Sunday, April 30, 2006

Getting Real

Seven Stanzas at Easter
by John Updike

Make no mistake: If he rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as his Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of his eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that -- pierced -- died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

To be honest with you, I have a hard time "walking through the door" when it comes to the idea of the physical resurrection as described in today's text. Not a transition into some spiritualized realm; not mere physical resuscitation; rather, as those noted theologians of Monty Python would put it, "something completely different." If I think too hard about it I can come up with scores of reasons why this just doesn't make sense.

And I don't think I'm alone. Despite our weekly, or daily, affirmation of the creeds of the Church, I suspect that in our more honest moments most of us have a concept of Jesus' resurrection that's more akin to the spectral appearances of the dead on TV's Ghost Whisperer than to the scenes we read about in today's Gospel lesson.

But Luke is adamant, as he crafts his story, that this isn't the case with Jesus. The resurrected Jesus who appears to his friends is a Jesus you can get your hands on; a Jesus who can eat (as our guest preacher, the assistant to our synodical bishop, noted today, "a man after my own heart!"). This ain't no ghost. This ain't no hallucination. This Jesus is really real.

And maybe that's the crux of the matter: that it's hard for us to comprehend this because we have not yet been made real, as reality goes in the Reign of God.

There are parallels to this in our experience of our own human development. For instance -- are you the same person that you were at age 5, or 10, or 18, or 30? I know I'm not. I know there are times when I think back to the person I was even ten years ago, and it feels as if I'm remembering some other woman: Who was that? My physicality is not the same; my storehouse of knowledge, my set of life experiences, is not the same; my way of seeing, of understanding, is not the same. But yet, another level, I am the same. It's a paradox.

What Luke seems to be telling us, as he shares recollections of the risen Christ, is that Christ is leading us, his sisters and brothers, fellow members and heirs of the household of God, into another change. It's going to be a change so dramatic that it will even impact how we interface physically with the created world. Yet in other ways we'll be the same -- in Jesus' case, even down to the battle scars of his appointment with death.

At our church we have a weekly interlude in the service called "The Bag," where volunteers (and sometimes the volunteered) from the congregation share their lives with the rest of us, bringing with them a grocery bag containing three objects that have a special meaning for them. Today one of our parishoners -- someone who has experienced a lot of physical and other hardship in her life -- brought a string of pearls that her husband, a former soldier, had sent her during a tour of duty; at the time he'd narrowly escaped being injured in a bombing, so the gift was especially precious. The woman described how pearls are made; that irritating grains of sand inside mollusks' shells are gradually covered in layers of beautiful mother-of-pearl. She noted, "Maybe we're like pearls. Maybe it's all the struggle and pain that makes us who we are in the end."

Maybe the physical resurrection that we affirm even as we struggle to understand is that final point in our journey of life in Christ; a journey creating changes in us of which we're only dimly aware, until we meet Christ face to face and discover that we, like he, have been changed; like The Velveteen Rabbit, finally made real in a way that we can't imagine; like a pearl, formed into something new and beautiful.

"The Resurrection," S. Raj Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Your Gardening Challenge

Okay, green thumbs -- listen up:

I have a small garden space on the south side of Cold Comfort Cottage, directly under my dining room window. It is bounded on one side by a rather scraggly Persian lilac that I hate but don't currently have the gumption to dig out, and on the other side by my Bilco doors to the basement; so one end of the bed is shaded and the other is very hot. The house is a beige color; and one of my unwanted "design elements" is the butt-ugly white external insulation around our foundation, that my parents for reasons I cannot fathom, aided and abetted by Mr. Dumbass the builder, never covered; if I ever get around to it, I want to dump some stone around the house and mound it up over the foundation to hide the insulation.

Earlier this month landscaping was the absolute last thing on my mind; I just didn't have my usual fire in the belly for digging in the dirt outside. Now, though, I'm feeling a tug in the horticultural direction.

And this is where you, my Constant Readers, come in. If you had this space to fill with plants, what would you plant?

Here are some of my ideas:

A small butterfly and hummingbird garden: Lots of daisy-like annuals and perennials, and tubular flowers that the hummers prefer. No particular color scheme -- everything kind of tumbled together.

Blue-and-orange annuals: I saw this color scheme at a nursery, and even though it sounds weird, it can really work. Things like blue ageratum, orange marigolds, etc.

Plum and orange. It also sounds weird; it also works.

Blue and plum.

Yellows and oranges. Supposedly this is the "hot" look this year. (And LC is so into fashion-forwardness.)

Buy a rosebush -- something kind of rambly and space-filling, in an interesting color, like "Joseph's Coat" -- and fuggetaboutit.

Buy a flat of petunias and fuggetaboutit.


Help me out here. And your own ideas are also greatly appreciated. Since this is Michigan, it's really not safe to do major planting until Memorial Day weekend anyway, so I've got time.

The Gas-Powered Scooter

The trouble with normal is, it always gets worse. -- Bruce Cockburn

One of the signs of increasing curmudgeonhood is that you start crabbing about the kids in your neighborhood. The object of my irritation these days is a boy, maybe nine or ten, who spends great amounts of time on a gasoline-powered scooter -- you know, those conveyances we used to push with one foot -- that he drives in little figure-eights on the road next to my house.

This is just so wrong.

First of all -- back when I was his age, when glaciers covered the hemisphere and wooly mammoths roamed the tundra (well, maybe not that long ago), I actually moved my body during playtime. Now, I was not athletic; I was a chubby little, or I guess chubby big, Weeble-shaped child. Yet as soon as spring thaw hit I was out there every day, crawling under and over fences, fishing for tadpoles, haunting the pastures and marshes of our property; doing kid things that involved physical activity.

This boy, by contrast -- part of the generation slated to become the most obese ever -- just stands there and goes around in circles. I have a dark fantasy of someday confiscating his scooter, throwing a handful of sand in the gas tank, and telling him to use it the way scooters were meant to be used. "Ya mean I gotta use my foot? But that's haaaaaaard!"

But the gas scooter is just a Dingsymbol of something much bigger: Our society's twin addictions, both to petroleum and to amusing/acquiring ourselves to death. I am sure that when this kid goes back home, he goes home to a garage filled with gasoline-powered toys -- four-wheelers and snowmobiles and locomotive-sized SUVs. I suspect he lives in one of the newer McMansions that keep getting built around the lake -- huge houses big enough for two families, whose monthly energy bills I can only imagine.

The new thing in our neighborhood is golf carts. The neighbors use these to drive a few hundred yards down the road to their friends' houses. Because whatever we do, we mustn't walk, ever. I'm not talking about elderly folk with bad hips; I'm talking people my age and younger. And this fad began the last time gas prices spiked; it's as if people said, "Hmmm...gas is above $3 a gallon and climbing; whatever shall should we do? Oh -- we know -- we'll buy another gas-powered vehicle!"

I have to admit that part of me applauds the current oil crisis, because I want it to be the thing that finally starts weaning us all off the petroleum teat; that finally kicks the captains of industry in the butt and gets them serious about developing and promoting alternative forms of energy; that reduces our involvement with and dependence upon oil-producing countries; that makes people start rethinking their value systems and lifestyles. There are faint glimmerings of progress in this regard; I just heard about two new ethanol plants being planned in my economically sub-moribund state, which is good news considering that we now rank 48th in terms of job creation. But, as the saying goes, first you have to recognize that you have a problem. And I just don't think we're there yet as a nation.

And the thing is -- until we do, until we hit absolute rock bottom and admit that things have to change, it's the poorest, most vulnerable people in society who are going to be hurt the worst in the energy paradigm shift. I work with people on limited incomes, who in many cases were barely scraping by before the oil prices began to rise. Our agency utilizes volunteer drivers to help bring clients meals and to take them to medical appointments. Many of the volunteers are retirees on limited incomes, and some of them are not going to be able to afford to help us much longer; if we don't have enough volunteers, our ability to deliver services is going to be severely curtailed. We have clients who have dropped our services, even though we provide them on a donation basis, because they have no more money to donate, and they're too proud to not contribute something -- for them it may be a choice of giving money to us or paying a utility bill so their power won't be shut off. Think of the working poor -- young families with a lot of expenses, with parents shuffling between multiple low-paying jobs -- and, in rural areas like this, that means doing a lot of driving, often to other cities; what happens to these households if energy prices continue to rise?

And in the midst of my internal jeremiad, I have to stop and think about my own more foolish consumption habits. The other weekend I almost found myself making a 45-mile trip to my food cooperative, for the second time in a month, to pick up sale items I'd forgotten the first time -- stuff like fair trade coffee and recycled paper towels. And because I was twitchy and wanted to take a drive somewhere. What's wrong with that picture? D'oh!

So when I see the gas-powered scooter, I start thinking about all this other stuff, and about how things are likely going to get much worse before they get any better. Until then, God help us.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

Much Madness is divinest Sense

Much Madness is divinest Sense
To a discerning Eye
Much Sense – the starkest Madness
‘Tis the Majority
In This, as All, prevail
Assent – and you are sane
Demur – you’re straightaway dangerous
And handled with a chain
-- Emily Dickinson

Powers and Principalities 101

Has anyone else found the nightly news juxtaposition of the oil companies' record profits and the UN's cutting food rations to refugees in Darfur by half -- that's below the minimum number of needed calories to sustain health -- troubling? No; not troubling; more like making your brain want to explode?
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lutheran World Relief , and other church relief agencies, are working in Darfur. Please send them some money, even though I know it's rough for most of us right now.

"I had rather a hundred times spend my life's energies working to heal the injustice around me, and never once speak of God ... than spend life converting others to God, while I gave not a snap for prisoners, slave camps, wars, starving peoples, the sins of the mighty. To what God would I be converting others, in such a demented case? In what God would I believe?" -- Dorothee Soelle

Friday Five: Avoidance Behaviors

This week's RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five: Name five activities you're likely to do while avoiding doing something else.

Ah...a subject near and dear to my own heart. Allow a professional procrastinator to share my own favorite techniques:

1. Blogging

2. Setting off on spontaneous road trips

3. Recreational cooking

4. Reading

5. Becoming completely energized and engrossed in some far less immediate task (i.e., putting off a deadline writing assignment and doing brainless, non-time-specific data entry instead)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ten Simple Pleasures

I was recently tagged by RevEm (hey, thanks for the golden syrup recipes...still don't think I can handle the sandwiches, though) for the 10 Simple Pleasures Meme. goes, in no particular order:

1. My Audubon bird clock. This was actually a birthday present for my mother -- she had hinted broadly at various times that she might like one -- that, sadly, she never had the chance to hear. It has a built-in light sensor, and at the top of the hour during daylight hours it plays the song of various North American birds. I have it in the laundry room, but it's loud enough to carry through the rest of the house. It's nice, even though it sometimes bemuses the dog, and once scared the bejeebers out of me one early morning when I turned on the light in the laundry room to let him outside and was suddenly serenaded by what sounded like a goldfinch on steroids.

2. My backyard birds. They are far more interesting than television. Right now I have a soap opera going on with our resident cardinals, Mister and Missus, who have built a nest in a trumpet vine growing against my garage; the nest is in a cozy spot under the eaves. Mister and Missus, or their parents or grandparents, have had some difficult breeding years -- one summer they tried a nest in the yew next to my house, and some carnivorous critter got the nestlings, and then one year a storm knocked down their trumpet-vine nest...but last year they actually fledged offspring. So I'm rooting for them, as Missus hunkers down on her eggs. This is also the time of year when we get passing migrations of warblers and other birds that don't hang around here the rest of the year. One spring I had two scarlet tanagers hopping around in the white pines on the north side of our house -- these are not necessarily endangered birds, but they're seldom seen, and I'd never seen two of them at the same time. One Saturday morning there were so many interesting little warblers in the trees that I couldn't flip through my bird book fast enough to ID them all. And tonight when I came home, there was a hermit thrush on the front lawn. They're nondescript little brown birds, a bit like a small robin without the red breast.

3. Pancakes.

4. My dog. Who is simple; but not as dumb as people think. I mean, whenever I read "What Is Your Dog's IQ?" articles Maltese tend to be ranked down somewhere between goldfish and house paint, but my dog can be incredibly smart about certain things. For instance, sometimes when I let him back inside after one of his evening constitutionals, I'll forget to turn off the outside light. I'll go back to doing whatever I was doing before the interruption, and suddenly the dog is doing a frantic little dance in front of me. "What do you want?" I ask. "Do you have to go poop? Do you have to go out? Is little Timmy in the well? What? What?" He speeds down the hallway, into the laundry room; stops abruptly at the door; looks up, and makes sure that I am also looking up, through the window, where the outside light is shining. "Oh...I left the light on. Thanks, man." I turn off the light. The dog is happy. This has happened about a half-dozen times now, so I know he knows what he's doing.

5. Chocolate. Dark chocolate. Dark chocolate oozing over chocolate ice cream.

6. The smell of northern Michigan in August. Which would be a mix of warm pine needle and what we call sage (but really isn't). It's like a lovely incense without the smoke. If I could, I'd bottle the stuff and wear it.

7. Our local petting farm. I pass it on the way to work. Remember those Time-Life kids' nature books that always featured extremely busy illustrations of ecosystems with every imaginable animal jammed into the illustration? That's what the south pasture of this place reminds me of this spring. It's filled with Texas longhorns and shaggy, yaklike Scottish Highland cattle and Holsteins; horses in sizes ranging from miniature to huge Belgians; tiny Eeyore-like donkeys and their larger cousins; llamas; sometimes there are sheep of various sorts in the mix. And this time of year there are cute little calves and foals running around. Yesterday a big mama cow was licking off a just-born, still-wet calf; each vigorous slurp almost sent the baby sprawling, but it somehow managed to stay upright, with this incredible look of surprise on its face. Imagine having absolutely no context for anything you're seeing or feeling or hearing. Wow. (Human babies, in contrast, all seem to be born angry; maybe with good reason.)

8. Walking around my neighborhood. As you may have detected, I enjoy nature. And I'm incredibly nosy.

9. Sleep. My parents were always amazed at my love of sleep, even as a tiny kid. I never fought to stay up; in fact, I'd go to bed by myself, without prompting. 40-some years later and that's still true.

10. Coffee of various and assorted kinds.

This was fun; especially since I've been in a kind of huff for the past 48 hours. (Groucho Marx: "You can leave in a taxi. Or you can leave in a huff.") Thanks, RevEm! And anyone readng this: Consider yourself tagged.

Keeping the Earth

Wouldn't it be nice [cue Beach Boys music] if church folks would get more interested in local boots-on-the-ground projects like this? Faith-Based Group Cleans Up the UP

Jon Magnuson, a co-founder of Earth Keepers, is Lutheran campus pastor at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. The program has ecumenical and inter-faith support, and new chapters are in the works at other colleges and universities.

My thought: Why stop with college students? Heck -- organize me; a pudgy middle-aged broad who needs the fresh air and sunshine. A day in the woods is a day in the woods, even if it is spent hauling out idiots' trash. Throw in a few more people and a picnic lunch, and it's practically a party. (Which tells you something about my social life.)

I think it's cool, anyway.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Feast Day of St. Mark

Here's to St. Mark on his feast day -- the Joe Friday of Evangelists: short and to the point; a real straight-shooter. I love the Gospel of John, but some days when I'm not tracking well and it starts reading like I Am the Walrus -- "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together" -- I go to the Gospel of Mark instead: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God..." And then he's off and running.

Almighty God who by the hand of Mark the Evangelist has given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

St. Mark, icon by Peter Wilke Posted by Picasa

Good News...Bad News...

Good news: I saw a bald eagle in my neighborhood the other day. Awesome! I know these are getting to be quite common in many localities, but around here it's still a rare treat to see one. They're huge.
Bad news: I saw a little bird fall dead out of the sky on my way home from church. No kidding. I was driving along, minding my own business, when all of a sudden this gray bird -- maybe a titmouse? -- fluttered down from the sky onto the pavement right on its back, with its little feet up in the air, like in a cartoon. This was freakin' weird -- only the second time I've ever seen a wild bird die. (One Christmas weekend when I was visiting the 'rents a pileated woodpecker dropped dead from our suet feeder; my father was so intrigued that he took the dead bird to the DNR; they wrote back a few weeks later to say that the woodpecker had birdshot embedded inside it and had apparently died of internal injuries.) The only explanation I have -- there were a couple of cars ahead of me; I can imagine a car hitting the bird, and then either the impact or some final adrenalin rush sending the bird up into the air before it fell down.

Good news: My house is increasingly lemon-fresh, clutter-removed, rust-rid and grease relieved.
Bad news: There are so many things that need fixing or replacement around here, that I knew about and talked about for a long time but to no avail...sometimes I just walk around, inside or outside, murmuring, Omigod...omigod...omigod. My nightmare is to one day be ambushed by the Queer Eye guys and have to listen to their snarky assessments of my domicile. ("And here we thought you gals liked to play with power tools and hang out at Home Depot...")

Good news: I wrote about a half-dozen post-condolence thank-you notes today.
Bad news: I wrote them during work, instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing.

Good news: I went to the doc, and I dropped over 50 points off my cholesterol count -- HDL is way up, LDL is way down. All without drugs. (My m.o. -- vegan breakfast and lunch, one of those "sensible" dinners, fish twice a week and a drastic cutting out of restaurant food.)
Bad news: We had our quarterly birthday party at work, and I inhaled about a half pound of pizza, plus chocolate ice cream. (Not quite "sensible.")

Good news: My dog was home alone for nine hours without an Excretory Incident.
Bad news: This morning he woke me up to go out; he came back in, didn't want to go back to bed with me so I left him run around the house while I attempted to catch a few last Zs...I got up to discover an Excretory Incident.

It's just been one of those weeks.

Diversity: What a Concept

I went to a diversity training this past weekend, for my lay ministry program.

Two men -- one African-American, one white -- were facilitators; very engaging, alternately entertaining and thought-provoking.

I was a late arrival -- I'd had to work that morning -- and when I breathlessly fell into a seat I looked around to find large sheets of newsprint covered in adjectives the class had used to describe various sub-groups of human beings: women; men; Lutherans; Catholics; laypeople; clergypeople; African-Americans; Latino-Americans. I noted -- and it was with, frankly, a mixture of irritation and relief -- that the Minority Group That Dare Not Speak Its Name in the ELCA was not among the groups being talked about.

And this is how it went for the rest of the afternoon. No one mentioned The Troubles. I didn't. I was quite animated during discussions of how prejudice affects those being discriminated against and how it affects the discriminators; but I wasn't in a frame of mind or at an energy level conducive to bursting into a rendition of I'm Coming Out.

My thoughts, upon driving home were: Either this is very smart -- this is how our church is going to slowly and quietly raise consciousness among the laity, starting with lay leadership, without blowing things into A Thing again -- or else it's just so much more faux-progressive window dressing: Look how enlightened we are: We offer diversity training!

I still haven't decided which scenario I think is the more accurate one.

Interestingly, one of the points I'd made during the presentation was that being in a stereotyped group tends to make the stereotyped cynical and defensive regarding the dominant culture's motives.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Procrastination: A Case Study

What I need to do: Begin writing all the bread-and-butter thank-you notes I owe persons who came to Mom's funeral, sent memorial donations, and so forth. I even put myself on what I thought was a fairly gentle schedule: Five a day; just do five a day.

What I did tonight instead: Took an old toothbrush and scrubbed rust stains off my bathroom tile grouting.'s one way of getting me to scrub the bathroom tiles.

Dog Laughs

My dog enjoys watching TV. Actually, some TV he hates -- he despises cartoons, and elephants, and politicians, and sports -- but he gets into other stuff; even commercials.

One ad campaign he likes, for reasons that aren't quite clear to me, is the Dodge series with the two engine-obsessed rednecks. (You'll recognize it in a minute.) Whenever one of the spots comes on, Cody stops what he's doing and listens.

Which brings me to our current household bit of merriment. Cody is very vocal, and spends a lot of time expressing himself in grunts, purrs and growls. When he's hmmmmning and harumphing and gwaaaaahing, I like to scoop him up in my arms, give him a hug and loudly proclaim, "THAT DOG GOT A HEMI? SCHWEEEEEEEEEEEET!" He thinks this is hilarious; it makes him smile an open-mouthed doggy smile and do what we call the Butt Dance. It's not quite Comedy Central, but it cheers us up at our house.

Actually, the joke's on Cody -- he's taking a trip to the Hair Lady this weekend and doesn't know itPosted by Picasa

Sunday, April 23, 2006

At Your Assistance

I assisted today in church for the first time since Mom got sick. It felt good.

Is Our Good News Good?

Here's the scenario: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He appears to some of his closest friends, who tell his other close friends. But his other friends don't get it; they remain in hiding, frightened and grieving, behind locked doors.

Then suddenly, he shows up, right in their midst.

What do you think he says?

"Incorrigible sinners! Blockheads! Couldn't you understand one thing I tried to tell you? No; you're too faithless and stupid. Well, guess what -- I am through with this nonsense. To hell with you. I'm outta here."

That's not what he says. Here's what he says:

"Peace be with you."

Thomas isn't with the rest of the group. When he hears about the others' encounter with Jesus, he just can't believe it: "I need to see it myself, or I'm not buying it."

A week goes by. Jesus' disciples are together again, this time with Thomas there, too. Jesus shows up again. What do you think Jesus says to Thomas?

"You want to see me, eh? Who do you think you are? And are you so lacking in faith that you won't even listen to the others here who did see me? Thomas -- it's all over. You're not worthy to be my disciple. You're a screw-up. Get out of here. Get away from me."

That's not what he says. Here's what he says:

"Peace be with you."

I once had a pastor tell me that he thought "creeping Gnosticism" was the most serious problem afflicting contemporary American Christianity. While I'm no fan of Gnosticism (creeping or otherwise), I would posit that the most serious problem is actually what we Lutherans call confusion of Law and Gospel. No; more than that; the actual jettisoning of the Gospel message of God's love and grace, in favor of an unremitting drumbeat of wrath and scapegoating and condemnation mislabeled as "good news." "God loves you so much that he's going to send you to hell if you don't shape up" isn't good news. It's not "news" at all, because news suggests underlying truth, and there's no truth in the idea that a relationship with God is predicated on being "good" enough or theologically astute enough to earn it.

How much Gospel do you hear from the mouths of TV preachers, or the religious talking heads tapped (inexplicably) to be the Voice of American Christianity on news programs? How much Gospel do you see described on the religion pages of your local newspaper?

Now, at this point some of you are nodding your heads and saying, " tell 'em!" probably have a mental photograph of Frequent Public Offenders in your head. I know I did when the kernel of the idea for this post first formed in my mind.

But here's the thing: Those of us who consider ourselves open-minded, progressive, theologically sophisticated, can be just as rigid, just as judgmental toward people with whom we disagree, just as distant from the grounding of the Gospel message as the most histrionic, Pharisaical fundamentalist.

The bottom line, in the words of Luther, is that we're all beggars. We are all, no matter where we fall along the theological or sociopolitical spectrum, no matter how advanced we are or think we are along the Godward path, sinners. We mess up. We don't get it right. We do things we shouldn't; we don't do things we should; even when we do the right thing, it's often for the wrong reasons. That's as true of the Mother Teresas and Desmond Tutus of the world as it is of the most reprehensible people we can think of. In the final analysis...we got nuthin'. Our broken condition is the great human equalizer.

That's the bad news. The good news is that God refuses to let that prevent God from claiming us, from saving us, from seeking to befriend us. If death itself wasn't going to stop Christ, then the cluelessness of his friends certainly wasn't going to either.

And the first words out of Christ's mouth, as he comes to greet and reassure his confused friends, is Peace. The biblical concept of peace is not simply about a cessation of strife. It's about God's proactive shalom; restoration of relationships; broken places in the world mended.

As we hear Christ's benediction echo through the centuries all the way to us, and as we live into today's Gospel lesson in the days to come: How can we, in our own spheres of concern and influence, make the peace of Christ real for others? How do we keep our good news good?

Maybe the best way is to simply tell our own stories as persons of faith, persons who've had a transformative encounter with Jesus Christ. We know that Thomas wound up in India, founding a church that remains to this day; so we know that's what he did.

"Thomas," Wayne Forte Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 21, 2006

RevGals' Friday Five

On this particular day, what is your favorite:

fruit -- fresh pineapple; just had some

song -- At this moment it's a toss-up between Diane Reeves singing Straighten Up and Fly Right and Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi, which was playing in a store I visited today and got stuck in my head

beverage -- smooooooooth-going-down light-roasted Just Coffee brand Ethiopian coffee

shoes -- my comfy, muy cheapo new two-tone gray kicks with lavender stripes

flower -- the orange-and-purple volunteer "Jolly Joker" viola that I discovered in my lawn; perhaps this is a sign unto me of what color scheme I should go for this year when I plant my annual bed.

Bread-Machine Guilt

The day after my mom’s funeral, the afternoon after my first excursion to Sunday services since my mother was hospitalized, I took a drive to my food coop, in a community a fair jog down the freeway. It wasn’t because I was particularly hungry; but about every month I’ll go down there for provisions that I can’t find here in town, and perhaps a perishable treat like a bunch of lovely certified organic Swiss chard or kale. And I just felt like I needed to be away, somewhere, and I always feel better when I go to the coop – the smells of spices and coffee, the interesting mix of customers and friendly, laid-back staff and general crunchy-granola gemuetlichkeit.

On this day there was a new display of artisan breads from a chi-chi-foo-foo bakery on Michigan’s Gold Coast. The wheaty, yeasty aroma was wonderful; the loaves were beautiful and crusty; the price was…outrageous. A small bag of bread crumbs was $4.50.

“I need to get out my bread machine,” I found myself thinking. And then I felt guilty.

The bread machine was a source of major, inexplicable, mother-daughter contention at my house. I’d gotten it a couple of years ago on the advice of several of my coworkers who adore their bread machines and make their own bread and pizza dough all the time. And when I bought mine, that’s what I decided I’d do as well. I went to town with it: potato bread and whole-wheat bread and oatmeal bread and rye bread and wholegrain nuts-and-twigs breads from recipes off the Internet. Not that it was perfect bread, mind you – there were the little divots at the bottom of the loaf from pulling it up off the dough paddles, and having enjoyed making bread the old-fashioned way I missed the kneading, working for that moment when the elasticity was just right – but the bread-machine bread was still good, tasty, fresh bread. I had complete control over the ingredients; I wasn’t tied to the task all day; there was less kitchen mess; it made the house smell really good when the bread was baking; and it seemed more energy-efficient to use the bread machine than to heat up our oven. I’d take my bread to work, or to church functions, and people liked it.

My mother ate the bread without comment for several weeks. But then the complaints started: The bread didn’t have the “right” texture; it was, depending on the week, too spongy or too crumbly. The crust was too chewy. The shape of the loaf wasn't right. “I want white bread.” “I want sliced bread.” This conversation extended to our supermarket excursions, when we’d get to the bakery and Mom would start lighting into the bread machine, in tones loud enough to make other shoppers stare. “Your bread machine makes terrible bread!” she exclaimed one day as a hush fell upon the aisle. “I hate it!”

Well, long story short, you pick your battles, so the bread machine wound up in the basement.

And now I want to get it out again and bake some terrible, hateful bread, and I’m feeling bad. The way I felt bad when I threw out the tacky oilcloth on the dining room table and got some placemats I liked instead, and replaced the fake milk glass fruit bowl I never cared for with my little wooden fish-shaped bowl, and changed all the towels in the bathroom, and put a Boston fern on the end table. I feel so much repressed/suppressed me bursting out right now, like lava exploding from a volcano; and yet sometimes it's as if I’m engaging in some sort of strange passive aggression with my dead mother: Oh, yeah? Well, watch this!…

I remember feeling this same way when my dad died. My father was not an easy man to live with. He was, I think, chronically disappointed in the way life had treated him, and he had a volatile temper; he was not a hitter, but he was a histrionic yeller -- his voice was loud enough to make the walls vibrate -- and my mother took most of the brunt of his anger. Now, he could also be charming and funny; but you never knew when Mad Dad would emerge. So keeping my father from exploding into screaming fury was a full-time job at our house when I was growing up; more so as I got older because he and I disagreed about nearly everything. In adulthood I tended to keep him at arm's-length. I remember, after he died, when I was still living away but coming home on weekends to chauffeur my mother around (she didn't drive), feeling a certain sense of relief that I, that we, didn't have to self-censor anymore; that we could talk about things that we'd never dare talk about when he was there. I could also see my mother visibly more relaxed. Some spouses fall ill after their partners die; after Dad died, Mom's blood pressure and blood sugar readings kept improving.

This strange juxtaposition of feelings -- sorrow on one hand, a kind of liberation on the other -- is a difficult one to navigate through, I'm telling you. It's tough. And it speaks to the incredible complexity of human relationships. It's a wonder we want to have them at all. And yet we do.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Trash Talk

Every spring 'round about Earth Day I take nail-on-stick in hand and walk around our property, which is bounded by roads on two sides, picking up the detritus that's collected on the roadside over the winter. It's partly just a matter of being a responsible human being and good neighbor, and partly a kind of amateur anthropology field trip. Trash can be kind of interesting.

Much of it is, of course, thrown out of car windows...but being here in the woods, oftentimes it's a matter of critters like crows tearing open people's garbage bags, leaving the trash to be dispersed by wind and assorted animals all over the neighborhood. Sometimes it's gross; one spring I found a pair of boxer shorts and a used condom, here in our civilized subdivision (and I bet you thought Outer Podunk was all about Amish quilting bees and the like). But it's been interesting comparing the garbage from year to year.

I'm happy to report that the Spring 2006 roadside trash haul was much less than usual. I think the worst spring we ever had I picked up two full trash bags full of stuff; yesterday it was half a bag. Fast-food wrappers -- just a couple. I found an empty hamster-food bag. No underwear or prophylactics. The hooch bottles are way down -- every year I've always found a pile of beer and liquor bottles at one corner of our property, as if several people had gotten out of their vehicle and held an impromptu nighttime party there along the road, but this time all I found there were two empty chocolate milk containers. Elsewhere I found a Slim-Fast can. So our neighborhood litterbugs seem to be getting healthier, as well as neater.

Now we're all spiffed up, on two sides of Cold Comfort Cottage and surrounds. My computer desk should be so neat.

An Alphabet Meme

I haven't done a meme in ages. Hat tip to *Christopher for this one:

Accent: Nasal Upper Midwestern with a pinch of Teutonic if I'm amongst "my people" and on a conversational roll (Example: Around these parts, if you're of German descent you're likely to pronounce Saginaw, Michigan Saginau)

Booze: I hardly drink any these days, but if I do it will likely be something like Heinekens or Bell's Pale Ale, or a dry white wine. I haven't had a mixed drink, I think, in a decade, but margaritas and Bloody Marys are all right. (There used to be a tony restaurant near MSU that made gazpacho Bloody Marys...mmm-mmm-good.)

Chore I Hate: Ironing; schlepping the trash cans early Tuesday morning

Dog or Cat: An elderly, semi-psychotic Maltese

Essential Electronics: laptop, radio, CD player

Favorite Cologne(s): Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood (everyday) or Passionflower (more festive occasions); woodsy or citrusy scents

Gold or Silver: Silver; not that I'd refuse gold, mind you, if someone's givin' it away

Hometown: Outer Podunk, Michigan

Insomnia: Once in awhile (I make it work for me -- a great time for extemporaneous prayer)

Job Title: Volunteer/Outreach Coordinator

Kids: I approve of them in theory, and think that other people's kids are often quite charming

Living arrangements: A shabby li'l cottage in the woods, near a lake "up north"

Most admirable trait: Faithfulness/loyalty

(Least admirable trait -- bonus question): Avoidance behavior

Number of sexual partners: might be nice, maybe...

Overnight hospital stays: I spent the first month of my life in an incubator because I was only three-and-a-half pounds at birth (the first and last time in my life I ever qualified for "petite"). And when I was in kindergarten -- only child suddenly thrown into a baby-boomer mass of other little kids -- I came down with pneumonia three times and kept winding up in the hospital

Phobias: Heights; big-city driving; fear of hitting deer with my car, at certain times of day

Quote: "Love God and do as you like" -- Augustine; "All will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well" -- Julian of Norwich

Religion: Christian, Lutheran subspecies, with definite Anglican undertones

Siblings: Nada

Time I wake up: Time my dog wakes me up: 4:00 a.m.; time I wake up for real: 5:00 a.m.; time I get up for real: 6:00 a.m.

Unusual talent or skill: Animal impersonations. (Ask me to do my happy chicken impersonation -- g'head. I grew up on a farm. I know from happy chickens.) And I am semi-ambidextrous -- when I was a little kid I was completely so but had it conditioned out of me (it being the 60's and all), and even today I am able to do things like use eating utensils or iron (on the rare occasion the latter actually happens) with either hand.

Vegetable I refuse to eat: I'll eat any vegetable, usually enthusiastically; but I often find sweet potatoes hard going down because they're so cloyingly sweet

Worst habit: Nail biting; bruxing; procrastinating (see a pattern here?)

X-rays: I'm all for 'em

Yummy foods I make: Hungarian goulash; eggplant parmesan; Midwestern comfort food of various kinds; pancakes of various kinds; cookies of various kinds

Zodiac sign: Capricorn with Pisces in somewhere or other -- once upon a time I paid attention to these things

Feel free to borrow for your own blog.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My Altared State

I'm happy to report that my home altar is off to a promising start (see below) -- it was kind of a kick to leave the picture frame empty until Easter, then place an icon of Christ Pantocrator in it: He is risen; he is risen indeed! Alleluia! And praying the Compline aloud before it last night was wonderful. There is something about full-bodied, on-your-knees prayer that enhances the experience. (And speaking of full-bodied, note the "holding cross" to the left -- a recent gift from a blog friend. The idea is to hold it as you're praying. It's been especially meaningful for sick people who can't always see or speak, but who can grasp the freeform cross and experience it in a tactile way.)

You will note the tiny cross hanging above the icon. This is a multicolor millefiori cross, made from colorful rods of transparent and semi-opaque glass of various hues that have been fused together to create flower-like bursts. Millefiori is associated with the glassmaking cities of Italy...but this cross isn't from Italy. It's from India. It's made by a cooperative of Untouchables -- Gandhi's beloved Harijan, or Children of God, the lowest caste in the hereditary Hindu caste system. Untouchables are considered ritually unclean, hence their name, and the worst jobs in Indian society fall to them -- latrine cleaning, ditch-digging, garbage picking. And because this is an hereditary system, there's no way out; if you're born into an Untouchable family, your future is spelled out for you by the rest of Hindu society in big, ugly, indelible letters. In recent decades many Untouchables have turned to Christianity or Buddhism and attempted to disengage themselves from the caste system, which has infuriated higher-caste Hindu fundamentalists. Many Untouchable converts to other faiths are harrassed, and some have been killed.

So how'd I get this cross, with its unique provenance? I ordered it through a company, A Greater Gift (see my blogroll), that specializes in fair-trade merchandise from around the globe. At the time I didn't know the whole story behind the makers of the crosses; I just knew that the jewelry was from India, and was quite reasonably priced, and I liked it. One of my fellow assisting ministers at church is having a lot of fun with his new role, and invested in a ginormous scapular cross for his liturgical duties; I'm not comfortable with that much bling, but I thought it might be cool to alternate my usual free-form silver cross with something a little more festive, especially since my AM duties always seem to fall on our youth Sundays when our li'l kiddos are front and center in church. And of course you've got the rainbow colors, meaningful on a couple of levels, and the fair-trade concept, where artisans are guaranteed a fair wage for what they produce.

At the same time I'd ordered the cross I'd also chosen a small wooden wall cross from El Salvador that I thought I'd put at the back of my altar. But shortly after I'd pressed "enter" and sent my request, I started feeling buyer's remorse. The wooden cross was charming -- a smiling Jesus, arms outstretched, against a colorful outdoor background, is painted across the cruciform wood, his feet off the ground as if he's jumping up and down. But on second thought it didn't really go with the feel I had envisioned for my devotional space; I wanted, I thought, something with more gravitas, more evocative of Crux sola est nostra theologia.

So today I came home to find a box on my doorstep. Inside was the little millefiori cross. But evidently I'd made a mistake on my order form; instead of the wooden wall cross, the invoice listed two glass cross pendants. I was not upset. I was absolutely delighted. "I know where I can put the second one!"

What better way to meditate upon our cruciform way of living, and remember the suffering of the whole world -- all persons whom Christ loves, for whom Christ died -- than to look upon this little cross, and think about the people who created it, and why.

Lewis Carroll coined the term "portmanteau word" to describe a word loaded with meaning; this cross is a portmanteau cross. It may not always remain in exactly the same place, but it will be a major focus of my prayer life. I just wish I could meet the glassmakers who created it -- people who've been told their entire lives that they're "nobodies" -- and let them know that they're somebodies to me. And, I suspect, now to you as well.

My altar-in-progress: "Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome..." Posted by Picasa

My "Untouchable" rainbow crosses, which are actually much more colorful than they look here Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 17, 2006

"They Have Taken Away My Lord"

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." John

Last week I blogged about my online conversation, as part of a small group, with a member of the Church of Satan. It didn't go over too well -- she left in a huff, bemoaning the "waste of time" she'd just put herself through talking to us. But beneath all the anger and bluster and sarcasm, I heard the hint of a different message: They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.

The "cultured despisers of religion" in our society certainly seem to get a boost out of alienating others from God by cultivating skepticism, cynicism and a kind of spiritually and aesthetically sterile hyper-rationalism. But it's too easy to make these folks the villains. The sad fact is, a lot of Christians seem to delight in taking away the Lord from others. Sometimes it's a matter of deeming those people unworthy of knowing Christ. (As if any of us are "worthy.") Sometimes it's a matter of elevating theological abstractions and cherished sectarian "best practices" over loving others and living out the radical inbreaking Reign of God that Jesus preached and modeled in his own dealings with people. And sometimes it's just ham-handed, thick-tongued, empty-headed cluelessness.

But no matter what the motivation, the end result can be someone longing on some level for a relationship with God, but walking away from God because of the words and behavior of God's self-professed friends. I know this because I lived it. And I've seen it happen over and over again: walking wounded who, after being buffeted by a litany of anti-Christian rhetoric and/or stabbed in the back by daggers of "Christian love," come to the conclusion that if this is what Christianity is all about they're having none of it.

The good news is that the Christ who overcame death and the grave can also overcome the harebrained behavior of his followers as well as the bile of his detractors, and the disbelief and despair both groups create.

Which brings the discussion back Do we want to be conduits of Christ's love and grace to people who have perhaps only experienced a distorted cariacature of Chrsitianity? And if we do, how can we do that?

Artwork: Kristus ja Mataleena, A. Edelbert

All That Cremains

It was Saturday, and my young Abercrombie-and-Fitch-Model funeral director was on the line: "Just wanted to let you know that you can pick up Mom and the death certificates anytime."

How odd that sounded -- "pick up Mom," as if I were picking her up to go out to lunch. Of course, the other term for what I was picking up is cremains, which sounds overly cutesy -- sort of like craisins. I'm fine with ashes, because that's what they are -- a perfectly serviceable, succinct Anglo-Saxon noun.

But, anyhow, that's what I did today. No bouts of the weepies; this was just the next thing I had to do, so I did it. (The next next thing will be to arrange the interment, but after the Holy Week marathon I'm cutting my pastor some slack. At this point there's no hurry.)

And here's what it comes down to, once you've left this mortal coil and you've asked to have your body cremated: It winds up in a little box, maybe the size of a decorative glass brick. It's surprisingly heavy -- like a serious dictionary or a small sack of flour.

Yes, it's weird. And I honestly think the "ick" factor, and not theological concerns over misunderstanding the nature of the resurrection of the dead, is why Christians have until recently been somewhat reluctant to practice cremation. Although it's not nearly as icky as, say, the once-common practice of leaving a corpse in a tomb until the flesh is decayed away, then cleaning up the bones and re-interring them somewhere else. That is not a task I would care to perform. I'll take the little box.

The handing-off of the box was a bit awkward. The funeral director -- generally when he's come barreling down the stairs of the funeral home in his stocking feet, it's like Tom Cruise in Risky Business; all that's missing is Bob Seger playing in the background -- was actually wearing a dress shirt today, and he didn't descend with quite as much joie de vivre. And when he gave me the box there was a rather hesitant moment -- I think he was waiting to see if I'd burst into tears or faint or throw up, all of which I suspect have happened in the past.

But I just took it in the crook of my arm, like a book or a baby, and thanked him, and went to my car and placed it in the trunk next to a bag of birdseed, where it wouldn't jostle around. My first thought was, "This is the strangest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life." But my next thought was what we tell people on Ash Wednesday at our church as we're smudging palm-charcoal crosses on their foreheads: "Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return...and on the last day Christ shall raise thee."

Sunday, April 16, 2006

My Easter Solo

One of my online friends, in an e-mail after my mom died, advised me to expect that Easter this year would feel different for me, and probably not in a good way.

And she was right.

After several days of "near normal," today was rough...really rough. It began when I overslept -- I'd set my alarm incorrectly -- and missed the early Easter service and brunch I'd wanted to attend, so I began the day grumpy and self-critical. I couldn't find anything I wanted to wear. I had a headache. And yesterday I'd gotten a call from the funeral home letting me know that my mother's ashes and death certificates had arrived, so percolating in the back of my mind was the knowledge that on Monday I'm going to have to deal with these things, and arrange for interment. (And while I know that the non-physical things that made my mother my mother are not in the little box from the crematorium, it's still disconcerting, on some atavistic level, to think about what's inside, and to have the little box sitting in the house until we can bury it in the family plot. I have a second cousin who keeps her husband's ashes in an urn above the fireplace, but that level of postmortem togetherness is a just little too much for me.)

So that was my mood when I got to church. But I had it together. I was very Zen about it and simply acknowledged my feelings: "I am feeling sad. I am feeling irritated with myself. My head hurts."

I sat in the usual LutheranChik household spot, third row from the front, next to the window. (One of the elder saints of our church, who before going into an adult foster care home was a regular pewmate of my mother and me, once wryly observed, "We're all just like cows in a barn, all going into the same stanchions." ) Shortly thereafter an unfamiliar extended family sat next to me. And at that point I suddenly felt so alone and isolated that the tears just poured out of my eyes, as fast as I could sop them up. It wasn't so much that I was missing my mother's presence -- since she died I've been to three services and haven't had that strong reaction -- but that I just didn't have anybody there with in the midst of all these couples and rows of extended relatives. For some reason it just got to me today.

[Tangential rant: As God is my witness, the next time some sanctimonious married heterosexual tells me with a straight -- pardon the pun -- face that I should embrace my singlehood without complaint, because of course nothing could be worse than an intimate relationship with someone of the same gender, I will not be responsible for anything that I say or do. Intimacy isn't just about physical intimacy. It's about having a life partner you care about, who cares about you, with whom to share your life, the good parts and the bad parts and the sad parts, like losing a parent. To suggest that the admittedly good, and kind, but somewhat removed support one gets from one's wider circle of friends is the same kind of support that one gets from a committed partner is ridiculous, and insulting -- it's also insulting to your own partner, by the way. (I once had a Holy Person point out to me that I have a dog to keep me company. So evidently at her house it's spouse, dog, potato, potahto, whatever. Or else she was lapsing into Freudian slippage vis-a-vis the fundie proposition that being gay is morally equivalent to boinking family pets and farm animals -- you know, the ol', God jist luuuvs yew soooooo much, lahk he luuuvs murderers an' rapists an' pedophiles an' that afflicted gentleman down the road who bothered the neighbor's sheep 'til the sheriff arrested him, if yew'd jist repent of yer abominable perversion and ask Jaysus to come into yer heart... If the only Jesus I ever met was in the guise of people like this, I'd say, "You've got to be kidding.") So if you are one of the sanctimonious homophobes (and that is what you are -- a homophobe), don't even -- do not even -- talk to me about how swell a single life is. If it's so frigging wonderful, why are you married? Do you know how absurd you sound? Evidently not. Well, now you do. So maybe think twice, or three times, before sharing your relationship widsome with gay folks who -- I know you don't want to believe this, but it's true -- desire the same things in their relationship that you desire in yours. /rant]

To make it worse, we had our usual pre-service sing-along, which always energizes the little kids, and all the cacaphony and dancing and arm-waving just made it worse for me. Makeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstop. And then I felt guilty for feeling bad. It's Easter. Stop being a bad sport and spoiling it for other people.

So I sucked it in, and thank God the liturgy finally began and I could concentrate on that. And we sang all the old Easter chestnuts, so I got very involved in the hymns, especially because the people around me weren't singing very enthusiastically. I don't even much remember the sermon, just the hymns; they were what kept me going.

And then it was over. I didn't linger; I was feeling, on one hand, too sad, and on the other too claustrophobic, with the crush of people trying to leave the sanctuary.

Somewhere between getting in my car and arriving home, I self-talked my way into bucking up for the rest of the day. So that is what I did. Yesterday I'd splurged on a couple of lamb chops, so I grilled them with garlic and rosemary and olive oil. (There's something sadly ironic about eating lamb on Easter -- at least it's ironic for the lamb -- but they were really good lamb chops.) I made baby carrots and string beans and a baked potato. I poured myself a glass of shiraz. I got out my turbocharged 88-percent-cocoa dark chocolate that I usually ration out to myself two squares at a time, and instead ate half a bar to get my endorphins carbonating. This gustatory therapy got me to a place where I actually looked forward to visiting my aunt in the nursing home -- I brought flowers and a dozen milk chocolate eggs, and we had a pleasant chat, talking about the highlights of Mom's memorial service.

Then I came home and crashed. I have a very good PBS special on DVD, The Face: Jesus in Art, that I watched on and off, between dozing.

Obviously I'm up and about now, but I'm utterly exhausted. I may just have to take part of the day off tomorrow.

The Cliff Notes version of this post: I had a Not Very Good Day. Not a very happy Easter on the boots-on-the-ground level; more of a Good Friday kind of day. I'm hoping that my own emotional stone gets rolled away by tomorrow morning.

He is Risen -- Risen Indeed!

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. -- Mark 16:1-8

The thing is -- eventually they did tell someone. And eventually Jesus, the Jesus absent from his tomb, showed up himself. And kept showing up.

And keeps showing up.

Sometimes, in our own increasingly skeptical age, there is a temptation for us, as followers of Christ -- persons in whose lives Christ has showed up in various ways -- to say nothing to anyone, because we are afraid -- afraid of the rolled eyes, the uncomfortable silences, the impious jokes, the outright ridicule. It's just easier, we think, to keep our encounters with Christ to ourselves.

In the words of that famous theologian Charlie Parker, if you don't live it, it won't come out your horn...the corrolary being that if you do live it, it will come out your horn. And that's the thing: When we've been transformed by the touch of the living, resurrected Christ -- no matter how stunned or afraid or even unwilling to share the experience that we may be -- it's going to come out our horn, somehow. It's going to come out in the way we orient ourselves to our everyday reality, how we react to the people and situations around us...and for some of us, we will find our voice, whether that be in the context of sharing the story of our lives with the people around us, or finding ourselves called into a formal ministry.

He is not here. Jesus isn't walled up in the tomb where the various powers and principalities of this world -- and sometimes even we ourselves -- want to keep him safely out of the way of "business as usual." The Christ in whom and through whom and for whom all things were made, in whose love all things hold together, and who out of love for us poured himself out into our human lives and even our human death, will not be constrained -- not by the rocky parameters of a tomb; certainly not by our fear and lack of understanding.

He has been raised.

Go, tell.

Artwork: "Et Resurrexit," Gisele Bauch

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Harrowing of Hell

"For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey..." I Peter, chapter 3

It's a tantalizing little passage there in I Peter. And it certainly made a big impression on the early Church, which discerned in this mysterious comment an event that would come to be known as the Harrowing of Hell: The pre-resurrected Jesus preaching to the souls in hell, and making salvation available to them as well.

The Harrowing of Hell is an appealing image that can answer a couple of theological questions; namely, where was Jesus and what was he doing between his death on Good Friday and his resurrection; and what do you do, soteriologically, with persons who lived before the time of Jesus, if your thesis is that saving faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation? And if you think of heaven and hell as states existing outside the boundaries of linear time, you can also think of the Harrowing of Hell as an eternal rescue mission on Christ's part -- rescue for the militantly God-hostile; the clueless; those whose only exposure to the Gospel in life had been a distorted, abusive one, and rejected that.

(The fundamentalists I know hate the concept of the Harrowing of Hell, because it messes with their operating principle that for God it's all about The Rules. And, frankly, if you think you're following The Rules, why would you want God handing out Get Out of Jail Free cards to people who didn't follow The Rules?)

Frankly, I don't know what I think. I find myself so preoccupied with the implications of my relationship with Christ in this life that I don't spend a great deal of time thinking about the next one -- I trust Christ's promise that I will be with Christ, and don't overthink it beyond that, because that sounds like a good gig to me. And I reject the do-not-pass-go-directly-to-hell sentence of condemnation pronounced in some corners of Christendom upon "pagan babies" and others who, in the words of the liturgy, know not the Lord. But I think that the Harrowing of Hell is a story, an idea, that conveys an enduring hope in the Christian community that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- can separate us from the love of God in Christ; and that no one is too far removed from the reach of Christ's redeeming love. That's the Christ we've met this week who stretched out his arms in love upon the cross.

"The Harrowing of Hell," Caparroso, St. Mary's Cathedral, Pamploma Posted by Picasa

Theology For the Masses

All week the CBS Early Show has been doing promos about how its Saturday program would be featuring a segment on the historicity of the Easter story, "Fact or Faith?" When I first heard this I groaned, because this is the same TV show that regularly broadcasts absolutely ridiculous, sensationalistic and often contradictory medical factoids -- supermarket-tabloid stuff along the lines of "Is Your Coffee Killing You?" (usually followed a couple of weeks later by another breathless announcement, "Coffee -- It's Good For You!") -- as "medical news"; this annoys me so much, in fact, that the last time they featured one of these dumb segments I e-mailed CBS and told them to stop insulting viewers' intelligence.

So, anyway, I tuned in this morning and watched the maybe three-minute discussion of the Gospels' historicity. It was, bar none, the frigging stupidest interview I have ever heard in my life, and that includes interviews with politicians. Here's a nano-version of the interview:

So -- did this stuff in the Bible actually happen?

Um...we really don't know.

Actually, that wasn't the nano-version; that was pretty much the interview.

They really should not let morning-show TV personalities anywhere near the topics of religion or science, because most of them can't handle either. And the producers and editors of such shows should be subjected to slappage. Idiots.

In the House

I started cleaning out the clothes in my mother's bedroom yesterday.

It was something I'd been a bit hesitant to do at first -- rummage through her things and presume to evaluate them -- but I finally just walked in the room, took a deep breath and started sorting.

I made a pile for the church yard sale, a pile to give to my aunt in the nursing home and a pile to throw away. I wound up with two big Rubbermaid bins of yard sale items, and two heavy trash bags of rags -- underwear, ratty old shirts that had been hanging in the closet for God knows how long, even a pair of my dad's pajamas.

Some of the drawer finds were inexplicable, like a Beanie Baby frog -- where the heck did that come from? -- and closet shoeboxes filled with mildewy 30-year-old financial records. Some were amusing, like Mom's huge, Elton-esque eyeglasses from the 70's. I rediscovered old stamped-embroidery linens that Mom thought were tacky but I think are rather charming. I found some of my clothes that had somehow wound up in Mom's closet, that I'd forgotten about -- a fussy brocaded Mandarin collar jacket, a sweater, a flannel shirt (I may have never gotten the toaster oven, but I do own one regulation flannel shirt).

There is so much that needs to be done in that room -- the drawers all need to be aired and re-lined; the closet needs some heavy-duty cleaning; a wonky bi-fold door needs fixing; and frankly I didn't have the gumption yesterday to tackle the jumbled mysteries of the non-clothing dresser drawers. But at least I've made a start. It feels lighter in there.

But it's funny, the fleeting and irrational feelings of naughtiness and even disloyalty that I feel at times. Take the bathroom. (Please.) Keeping in mind that this is Cold Comfort Cottage, and that the only redecoration that makes any real economic sense would be at the hands of a bulldozer operator...I changed things in the bathroom. I found some pretty celery green bathroom accessories at our local Cheap Crap of Dubious Origin store, and brought out some celery and aubergine bathroom towels, and thought, "This looks better." But I think my mother would be appalled. She wanted everything beige. She disliked more than one houseplant per room; I'm getting more houseplants. (Sorry, Mom.) And then I think, "Is it healthy to be doing this so soon after Mom died? Shouldn't I be letting things be for awhile?"

And I'm starting to think about...well, inviting people over. My mother was always very socially anxious -- I remember back to the day of my high school graduation "party," which despite my objections was only for family members, and even something like that was enough to send Mom to bed with a migraine, during the party. So we hardly ever had people over here, and when we did my mother would be stressing so intensely that that would stress me, and I couldn't enjoy myself. Yesterday, as I was fussing around the house, I started musing, "I could have someone over for coffee. I could throw a party. I could invite the youth group up here. I could have a holiday open house for people who don't have anywhere to go for the holidays. I could have a weekend guest." And I can get things fixed now on my own, without having to pass through a maternal rhetorical gauntlet: "Of all the things that need to be done around here, why would you do that first? And who would you call? And how do you know they'd do a good job?..." that usually resulted in nothing getting done.

After about seven years of house-sharing with a parent, and a previous life that included renting experiences with housemates, it's very odd to suddenly be able to once again do anything I want, in my own space. It feels very Pippi Longstocking.

And, finally...I'm in the process of setting up a home altar. This is something that my mother would have found absolutely freaky-deaky. But I've moodled around with the concept for a long time, and my friends who do have such devotional areas in their home (shout-out to Charlotte, *Christopher and C, and among others) have inspired me. As you can see from the photo below, it is definitely...ahem...a work in progress. The empty picture frame will at some point contain the Sinai Christ Pantocrator, my very favorite icon of all, and there will be a Christus Rex from El Salvador behind it, and my buddy Mata H's "holding cross," and some other items meaningful to me. It seems, though, that on Holy Saturday this rather anticipatory arrangement might be just about right.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Laying It Down

In my e-mail this morning, from the Henri Nouwen Society:

Laying Down Your Life for Your Friends

Good Shepherds are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep (see John 10:11). As spiritual leaders walking in the footsteps of Jesus, we are called to lay down our lives for our people. This laying down might in special circumstances mean dying for others. But it means first of all making our own lives - our sorrows and joys, our despair and hope, our loneliness and experience of intimacy - available to others as sources of new life.

One of the greatest gifts we can give others is ourselves. We offer consolation and comfort, especially in moments of crisis, when we say: "Do not be afraid, I know what you are living and I am living it with you. You are not alone." Thus we become Christ-like shepherds.

"Kenosis," Charles Andrade  Posted by Picasa

Ecce Homo

Ah, holy Jesus
how hast thou offended
that man to judge thee
hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided,
by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty?
Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason,
Jesus, hath undone thee.
'Twas I, Lord Jesus,
I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.

Lo, the Good Shepherd
for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned
and the Son hath suffered;
for our atonement,
while he nothing heedeth,
God interceedeth.

For me, kind Jesus,
was thine incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow
and thy life's oblation;
thy death of anguish
and thy bitter Passion,
for my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus,
since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee,
and will ever pray thee;
think on thy pity
and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.

-- Johann Heermann

"Ecce Homo," Georges Rouault Posted by Picasa

Maundy Thursday at Our Place

I'm an unapologetic smells-and-bells worshipper; so the first time I ever attended my church's Maundy Thursday meal, I did so with the heels of my heart dragging in the sand. Ugh. This is going to be gimmicky. I don't want gimmicky on Maundy Thursday.

That was, I think, about six years ago. Thing is, I kept coming back. I came back yesterday evening, too.

Here's how we do it.

We begin our observance in the sanctuary, with a brief greeting/gathering. Then we process downstairs to our candlelit fellowship hall, where we're met by members of our worship committee who very gently and carefully wash, dry and lotion our hands. The tables, which are usually organized in long rows, are split up so that people can sit in small groups of about eight.

Our service is incorporated into a real meal. It's not a Seder; it's a real Midwestern supper, with humble no-peek stew and wholegrain flatbread and a fruit dessert. Each stage of the meal is paired with lectio divina and a liturgical action; for instance, we have an appetizer course with little slices of cocktail rye bread and spinach dip; we hear the story of Jesus identifying Judas, dipping his bread, as his betrayer, and as we take our own bread and dip we ask the others at our table, "Is it I?" -- and hear words of forgiveness and reconciliation. Before the main course is served we celebrate the Eucharist; again, we hear the Gospel story, and hear Paul's reiteration of it; our pastor consecrates the bread and wine, and then we commune one another at our own tables with our own baskets of bread and carafes of wine.

As we eat our stew, our "holy listening" turns to our listening to one another; as our pastor points out, Jesus and his disciples spent much of this evening just talking, just being with one another. At my table, which I shared with a very nice family who were some of the first people to befriend my mother and I when we started attending, and with one of my fellow lay ministers, we talked about everything from elk in Atlanta (that's Atlanta, Michigan) to what was going on in our own lives right now.

Finally, at the end of the meal, our pastor reads Jesus' High Priestly prayer -- which, he reminds us, is something that Christ even now continues to pray on our behalf as our Great High Priest: prays that we may be bound together in love; prays that we be protected from the Adversary; prays that we might take care of one another.

And then it's over. Usually the pastor will ask if anyone wants to share their experience of the evening, and usually people are open in sharing, and thoughtful in their responses.

We had a couple of people who, at the last minute, were unable to attend, so we had a few empty chairs. As I was sitting there last night, I wished that you could be with us.

Artwork: "Phoebe of Chenchrae," Dina Cormick

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sympathy For the Devil

I remember, once upon a time, being in an online discussion with some fellow Lutherans about Satan. One highly excitable participant simply couldn't type "Satan" correctly; he kept spelling it "Satin," and then after several more posts "Satin" morphed into "Stan." One of our group noted there was perhaps a theological point to ponder here: That as Christians, trusting in Christ's saving power, the name "Satan" no longer has the power to terrify; Christ's victory over death and sin reduces the Prince of Darkness to...well, Stan; annoying old Stan, reminiscent of the ineffectual, almost pitiable devil in the original Bedazzled.

I'm here to tell you, I've met Stan twice in the past week.

Today some online acquaintances and I have been doing theology with a belligerent young chica who's really pissed at the God she doesn't believe in (hmmm...been there, done that); her initial question was a supposed hypothetical about "someone" who wanted to believe in God but just couldn't, and why a good, loving God wouldn't prove Goddself to this person in a definitive way. And of course, every attempt to respond to her was shot down as an unacceptable answer to her question. I checked out this individual's profile for a clue as to where she at spiritually; it says she's a member of The Church of Satan. Well, alrighty then! ("What have you gotten me into now?" I asked The CEO.) My assessment of Stan's disciple: Methinks she doth protest too much. She will be in my prayers in the days to come...and remembering God's subtle but relentless efforts to pull me back into the family fold, I have every confidence that this person will receive the same attention, sooner or later.

But the second story is maybe the better one.

The neighborhood of my church was recently invaded by a notorious member and self-identified minister of the Christian Identity Movement. These are not nice people -- they are vicious racists, anti-Semites and homophobes; they're also, if you can stand to read their literature or listen to their ranting radio broadcasts, total wingnuts whose goofball theology and conspiracy theories would be downright hilarious (did you know that the Queen of England is a major player in the great genocidal Jewish conspiracy against "the white race"?) if you didn't stop to consider that these people seriously want to kill lots of us, to the greater glory of their ideal society. Anyway, this guy had created a stir in a downstate city a few years ago and was pretty much run out of town by a coalition of community and religious leaders. So, needless to say, the residents of the little hamlet where my church is located were none too happy when he showed up with the moving van. And my pastor wasn't exactly overjoyed to keep finding him on the parsonage doorstep wanting to engage in a theological sparring match.

Fast forward to last Monday, the day my mom died, when my pastor drove me the hour-and-a-half back home in his own vehicle because the weather was horrible and I was alone and falling apart. "Don't worry about your car," he told me. "I'll get someone to drive down there with me and we'll drive it back up here." I figured he meant one of our parish farmers or retirees, or maybe one of the teenagers from our youth group itching to put pedal to metal.

Later that afternoon I heard a knock on the door. It was my pastor. My Intr pid (inside joke -- it's missing the "E"; actually, it should be missing the "IN")was parked in my garage."

"I'll introduce you to the guy who drove my car back up here while I drove yours," he said. And then he added, sotto voce, "And some day, when you're up to I have a story to tell you." He looked back down the driveway, and I followed his gaze to find his Jeep, and an older man standing next to it, looking very uncomfortable. "Hey, _________," my pastor said, "this is the person I was telling you about. LutheranChik [not my real name], meet _________."

It was the Christian Identity guy.

"I'm sorry to hear of your loss, ma'am," he murmured, eyes downcast, digging his toe into the gravel. He looked a bashful little kid.

"Thanks," I found myself responding. "Thanks for helping out." It was like thanking an SS officer for bringing around a nice bottle of wine for Passover.

The tiny part of my brain that was capable of rational thought at that moment was alternating wildly between Divine intervention is happening here and [Pastor's name], what the **** are you doing?

The day of Mom's memorial service, I found out what the **** my pastor was doing. We had some quiet moments before people started arriving, and during that time he told me about a conversation he'd had with this guy that Monday. "We both claim to believe in the same God," my pastor told him. "We both read the same Bible. You're taking what you read and turning it into conspiracy theories and reasons to hate different groups of people. Here's what I do with what I find in the Bible: I help folks who are hurting. I read Scripture and give Communion to shut-ins and scared people in the ER. I ride herd on a bunch of squirrely teenagers and try to teach them something about God. I comfort families who've lost loved ones. I do things like driving a car back from an out-of-town hospital so the owner doesn't have to drive 75 miles home alone in the rain after her mom has just died. I've read your literature and listened to your tapes so you'll know that I know where you're coming from. So why don't you follow me around for a day and see how I'm living out my Christianity?" And that's what had happened; that's how the guy wound up in my driveway.

My pastor told me, "Maybe I'm naive, but I have to believe that no one is too far gone to be touched by the power of God."

Like I said, I've met Stan twice in the past week. And I have to tell you...despite all appearances to the contrary, I don't think Stan is winning.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The New Normal

Today was my first day back at work since Mom died; my first "normal" day not punctuated by survivor's tasks.

It went okay. I came back to a stack of busy-work, end-of-the-month data entry, which was a blessing because I didn't have to think too hard about it and could just keep my head down and do my job. But it was interesting to observe the behavior of my coworkers. I got a hug and kind words from one of my officemates, a really nice guy who's done some caregiving of his own in his life, and who is in the midst of a Huge Work-Related Crisis that's kept him mostly out of the office for the past two days and that made his taking time out to extend his condolences mean a lot. Some of the staff kept their eyes lowered and seemed reluctant to speak to me.

My only near-losing-it point came when the watercooler talk turned to the Huge Work-Related Crisis, and I caught myself thinking, Wow..wait until I tell Mom about this...oh. And I refrained from looking at the sympathy cards in my mailbox until I was safely at home. Really, this has been the first day when I could actually read the cards and comprehend what had been written and not start crying.

This is also the day where I test-drove how I'm going to care for my dog in the context of an eight-hour work day. I live outside our city, but it's within a reasonable distance for coming home for lunch; so that's what I did, to let Cody out for a break. He'd been asleep in his bed when I entered the living room; he yawned, opened his eyes and then squealed with surprise to see me, and ran to the door as he usually does when I come home from somewhere. When I let him back in, though, he just stood in the hallway; then he looked in my mother's room; then he began to howl -- a sad, reedy little wail. I think he was expecting to find my mother outside, because oftentimes I'd be the first one in the house, and the dog would barrel past me to get outside and "find Mom." All during my lunch break he kept looking at me in confusion, and when I told him, "I have to go back to work," he hunkered back down into his bed with a morose expression. I felt so sad for him. This past weekend on This American Life they reprised a piece about the author's severely mentally disabled sister, who didn't seem to notice when their mother died, but was much more upset by changes in the household routine; who needed things to be the same from day to day. I think my dog is actually anxious on both accounts; he really misses Mom, and the changes in how we do things around here are also confusing him. So I'm trying to keep to a general routine -- not quite what he's used to, but enough touchstones to keep him from feeling as if the world has gone mad.

(On a lighter note: For the last two days I've been trying to get The Codeman to go for a walk with me. Unlike every other dog in the universe, my dog hates walking; I can get him maybe to the end of the driveway, and then he puts on the brakes. It's surprising how much resistance a stubborn nine-pound dog can manage. Anyway, it's been no different now, but since I needed the walk, I just scooped him up and took him along -- sort of a nine-pound free weight to enhance my aerobic fitness. Needless to say, mileage suffers while carrying a dog, even a little dog. I think I'm going to have to have two walks, a short 'round-the-yard bonding experience with Cody and then a real walk after putting him back inside, where he'd rather be anyway.)

I'm finding I have to reacquaint myself with shopping and cooking for one; it's funny how you forget to do this after you've been living with someone for awhile.

I keep noticing things around the house that I've never thought a lot about before. The three cartons of Cool-Whip in the freezer; the innumerable matchboxes I keep finding everywhere in our non-smoking home; my mother's taking her wedding silverware out of its case piecemeal and using it for every day: What was that all about? The darkness of our living room, which features one table lamp, and that's it. More light! I need more light! The overflowing collection of plastic shopping bags: Don't throw away that bag! she'd always say. I use those! We now have enough plastic bags around here to open a supermarket. (I'm going to be a good, ecologically minded camper and take them to the food coop next time I make the trip.)

I'm still pretty sure I'm going to move my bedroom to hers -- again, more space and more light. I'm gradually getting less squeamish about the idea of sorting through her things.

The medical bills haven't started coming yet, but the monthly utility bill was a sobering reminder that this place is mine now. I don't know how long I can afford to live here; the property taxes kill anyway because we're near a lake, and the county is talking about charging a breathtakingly large fee, for the next decade, to each adjacent household for repair of the local dam. The thought of putting the property up for sale and all the headaches associated with that are making my stomach churn. I found myself singing "Be Not Afraid" to myself during work today; I think it was a reaction to the reality slowly seeping into my grief-numbed mind that life is going to be getting harder, not easier.

Welcome to the new normal around here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Carnival Continues

We haven't quite pulled up all the tent stakes yet on the inaugural Walking the Midway Lutheran carnival, themed around Lutheran spirituality.

Clint at Lutheran Confessions has just posted a very good essay on Lutheran baptismal spirituality -- check it out.

As for my contribution...well, obviosuly intervening events have made it hard to focus on writing a coherent essay on anything, but perhaps one of these days I'll post something. It's going to be on spiritual practice, and why I think we Lutherans drop the ball by not giving our people tried-and-true tools that can help them live into their baptismal promise; that can support their daily faith walk. This is a subject I've become quite passionate about as I have discovered the value of spiritual practices like daily fixed prayer and Ignatian spiritual exercises, but when I tried to write something off the cuff about it tonight it read like gibberish to me, so I'll wait for awhile. But in the meantime discuss amongst yourselves.

The Disappointing Messiah

There's a difference of opinion these days whether it's better to commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday -- if the day's lessons and sermons should emphasize Jesus' Messiahship or Jesus' spiraling descent into his ultimate humiliation and suffering.

When I was growing up, it seems that our Palm Sunday sermons emphasized both these things, and in fact juxtaposed them to highlight the irony of the Palm Sunday texts -- the cheering people laying branches at the feet of the "Son of David" becoming the jeering crowd of Good Friday, when it had become clear that Jesus wasn't the Messiah they'd expected.

Jesus was indeed a disappointing Messiah. And he still is.

The Gnostics found Jesus a disappointing Messiah because he was too human; not ethereal enough for a Son of God; too accessible and down-to-earth. So they recreated him in the image of an otherworldly figure simply playing at being human, whose esoteric teachings were the rightful province of the spiritually adept. And even in mainstream Christianity there came a point in history when Jesus' humanity was diminished to the point where many Christians were afraid to engage him directly; who found his mother or other saints less intimidating intermediaries between themselves and this distant, frighteningly holy Lord and Judge.

Ironically, later in history the thinking classes found Jesus a disappointing Messiah because he was, as described in the Gospels, too divine. All that whoo-hoo stuff about curing the sick and raising the dead and otherwise manifesting God's saving power -- and let's not even talk about the Resurrection; it was all just too embarrassing for intelligent folk to embrace such stories. So Jesus was deconstructed into a unique (but not really all that unique) moral teacher and forward-thinking rabbi/romantic revolutionary.

Some Christians, throughout the years, have found Jesus a disappointing Messiah because he wasn't angry enough. They want a Messiah who kicks ass and takes names, who gives his benediction upon his human agents to kill assorted species of unbelievers and evildoers in his name, whose goal is to establish a "righteous empire" on earth for people who think the right things about God. The Christian Reconstructionist movement is just the latest incarnation of this mindset. (I once had an interesting online conversation with a fundamentalist -- someone who takes great public stock in his own unquestioning acceptance of every word of Scripture as "God-breathed," literal truth -- who in an unguarded moment dismissed Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as "all that love crap.")

Some people just don't think that the Jesus of the Gospels is compelling enough a figure without sexing up his story -- turning him into a Jesus Christ Superstar worthy of Entertainment Tonight. The Messiah is much more titillating a figure if he has a secret girlfriend and children...if he and Judas are in on a revolutionary conspiracy...if the institutional Church has been engaged in a nefarious coverup of "the truth" for almost 2,000 years. (If I were a betting woman I'd lay odds that a majority of people snapping up The DaVinci Code, The Gospel of Judas et al and treating these books like amazing revelations fallen from heaven have never actually read the Gospels beginning to end, nor have they ever cracked open a book of serious biblical scholarship by someone like Raymond Brown or N.T. Wright or Marcus Borg. Just a hunch.)

The Messiah we meet in the Gospels is a Messiah whose person and message makes us uncomfortable. He's a Messiah who rejects the idea of religion which validates itself by worldly success or power. He's a Messiah who rejects the premise that only adepts and "insiders," people who do the right things or think the right things about God, are worthy of God's love and grace and imminent presence. He's a Messiah who refuses to give his stamp of approval to the societal status quo. He's a Messiah who will not endulge prejudices or revenge fantasies. He's a Messiah who can and does speak truth to power, but who does not use his power to dominate in a way that the world understands or respects. He's a Messiah whose earthly career as an itinerant preacher and teacher was limited and largely unsuccessful -- actually spectacularly unsuccessful, as we see on Good Friday. He's a Messiah who submits his will to that of God; who allows himself to become weak and vulnerable; who trusts God implicitly, even at the moment when God seems farthest removed from him; who, worst of all, calls us to follow in his footsteps -- these difficult, lonely, loser's footsteps.

He's a disappointment, this Jesus. Not the Messiah we want or expect.

But he's inviting us to come join him anyway. "I'm leading the way into God's Reign," he says. "It may not always look like it or feel like it, but that's where we're going. So come with me."

And -- thanks be to God -- we find ourselves saying, "Yes."