Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Bloggalutions

Last night Fellow Traveler and I shared our lists of New Year's resolutions. It was an interesting exercise; some helpful intersections that will help us be good accountability buddies for one another, as well as some differences in theme that proved to be good discussion fodder. Some of our "stuff" involves self-care -- eating better, moving more. Some involves adding depth and breadth to our spiritual lives. Some involves getting smarter. Some involves wresting order from chaos in our living spaces.

Since it's the season for reinvention...hey, why not include my poor, neglected blog?
Here are some of of my ideas for the new year.

Consistency. I want to get back to posting every day, even if it's a short post or a link to somewhere else.

Structure. I like the idea of different themes for different days of the week -- not every single day, but little weekly touchstones, like the Friday Five.

Interactivity. Instead of posting my own Deep Thoughts all the time, I think I want to incorporate more questions into my posts, to get others involved.

Of course, as I post this I'm hyperventilating because one of my other resolutions this year was to say "no" to more commitments, not only or even primarily for my sake but for the sake of other people who wind up getting inconvenienced or disappointed when I try to do too many things at once. But I feel sorry for my blog, which I think this Christmas has languished like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. It's not a bad little blog, really. It just needs some love.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Cody: After

"Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup now..."

Friday, December 29, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

I dedicate this poem to the forlorn, discarded Christmas tree I saw propped against an Outer Podunkian porch, not even the day after Christmas, but Christmas Day afternoon.

A Dreamy Friday Five

Yes, I am still in the land of the living...although I'd been burning my holiday candle at both ends for the last two weeks, after which I promptly came down with a respiratory infection. (Right now I am sucking on an over-the-counter tablet that's a hearty dose of vitamin C plus some kind of homeopathic-mojo mixture of herbal essences. Because I'm on blood pressure meds my choices in cold remedies are quite limited; I didn't have a lot of faith in this particular compound, but I bought a bottle in desperation, as I was schlepping my feverish and miserable self home after falling ill at work -- but you know, it seems to have made a difference in the severity of the symptoms; that and a day in bed.)

I don't yet have the mental capacity to blog about my Christmas experiences or insights, so instead I'll play the RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five:

A dream you remember from childhood. I used to have scary dreams when I was a kid. The skeleton army from, I think, Jason and the Argonauts popped up in my dreams several times after seeing that movie. I had a recurring dream where blotches of slimy, gooey substance suddenly appeared all over the house, and touching the stuff killed you. (Wasn't this out of War of the Worlds?)

A recurring or significant dream.
I dream a lot about finding myself back in college, at my current age, in a class I had no idea I was enrolled in, about to take a test for which I am totally unprepared.

A nightmare.
I once, long ago, dreamed about the end of the world. I was in a crowd, outside, on a sunny summer day, when a huge mushroom cloud suddenly exploded against the horizon. My final thought before waking up: "Oh -- so this is how it's going to happen."

A favorite daydream.
I used to combat insomnia by engaging in virtual landscaping -- imagining a bare yard and then coming up with arrangements of plants to fill it. These days, if I daydream, it's generally about pleasant places I've been in the past year...walking the beach on Lake Michigan, or traveling through the Upper Peninsula.

A dream for the New Year.
Here is one pretty practical, unromantic dream: I want to lessen the amount of chaos in my life -- whether chaos of mind or of accumulated "stuff." What I need to do now is to quantify this in some fashion so that I can actually follow through.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cody: Before

"Oh, I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay...I sleep all night and I work all day..."

Remember That Thou Art Dust

I'm not sure if this is a profound theological insight or just the result of goofing on too much chocolate and coffee today (my meals today have consisted of chocolate stars, coffee poured over Land O' Lakes Supreme Chocolate cocoa mix, a peanut butter patty and a coworker's Magic Cookie bars)...but how ironic is it that, two days before we celebrate the entrance of God into our enfleshed existence, my mind is consumed with thoughts of...dirt?

My house is a wreck. It looks like animals live there...which, of course, is true. My floor crunches. (Thanks in part to a little dog who, served a new brand of dog food with a variety of different flavor nuggets in it, proceeded to vigorously fling the less tasty ones in a three-foot radius around the dish.)

For the past week I have resolved, each night, to vaccuum/wash/carpet shampoo my floors. Each evening I have wound up doing other things. I've cleaned; some good elbow grease cleaning, as well as the more creative kind that involves temporarily moving stuff into the Scary Middle Bedroom Whose Door Is Always Shut.

Tonight I have no more excuses. The tree is trimmed. The presents are wrapped. The baked goods are baked. The toilet is disinfected. The pile of miscellaneous things on top of my dryer has been relocated, in pieces, to more appropriate storage areas. Furniture has been dusted.

I wonder if I should make another batch of cookies or something.

Friday Poetry Blogging

A poem in honor of all the church choirs and community choruses who have been making a joyful noise this holiday season.

A Culinary Christmas Friday Five!

Some toothsome questions from the RevGalBlogPals :

Favorite cookie/candy/baked good without which, it's just not Christmas.
That's got to be the family-recipe sour cream sugar cutout cookies. (I'll post the recipe at some future date -- they also make yummy Valentine's Day, Easter or other cookies.)

Do you do a fancy dinner on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, both, or neither? (Optional: with whom will you gather around the table this year?)
In my family, growing up, Christmas Eve dinner was more of a graze, because of the hustle-and-bustle to get to church on time...after church we'd come back to break open the stash of Christmas cookies and more cold-cutty, fingery noshes. We then had our "big" meal on Christmas Day, usually at an aunt-and-uncle's house. This year I am being swept up in Fellow Traveler's family Christmas extravaganza, which includes a Christmas Eve Mexican fiesta-style meal at her place, and a more American-traditional Christmas dinner out of town, at her sister's. (My contribution to this endeavor is going to be, unsurprisingly, cookies.)

Evaluate one or more of the holiday beverage trifecta: hot chocolate, wassail, egg nog.
I have to say that, out of the three, I love the eggnog -- that's perhaps strange for a chocolate lover to admit, but it's true. Homemade eggnog rocks the house, but I'm good with the dairy-section variety as well. Now, chocolate eggnog...

Candy canes: do you like all the new-fangled flavors or are you a peppermint purist?
I -- ahem -- believe that candy canes of any kind are best seen and not eaten.

Have you ever actually had figgy pudding? And is it really so good that people will refuse to leave until they are served it?
I have not had the pleasure of figgy pudding. I suspect that it's similar enough to mincemeat to lead me to refrain from partaking.

Bonus: Fruitcake: discuss.
My German ancestors are probably all rolling in their graves as I type this, but...I don't like candied fruit. Never have. (Citron is the worst...bleah.) I can't bear Stollen, much to the bemusement of my parents and other relatives, and I think that most commercial fruitcakes are best used to prop up the Christmas tree. However -- I have been known to take a nibble of Collins Street Bakery fruitcakes, which seem to have more cake in them, and also have mostly edible fruit therein. On the other hand, there are kinds of cake -- white spice pound cake with a generous dose of cardamom, ginger and even white pepper -- that I like, that other people probably find appalling. And so it goes.

I have been on hiatus, mostly, from blogging, simply because there is simply too much to do around here in the evenings (ever try using a laptop after making molded cookies? Not a good plan)...all may not be calm at Cold Comfort Cottage, but it's a much brighter Christmas than I could have imagined earlier this year. I'll be back more frequently after the Christmas craziness subsides.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Someone dropped a dog off at our church yesterday morning sometime before our service began.

The dog was elderly, and filthy; one eye was milky with a cataract, while the other was red and inflamed; tumors hung from her belly, and one was angry and ulcerated. She could barely move; she lay shivering on the ground.

This is one of those times when my intellectual appreciation for the principle of nonviolence goes right out the window. If the owner of the dog had been standing there, I would have kicked his ass. And, actually, that sentiment was expressed by several of us, this week before the arrival of the Prince of Peace.

Our friend M, a dog lover, stood weeping over the animal while a few of the parish teenagers debated taking the dog home. Finally M wrapped the dog in a blanket and carried her into her vehicle, while Fellow Traveler moved M's dog, an exciteable border collie pup, into our dog-intensive Jeep.

There was a suspicion that a certain chaotic household at the end of the road was the dog's home. M and Fellow Traveler drove there; the homeowner denied that the dog was his, but a next-door neighbor told them that it was. But there was nothing that could be done; they came back, where the service had already begun, with the sick old dog still in M's car.

After church, we (plus our dogs, plus M's dog) followed M back to her house, a meandering trek that took us way into another county. There we let our pets run off their nervous energy while M and I alternately coaxed and pulled the moribund dog into a dog crate lined with blankets, with water and food. M was going to call her county's animal control office and try to get someone to come there that day and put the dog down in a humane way.

I have to say, I don't know what to do with situations like this. What pathology makes people want to possess an animal, yet neglect an animal to this degree? Even if cost were an issue -- in our county people are charged for dropping off a pet to be euthanized -- in the rural area around our church there are plenty of farmers and hunters with a .22 handy who would have helped the dog take the long walk in a quick and relatively painless way. But no.

Fellow Traveler told the weeping M that at least the dog's last hours would be spent with kind, caring people, and that that was something.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Christmastastic, Cinematic Friday Five

It's a Wonderful Life--Is it? Do you remember seeing it for the first time?

I may be stoned for saying this...but, like the original reviewers, I despise this far as I'm concerned, enduring the lame-o dialogue is like listening to fingernails scritching on a chalkboard. Please...give me Ralphie and his quest for a BB gun. Or even the Walton kids.

Miracle on 34th Street--old version or new?
I'm steeling myself for a few more rocks...but I dislike this film as well. But if I had to sit through one version or the other, I'd have to go with the original version.

Do you have a favorite incarnation of Mr. Scrooge?
Alastair Sim, hands down...although George C. Scott made a pretty good Scrooge as well. I'd love to see John Thaw, of Inspector Morse fame, take a turn as Ebenezer.

Why should it be a problem for an elf to be a dentist? I've been watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for years now, and I still don't get it.
Speaking as someone with a permanent retainer that causes much grief for my own dental professionals, I'd think that an elf's tiny fingers would have the necessary size and dexterity to do a really good job with a variety of oral health procedures.

Who's the scariest character in Christmas specials/movies?
The Bumble
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Muppet Version
That Mean Magician Who Tries to Melt Frosty
Your Nomination

Lucy and Violet "advising" Charlie Brown while he's trying to direct the Christmas play in A Charlie Brown Christmas. If I were Charlie Brown, I'd join poor George over on the bridge, contemplating the one-way polar bear dive. (And when the Lucys and Violets of the world grow up they get even scarier.)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bethlehem Meets Dr. Seuss

I bought this creche from a an old Outer Podunk retail institution when it went out of business last year...the stylized design reminded me of my elderly neighbors when I was a kid, a kindly couple with what to me was an amazing house -- filled with a fascinating assortment of household kitsch including a ceramic black panther with green glass eyes up on the mantel and, at this time of year, an aluminum Christmas tree with a color wheel.

Anyway, this Nativity set reminded me of them, and of that era, and I'm very slowly assembling it in my living room as Advent progresses.

But -- is it just me, or do you kind of expect Cindy Lou Who to come running out from behind this stable?

You'd Better Not Pout...

"It isn't even Christmas vacation yet, and we already need a vacation from Christmas!"

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

I mentioned this song in my Friday meme...considering this coming Sunday's Advent readings, which touch on the paradoxical peace of God that is no peace, this is a poignant reminder of why we need to be, as Bruce Cockburn and Bono sing, kicking at the darkness -- the darkness of war and bigotry and injustice and want -- until it bleeds the daylight of God's Reign:

"Christmas in the Trenches" by John McCutcheon.

Friday Five, Christmas Carol Edition

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is all about Christmas indulge in a cup of cocoa with an Altoid chaser, and join me in pondering:

A favorite 'secular' Christmas song:
For me it's a toss-up between "The Christmas Song" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas."

Christmas song that chokes you up (maybe even in spite of yourself--the cheesier the better):
It isn't cheesy, but "Christmas in the Trenches," John McCutcheon's song about the World War I Christmas truce where English and German soldiers climbed out of their trenches and met on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday together before going back to the carnage of warfare, makes me boo-hoo every time; it's actually making my eyes water even thinking about it. Another non-cheesy song that makes me a little misty, I think simply because of the melody: "Lo, How a Rose is Growing"; ditto "Once in Royal David's City" -- both the sweet voices of the child sopranos who often sing the first line, and the "big ending" when the choir and congregation and organ and other instruments all join together. Okay -- this one is just a touch cheesy: Mario Lanza belting out "O Holy Night."

Christmas song that makes you want to stuff your ears with chestnuts roasted on an open fire:
So many little time..."Jingle Bell Rock" -- I think more because of the mind-numbing repetition in every Muzak-drenched public space than because of the song itself, which is fairly innocuous; "Do You Hear What I Hear?", which drips with lounge-lizard Cheez-Whiz ("Now, I hope this next song means as much to you as it does to me..."); most of the Christmas fare on the average country-music station.

The Twelve Days of Christmas: is there *any* redeeming value to that song? Discuss:
Well, I remember, as a young poultry grower, once trying to find out what kind of hen a "French hen" actually it was educational. I know that this song is thought by some to be a kind of encoded Roman Catholic catechism that originated back in the days of Cromwell, but I admit to not really picking up on the metaphors...which I guess makes it a pretty good code.

A favorite Christmas album: That's hard. At the risk of being stuck firmly in my NPR-listening, Barnes and Noble shopping, cappucino-sipping rut, I enjoy George Winston's "December" album and the Windham Hill Christmas compilations. Anything by the St. Olaf or Kings College choirs. Familiar Christmas carols rendered by classical musicians. Any Christmas album with Frank Sinatra or Rosemary Clooney on it. I love Sarah MacLachlan's and James Taylor's new Christmas albums. And I kind of dig world-beat Christmas albums. I like Hannukah music too. Come to think of it, I'm pretty much describing standing inside a Barnes and Noble and listening to the canned holiday music.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Science Kit

I was way excited today when I got home. Because when I opened my mailbox I found a science kit.

It's not for me. It's for a kid whose name I drew from the community Angel Tree. These are children from families who are clients with the local Department Human Services, or who have been referred to the community Christmas program by concerned others.

My kid is five years old. I don't know her name, but I know she wants a science kit and a beading kit. I like that; a well-rounded child, even at five. I also suspect that, in this community -- which happens to be my hometown -- she is not going to get a lot of support for her budding interest in science, either at school or at home.

When I was five years old, the thing I wanted most of all at Christmas was a science kit -- one of those humongous kits from Sears or Penney's or Monkey Ward that contained a real microscope and test tubes and minerals and pickled animals and all manner of fascinating materials for conducting experiments. Oh, how I wanted one of those science kits. I circled them in crayon in the Christmas catalogs. I'd show them to my parents -- ever the diplomat, I'm told that instead of declaring, "I want that," I'd obliquely murmur, "Should I have that?"

But I never got a science kit. I got other things I wanted -- the mack-daddy Crayola set with 100 crayons; the Spirograph; a bike; lots of animal books. I also got a lot of things I didn't want -- a creepy life-size doll that reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode about malevolent talking dolls, that went directly to the attic to live; another doll that was eventually relieved of its hair and its limbs as I wavered between imaginary careers as a hairdresser and a surgeon; a tea set that wound up lost in the chaff in our hay barn after I used it to feed the cats; board games, which are fairly useless to an only child. But no science kit ever appeared under the tree.

Several years ago, during a round of holiday reminiscing, I cautiously broached this subject with my mother. "I don't get it," I said. "It wasn't about the money, because you spent as much on other presents."

My mother looked uncomfortable. "We didn't think you really wanted one," she finally answered.

"What do you mean, you didn't think I wanted one?" I exclaimed in disbelief. "What about my waving marked-up Christmas catalogs in your face from the day they came in the mail until Christmas Eve?"

Mom winced. "We didn't know any other children who had science kits."

"What about my cousin the brain, who had a pickled deer embryo in a jar on his dresser for years? I bet he had a science kit."

"Your aunts," Mom sighed, "thought that you should get dolls for Christmas because you were a girl and because you didn't have any brothers or sisters and they thought you would be lonely."

"You listened to your in-laws instead of listening to me?" I asked incredulously...although I could imagine my imposing, frowny-faced and hopelessly conventional Teutonic relatives gradually hectoring my sometimes unconventional mother into submission.

"We just didn't know any better back then."

So this is kind of a personal thing for me. When I saw the tag on the tree, I knew it was my tag, as if God had personally pressed it into my hand and said, "Here -- this is your kid to help."

And I did. I found this science kit, that makes rainbow crystals and other fun stuff; I found another kit for growing a cactus garden; I found a picture dictionary, and a bird book, and a "fun with math" game, and a little kit for making sun prints, and a tin filled with colorful beads. I threw in crayons and a coloring book. "Brimful and spilling over" is the bag of my five-year-old's Christmas presents.

Fellow Traveler has a tag too, and we spent part of last weekend finding things for her kid, who's eight years old and tiny and wants art supplies and things to wear. We found a great artist's kit with lots of stuff in it at a Large Mallish Bookstore, and some kickin' clothes, even though our expertise in tiny girls' sizing leaves something to be desired. This child's bag is overflowing as well.

Everyone should do this at least once -- be a secret shopper for some kid who'd otherwise have a bleak Christmas. I can't adequately describe to you how much fun this is. The experience is the exact opposite of the stress and resentment involved in searching for "contractual obligation" Christmas presents; I'd perhaps go so far as to say that it's a tiny, tiny taste of God's extravagant love and grace. And we get to help.

And in my case -- the case of the science kit that will wind up under a five-year-old girl's Christmas tree -- I can't help but feel that, somewhere, a cosmic equation has finally balanced.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The View From Fundastan

Having just made a brief and admittedly ill-considered excursion into Fundastan, courtesy of Beliefnet, I have just two things to say:

1. If I thought about sex half as much as the fundamentalists I encounter online, I wouldn't have time to do anything else. They're like weasels in heat. And the really sick thing is...they seem to want to mostly think about my sex. (The feeling is not mutual.)

2. Dan Erlander, in his excellent booklet Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism As a Way of Life, in speaking about Jesus' absolute trust in God, notes:
We live by trust and not by certitude. Not knowing if our actions will produce the best results, we boldly act and then boldly trust God's forgiveness if we are wrong...we trust that God is good, that God means us well. We even face death, the end of our striving, clinging only to the promise we believe -- God is good. Until death we obey, even if we see no results. We trust that God will bring the shalom.
My interactions with fundamentalists and their theological kinfolk lead me to think that they don't trust that God is good and means them well. I don't think they trust that at all. Their attitude -- toward God, toward other people, toward their own enfleshed existence -- leads me to believe that they believe God's default attitude toward creation in general and human beings in particular is one of contempt and disgust. Their belief that God afflicts human beings with pain and suffering either as punishment or in order to somehow spin the situation into a means for self-promotion creates an image of what someone on a Beliefnet forum described as a "de Sade God."

If anyone ever needed to be evangelized it's these folks, because the news they perceive in the witness of Scripture isn't good news at all -- they've twisted it into very bad news. But I don't have either the temperment or the vocabulary to engage with fundamentalists. I just can't do it. They make me crazy. Keeping my distance from them feels like a defeat for me, but I don't have a better solution for dealing with them.

Monday, December 04, 2006

"I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying"

That Sting song came to mind yesterday as I was rolling out sugar cookies...sugar cookies that I am going to have to frost with extra icing, I think, because some of them will have an odd saline aftertaste.

When we got to church yesterday morning -- a church all bright and expectant in Advent blue, with our sanctuary Christmas tree festooned in white and gold chrismons and ribbons -- we found out that my pastor's spouse's father had died overseas, after a long illness and a final visit that hadn't gone the way one would have wished. Having gone through this myself with my mother -- the delirium and confusion and belligerance of her last day on this earth, and her passing before I could get to the hospital -- I felt myself overcome with sadness. And the juxtaposition of this sadness with the visual cheer of the church sanctuary, the laughing and chattering of the kids and the old hymns of Advent longing and just got to me. I found myself weeping all the way through the service, and in offering my condolences to my pastor and his spouse, and much of the way home, and most of the way through my cookie baking.

After passing through my first parentless Thanksgiving relatively calmly and cheerfully, I'm finding that this pre-Christmas season is going to be hard; very, very hard. I thought that keeping busy and focused on other people would keep these feelings at bay...well...not so much.

A Botanical Conundrum

No, this isn't an Edelweiss. It is a flower that I encountered on my vacation last summer, while we were stopped at a roadside nature preserve on Lake Huron between St. Ignace and Hessel. Because of my digital camera woes, I was only recently able to recover this photo from my card.

I like to think of myself as a fairly competent amateur botanist, so the mystery of this flower has been bothering me for five months now.

The focus is a little fuzzy, and it's hard to gauge the size of the flower from the picture...but think of a buttercup or marsh marigold; the flower was similar to that in size, and maybe 10 inches tall. If you look very hard, you'll see pink veining on the petals, much like an hepatica. It was growing in the sand among the dune grasses maybe 10 or 12 feet from the water's edge.

Any specialists in Great Lakes ecology who may be reading this -- knock yourselves out. I've gone through about four regional plant identification books and haven't found anything like this.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


It was 1965. I was a little kid. My parents had taken me on a very rare excursion to another, larger city to go shopping at the Woolworth's -- a wonderful store with three whole stories of merchandise, including a pet department with real live birds and fish and turtles and small animals -- even a baby alligator.

I was magnetized to the pet department, where I slowly went from tank to tank and cage to cage gazing in amazement at the animals while my mother impatiently waited from a distance, urging me to hurry up and follow her to the home furnishings. I, of course, had no interest in home furnishings except for a fish bowl or birdcage; I lingered with the pets as long as I could, then unhappily turned to follow my mother down the aisle to look at curtains or pillowcases or some other dry goods of interest to adults.

But I didn't stay there. The pull of the pet department was too strong -- the noisy, friendly budgies who cocked their heads at me in an appealing way; the flashy tropical fish; the droll, sleepy guinea pigs and frenetic hamsters; the tiny, yet menacing, yet strangely fascinating baby alligator.

At some point I looked up and realized that my mother was no longer in sight. Where was she? I went back down the aisle where we'd been last and turned the corner; no Mom. I walked down the side aisle, looking down the rows of aisles; strange adults looked back at me in what seemed to me to be an unfriendly, annoyed way. I started to panic. The store suddenly seemed very, very big, and I seemed very, very small inside it. I didn't know where I was. I didn't know where my parents were. I began to cry, until a kindly clerk finally found me and delivered me to my mother, who had in turn noticed that I was missing and had been frantically looking at me at the other end of the store.

It's funny how you can be 46 years old (give or take a few weeks) and still feel like someone very, very small, caught in a very, very big, hostile world. No matter how attractive the distractions, no how adept we are or think we are professionally or interpersonally...most of us have had more than one sleepless 2 a.m. when we've felt every bit as frightened and disempowered and overwhelmed by the stuff of life as a little child lost in a department store.

The messages we hear in our readings today, while written for specific people in specific situations in place and time, ring across time and space for us. They say, Look up. See the signs. You are not lost.

God always comes down. And as Jesus points out in today's Gospel lesson, the place where we feel the most disoriented, the most anxious, the most oppressed, the most in want, the most disheartened, is the place where God is most near. Some Christians proclaim themselves "Easter people"; that may be so, but we are also Advent people -- people who, in the midst of the worst that the powers and principalities can throw at us, can see God's presence and saving power at the ready.

This is the season where many of us feel as if we're in the midst of Vanity Fair -- the noise and bling and shill of the Christmas season, which seems to descend on us earlier and more rgently each year. It's also a season when hardship and sorrow come to dwell with many of us -- sickness and death, job layoffs, financial stresses, our annual personal inventory of losses and defeats. Even those of us who count ourselves fortunate may feel our guts being wrenched by stories of war and want and injustice elsewhere. Like the Psalmist, we find ourselves praying, "How long, o Lord?"

The message of the Gospel is not that we will somehow magically avoid or finesse the problems that come with living in this world. The message is that we are not alone in our lostness and weakness -- that God is with us; that, in the person of Jesus, God is before us leading the way, and next to us as a Friend, and behind us as a Savior. The very signs that spell lost in the vocabulary of the world are the signs that remind us that we are found in Christ. And that's a good place to be.

Advent I

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Friday, December 01, 2006

An Advent-urous Friday Five

It's all about Advent at the RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five this week.

Do you observe Advent in your church?
Yes and no. We have the church decked out in blue Advent paraments, and we have an Advent wreath at the front of the sanctuary that we light each week with appropriate readings, and of course we have the designated texts for the season. But we don't really do a lot with educating people about Advent, which I think is a pity.

How about at home?
I have my own Advent wreath; I usually have an Advent calendar -- this year I got one from Bronner's that has little chocolate treats behind each window; I follow the daily Advent liturgy and read other Advent-themed material. And I just try, very hard, to detach from the seasonal wackiness around me and try to make quiet spaces in my life.

Do you have a favorite Advent text or hymn?
Oh, it's got to be "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

Why is one of the candles in the Advent wreath pink? (You may tell the truth, but I'll like your answer better if it's funny.)
Because it's the peppermint one?

What's the funniest/kitschiest Advent calendar you've ever seen?
That just might be here .

Artwork: "Winter Landscape," Carl David Friedrich

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Maybe I'm cranky because every morning I have to drive past a McDonald's where the Ghost of Christmas Accelerated vomited bling on the front lawn a full two weeks ago. Maybe it's the reports of greedy shoppers coming to blows over toys. Maybe it's the TV promos for the Victoria's Secret Christmas special, where we learn that the reason for the season is watching anorexic models parade their concentration-camp pelvises and enhanced boobs, accented by thongs and pushup bras, down runways. Maybe it's the church Christmas events queueing up on the calendar before the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone.

But do you ever feel that ChristmasZilla is about to devour what is left of the observance of Advent? Ever feel that we liturgical folks are increasingly giving up on the attempt to observe Advent in any meaningful way, even in our churches?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Let There Be Peace On Earth -- But Not in Our Subdivision

I knew that Colorado was, like, the Independent Republic of Fundastan, but this beats all.


I did it.

I visited every single one of the RevGalBlogPals' blogs.

Monday, November 27, 2006

On the Other Hand...

...maybe it was 20 or 30 more blogs?...

Who knew a bunch of (mostly) female God geeks could be so talkative.

As an ex-Marine friend of mine used to tell me: Persevere!

The Delurking Continues

Well, the RevGalBlogPals' official Delurking Week is over, but I can't stop now...I have just about...oh, 15 or so blogs to go on that list, plus my sadly neglected friends on my own blogroll.

Fellow Traveler says, "Do you think that maybe you have just a touch of OCD?"

Sunday, November 26, 2006

When Worlds Collide

Two men in a room.

One man, dressed in the crisp white linen of the ruling classes, the official representative of the Roman Emperor, the self-proclaimed Kurios of all the world.

The other man -- dirty, beaten, bloody, weak -- the real Kurios of all; the one in whom and for whom and through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together.

Two worlds colliding.

The scandal of Christianity, then as now, is that Christians claim the second man, and not the first, as their Lord. That's the party line, anyway.

The reality? Christians find the power of the first man strangely seductive; something that they themselves often long to achieve. Throughout the centuries, "winning the world for Christ" has, more often than not, simply meant winning the world -- claiming and exploiting the world's resources; subjugating, marginalizing, sometimes forcibly converting, sometimes killing non-Christians; gaining political and cultural supremacy.

But throughout the centuries, that image of two men in a room still confronts us; still disturbs us.

Our king -- the king whom we claim to long for in our Advent hymns, the king whose birth we celebrate at Christmas and whose revealing we rejoice in at Epiphany, is a king whose crown and scepter and robe are instruments of torture and mockery, given to him by those whose ultimate loyalty is to Kurios of this world and the values of that reign.

When our king says, "Follow me," he asks us to follow him into that place where worlds collide; where his kingship is at best sentimentalized and dismissed, at worst actively and violently opposed.

We hesitate. We don't really want a king whose power is in weakness, whose victory is in defeat.

But our Kurios, unlike the other, is not a king "up there" or "out there," apart from his subjects. He is a king who not only goes before us to show us the way, but who stands beside us in solidarity with our own pain and weakness and defeat, and who stands behind us, to comfort and encourage us. He's a king who conquers not through the love of power, but through the power of love. And he begins his conquest in our hearts.

All hail the King of All -- the King who stoops to conquer.

artwork: "Christ Before Pilate," Duccio di Buoninsegna

Grace-ious Sakes

I forgot the story about saying grace at Thanksgiving this year.

I was recruited for this task by my co-hostess because of my credentials as a God geek/lay ministry trainee. My mission: To come up with a blessing suitable for a couple of Christians, a Buddhist, a vociferously religion-averse individual and a few of the theologically uncategorized.

I could have insisted on my Christocentric family favorite -- "Come, Lord Jesus/be our Guest/let these gifts/to us be blest." I could have come up with some subtly evangelizing blessing that quickly slipped the J-word past the goalie.

Here's what I did instead. To honor Fellow Traveler's family tradition, I had everyone hold hands, go around in a circle and name one thing they were thankful for this year.

Then I led the group in a non-theistic table prayer I learned a ways back. I had everyone repeat after me:

It is.

It is good.

It is good to be.

It is good to be together.

I will admit to an Abrahamic "Amen!" that kind of got away from me at the end...but I really could feel a certain group tenseness dissolve somewhere in the middle of this exercise as people realized that I wasn't going to go all Christian on them.

I suppose some readers think I compromised my principles to an unacceptable degree with my unorthodox table grace. do what you have to do when you have to do it. It's too bad that Christianity has wounded so many people in such profound ways that those of us who claim Christ have to tread so lightly in some circles. But I think The CEO understands.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Turkey Day Wrap-Up

No...not talking about the foil packets in the refrigerator. (Which I can't do anyway, because we don't have any more leftovers.)

We had a splendiferous Thanksgiving -- seven people, two takeouts to our elderly relations, six dogs, one cat. (The cat stayed away from the festivities, but the six dogs all, amazingly, got along -- even my cranky, neurotic, elderly mutt.) In a striking example of the Almighty providing, the 12-15-pound turkey I'd ordered from the turkey farmer miraculously grew to almost 19 pounds; the farmer reported that his smaller turkeys had "gotten away from him" and eaten themselves all the way into the next size range. This turned out to be fortuitous; we wound up with just enough leftovers for an extra meal and a "people bag" for Fellow Traveler's sister. The huge casserole of dressing was almost entirely gone by the end of the day -- Fellow Traveler added a bit of apple butter from our church's apple-butter-making project to a standard stuffing , which made it extra good. All the other side dishes were pretty much decimated, as were our Amish-made pies and the Amish rolls, which were so rich and sweet that they tasted more like shortcake biscuits than yeast bread.

I have to admit to a certain amount of trepidation as I approached my first parentless Thanksgiving. People had cautioned that this would be a hard one for me. But I was very happy playing co-hostess-with-the-mostess; I felt as if we'd helped make the day special for others. And we're already talking about next year. (When I'll know to order the larger bird.)

Anyway -- here are two of my own contributions to our repast; an old standby of my family's, and a new salad:

German Sweet-Sour Beans
1 pound fresh or frozen green beans
lean bacon -- 6-8 slices, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 TBS sugar
salt and pepper

Cook green beans in enough water to leave you with about 3/4 cup of bean liquid. Meanwhile, fry bacon on medium heat; add onion midway and continue cooking until onion is soft and transparent. Add beans and 3/4 bean liquid to pan; simmer until liquid is reduced by about a third. Add vinegar and sugar; season with salt and pepper, and adjust the sweet-sour ratio to your liking; reduce liquid again until thickened. Beans can be served either hot or room temperature, and taste great reheated the next day.

Spinach-Pear Salad
baby spinach
Bosc pears, diced
toasted pecans
a little bit of finely diced red onion
a few sprinkles of good coarsely grated or shaved Parmesan cheese

Toss the above with a sweetish vinaigrette -- I used an interesting recipe I found on the Internet that included balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a sploosh of real maple syrup, another sploosh of Dijon mustard. (Keep an open mind.)

Today we got together again with our Thanksgiving guests and some other women in our circle of correspondence, and let someone else (at one of Fellow Traveler's and my favorite restaurants, the Brass Cafe in Mt. Pleasant) make lunch for us. Another day of good food and friendship. But we are beat. And -- no more leftovers to nosh on by the light of the refrigerator.


"Greetings. My name is Mollie. The new visiting human, the one who calls herself LutheranChik, evidently snapped this photo while I was asleep on the DVD player; I have my own room, with my own bed, but I occasionally come out to observe the humans and -- sigh -- their ridiculous canines. Why the humans insist on associating with such smelly and undignified creatures I can scarcely imagine, but I suppose it has something to do with dogs' ingratiating fawning and licking and cuddling, which the humans seem to interpret as affection. I want to say, It's all about the food, you imbeciles. But humans are sentimentalists; they wouldn't believe me. Still, there's something amusing about being around them all, even the little yappy white creature. And I have them fairly well trained; even the new one. So I choose to stay. Because it suits me."


This is Charlie. He lives next door to Fellow Traveler; his own human family doesn't seem to have a lot of time for him, so he comes over about -- oh, three or five or eight or nine times a day, for petting and treats and a hang-out with his doggy friends. Charlie's not a very complicated dog -- if he had a cartoon balloon over his head, the balloon would probably either say "?" or "!" But he loves his name; he loves a pat on the head; he loves the doggie-treat jar that plays "Who Let the Dogs Out?" or "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog" when you open the lid.

"Shop 'Til You Drop Friday Five"

A seasonally appropriate Friday Five from the RevGalBlogPals :

Would you ever/have you ever stood in line for something--tickets, good deals on electronics, Tickle Me Elmo?

The last thing I stood in line for was a room lottery for the crunchy "alternative" dorm, back in college. I actually had to camp out in the dorm lobby overnight. I got in. Not sure it was worth it, though.

Do you enjoy shopping as a recreational activity?
I do, but it does have to completely recreational -- I can't be on a mission to find something I need; that's work -- and it's not going to be in a mall. Boutiquing and art gallerying in some picturesque resort area or university town -- that's what recreational shopping means to me.

Your favorite place to browse without necessarily buying anything.
Bookstores. Eclectic art/artisan galleries featuring regional talent -- places where the fine art shares space with $15 earrings and handmade Christmas ornaments and such. Gourmet cooking stores. Hardware stores -- the small-town kind with squeaky floors, that smell like galvanized metal and salt licks.

Gift cards: handy gifts for the loved one who has everything, or cold impersonal symbol of all that is wrong in our culture?
I promise not to be offended by gift cards involving coffee or books.

Discuss the spiritual and theological issues inherent in people coming to blows over a Playstation 3.
Hmmm: How about You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself? Or You shall not steal? Or You shall not kill? Or You shall not covet? Treat others the way you want to be treated?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's Delightful...It's Delovely...It's Delurking...

This must be what speed dating is like.

After resolving to lift my eyes from my navel long enough to (re)connect with blogpals old and new, I began to delurk; I started with the RevGalBlogPals. Sadly, last night I could not access Blogspot blogs, which impeded my progress a great deal, but today I think I dropped by over 40. I started at the beginning; got impatient at about the mid-C's, started up again at the M's; got impatient again and started at the opposite end of the list. I figure if I keep skipping around like this I'll eventually get to everyone on the list, at which point I can segue over to much-neglected ringless blog buddies who've been with me from the git-go, and the Reconciling bloggers.

This is quite enjoyable. There is just so much life being lived, and shared, out there. Thanks to all for your insight, wit, honesty and generosity.

Oh...and here's a meme -- remember those? Haven't seen too many lately -- I brought home as a souvenir. It's all about word association:

Word Up

Yourself: procrastinating
Your partner: sweet
Your hair: spiky
Your Mother: observing from eternity, wondering why I didn't attempt pie (I know this isn't a word -- deal with it)
Your Father: large-and-in-charge
Your Favorite Item: laptop
Your dream last night: busy
Your Favorite Drink: coffee
Your Dream Car: Vibe
Your Dream Home: eclectic
The Room You Are In: wreck (again)
Your Ex: imaginary
Your fear: which?
Where you Want to be in Ten Years? happy
Who you hung out with last night: dog
What You're Not: organized
Muffins: yes
One of Your Wish List Items: bicycle
Time: night
The Last Thing You Did: instant-message
What You Are Wearing: loungewear
Your favorite weather: autumnal
Your Favorite Book: witty
Last thing you ate?: chips
Your Life: busy
Your mood: distracted
Your Best Friends: IMing
What are you thinking about right now?: vegetables
Your car: mess
What are you doing at the moment: multitasking
Your summer: "Sweeeet!"
Relationship status: cozy
What is on your tv?: "Law and Order"
What is the weather like: nippy
When is the last time you laughed: recently

My First Cooperatively Planned and Executed, Parentally Unsupervised Thanksgiving Menu

Locally grown turkey…dressing…smashed potatoes…baked butternut and delicata squash…roasted root vegetables…German sweet-sour green beans (my ancestors never met a vegetable they felt couldn’t be improved by pickling and/or amending with pork products)…spinach, pear and pecan salad…relish plate…Amish rolls…Amish pies – pumpkin, raspberry and pecan. (In addition to our simply enjoying Amish baked goods, and wanting to help out the local Amish baker…I am a piecrust coward who labors under the psychological burden of my mother’s consistently light, flaky and perfectly crimped piecrust, convinced that I am unable to ever replicate it to my own or anyone else’s satisfaction.)

Something old; something new.

Disorganized Religion

Joining the ranks of celebrities who attempt to do religion in public -- Mel, Madonna, Britney, Tom, et al (Note to any celebrities reading this: Unless you're Bono, don't try it) -- Sir Elton John has opined that organized religion should be banned because it promotes homophobia, does not provide a compelling moral voice against war, and turns people into "hateful lemmings."

I heard Sir Elton's comments on television, juxtaposed against an Internet news article on "outraged" Pakistani Islamic fundamentalists (are they ever not outraged?)loudly fulminating over their government's plans to make rape a crime prosecuted under civil and not religious law, thus making obsolete such astoundingly stupid rules as requiring the accused woman to produce four male witnesses to her rape, and punishing both parties for adultery if the accused is found innocent. Which made my first thought, upon hearing Sir Elton, "Great -- when can we start?"

Then I thought of the inevitable anti-Elton backlash among the exciteable sectors of Christendom -- oh, great; thanks for representing. And I also felt a certain amount of defensive irritation: Hey, Elton -- you're dissing me too. But it also made me sad, even though -- and I might have to give up my toaster for saying this -- the last Elton John album I really liked was Madman Across the Water. I think before Christians open our pieholes about persecution and scorn at the hands of the dominant culture, we do indeed need to think about our own history of library burnings, forced conversions, inquisitions, pogroms, burnings at the stake, institutionalized bigotries of various kinds, and generally winding up on the wrong side of reality whenever we try to make declarative statements about matters of science or partisan politics.

But then I went to church on Sunday. And, experiencing our situation-normal-all-cobbled-up cacaphony of anarchic children, unfortunate extemporaneous harmonizing gone awry, AWOL microphone, unannounced announcements, missing worship helpers, misread lectionary texts, adolescent female fashion don'ts involving an excess of tummy and a minimum of top, a kerfuffled lay minister and my own red-faced choreographical missteps as an anxious assisting, it occurred to me -- my parish is such an example of disorganized religion that it would most certainly be exempted from Sir Elton's desired purge. Whew.

Monday, November 20, 2006

In Search of the Lost Minor Chord

This past Sunday in church our hymns had a definite eschatological tone -- the spiritual "Soon and Very Soon," and old Reformation-era greatest hits, heavy on the minor chords, themed around the tribulation of the saints, like "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word." These latter hymns are what I cut my musical eyeteeth on back in Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, before my feet could reach the sanctuary floor. I like them. I told our organist so. She beamed, and said, "There's another reason God brought you to our church!"

Gosh, ma'am -- I just said I liked minor chords.

Not everyone does. I was Googling online later in the day, looking for the name of an imaginary sponsor of Prairie Home Companion -- I think it's the Society For the Preservation of Minor Chords -- and as often happens during such searches I found myself headed down a variety of strange Christian-subcultural rabbit holes. While I'm quite aware that many of my more Protestant brethren and sistren prefer more uptempo music than I do, I guess I was not entirely aware that some Christians turn musical composition itself into a moral issue -- that they parse Scriptural passages about joyful noise and such, and extrapolate that into a kind of biblical prohibition against "downer" church music. Minor chords = bad. Happy-happy-joy-joy melodies = good. (If you really want to go canoeing on the backwaters of Christianity and see what some folks think about "godly" versus "ungodly" music, take a lookie here -- I especially enjoyed the gratuitous sexism and racism inserted in what purports to be a discussion of music -- or here , or here, or here .)

If our worship is a reflection of our theology -- then it's hard to see how someone who thinks use of minor chords is somehow falling short of the glory of God can have any grasp on the theology of the Cross -- the concept of God coming to us and sharing in our suffering, our weakness and defeat. Life is not always happy-happy-joy-joy. Pretending that it is, is frankly not telling the truth about either the human experience in general or the Christian experience in particular...and at least the way I see it, those of us who follow Christ are charged with being in the truth business. For all those moments of joy at the thought that "we're goin' to see the King," there are also moments of pensiveness and introspection, of sadness, of despair; times when we plead, "Lord Jesus Christ, your power make known." Our music needs to reflect that part of the faith journey as well in order to be an authentic expression of who we are as the people of God.

Happy Delurking Week!

Here's the deal: One of the things we should all be thankful for is the blogosphere and the dwellers therein -- people who have impressed us with their knowledge and insight; who have touched us with their stories; whose wisdom, wit and honesty have enriched our own lives online and off.

My friends the RevGalBlogPals have declared this week Delurking Week. It's a time to stop in and say hi to fellow bloggers. If you can leave a message, great; if you just want to say "Hey, I was here," post a (0) stone symbol.

I have to take this opportunity to confess that in the last few months, in the midst of all my various life dramas, I've been incredibly remiss in visiting my favorite blogs inside and outside the rings in which I participate. This is a great week to play catch up. I come!

Ain't No Thing Like a Chicken Wing

The people have spoken.

"Why don't you post some of your chicken wing contest recipes?"

Alrighty then.

This whole thing started after Fellow Traveler and I, having discovered our mutual love of chicken wings, exhausted the meager assortment of wing flavors available within a 50-mile radius and decided to make them ourselves. First we just tried different premade sauces and rubs (try Patak's Hot Curry Paste on wings -- this is one of our favorite favorites); then our competition evolved into whole recipes. I do not yet have FT's recipe for peanut wings, her personal best, or her spicy Thai wings, another great recipe -- if you ask nicely she may share it -- but here are the latest wing recipes I've tried:

Standard Recipe: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season wings, if not alread marinated; place in a single layer on cookie sheets. Bake for 30 minutes. Baste with sauce of choice. Bake another 15 minutes; turn; baste with sauce; bake another 15 minutes.

The Sauces: (these make enough for about 3-4 pounds of wings)

Maple Wing Sauce
1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 TBS minced garlic
1 TBS garlic powder
1 TBS onion powder
1/2 TBS freshly ground pepper
1 cup maple syrup

Mix together and use as a wing baste. The amount of garlic seems insane...but it works.

Tandoori Wing Marinade
2 cups plain yogurt
1 TBS ground cumin
1 TBS garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
juice of 1 lemon
8 crushed cloves of garlic
1 inch gingerroot, grated

Mix together. Marinate wings overnight in marinade, then use to baste the wings while baking. This is actually meant to be used in a much hotter great on grilled foods.

Spicy Apricot Wing Sauce
1 jar apricot preserves
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 TBS cider vinegar
1 TBS Dijon mustard
1/8 cup minced onion
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp or so garlic powder
a good shake of red pepper flakes

Mix in saucepan; bring to boil; simmer until preserves are melted and flavors are melded together. Cool and use as wing baste. (Note: This may be because I am genetically predisposed to sweet-sour flavors, but I think this recipe would be better with more vinegar for a little more zip. Your mileage may vary. Taste and adjust.)

(Hat tip to Dave's Un-Official Superchicken Page .)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise...

This week's Friday Five is all about thankfulness: What are five things that we give thanks for this year?

First on my list is Fellow Traveler, who unexpectedly showed up in my life during a time of great sadness and chaos and disconnect, and who has given me love, encouragement, laughter, focus, structure (she's laughing now) and a new, delightful extended family of two-leggeds and four-leggeds alike. And I'll stop now before I get all sappy.

Next is my church family, which includes not only my pastor, his spouse and the rest of my parish, but all my friends in the greater Body of Christ, including you, Dear Readers. Especially after my mother died unexpectedly back in April, I have felt held in a group embrace; many members of my wider church family have also given me wise counsel and support when I have been the most angry and frustrated with Church,Inc. You've also challenged me in helpful ways -- challenged me to be more articulate and smarter and better; to stay focused on Christ and not on his self-anointed best friends and police force and personnel managers. You know that cell phone ad about having a network -- the caller enjoying a small army of "connection" behind him or her? That is how I feel. Thanks for alternatively patting me on the back, watching my back and very occasionally giving me motivational nudges in the lower end of my back.

What else am I thankful for?

I am thankful for the quiet domestic moments in my life. Even though my house is more like a collegiate crash pad than a middle-aged person's domicile, there are times -- early in the morning, savoring a cup of coffee while looking outside into the woods, or quiet Sunday afternoons reading the paper -- when I look around and think, "Life is good."

I am thankful for my counterintuitive risk-taking -- all those moments this year when I felt the fear and did it anyway.

I am thankful for Buffalo wings, for various reasons.

That's just my short list. But it's enough for today.

Artwork: "Harvest," by one of my very favorite graphic artists, Mary Azarian .

Friday Poetry Blogging

A poem in honor of the upcoming holiday. And, to go with it, a picture relating to fall harvest , by Robert Lewis. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Toy Story

Well, I'm sure that the Martyrs' Brigade of Culturally Aggressive Christianity is already hand-wringing and contemplating the Rapture, now that Toys for Tots has rejected a shipment of talking Jesus dolls made by a manufacturer of Christian-themed merchandise (see link above). The organization explained that the Marines, as a federal entity, cannot promote a particular religious belief system, and cited the fact that the toys might cause offense to children of non-Christian faiths.

I wonder if anyone has stopped to consider that this latest incarnation of what a pastor friend of mine refers to as Kristian Krap might cause offense to Christians as well.

My initial reaction to this story was to imagine what would happen in the more exciteable sectors of the Christian community if Toys For Tots were to be flooded with a large donation of, say, talking Buddha or Krishna or Prophet Mohammed dolls. I suspect we would not be hearing choruses of "Kumbaya."

My subsequent thought was...well..."Were these people thinking at all?" I mean, did the doll donators stop and consider the Lord's instruction to "Do unto others..."? Did it occur to them that their gift would present a conflict of interests, not to mention a public-relations headache, for the Marines? Did they wonder what a child without a Christian context would even make of a talking Jesus doll -- would they maybe mistake him for a karate-master action figure ("Mom, what movie is this guy from?"), or some anonymous indigenous person disattached from a G.I. Joe themed tableau?

I'm thinking...not a lot of thinking going on. Unless, of course, the manufacturers of the doll were craven enough to calculate that their Toys For Tots donation would provoke controversy, which would provoke news articles, which in turn would drum up business. Ends, means, potato, po-tah-to.

I've made this analogy before: To me pop Christianity is like a big, slobbery, humpy Newfoundland that jumps all over people, irritates the hell out of them -- slurps their faces with its big, goofy tongue, showers them with saliva, tries to initiate a close personal relationship with their thighs -- and then when the people, understandably, protest this behavior, the Newfoundland gets angry and bites them in the posterior.

To which I say, Gee, thanks. Thanks for representing, Sparky.

Read His Blog

My Anglican friend Toujours Dan, one of the voices of intelligent, sane and passionate Christianity on Beliefnet, has launched a new blog, Culture Choc . Give it a look-see. Welcome to the blogosphere, Dan!

Cheap Thrills

I am not a wine connoisseur. Oh, I did get kudos once at one of my first lay ministry retreats after springing for a bottle of Yellowtail Shiraz to use in our Eucharist -- we Lutherans, in my experience, usually tend toward Ernest and Julio jug wine instead -- but that purchase was at the upper limit of my usual festive-beverage budget.

Which is why I want to tell you about a really good, really cheap wine. It's called Genofranco Grillo; it's a white wine from Sicily. Stop laughing, wine snobs. Just try a bottle; which you can probably do for less than the cost of a venti at Starbuck's. It's dry and crisp and pleasant to the palate, good with a light meal.

That's one cheap thrill. Another cheap thrill is Lawry's Havana Garlic and Lime 30-Minute Marinade, which goes great with chicken or pork; I've had it on chicken, and tried it on a grilled pork steak tonight. (Pork steak being yet another cheap thrill, a neglected po'-folks' food that I grew up eating at least once a week, in various guises, in my frugal home.) I tend to look down my nose at bottled marinade, but...some days you get busy, or don't have all the desired ingredients in the fridge. This stuff's pretty good, and helps spiff up a quick after-work dinner.

And another cheap thrill is the ongoing, bi-household Chicken Wing Cook-Off that Fellow Traveler and I engage in each Friday evening. This weekend it's my turn, and I think my choices will be three new recipes: Maple Wings, which are like teriaki wings by way of Ontario or Vermont; tandoori wings, which involve marinating the chicken in a yogurt-spice mixture before baking; and another recipe which shall remain a secret...after all, there needs to be a little mystery in this endeavor.

The Widow's Mite

I've been thinking about this past Sunday's Gospel lesson, the story of the widow's mite -- a story beloved of sentimentalists and Stewardship Committees alike.

But here's an idea: What if Jesus' primary purpose in noting the widow's gift wasn't to encourage church stewardship? What if it wasn't to honor the simple, trusting piety of the underclass?

What if Jesus simply meant what he said? -- that the woman had, proportionately speaking, given much more than all the rich persons who'd been parading to the Temple to publicly demonstrate their largesse?

Think about where this story lies in Mark's Gospel. Jesus has just gotten done criticizing the religious bigshots for their spiritual hubris; their love of money and what my grandma called Augenschein, or religiousity for show; their expectation of deference from the rest of the people. He's getting ready to predict the downfall of what he sees as a morally bankrupt Temple system.

Widows were non-entities in Jesus' society. Having lost their husbands, their male benefactors who gave them whatever meager status they had in a patriarchy, they were now dependent upon the not-always reliable goodwill of male in-laws, sons, brothers or other male relatives. If these men chose not to, or could not, continue supporting a widow, she was reduced to living off whatever alms she could obtain, or forced into prostitution. And, popular images of the widow in Jesus' story as a wizened old woman to the contrary, she may have been quite young. We see the same dynamic today in places like India, where widows -- some of them even children, married off as infants or toddlers -- are rejected by their families, ostracized, forced to live on the margins of society.

The great irony of the story, to me, is that a widow -- someone victimized by the circumstances of her life as an unpaired, unprotected female in a patriarchal society -- is helping to support one of the very oppressing forces in her life; a religious institution deaf to centuries of ringing prophetic calls for justice, occupying itself instead with legalistic fussbudgetry and business as usual in service to its own self-preservation.

And still she gave. Perhaps, as has been suggested, implicit in her giving was an entreaty to the God of Sarah and Abraham for help. Perhaps the tenacity of her faith, a faith that would lead her to donate her last two coins to God, was the edgy, attention-must-be-paid tenacity of the widow in Jesus' parable who wouldn't leave the judge alone until he heard her case.

It's interesting, why we feel so compelled to sentimentalize and spiritualize this story; perhaps it's because those of us in positions of wealth and privilege (which, broadly speaking, includes all of us in the affluent developed world) are so disconnected from the real suffering of the rest of humanity that we don't think about it or don't want to think about it.

I anticipate that one of my regular readers, who keeps me honest in my Lutheran theology, is going to query, "Where's the Gospel in your post?" That's a good question. I think the Gospel is in the person of Jesus -- the One who sees and hears and bears the suffering of the world; the One who, in the midst of the Temple's hustle and bustle, chose to turn his attention on this day to a "nobody" in the crowd...the One who made her a somebody, for the ages.

Artwork: "The Widow's Mite," by Louis Glanzman

Friday, November 10, 2006

Girl Cooties

Among other things, this week's election has swept a record number of women into elected office on both the state and national level.

Mark my words: In the months to come, you are going to see and hear a great deal of hand-wringing from the fundagelical peanut gallery over the "feminization" of culture. Everything from declining male church participation to wayward boys to waxy yellow buildup on kitchen floors is going to be blamed on women -- women who will not remain within the boundaries of Kinder, Kirche und Kueche. Our baaaaad. They already fuss about this, but watch 'em kick it up a few notches.

I'll bet you a pound of 85-percent-cocoa dark chocolate.

Friday Poetry Blogging

Ouch. And the sad thing is, no matter what year it is, this poem is still as relevant as ever. Lord, have mercy.

"Video Cuisine" by Maxine Kumin.

A Red/Blue State of Mind Friday Five

Colorful queries from the RevGals and Pals:

Favorite red food
Eggplant parmesan; strawberry pie.

Tell us about the bluest body of water you've ever seen in person.
Call me provincial, but the body of water whose color takes my breath away every time I see it is Crystal Lake, up in Michigan's Benzie County. It's the rarest, most beautiful shade of blue.

It's movie rental time: Blue Planet, The Color Purple, or Crimson Tide?
None of the above. Give me Das Blaue Engel with Marlene Dietrich.

What has you seeing red these days?
Well, among other things, Left Behind: Eternal Forces . Bottom line, everyone behind this product is nucking futs. (Is it allowable for a lay ministerial candidate to use that terminology? I don't care. Feel free to quote me.)

What or who picks you up when you're feeling blue?
My extended human/canine/feline family is very good at cheering me up...I mean, just for one example, it's hard to be crabby when a large, frantically wiggling dog is waving a photo album of herself in my face. I also find that listening to the blues -- the real low-down, down to the ground blues -- is one of the best antidotes ever for the blues.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Oh, Grow Up

"Be perfect, the way your Father in heaven is perfect" is one of those lines in Scripture that makes Lutherans brux the enamel off their teeth. And I suspect that it's sent countless Christians over the centuries on futile quests toward self-perfection, then frustration, then despair.

The theology geeks I hang out with point out that perfect in this context is better translated as whole. That makes more sense to me.

This past weekend, though, I heard yet another suggestion for an alternate translation, from the pastor and professor who taught our ethics class. He favors the adjective mature. Jesus tells his friends, and by extension the rest of us, to be grow up.

What would a grown-up Christian look like? What would a grown-up faith community look like?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How Not to Have Fun on an Afternoon Off

Have a uterine biopsy. One you weren't expecting, because the last time you had one, it was about three doctors' visits into the process, not your first trip to the gyno.

So what does a uterine biopsy feel like? Sort of like being stabbed, slowly, by a screwdriver Up There. Without anesthesia. You cramp; you see stars. My doctor said she once had a patient faint during the procedure; I didn't, but wanted to.

As the doc said while putting on her gloves: "If you hated me for being late today, you are really gonna hate me after this." (Actually, she was very nice about the whole thing.)

So ended part one of my medical thrill ride. Part two comes when I go in for an ultrasound, which is like being turned into a giant water balloon, then being poked in the abdomen and parts south until the balloon is ready to burst. Which it does, sometimes, although when I went through this drama before I was proud to have gotten through my ultrasound without flooding the exam table...just barely.

The doctor suspects that I may simply have the misfiring ovaries of a middle-aged broad, which are causing all my other problems. But it's not for sure. We'll know in about a week.

In the meantime...chocolate, administered orally, helps.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Another Kid

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Originally uploaded by LutheranChik.
This is Katie, the other big blonde girlfriend: "I'm the good one."

Another Kid

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Originally uploaded by LutheranChik.
This is Cassie, one of Cody's big blonde girlfriends. Like some other big blondes, she has a thing for this case a whimsical chartreuse sneaker.

One of the Kids

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Originally uploaded by LutheranChik.
This is Cody, taking a snooze with his imaginary friend Cozy. All together now..."Awwww...."

It's 9:00 p.m. on Election Day...

...and I'm trying to decide which is more stress-inducing: waiting for the election returns, or anticipating my date with the paper apron and gyno stirrups tomorrow afternoon. I think I need some chocolate.

Verrrrrrrry Interesting...But Schtupidt!

At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.

Who said this?


No; some guy named Mark Driscoll, who's the head kahuna of a megachurch outfit called Mars Hill, pondering the Ted Haggard scandal. You can read other deep thoughts of his here .

Some days, if you're in the right mood, these people can be as funny as hell.

But something tells me Mrs. Driscoll doesn't think so.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I Fought the Law, and the Law Won

I had a dream last night.

Now, I am well aware that when people wish to share their fascinating dreams with others, most people's reaction is the same as if they'd said, "Do you mind if I read you some of my original poetry?" But since this is my blog, you're stuck with my dream.

Anyway: In my dream I am having an awful, terrible, no-good, very bad day. Work sucks, for vague but deeply felt reasons. To add insult to injury, on my way down a public stairs I run into an ostensibly homeless young woman lying on an impromptu bed made of some of my clothes; she gives me a heart-rending story about her bad breaks, so I give her money for a meal...but I ask for my clothing back. After I leave, I'm informed by bystanders that she's a professional beggar who's just ripped me off -- and when I look at the clothing I'd retrieved from her, I realize that she kept my good wool blazer. Dang.

Now a chipper, preppy Junior League type is convincing me that I really need to volunteer on a kind of citizen's patrol with the local police; that it's really fun, and you learn a lot about law enforcement, yadda, yadda, yadda. So, being a good do-bee, I find myself behind the wheel of a cop car, with no cop and no instructions, having not a clue what to do next. Everything I do, in fact, is wrong; I can't maneuver, and I press incorrect switches, and soon I'm covered in flop sweat, my heart pounding. I get an angry radio message to drive back to the precinct; I'm so flustered at this point that I can't remember how to respond -- "Ten-four" or "Copy that" or whatever -- but I somehow get the vehicle back to the police department.

There I'm ushered into a staff meeting where the police chief -- a gruff old military type in a brush cut -- proceeds to angrily lambaste the citizen patrol program and everyone in it, saying that it is taking resources away from real police officers and endangering the public. Even as I feel a new sphincter being drilled into my anatomy, I am strangely relieved, because in a way the chief is giving me permission to quit. After the meeting I find him on an Army cot -- perhaps recovering from the rigors of dealing with me -- and I apologize for screwing up. "I really don't want to do this," I confess. "I'm a writer. I can write really well. I don't want to be a cop." The old fellow's expression softens -- just a little -- and he mumbles something like, "Well, then, why don't you do that," and turns away.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Tooth and Nothing But the Tooth

The RevGals 'n' Pals' Friday Five is all about teeth this week:

The Tooth Fairy
When I was a child I had a real affinity for fairies (no jokes, please) -- I read a few Flower Fairies books and was quite taken with the idea of these unseen entities flitting about the fields and forests -- but was something of a Tooth Fairy skeptic, even though I regularly found tooth-quarters under my pillow.

It is A Good Thing. (She said nervously, looking around to see if her dental hygienist was near.)

Toothpaste Brands
I'm very brand disloyal -- it has to have fluoride, and "whitening" is a plus, but other than that I'm not fussy. Oh; one thing; no fruity flavors. God meant for toothpaste to be minty-fresh.

Orthodontia for Adults
My parents (particularly Pater Familias, who held the pursestrings in our family) were of a socioeconomic class and generation that didn't place a high priority on dental health -- the attitude was that you lose your teeth when you hit midlife, so why bother. So I grew up with buck teeth. I was finally able to have orthodontia done in my 30's, and it is one of the best investments I ever made, simply in terms of boosting my self-esteem. I frankly would not look at my mouth in a mirror for a couple of decades, I was so ashamed of my teeth, until I got braces.

Whitening products
I have tried them, with fair-to-middling results, but have always been concerned about their detrimental effect on tooth enamel -- a fear confirmed by my dentist. He is, by the way, a fellow caffeine head who swills great quantities of java, and he told me, "The way I look at it -- I drink coffee. My teeth are stained. That's the way it is. Deal with it."

In Retreat

I'm writing to you from a retreat.

"Where would LutheranChik have access to a computer during a retreat?" you may be asking, as you imagine some quiet, low-tech convent where we're all occupied in contemplative practice, or an off-the-grid church camp somewhere in the woods. Well, for this retreat we're esconced in the nicely appointed conference center of our state 4-H association and my alma mater's extension office. This place rocks -- there's a variety of room options, but we have extremely comfortable hotel-like rooms, plus a cafeteria with wonderful food, free hot coffee in real cups all day long (no wonder we Looterns keep scheduling retreats here), a computer lab and extra stations scattered about as well as wi-fi, and a beautiful main lounge with a real crackling fireplace. The center is located in one of the more scenic areas of northern Michigan, in the hilly woodlands around Cadillac; there are groomed hiking trails in the woods, and a lake just down the hill.

We've been studying the epistles -- Paul's, and those written in his name, and the books of I Peter and James. I had an "aha" moment this evening while we were discussing I Peter, a book I've frankly not been that fond of in the past because of misogynist content and the sort of New Testament epistolary scoldiness that tends to rub me the wrong way; I had the opportunity to approach the text from a somewhat different perspective, thanks to our professor...I'll talk more about this later, but frankly I'm too beat right now to string my thoughts together coherently. Anyway, this is another reason why I think this type of educational experience for laypeople should be more available; dear God, please get us past wooden, one-dimensional and/or subjective "what this verse says to me" Bible studies.

Low notes: The ubiquitous presence of Aunt Flo (I met my ride this morning after a trip to the hospital for a prepartory blood workup before a visit to a specialist). A round of Church, Inc., shop talk that was so eerily similar to a bunch of businesspeople talking about marketing models that I wanted to run outside into the woods. A temporary loss of breath as The Troubles were very briefly touched upon in class...that didn't go anywhere, thank heavens.

We had our weekend Eucharist tonight, in a cabin down the way...we sat in a circle and followed a sort of Evensong/Compline hybrid liturgy with a belated All Saints' Day theme, and we communed one another using Communion ware a pastor who is also a potter made especially for our program. We sang a lot -- songs people can belt out with gusto like "For All the Saints" and "I, The Lord of Sea and Sky." Our group is a singing group -- they love to sing, and sing well; I feel like the choral version of Ugly Betty next to them.

Meanwhile, I'm told that, back home, The Codeman is having a grand old time at Camp Fellow Traveler, although he had a low note of his own when his retriever friend Cassie stole his stuffed toy, a battered and slobbery plush dog -- whodathunk my dour pooch would ever warm up to a "lovey" -- and made him angry enough to go after her, all ten pounds of him. (And the funny thing is, the Big Blondes back down when Shorty goes on the warpath.) He has developed a real love connection with Mollie the cat, and vice versa; perhaps because they're both little and outnumbered and contrarian in personality. And he also loves his buddy Charlie from next door, who comes over for treats four or six or ten times a day; it's a male bonding thing. (I get regular Cody bulletins, written in first person, when he's being dog-sat.)

All of which is to say...not a lot of retreating going on here. (My neighbor at the next computer station is surfing eBay.) But there's a lot of learning, and some worshipping and praying. And that's all right.

P.S. We were greeted at the door by a signboard identifying the weekend's guests. Our group was referred to as "Lutheran Lay." For some reason I thought this was pretty funny.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

For All the Saints...

No, I didn't forget... here is a sample of John Nava's "Communion of Saints" tapestries.

Danger: Values Ahead

Friendly Traveler and I had a dilemma: Since Christmas is going to be her family's big holiday get-together, what were we going to do about Thanksgiving? My own local biological family consists of one elderly relative in a care facility and another one with her own life and extended family. FT's closest relative in the area wasn't warm to the idea of coming over.

We could have decided in favor of a "party of two" -- going out for dinner, or staying in for a quiet, downscaled Thanksgiving.

What we're doing instead is inviting everyone in our wider circle of friends and acquaintances who can't look forward to a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving to come over to FT's place. We are going to cook a holiday feast -- locally raised turkey, and other entrees, and sides and pies; a veritable groaning board. We're going to watch the parade, and watch the game, and eat, and give thanks for the opportunity to all be together and share what we have.

Pondering this, I can see why some people seem to find us so scary. I mean, look at the Native Americans. They took the risk of hospitality -- brought some corn and fish and game over to the odd, sickly and fairly incompetent little band of foreign religious eccentrics who'd taken up residence on the other side of the woods. Look what happened to the Native Americans for doing the right thing.

And then there was that Jesus guy, who was happy to eat dinner with "sinners," to talk to and teach and touch them, even though the holy folks around him found that offensive and unbecoming any pious person, much less a rabbi. Look what happened to Jesus for loving his neighbors, even the officially and otherwise unloveable ones.

Values can be dangerous. Do you really want them in your neighborhood?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

How Long, O Lord, How Long?

They just ran another political ad decrying the "gay agenda" exemplified by the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, warning of a "shadowy billionnaire" backing gay causes in Michigan...and then showing a small boy cavorting in autumn leaves, with a gun sight aimed at his back, and a message that if you vote for Candidate X, "You lose." I saw no disclaimer on the ad, as is typical with most political ads, identifying the organization paying for the ad.

This is it. The people who create these ads, and the people who fund them, and the people who cynically tolerate them, are bastards with absolutely no shame.

When are voters going to finally say "Enough" to advertising like this? Are you? Or, because this isn't "your" issue, are you going to just shrug and move on? Do you think that hate rhetoric in the context of a campaign doesn't hurt people, literally? Do you think that it's an acceptable trade-off, a temporary sop to selected exciteable constituencies in your own political sphere, whatever that is, to get your candidates of choice into office? Then you're no better than the persons financing and filming this garbage.

Do something. Make people in and aspiring to public office, and their financeers, accountable for what they say in their campaign advertising.

Reformation v 2.0

If you were given the assignment of compiling a list of beefs about contemporary Christianity, what would they be?
Would you have 95 of them? Fewer? More?

I thought about this the other day, reading yet another impassioned online argument that Christianity is all about Thinking the Right Things About the Bible. I thought about it again today, watching -- for the umpteenth time -- a political advertisement based on the idea that Christianity is at heart all about Doing the Right Things, by way of imposing Real Christian [tm] values on the wider culture.
The irony of both viewpoints is that they effectively demote Jesus Christ to the role of bit player in the cosmic drama, and in so doing erase the grace of God -- the grace of the Son who sets us free indeed -- in favor of a spiritual meritocracy based on doing or thinking the right things.

And in case you're thinking that this critique is awfully one-sided, consider the folks on the deconstructionist end of biblical criticism, whose own default skepticism is simply a variation on Thinking the Right Things About the Bible, or the "Kumbaya" Christianity that reduces the Christian experience to an exercise in being nice. Again, Jesus is demoted to the role of an engaging, insightful and somewhat progressive rabbi -- someone who might make a good stock rabbi for a religion segment on morning TV.

If the medieval Church obscured Christ by layers of legalisms and mediatory agents, it seems to me that the contemporary Church -- both conservative and liberal wings -- seems bound and determined to simply ignore Christ.

And that's why the Church needs to be always reforming -- always keeping a faithful eye on Christ while also keeping a self-reflective and self-critical eye on itself. The alternative is an oxymoronic, non-Christocentric Christianity.

Dear Mr. Dobson

James Dobson
Focus on the Family
Colorado Springs, CO

Dear Dr. Dobson:

I feel as if I know you...maybe because your political ads have been cycling on my local TV station all day today; three times in one half-hour at one point.

In your ads you tell my fellow Michiganians and myself that our "families are under fire." You imply that the recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is somehow threatening to heterosexual families, and that Something Very Bad will happen if this sets a precedent. You warn of an unnamed, nefarious "out-of-state gay activist" who is spending millions of dollars to push his alien agenda in Michigan. You end your ad by saying, "Whatever your party -- vote your values."

I have to admit I was a little confused by an out-of-state evangelical activist like yourself -- you know, someone with a decidedly non-Upper-Midwestern twang, currently esconced in the state of Colorado -- talking about other out-of-state activists in Michigan like they're a bad thing. But I will take your point that, no matter what party we support, we need to vote our values.

Here are my values.

I value living in a state with a diversified, thriving economy. We aren't there yet; we are still spasming through an economic paradigm change that has gutted our major industry, sent shock waves throughout the rest of business and government, and displaced thousands of workers. Voting my values means voting for leaders with vision, who can keep hope alive here while we rebuild our state's economic base in new and different ways.

I value living in a beautiful state, whose natural resources and the health of the land are valued and protected, and where growth is achieved in sustainable ways.

I value safety of person -- living where I can take a neighborhood walk in the evening and not be afraid, where I can travel freely in my state and not be afraid, where my neighbors can raise their kids and not be afraid, where our older citizens can live a quiet life and not be afraid. Voting my values means voting for someone who understands that promoting public safety for all citizens is a part of maintaining and enhancing quality of life; and who understands that equal opportunity, education and meaningful employment are all levers that lift people out of the kind of despair that leads to nihilism and violence.

I value the kind of diversity and tolerance, grounded in a common respect for our common life as human beings in a free society, that refuses to tolerate or encourage cultural Balkanization and that rejects the jihadist rhetoric of religious extremism and theocratic fantasy.

Because I vote my values, Dr. Dobson, chances are that I will not be voting for anyone on your "approved" list. But thanks for providing me, with each airing of your paid political advertising, with a motivational reminder why.

No Great Pumpkin, Either

Six treat-or-treaters. Six.

That's all we had at my house. Admittedly, I live on a sparsely populated street, where apparently not too many households got into the Halloween spirit; most cars in the neighborhood were staying on the lake's main drag, on the other side of my property. But...geez. My front yard rocked...thanks to Fellow Traveler, a host of carved, candle-laden pumpkins glowed in the night at the entrance to my driveway and up to my front door. I'd invested in a couple of green party lights, which I strategically placed in front-window lamps to cast an eerie glow. And -- not to brag, but I had a pretty decent cache of candy and snacks too.

Oh, well. It's a rebuilding year.

We took photos. I'll post them as soon as I find a camera cable.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Return of Aunt Flo

She's overstayed her welcome by about -- oh -- two months now. Definitely a trick, not a treat. But, as a Japanese sage once observed in a completely different context, there is nothing left for me to do but laugh. And call the doctor, again.