Sunday morning, and when it comes time for the sermon the clergyperson just shrugs, says, "Got nuthin'!" and announces the Hymn of the Day instead?

Well, that's where I was this weekend. I think it's because, on face value, Sunday's Gospel lesson brings to mind all the legalistic churches out there that try to micromanage everyone's behavior, where everyone is constantly snooping into everyone else's business and tattling to the authorities and denouncing/shunning/excommunicating. I remember reading, in an autobiography of an ex-Amish woman, about another young Amish woman of her acquaintance who, one day while helping make hay, had the audacity to continue working with uncovered hair after her scarf fell off...and she wound up having the local bishop and elders pay her family a formal visit for a frowny-faced scolding on female modesty. Stupid crap like that. If that's what Jesus had had in mind, I think I'd say, "No thanks -- heathenism works for me fine."

But is this the dynamic that Jesus meant? My pastor came away from this text with a completely different spin. And his spin focused on...the two or three friends. You know; the ones you bring with you when the person who's done you wrong doesn't want to work things out with you one on one. Presumably the same two or three friends who come with you when you talk to the church muckety-mucks, and then, if they won't listen you, to your entire faith community.

One point our pastor made: If the church, individually and collectively, fails you -- "gather the tribe." Hang on to your Christian friends who get it, who are there for you. All it takes is one or two others: "There am I in the midst of them."

Another point our pastor made: How ironic that Jesus tells his followers, in his scenario of being the Church, to treat the obstinate and unreasonable perpetrators of wrongs against us "like a Gentile or a tax collector." Because who hung out with Gentiles and tax collectors? Jesus. What Jesus is saying, said our pastor, is not only that we have a right -- a right -- to redress our grievances with others and with our faith communities, but that when all else fails we have the option of saying, "You know what, Jesus? I can't deal with this anymore. It makes me too crazy. You deal with this person. You deal with these people."

Gather our friends around us; commend our foes to the One who can turn foes into friends in God's good time. Sounds like a plan to me.

"At Church," Carl Larsson Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Kibble Prayer

Okay -- I've got to be honest -- even though I am going to try and get all profound here, it's really just an excuse to share a cute story about my dog, The Codeman.

Thanks to my mother, my dog enjoys almost 24/7 human company -- in fact, not only human company, but actual physical contact. (Yes, he is incredibly spoiled.) But Mom and I do manage to get out once in awhile for several-hour dogless excursions. This may be a happy time for us, but not for Cody; if you've ever had to look into the sad, reproachful eyes of a dog on your way out the door, you know what I mean.

But for about the past year, whenever we come back home after a day trip, we inevitably find a piece of his kibble at the door. Sometimes Cody himself is waiting at the door, and when we enter he grabs the kibble in his mouth and tosses it around in glee. But usually the kibble is just sitting there. (I have to explain, at this point, that my dog has a Rainman-like eating schedule, and generally isn't playing with his food between his self-designated meals.)

I was describing this behavior to a friend the other day, saying that I found it quite touching, although I didn't quite understand it. She thought for a moment, then suggested, "Maybe that's his way of praying to you to come home."

Oy. I am not worthy.

Maybe this is what our prayers seem like to God, when we're in bargaining mode: "See? I'll give you this nice piece of lamb-and-rice kibble if you'll just pleeeeease help me..." And the thing is...ever since I was a young'un I've been told that these sorts of quid-quo-pro prayers are very bad; that we don't have anything worth giving to God anyway. But then I think about my reaction to my dog. I'm not offended by his kibble; I don't see it and think, "How dare he try to bribe me with his worthless, smelly dog food!" I think it's sweet. It makes me love him more. It makes me wish that we could communicate in a way that would reassure him that we're not abandoning him; that we're coming back.

Maybe this is what our prayers seem like to God.

Cody, post-bath -- no kibbles forthcoming!  Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 02, 2005

Sometimes a Great Notion

A hat tip to Charlotte over at Berkeley Farm Girl for a really good flood aid idea...wouldn't it be cool if cities around the United States held jazz funerals, paired with Louisiana-style food events, to commemorate the dead and raise money for relief efforts? Apart from the fundraising aspect, I also like the imagery of starting out slow and sad, mourning the death and loss, but going out on a positive, up-tempo note. I like this.

Friday Botanical Blogging

The flowers, both domestic and wild, are not doing much around here...but the other day when I was out walking I noticed these fruit down near the bank of the pond that abuts our property, so I went back with a camera. There are two or three of these shrubs in amongst the sumac and other shrubs and small trees "with wet feet" near the water's edge; they have leaves like a maple, so I'm thinking they're in the hawthorn family...but I honestly don't know; my Audubon field guide has failed me. In any event, they speak to the bittersweetness of late summer -- one of the first hints of the season to come.

Late summer at water's edge Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Blogging

So...everyone contributing to the relief agency of your choice? I did...sent in my contribution to ELCA Disaster Relief, whose website you can access by reading my other Katrina blogs, and I also put some change in the kitty at our office Taco Day fundraiser; we have these periodically for our in-house charity, which usually helps needy families in our service area, but this time we decided to donate the proceeds to the Red Cross for hurricane relief. (This is a great fundraiser, by the way, if you have a large enough organization, and if everyone donates the food. Another good fundraiser is a silent auction, which we have about twice a year; we use a lot of office supplies, so we're constantly getting freebies from our office supply companies that we recycle into silent auction items, and employees also donate things on their own.)

Thanks, everyone, for helping out.

Guess What? The Hurricane is All Our Fault!

Well, this didn't take long: Repent America .

In which case God has pretty poor aim, I'd say.