Tuesday, January 31, 2006

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

I am so sick today, it's not funny.

You name the symptom, I've got it. And right now my skin actually hurts, from my all-day fever.

This came on suddenly; I went to work with what felt like a garden-variety head cold, when the bug struck; I came back home, fell into bed and remained there until evening when I crawled out to eat soup.

Why is it that I feel like my body doesn't like me anymore?

Monday, January 30, 2006

It's Not Procrastinating If You Have To Do the Other Stuff Too

It's like this: I've got these two essays to finish for the upcoming Ordinary Time book of devotionals. One is about King David being a schmuck; the other is based on the first chapter of Revelation -- heavy stuff. So I made myself some therapeutic popcorn for writing fuel (much to the delight of my dog; at our house we call it "pupcorn") and commenced sitting and thinking deep, furrowed-brow thoughts.

So how did I wind up in the kitchen, making my lunch for tomorrow and the next day?

Well, for one thing, I had to. And...sometimes recreational cooking helps me think -- you know, the deep, furrowed-brow thoughts. So after blog-surfing -- ahem -- another attempt at priming the ol' cognitive pump, you understand -- I decided to make myself a luncheon salad.

I Googled the recipe that follows while trying to get some new ideas for bean salad. Because of my delicate condition, I have been advised to eat a lot of iron, yet too much iron -- even a multivitamin with iron -- can make me violently, gut-wrenching ill. And I'm trying to watch my cholesterol, so as appealing as a nonstop diet of T-bone steak sounds to me right now, I can't do that either. Legumes, whole grains, dark greens, molasses and super-dark chocolate have become my good friends. Anyhow, my food coop had a great sale on canned beans this weekend, and now I had a can of cannellinis that needed something done to them. So I threw together:

Tuna-Cannellini Salad

a can of albacore tuna
some chopped sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, with some of the oil
a can of cannellini beans
some balsamic vinegar
a little more olive oil
some chopped olives
salt and pepper

Good stuff, Maynard -- I think probably even better tomorrow.

If only I could throw together an essay this fast...

Don't Go There Anymore, LC

Against my better judgment I took a brief stroll through a pan-Lutheran webring tonight. Most of the blogs listed are authored by persons in the denomination of my childhood, people who do a lot of inveighing against heretics (which include pretty much everyone else in Christendom), and who don't much like my own church body; who think that typing quotes around "Lutheran" in reference to us, or calling us the E*CA, are rhetorical acts of genius. One of the blogs is all about Lutherans and contraception -- the blogmeisters, unsurprisingly, are agin' it. (I can only imagine what they must think of a gay woman popping the ungodly Pills of Death for the perimenopausal comfort of her ever-fallow uterus; I may as well be strobing radioactive purple: "Abomination! Anathema! Stone her!" I mean, I'm probably worse than moldy walls, or a donkey doing the wild thang with a horse out in the back forty.)

It's days like this, after reading pages of this stuff, when I ask The CEO, with some urgency, "What's my motivation here?"

"I am," he answers.

"Oh. Right."

So, on the advice of The CEO, I am shaking the dust of these sundry and assorted blogs from my sandals. My pastor has an interesting take on Jesus' instruction to his disciples when they encounter the inhospitable and hostile; he suggests that what Jesus is describing is less an act of contempt than of simply giving up and commending the whole thing to God: "I can't deal with these people anymore, Lord -- you handle it. I'm outta here."

And so I am. Besides...I've got two Ordinary Time essays to write before midnight, or I'll turn into a pumpkin.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pantypalooza -- Show You Care With Underwear!

Blogger Mindy has hit upon a great idea to celebrate Valentine's Day in a way that helps women in your community who need some loving care: Pantypalooza.

Here's how it works:

Identify an agency in your community that assists women in crisis situations -- your local women's shelter, food/household-goods bank, homeless shelter, etc.

Go shopping. Buy some women's underwear (remember, many women fleeing abusive situations or who find themself homeless are lucky to have a change of clothing). Or, alternately, buy some pampering, civilizing comfort items for women -- soaps, lotions, grooming products and the like.

On or around Valentine's Day, take your purchases to the agency of your choice -- maybe with a valentine to let the women there know that someone is thinking about them.

Let's make this a phenomenon. Please share this idea with the people you work with, the people you worship with, your circles of friends and acquaintances. Wouldn't it be kewl if mystified social-services agencies across the globe suddenly began receiving unsolicited packages of undies and personal-care items, with a big "WE LOVE YOU" message to the women they serve?

Thanks to Mindy for this delightful plot. Hey, I might actually enjoy Valentine's Day this year!

We see London, we see France -- time to buy some underpants (or other stuff) for women in crisis Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Street Cred

If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn. -- Charlie Parker

I majored in advertising in college. One of my required classes was called Advertising Acount Management; it was an upper-level class taught by a full professor. But a few days into the class it became apparent that something was "off"; the prof was vague and tentative about the course material. My classmates pressed her for some practical information about working at an ad agency; one day she finally admitted to us that she'd never actually worked as an account executive in an advertising agency; that her actual experience in the business was limited to a few summer jobs and some consulting work; that, in fact, she'd spent most of her working life in academia, teaching out of textbooks.

Her professional authority, her street cred, at that moment? Pretty much zero.

Our lessons today underscore the importance of street cred when claiming to speak on God's behalf. The Old Testament pulls no punches; fake it and you die. St. Paul doesn't call down the wrath of God on incompetent teachers, but he does issue this call to humility: If you think you know what you're talking about, you probably don't. (Evidently Pat Robertson's Bible is missing both these texts.)

The Gospel lesson underscores a point frequently made by the Gospel writers: Jesus' power and presence as a teacher is something completely different than what people expect. He's not like the other teachers of the Law; he speaks with a gravitas that makes people stop and pay attention.

How did Jesus speak with an authority different than the authority of the religious bigshots around him? I think the answer lies in Charlie Parker's observation about integrity in art. Jesus did not talk about "the good news"; he lived it. His way of being in the world integrated God's shalom into his words, his actions, his interactions. When Jesus talked about God as a loving divine Parent, people knew that he wasn't quoting a rabbinical proposition, but describing his own observable relationship with God. When he taught about radical faith, he wasn't providing a pat catechetical answer, but describing his own giving-over to God's will. Ween he told stories about the inbreaking Reign of God, he spoke as someone whose own trust in his Father's saving power made him a conduit for that power.

Doing ministry, whether as a layperson, a religious or a clergyperson, can be an extremely humbling experience. Personally, I find assisting the pastor -- being asked to pray on behalf of the whole congregation, offering up our shared regrets, sorrows, hopes and joys to God -- an exercise in humility...the paradox of my own smallness juxtaposed with our collective audacity in praying boldly, and my own audacity in offering to help with this. It gives me gooseflesh every time. On the other hand, ministry can also become an ego trip; depending on what we're doing, it can become a performance that leads us to expect praise for a job well done, or a self-serving exercise in "I know more than you do." That's the point where it's important to remember this Sunday's lessons. What's my street cred? Am I living something worth sounding from my horn?

Jesus the Teacher, Gisele Bauch Posted by Picasa

We Could Have Told You This...

"Let's organize this thing and take all the fun out of it." -- Ashleigh Brilliant, Potshots

Turns out that the Internet doesn't create dysfunctionally isolated, reality-challenged individuals after all. (See link above.)

My question to the Powers That Be on Higgins Road and elsewhere in Christendom: Do you really get this? That the Internet is a place where people are "being the Church" in new, exciting ways? Where, just as an example, I can run a series of small-group discussions on Lutheranism, on liturgical worship, on Lent, and in turn benefit from participating in an online support group and an online class taught by a real-live seminary prof? Where I am a part of wonderful intersecting circles of Christian friends who provide me with everything from scholarly resources to cool mp3's to an occasional shoulder to wail on? Where I can be supported in my desire to follow a daily spiritual discipline by online Daily Office prayers, lectio divina and other spirituality resources? Where I am literally connected to believers across the globe and across denominational divides, in ways that could never have happened 20 years ago?

On the other hand...maybe it's best you don't get it. So...never mind.

The Problem of No Pain

How would you like to grow up without the experience of pain? Think that'd be swell?

Follow the link above to the story I recently read on the CNN website -- about a little boy born with a neurological disease that makes him immune to pain. It's heartbreaking -- imagine your child sucking on his or her thumb, like kids do, and nearly gnawing it off because s/he doesn't realize that's what s/he's doing. Or concussing himself or herself against a wall because s/he just can't feel how hard s/he's slamming into the surface.

Hansen's disease -- one of the conditions thought to be described by the word "leprosy" in the Bible -- is another illness that deadens the sensation of pain. I was told that oftentimes the grotesque mutilations one sees in Hansen's patients have less to do with the disease process itself and more to do with sufferers' inability to feel what's happening to their extremities; they're easily burned and broken.

As I was reading this, I thought not only about my recent revisiting of the Book of Genesis, but also about all the times in my childhood I'd been told that one of the results of the Fall was the entrance of pain and death into the world...as if having nerves responsive to stimuli, and mortal bodies, weren't a part of the picture before. This is nonsense. And it's not a matter of a fundamentalist interpretative method vs. an historical-critical one; it's just not in the text.

The pain-in-childbirth curse leveled by God in the story is also nonsense if taken at face value; of course a human baby with a "big giant head" is going to hurt coming through a narrow birth canal. Carl Sagan had a really interesting take on the metaphorical truth of this story in The Dragons of Eden; that the size of the human head has evolved to its utmost -- any larger and the only way women could accomodate it would be to evolve pelvises so wide that they could no longer walk with ease. And what makes our heads so huge? Our cognitive ability. Which makes us not only reasoning creatures, but morally reasoning creatures. Creatures who evaluate their actions, or non-actions, in terms of good and bad; whose moral deliberations cause guilt and frustration and pain. The few sociopaths among us whose brain pathology prevents them from having this ability are -- dangerous. People we wouldn't want living next door to us or taking care of kids or old folks or making decisions in high places.

All of which is to say -- we need some pain. We need physical pain and we need emotional and moral pain -- as St. Teresa of Avila put it, the ability to be displeasing to ourselves. This is our dilemma living in the world, believing in a God who loves us and wishes us well but also knowing that suffering is part of the equation. Christianity, unlike belief systems that see our enfleshed existence and experience as illusory, as distractions to some greater truth, acknowledges both the reality and the necessity of pain.

But that message can get lost when religious teachers, through their own ignorance or simple unwillingness to deal with big questions on the part of their students, perpetuate the image of Eden as a real place "where everything was beautiful all the time" and we could have innocently cavorted through all eternity if we hadn't have screwed things up. No. The child in the CNN story is living in pain-free Eden that's more like hell; we long to rescue him from it. Sociopaths live in a moral Eden while making the world around them hell.

There's a medieval Christmas carol -- I can't remember which one -- that speaks of the Fall as a happy misfortune because it began the process that led to the Incarnation -- to God With Us. I think this one line in an old song contains more sound theology than much of the blather about the creation story generated by the Church before and since. We're the way we are because we have to be, to be human. We believe that God loves us enough to have chosen to be with us, to walk with us, as one of us, and in doing so hallows and redeems the suffering that we must go through to be human. To me that's a more profound and moving image than the Sunday School comic-book story. Which isn't to say that I expect churches to start feeding five-year-olds Kierkegaard-level musings on the nature of brokenness and redemption. But I would challenge churches to stop treating 25- and 45- and 65-year-olds like five-year-olds, and create church cultures that support and encourage ongoing religious formation for all -- education that isn't afraid of hard questions and doesn't rely on easy answers.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Five Guilty Pleasure Songs

Since I have very little profundity to share, I'll play this meme -- hat tip to Lutherpunk . Here are five songs that I secretly enjoy, but am ashamed to admit that I enjoy.

1. Stairway to Heaven. Yeah, I know.

2. Nights in White Satin -- with the entire "Late Night Lament" appended to it. It's heavy, man. And I can actually still recite it word for word, a fact I find frightening (especially when other, important information, like where I parked my car in the Meijer lot, frequently escapes me).

3. All My Exes Live in Texas. This one really embarrasses me, because I am known at work as the Country Music Hater.

4. The Codfish Ball. This isn't really a guilty pleasure -- I make no bones about adoring this ditty -- but people, including my own mother, don't understand my attraction to what is a Tin Pan Alley masterpiece. How can you not love a song with lyrics like "Oh, the catfish is a dancin' man/but he can't can-can like the sardine can"? It's genius.

5. Have You Evah? The line about getting pinched in the Astor Bar makes me laugh like a five-year-old, every time. What can I say? I'm easily amused.

Good Eats

Now, I know that out of all the people (all dozen of you?) who visit this blog with any regularity, almost none of you are from Michigan, and the ones who are live waaaaay down at the other end of the state. But...should any of you ever be traveling through the unpopulated hinterlands of The Water-Winter Wonderland, and find yourself nearing Clare -- "The Gateway to the North" sign's right there on US-127 -- take the exit and find the East Fifth Street Diner, just east of the main drag. (5th Street becomes old US-10.)

This newish bistro, which has limited breakfast and lunch hours, is my new favorite place to eat out. It occupies a building formerly home to a series of short-lived culinary and hygienic horrors; now it's spiffed up inside and out. It's run by an ex-executive chef from the UK with quite a colorful career culminating in his retirement to this most unlikely of places. All the food is made from scratch, from local products when possible.

Because of the diner's popularity, whenever I've tried to eat lunch there on my occasional jaunts through this city there have been absolutely no parking places anywhere near. Today, however, I was in town before the big lunch crush and -- whoo-hoo! -- got the second-to-last space in the lot.

The menu features lots of comfort food, all made from scratch -- pot pies, macaroni and cheese and such -- as well as interesting sandwiches and salads like turkey/cannelini, and daily specials. Craving iron, I chose a hot home-roasted beef sandwich topped with what looked like Stilton cheese and spicy pickled onions. It came with a most unusual homemade potato salad that included shreds of boiled ham, what looked like Swedish brown beans and a creamy, pleasantly understated herbed dressing. Mmmmm...mmmmm.... And decent coffee. Pleasant waitstaff. A cozy, cheery atmosphere that I wished I could have lingered in a bit more.

All of which goes to show that you can do things a quality way or a crappy way, so you may as well do things the quality way; and that even people in the ruralest of rural areas will appreciate it.

Friday Five

If you received books as holiday presents, how many and what were they? Did you buy any for yourself, and if so what are the titles?
I bought myself several books: The Daily Prayer of the Church; two books from Marva Dawn, Unfettered Hope and Truly the Community; and a book called Women's Work, about the history of women and textile-making, that I picked up for a quarter at a flea market.

Have you read any of them yet?

What’s next on your list?
The copy of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency that I gave my mom for Christmas. (This is a fringe benefit of buying books for the people you live with.) And P.D. James' The Lighthouse, which I've heard nothing but good things about.

Do you have a favorite place to read a new book? And does the weather have an impact on that choice?
Curled up on the sofa is where I do my reading. And bad weather helps me justify being curled up on the sofa reading instead of doing something onerous and productive, like cleaning. (Recreational cooking -- another pastime made easier by inclement weather. I mean, who can argue with a big pot of soup during a blizzard?

Does reading in bed make you sleepy?
Since my dog has become the sultan of our harem, I do not read in bed, not even with a booklight, because it annoys him. He sighs deeply -- the sigh of one in pain; he grumbles; he tosses and turns. ("My God," noted one of my work friends, "he sounds like a husband.") These past few weeks, I'm so tired that I don't need to read myself to sleep anyway -- it'll be 9:30 p.m. and I'm already snorking away in the living room.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Conversion of St. Paul

There are times when I intensely dislike the Apostle Paul -- his wordiness, his tendency toward braggadocio, his scoldy schoolmaster tone. I think, if I met this guy at a church conference, I would do whatever it took to get away from him. I suspect that, up close and personal, he was what a friend of mine calls "one of the high-eyebrow people" -- intense to the point of creepiness; a little whoo-hoo. I'm disappointed by what I read as his concessions to the mores of the dominant culture that seem to go against his own vision of the Reign of God.

On the other hand, I sometimes feel sorry for him. It turns out that a lot of Scripture that's been attributed to him -- a lot of the misogynistic stuff that Paul-haters like to quote in order to prove what a jerk he was -- probably wasn't written by him at all. I think he gets quoted out of context; I think he was probably much more socially radical than what he gets credit for. Evidently he lived with a fairly serious physical or emotional problem that caused him anguish.

Sometimes I admire Paul. I admire his grasp on the concept of God's grace, and his chutzpah in arguing for full inclusion of Gentile Christians in the nascent Christian community. I admire his relationships with female leaders in the Christian community; revolutionary stuff for a former Pharisee. I admire his rhetorical skill, as when he addressed the Athenians.

And sometimes, when I think about the things that annoy me about Paul, it occurs to me that many of them are the same things that annoy me about...me.

Today's the day to think about Paul -- another forgiven sinner-saint, saved by the grace of God, called to proclaim the Good News, empowered to be a minister of reconciliation: As we celebrate his conversion, we pray that we may follow his example and be witnesses to the truth in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

"The Conversion of St. Paul," Lucas Cranach the Younger Posted by Picasa

25 Weird Questions

The latest meme to make the rounds:

1. When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
"Where did my eyes go?"

2. How much cash do you have on you?
Nothin' -- I'm wearing pocketless sweatpants.

3. What's a word that rhymes with TEST?
Breast. (I guess I just flunked the psych evaluation for seminary.)

4. Planet?
Out. (Stee-rike two!)

5. Who is the fourth person on your missed calls?
Mr. Slick Gladhand, sales rep, calling back with a quote for a project I'm working on.

6. What is your favourite ring on your phone?
That'd be no ring, since all my phone calls are either for work or are annoying telemarketing calls. But I think the question refers to cell phone ringtones. I don't own a cell phone (sounds of bodies dropping to the floor throughout the blogosphere). But if I did, I might like to follow my friend Melancthon's lead and use the opening notes to "A Mighty Fortress." Or one of the cheery psalm tones. Or the opening to the Gospel Acclamation: "Word of Life, Jesus Christ/all glory to you." Any of those.

7. What shirt are you wearing?
My chill-out blue sweatshirt.

8. What do you label youself as?
Hand Wash Only; Do Not Iron

9. Name the brand of shoes you've recently worn.
Stylish black Massini pumps from my semi-exclusive clothier, the House of Meijer. On major sale; retail is for suckers. Best $20 I've spent in a long time.

10. Bright room or dark room?

11. What were you doing at midnight last night?
Telling myself a story; listening to the wall clock chime twelve times.

12. What did the last text message on your phone say?
See #6; I just have a Luddite phone.

13. Where is your nearest 7-11?
35 miles away, more or less.

14. What's a saying you say a lot?
"Not so much."

15. Who told you they loved you last?
My little dog, with whom I was just snuggling, murmured, "Ah-wah-wah-wah"; which could be "I love you," or my real/non-blogging name translated into Dog, or maybe just indigestion.

16. Last furry thing you touched?
See #15.

17. How many drugs have you done in the past three days?
Diltiazem; Mircette; Advil. Not much of a buzz, man. Bummer.

18. How many rolls of film do you need to get developed?
What is this "film" of which you speak?

19. Favourite age you've been so far?
45 -- last year was a pretty good year. 44 was okay too.

20. Your worst enemy?
Oh, that's easy -- me. Always.

21. What is your current desktop picture?
The Christ Pantocrator icon from St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai.

22. What was the last thing you said to someone?
"It's yucky medicine time!" (Addressed to the dog.)

23. If you had to choose between a millions bucks and being able to fly, which would you choose?
Show me the money!

24. Do you like someone?
Oh, I like lots of people, including my fellow bloglings. If you mean like like -- ahem -- depends on who's doin' the askin'.

25. The last song you listened to?
"My Father's Eyes," Eric Clapton, playing in the supermarket this evening.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dear God, Save Me From Your Idiot Followers

I hear they've cancelled the TV series The Book of Daniel. Way too controversial. All the conservative Christian groups up in arms over this latest affront to their sensibilities -- especially its portrayal of Jesus who is someone other than Rambo with a halo.

Yet tonight, watching television -- frankly, I hate most television, but my mother, like a lot of elderly folk, wants to have it on all the time -- in two hours, despite my best efforts to the contrary I saw two bloodied, bullet-ridden corpses sprawled all over a sofa; a man getting his kneecap shot off, with the attendant gore and screaming; an individual being run over by a car; someone stabbed with a sword; persons hacked with an axe, with a charming close-up of the bloodied stump of a finger. That's when I finally turned the damn thing off. (Read a book, Mom.)

Where are the outraged Koncerned Kristian Krusaders writing angry letters to network executives and their local papers about this nonstop mutilation-fest and jamming the talk-radio phone lines to complain? Oh -- they're in the kitchen, popping more corn. And don't expect to see them at the barricades protesting the systematic gutting of our civil liberties anytime soon.

That's another thing. Today in the paper Cynthia Tucker's column talked about cultural conservatives' efforts to limit access to birth control. This got me to thinking, because I am on the pill right now, for my much-lamented ladies' complaint. What would happen if I lived in a community with a single pharmacy, one that refused to fill my prescription? What if I didn't have a car and couldn't drive to the next town? For that matter, what if my doctor refused to treat me, on "moral" grounds? This is already happening in localities in this country.

I have every reason to believe that, if God forbid I were raped tomorrow, there are people in this country who'd be more upset that I was on birth control and thus unlikely to conceive in this situation than that I had been sexually assaulted.

Dear God, save me from your idiot followers.

And for any readers offended by my use of the word "idiot": Be very glad that I didn't add all the other adjectives that I'm thinking right now.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Vocation, All I Ever Wanted

I'm not a happy camper at my job.

That thought has been percolating in my head for awhile, now, but I've kept it nicely supressed until this weekend.

Someone once told me that if your first thought upon awakening Monday morning is "Good God -- morning," instead of "Good morning, God" -- you've got problems. I think I've got problems.

I came of age at a time when academic advisors and career counselors all operated under the principle that I'll call A Beam of Light From Heaven -- that you must educate yourself for and train for and interview for one narrowly-defined career area, or else noone will take you seriously as an employable person. Imagine my distress when, after several years of college, the Beam of Light never appeared. It did for my friends; the roommate who was born to be an accountant; my best friend the audiologist; the buddy who was absolutely geeked to be a doctor. I never felt that compelling longing. And that panicked me. What window of opportunity had I missed to somehow find this vocation that I had been, according to all accounts, meant for?

As my life progressed, I learned to make peace with my generalist's fate. As the economy changed, I even felt somewhat fortunate in not being too boxed in vocationally; there's something to be said for being flexible and a quick study. One of the best books on job-hunting I've ever read, Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence Boldt, even made what is the bold suggestion in the vocational-counseling genre -- that sometimes a job is just a job that helps finance the real, non-paying vocation(s) of your heart. That made me feel validated. And if you like the "just a job," that does work.

But "just a job" can also kill you by degrees, no matter how generous the pay and benefits.

So...what do I really want to be when I grow up? I don't know.

Has Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend Martin?

You know that bumper sticker that says "There's a Village in Texas That's Lost Its Idiot"? Well, it seems the village has hired another one.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Crying Game

I think I mentioned awhile back that I am afflicted with what I will call, in my winsomely Victorian way, a ladies' complaint. Having just reread Leviticus from beginning to end, I can tell you that if I were an ancient Israelite I'd be the community equivalent of kryptonite; and that's even before the family patriarch tried to marry me off to some jamoke over on the other side of the encampment.

Anyway, it finally got to the point where I felt compelled to drag myself to my doctor, who prescribed me some low-dose hormones and advised me to eat more iron. And even though this is the third time on this particular fun ride for me, I walked out of her office with the hope that This is all going to be over soon!

Well, it's Day Three of the Drug Regimen. It's not over, and now in addition to everything else I've found that my prescription is wreaking havoc with my emotions. I'm sitting here wailing for no reason; I mean, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to weep today, from the plight of Jill Carroll to the ominous aggressive noises coming from the government or Iran to the sad ending to the whale-in-the-Thames story; but I could be watching WWF wrestling and I'd be boo-hooing into my coconut sorbet. When I'm not weepy I'm kick-yo'-ass angry, for no particular reason. And I'm still in wet-dishrag mode, energy-wise. I can't concentrate; can't string words together into coherent sentences. Last night while grocery shopping I got weak and buzzy-headed in the supermarket and almost left my cart in the aisle and bailed; then I got home, lugged in five bags of groceries plus my work stuff, all of which kept falling on the ground and on the floor...I blurted out, "I am never not carrying something! I am so tired of carrying things!"

I wish I were a bear and could just crawl in some nice, dark, enclosed space, fall asleep and wake up in a brand-new season surrounded by sunlight and green, growing things. Which is a nicer way of saying, I'm sick of this shit.

Drop It

When I hear Christ calling, do I drop everything, and as Mark's Gospel puts it immediately follow him...or am I more like Jonah, who needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into my vocation, and then sulks and kvetches about it to God?

"Come Follow Me," Graham Braddock  Posted by Picasa

Saturday Snow Blogging

8:30 a.m., post-blizzard Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 20, 2006

Five Pleasures

The RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five challenge this week is to name five of our pleasures. Oh, my. Well, okay. Here are five, in no particular order:

1. I just discovered this one tonight after dinner: coconut sorbet. I had a big scoop of it on fresh pineapple...mmmmmm. Dark chocolate sauce on it would be great -- like a big, cold Mounds bar -- although that would tend to cancel out the whole low-fat/healthy snack thing.

2. What I just heard described on another blog as intuitive driving. Or maybe process driving, for you theology buffs out there. You get in the car and just drive, preferably on two-lane "blue highways," and see where you wind up. I especially enjoy this in the fall, when the autumnal color gives you two, two, two pleasures in one.

3. Greenhouses. I tend to treat these like botanical gardens; I'm there as much for the atmosphere as to actually buy anything. (A fact that I'm sure annoys the greenhouse owners in my area.) There is nothing like coming out of a cold, snowy, dreary day into a warm, humusy greenhouse and being surrounded by green growing things.

4. Birdwatching. It's way more fun than television.

5. The canned music inside Barnes and Noble. I'm really not that enamored of "Buns and Noodle" bookwise, but the music rocks...so to speak.

G'head...Ask Me Anything

While randomly accessing blogs the other evening (and my apologies to the RevGal from whom I stole this idea), I came upon a great post: "Ask me anything." Sort of like The Carol Burnett Show, when she'd take questions from the audience.

So in lieu of another meme, I'm going to open the floor to questions. Yes; all five of you. Ask away. Ask me anything about anything -- myself, my dog, the Maternal Unit, the fair city of Outer Podunk, my little white clapboard church next to a hayfield...anything. Go for it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Rules

What Rule, or rules, do you follow?

Margaret Guenther -- priest, spiritual director and professor of ascetic theology (that sounds a little painful, doesn't it?) -- reminds us in her book Toward Holy Ground that, no matter how free-spirited or right-brained we may believe ourselves to be, we all follow a Rule. If 10:00 p.m. on Thursday means a bowl of popcorn and your favorite must-see TV -- you have a Rule, just as if 10:00 p.m. signaled your time to kneel at your bedside for Compline.

And for most of us, ordering our lives means managing concentric circles of rules: the calendar year; the Church year, if you're a certain flavor of Christian; your body's regular rhythms; your work year; your Rule for managing your household; your Rule for maintaining your health and fitness; and so it goes.

Personally, the various cycles of my life often look more like wobbly amoebas. Sometimes they break up altogether. In re-reading the Book of Genesis and Exodus this month, and their word-pictures of the cosmic struggle between order and chaos, I've been thinking about the chaotic aspects of my own life, which are many. Some of them are beyond my control, like my currently haywire hormonal cycle. Some of the chaos is a matter of will and intention, or lack thereof, like my not-always-faithful following of the Daily Office, or -- on a lighter note -- my not having a good system (yet) for reading through all the websites and blogs that interest me, that I want to honor by paying regular attention to.

I often find myself craving more order in my life. But I also find myself needing some externally imposed pattern for that order. I can't seem to manufacture it myself. The other day I wrote about the housekeeping-for-dummies book that provided readers with a kind of almanac of household chores; I like this, because I know I would neither be able to invent or follow such a schedule on my own. At work I love bulleted to-do lists whose items I can check off as I complete them. I appreciate the discipline of the Daily Office, because left to my own devices I just wouldn't pray so intentionally, so often. I find myself really longing for a spiritual director to help me get that part of my life more together. And sometimes my moroseness over my singletude stems from a realization that sometimes I just don't give enough of a damn about myself or my immediate surroundings without the motivation of a caring other giving me a reason to pull it together, and maybe some direction as well.

And, frankly, this can bug me. It offends me. It makes me feel as if I'm on the less evolved end of a developmental scale. What is wrong with me? I think. Why can't I just run my life on my own? Why am I so inadequate a human being that I need to have so much help from outside myself in order to live the world?

Which brings us back to: a Rule. We all have one. Rejecting the idea of a Rule is itself a Rule. And not a particularly good one. It speaks to the condition of curvatus in se -- our essential problem; our inward-turnedness, our insistence on making ourselves, with our capricious thoughts and impulses, our own little god.

Elsewhere online I'm involved in a discussion called "Why Bother With Church?", talking about why we need to live in community. I think that the mutual support, mutual accountability and striving toward a same goal, for love of the same Beloved, are why we should bother with Church, which I am defining in the broadest way -- you and me, and the whole people of God. We need each other as encouragers; as reality checks; as role models; as helpers, and also as people we can help; sometimes as kvetchers and sometimes as irritants that help us stretch and grow. Being willing not only to be displeasing to ourselves but to be displeasing to and displeased by other Christians is an act of placing ourselves under a Rule.

There are days when I feel most acutely God's saving hand -- sometimes directly, sometimes via the hands of my Christian friends -- rescuing me from spiritual chaos. The other chaos in my life -- well, sometimes not so much. (Do not look in the trunk of my car.) But I am, I think, learning to let go of the idea that "freedom" is synonymous with "doing whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like it." And, hey -- it's only taken 45 years.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Confession of St. Peter

"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

"You Are the Christ," detail of "The Life of St. Peter" by Bertrand Bahuet Posted by Picasa

Meme Meme Meme Meme!

Oh, so many memes, so little time. My friends bls and some of the RevGals have done the Meme of Four; I'll give it a shot.

Four jobs you've had in your life:

(unpaid) farmhand


legal proofreader

strugging-nonprofit gal Friday

Four movies you could watch over and over:


Rear Window

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Fried Green Tomatoes

Four places you've lived:

an old stone hip-roofed farmhouse with a wonderful front porch

a formerly swanky, later down-at-the-heels apartment that had its good points -- a beautiful, sunny yellow upstairs bedroom, built-in bookcases, colorful neighbors, once-nice wooden floors, design elements that led me to believe that, once upon a time, someone cared -- but also bad points like windows so flimsy that in the wintertime the Visqueen that covered them billowed out like sails in a nor'easter, a perpetually leaking, circa-1950 refrigerator and supers who spent all day smoking dope and all night screaming at one another

a back apartment inside an old Victorian monstrosity -- the front of the house was a real estate agency -- this was to be, I thought hopefully, my Mary Tyler Moore apartment; until the fleas hatched, several days into my arrival; two of the more interesting weeks of my life

a little white bungalow in the 'burbs

Four TV shows you love to watch:

(I don't know if I have four, and if I love them)

American Experience (sometimes)

Globe Trekker -- escapist fun, even if I don't want to drink rancid-butter tea in Mongolia anytime soon

Fork in the Road (a homegrown Michiganian public TV cooking show)

Northern Exposure and Homicide: Life on the Street -- R.I.P., both of them, and I only mention them because they're the last TV shows I really did love

Four places you've been on vacation:


Leelanau Peninsula and surrounds

Grand Haven/Hoffmaster Beach/Blue Lake area (home of Whippy Dip ice cream joints)

an electricity-free, water-pipe-less hut in the middle of the Michigan woods

(As you can see, LC doesn't get out much)

Four websites you visit daily:





Four of your favorite foods:

curry (of various kinds)

my mom's smothered chicken


especially these days, RED MEAT (any kind and cut will do), and lots of it

Four places you'd rather be right now:

stalking the elusive thylacine in Tasmania (really)

being alternately nurtured and challenged at a retreat house somewhere

warming myself, after an enjoyable snowshoe hike, in front of a crackling fireplace in a Benzie/Leelanau County B&B, drinking real hot chocolate while watching the snow gently fall outside

soaking up culture and essing gut in some historic European city -- preferably somewhere a little off the beaten path, like one of the Baltic countries

There's a Meme of Two going around, but I think you've all had enough of me for the time being. So -- tag! You're it!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Kelly Fryer is Out


I just read about it on Luthersem's blog .

Fryer asks for our prayers. I'd ask, too, for prayers that one day good pastors and other rostered leaders in our denomination aren't forced to make these choices.

Gathering and Sending

See, this is what happens when I get a day off: I've just put out feelers for a new three-week Beliefnet Dialogue Group called "Getting the Most Out of Liturgical Worship." I will be basing topic threads on material from two Augsburg Fortress books, Gathered and Sent by Karen G. Bockelman and Nicholas T. Markell, and Truly Present: Practicing Prayer in the Liturgy by Lisa Dahill. Participants do not have to have access to these books. (Although if you'd like to anyway, check out the link to Augsburg Fortress over in my sidebar.)

Part of the dialogue will be offering participants basic information on the whys of liturgical worship. Part will be helping make some meaningful connections between corporate worship and personal spiritual practice.

Any readers who are not Beliefnet members but want to participate: You need to register with Beliefnet in order to sign up for dialogue groups or lurk there. This is easy and painless.

Join us for what I think is going to be a good discussion. I'm going to be using "talking points" that are intended for journaling and personal reflection as well as for group discussion, so I hope they'll be a good jumping-off point for participants' personal spiritual explorations.

Ice, Ice Baby

This hardly ever happens...we were hit with an ice storm overnight, with more freezing rain expected today, and I got a call from my boss this morning telling me not to try to drive in to work.


So I got back into my stretchy pants and MSU sweatshirt...lingered over my coffee...read the Morning Prayer...read through some chapters in Exodus where God is getting really bipolar...and am getting ready to clean my oven. A lone car has ventured past on the glassy blacktop. A gaggle of goldfinches are snacking on my thistle sack; a nuthatch is pulling sunflower seeds from my gen-u-wine squirrel-proof Duncraft feeder. It's going to be a good day, at least as long as the power stays on.

Cody, overcome with emotion at the thought of spending ALL DAY with the Chik Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Stitch In Time...

...helps keep the people of Afghanistan a little warmer.

Afghans for Afghans is a project that helps connect knitters and crocheters with people in Afghanistan and surrounding areas who need warm winter clothing. The organization periodically collects handcrafted afghans and winter wear to distribute to Afghans who need them.

Several years ago I found myself in such an artsy-craftsy mood that I taught myself to knit (very rudimentary hats and two-needle mittens -- one color, thank you, although I did learn a few pattern stitches). I wound up knitting several watch caps, scarves and pairs of mittens of various sizes, and wound up sending them to Afghans for Afghans.

I've not knitted for a long time, and I'd forgotten about Afghans for Afghans until I wrote my post about the Central Asia Institute and suddenly remembered this organization. Since I know there are many knitters out there in the blogosphere...check out the Afghans for Afghans website and share it with your crafty friends.

Earthquake Aid Update

Just a heads-up that one of my favorite "small is beautiful" relief organizations, the Central Asia Institute, has extended its deadline for donations to its earthquake emergency fund. 99 percent of your donation goes directly to boots-on-the-ground relief in the mountainous areas of Pakistan; that's awesome. I'm sure many of you have seen recent news reports showing the misery of earthquake victims as winter hits this region...lack of food, children without warm clothing or even shoes, people dying of easily treatable upper respiratory infections. Please go to CAI's website, read about what they do...and if you have some change to spare, send it. Every little bit helps, and lots of little bits add up.

Happy Birthday, Doctor King

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image. Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression. Help us, like your servant Martin, to use our freedom to bring justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Artwork by Jackson, at the Buckman School (Portland, OR) Dr. King Page

Saturday, January 14, 2006

"Come and See"

Long ago, back when I was in Outer Podunk High School, I remember a regional daily newspaper creating a temporary local furor by describing some example of popular bad taste thusly: "As tacky as a girl from Outer Podunk, who wouldn't know Christian Dior from The Christian Science Monitor." Ouch.

Can anything good come out of Outer Podunk?

This past week, I watched the excellent PBS documentary Country Boys, following the lives of two Appalachian teenagers trying to overcome poverty, isolation, indifferent parenting and their own low expectations. At times the film was difficult to watch; certain scenes seemed to bolster every prejudice the rest of the country has regarding rural Americans in general and Appalachian Americans in particular, and the boys being profiled often seemed to have internalized these negative messages.

Can anything good come out of eastern Kentucky?

That's Nathanael's reaction to his friend Philip's news that he's just met an amazing, charismatic rabbi from Nazareth whom Philip thinks is the long-awaited Messiah:

"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nazareth was a jerk-water town within the Galilee, a region often dismissed by the Temple-oriented Jews living farther south as the land of weird holy men, political radicals and the morally and culturally compromised.

"Come and see," the excited Philip replies.

Nathanael, of course, changes his tune when he meets Jesus face to face. Another irony of this story is that, at any time during Jesus' ministry, he could have asked the same question about his disciples: "Can anything good come out of this clueless, faith-impaired bunch?"

But he didn't. Because Jesus' trust in God gave him the insight to see God's redeeming, reconciling and empowering action in the least likely people and places.

Even as many of us have been on the receiving end of skepticism regarding God's transformative presence in our lives, I suspect that we all have our own blind spots when it comes to seeing Christ in other individuals, other groups, other places. In which directions do we need to direct a more generous eye? Where might God surprise us by showing up?

Sometimes the surprise is that God is showing up in us. God's love for us, God's desire to be in relationship with us, God's active presence in our lives, is often hard to believe. Because we mess up; we don't do things we should and do things we shouldn't; even if we do the right thing, we often do it for the wrong reason. The paradox of simul iustus et peccator, of being a saint and a sinner at the same time, can be unsettling, and we may begin to second-guess where Christ is in the flawed complexity of our lives.

But in faith we hear Christ's message to us in Scripture that he's with us -- because he promises he will be. Many of us begin and end our days by making the sign of the cross. This is not an empty gesture, especially when we are being dogged by disappointment and despair and fear. It's a visual and tactile reminder to Christians that we have been baptized, marked with the cross of Christ forever. And just as Jesus invites Nathanael to "come and see," by following Jesus, the inbreaking of God's Reign, Jesus invites us to come and see and be a part of that as well.

Kelly Fryer, in Reclaiming the "L" Word: Renewing the Church From Its Lutheran Core, lists as one affirmation of a healthy faith community, People need what we have. If the love of Christ has touched us in a transformative way, we can't help but want other seeking people to experience that as well. A lot of money and ink and voice power is spent in the Church figuring out how to best do this, but I think Philip provides the best witnessing model of all.

"Come and see."

I think that the Christian blogging community -- people sharing their own life stories, their own faith stories, their own thoughts and doubts and hopes about their relationship with Christ -- provides a way for seeking others to "come and see," and provides those of us who blog to see and rejoice in the ways in which God is moving in the lives of others.

So -- what do you say? Come on; come with me; come and see.

"The First Two Disciples," Jesus Mafa Artwork Posted by Picasa

Random Field Notes From Life

During a trip to the drugstore yesterday, I got out of my car to find, in the parking space next to mine, an empty can of sardines. (The tomato-sauced kind...double bleah.) Now, I've encountered many discarded objects in strip-mall parking lots, but this was the first empty can of sardines. It made me wonder: What sort of personal sardine emergency would compel someone to eat a can of them right there, ten feet from the store entrance?


I think I'm developing a crush on my Yahoo! avatar. I find this highly disturbing. What was that resolution I made a couple of weeks ago, about getting out more?


After disgorging my little rant inspired by attempting to read the Bible in 90 days...I went back and kept going. And as I did, this thought occurred to me: Here I am, in the 21st century, by all standards in the Pentateuch so ritually unclean, for a variety of reasons, that I should be practically glowing with impurity, like these cosmically traif critters -- and I'm reading this...I've got the actual book in my hands here, which by itself is probably enough to get me zapped, according to the laws of Moses...and it's okay, and there are no hard feelings, and in fact next week I'm going to be standing up in front of a congregation of folks and helping lead them in worshipping the same God (more or less) that these early Hebrews did. Whodathunkit? What would Aaron have to say about this? Or Miriam? Well, I think Miriam would say, "You go, sisterfriend"...but what about Aaron? Who knew it would all work out like this? It actually tickles me to think about it.


Two months, and the amazing squirrel-proof bird feeder is still squirrel-proof. This is a record, my friends. And...if you have a feecer frequented by chickadees, try talking to them. The chickadees here love this. I'll go, Ska-dee-dee...ska-dee-dee-dee a few times, and pretty soon I'll have a whole flock of them swinging on the branches like budgies, answering back. I have no idea what I'm saying in chickadee, but it seems to be hilarious.


I have a confession to make: I am developing an urge to engage in housekeeping. And it's scaring me. Maybe it was the RevGals' recent Susie Homemaker meme. It's not that I am slovenly -- I'm conscientious about bathroom and kitchen cleanliness -- but I'm a clutterbug; I'll admit that. I find housework mind-numbingly boring, and dreary, with a poor return on the investment. And I don't have a system.

My mother, when she was younger, was a conscientious homemaker, but she carried a huge baggage of guilt and shame about her work, thanks to a couple of really insufferable inlaws reminiscent of Doris Roberts' Mother-in-Law-From-Hell character on Everybody Loves Raymond. Before getting married Mom had had a fairly challenging and enjoyable office job at a big-city utility company; the in-laws were professional housewives with -- how can I put this? -- not a lot of intellectual curiosity beyond running their fingers over the tops of other people's refrigerators to check for dust and looking for ironing creases in their hosts' bathroom towels. Yeah; those kind of women. Anyhow, my mother had a weekly schedule for getting things done around the house that she followed religiously, but she was always worrying that whatever she was doing wasn't good enough: "What would they think of this dust?" "A cobweb! I know what your Aunt _____ would say about that." "Oh, I hope _____ and _____ don't come over when the house looks like this." She was like the pre-metanoia Luther of housewifery. And memories of her distress always gut-check me when I think about doing some bit of housework -- especially now, when she's likely to watch and pipe up, "I used to be able to do things like that...I never used to let the house go like this...what if ________ drops in?" My family has an uncanny knack for turning everything into A Thing.

So, anyway, I was in the library recently, when I spotted a book about how to keep house -- a kind of remedial guide for preoccupied middle-aged people like myself. It was gender-neutral, and not just dust-bunny and pillow-fluff stuff; it talked about draining your water heater and cleaning out your gutters and other infrastructural household tasks. It had suggested monthly maintenance schedules in it. A system! "I could use this," I thought. But then I thought about bringing it home, and my mother either laughing scornfully at the thought of my reading it or of reading it herself and falling into an endless loop of self-recrimination...and I put it back on the shelf; for now, anyhow. I'd have to hide this book, like my old copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and sneak readings of it in the dead of night with my little booklight. I think I need some sort of support group, or at least an accountability buddy with a similarly equivocal attitude toward keeping house, so we could alternately encourage and kvetch one another into domestic competence.


The other day I read the AARP magazine from cover to cover. My excuse was that I was researching it for work, but the fact of the matter is, I enjoyed reading it. "What does this mean?"


What would the NSA hear if they wiretapped my houshold? Mostly our scintillating conversations with the dog: "Where are you? What are you doing? Are you doing something bad? What do you want? Crackers? Water? Out? Poop?" How'd you like to be the poor rookie spy who got assigned this gig all day?


On Ship of Fools one recent conversation involved how churches find people willing to help out during the worship service. In some congregations it's like pulling teeth; in others, certain jobs are popular while others go begging. At my church, we have one little girl, about five years old, who desperately wants to help; every week she's up at the front, waiting for an opportunity to do something. So we try to give her jobs to do during the service. At our recent baptisms, she got to hold the hymnal for the pastor while he read the baptismal liturgy, and helped pass out the baptismal candles for the families to take home as mementos. Our pastor refers to her as a member of our liturgical team, and he's right. And her adoring baby brother often waddles up to the front of the church to watch Sis in action, so she's also helping train the young-uns by example. As an old Iowan friend of mine used to say, "Good on her."

Don't Lurk Now

National Delurking Week seems to have escaped my attention. But since we have a whole six hours to go -- more if you're somewhere out West -- this is your invitation to delurk, if only to say hi. We don't stand on ceremony here, unless of course we're in church, so you can even check in the day after National Delurking Week.

Meal Prep

We do not presume to come to your table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eath the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and so to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us. -- Prayer Before Holy Communion, LBW

How do I prepare to participate in the Eucharist?

Back in the day when I was but a fuzzy li'l LutheranChik in Another Lutheran Denomination, self-examination before Holy Communion was serious business, because we had to at all costs avoid communing "in an unfit manner" -- a somewhat vaguely defined state that might encompass everything from an unacknowledged/unconfessed sin to doctrinal incorrectness of various kinds to maybe being preoccupied by something (or someone, in the case of hormonal 14-year-old catechumens) preventing one from receiving the Sacrament in an appropriate state of mind. Our pastor intimated to our confirmation class that one could become physically ill -- or worse [cue ominous organ chords] -- if one committed the sin of communing in an unfit manner.

And, actually, this is pretty tame compared to the way it used to be in Lutherland. When my parents were young adults, most Lutheran churches celebrated the Eucharist (and they would have never used either word in describing what they were doing) only infrequently -- to avoid it becoming routine, the story went, and causing occasion for spiritual and other harm to "unfit" communicants who didn't properly prepare themselves. Prospective communicants had to announce a week in advance; if the pastor didn't think someone was up to it, he or she didn't make the cut. Then, on Communion Sunday, communicants had to all sit on one side of the church before the service and go through a special confession and absolution with the pastor. Not all communicant members communed at every opportunity; in fact, that might raise a few eyebrows -- either that person must really -- nudge, wink -- need it for some reason (probably to be speculated upon through the neighborhood grapevine throughout the following week), or else s/he must be engaging in an attempt at [cue additional ominous organ music] works-righteousness. (Most Lutherans, by the way, are unaware that Martin Luther himself advocated communing as often as it was available -- daily, if possible.)

And, actually, this is pretty tame compared to churches mandating total fasting beforehand -- the household water faucets tied shut lest children be tempted to -- my God, the horror -- sneak a drink of H20 before mass; the fainting communicants. Or the catechetical protocol in the early Church, where non-communicant members of a congregation were dismissed before the Eucharist even began, and where it might take years for a catechumen to be declared fit to partake.

All this fear, all this negativity, all this turning of what literally means a thanksgiving into an occasion for guilt and condemnation and exclusion, because the Apostle Paul got very angry at some clueless Corinthians who had corrupted the weekly church agape feast into a rowdy first-century wings-and-pitcher night at Hooters, while hogging all the food and drink so that poorer members of the community were going home hungry. That's where his warning about the spiritually unfit "eating and drinking damnation upon themselves" came from.

The liturgical renewal movement of the last few decades has helped to change people's understanding of Holy Communion and in fact reclaim its sacramental significance as a gracious gift to the people of God -- a gift of palable Divine presence, of forgiveness, of renewal, of fellowship; a "foretaste of the feast to come." I know I never really experienced real happiness or joy in communing until I was a grownup, far away both physically and psychologically from my childhood church. I never really understood Lutheran sacramental theology until I left home and had an opportunity both to read Luther's works unfiltered and hang out with people of faith whose concept of God's goodness and grace was far wider than what I had been led to believe.

So -- having said all that -- how do I prepare to participate in the Eucharist?

It's taken me several decades to finally get this, but -- as much as I appreciate fixed prayer and ritual as an aid to my ongoing spiritual formation, when it comes to receiving the Sacrament, I keep it simple. My pre-Eucharistic prayer of choice is: Help. My prayer upon having communed is: Thank you. I mean it when I ask for help; I mean it when I give thanks. I honestly can't think of anything better to say, or do, around the Holy Meal.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Slogging Through the Blogging

My Bible in 90 Days experiment is not going well.

Part of it is simply because I don't have the time to follow the rigorous schedule...or, if I do, I'm speeding through the text at face value.

But part of it is...I think it's probably atrocious netiquette to talk about another blog I participate on on my own blog, but -- oh, well -- I am increasingly dismayed and frustrated by a certain Christian culture that truly believes that the best way to teach people about God is to hand them a Bible, say, "Just read this," and then walk off to hand another Bible to someone else. How crazy is this, really? I hasten to add that that's not the theological motivation or mindset driving our own little group's online experiment; but my experiences this week have made me think back to all the encounters I've had over the years with people who do seem to embue the Bible with an almost magickal quality to interpret itself outside the context of group discernment (which includes both formal scholarship and the kind of informal Talmudic back-and-forth that happens in Christian community).

This irritation is making me something of an agent provocateur on the other blog. I keep waiting for the e-mail suggesting that I'd maybe be happier as a non-participant.

What is someone who has minimal or no religious formation, or no understanding of the various contexts in which Scriptural texts were written -- a state, which, unfortunately, years of churchgoing and catechesis may not have helped at all -- supposed to do with, say, the Book of Leviticus, or Paul's more thinky and verbose theologizing in his epistles, or Revelation? How stupid is it to think that you can just hand someone a Bible, this set of very complex texts, written and edited over many centuries by many people addressing many audiences with in many situations, and say, "Here ya go! It's all in there!"? As I noted on that blog, I may have to turn in my Lutheran union card; although I suspect that when Brother Marty waxed rhapsodic about peasants and household help reading Scripture themselves, he was assuming that they were doing so in a supported way, in a faith community that could provide them with the tools to do this in an informed way.

Here's what happens when you don't provide people with context for reading Scripture: They think God's message to humanity is that snakes are evil animals, that once upon a time they could talk, and that God took away their legs; that women are inherently inferior to men; that there's something wrong with having normal cyclical bodily functions; that mules and triticale and cotton/linen-blend shirts are "sinful"; that the way to deal with people who are "different" is to exclude them, or possibly even kill them; that God has a strangely urgent concern about carbuncles and spotted sheep and priestly haberdashery, and in fact becomes homicidal/genodical if you don't get it all right. And that's just the first five books.

In my opinion it is absolutely irresponsible for the Church to not provide laypeople with the tools they need to read Scripture in an informed way, instead of keeping them in a kind of intellectual infancy regarding what the texts mean. How much of this is simple laziness and incompetence, and how much of it is an ecclesiastical power trip, and how much of it is the laypeople's own unwillingness to be proactive and thoughtful students of Scripture and risk being challenged by what they might learn...who knows. But it's not a good thing.

Say Amen, Somebody!

A little braggin' for a local radio show with an upcoming special.

The Juke Joint, a weekly radio show on Central Michigan University's public radio station, WCMU, is broadcasting its annual gospel tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this coming Sunday, Jan. 15th at 8:00 p.m. EST. If you click on the "radio" link at the bottom of the link, you'll get to a page where you can click on the "Listen Live" feature.

The Juke Joint, which spotlights both vintage and contemporary blues, R&B, gospel and zydeco music, is actually a volunteer production. Robert Barclay, the host, has a day job as CMU's university photographer and videographer; he's also a guy who just loves the blues. So CMU public radio, to its credit, lets him spin his favorite tunes a couple of hours each week. A pretty decent gig, I'd say.

If you're free Sunday evening at 8:00, tune in for some righteous gospel music.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Walking the Bible, and Walking in the Country

If you haven't been watching already, there's still time to catch parts of the PBS series "Walking the Bible" with Bruce Feiler, and the David Sutherland documentary "Country Boys."

It's been interesting, and helpful, to watch the former while reading the Old Testament; although the program is more a multimedia walking meditation on the part of Feiler than an in-depth study of history and culture. I also enjoy listening to biblical archaeologists and historians, who often seem more open-minded and genuinely curious than theologians, many of whom seem to begin their study of Scripture's historical and cultural contexts with an agenda rather than an adventurer's urge to discover and learn.

And, while the terrain and the accents are different, "Country Boys" could have been made here in Outer Podunk; it's not only an exploration of coming-of-age, but also of the poverty, dysfunction and diminished expectations that many rural young people fight to overcome. I've felt a special sympathy for Chris, one of the young men profiled, who is obviously a brilliant kid, but who has been so beaten down by the circumstances in his life that he has lost a tremendous amount of self-confidence. I can see him as a gifted social worker or essayist -- or both; he, on the other hand, can scarcely believe he's capable of passing a GED. This is the world I grew up in, in blue-collar, small-town America.

Two thumbs up.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Pearl From a Grain of Sand

In what some might see as a strange combination of enthusiasm and insanity, I have embarked upon the journey of Blogging Through the Bible in 90 Days . It's the reading equivalent of a speed-dating marathon.

To be sure, just praying the Daily Office involves a decent amount of Scripture reading, as does going to church on Sundays. But it's not the whole Bible. And even in my lay ministry classes, we haven't read the entire Old Testament. Dietrich Bonhoeffer recommended a systematic reading of the entire Bible, chapter by chapter, over and over again...but I found it difficult to sustain interest going at that slow pace. So when I read about the 90-day challenge, my overcaffienated self thought, Let's do it! So I am.

Meanwhile, the RevGalBlogPals have been discussing the discernment process, and specifically how we've dealt with roadblocks in that process. Elsewhere on my blog I've talked a bit about the positive ways in which I've felt called into a life of deeper spiritual practice and ministry to others...but I'm not sure if I've shared the negatives that provided the push to the positives' pull.

I used to be a regular participant on a Christian debate forum. This forum would regularly divide into us-vs.-them along a variety of lines, but particularly mainliners and socially progressive evangelicals squaring off against fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. One of the perennial slams I'd hear leveled at me, over and over again, was that mainliners didn't read the Bible, didn't understand the Bible, didn't respect the Bible. (And for people who happened to be gay mainliners/socially progressive evangelicals...well, guess.)

This of course cheesed me off no end, because for the most part it was a load of crap. (Although it was amusing to frequently find some excitable but not particularly literate individual lecturing someone else who -- unbeknownst to the first person -- was a member of the clergy on "what the Bible says.") But part of those charges stung, because I knew that I could learn more -- more than what I knew as a reasonably engaged layperson. And it also troubled me that a lot of what I did know about the Bible I had learned as a college undergraduate, longer ago than I cared to admit.

So at some point -- well before I found myself enrolling in my lay ministry program -- I resolved to learn more about the Bible; to be bold in engaging my antagonists in discussions about it from a mainstream perspective. And that is indeed what I have been doing.

So in an ironic way I have to thank them for helping to irritate me right into a more serious study of Scripture. As I told one of them once, "Be careful what you pray for."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Now That It Doesn't Hurt To Laugh...

I took this picture over the weekend. This is one of Farmer Ken's homegrown organic chickens, roasted on an upright roaster with a little well-and-chimney dealie in the middle that, theoretically, infuses the chicken with whatever liquid and/or seasoning that you choose. There's a certain Sir John Tenniel quality to a plucked chicken sitting on its butt; my mother and I both had to laugh at this one. (The roaster, by the way, worked very well.)

If you have a caption suggestion, feel free to share!

"At last I have achieved enlightenment!" Posted by Picasa

Sick Day

You know, I'm really getting tired of feeling bad.

I woke up at about 3 am with the sensation that a rabid wolverine was making a macrame wall hanging with my gut. I get episodes like this a couple of times a year; don't know why. Anyway, I was literally jacknifed in bed, writhing in pain and very nearly pushing my poor little geriatric dog onto the floor for hours on end, with fatigue from a sleepless night just adding to the misery, until I finally stumbled into the kitchen, nuked my mother's buckwheat-filled hot/cold shoulder throw that she uses for her neck problems, and then alternately lay on it and draped it over my tummy. This, unlike four Advil and Pepto ingested through the night, actually helped, and I finally fell asleep; I didn't get out of bed until about noon, and since then I've been engaging in low-impact pursuits like putting away the Christmas decorations.

But now I have a headache. And -- I don't want to get into the gory details, even though I've already shamelessly taken the blogosphere on a forced march through my underwear drawer, but for the past month I have been suffering from what the old patent medicine bottles called "ladies' complaints." Suffice it to say that my particular lady's complaint, if it continues for 19 more years, could earn me my own Bible story. (A coworker of mine noted that, if the universe's design really were intelligent, we'd have zippered uteri that we could just unzip and fold away if we weren't using them.)

I just feel so old today. My body is letting me down, all over the place. I don't much care for this medical thrill ride through middle age.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

I'm Here, I'm Queer...But I'm Not a Heretic!

Whew! What a relief. I think this will go in the Curriculum Vitae. (Hat tip to Good in Parts .)

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Are you a heretic?
created with QuizFarm.com

P.S. I did pick up a couple of demerit points in Apollanarianism, Nestorianism and Monophysitism, with a tiny smidgen of Pelagianism thrown in. Just to keep me humble in my non-heresy, no doubt.


We are born children of a fallen humanity; in the waters of Baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life...child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. -- LBW, liturgy for Holy Baptism

Today at church we had three baptisms -- three little kiddos decked out in white satin and lace, three extended families filling our little sanctuary to overflowing, two new sisters and one new brother in Christ. Digital cameras were in abundance, and after the service various combinations of beaming parents, godparents and baptized children posed for picture after picture up at the font.

These were beloved children. You could tell in the way their parents and other adults held them, kissed them, tousled their hair, whispered soothing murmurs when they fussed. (One little girl being not at all that enthused about her wet entry into the household of God.) A dad gently played with one baby's white-stockinged foot, looking at her with an expression of joy and at least a little awe.


Today many of us heard about the baptism of Jesus. (It's interesting that there's a lot more in the Gospels about Jesus' baptism than about his birth.) Jesus shows up at the Jordan River, where his cousin John the wild-eyed desert prophet is preaching repentance to all comers. Just as John's rough-and-ready lifestyle and demeanor is far removed from that of the urbane, well-appointed priests in Jerusalem, his mode and message are far different as well. John is a holy performance artist, and his "installations" involve preaching repentance and a call to a new life, followed by baptizing his listeners -- a ritual that, at that time, would normally be reserved for Gentile converts to Judaism. It was a pointed way of saying, You have all wandered so far from your faith that you may as well be heathen. So you'll have to begin at the beginning, like they do. It's a sharp, humiliating rebuke that would seem a great insult to persons like the Pharisees who consider themselves faithful keepers of the Law; but people respond in great numbers.

This day Jesus submits himself for baptism. Mark's "short, sharp, shocked" Gospel keeps the story brief, but in other Gospel accounts John is taken aback by his cousin's appearance, and is reluctant to baptize him: "I'm the one who needs to be baptized by you." No, says Jesus; this is the way we need to do it. The sinless Son of God isn't going to pull rank; he comes to this scene as a nobody from the nowhere town of Nazareth, surrounded by other nobodies, and he's going to submit himself to the waters of repentance, just like "the least of these" around him.

As Jesus comes up from the river, Mark notes that the heavens are "torn apart" -- a motif that will come up later, when Jesus dies on the cross and Mark reports that the curtains of the Temple (which -- surprise -- were designed to represent the heavens) are similarly torn apart. Mark goes on to say that the baptized Jesus hears a voice from the heavens: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

One of the mysteries of the Christian faith is that, wherever Jesus goes, he takes all of us with him. He takes us with him under the waters of the Jordan and brings us up again. And when Jesus hears God's loving affirmation...we hear it too. Because, as my evangelical friends put it, when God sees us, God sees us through Jesus-colored glasses. We are God's beloved too -- children and heirs, members of the divine household -- because Jesus brings us with him. The heavens -- the great metaphorical divide between the Other and our messy earthly reality -- are torn apart not just for Jesus but for us as well.

Do we feel beloved of God? Do we feel that God delights in us, as Scripture puts it, the way a loving parent plays with a baby's feet or swings her overhead or treasures every developmental milestone, every idiosyncracy, every daily pleasure in caring for a little human being? Sometimes I think that one of the major problems of Christianity is that we don't really take the love of God seriously. I recently found myself in an online discussion where some of my fellow Christians were made incredibly uncomfortable by the idea that God is in loving relationship with them. Frankly, sometimes I'm uncomfortable with this idea too. Why? I want to ask. Why me? But the irony is that we live in a society of increasingly isolated and self-isolating, lonely people -- people who on one hand are desperate for love and connection, but on the other hand feel compelled to keep others, sometimes including God, at arm's length. It's easy to say "God is love"; perhaps not so easy to say, or think about, the proposition, "God is in love with us and with me."

In this season of revelation, Christ is shown to us as God's Beloved. But what the Beloved shows us, as the story progresses, is that the Beloved loves us; stands by us; will do anything for us; gathers us in as his beloved. If we take this to heart -- really to heart -- what might this mean in how we relate to God, and in how we relate to one another?

Artwork by Corinne Vanaesch, Le baptême du Christ

Saturday, January 07, 2006

You Heard It Here First

We're having a commuters' potluck at church tomorrow, after our quarterly congregational meeting.

I am bringing...fruit.

Not fruit embedded in Jello and pudding, with Redi-Whip and walnuts on top. Not fruit baked into strudel or pie or cake. Not candied fruit. Not fruit served with marshmallow whip/sour cream/cream cheese dip.

Just fruit. Tangerines...bananas...Gala apples...red grapes.

I am bringing just fruit to a Lutheran potluck.

Has this ever been done before?

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Revealing

Thy nativity, O Christ our God, hath given rise to the light of knowledge in the world; For they who did worship the stars did learn from them to worship Thee, O Sun of Justice, and to know that thou didst come from the East of the Highest, Glory to Thee, O Lord. -- Triparion of the Nativity of Our Lord
artwork by John August Swanson

LC's Tree: What You Don't See In This Stable

This is my most recent ornament acquisition, and the last one you'll see this season. It's really pretty isn't it -- all clean and sparkly, starshine overhead -- the Christ Child even seems to be glowing, a happy unintended result of the camera flash.

But what you don't see is...what you'd expect to see on the floor of a stable. Come to think of it, the manger would probably be one of the only places in the stable not full of it.

Ship of Fools recently ran an essay about reality vs. kitsch that spotlighted the caganer , a traditional figure in Catalan creches. A caganer is a peasant, crouched in the back of the stable behind the Holy Family, calmly taking a dump.

As Herr Doktor Luther might ask: What does this mean?

As Herr Doktor Luther might answer: The world is full of shit. We're all the caganer. And it's into this world that Jesus Christ -- the image of the invisible God, in whom and through whom and for whom all things have been created -- came, and dwelt among us, as one of us, out of love for us.

Something's missing... Posted by Picasa

Five Weird Habits

Cathy has tagged me for the Five Weird Habits meme.

My first reaction, upon reading this challenge was, "What? Only five?" My second reaction was to ponder whether or not I really wanted to share five of my weird habits with the rest of the world, and in so doing probably pound the final nail into the coffin of my Close Personal Committed Relationship Odds.

Maybe this is meant to be. Maybe God is dragging me by the heels into a new vocation, as the very first Lutheran anchoress. Hey, as long as my church is building a new addition, maybe they can tack on a little studio apartment with a grille on the door, a prie-dieu and a DSL hookup, and I'll be all set.

What were we talking about? Oh. Weird habits. I'll play. Why not.

1. I hate opening my mail. Even if I know or at least suspect it's good mail, I procrastinate, then open it very slowly, and then procrastinate reading the contents. It can take me a day to read a letter, if I even get the envelope open by then.

2. Sometimes when I've been sitting for a long time, at work or at home, I find myself having to get up and move around right away. It's just a sudden urge I have to walk around. Now, at work I can kind of fake looking purposeful as I'm doing this, and there's enough room to roam to get the happy feet out of my system; but here at Cold Comfort Cottage, with its Das Boot sized interior, I basically have the hallway, which ends in a cul-de-sac at the back door, and then a loop through the galley kitchen on the way back. So my suddenly jumping up, pacing around the house and coming back to my seat looks weird. I don't think it is weird, but it looks weird.

3. I always second-guess whether or not I've turned off the headlights and locked the doors on my car -- I'm constantly walking maybe 12 paces from my parked vehicle, then going back to double-check. I'm also constantly worrying about where my car keys are. Very OCD, and I'm sure a Jungian therapist would also have a lot of fun exploring the symbolic meaning of my angst regarding my vehicle. But I used to be much worse; I also used to get extremely anxious about whether I'd turned off my iron, or turned off the coffee pot, which meant that I was extremely anxious most of the time. I've actually gotten better over the years.

4. I am something of a passive-aggressive wimp when it comes to city driving. I get very impatient making left-hand turns, and complicated intersections with multiple turn lanes also tend to freak me out -- I'm just a li'l ol' country girl whose life in the city was spent sans automobile -- so I have developed the Right-Hand Turn Rule. My thesis is that you can get anywhere in the world by making right-hand turns. So I do. It's kind of mythopoetic, if you think about it -- tracing the spiral of life and all. That's what I tell myself, anyway.

5. I tend to be a supermarket wanderer. Oh, I make a list and attempt to follow the aisles in sequential order, but inevitably I'll forget something, or second-guess purchasing or not purchasing an item, or get a sudden inspiration, and I'll backtrack. This is especially true on a busy, preoccupied day. So my supermarket aisle routes tend to be like those old laboratory studies of caffeine, where they fed spiders a dose of the stuff and the spiders wound up spinning ridiculous, haphazard webs. Which reminds me...I need to go grind my coffee for breakfast.

Yes, I know; I'm weird.

I tag anyone who's up to it to name their own five weird habits.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

LC's Tree: The Angel of No Regrets

This is a Snowdrop Angel, a keepsake Christmas ornament especially for persons born in December. (My mother, as well as the individual who gave it to me, thought that it looks like me. I think it maybe looks like me when I was 9 and had the mumps on both sides of my face. If those of you with mental age-progression skills can imagine the Snowdrop Angel as an unangelic but equally chubby 40-something with glasses, you'll get something of an approximation of what the Chik looks like in real life.) It was given to me by a former boss -- specifically, my boss in the very worst job I've ever had in my life.

I had been feeling somewhat frustrated and stagnating in my previous job; then my dad died suddenly, I found myself commuting home every weekend to help out, and the stress of living out of a weekend bag added to my general unhappiness. I needed a change; and circumstances seemed to indicate that a job closer to home would be a good idea.

For awhile I'd been thinking about applying for a job at a college or university, where I could also maybe take some classes at reduced cost and otherwise enjoy the stimulation of being around academics. Then the opportunity presented itself: It was just an office job, but it was in a liberal-arts college of a university; it paid better and had better benefits than my managerial job; and -- unbelieveably, they'd not only let me enroll in classes for free, but employees could work out a flextime schedule that would allow them to take a class during normal office hours. Sure, it was a 45-minute commute from my parents' home, but I could put up with that until I found a place of my own and got my mother situated somewhere else -- maybe even in that same city! Whoo-hoo! What was not to like?

Did I mention that this was the worst job I've ever had?

On my first day of work I was greeted by an officemate's cheery observation, "Why did they hire you? We don't need another person in this office." The other officemate, the office manager, insisted on proofreading all my work even though she was well aware that, among other things, I had been a legal proofreader for many years; and she'd make incorrect corrections on my work and make me retype it.

It was like that for eight hours a day. While I bit my tongue, thought about the perfectly fine if boring job I'd quit, and mentally cudgeled myself.

The one positive spot in this sad picture was the Dean. She liked me. One day the office manager was gone, and I wound up taking dictation; the Dean liked to do this in a sort of trancelike, stream-of-consciousness way, and appreciated the way I was able to distill her meandering thoughts into coherent sentences. She started doing end runs around the office manager in order to have me take dictation, which as you might imagine did not help me in the office popularity department.

After four months -- after passing my probation with flying colors, and developing an ulcer -- I'd had enough, and gave my notice. Right before Christmas break, the Dean presented me with the Snowdrop Angel. "I knew you were meant for other things," the Dean said.

Frankly, my job experience had been so bad that it took me several years to warm up to the Snowdrop Angel -- just looking at her reminded me of what I thought had been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. But now, after sufficient time has passed, I think about this period in my life, and what seemed like the worst thing in the world then now seems like a...well, this sounds cliched, I know, but like a learning experience. Something I had to do to get where I am now. So my stomach doesn't twinge when I see her now. You'll see, she seems to be saying with her coy little smile. You'll see.

The happy ending to my unhappy end in academia Posted by Picasa

Chik's Piks 2005

The Best Things I Did in 2005

Enrolled in lay ministry training. Thank you to my patiently encouraging pastor and ecumenical team of encouragers on Beliefnet who helped me get to "yes": Vikki, Dan, Rene, Tom, Wayne, Erick et al.

Started a webblog. Thanks, bls, for introducing me, back around this time last year, to those blog things the kids were all talking about.

Joined the RevGalBlogPals. What a great, supportive group. And whodathunk we'd have published a book?

The Worst Things I Did in 2005

Shot off my mouth, more than once, in hurtful ways.

Got too angry, too often, overall.

Lost a bunch of weight through a combination of prudent diet and regular exercise -- and then fell off the wagon and gained much of the weight back (she related, sitting in her stretchy pants).

Some Things I Have Learned in 2005

That I am not as smart as I thought I was, about any number of things.

That I am braver than I thought I was, about any number of things.

That speaking the truth can cost you.

High Point of the Year

It was a Sunday shortly after I'd had a long chat with my pastor about getting involved in lay ministry; I came up the Communion line, and when he served me, the way he pressed the wafer into my hand, looked me in the eye and emphatically proclaimed, For you -- lots of stuff came together for me at that very moment. It was as they say, a God thing.

Low Point of the Year

Feeling despised, in the context of a particular online interaction, in a very real and chilling way -- and having that feeling confirmed up close and personal by a momentarily frightening encounter with a tattooed skinhead type while I was shopping for groceries. That was the biggie.

2005 Discoveries

the blogosphere, and other new online friends
Farmer Ken, my organic meat-and-egg dude, and my food coop
Margaret Guenther
Jewish reggae -- who knew?
the depths of my sentimental soppiness
my increasing ability to speak loudly and clearly to large groups

Things I Want To Leave Behind in 2005

my lack of discipline in my devotional life
big-city-driving wimpishness
my excess poundage
the impatience I feel living between the "now" and the "not yet" on a multiplicity of levels

I'm still scratching around for more year-end wrap-ups/new-year aspirations. Maybe I'll share them in a future post. Or not.