Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Chat With The CEO

The CEO showed up again yesterday.

I was in my kitchen, grilling asparagus. Which may seem an odd place and time for The CEO to make an entrance, unless you stop and think about his track record hanging out in kitchens with womenfolk.

I’d been thinking about some of the new trajectories my life seems to be arcing into these days, and found myself feeling overwhelmed by wonder and gratitude. I mean, two months ago I was in a very dark, enclosed place, curved in on myself, and now I’m somewhere new and different. It made me get a little misty, standing there blinking furiously over my olive-oiled vegetables.

“Most people would use a salt shaker on those,” observed The CEO. (You’ve got to love a Savior with a sense of humor.)

We talked about my life. About the juxtaposition of loss and gain, of sadness and liberation, of grief and guilt; about what my pastor had said to me when I’d mentioned my equivocal feelings to him – that experiencing a loss in one’s life can lead to new, good things filling up that empty space, and that it’s normal to question that even while celebrating it.

And I talked to him about an incident – just a momentary, thoughtless curvatus in se incident I’d had over the weekend, where I had been something less than considerate of someone else just because I was so wrapped up in my own head…ironically, in rehearsing what I was going to say and do to demonstrate my all-around swellness as a human being. Afterward I’d berated myself: Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! “I’m sorry,” I told The CEO. “I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to be so self-absorbed that I hurt or neglect other people, even in stupid little ways. I want to be better than this. I want people to…well, to get to know you when they get to know me. Please…help me. Help me get out of my own way. Help me be a better person.”

The CEO smiled. “So what do you think I’m doing already?”

Thank you…I’m sorry…please…thank you. That’s pretty much what we talk about, The CEO and I – whether it’s in the context of the Daily Office or church or in the kitchen. You’d think The CEO would get kind of bored with this, but…he just keeps showing up.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Out-of-the-Loop Meme

Hat tip to Dash for cueing us in on this meme, which asks us to name what bits of pop-culture flotsam we are completely unconnected to.

Here's my list:

1. American Idol: I've never watched it and have no desire to watch it. If annoying music is what I want, I'll tune in to The Annoying Music Show and listen to, say, William Shatner's version of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Now, that's entertainment.

2. The iPod: Now, this one I'm sad about. You see, I have dialup Internet service; so downloading just one song, let alone a whole iPod's worth of music, is a several-hour affair. Come on, Aunt Bee -- work that Outer Podunk switchboard a little faster, willya?

3.The DaVinci Code: I don't want to debate it; I don't want to boycott it; I just don't give much of a damn about it, when all's said and done. Dan Silva is my "Dan the Man" of thriller fiction; I love his protagonist Gabriel Allon, the art restorer/Mossad assassin with a conscience.

4. NASCAR. I don't get it. One day, a couple of years ago, I asked one of my coworkers what the "8" sticker in her van window meant; she looked at me as if I were insane. "You don't know Driver 8?" she asked incredulously. "A song by REM?" I responded. ( is.)

5. Desperate Housewives: I think I've seen a whole 10 minutes of this show. It was enough.

6.Brittney Spears and all other blonde, slutty girl singers (using the term loosely) with raccoon eye makeup and identical bump-and-grind dance routines. To me they're all interchangeable, like those boy groups of several years ago. I can't keep the names and faces and navels straight.

7."Tom-Kat," "Brangelina" et al, and the celebrity magazines and television shows that keep churning out breathless updates on the details of their lives. I'm supposed to care about these people why, again?

8.Sudoku. I guess I'm just not bright enough for this.

9.Coloring my hair. I've never done it. Now, I will admit to, at one point, wanting to go some shade of reddish brown, which was the color of my hair back in my junior high days...but gosh darn it, I've grown to respect my graying temples. In fact, I find graying temples kind And I'm not just saying that because I have graying temples.

10. Movie remakes, movie remakes of television shows, stage plays based on movies and television shows, etc. Get an idea, people.

This I Believe...

Better late than never: On Friday, in the spirit of NPR's "This I Believe," the RevGalBlogPals challenged bloggers to share five things that they believe. Here are five of mine, in no particular order:

Five Things I Believe

1. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

2. Living in the leap -- taking risks, daring to be wrong, daring to be vulnerable, daring to be a little crazy, walking by faith and not by sight -- is how we really live our Christianity into the world, and the best adventure there is.

3. Coffee and chocolate are both proofs that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

4. A lot of religious conflict really has less to do with theology and more to do with psychology -- in other words, I think that how we as individuals work out our human spiritual impulses is largely hard-wired into our brains. I think that fundamentalism (which really isn't a mindset limited to matters of religion anyway) is a function of personality, not of theology. Which is why I have come to believe that arguing theology with fundamentalists in order to try and persuade them to change their minds is about as effective as arguing with diabetics in order to try and recalibrate their pancreatic functioning. It just isn't going to work. I think those of us not of that mindset could better spend our time proactively stating and explaining our own beliefs and practices, for the sake of seeking people who because of their own psychological makeup need the kind of spirituality, the way of thinking about God and our relationship with God and expressing that in life and worship, that we have to offer.

5. There needs to be a re-Reformation in my own tradition, not in terms of theology per se, but of practice -- we need to take both corporate worship and individual spiritual practice much more seriously, and pay much more attention to the spiritual formation of our people. I am absolutely convinced of this. I think this topic is exponentially more important than anything my denomination tends to yak about at its various assemblies and in its house organs.

The Conspiracy on Our Behalf

Maverick theologian Matthew Fox once explained the difference between a fundamentalist and a mystic thusly: A fundamentalist believes that the universe is conspiring against us; a mystic, on the other hand, believes that the universe is conspiring on our behalf.

From a more traditional theological standpoint, of course, things are a little less clearcut; I think most of Christendom's great mystics would point out that it's hard to observe individual and collective human behavior, and the "powers and principalities" that run the world as well as the crushed victims in their wake, and not conclude that there's something seriously awry with The Way It Is. But -- there is a cosmic conspiracy on our behalf. And we heard about it in yesterday's Gospel lesson, in Jesus' High Priestly prayer.

We heard Jesus praying for our protection as we go about our work in this world. That's important to remember in a time where many of us, as individuals and as the Church, tend to function in a spirit of functional atheism. We may talk the talk, and we may walk the walk to whatever degree we're able, but oftentimes we operate under the assumption that we are in charge of holding our own lives and the life of the Church together. Our own failings become a heavy burden; a constant, draining drumbeat of "No." The troubles in the Church -- its frequent lack of a strong prophetic voice; the challenge of fundamentalism inside and outside alike; the decline of church membership and indeed of any religious self-identification at all in the Western world; the ineffectual deck-chair rearrangement that Christians are wont to engage in rather than engaging in the real, hard work of living Christ into the world -- seem at times like insurmountable problems.

But today's text reminds us that we're not in this alone; that, as Scripture testifies elsewhere, we have an Advocate who interceeds for us always and for all time. That is very good news.

"Paschal Mystery," Gisele Bauche  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Tales of the Easily Amused

On the Friday before a long holiday weekend, commuting to a work-related meeting on a nice, sunny morning is not the worst assignment you can get. And my Friday was considerably enhanced by discovering a great radio program.

I usually listen to CMU public radio, our local public station -- honey-tongued hosts playing soothing classical music on weekdays, plus BBC News around the lunch hour; the only news program I take seriously. I hardly ever twiddle the dial on my car radio. But for the past couple of days my reception has been wonky, so I had to nudge the tuner over to an affiliated station, Delta College public radio. Its offerings range from something called the Linda Lee Polka Show to Ed Gordon to Latino music and news, and lots of other programming; it's an interesting change of pace, to say the least. But the show I've absolutely fallen in love with is Women in Music , which it broadcasts Fridays from about noon until 2:00 p.m. Wow. Wow. It's all women, all the time -- classics by the likes of Joni Mitchell, but also a lot of new, independently produced music crossing the genres -- jazz, Celtic, worldbeat. Yesterday I was freakin' my freak to some funky Brazilian tune in a manner that I'm sure frightened several oncoming drivers. (My dance aesthetic can be described, in the words of Seinfeld's George Costanza, as full-body dry heave.) Now, if it makes LC bounce around in the car, you know it's good music. 88-percent-cocoa candy bar good; "hairdresser who doesn't make me look like Moe of the Three Stooges" good; waking up at 3 a.m., thinking, "'s Saturday" and happily falling back to sleep good.

I know some of you more cosmopolitan folk are probably chuckling right now...but in a part of the world where local radio is pretty much limited to either fundamentalist fulminating or the Toby Keith school of Kaiser kurios country jingoism, finding a program like this is remarkable. It made me smile for the rest of the afternoon.

And -- bonus pleasure points -- I had some time to kill before my meeting, so I zipped around to a little greenhouse just outside of town. I felt like one of those contest participants who get two minutes to fill a shopping basket; I basically sprang from my vehicle and raced through the place like a mad woman. I was looking for heirloom tomato plants, which I did not find, but I did find a fancy-leaved geranium with cream, burgundy and chartreuse patterned leaves. Gorgeous; a Victorian painted lady deserving of more respect by gardeners. It joins my maple-leaved burgundy-green fancy-leaved that I resurrected from a nubbin this winter.

It really does not take a lot to amuse and delight me.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

(Almost) Friday Bloom Blogging

More rose pictures from my new perennial garden.

I also put together my own hanging basket...after agonizing over the color scheme for my perennial garden, when it came to this basket my attitude was, "Whatever" -- so that's what it is; a "whatever" combination of brightly colored cascading flowers: yellow lantana, blue lobelia, orange, dark purple and maroon miniature petunias and a "lotus" plant with fine, slivery leaves and red tubular flowers. When it's settled in and growing I'll post a picture of it; I think it's going to look really cool.

(Almost) Friday Poetry Blogging

In honor of the Alma Highland Games , where I'll be Sunday afternoon -- here is one of my favorite poems by Robert Burns, which you can either read or listen to.

Anatomy of a God Thing

You will recall, a couple of posts ago, my whiny online handwringing over my vocational impasse: Who am I and why am I here? You'll also recall that today is the day I was to finally put my mother's ashes to rest in a family plot.

We did that this morning -- a dark, drizzly morning. I met my pastor at the cemetery. (The gravediggers were there too, snoozing in their pickup truck off at one end of the place.) It was actually more conversation than liturgy; my pastor asked me how I was doing, which spun into an extended and wildly rambling conversation about a lot of things, there in the mist. And then we got out the liturgy for the Burial of the Dead, and said that, and it was over. (And, as if on cue, the gravediggers' truck slowly proceeded up the drive. We thanked them for being there, which seemed to take them aback; big, rough guys getting all bashful and gee-shucks.)

I invited my pastor back to my house for coffee, and we talked some more -- about my life and his, about our church, about ministry in general. He told me that he was interested in adding a spiritual practices component to the training he helps give the young counselors at one of our synod summer camps and asked me if I'd like to be in on that process. Then he talked about an idea he had for lending out our congregation's lay ministers to other area congregations, to assist them in creative ways; would I be interested in that as well?

I think for me vocation is going to be less about seeing a clear path laid before me, stretching into the horizon, and more about simply being nudged around the next corner: Turn here. Now turn here. Now turn here.

Day of Future Past

Here’s something you might not know about me: I like ghost stories. Real ghost stories. Stories like the ones about visitors to Gettysburg who, while traversing the grounds, are suddenly startled by soldiers in Civil War dress...running, shouting, even asking questions of the frightened visitors. I myself tend to be on the skeptical end of the ghosthunting continuum, but it’s interesting to read about people’s haunting experiences and wonder why they happen.

Numerous theories are floating around (so to speak) that attempt to explain these phenomena. Of course the skeptical suggest that ghostly experiences are simply a function of people’s overactive imaginations. Others hold to what I suppose is the traditional view of ghosts as spirits somehow trapped on this earthly plane because of trauma in the last moments of their life or unresolved issues over their lifetimes. There’s one theory out there that emotionally charged situations create a kind of natural hologram that may replay at certain times – this especially speaks to hauntings where the ghost plays out the same scene over and over again, and doesn’t seem to be cognizant of people or surroundings. Then there’s the tantalizing speculation, beloved of science fiction fans everywhere, that for whatever reason there may be places or situations in which the fabric of time flutters like a sheet on a clothesline, briefly overlapping one moment in time with another.

I thought about this today as I re-read the lessons for Ascension Day. We contemporary Christians, at least those of us who aren’t biblical literalists, often have a difficult time making sense of Ascension Day – the popular imagery of Jesus disappearing up into the sky like a comic-book superhero. Our understanding of divinity is more nuanced than that; we don’t believe in a literal Sky God spatially located “up there.” But yet I don’t think we can so easily dismiss this story as theology set to visual metaphor. I’m convinced that the apostles did indeed experience a post-Easter “faith event” involving the risen Christ that transformed and empowered them in a startling, profound way that changed the world forever.

So…where did Jesus go, anyway? (And the facile “He’s with us always” doesn’t count, kids.)

Last night I read an Ascension sermon by the Rev. Luke Bouman on the The Text This Week website. Bouman offers a vision of Christ, not leaving us for a place, but leading the way into the future, just as he always leads the way. It's a future where, in the words of Julian of Norwich, all will be well and all manner of thing will be well; it's a future where we will finally realize, in the words of the writer of Ephesians, the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.

Is it possible that Jesus' post-Resurrection appearances to his friends -- so earthy and real, as real as hands breaking a loaf of bread or the touch of a finger to a wound, yet so fleeting and ethereal -- as well as the moments in which Christ's presence touches us profoundly now -- are his way of wooing us into that future, by bringing us to crossroads in our lives where the now and the not-yet intersect before our eyes? "Come on...this way...follow me."

"Ascension (After Rembrandt)," by Wayne Forte  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes...

Tomorrow morning is my mother's interment. It's going to be a short, to-the-point ritual, just my pastor and me at the cemetery.

I'm not feeling sad. I'm feeling satisfied; that this is the task that needs to be done to end the beginning of my bereavement. In the book Practicing Resurrection (did I mention that I really love this book?), author Nora Gallagher quotes someone, in talking about grief, citing a quote by Dr. Seuss: "When the drops stop dropping, the storm starts stopping." I feel like the drops have started stopping.

And -- ain't it cool -- tomorrow also happens to be Ascension Day. We didn't plan it this way; this is simply the first day my pastor and I could get together and do this. I talked to him today, and when I mentioned that there was a pause at the end of the line, and then he remarked, "There are no coincidences."

Here's an excerpt of the Epistle reading for tomorrow, from the Letter to the Ephesians:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

I think it's maybe the eyes of the heart, enlightened by the grace of God, that can stand in a rainy cemetery saying goodbye to a loved one and see, not the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Call and Response

Vocational churn.

That's how I'd describe my lay ministry retreat this time around.

I always experience this to some extent during my retreats, but more so this time around.

Don't get me wrong: It was a great retreat. Our biblical studies segment was wonderful -- the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. I can't tell you how much I enjoy these lectures; I could literally sit there all day and listen to our professors, and I'm always sorry when class is over. To my delight, we also had a new segment, on spiritual practice; a pastor in our synod who's also a newly minted spiritual director (at least we have one now, that I know of) taught us about breath prayer. We had a segment on ecumenism; on how to create partnerships with other faith communities that help meet the needs of the people around us. And we had devotionals as well as a group Eucharist and farewell to a couple of graduates. It's amazing to see how people blossom in this program; how one woman who was so painfully shy when I first met her that she blushed crimson every time she was addressed in class now very confidently led one of our services and even gave an extemporaneous homily -- something I've yet to garner the courage to do. We have small-group breakouts where people can be very honest and self-disclosing; it's humbling to hear people's stories and to know that they're entrusting them to the rest of us.

But in my motel room Saturday night, the questions started again. Why am I here? What do I want to do with all this? What does this mean?

For the last couple of weeks I've been reading Nora Gallagher's Practicing Resurrection, an excellent book that one of my bloggy friends (Hi, Charlotte! Thanks again!) sent me after my mother died. In it Gallagher writes of her experience losing her brother, and of entering into the discernment process to see if she is being called into the ECUSA priesthood. The book parallels my recent personal life in so many ways that reading it gave me the shivers -- handling a loved one's ashes; coping with the mental and emotional fog that descends after a loved one dies, making one listless, thick-headed, disinterested in most things; crying jags triggered by the most innocuous things. And Gallagher's discernment experience seems so much like my own as well, in many ways.

Do I feel called to ordained ministry? At this very moment, no, I don't, despite the fact that I'm freer to pursue that now than I've ever been before in my life. When I was in college, newly exposed to doing theology in a real way, spiritually nutured in the sort of worship aesthetic that spoke to me and encountering, for the first time in my life, female clergy who inspired me -- I thought, "I'd love to be a pastor." I had a vision of myself someday tatted up, standing behind the altar with arms raised, praying the Eucharistic Prayer; or being almost rabbinical in teaching people, in being a spiritual and ethical counselor. Now, 20-some years and multitudinous experiences later, I don't have that fire in the belly; perhaps because I have a more clear-eyed understanding of what the pastorate is about -- the administrative tasks, the conflict resolution and what my pastor calls "anxiety management," the fundraising -- I mean, that sounds like my job now, and those things don't often give me a sense of service or meaning or accomplishment. I've had several people, including one of my fellow students, urge me to look into seminary, but...I just don't hear that, right now.

The ELCA has a host of diaconal and quasi-diaconal programs (many of them rather amorphous in scope and seemingly overlapping). Do I want to pursue any of those? Frankly, I am struggling (and Gallagher's book brings up this subject as well) with a fear of being "owned" by my church body. Even the thought of the standard psychological spelunking that prospective seminarians -- and potential enrollees in the second tier of my own program -- must undergo makes me nervous. I resent the idea of authority figures holding a claim on my personal life, and all the complications that that suggests. And I don't want, frankly, to be sucked into the belly of the beast -- into that "company woman" mentality that revolves around the institutional church. I just don't want to go there.

Or do I just finish my three-year program, say, "Well...that was interesting," and do nothing with it other than what I'm doing already in my parish? Is that enough? Is that why God sent me on this path -- just to circle back again?

There's a passage in Practicing Resurrection -- I wish I could find it now but I can't -- that talks about finding God in the margins. This resonates with me -- not only finding God in the margins but finding people who need God in the margins. Maybe that's where I'm called to be -- working somewhere just out of view, backtracking to keep people confused, like the fox in Wendell Berry's poem.

Is there even a word for the job I want to do in the Reign of God?

Monday, May 22, 2006

An Army of ONE

NBC Nightly News With Brian Adams will be broadcasting live from Africa tomorrow, and featuring Bono as he travels around the continent on behalf of the fight against global poverty. Check out the link above to learn more.

Hold That Thought

I mentioned on the RevGals' blog that I was going to talk about my weekend retreat, and about vocation. Well, that was a headache ago. Now, I know that the mystics of yore often suffered from headaches that ushered them into close encounters with the Almighty...alas, for me a headache is just a headache; and the tom-tom beat currently pounding against my skull is making it difficult for me to think about much of anything.

I can tell, you, though, about my motel room. The community where our retreat was held didn't have any representatives of the big lodging chains, so we were housed in a local mom-and-pop establishment. Each room contained an Amazing Electric Waterfall: A light box featuring a photo of a waterfall that, when you plugged it in, started playing sounds of falling water and singing birds, while the water in the picture appeared to move. It was quite amazing, and almost made me ignore the general condition of my surroundings. (I really watch too much CSI...but I couldn't help but wish that I had one of those special lights to check for biological trace evidence.)

You don't want to hear about that. And I'll tell you the rest tomorrow. But not tonight.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Have You Heard -- the Word is Love

Thanks to my semi-comatose state upon arrival home after my retreat, I didn't have much of an opportunity to journal about this Sunday's text. And my pastor gave such a great sermon today, about what a "command to love" really means -- he likened it to a computer command; not a punitive, "Do this or else" directive, but a kind of key to opening up a new way of seeing and being in the world -- that I really couldn't top that.

So what I'll do instead is share with you the Prayers of the Church that I wrote for today, when I assisted:

The Prayers of the Church
Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, and for all people according to their needs:

Holy and gracious God, who holds us in embrace, who counts us as friends and who calls us to love one another as you love us: This love is often hard for us to understand and to express. Help us see the world and the people in it through your eyes, through a lens of love, and live into that love by what we think and say and do.

Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for all leaders of governments everywhere, and for all citizens everywhere, that in our respective roles we may make decisions for the common good, and especially for the poor, the dispossessed and all others in need.

Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for the whole Church, everywhere it may be found, and especially for those attending our Synod Assembly, that the Body of Christ may truly reflect the love of Christ in its words and actions.

Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for all who find themselves in harm's way through war, want and oppression, and we pray for all those suffering from illness, disability or addiction, that your love may be made real and immediate for them.

Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for our loved ones, whoever and whereever they may be, and for our households and circles of friends, that those may be places where your love is found.

Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We now lift up to you in love persons and situations close to our hearts, naming them aloud or in our hearts...

Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


And now may the peace of the Lord be with you all!

from "Love and the Pilgrim," Edward Burne-Jones

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

Be your own poet, with the Haiku Generator !

(Can you tell LC is rushing around en route to her retreat?)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What Does It Say...

...when I'm spending the afternoon sitting at my display at an underattended nonprofit-agency meet-and-greet affair held in the fellowship hall of a local church, and more than anything I want to be sitting inside the church's sanctuary instead?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ms. Fun

As some of you who read my Sunday blogging learned, I had a little fun, unlikely fun, this past Sunday.

In Monday-morning-quarterbacking my fun (being Lutheran, I can't help but exegete and hermaneute my own fun), I realized that it has been eight years -- eight years! -- since I have been out with a bunch of people, just enjoying ourselves.

I used to live in a small city (not nearly as small as Outer Podunk, but small compared to -- well, the big city), where I worked for a large firm that provided court reporters to law firms around the state for transcribing various legal statements. I headed up the quality control department, supervising a small staff of legal proofreaders. Now, it takes a certain type of person to read through reams of depositions, usually on a rush basis, check all the jots and tittles and make sure that the court reporter typed what the people present actually said -- that the transcript gets the affects and effects right, that it doesn't read prostate when the speaker said prostrate. It takes a bookish, nerdy, geeky, nit-picky, insatiably nosy person; and that's what we all were. Somehow we all wound up in this community; somehow we all wound up working for this company.

We were introverts. But we were introverts who needed introverts; so we became fast friends. And we'd go on spontaneous outings. I'd be home and get a call: Want to go to the movies? Want to go out to eat? We went antiquing; we went to art fairs; we went up to Interlochen Arts Academy to catch performances; one of the gang threw an autumn formal dinner for us every year. I was the only single person in the group, so sometimes I became a convenient excuse for the others to organize an outing; one of my friends told me that she'd tell her husband, "Oh, we're going to take LutheranChik out, because she's all by herself this weekend"...actually they weren't sorry for me at all, but just wanted to get out of the house. (And I was happy to be exploited in this manner.) And I was the youngest member of the posse -- the Kid. (This is a very only child thing, by the way. I was thinking about this the other day, and about my need for medical science to keep bumping up our lifespans, so that I always have people to hang out with.)

It was great, being around a group of very smart,wry Women of a Certain Age who, evidently bolstered by the idea of safety in numbers, became quite uninhibited in public. Waiters raised disapproving eyebrows at us; movie ushers shushed us; we once made an antique dealer blush as we critiqued a Nekkid Lady Plate in his display. Sometimes we'd get to laughing so hard during our excursions that our sides literally hurt.

I've missed that. A lot. As much as I cherish my own time and my own thoughts -- it's good to get out with other people for no other reason than to enjoy one another's company.

And now I seem to be able to, again. In fact, I'm going to be going out for dinner this weekend after I get back from my retreat, and going to a barbecue next month. (Being me, when I go out with people and then get invited back, my gut reaction is, Why? Why would you want me to keep hanging around you? And, yes, I've had my head professionally spelunked to, among other reasons, explore why I'd wonder this; but understanding why doesn't make me stop asking.) On one hand it seems odd, so soon after Mom's death; it makes me think of Scarlett O'Hara in her widow's weeds, dancing with Rhett Butler. But on the other hand...good Lord, isn't it time?

The other night, as I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the changes and responsibilities and opportunities swirling about me, I had a real heart-to-heart with The CEO. "I really don't know what to do," I said. "I'll do anything you want."

You think The CEO maybe wants me to...have a little fun?

Wednesday Bloom Blogging

Back by popular demand...weekly bloom blogging! Since I'm going to be retreating this weekend, I'll bloom-blog early. This is a "Sterling Silver" rose from one of my new rosebushes. You can't really tell from this photo -- and I tried taking a picture outside, and the color didn't translate either -- but this is a truly mauve rose; a dusky lavender color, not as pink as this photo would suggest. It's just gorgeous. This particular branch was bent in transit, so I saved the bud for my little vase.
And here is a newly opened rose on the rosebush. It's been raining all day, so my roses will get a good settling-in. I have another new rosebush, a dark purple grandiflora variety, and a dark purple butterfly bush, and a growing assortment of perennials here and there between them all.

Pre-Pregnant and Loving It!

Don't know if you've heard about the Centers for Disease Control's new guidelines regarding women's health -- their recommendation that all menstruating women, no matter what their plans regarding having children, consider themselves "pre-pregnant" and, moreover, be treated accordingly by healthcare professionals. Here's an item from Bitch magazine's blog that includes a link to the original Washington Post article outlining the CDC's recommendations.

Now, a lot of people are angry at what they perceive in the verbiage of this pronouncement as a patronizing governmental attitude toward women -- an attitude that sees women as nothing but walking uteri breeding future citizens for the Empire, which in turn has a self-serving interest in dictating lifestyle changes to said walking uteri: hectoring women of childbearing age -- some of whom have no desire to have children, or to have more children -- to lose weight and eat their folic acid and leave cat poop alone, all for the sake of those theoretical pre-conceived babies.

I have to say, I'm not that upset about this. I'm amused, but not upset.

Having a passing acquaintance with bureaucracies, and working in committees, and writing committee boilerplate, and dealing with committee boilerplate that has been codified into policy, I know that it is very easy for people in these situations to be sucked into a kind of mind-numbing collective vortex in which they not only generate assholic statements but lose the ability to discern the assholicity of such statements. Thus a noble idea -- encouraging the public to get involved in improving prenatal health and preventing birth defects and complications -- comes out sounding like something out of The Handmaid's Tale. any government surveillance types reading this (I know -- they're too busy listening to our phone conversations) -- no hard feelings. I'm actually looking forward to my doctor asking me -- as the guidelines for healthcare professionals direct -- if I'm not intending to have a child in the next year, what I'm using for birth control. That'll make a nice note in my records.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

It Had To Happen Sometime

I have absolutely NOTHING to say. My mind is a complete and utter blank tonight.

Do you have something to say? About anything?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

My Turn

I understand that my human has been blabbing online about intimate aspects of my gastrointestinal system and, even worse, complaining about me to all of you.

I resent this deeply.

First of all: I'm old, dammit. If I were a human I'd probably be in assisted living. Would you push your 90-something grandfather out the back door into the rain a half dozen times a day and say, "Time to poop"? I think not.

Another thing: Our thermostat used to be set on 72 degrees. Now it's on 68 degrees. So it's not like it's Miami Beach in here either. Why is she doing this to me? Did I mention that I'm old?

Another thing: Our mom used to let me out whenever I asked. Now I have to wait until lunchtime to go out, and then I have to wait until almost 5 o'clock to go out again. And on Fridays I have to wait all day. So I think I deserve to have some slack cut for me, especially when it's cold and wet outside. She's got a steam cleaner. What's the problem?

And is it my fault I can't sit on the toilet seat?

My human found my old sweater in the closet. I usually hate my sweater, and tell her so, but I let her put it on me today. She said, "Now you'll be warmer when you go out." She thinks I'm going to want to go outside now because I'm wearing this stupid sweater? She must be freaking nuts. Although I must admit I do look a little stylin' in it. But...she's still nuts.

These things just needed to be said.

Lucky for me I'm so darn cutePosted by Picasa

Speaking of that "Home" Thing...

I was all dressed up and ready to go to church this in the car...pulled out of my driveway...but the car didn't seem to be moving right, even taking our muddy road into consideration. (The drought is over here; it's been raining for three days.) The engine sounded like it was straining.

This can't be good.

I pulled into a neighbor's driveway, turned around and came back home.

My right front tire is as flat as a pancake.

So I guess this solves the "How am I going to get through the Mother's Day hoo-ha at church today?" problem.


Home is anywhere you are. -- Tom Paxton

In my family we use the term gemuetlich to describe certain places or activities. It's a great German word; a word that Lewis Carroll would call a "portmanteau word"; a word packed with meaning. It's not easily translatable into English, and is perhaps best explained in pictures. Imagine, on a blustery winter's day, sitting feet up in a favorite chair, wrapped in a wooly afghan, sipping some soothing winter drink and basking in the warmth of a crackling fireplace. Imagine coming home after a long time away, so glad to be back in a familiar place, rejoicing in each touchstone sight and sound and smell. Imagine getting home from work, kicking off your shoes, shedding your corporate uniform and putting on your most comfortable "home clothes." Imagine an enjoyable evening just snuggling on the sofa with a loved one, glad for the closeness and companionship. Imagine a lazy weekend morning making waffles with the kids. Imagine Tolkien's hobbits contentedly puttering around in their tidy and well-provisioned hobbit-holes. Imagine a place where, like the song says, everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came.

For something to be gemuetlich is for it to feel like home -- not so much in the physical sense but in the psychic sense; a place of comfort and nurturing, shelter and rest, and freedom to be onself; that place you always want to get back to, even if it's just an ideal in your mind.

And it usually is. "Home" is surprisingly elusive. It comes to us in moments. It doesn't linger. It is a refuge precisely because it is so unlike the world around us -- a world that is not nurturing, not sheltering or restful, a world run by a variety of impersonal systems, interlocking gears that regularly grind us down or choke the life out of us.

In today's Gospel lesson we hear a lot about "abiding." It's a quaint word, these days, one that we probably primarily associate with the hymn "Abide With Me." It's another one of those portmanteau words. We may think of it in terms of "stay" or "remain," but it really has a more profound connotation: to make a home with.

Tom Paxton has a great song called "Home Is Anywhere You Are." What Jesus tells us in this week's Gospel lesson is that, for us, home is anywhere he is; and that, for him, home is anywhere we are. When I think about this, I think about Jesus' stays at the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus of Bethany; the easy familiarity of his hanging out in their kitchen, maybe helping peel a few vegetables or knead some dough. That's what he's promising us today.

The last time I heard one of John's "abiding" texts, I was sitting in the ER of a big-city hospital with my mother after her heart attack. There were no beds available in the hospital proper, so we were camped out in an ER room -- surrounded by tubes and monitors and other beeping equipment, and the managed chaos outside the fabric curtain that led to the hallway. She had ordered supper, and was picking at a chicken salad sandwich while I tried to make light conversation, all the while thinking, Oh. My. God.

Suddenly our pastor, whom I'd called after we'd arrived, came through the curtain, breathless. We talked for awhile, and then he said, "Let's have Communion." He didn't have his own prayer book handy but I had stuck my little Book of Common Prayer into my bag en route, so he used that instead. (A hat tip to all my Anglican friends.) As he paged through it looking for some Scripture, he came upon one of the "abiding" texts of John's Gospel, and after he read it aloud he riffed on it, in an impromptu homily, talking to us about the word "abide"; how, even in this strange and intimidating place, and no matter what was happening to us or around us, Christ was abiding in us, and we in him, so that even here, even now, we were all home and Christ was home.

So we can be home with Christ no matter what our circumstances. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in prison, about to be executed, cheerfully going about his pastoral duties on behalf of other prisoners and even his guards. He knew he was home and that Christ was home in him.

Some of us know we are home, and that Christ is home in us, even when our ostensible spiritual homes want to keep us in the equivalent of their mudrooms until they can figure out what to do with us, or who tell us in so many words that when we "clean up" to their satisfaction we can finally proceed to the living room where the real house party is going on. We know because, as Christ explains in our text, those who abide in him, who make their homes in him, and he in them, produce spiritual "fruit"; become part of God's family enterprise, manifesting God's love and truth in ways that others can see and hear and experience. If that fruit is there, then Christ is there. If you know what it's like to communicate thoughts about faith you thought you were incapable of expressing to others, or to be brave in ways that you didn't think you could manage, or give of yourself in a self-sacrificing, kenotic way that you might have once thought impossible or mad -- you know what it is to have Christ the gardener in your soul, tending you and helping you bear the fruit that speaks to his presence in your life, whether or not the mudroom monitors of the institutional church acknowledge it.

The song is right; and Dorothy is right; there is no place like home. Not only that -- there's no place like home. Our home is in our relationship with Christ. And that's a good place to be. He seems to think so.

"Suzanne With Milk and a Book," Carl Larsson Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Good Advices

Keep your hat on your head/home is a long way away. -- "Good Advices," REM

On Fridays I share an office with a social worker -- a very bubbly, generous, earth-mama woman with a large extended family. (It's great working in the same office with social workers, because free therapy becomes a job perk.) She has been worried -- downright worried -- about me ever since Mom died because I don't have siblings or a wide social circle of support (church and present company notwithstanding). For the past month she's been mothering me in endearing ways; even shed some tears with me.

Yesterday afternoon, as she prepared to leave the office for the day, she turned and said, "Now, you know Sunday is going to be a hard day for you." I didn't need reminding. Actually, I've had a three-day headache that I think is probably partly in anticipation of Sunday. I told her my own coping strategy -- i.e., get quickly in and out of church, and then stay away, as much as I could, from all the Mother's Day joie de vivre.

She nodded. "My advice to you," she continued, "is to go to a cineplex somewhere Sunday afternoon and find an action/suspense movie -- something with absolutely no intellectual content or pathos or Big Issues in it; you want goons and bombs and cars flying over cliffs. Just sit in the dark and eat popcorn and watch that."

Actually, I think that's pretty good advice, although these days that would mean going to see MI-III, and Tom Cruise annoys me. But I'm sure I'll think of something.

Here, on the other hand, are things not to do if you're you're in a sad mood and anticipating being in a sadder one, based on my experience of this past week:

Do not watch films about doomed love. (I finally had the opportunity to rent Brokeback Mountain -- interestingly, in my little town the dozen copies at the local movie rental have been constantly rented out, and I had to sneak into the store midday on a weekday, while running errands, to get a copy.)

Do not listen to Billie Holliday recordings.

Do not knowingly put yourself in situations where you will be exposed to people who hate you and piss you off.

Do not exegete/hermeneute sad song lyrics, news stories, and so forth (see the Billy Collins poem below).

Do not eat fast food that, in the final analysis, tastes like crap and makes you feel like crap after you've eaten it, just because you don't think you have the time to make something better.

Try not to lose sleep, even if you live with a pet who has suddenly decided that 4:00 am is the new 6:00 am.

On the other other hand:

Do visit the local plant nurseries and greenhouses. Play mix-and-match with the flowers, like a kid with a box of crayons.

Do dig in the dirt.

Do accept social invitations, and do make overtures toward potential new friends, even if your sadness is due to a bereavement and it seems as if you're violating some sort of unofficial-but-assumed mourning period during which you mustn't think or talk about anything except your bereavement.

Do feel free to tell God, if you're having a bad day, "You know -- at this moment my life really sucks, and I hate it." I have it on good authority that God actually appreciates raw honesty, even if it's honesty that necessitates the use of words like "sucks."

And with that -- I am off to a plant nursery to help de-suckify my weekend.

Atkins Schmatkins

For the statistically minded: Turns out it takes LutheranChik (with a little help from one small dog who occasionally wants samples) approximately one week to consume a two-pound loaf of bread -- toasted for breakfast, in sandwiches to take to work, savored au natural and, this morning, rendered into French toast made with an egg from my friend Farmer Ken, and vanilla soymilk, and cinnamon, and covered with Michigan maple syrup from another local farmer.

Life is hard. Eat well.

Postscript: Okay, potato salad fans: I am looking for a potato salad recipe that kicks, for an upcoming potluck where LC is trying to make a good impression. I was originally going to bring the LC clan's ancestral infarct-in-a-bowl hot German potato salad, covered in bacon dressing and hard-boiled eggs...but in light of recent family history I'm thinkin' maybe not. Then I thought of a potato salad I've had at a public function that was made with maybe two-thirds white potatoes and one-third sweet potatoes in a light sour-cream-ish dressing with celery and scallions that I thought was quite yummy...but I'm not sure I can replicate the taste to my satisfaction. So get out your cookbooks, friends, and give me some ideas! They will be much appreciated.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Coach Class

I’ve been offered the chance to coach.

No, not that kind of coaching. Until there’s a Lardass Olympics with events like the Sofa Dive or the Ben & Jerry Butterfat Tongue Curl, my services will not be necessary in the world of athletics.

No; this is about mentoring church folks.

A day or two after my mom had her heart surgery I’d gotten an e-mail from my lay ministry program telling me I’d been recommended to apply for a coaching position, to be kind of a one-on-one listening ear to other church folks in leadership positions who wanted some mentoring. Because of Mom’s hospitalization, and because for some reason official Lutheran communiqu├ęs (Assembly resolutions being one example) tend to not be very clear, like reading furniture assembly directions written by someone for whom English is a second or third language – you can be a Fairly Educated Person, and read them over a dozen times, and still wind up scratching your head and thinking, What???? What did they say????-- I didn’t really understand what this gig was all about. It sounded something like amateur spiritual direction but not really, and something like a secular job coach but not really, and something like a 12-Step sponsor but not really. And yet I was strangely intrigued. Then I read farther down the missive and saw that I had to attend a mandatory two-day training in a couple of weeks, something I knew was out of the question. So I e-mailed back, explained what was going on in my life and declined. Oh, well.

Then, a couple of weeks ago on a lay ministry skill day, one of the people involved in this coaching endeavor came up to me and, after extending her condolences, told me that the training had been rescheduled for the fall, and that they’d hold a space for me if I was still interested – to not rush to apply; to just think and pray about it over the summer and get back with them.

Now, anytime I receive any kind of positive feedback from my lay ministry program, my initial reaction is “There must be some mistake,” followed closely by “They like me…they really like me?”, followed closely by “Oh God, what are you getting me into now?” All of which things crossed my mind in quick succession.

And right now I’m stuck on that last question. Is this a real call, something I really need to do and want to do, or is this all about collecting another line item for my curriculum vitae? What do I want to do with this? Do I have the time to do this? Am I really a good listener? Am I really non-directive? – can I guide people into the process of finding their own way without giving them advice or “’splaining it all” to them?

I am excited, bewildered and skeptical all at once. So I suppose I will be thinking and praying about it in the weeks to come.

Friday Poetry Blogging

I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey's Version Of "Three Blind Mice"

And I start wondering how they came to be blind.
If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sister,
and I think of the poor mother
brooding over her sightless young triplets.

Or was it a common accident, all three caught
in a searing explosion, a firework perhaps?
If not,
if each came to his or her blindness separately,

how did they ever manage to find one another?
Would it not be difficult for a blind mouse
to locate even one fellow mouse with vision
let alone two other blind ones?

And how, in their tiny darkness,
could they possibly have run after a farmer's wife
or anyone else's wife for that matter?
Not to mention why.

Just so she could cut off their tails
with a carving knife, is the cynic's answer,
but the thought of them without eyes
and now without tails to trail through the moist grass

or slip around the corner of a baseboard
has the cynic who always lounges within me
up off his couch and at the window
trying to hide the rising softness that he feels.

By now I am on to dicing an onion
which might account for the wet stinging
in my own eyes, though Freddie Hubbard's
mournful trumpet on "Blue Moon,"

which happens to be the next cut,
cannot be said to be making matters any better.
-- Billy Collins

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Joy of Asparagus, and Why I Love My Contact Grill

I own a two-burger-patty, el-cheapo Hamilton Beach contact grill that I think I bought at a dollar store for a whopping $15. It is by far my favorite kitchen gadget. Someday before I'm completely pauperized I'd like to trade up to one with removeable grill plates for easier cleaning, but until then -- I love my contact grill.

And I love it even more after cooking asparagus on it tonight. No kidding.

The better of our two local farm markets is now open. They grow their own asparagus on premises, and it's just lovely, and inexpensive. So I bought a bunch of it, washed it, cleaned and trimmed it and rolled it around in a mixture of good olive oil and salt. Then I grilled it until it was browned and blistered on the outside, and fork tender. And then I slowly savored each lovely stalk.

Did I tell you that I love my contact grill? And asparagus.


In the interests of full disclosure -- submitted for your perusal:

Your Deadly Sins
Sloth: 80%
Gluttony: 60%
Wrath: 40%
Envy: 20%
Greed: 20%
Lust: 20%
Pride: 0%
Chance You'll Go to Hell: 34%
You will get bugs, because you're too lazy to shoo them off. And then you'll die.

Who Really Has the "Agenda"

Did anyone else listen to Terry Gross' interview with Slate journalist Michelle Goldberg, who covers the Religious Right, and who's recently published a book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of the Christian Right?

I did; coming home from work; drivin' and cryin', as the saying goes.

This message is directed for my more socially conservative readers who are on the fence regarding the full inclusion of gay people into the life of the Church: I want you to listen to this interview. Listen to it good. Listen to it a few times. And you will learn why I don't want you to ever, ever ask me to hold your hand and "try to understand" while you dither and equivocate and tell me about your supposed "anguish" as you try to work out the parameters of my exclusion, because the Bible tells you so.

Don't. Don't even.

The "good Germans" did nothing while their neighbors were being harrassed and driven out of their homes and businesses, then hauled onto cattle cars for eventual delivery up the smoking chimneys of concentration camps. Because, deep down, the "good Germans" shared the same prejudices as the Nazi Party toward Jews, toward the differently abled, toward gays and lesbians, toward Gypsies and other ethnic minorities. After all, it's easier to look the other way when the SS is dragging off one of "them."

And many of the "good Germans" used the Bible to justify their support of their government -- the New Testament's negative commentary directed toward "the Jews" who rejected the Messiah, and all those admonitions in the epistles to be obedient citizens subject to the authority of secular rulers. That was a popular sentiment in conservative circles of the German state church, by the way, even before the Nazis officially took over the franchise. "The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it."

Are you a "good German," in your heart of hearts? That's something for you to work out in your own examen of conscience.

But be clear about this: Your moral whingeing and handwringing and failure to name and engage whatever homophobia exists in your own heart, in your own circle of friends, in your own churches, in your own denominations, in your own communities, is what keeps the hatemongers Goldberg describes in business.

All day long I have heard and read newscasts and articles saying that the Religious Right is going to step up its homophobic bloviating this summer in order to rally its disheartened foot soldiers. Because it needs an enemy to galvanize its followers, and since it can no longer safely go after Jews and people of color, it's going to go after us. Because it can. Because of the uncomfortable silence of the rest of the Church.

Don't be the good Germans.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Julian's Gift

This is such a great story -- and so appropriate this week, given that Julian of Norwich's commemoration day was this past Monday:

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, while poking around in the basement one day I came upon a box filled with my old books -- books I haven't seen for years, that I thought were long gone. One of them was a copy of Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love. I thought I had given, or thrown, this book away during my mid-30's Christianity vacation, so I was happy to find it again.

A couple of days ago as I was flipping through the book trying to find a particular quote, something fluttered to the floor. Turns out that it was the postcard you see below -- a postcard featuring a photo of a bejeweled gold ikon cover for the famous Andrei Rublev icon of the Trinity, showing the Godhead sitting around a table, engaged in intimate conversation. I have absolutely no memory of how I obtained this postcard -- there's no writing on the back.

I had been wanting to have some representation of the Trinity for my home altar. How cool is it that this picture literally fell right in front of it? A God thing, you think?

And here's what Julian has to say about the Trinity:

I saw the blessed Trinity working. I saw that there were these three attributes: fatherhood, motherhood and lordship -- all in one God. In the almighty Father we have been sustained and blessed with regard to our created natural being from before all time. By the skill and wisdom of the Second Person we are sustained, restored and saved with regard to our sensual nature, for he is our Mother, Brother and Savior. In our good Lord the Holy Spirit we have, after our life and hardship is over, that reward and rest which surpasses for ever any and everything we could possibly desire -- such is his grace and magnificent courtesy.

What a lovely gift.

Ikon cover for Rublev's Trinity

Buy This Book!

At last!

It took a long time a-birthin' (do you know how many days there are in the season of Pentecost?), but the RevGalBlogPals' devotional book for Ordinary Time, Year B, is hot off the presses. I made a couple of contributions to this project; and I got a sneak peek at some of the other devotions; marvelous writing, wonderful insights. What a great, gifted group; thanks for letting me be a part of it, RevGals and Pals.

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

On Sale now for $18.99

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

In Search of the Lost Chord

I got a book/CD the other day: You Can Read Music! Actually, the cover is typeset YOU CAN Read Music! Everyone repeat after me!...

I have a very modest goal: I just want to be able to sound out simple liturgical musical notation. I'm not looking to play Bach or Chopin. So maybe the author is right, and I CAN do this at some point. (Although I'm still figuring out how to work this new objective into my calendar -- somewhere between replacing the atrocious cold air registers around here, organizing what I am discovering are my mother's increasingly confused financial records, blogging and dog maintenance.)

Of all my educational deficits, this is the one I regret the most: never learning how to read musical notation. Oh, back in my college days I did teach myself enough guitar chords to fake my way into an inter-Lutheran folk group -- if anyone out there remembers the old Chicago Folk Service, I used to be able to play a low-down bluesy Agnus Dei. But I joined the group mostly because my friends were in it, and my guitar was more or less a prop; I was like the Stu Sutcliffe of Lutheran campus ministry.

Unlike most of the children I grew up with, music lessons were not a part of my growing-up. My father, who made the rules at our house, came from a family where music, like anything else related to education or the arts, was considered effeminate and a waste of good working time; where the kids had to hide library books from school and read them surreptitiously, like the Bronte sisters hiding their writing under their mending. My mother's family was so poor that the idea of owning a musical instrument like a piano, much less taking lessons in how to play it, was relegated to the world of wish-dream.

One day in fifth grade we all took a musical aptitude test -- a lot of listening to trios of notes and selecting the one that sounded "off." I liked taking tests, and thought this one was easy. Several weeks later, on a Saturday, there was a knock at our door. It was the band director. He told my parents that I had scored the highest of all the kids in our class; that I appeared to have almost perfect pitch; and he was excited at the prospect of my joining band in September.

Now, in most homes I suspect that parents would be very pleased indeed to hear this good news about their kid's newly discovered talent. Here's what happened at my house.

"She's not joining the band," snarled my father to the startled band director. "It's too expensive, and I work all day, and I'm not going to come home from work and cart my kid all over to play in a band." I felt my blood curdle. I looked over at my mother, blushing crimson.

The band director started to protest. My father showed him the door.

Then my parents had a fight -- a huge, screaming fight. I should say, my father did the screaming -- "I earn the money around here, and goddammit I make the rules!" -- and my mother did the crying. I locked myself in my room and wept into my pillow. Eventually my mother came into my room. Her comments to me were, "I suppose you're going to blame me because I'm not like those mothers who can drive," and "Now that teacher is going to tell all the other teachers about your father's bad temper." So the issue of my joining band or taking any other kind of music lessons became one of the many Issues That Dare Not Be Spoken Of Again at my house.*

(For anyone who can relate to this scenario, I'd suggest reading Jean Shinoda Bolen's Ring of Power, where she uses Wagner's Ring cycle as a framework for exploring patriarchal family dynamics -- overbearing fathers, submissive mothers and rebellious daughters. I thought that my experience was somehow unique to my own family until I read this book and realized that a far more universal, culturally conditioned Bullshit Paradigm was at work at my house.)

For some reason, once I got away and got to college (another big, extended fight at my house but one in which I engaged and I won), where I could have studied anything I wanted, I didn't take advantage of the opportunity to take one of the beginners' music classes offered, even though I lived right next door to the music buildings. Looking back, I'm not sure why. I was in a fog during my 20's anyway. But I think maybe I'd figured it was too late; that I'd missed the window of opportunity to do anything with my interest in music other than become an educated listener.

Twenty years later, I've come to the conclusion that I've got to finally do something to make things right. Not just right for me; right for my parents. You see, my father's blowup at the junior high band director was a mirror image of his own experience. He'd gotten the highest score on his 8th grade graduation exam, the big test that kids in one-room schools had to pass in order to go on to high school. He wanted to go to high school. His teacher wanted him to go to high school. Instead, his father unceremoniously yanked him out of school to work on the farm -- no arguments. My mother was valedictorian of her high school class and won a free ride to Wayne State. Her parents said no; she had to go to work and support the family. Her own mother was pulled out of school in the 4th grade by an evil stepmother right out of Grimms' fairy tales, and sent into domestic service.

My family tree is one sad history of persons having their talents smothered and their dreams dashed in service to the preceding generation.

Well...the buck stops here, I've decided. Maybe it takes the last, queer, quirky twig on the family tree to somehow redeem the lost dreams and squandered potential of ancestors who played by the rules they were dealt by their families and cultures, and lost. My musical ability may be limited to picking out Psalm tones, but each note will be a vindication of what I believe is the Spirit's moving in the world to bring the shalom, one way or the other, and will sound all the sweeter because of it.

St. Cecilia Posted by Picasa

*I shared this story with some trepidation, because I was concerned that any Christian homophobes and misogynists reading it would point to it and say, "See? That's why she's a lesbian. She comes from an unhappy home. If she'd just grown up in a good Christian family with a father who was a servant leader and a mother who was graciously submissive, she would be normal." Neat trick, that combination of gay-bashing, sexism and faux psychology in one treacly-Kristian-luv swoop; and I've actually heard this argument from socially conservative evangelicals. Of course, taking it to its logical conclusion, most of the world should be as gay as Castro Street, and no one from a Christian household operating under kinder/gentler velvet-gloved patriarchal power dynamics would ever be gay; obviously this is nonsense, but since when has rationality ever gotten in the way of dedicated bigotry? Anyway -- sometimes the necessity of telling the truth trumps concealing it in the interests of "representing." And I felt it was time to tell the truth.

Daily Bread

I finally got my old bread machine up from the basement the other evening and made myself a loaf of cracked-wheat bread. I have to get used to using this thing again. I used to tweak the moisture/flour ratio a lot; I didn't do that this time, and the resulting dough was on the soft side -- and it rose so much that, as it began to bake, it hit the lid, creating a bit of an aesthetics issue when the baking was done and I had to tear the crust to remove the loaf. (If the shape of the slice looks odd in the photo below -- my machine makes barrel-shaped loaves that I have to cut in half lengthwise so I can fit the slices in my toaster.)

But, nonetheless, it's mighty tasty bread. I had some tonight, with some chicken soup I whipped up last night (the remains of my Sunday rotisserie chicken, garlic, onion, the last of my carrots and celery, some chopped leek I happened upon in the freezer, thyme, dillweed and a generous fistful of chopped parsley). Homemade bread and homemade soup -- a meal fit for royalty, I'll tell ya.

Here are two recipes for cracked-wheat bread, one for a bread machine (2-pound loaf) and one to make by hand. The bread-machine recipe is from the book that came with the machine; the second recipe is from a book called Uprisings that I bought back in my college days when I was just starting to experiment with bread-baking. They're both delish.

Bread Machine Cracked-Wheat Bread (2-lb loaf)
10-12 oz water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cracked wheat or bulgur
1 1/2 TBS butter or margarine
2 TBS honey or molasses
2 1/4 cups bread flour (or use all-purpose flour made with hard wheat, like Robin Hood brand, and add 1 tsp vital gluten -- not gluten flour! -- per cup of flour)
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/4 tsp dry yeast

Measure all ingredients into bread pan, starting with liquid and ending with the yeast. Bake according to machine directions for whole wheat bread.

Summer Wheat Bread (2 generous 1-1/2-lb loaves)
1 TBS dry yeast
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
5 TBS molasses
2 cups hard whole wheat flour

Mix together, and let this "sponge" sit covered in a warm place until risen and bubbly.

3/4 cup cracked wheat or bulgur
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
3 1/2-4 cups hard whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt

Add to sponge. Mix well, adding flour to get soft but kneadable consistency. Knead well until dough is elastic. Let rise in an oiled, covered bowl until dough is doubled in size. Punch down, shape into two loaves, and let rise again in oiled pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

"Bread of heaven...feed me 'til I want no more..."  Posted by Picasa

Mr. DeMille -- I'm Ready For My Close-Up Now

Don't hate him because he's beautiful... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Knowing and Being Known

I know my own and my own know me... -- Jesus

Why care about Jesus Christ?

This question is not foreign to my experience. Once upon a time, in fact, I asked it of myself, and couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer, so I walked away.

But Jesus cared about me -- enough to follow me into my self-imposed exile and draw me back into a relationship with him.

So I care. A lot. More than I can express. Sometimes, even now, more than I want to.

I think it's that experience of being sought out and loved without condition is what keeps us in his embrace, or pulled back into it, sometimes against all odds. And I think that is why, even when some of us are bombarded by the message that, for a variety of reasons, we can't possibly be Real Christians [tm], we don't give up; we don't say, "Fine. I won't let the door hit me on the way out."

I know my own and my own know me.

I was going to write more. But I don't have any more to write.

"Shepherdess and Flock at Sunset," Jean Francois Millet Posted by Picasa

Bloom Blogging

Generally speaking, I like to mow my lawn at the beginning of the weekend so it looks nice on Sunday. lawn has exploded into violets; violets I don't want to mow. I'm telling myself that, in our current droughty weather, I'm giving the nascent grass a chance to build up some energy and retain some moisture; but it's really the violets that are keeping the lawn mower in the garage. Here are a handful of them, with some vinca that grows over on the shady side of my garage. I keep this tiny vase in my kitchen window during the day and on my altar in the evening.

The jury is still out on my theoretical perennial bed. Today at church one of the flower arrangements contained an interesting mixture of purple and lavender flowers, shot through with burgundy here and there...then at the fruit stand on the way home I saw a similar color scheme in a hanging basket, except it also contained apricot flowers, which I found an appealing addition...I was almost committed enough to invest in a "Black Knight" butterfly bush right then and there to get things going, but then I thought about mixing blues and apricots instead, and now I'm dithering again. In the meantime, though, I'm planting pansies of all colors in my tiny pocket garden next to my back steps; I know they'll start to languish once it gets hot, but at least I won't have to look at a bare patch of dirt for the next month and a half.

Flowers -- a good gift of God; Crayolas for grownups.

"Sweet violets...sweeter than all the roses..." Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 06, 2006

On Not Running Away

In returning and rest you shall be saved.-- Isaiah 30:15

Hey, it's good to be back home again. -- John Denver

Saturday is usually my runaway day.

Oh, there's usually a legitimate reason to want to get out of the house and run into town for something or other. But really, deep down, what I am doing is escaping -- getting the hell out of Dodge and all the various physical and other messes here, and discharging the surges of nervous energy provoked by same. So the quick trip to the store for paper towels has a tendency to grow into an extended trek to some other city and a day largely spent wandering around looking at stuff -- at a museum; at a mall; at a big-box store; at a nursery. Half the time I also forget the paper towels.

This morning I got up with every intention of running away. I was going to do a quick load of laundry -- I'm an optimist, even though I live in a state where, two years ago, we had a blizzard on Mother's Day, so I'm in the process of washing and packing away all my cold-weather clothes -- then get in the car and drive to Midland, or Mt. Pleasant, or some other community in the middle of the Michigan mitt. The other month I saw a set of popover pans at the Amish store the next county over, and we all know that life isn't worth living without popover pans, so I had a vague idea of mapping my itinerary to include the Amish store; and I've been itching to get rid of my ugly and chipped everyday dishes, so the House de Tar-zhay was also on my list of shopping destinations. I need a new grease filter for the range hood. And I wanted to look at perennials for my problematic flower bed. None of these things are urgent needs, and I'm trying to watch my driving expenses and -- well, I'm a little broke until next payday. But I wasn't going to let any of that stop me, nosiree.

What did stop my was my continuing read, early this morning, of Joan Chittester's book on Benedictine spirituality, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily. I keep reading bits of it and putting it down and then losing my place and rereading it, but despite this I'm progressing through it. And one of the big themes is balance; that when St. Benedict created his Rule he wanted it to be a good, practical, non-onerous way for persons to order their lives.

I realized, as I champed at the bit waiting for my load of wash to cycle, that my life is way out of balance. I want to play during my worktime and work during my playtime, sleep during the day and stay awake at night; my spiritual practice lately has been slapdash at best. And study, including the study of the Gospel of Luke that I'm supposed to be doing before my next lay ministry retreat? Fuggetaboutit!

I looked around at the household chaos around me. "I need to stay home today and work on this," I told myself.

So I've been vacuuming and dusting; the mudroom closet, which has been a scary place for years (home, for instance, to a plastic bag collection large enough to stock an entire Wal-Mart checkout area, and an old canister vacuum cleaner with no discernable purpose, and attachments that do not match), needs a major cleaning and overhaul, so I started doing that. I washed the kitchen and bathroom floors the old-fashioned, hands-and-knees way. I washed the throws on the living room furniture (necessitating moving an inert but unhappy dog, bed and all, from one side of the loveseat to the other)

And you know what? It felt good. I felt as if I were holding entropy at bay for at least a little while. I got a pretty decent workout too. And when I got tired, I stopped and rested. I checked my e-mail. I enjoyed some chocolate from my newly acquired stash. (Just a note to my Theobromo benefactor that the Green & Black's dark chocolate with crystalized ginger was so good that I almost had a moment while eating it, if you know what I mean.)

I'm still feeling "happy feet," and frankly I might endulge them tomorrow, even though generally I try not to mix Sundays and commerce -- not out of pietistic legalism, but because I really do need a "day of rest," which is hard to come by in the aisles of Target. But maybe in the afternoon I'll take the backroad way to one of my usual weekend haunts; take the dog, who has been enjoying road trips with me. (And I love the way oncoming drivers respond to his goofy little Einstein bobblehead in the window; he makes everyone passing by laugh. Which makes me laugh.) And I'll be able to do so in good conscience, because I took care of business today.

Work: worship: rest: play. What a concept.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Walking the Midway Blog Carnival II -- Pass It On

Did you hear the one about the Lutheran who loved Jesus so much s/he almost told someone about it?

The topic for our next Walking the Midway Blog Carnival: "Evangelism: Why Are Lutherans So Bad At It?" Share your thoughts on why we're the Frozen Chosen and what we can do about that.

(For carnival newbies: A carnival collects links to submitted blog posts on a particular topic. Walking the Midway is a carnival for Lutherans who play well with others.)

Deadline for submissions is May 31st.

Friday Poetry Blogging

Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell

Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents just His own age and those
unnumbered others waiting here
unaware, in an endless void He is ending
now, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,
neighbor in death, Golgotha dust
still streaked on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here,
for sequence is not known in Limbo;
the promise, given from cross to cross
at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.
All these He will swiftly lead
to the Paradise road: they are safe.
That done, there must take place that struggle
no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue the just
from shadow, were lesser travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained
stifling shroud; to break from them
back into breath and heartbeat, and walk
the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
streaming through every cell of flesh
so that if mortal sight could bear
to perceive it, it would be seen
His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,
and aching for home. He must return,
first, in Divine patience, and know
hunger again, and give
to humble friends the joy
of giving Him food--fish and a honeycomb. -- Denise Levertov

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On the Road to Emmaus

I have to share this: When I was pondering the long version of this past Sunday's Gospel lesson, thinking about the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus and how I might write about that from a new angle, the absolute only thing that came into my head was the title song from the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby film Road to Morocco. It was frustrating. "Stop that," I told myself. "Can't you see that I'm trying to be theological here?"

Then I thought about an interview I'd heard on the radio awhile back, about the very popular Hope-Crosby "Road" movies; the interviewee was explaining that, when the two enertainers were first approached with the series concept, they were skeptical. They thought the story lines were dumb, and that the movies would flop at the box office. Hope and Crosby had to be convinced to risk their reputations on the project. And, of course, it turned out that they were completely wrong in their predictions; a Depression- and war-weary moviegoing public loved the escapist silliness, and the "Road" movies were a huge hit.

I wonder if there isn't a parallel here with our own road trips of faith. Sometimes it's hard to imagine where we're headed, or even buy into the premise in the first place; we find ourselves thinking, What am I doing here, on this road? I must be insane. And, like the travelers in our Gospel lesson, we might have a hard time discerning the presence of the best traveling companion of all, walking alongside us. It takes faith to keep walking...but if we do we can find ourselves on a tremendous adventure, in good company. And there might even be singing too.

On the road less traveled... Posted by Picasa

One Month Later

Can you believe that it was one month ago today that my mother died?

I can't. Sometimes it seems like an event very far away; at other times it seems that it happened yesterday.

Yesterday I finally threw away her shoes -- her scuffy everyday shoes that were under a chair in her bedroom. They were in exactly the same place they'd been when we'd left for the ER. I'd somehow missed them when I'd gone through the first big sorting of her things, and completely forgot about them until this week, when I was folding laundry in that room. When I finally noticed them there was something disturbing about the way they were sitting there, casually askew, as if she'd be walking in and putting them on at any minute. They went in the trash.

And then there have been flashbacks -- I'll be minding my own business, usually at work, when suddenly I'll be subjected to a scene from our time in the hospital, when she was starting to fade, when she was angry and incoherent, when she said things that in retrospect were most certainly indications that she knew on some level what was happening. Or, one time, I was back in the room with her when the surgeon had come in and explained that she had major arterial blockages and needed bypass surgery right away, and her passive, detached response, as if she didn't really understand what was going on. I found myself wondering if her initial heart attack or some subsequent incident had affected her cognitive ability, or if she was just in a kind of shock, not comprehending the gravity of what the doctor was saying. I found myself second-guessing the wisdom of agreeing to the surgery, even though I know that the alternative would not have been a good one; that she would have either died a very frightening, painful death, probably alone at home, or else slowly died by inches as her heart gradually failed. These little scenarios play out in maybe a minute at most, but they're like being jolted with a Tazer; very upsetting. And guilt-inducing, as crazy as my rational self knows that is.

My dog is still very confused. Sometimes he goes in Mom's room and just stands there, stock still, for a long time. And his sleep has been affected by the changes in our household; now he wakes up at 4:00 a.m. and is insistent that I get up too. I was so tired today that at one point I felt as if I were actually going to fall asleep as I was walking through the office parking lot after work. Fall down; go boom. It made me a little scared to drive home.

And, of course, there's the matter of finally getting Mom underground where she wanted to be, in a family plot. It's just disconcerting not having this final funereal task done. (Our pastor and I are still working out a day for interment; he has overseas guests for the next 10 days, so it's going to have to be nearer the end of the month.)

Those are the bad things, the things still gnawing at me.

On a more positive note:

I am done writing my thank-you letters. One evening I just sat down and said, "This needs to get done," and I did it. These had been a stressor in my life, and I'm glad this task is over.

I'm gradually making my house more my house. Whether or not I remain here for any length of time, I want to be happier with the way things look around here. I have more houseplants; I went to Home Depot and bought some closeout remainder-table ferns that needed a little love, and have them here and there around the house. The other day I was visiting a new boutique in town, and I came away with an indulgent purchase of some good-quality silk flowers, in colors matching my sofa, and some berried branches; I put them in an amber vase we had stored downstairs, and put it in the living room. I felt very Martha Stewartesque. It just seemed to make it look more as if someone actually cared about this living space. (And if you're looking up at the vase you won't be looking down at the carpet, which I'm ready to tear out by hand and burn.)

Many bereaved people report that their friends start avoiding them; I am happy and grateful to report that I've had the opposite experience. People have been so wonderful to me. I had lunch with an old friend the other day, and it was nice. The other day I received a lovely care package from another friend that was like a treasure chest, each stratum containing beautiful things -- a book, various accoutrements for my home altar, mass quantities of chocolate. I struck up an online friendship with a couple of interesting people who, it turns out, live within reasonable driving distance of Outer Podunk; we've been instant-messaging, which seems a lot more fun this time around than back when it was a new technology and I found it incredibly distracting and stressful...either my reflexes and multitasking skills are better, or else these are just better conversationalists. But I'm feeling much more social these days. The other evening I looked at the living room and realized that I need more seating; Mom was so socially anxious that we almost never had company, and all we have is a loveseat and a chair; that's it. If I had people over they'd have to sit on the floor...which would bring back a lot of sentimental college memories, to be sure (I once lived in an apartment with a mattress and a sheet standing in for a sofa, plus a rocking chair -- the rocking chair was a homey touch, don't you think, to the general Abject Squalor motif), but most of my friends and are are getting to be an age where getting up off the floor ain't quite as easy as getting down there in the first place. I need another chair.

So it's still a roller-coaster ride, this experience, although I'm maybe not careening as fast from extreme to extreme. Right now the fatigue is what's bothering me the most. Even sitting here, typing, is a tremendous effort. I'd like to crawl under a feather bed and sleep, undisturbed, for about two days.