Wednesday, November 30, 2005

My Kid

No -- no startling new revelations here.

I'm talking about my Angel Tree kid.

Our local DHS office puts up two Angel Trees at two different businesses in town. Each tree is covered with the gift requests of needy children in our county. Back in more flush times you'd also find requests from older teens and adults; in the last couple of years, because of our tanking local economy, and because shoppers are less likely to buy gifts for other adults, you just see the kids' requests. And the wish lists have changed too; a lot fewer items, as if the children were coached by their caseworker to keep their requests modest.

One Angel Tree contains tags with just a number, an age and a wish; you purchase the items the kid wants and take them to the service desk. The other Angel Tree includes the kids' first names on the tags, and asks that the presents be wrapped.

So, anyhow, I randomly pulled off a tag on the second tree, the more personalized tree, and found that I had picked a six-year-old girl with a lovely, unusual name that I will not use here; I'll call her Leila instead. And the first thing, the most important thing, that I noticed about Leila was that she had no special request for a Christmas present. Someone had noted that she needed some clothes; you know a six-year-old didn't request those. But no wishes for the Hot Toy Du Jour or toys or books or the other things that kids tend to want. Nothing. Nada.

It could be that Leila is disabled in some way and lives in a twilight world without wishes other than basic human comforts. But it could also be that Leila is simply a sad little girl with no expectations at Christmastime. And frankly I don't know which alternative breaks my heart more.

When I was six, I spent much of November compiling long, detailed wish lists from Sears, Penney's and Monkey Ward, the old trinity of Christmas catalogs. Not that I always got what I wanted, mind you -- the primary object of my holiday desire from toddlerhood to puberty, which was never fulfilled, was a science kit with a microscope; a topic that is still a somewhat sensitive one around the LutheranChik household -- but I always got something; and I always got enough to fuel my hopes for another year.

What do you buy a little kid who can't imagine getting a Christmas present?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Advent Calendars

When I was little, I knew it was Christmastime when my aunt brought out her very old Advent calendar and set it on her parlor windowsill. It was heavy cardboard, covered in tarnished glitter, and showed a picture of Mary and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem. I can't even remember what was printed behind each door.

These days I'm rather fond of online Advent calendars. And here, for your own viewing pleasure, are some interactive online calendars I found surfing:

St. Margaret Mary Parish Advent Calendar

Grace Cathedral Advent Calendar (This one needs a DSL connection)

New York Carver Advent Calendar For all the medievalists out there, enjoy!

Teme Valley South Advent Calendar

Episcopal Diocese of Washington Advent Calendar

It's a little ironic to me that, considering the northern European love of Advent calendars, more Lutherans haven't created online versions. What's up with that, Lutheran 'puter geeks?

Mystery Date

I have a mystery date this Sunday, front and center at church, when our congregation's lay ministry graduate and candidates will help lead our service.

My pastor is supposed to call me sometime this week and tell me what role it is, exactly, that I'll be playing. That's kind of how it works at our place. (I have to get offline for awhile -- Ye Olde Dialup Connection and shared phone line -- so I can take the call.)

Know what I want to do? I want to lead the Prayers of the Church. I haven't done that in a long, long time. It's one of my favorite parts of the service anyway. It's a privilege.

Yup; that's what I want to do, this time around. Wonder what I'll be doing instead?

Monday, November 28, 2005

In Search of the Lost Minor Chord

This Sunday we sang not one, but two of my favorite hymns, both oldies but goodies: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Soul, Adorn Thyself With Gladness. (The latter sung to a tune called "Schmuecke dich" -- fun to say, and the music is a pleasure to sing.) For the past few weeks now I notice we've had some of the venerable hymns familiar to cradle Lutherans interspersed with newer additions to our hymnal. And people are liking it...minor chords, solemn tempos and all. They belt 'em out. At one point, surprised by the sound of my own often anemic voice, I looked around to see other enthusiastically singing parishoners looking around too, in what seemed to be genuine surprise: Do we really sound like this? Wow.

You know those T-shirts that say "Art Can't Hurt You"? Here is my shocking proposition, directed to church music directors everywhere: Minor chords can't hurt you. The folks in the pews aren't going to melt, or stampede en masse, if you play them once in awhile. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy the broadening of our hymnody to include newer hymns and hymns from other cultures. But please don't forget the great old hymns of our tradition. They deserve to be sung.

Monday Morning Postscripts

Just a couple of bits of mental housecleaning this foggy Monday morning here in Outer Podunk, as I'm working up to getting ready for work:

An addition to my shop-in-yer-jammies post: Higher Grounds Coffee , located in Leland, MI -- one of my favorite getaway places -- is another great coffee purveyor that sells exclusively fair trade coffee. The company was featured on our local news this morning because it's selling a special decaf coffee blend to help fund a clean water project for its coffee growers in needs to sell a few more pounds of fundraising beans to reach its $8,000 goal. Higher Grounds hasn't updated its website to include this new blend, but if you e-mail the company you can find out more. Higher Grounds also has partnership programs if your church, workplace or organization would like to sell its products as a fundraiser. Check 'em out.

A few more garage-moment songs: One of our local PBS stations reprised its Veterans Day programming last night with a program featuring favorite songs and dance tunes of World War II, which I enjoyed muchly -- gotta add "I'll Be Seeing You" to my all-time favorites list. And even though it's not a song -- "Sing! Sing! Sing!" -- you can't just turn that tune off, no way, nohow. And I'll sit in the garage for many classics of the Motown songbook -- "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Reach Out," "Stop in the Name of Love," many more.

And speaking of music...if you've collected music over the years that you haven't listened to for awhile, it can be fun to pull a random cassette out of the basement box once in awhile for old time's sake. I've been doing this (the Intr pid having an old-tech tape deck), and rediscovering some good music, as well has having a few "What was I thinking?" moments. On the way to church yesterday I listened to an old Bob Dylan tape, "Another Side of Bob Dylan," that I think I originally retrieved from a $3.99 bargain bin back in my college days -- grooving to favorites like "It Ain't Me, Babe" and forgotten songs like "To Ramona," chuckling over some of the dated hipster language and basically enjoying the lyrics. Dylan describing a woman's lips as "wet and weird" -- jarring at first hearing, but after thinking about it, the phrase had an almost Beowulf ring to it, as if Bob had been French-kissed by Grendel's mama. Well, who knows what he was smoking back in those days.

UPDATE: I fixed my link. Thanks, Gene!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The First Candle Is Lit...

V Help, O King
R Shepherd of Israel, Hosannah!

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 80

V Blessed is our God who inhabits the highest heavens, blessed is he, and blessed is the kingdom of our father David which is coming.

R Amen. Thanks be to God.

my Advent wreath Posted by Picasa

The God Who Comes Down

My Lord, what a morning!
My Lord, what a morning!
Oh, my Lord, what a morning!
When the stars begin to fall.

We sang this old African-American spiritual this morning in church. We also sang the European spiritual "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Two songs with origins in very different cultural contexts, but both expressing the same longing -- what someone has called the "eschatological itch."

Ever feel that itch? I feel it, sometimes, watching the evening news, with its nightly illustrated litany of global misery and violence and stupidity. As I hear about the latest degradations of people and planet, I find myself thinking: How bad does it have to get?

Today in his sermon my pastor noted that he finds the end-of-the-world scenarios described here and elsewhere troubling; hard to read. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I'm an earth-dweller. I love it here." Now, I'm on the same page with my pastor most of the time, and I agree with him that today's Old Testament and Gospel texts make me wince...but for a different reason. I find my natural skepticism running up against the promise made time and time again in Scripture that, no matter how it may seem to us, history is ultimately in God's hand; that, in the end, "all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well." Some days, frankly, that seems just too good to be true.

I don't even try to speculate on the how's and when's of the denouement of the human story; as we read in today's Gospel lesson (and contrary to the purveyors of pop Christianity), it's an exercise in futility. I can't wrap my head around stuff like this anyway. For me it's a topic that leads to 2 a.m. "What sort of religious craziness have you gotten yourself into?" second-guessing; been there, done that, very wearying of mind and soul, don't want to do it again.

But what I can maybe hang onto by a quivering fingernail or two is the idea that God, for whatever God's reasons, wants us to know that we are not alone on this journey, as difficult and dangerous as it may be. That God wants us to know this so much that God "came down" -- not only down from God's glory, God's otherness, but down the same birth canal we all travel, down and out, bloody and bawling. And that God grew up as one of us and lived with us for 30-some years, and then died, the way we all die; and more than that, died in the way that the least among us die -- alone, abandoned, in pain, wondering why.

The other Sunday, in talking about Jesus' kenosis, his emptying of self into the human experience, my pastor wondered how our lives might be different if, every day in this time between the now and the not-yet, we looked for opportunities to show Jesus that his coming down and emptying out of himself on our behalf was worth it. Between you and me, threats of impending apocalyptic doom don't do a lot to bring me closer to Christ; but the thought of letting Christ down in the time that I have on this planet -- which is now over a decade more than his time -- gives me pause.

The late theologian Dorothee Soelle wrote that she was a Christian because she didn't want Jesus to suffer alone for his proposition. Today, beginning the journey of Advent, looking back to that first time of waiting and longing even while living with our own waiting and longing -- even as we may struggle with the question of how our lives matter in the greater scheme of things -- I want to respond to God's coming down for us in a way that says, "It was worth it. It did matter. And I want to walk with you the way you've walked with me." That, I think, is going to be my spiritual, on my own path through the Advent season.

"Leonid Sunrise," photo by Wally Pacholka at Astropics  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 26, 2005

My Shameless Holiday Commercialism Post

I did not -- would not -- take part in the Black Friday shopping madness this year, but today I found myself wandering around a local Kmart in a state of shellshock, pushed and shoved by frantic shoppers and tugged at by the Maternal Unit, who is very adamant that we invest in an artificial Christmas tree. (It didn't happen today.)

I am now sitting with my feet up, regrouping. For those of you who'd rather do your Christmas shopping sitting in your PJ's and bunny slippers, sipping coffee -- a few suggestions from me:

I've bought fair trade food products, ceramics and jewelry from A Greater Gift and have been very satisfied with both the quality and with speed of delivery. I'm putting together a "death by chocolate" Christmas basket for our office's annual Chinese gift exchange (don't ask) with help from their line of Divine chocolate products, which really are divine...most toothsome. And one of my favorite pieces of jewelry is a colorful, funky-chunky glass bead fair trade necklace from A Greater Gift.

Green Mountain Coffee rocks. And it has an extensive line of organic and fair trade coffees, including flavored blends that are sometimes hard to find elsewhere. They also sell a Heifer Hope blend that benefits The Heifer Project .

If you're able and willing to be a little spendy, a foodie friend might appreciate a gift from American Spoon Foods , out of Petoskey, Michigan, a purveyor of very tasty and unusual specialty food products, very often spotlighting Michigan produce. I recently tasted a delicious mango-jalapeno salsa from American Spoon -- obviously not a signature Michigan food, but it was mighty tasty swirled into soft cream cheese.

For that giftee who believes cleanliness to be next to godliness, a really fun website to visit is Killmaster Soapworks . I met the Soapmistress of Killmaster Soapworks at an art fair awhile back -- she and her family manage a small farm with a multitude of different livestock, and she utilizes their milk in her soaps -- she even makes a mare's milk soap. I have tried her more pedestrian oatmeal soaps and loved their scent and sudsiness. Another favorite soapmaker 'round these parts is Bedazzled of Benzonia, which makes all sorts of yummy soaps -- the minty soaps are a favorite of mine, as well as the bay rum and a pleasantly woodsy/resinous frankincense and myrrh (which isn't on the website, but I bet they'd sell it to you anyway). Bedazzled also sells candles and other products made with bee products.

Down the road from Bedazzled is the Gwen Frostic Studio , an "up north" institution. Frostic was an artist, poet and right-on woman who followed the beat of a different drum her whole life and enriched us all by doing so. Her simple and sometimes whimsical nature prints always make me long for a long weekend up by the dunes.

For tonstant weaders who enjoy my occasional stained-glass graphics -- check out the Christmas cards and other products at Stained Glass Photography . And if you enjoy Carl Larsson prints, check out Scandinavian Treasures .

And, of course, if you scroll down my blogroll, you will find my ongoing plug for the RevGals' Advent and Christmas devotional, A Light Blazes in the Darkness. Get 'em while they're hot! The've already paid for themselves, and are now raising money for hurricane relief in the Gulf. We're shooting for sales of a thousand -- help make it happen.

There -- wasn't that more fun than playing offense in the mall?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

LC Does the Gospel Meme

Here's a meme that's been making the rounds: Take the month and day of your birthdate, then find the corresponding chapter and verse of each Gospel and see what that says.

I did this with my birthdate. Let's go to the videotape...

Matthew 12:26: "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?"

Mark 12:26: "And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?"

Luke 12:26: "If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?"

John 12:26: "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor."

All Good Gifts

The eyes of all wait upon Thee, O Lord, and Thou givest them their meat in due season; Thou openest Thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. Amen. Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Thy gifts which we receive from Thy bountiful goodness; through Jesus Christ,our Lord. Amen. -- The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941

What good gifts have you been given lately?

"For a Little Card Game," Carl Larsson, Scandinavian Treasures  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Good Bread, Good Meat, Good God, Let's Eat

(Not the table grace we say at our house, by the way.)

The heavens are currently dumping snow in great quantities on our state, with more to come, so a quiet dinner at home tomorrow is starting to look pretty good. Here's what's on the menu at the LutheranChik household -- pull up a virtual chair, do the napkin tuck and enjoy!

Roast turkey breast glazed with some chi-chi-foo-foo cherry-honey mustard from northwest Michigan that I had intended to pop in a gift basket, but didn't.

Stove Top stuffing (my mother prefers Stove Top to scratch) amended with dried cherries and pecans (I prefer scratch to Stove Top)

Mashed potatoes

Whole-berry cranberry sauce

Green bean casserole, complete with crispy canned onion tidbits

Braised celery with toasted walnuts (I love cooked celery -- a vastly underrated vegetable, if you ask me)

Sweet-and-sour red cabbage

Pumpkin crisp

It ain't exactly haute cuisine -- in fact, it's neither -- but I think it'll eat just fine for the next three days.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Paean to the Preacherly

I know that those of you who preach sometimes wonder, as you're looking out at your hearers -- perhaps to find pairs of eyes glazed over in a thousand-mile stare, or gazing longingly out a window, or looking into a purse, searching for Altoids -- if anyone is actually listening to your sermon; if what you're saying matters, or if you may as well be standing in your shower, preaching to the grout.

I'm here to tell you: Yes, it does.

The winter holidays are always something of an ordeal for me, because the cold and dark make me sad and because I always wind up having to negotiate the household celebrations with my mother. I don't know where I ever got the idea that two people living together -- especially a mother and adult daughter -- can seamlessly mesh their holiday preferences and expectations with no frayed ends, but it seems every year I endulge this fantasy, and every year I'm disappointed, and wind up grumpier than I would be anyway. Yes, I know the definition of mental illness as engaging in the same behavior over and over, expecting a different result; what can I say -- I'm a slow learner.

Today as I was pondering the days to come, a phrase suddenly popped into my head: situations and circumstances. It was something my pastor had said in passing during his sermon on Sunday. I can't even remember the larger context; I'm not sure he could either, since he'd just gotten home from a trans-Atlantic flight and sounded more than a little jet-lagged, and my own brain had pretty much turned to tapioca after an intense out-of-town lay ministry training day. But it was something about how, when we take Jesus seriously about living our faith out into the world, we are able to transcend and transform our situations and circumstances. I think that's what he said; all I remember are those three words.

And when I remembered, I had an "aha" experience; an insight into how I might better, and more prayerfully, navigate through my particular situation this year. It was uncanny. Just three words.

So for those of you who proclaim the Word: What you say does matter...perhaps not always in the way you expect it to, but in a way that results in a Godward outcome for someone else. Hey -- thanks.

Race Is the Place

Check out your local PBS station for when this Independent Lens presentation airs in your area. Thought-provoking commentary on racism in America, with some great poetry and performance art.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Talk Like a Person

(R-rated language alert for those of tender sensibilities)
I need to preface this post with the disclaimer that I am in a foul mood. It all started this morning when my dog had an accident in the hallway -- an accident I discovered by stepping on it. I thought, as I hopped to the bathroom on my other foot, "Perhaps this event is a metaphor for the rest of my day." And it kind of was.

Anyhow, not too long ago I had an agitated individual inform me, online, that I was "drinking from the cup of Satan." The discussion wasn't about what you think; it was about women's ordination. Which made me much less angry than I could have been; it was a quaint sort of rebuke, like being yelled at for advocating bloomers and bobbed hair. (Which I do, by the way.)

But what made me go all Andy Rooney cranky -- Dontcha hate it when... -- was the purple prose. What is it about religious discourse that makes certain species of Christians start spouting verbiage straight out of the Osama Bin Laden Treasury of Florid Rhetoric? This drives me nuts. Ditto the faux King James English one sometimes runs into in some Christian circles: "The Lord has lain it upon my heart to pray that your iniquity might be hedged in lest it cause the weaker sisters to stumble."

Oh, for pete's sake: Talk like a person.

(Since we are a Fair and Balanced [tm] blog, tune in next week for Talk Like a Person: Mainline Edition, where we discuss mainliners' love of jargon-dropping first-year-seminary Greek: kerygma, kairos, metanoia, et al.)

One of the things that blew my mind, when I first began exploring the muchly Brit Ship of Fools website, was the out-and-proud potty language of some of the regulars. Their main discussion forums are divided into Heaven, Purgatory and Hell; if someone behaves badly on a forum, s/he may be summoned by others to Hell, and uncensored excoriation commences. I remember the first time I read through one of the Hellish topic threads, encountering Christians whose theological and social conservatism makes me, relative moderate that I am, sound like some sort of Spongian anarchist -- persons whose American counterparts tell me that I am, verily, drinking from the cup of Satan -- screaming breathtakingly crude epithets at their antagonists: bastard; wanker; fuckwit; colorful if anatomically difficult suggestions incorporating these terms. It was -- how can I put this? -- refreshing.

If Cup-o-Satan Man had just said, "LutheranChik, you fuckwit," or some variation thereof -- well, it would have just laid his cards on the table; short and to the point. What he said instead, translated into Talking Like a pretty much the same thing. So save some keystrokes and just say what you mean.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Can You Say...Turkeys?

I just heard this statistic, from Bread for the World, today: For the average household receiving foodstamps, purchasing the food needed for a modest version of the traditional Thanksgiving meal would use up one-eighth of its monthly food stamp allotment.

Oh...and our elected officials just voted to cut the budget for food stamps.

A Few Garage Moment Songs

My friend bls started a meme awhile back asking for people's Top 20 Songs of All Time.

"Best of all time" questions always make me twitchy -- I think I'm just commitment-phobic in this regard. Because I know that, six months from now, I'll read through a "best of" list I've written and say, "What was I thinking?" And I overanalyze everything, so I've been dithering for several days thinking about, "Well, would that mean best lyrics, or best melody, or most significant for its time, or what?" (I'm really fun to live with, too.)

Anyhow, I decided to approach the question from a different angle. I thought, "What are 20 songs that, if they're playing on my radio or on a CD as I'm parking in my garage, I have to sit and listen to the end of them before I get out of my car?" So I'm going to list some Garage Moment Songs. You will note a dearth of sacred music; I think I'd want to keep them on their own Garage Moments list. (My blog, my rules.)

The Valley -- Originally by Jane Siberry, I'm especially partial to k.d. lang's cover.

Night and Day Really, pretty much the whole Cole Porter songbook. Absolutely no one could write lyrics to pop songs like Cole Porter.

In My Life and Something -- the original Beatles recording...oh, and the long version of Hey, Jude, which I have been known to sing along to, every "na."

Stormy Weather

A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall

The House Is Haunted -- an oldie but goodie; the Chenille Sisters and the James Dapogny Band recorded this together; their version of Johnny Mercer's "Bob White" is also garage-worthy. And then there's "The Codfish Ball" -- how can you not love a song with lyrics like, "The catfish is a dancin' man/but he can't can-can like the sardine can"?)

You've Got a Friend -- off Carole King's Tapestry album

Carolina on My Mind

Night and Day, I've Got You Under My Skin -- pretty much the whole Cole Porter catalog. No one -- no one -- could write pop music lyrics like Cole Porter.

Lorena, the old Civil War ballad of longing and loss that many of us first heard in Ken Burns' The Civil War

Boots of Spanish Leather -- Nanci Griffith's cover (which I understand the Bobster likes muchly)

Fall on Me -- REM

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, from the Rattle and Hum album, with the gospel choir backing

Lili Marlene -- Marlene Dietrich's world-weary cabaret version, of course

Summertime -- Janis Joplin's cover

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

Stairway to Heaven I know -- I'm dating myself. No Bic flicking, but I still do air guitar accompaniment toward the end.

Wild Mountain Thyme "And we'll all be together/when the bloom is on the heather..." I love that song.

Song for Ireland by Mary Black -- always gives me chills down my spine.

So there's a few songs. As you've noticed, I spend a lot of time sitting in my garage.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Love Reign On Me

A famous scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" shows two grimy peasants digging in a field. One of them sees King Arthur.

"There goes the King."
"How do you know he's the King?"
"'Cause he's the only one who hasn't got shit all over him."

We do prefer our kings and queens to look the part -- powerful, dignified, clothed in a way befitting their station.

But what Jesus tells us in the Gospel lesson for Christ the King Sunday is that his presence among us is going to be in the guise -- the distressing guise, as Mother Teresa put it -- of people who look more like those ordure-caked peasants than like the triumphant Christus Rex many of our churches have suspended over their altars.

Want to see Jesus? Look at the Sudanese woman gang-raped and beaten by Jenjaweed thugs on a furtive trip to the well to get water for her family, whose plight has fallen off our radar because we've moved on to the next International Tragedy Du Jour. Want to be with Jesus? Spend some time with the poor family who've not only lost their apartment lease in New Orleans but are also being kicked out of their evacuee apartment because they haven't received their FEMA check on time. Want to honor Jesus? Go to a hospice and sit with a dying person who garners little sympathy from the public because his illness has been judged to be his own fault, whose Medicaid benefits are in jeopardy from a taxpaying public who are tired of dealing with him and people like him.

Jesus is the crazy woman wandering the alley behind the supermarket, staving off alien death rays as she forages for discarded food. Jesus is the bleeding Iraqi in triage, who may be a terrorist or may be "collateral damage." Jesus is the abused child cowering under a chair as she hears the approaching footsteps of her abuser. Jesus is the angry, scapegoating small-town guy with no job, no skills and a family to support in a new economic reality that doesn't need him. Jesus is the hooker sitting in jail until her pimp bails her out. Jesus is the chemically ravaged, hollow-eyed scarecrow of a human being tweaking on a park bench.

Today's lesson is sometimes read as a prooftext for a works-based spiritual meritocracy -- what my friend Cory calls "earning points by doing stuff." But if you read closely, the "sheep" -- the people doing all the good stuff -- are unaware of what they've done. Their Good Works Meter hasn't been running; they haven't been keeping score. Why? Because they do what they do out of love. Dumb, crazy love. The same kind of love that would lead a God to empty Godsself of divine prerogative and become one of us, just to show us that God isn't some impersonal bundle of energies or dispassionate Cosmic Watchmaker. Sisters and brothers of Christ, members and co-inheritors of the household of God, share the family value of loving freely and extravagantly.

Christians who affirm the historic creeds affirm the idea that someday, in the denouement of our history, Christ will return -- will be present to all in a definitive, unmistakable way. And when that happens, what he will care about is not "What did you do?" but "How did you love?" The paradox is that such a love is not something we work ourselves into, but rather something that is worked into us by the Holy Spirit as we allow ourselves to be led in a Godward direction, following the lead of our King. When I examine my own "generosity of eye" in seeing Jesus around me, I know that, oftentimes, my spiritual myopia clouds my vision -- especially, ironically, when looking at the people closest to me -- but I also know that, as the saying goes, the Great Physician isn't finished with me yet. In the words of the hymn, In your hearts enthrone him/there let him subdue/all that is not holy/all that is not true/crown him as your captain/in temptation's hour/let his will enfold you/in its light and pow'r.

Artwork: "Christ the King," sculpture by Jean Julien Bourgault; "Lord of the Universe," William Morris stained glass, Calvary Episcopal Church, Summit, NJ, at Stained Glass Photography

Friday, November 18, 2005

Kid Lit

Well, I could keep watching the evening news as the twitching arrow on my Public Moron-o-meter comes perilously close to falling right off the far end of the dial...or I could answer the RevGals' Friday Five:

Earliest book you remember (read to you or by you): The Night Before Christmas -- also the first book I could read.

Picture book you would like to climb into: Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass.

Favorite series of books (then or now): The Pippi Longstocking books were a big favorite of mine. And Thornton Burgess' animal books.

Character you would most like to meet: The Cheshire Cat. And the Frumious Bandersnatch (despite all warnings to the contrary).

5) Last childhood book you re-read (for yourself or to someone): The Annotated Alice.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

If I Needed You...A Game For the Easily Amused

Here's a great blog-game, courtesy of Derek at Haligweorc :

1. Google your real first name, followed by the word need, all in quotes.

2. List the top ten phrases that Google spits out.

Here's what Google came up with for my name -- changed here to my nom de plume/nom de guerre, of course, to protect the guilty:

1. LutheranChik needs you.
(Batting eyelashes wistfully into the ether...)

2. LutheranChik needs a term.
(A term for LutheranChik? An academic term, or a descriptive term? "Weird"?)

3. LutheranChik needs care 24 hours a day.
(How did they know?...)

4. LutheranChik needs the community's support.
(Yes; I'm all for community support.)

5. LutheranChik needs to get away from the problems of her relationship.
(You mean, as in not having one?)

6. LutheranChik needs to answer this question: Is my life worth living?

7. LutheranChik needs to remain available for caregiving and doctor's appointments.
(This one is actually pretty accurate.)

8. LutheranChik needs to keep moving south and west where there is more breeze.
(Does Grand Rapids count? I'm going there on Saturday.)

9. LutheranChik needs a break.
(From your mouth to God's ear.)

10. LutheranChik needs wit for this Emmy gig.
(Oh. I was thinking of maybe just singing my repertoire of 60's TV
theme songs.

As my friend Melancthon points out to me, you can substitute all sorts of phrases here. Try "[first name] wants," or "[first name] will," or "[first name] won't." Here are some gems from Googling "[LutheranChik] doesn't want to":

LutheranChik doesn't want to get too cute waiting until the last minute to make her monthly payments.

At nine, bedtime, LutheranChik doesn't want to go to her room.

I respect [sic] if LutheranChik doesn't want to discuss her sex life with us.

LutheranChik doesn't want to be like her mother.

LutheranChik doesn't want to see you. She's extremely upset. I can't believe you told her she was demon-possessed.

LutheranChik doesn't want to see the quarry. She wants to see the backseat of your car.

Go Googling. It's fun.

Elvish is Alive and Living in Outer Podunk

I may look (and eat) like a Hobbit, but I have the soul of an Elf. And now it is official.


To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
brought to you by Quizilla

She Likes It -- Hey, Mikey!

I got my copies of A Light Blazes in the Darkness. (Shameless promotion alert: Check out my sidebar for ordering information -- one click and you're there!)

Mom read the book, cover to cover.

Mom likes it.

Earning a Mom Seal of Approval is not easy. Kudos to all my blog-sisters and -brothers!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Deja Vu -- And Sauerkraut Too

I was back at my childhood church this evening.

Tonight was its annual sauerkraut-and-sausage supper -- a sort of Teutonic bangers-and-mash-fest with sauerkraut, plus baked beans, pickles, bread and pies; everything made completely from scratch, including the sausage. It's a Big Event in our community; signboards all over town, the church parking lots full and more cars lined up along the street. The church schedules the sauerkraut supper the evening before opening day of the firearm deer season, to attract visiting downstate hunters. I make the annual pilgrimmage for takeout, for my mom and me.

It's interesting going back to a church you used to attend after a long time away, especially when you've become estranged from its theology and mindset. My mother still sometimes calls it "our church," even though it hasn't been my church in well over 20 years and hasn't been hers for a long time either. Since I've been a grownup, I associate it mostly with family funerals.

But tonight I passed through its doors on a happy mission (for my palate if not for my arteries or my waistline). I passed the classroom where I had Sunday School with my mom as my teacher; another classroom where our confirmation class met. The church building has doubled in size since I was a kid -- they have a big activity center and extra meeting space now -- but the place smelled the same -- an olfactory mixture of candle wax and bulletin-paper and and coffee (tonight, of course, suffused with the aroma of sauerkraut and browning sausage).

As I moved through the takeout line, I saw that the cashier was a family friend -- her family had known my dad's family pretty much since they'd both landed in the immigrant-German neighborhood in this county. We exchanged somewhat awkward pleasantries; anyone familiar with internecine Lutheran slap-fighting knows what it's like for a Missouri Synodian to jump the denominational fence to the ELCA -- technically speaking you're no longer allowed to commune in an LCMS church (although there's a certain amount of "don't ask; don't tell"), and you're pretty much treated as if you've gone over to the dark side.

When asked by her old church acquaintances where she's been my mother says, "Oh, I go to church with my daughter now," so I know I am seen as The Corrupting Influence in this particular church circle; that's fine by me. Kind of flattering, considering. And the way I see it, radical hospitality works both ways, so I'd like to think that the church ladies felt they were ministering to me in my condition of spiritual peril, by plying me with Wurst and pie, in hopes that one day I'll awaken from my benighted state and return to the One True Church, mother in tow, to the strains of "Softly and Tenderly."

Then again, maybe they just wanted my $16.

It was a good dinner. "We can't believe we ate the whole thing."

Alive in the Leap

But let me give utterance to this which in a sense is my very life, the content of my life for me, its fullness, its happiness, its peace and contentment. There are various philosophies of life which deal with the question of human dignity and human equality—Christianly, every man (the individual), absolutely every man, once again, absolutely every man is equally near to God. And how is he near and equally near? Loved by Him. So there is equality, infinite equality between man and man. -- Soren Kierkegaard

Last Saturday was the day Lutherans (most ironically, given Kierkegaard's opinion of the institutional Church) recognize philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Now, I have to tell you: Soren Kierkegaard isn't my idea of a fun read on a rainy evening. The last quality time I spent with Mr. K was back in the 1980's, in my slacker bookstore-clerk days, when I read Fear and Trembling and the Sickness Unto Death on slow evenings. Considering my own existential angst at the time -- broke, in debt, car-less, directionless, convinced that I would never, ever have a real job -- it's no surprise I glommed onto this book.

Anyhow, fast-forward 20-some years, and I found myself thinking of Kierkegaard again this weekend. Actually, I was thinking about the afterlife. This is a somewhat impolitic thing to do these days, in mainline circles; some of the more skeptical among us who are unwilling to see beyond the dirt nap don't want to talk about something that they doubt is there, and others among us point out that spending overmuch time in speculation about the hereafter has a tendency to make people so heavenly-minded that they're no earthly good. But, anyway, I was speculating just a tiny tad about the afterlife, and what it might be like. I thought about how great it would be to be able to find all the people who've had a formative influence in my life -- whether personally or through their lives or writing or works of art -- and let them know that. And I thought about all those who labor in this life under the burden of great sadness and doubt and loneliness, and how it might be for them to finally find themselves enfolded for all eternity in the arms of "Love Divine, all loves excelling."

Kierkegaard is famous for talking about the "leap of faith" necessary to dare to believe, despite all odds, in a God who loves and cares about us. In reading his works, and in reading about his life, we find someone who indeed launched this leap with "fear and trembling." We know that Kierkegaard could be a charming individual, even at times something of a bon vivant ; one occasionally catches a hint of downright cheekiness in his writing; but underlying it all there's a profound sense of melancholy and alienation.

What I would hope for Soren Kierkegaard is that as his leap of faith reached the end of its arc, he found himself in glory, in the embrace of the loving God he could scarcely imagine. And that, there now, he and the other joyful saints of God intercede for us all every time we stand trembling on the edge of our doubt.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Playing Small

If we are ever to enter fully into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, we are going to have to spend more time thinking about freedom than we do. The church, by and large, has had a poor record of encouraging freedom. She has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes that she had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch. -- Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three (hat tip to Brian Stoffregen )

And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah -- Leonard Cohen

Sin boldly, and trust in God more boldly still. -- Martin Luther

The other evening I was watching the PBS broadcast of this year's Mark Twain Awards ceremony honoring recipient Steve Martin. The show featured clips of Martin's career, and as I laughed yet again at Martin's 70's-era stage shows and "Saturday Night Live Appearances" -- which my wild-and-crazy high school friends and I pretty much knew verbatim -- I recalled one of Martin's most famous signature phrases back then: "Let's get small!"

You know what? We human beings love to "get small," spiritually as well as chemically. Our tendency is to live our lives curvatus in se -- self-absorbed, self-protective, turned in on ourselves, like an imploding star on its way to becoming a black hole. Because we all fall short, and don't get it right, Christians are every bit as likely to curve inward as the people around us. And from that flaw proceeds sin -- failure to love God and failure to love our neighbors.

Our love of our own smallness keeps us afraid of and resentful of the God who seeks to pull us upright out of that cozy, dark fetal position and grow us up in an expansive, Godward direction. Our dedication to staying small makes us fear and hate both the needy and the different, the other, among us, whose presence threatens our autonomy and our self-image. "Leave me alone, damn it! Leave my soul alone. Leave my mind alone. Leave my possessions alone. Leave my cherished cultural mores and prejudices alone. It was nice and quiet and safe here, but now you're ruining everything."

And, since the Church is made up of sinners, all too often the Church chooses to play small; in fact, if you take a quick Cliff Notes run through the history of the Church, every time the Church has dropped the ball, it's done so in service to smallness. Being afraid of letting the "wrong" people in, or of chasing the "right" people out. Being afraid of losing its privileges and prerogatives. Being afraid of upsetting the powers that be in the dominant culture. Being afraid of the God it claims to relate to as the Lover's Beloved.

Jesus' parable of the talents is all about the peril of playing small when called to live large. One of the best commentaries I read about it this week noted that the ruler in the story never exhibited the negative qualities that the third, fearful servant ascribed to him -- after all, he entrusted his servants with his money while he left town! It was only that third servant's resentful, fearful attitude, his perception that the money given him was a burden rather than an opportunity, that created what amounted to the servant's self-fulfilling prophecy of an angry master.

What happens when we give ourselves over to the love of a God who can untangle us from our cowering inward-turning and stand us upright? We learn to be brave, because we know that God's grace isn't dependent on our being good enough or "right" enough. We learn to take risks, because we know that God loves us and will stick by us no matter what. We learn to reach out, because that's what we see Jesus doing. We learn to get out of our own way, because that's what we hear Jesus telling us. And that is true on an individual and a collective level. Just as the Church's worst blunders in history have been grounded in fear and defensiveness, its finest hours have been when it has focused on the lordship of Christ and not on its own continued institutional existence or comfort; when it has exhibited courage in the face of persecution; when it has practiced radical hospitality and inclusion in the face of indifference, cruelty and intolerance; when it has dared to reach out, by word and action, to "the least of these" in society.

Today at church one of my fellow lay preachers shared this quote: "You are a child of God. Playing small doesn't serve the world." Living in fear, rather than by faith, doesn't serve the world. So let's stop doing it, as sisters and brothers of Jesus and as members of the Body of Christ.

Gettin' Squirrelly

This is my third squirrel-proof bird feeder.

The first two were destroyed. By squirrels. So as you might expect, I am approaching this latest attempt at anti-squirrel technology with a certain amount of skepticism.

I wouldn't mind so much if the squirrels would just take a mouthful of birdseed and leave. But nooooo. They're greedy. They chase the poor chickadees and titmice and finches away, then wrap themselves around the birdfeeder and suck down the seeds for a half-hour at a time. Or they'll jimmy off the tops of feeders and crawl right inside. When I had an old-fashioned wood-and-glass feeder, the squirrels managed to chew completely through the wood to get to the seeds. If this were a just world one of our resident pileated woodpeckers -- those ginormous crested woodpeckers that look like pterodactyls -- would swoop down and give the squirrels a good rap on the cranium. But they don't.

Enter the Duncraft Squirrel Resistant birdfeeder. It's made entirely of metal and has some sort of patented thingy-do on the cap that, theoretically, will prevent the squirrels from pulling it off.

The good news: Over the past three days I have not seen one squirrel on this feeder. I'm afraid to even think this lest I jinx the feeder, but...maybe the thing really is squirrel-proof. If it is, I will sing the praises of Duncraft from here to Siberia -- anywhere on the globe where human beings who love birds must battle the wiles of gluttonous rodents.

I'll let you know.

Is the third time the charm? Posted by Picasa

Sister Act

Sister Roberta (not her real name) isn't a nun -- her sisterhood being of a freelance variety. She wears long calico skirts and keeps her hair in a bun, and has a demeanor that a friend of mine describes as "high eyebrow" -- intense in a sort of scary, revelation-in-process way. She sprinkles her conversation with ye olde King James English. She runs a mission in South Elsewhere, at the opposite end of the county from Outer Podunk, where she collects anything -- clothing, appliances -- to give to the poor. She's locally known for taking stuff that the local Catholic mission, a relatively fastidious establishment managed by a kindly elderly couple, won't accept.

For the past year or so Sister Roberta has turned her high-eyebrowed glare toward the topic of homosexuality. Every month or so she writes an angry letter to the local newspapers, calling down God's wrath on gay people. A recent letter noted, "My word to the gays is to go back into their closets to pray." (Hey, guess what, Sister?...) "I believe that by saying God blesses the gay lifestyle is [sic] a lie right out of the pit of hell to destroy mankind." "You give the devil an inch, and he thinks he's a ruler!" (Mind out of the gutter, LC...) She gets a lot of epistolary mileage out of Adam-and-Eve-not-Adam-and-Steve.

You'd think that, considering her mission's clientele, she'd be writing letters to the editor about issues like state legislators who want to balance their budget on the backs of the poorest and sickest members of our society, the people with the least ability to advocate on their own behalf...or about business and governmental leaders with no vision, no ideas about how to transform Michigan's obsolete smokestack economy so that its citizens can enjoy meaningful work that pays a living wage...or about complacent, comfortable "good Christians" who have a hard time turning their attention from their next trip to the outlet mall or their newest garage-toy to the needs of "the least of these" in their communities. No -- it's the gay folks who piss off Sister Roberta.

Because of the nature of my employment, I am not at liberty to express public opinions about anything, so I have to quietly grind the enamel off my molars here in the privacy of my home as I read her screeds, and depend upon the kindness of strangers to counter her letters to the editor. (And we do have a brave PFLAG family in our area whose members engage Sister Roberta very eloquently, letter by letter.)

Here's the weird thing, though. I find myself, lately, really wanting to show up one day at Sister Roberta's mission with a sackful of clothes. Not my Coat of Many Colors, mind you, because that would just be mean. And not to mix it up with her. But just bring her some culled clothing, and try to make eye contact, and say, "Do you know someone who could use these?" I'd just like her to begin to understand that I'm not some exotic species of demon released from the pits of hell. That I bring clothing to missions, and groceries to the food bank. That I pray. (In and out of my closet.) That I may be more like her than she thinks I am. I'm not sure where this is coming from -- if it's a prophetic impulse, or simple cheekiness, or a manifestation of my needy desire to have everyone in the whole world like me, all the time. But I just might do it, one of these days.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Go Tell It On the Blog!

This is very cool news.

You know, if you've ever had the misfortunate to be stuck watching television during Christmastime, what a depressing wasteland that tends to be. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that the ELCA will be sponsoring special Christmas programming on ABC on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. "Joy To the World" will feature music and worship from a multicultural assortment of Lutheran churches around the country.

Thank you, ELCA, for making this investment of resources in the broadcast media and putting a different face on "Christian broadcasting." You are doing a good thing.

 Posted by Picasa

Friday Food Blogging

The RevGal "Friday Five" this week is all about pie. I like pie. So I'm in.

I now present my deep (dish) thoughts on pie:

1. Apple Pie My mother's apple pie is the's my mother's famous pie crust topped with apples, sugar, tapioca, cinnamon and nutmeg -- maybe a dash of mace too -- topped with streusel. When I was a child, I considered the filling simply a foil for the crust -- I'd scrape all the filling off and then eat the crust first. I now take a more holistic approach to pie eating, much to the relief of my meal companions.

2) Cherry Pie I may be banned from Benzie, Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties forever for saying this, but...cherry pie's not my favorite. I'm sorry. it just isn't. Not that I wouldn't eat a slice of cherry pie if it were offered to me, mind you. The Cherry Hut, up in Beulah, Michigan, has primo cherry pie, if you're ever traveling in northern Michigan.

3) Pumpkin Pie Again, my mother's pumpkin pie beats all others hands down. The secret? No cloves. It's very creamy and subtly flavored. Once I poured her filling over a cream cheese bottom layer -- whoa, mama. (Apologies to all readers on diets.)

4) Chocolate Cream Pie Chocolate -- need we say more?

5) Pecan Pie This was not a pie I ever tasted until I hit adulthood. I enjoy it a lot, but it's almost too much of a muchness.

Bonus Question: Do you have a favorite kind of pie not on this admittedly short list?

Lemon meringue.

Rhubarb. Rhubarb custard. Rhubarb strawberry.

Strawberry. I have a great, quick recipe for fresh strawberry pie whose secret ingredient is strawberry Jello (it's a very Lutheran recipe) -- you wind up with a yummier, tangier pie than the Large Franchise Restaurant's Much-Touted Strawberry Pie. If you ask me nicely I'll find it for you.


And my Amish neighbors' double-crust raspberry pies, whose filling is so good -- it's rather solid and smooth, almost a pudding consistency, and not too sweet.

And, venturing into savory territory, the pasty, a regional specialty by way of Cornwall (Editor's Note: My grasp of Celtic Britain having lost hold late last night, I originally typed Wales, which will explain some of the comments below); Cornish miners working in the Upper Peninsula brought the pasty to Michigania. Traditional pasties are a mixture of beef, potatoes, rutabagas, onions and carrots encased in a remarkable crust that's tender and flaky, yet tough enough to let you eat the pasty in hand without the thing falling apart. There's usually a thick crimped edge to the pasty, which was developed back across the pond to help tin miners eat their pies with toxic tin-dusted hands -- they'd grasp the pasty by the crimp, eat around it and then throw the tainted crust away. If you're ever driving up M-115, on the west side of Michigan, stop in at Mr. Foisie's Pasties in Cadillac, just south of the state park, which sells not only the old-style pasties but a tasty vegetarian version that adds broccoli to the filling. These bad boys are huge, and one easily feeds two hungry people.



One of my very favorite foodie shows is "Fork in the Road," broadcast on my local public TV station, a culinary tour of my fair state of Michigan spotlighting regional foods, unique farmers and farm markets, and food-related cottage industries. It's hosted by Chef Eric Villegas of Restaurant Villegas in Okemos, near East Lansing, who is one of the most entertaining TV chefs I've ever seen, and who really needs his own nationally broadcast show, if you ask me. Anyhow, he just broadcast a program all about pasties, and if you go here you can find his own take on this Yooper favorite.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


I've been in the oddest online conversation today...all about the phrase "personal relationship with Christ."

Actually, it's moved way beyond conversation into outright bitch-slappage. On one hand you have the anti-PRWC Christians, who do not perceive that they have a PRWC and who find Christians who say they do have a PRWC to be hurtful and judgmental and sanctimonious; and then you have the pro-PRWC Christians, who feel that the anti-PRWC Christians are trying to invalidate their very real experience of Christ's imminent presence.

As a personal Christ might say: Oy gevult. (It seems that there is no topic that you can't get two Christians to fight over.)

To paraphrase the song, I've looked at Christ from both sides now. The first half of my life, my relationship with Christ was in large part mediated through the Church; through my baptism, through my hearing the Word and partaking in the Sacrament of the Altar, through my relationships with other Christians. I had a sense of a close relationship with Jesus -- sometimes more, sometimes less -- but the Godtalk of my more evangelical friends seemed a bit presumptuous and subjective and overly familiar; what a friend of mine calls the "My Boyfriend Jesus" Syndrome. It seemed hard to reconcile My Boyfriend Jesus with the image of the Cosmic Christ one finds in, say, the letter to the Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers [i.e., spiritual beings, like angels] -- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross.

Fast-forward 20 years. I'd jumped off the Christianity bus; was pursuing a new, irreligious way of seeing the world. And then...something happened. Something far more real than my sensation that other people are reading this post. My evangelical friends would call it a "born-again" experience; that term is far too loaded for me, so I call it a transformative encounter with Christ.

I don't know why some Christians have this type of experience and some people don't. Maybe I'm a hard case who needed a special divine YOO-HOO -- REMEMBER ME? to break through my bitterness and skepticism and inward-turned focus.

But from where I sit now, I don't see a conflict between these experiences of Christ -- the Christ we meet in the Word, the Sacraments and in one another, and the Christ who shows up in unexpected ways. I feel a certain sadness that this seems to be such a polarizing issue.

Sometimes I call Jesus The CEO, and seem to make light of our relationship; and sometimes, frankly, I do experience Jesus in this lighthearted manner: Christ as "the happy heart of God," to paraphrase Luther. On the other hand, there have certainly been times in my life when my experience of Christ has been the Christ of Colossians, where all I wanted to do in response was fall on my face in awe. There are days when, like Peter struggling with his netload of fish in his foundering boat, I want to say, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful woman!"

But most often my experience of Jesus -- my PRWC -- reminds me of something I read about Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was probably one of the more improbable objects of admiration and loyalty among the Union troops: He was average-looking; usually unkempt; an uninspiring orator; had had a checkered career, to say the least, in the Army until Lincoln promoted him. But this is what Grant did: Some humble private would be on the march, doing the things soldiers do on the march -- stopping to light a smoke; fixing a shoe or a wagon; maybe going behind a tree for a whiz -- when suddenly he would would look up, and there was the head of the Union Army. No retinue of fawning officers, no prancing steed; just another soldier in a dusty, bedraggled uniform, chewing on an old stogie. Grant would talk to the private; maybe ask him where he was from, or discuss the day's activities, or talk to him about horses -- Grant had a thing about horses -- or simply thank him for his service. And then he'd walk on and talk to another soldier. Grant's soldiers saw him not as top Army brass, but as one of them; someone who walked with them, who shared their lives and privations, who cared about them. And they honored that humility and respect by putting their lives on the line for Grant, over and over and over again.

My "personal relationship with Christ" frankly doesn't mean very much, because it changes as quickly as my situation and my mood. What counts is Christ's personal relationship with me and with all of us; and the fact that he is the One Who Suffers With Us, who gives up the prerogatives of divinity to walk with us along the road and give us comfort and hope. How we experience his sharing in our journey is, I think, unique to each of us. But all of us who claim Christ do so in faith that, somehow, he is with us, even if we don't understand it or feel it. And I believe someday we'll all be able to look back and see that clearly, and give thanks.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hot Dish!

And no, this post isn't about me. (That was a joke.)

I recall, long long ago (like, back in February), mentioning here that every once in awhile I'd share a recipe. I fear I've been rather remiss in that promise, so I'm going to make it up to you tonight.

This is in an idea I got from a cookbook I was looking at in the Outer Podunk Public Library, trying to find something interesting to bring to our next commuter-member potluck at church. It's a way to get the taste of golabki, or stuffed cabbage, without going through the hassle of wrapping them. (If you've ever seen my enchiladas, you'll know why I steer clear of attempting golabki.)

These golabki are inside out -- and the theequit twick is to use Brussels sprouts as filler for a tomato-y meatball. And this is a low-fat version, using lean beef instead of the traditional beef, pork and veal mixture, and baking the meatballs raw instead of browning them first, which also saves a few calories.

Inside-Out Golabki
(And since this is the way I really cook, there are no measurements -- you'll just have to experiment.)

ground round
egg or egg white
a bit of leftover cooked rice
finely minced onion
finely minced garlic
salt and pepper
steamed Brussels sprouts (select the smaller sprouts)
tomato sauce, seasoned to your liking (I put a little bit of brown sugar and a tiny splosh of vinegar in mine)

I used about a pound and a half of ground round; one egg; about a handful of cooked rice; half an onion; a small garlic clove; a 15-ounce can of tomato sauce. This made about 7 large meatballs.

Mix the meat, egg, rice, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Take about a quarter cup of this mixture and form it around a Brussels sprout, making sure to pinch the "filling" end of the meatball together tightly and roll the meatball in your hands to smooth it all over. Place meatballs in a baking dish sprayed with baking spray. Pour tomato sauce over them. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half.

My mostly unbiased evaluation: "They'll eat."

P.S. Since I'd steamed about three quarters of a pound of Brussels sprouts, I had a lot of them left over, so I am marinating them in a red wine/olive oil/Dijon vinaigrette. I am the only sentient being in my household who eats them they're mine, all mine!

Coming soon to a church potluck near Outer Podunk Posted by Picasa

More of Those Heartwarming GOP Family Values

I'm anxiously awaiting the hue and cry from conservative pulpits across America regarding Scooter Libby's porn novel. Yeah...that'll happen.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Wild Kingdom, Jr.

I had to buy a baby shower gift for a coworker this week.

I have to tell you...I'm waaay out of my league when it comes to picking presents for babies. Babies terrify me, and I know next to nothing about them -- being an only child and the youngest cousin in my family, I was the baby. Now, give me a verbal, housebroken child and I do very well -- I know my dinosaurs and Harry Potter, I pick up toads and frogs in my bare hands and can otherwise get along swell, especially with a certain type of geeky, thinky, friend-impaired kid -- but I don't know nothin' 'bout buying shower gifts for no babies. I kind of wanted to give the mom-to-be a pound of very good coffee for her triumphant postpartum return to caffienated beverages, since she's a javahead like me, but I figured that wouldn't play very well with the ladies at the shower.

So I went to one of our local gift stores. What to buy...what to buy. The receiving blankets and such seemed a little too fancy -- I imagined them with spit-up and other unpleasant substances on them. This store, for some reason, had a multitude of ceramic infant banks; I didn't quite understand what that was all about.

Then I saw a book. It was one of those washable books, in its own little carrying case. It looked promising. It was all about bugs. You'd open it up, and every cloth page had a stylized, smiling 3-D insect on it that did things: there was a fuzzy bumblebee on a ribbon tether, and a butterfly with soft flappy wings, and a beetle whose sparkly wings made an appealing crinkly noise when you lifted them up, and another bug that sang a happy tune when you pressed a button on its shell. It was really cool. I was enjoying myself turning the pages and doing all these things with the bugs, even though the clerk was giving me A Look.

My purchase was almost a done deal until I got to the very last page of the book. There I found a fuzzy 3-D spider with pipecleaner legs, sitting on its web. It was smiling. At the opposite end of the web, evidently in the web, was a butterfly, also smiling.


What sort of sick, crazy-ass baby book was this? Who wrote it, anyway -- Franz Kafka?

I know I tend to be overly sensitive, and I know that children are asked to grow up early these days, but do we have to teach them about survival of the fittest before they're even able to sit up by themselves? I mean, they're going to find out about "nature red in tooth and claw" soon enough -- when an older sibling whomps them over the head with a toy, or some young peer in play group takes a bite out of them.

I put the book back.

Below you will see what I finally did purchase. It's a glowworm -- if you pull its tail it plays "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and it lights up all over. I also got a little cardboard book featuring pictures of fluffy animals not eating one another. These selections passed muster with my mom ("Oh, that is soooo cute!"), who seemed astonished that I had purchased them without assistance, and the glowworm also made my dog's ear stand up in a benignly curious sproing, which I thought was a good sign.

If the child's older sibling does whomp him on the head with the glowworm, it won't hurt very much, and he'll hear some nice music.

The worm that turned the Chik Posted by Picasa

First They Came for All Saints Church in Pasadena...

...for political sermons ... you think that the IRS will be threatening the tax-exempt status of Coral Ridge Ministries , Thomas Road Baptist Church , et al, anytime soon?

We live in interesting times. Pray hard.

Psalty Dog

My dog likes it when I sing him the Psalms.

I'm not kidding.

It's not that I've never sung to Cody before; we have a little repetoire of ditties that I've sung to him ever since I was just his dogsitter and not his Official Person -- for instance there's the reggae-inspired Code-Mon Song, created shortly after I'd made his acquaintance, when he had long white dreadlocks; and there's the Yucky Medicine Song ("It's pink and it stinks!") that's an essential element of his nighttime medicating routine.

But I usually don't sing serious music for Cody. He sets a pretty high bar for entertainment: Francis Albert Sinatra, to be exact. The Codeman loves Sinatra. He lies next to the boombox when a Sinatra CD is on; one evening when 60 Minutes featured a story on newly discovered Frank Sinatra film footage, Cody sat right in front of the television, mesmerized, while The Chairman of the Board performed: Frankie!
But the other evening I was practicing singing the Psalter, in my amateur and unconfident manner, when I noticed that Cody was looking at me, ear askew, in a curious but approving way. So I kept it up. He kept listening. He put his chin on the armrest of the chair and lay there contentedly. Keep going. Keep going.

This is so great -- my dog as my voice coach and accountability buddy.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

More on Put-and-Take Prayers

Last week I told you about our Worship Committee's new endeavor called Put-and-Take Prayers. Each week we have an opportunity to fill out a slip asking for prayer on our own or others' behalf; we place these into a basket, and then pull out someone else's request for intercession. We include that petition in our own daily prayers for the next week. And then we do it all over again. We want this to become a regular part of the prayer life of our people.

Today was our start-up Sunday. And you know how start-ups are -- as a former boss of mine observed, they're heck. With All Saints Sunday and New Member Sunday jammed into one worship service, the church packed and the front of the sanctuary filled with candles and kids and bushel baskets of donations for the local food bank, I was reminded of that scene in Ferris Buehler's Day Off where the band marches right into the wall at the end of the cul-de-sac. Even during the announcements, before the service, I could see that folks in the pews were having a hard time tracking what this was all about. But on the way out of the sanctuary I found that some worshippers had indeed filled out slips and placed them into the basket. I put mine in; I took another out.

Some of you had asked if we included a sample prayer on our slips, to help people get into the swing of intercessory prayer if they're not there already. Yes, we did. Here's what our sample prayer says:

Dear God, thank you for this day. Thank you for all your great and gracious gifts, especially the gift of forgiveness we have through your son, Jesus Christ. I lift up to you in prayer (name/request/concern). Bless him/her with what s/he needs this very day, for you know his/her needs even better than I. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

I'm so happy we're doing this. This is the priesthood of all believers at its most basic, boots-on-the-ground level. And I think as the weeks progress it's going to become more important and meaningful in the life of our parish.

"That Is What We Are"

Recently a member of that troublesome online species known as a troll -- an antagonistic, disruptive other -- has been tormenting several of my fellow bloggers in the RevGalBlogPals webring. The troll is most unhappy with women in ministry, with the GLBT community, and I'm sure with a whole ain't-it-awful list of other perceived sinners pulled from the Big Book O' Fundamentalist Rants.

I've read some of this troll's posts, and one of his m.o.'s is to hint broadly that anyone who is displeasing to him is endangering his or her immortal soul. His posts are couched as passionate entreaties to turn from one's evil ways[cue the organ music] before it's too late.

Here's what I think of this rhetoric: I think, for at least some people, it is a weasel way of avoiding saying what they're really thinking -- not You may be going to hell, but simply Go to hell. As in: Cease to exist. You annoy me. I do not want to share my planet, or my God, with you, as long as you are who you are -- whether that's a female clergyperson, a gay person, a member of the wrong political party, a member of the wrong ethnicity, someone who crosses herself in the wrong direction or eats bread butter side down, or anything else. The go to hell people are people who simply cannot tolerate the thought of a Reign of God that is not made up only of those who look like them, who act like them, who think like them.

I thought about my friends, and the troll, this morning at church, as we heard the lessons of the day. I fooled you yesterday with my post on the Wise and Foolish Virgins -- we celebrated All Saints Sunday today, so we had a different set of readings, and the epistle was from the third chapter of John's first epistle. It begins:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

That is what we are. The children of God. For anyone out there who has ever been told that s/he needs to be pushed off the Christianity bus, who has had his or her faith questioned or ridiculed or condemned by a Real Christian [tm]-- this word is for you today. As is Jesus' assurance, in our All Saints Gospel lesson:

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The freed, forgiven, called and empowered sisters and brothers of Christ and members of the household of God. That is what we are. Remember that, always.

And Now It's Official...

Slime mold has a more exciting social life than I do.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Knowing and Being Known

"Jesus is Coming -- Look Busy!" A friend of mine likes to respond to complacent, life-negative Left Behind aficionados with this bumper sticker sentiment. And at first glance the Gospel lesson today would seem to be pointing in the same direction: Christ will come again, so you'd better do what you're supposed to.

But what is the "doing" that's supposed to be done here, in this parable? What is the oil that half the bridesmaids fail to steward well? Why is the bridegroom's reaction to their poor planning so devastatingly harsh and final?

Brian Stoffregen has some interesting thoughts in this regard. He notes, and rejects, Luther's suggestion that the bridesmaids' oil symbolized faith. (Which, if it were true, would contradict Luther's own being a gift of God.) There is a bit more support for the idea that the oil represents good works -- but there again, when thought through this fails to satisfy.

Stoffregen suggests that the answer may lie in the dismissive words of the bridegroom: "I don't know you."

Most of us have heard the phrase "knowing in a biblical sense." And indeed in Scripture, to know someone can mean to have an intimate relationship with him or her. Throughout Scripture, God is imaged as the Divine Lover.

How does this story work, wonders Stoffregen, if we think of the oil in the bridesmaids' lamps as the fuel of our relationship with God? -- the redeeming, reconciling power of God in our lives that allows us to be the people of God, to do God's work in the world? What happens if we neglect the attitudes and actions that open our lives to intimacy with God and, flowing from that, healed relationships with other people and with all of creation?

I might possibly be the worst person ever to be giving out relationship advice, but if someone asked me what to do to strengthen a relationship with a significant other, I might suggest things like spending uninterrupted quality time with that person; listening to that person; learning about that person; sharing activities with that person; showing that person, in words and actions, that s/he is loved and honored.

With those things in mind, how can we strengthen our relationship with our Divine Lover? Prayer and contemplation create quality time to spend with God. Being open to the Word speaking to us in Scripture, both in the context of our faith communities and in our own reading and hearing, give us opportunities to listen and learn. We share in God's work when we ourselves engage in healing, reconciling acts, great and small, as the situations present themselves to us. Worship, both corporate and personal, is like a love song to God in response to the Word; the Eucharist is the song sung back to us.

I have to admit that this parable is a "hard saying" for me because of the finality of the bridegroom's rejection of the careless bridesmaids, and I suspect that others may feel the same way; likewise the "too bad, so sad" attitude of the other bridesmaids. The Jesus we meet in the Gospels makes a career out of saving people who can't get it right; it's difficult to hear him tell stories like this, where everyone doesn't live happily ever after. But perhaps the point Jesus is making in this story is that, what matters much more than the quality of our response to God's love and grace is our intention -- how much we care. In other words, the error of the foolish bridesmaids was not in bad planning, but in not caring enough to plan at all.

This afternoon I was listening to a cover of Ray Charles' poignant "You Don't Know Me." Reading the Gospel lesson, I can hear the same longing and disappointment in Jesus' voice as he tells his parable: I don't know you, because you don't want to know me.

"Clever Bridesmaids," He Qi  Posted by Picasa

A Sign that the End May Be Nigh...

I'm thinking of getting an artificial Christmas tree.

We've always had a real Christmas tree. Germans love Weihnachtsbaume. When I was a little kid, I even had my own little tree in my room, in addition to the big family tree. The adventure of the hunt...the scent of the needles...the idiosyncracies of each year's tree...the surprises, like the little bird's nest I found in the depths of last year's blue spruce...I love real Christmas trees. Even when I was a starving post-collegiate slacker, I decorated my Norfolk Island pine; it looked just like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. (Much to the delight of my housemate's cat, who succeeded in quietly slipping away with most of the ornaments when no one was home and batting them down the basement stairs; months later we were still finding little bells and candy canes in the dark recesses of our duplex cellar.)

But...ever since I moved back to my hometown, my mother has been working on me, every year from November onward, about purchasing an artificial tree. The fact that I am the one who does the selecting, the cutting, the stand-mounting, the decorating, the watering and the take-down, seems not to make a difference; then again, she's the kind of mom who says, "Put your sweater on; I'm cold," so it makes a certain kind of cockeyed sense in our household that she finds my tree too much work.

And this year I feel myself succumbing. I'm losing my support network at the office; real-tree trimmers are dropping like flies, including one of the most back-to-the-land folks I know, who admitted to me yesterday that last year her family spent the holidays with a fake tree sprayed with balsam scent. Today while shopping for something else, I found myself evaluating fake trees in the local big-box store. And I pondered another year of listening to "Why do we have to have a real tree? I don't need a real tree. It's too much work!", and then bringing home a real tree for the annual wrestle into the tree stand while listening to, "See? I told you we should have gotten an artificial tree," and then on Epiphany dragging the tree back outside to the tune of, "Next year you're going to get an artificial tree." Not exactly holiday Kodak moments.

I made a list of pros and cons:

Real Tree
it smells nice
each tree is unique and lovely in its own way
I'm supporting a local tree farmer (and they're having tough times)

Fake Tree
no needles in the carpet in July
no taking the Lord's name in vain during the stand-fitting process

For me it's no contest, really. But it's hard to not have allies. And, truth be told, it can be a drag to go tree hunting myself. It's the sort of activity that begs for a buddy or two or three...a fun outing, a few pratfalls in the snow, some hot chocolate, some assistance; not a bad way to spend a winter afternoon.

I'm telling myself that this is not a forever thing; that this is a real-tree sabbatical. That the ornaments are what have the real sentimental value, and that the tree is just a foil for those. That this is all peripheral to the real focus of Christmas anyway, so get over it. That I'll get a nice natural wreath instead.

But I want a real tree.

It's a new era in the LutheranChik household. Rats.

Good grief -- no real tree this Christmas? Posted by Picasa

And If You're Having a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day...

...there's always the Biblical Curse Generator .

I'm watching Jerry Falwell on The Early Show, discussing evolution. (Yeah; when I want to learn about science I ask Jerry Falwell. Like when I want to discuss the finer points of theology, I collar the meter reader. Who, come to think of it, may well be better equipped for that task than Jerry Falwell.) The utterances of the Reverend Jerry cause me to sputter Fair Trade coffee all over my nightshirt. I consult the Biblical Curse Generator. It responds:

May you be pursued into the mountains by sex-mad baboons, thou armpit of Satan!

Hey! It works!

Friday, November 04, 2005

LutheranChik and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

Ever have one of those days?

I did, last Saturday. That's right -- just before our wonderful, almost giddily joyful Reformation Day at church.

Why? That's a good with a smorgasbord answer. Take a generous helping of middle-aged hormones simmering in the dark of the moon, add twin scoops of friends' sorrows and Seasonal Affective Disorder and a serving of post-retreat/back-into-the-world letdown, season with a splash of anxiety and a sprinkling of depressive genes from both sides of the family, and then take your seat at a table surrounded by to-do lists, with an unhappy elderly mom and a pouting dog as your dining partners. In a world gone mad. Yeah; that might do it.

Imagine your emotions on a roller-coaster ride that suddenly plunges down...down... down. You find yourself so far down that gravity presses in on you from all sides, and it's hard to breathe; you feel as if you've been buried alive. This is what depression feels like. And in addition to feeling like this, you also feel guilty for feeling so bad. Why should you feel bad? Was your house washed away in a hurricane? Are you starving? Has someone you loved died? Are you in the midst of a war? There's no good reason to feel like this. But you do anyway. And the sadness comes in waves, like nausea; at one point you will feel better, and think, "Oh, it's going away now" -- only to be buffeted by another crashing feeling of sorrow and hopelessness.

Fortunately, thanks be to God and to a very patient cognitive therapist years ago who spent hours listening to my teary gut spillage, I have a kind of toolkit I use when I feel blue. Part of it is about maintaining a detached perspective, like my Buddhist friends: Yes, I am feeling sad. This is what sadness feels like. Then the sadness will pass away, and I'll feel something else. Part of it is about distraction -- interrupting the ruminating, the marinating in sadness. (Ironically, I find listening to the blues, the waaaaay down blues, one of the best means of doing this.) And part of it is about prayer. About being face down in the ditch, chewing mud, and asking God for help. When I'm in this frame of mind I find that the ancient Jesus Prayer -- Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner -- says it all. Sometimes even that is too much, and I'm reduced to a simple Help. Help me.

And the Lord Jesus Christ does. Always. Not by waving a divine hand and making my sadness go away, but by staying with me in a way that is real to me. A clergyperson I know notes that, in his experience dying people are less afraid of dying than of dying alone, and I think this is true of suffering or sadness of any kind. Bonhoeffer called Jesus the One Who Suffers With Us, and in my experience that is true in an individual as well as a collective way.

Sometime late at night, my bout with depression stopped. It just stopped. Whatever was messing up the recipe of chemicals in my head ceased and desisted. It's like a fever breaking. Thank you. Thanks for being here. I thought of my favorite Psalm, Psalm 40:

I waited patiently upon the Lord
who stooped to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me up out of the desolate pit,
out of the mire and clay;
he set my feet upon a high cliff
and made my footing sure.
He put a new song in y mouth,
a song of praise to ouur God. (RSV)

At first I hesitated to write about this episode, because I didn't want to sound whiny -- all things considered, I have far less to whine about than most human beings on this planet. But for anyone out there who does suffer from depression -- an ongoing depression, or sporadic episodes like mine, or perhaps situational depression -- I want to encourage you, with all my heart, to seek out help. I still draw upon the advice of the therapist I saw a decade ago. Talk therapy helps; it really does. And if your therapist, through your work together, ascertains that you need some pharmaceutical help as well, s/he can help you get that. And never discount the power of prayer; a friend of mine likes to talk about our living lives of practical atheism, of saying all the right things about "almighty" God but thinking and living as though there isn't one. Like the song says, Jesus walks...walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, as well as through the good, happy times. You don't have to suffer alone.

"The Scream," Edvard Munch Posted by Picasa

The Mean-ing of America

Last Sunday, in his Reformation Day sermon, my pastor talked about how we are quickly becoming a Zero Tolerance society. Survival of the fittest disguised as "personal empowerment" or "compassionate conservatism." Shredded safety nets. One strike and you're out. No room for screw-ups.

Things are getting meaner -- meaner in business; meaner in the public sector; meaner in churches.

The nature of my own work brings the Mean-ing of America up close and personal, as it touches the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our society. And all of us, I think, are feeling the unease that comes from perceiving that having the right education, or picking the right career, or doing the right things with our time and money, no longer guarantee us any security in this world. Nor will we, I suspect, be able to count on rights and legal protections that we have enjoyed in the past, at least without a fight.

The Reformation, at its best, was about affirming grace -- God's unqualified, crazy love and mercy. My pastor suggests that now, more than ever in our recent history, the people of God are being called to counter the culture of Zero Tolerance, and make our faith communities places of grace in a grace-less world. We have, in our understanding of grace and our desire to live God's love into the situations in which we find ourselves, what people need right now. Not a bogus compassion, but one that rolls up its shirtsleeves in earnest. When Christ tells us, "Follow me," this is the direction he's leading.

There are times when I feel that I am hanging onto the Church by a cracked fingernail. But as I listened to the sermon this Sunday I was, as my evangelical friends might put it, convicted that this is right where I need to be. And, God help me, where I want to be.

Friday Bloom Blogging

They're forecasting snow for next week...this might be the last bloom you see here for a long time.

Mum's the word Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Disrupting Influence in the Church

A hat tip to Melancthon for this excellent post .

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Frauenkirche Re-Consecrated

Welcome news in these days of wars and rumors of wars: The restored Frauenkirche in Dresden, destroyed during Allied bombing in World War II and left as a charred ruin by the East German government, was re-consecrated this past weekend.

A Saint You Don't Know

As far as I know, she never performed a miracle. She didn't die at the hands of an anti-Christian oppressor. She never preached a sermon, or wrote a book, or saw an otherworldly vision.

She was born in Detroit, on the last day of December, 1891, to a family of German immigrants. Her mother died when she was young; her father remarried soon after, to a woman who turned out to be a stepmonster right out of Grimm's fairy tales; one day her father informed her and her sisters, "Your new mother doesn't like you, so you're going to have to leave." So she was yanked out of school at the fourth grade and put to work as a domestic.

Her employers were a highly educated, secular Jewish family who treated her with kindness and even, when she got older, tried to fix her up with one of the eligible young men in their family. But she eventually wound up marrying another German-American, a World War I veteran who'd been a medic overseas but was now working in a factory. Soon she found herself with two young children, and a husband whose wartime demons haunted him out of job after job. There was strife in the marriage, and at one point she'd left, only to come back after she discovered she was pregnant with her third child. Her children came down with illnesses like diptheria and scarlet fever. She herself was sick in bed much of the time. And then the Depression hit.

The family wound up in the rural middle of the state, sharecropping, although they had no experience farming and weren't particularly good at it. Life was hard physically and emotionally, and there was never enough money; the children had a change of clothing from day to day, and that was all. Meals consisted of potatoes, lard bread and canned goods from the family garden. Even at a time in American history when almost everyone was poor, this family's poverty was significant, and was a source of frustration and shame.

After many years, after the children had grown and the oldest had begun sending money back home, she and her husband were finally able to move to their own house, and a few acres of their own to farm. But by this time she had developed a serious case of diabetes, poorly managed in those times, and lived the life of an invalid, cared for by her two younger children. She was in a great deal of physical pain much of the time, and also endured the heartache of watching her youngest child develop a mental illness that eventually required hospitalization. On a happier note, she was able to experience the birth of a grandchild, after six years of waiting on the part of her oldest daughter and her husband. But just a couple of years later, on July 7th of 1962, she died of complications from diabetes.

Much of her story is a sad story. But she was a woman of humor, of imagination, of grit. She and her sisters, as young working women, used to get together and do silly things like hold costume parties. Even though she'd never gone beyond the 4th grade, she was an avid reader; ironically, one of her favorite books was about the adventures of an Edwardian-era coed during her first year of college. She loved art. She loved cooking, even though she had so little to cook with; she used to strive to fill every inch of shelf space in the family root cellar with canning, and noted that one of her happiest moments every year was when the last jar was put away for the year, and she could gaze with satisfaction on rows upon rows of her work. She was tolerant of other races and religions in a way that was novel for her time and place.

This woman was my maternal grandmother, Erna. I don't remember her at all, although my mother tells me she used to delight in holding me. I have a large birthmark on my hand that was very prominent and angry-red at birth; my mother was understandably upset, but my grandmother said, "She's been marked by God; she's God's special child." And she meant it.

Growing up, even though I don't remember my grandmother, I knew enough about her from the stories I'd heard to know she'd be pleased by my interest in academics and cooking; that she would have cheered my bravery in my dealings with things that frightened her, like thunderstorms and large animals; that, curious person that she was, she'd be amazed by the technological innovations of the end of the 20th century; that she'd have been pleased by the increasing empowerment of women. When I went off to college, I did so with the acute sense that I was carrying my grandmother with me -- her unfulfilled aspirations, her unquenched desire to learn, her delight in diversity and creativity.

So as I think about the great cloud of witnesses today, I imagine Grandmother Erna in their midst -- joyous, well, finally seeing the Beauty and Truth she desired face to face, praying for us all.

"Communion of Saints," stained glass, St. George's Episcopal Church, Dayton, OH Posted by Picasa