Monday, August 28, 2006

What I Did and Didn't Do This Summer

This is the time of year when classroom show-and-tell sessions across the nation are filled with children relating "What I Did This Summer."

If I had a show-and-tell to attend, I'd have plenty to tell, all right, about my adventures of the last few months. I'd have a few things to show too. (Even more if my camera hadn't died midway through the Upper Peninsula we speak it's en route to the manufacturer, and I'm going through major grumpy withdrawal.)

Here are some of the things I did this summer:

Planted a purple perennial garden (say that 20 times fast).


Got taken out to a swanky white-tablecloth fancy eatin' place.

And reciprocated.

Ate a pasty in Paradise.

Saw John McCutcheon and Claudia Schmmidt in concert.

Was introduced to the cultural phenomenon of Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Watched fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Visited Bronner's in Frankenmuth, the mother lode of both tasteful and tacky retail Christmas bling, with two enthusiastic power shoppers entranced by the fabulousness of it all, their amused aunt and their shopping-averse mother/in-law, who didn't really start having fun until we began playing an interesting human-interest variation on the "padiddle" game. (Which I believe I won.)

Went fishin'.

Had a picnic.

Participated in a Kidney Stone Passing Vigil.

But, alas, I didn't get everywhere, geographically or otherwise, I'd intended to this season. Here are some of the things I didn't do:

Repaint the porch pillars and my Bilco door.

Get a load of landscaping stone to go around my inherited house and hide the butt-ugly external insulation that the builders, Dumb and Dumber, Inc., convinced my parents to wrap around the foundation, instead of insulating and finishing the basement.

Learn to play euchre. (My offer still stands -- batch o' cookies to anyone who can teach me how to play.)

Get to a minor-league ballgame.

Start exercise walking again.

Devise a workable weekly routine for doing my household chores -- one that is maintenance, not disaster, oriented.

Raise a crop of tomatoes, thanks to our neighborhood herd of deer, who stripped my potted tomato plants to shreds.

Read very much.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Back-to-School Friday Five

What is your earliest memory of school?
Walking excitedly down the sidewalk, away from my weeping mother and through the double doors of Outer Podunk Elementary School. Second earliest memory -- getting on the wrong bus to go home and winding up on an hour-long odyssey with a lot of crying.

Who was a favorite teacher in your early education?
Mrs. Peters, my first-grade teacher during the first semester. Unlike the other near-retirement normal-school-graduate first-grade teachers, Mrs. Peters was young and hip. I was a sickly child who had to stay in at recess, and Mrs. Peters let me help her decorate the classroom bulletin boards.

What do you remember about school “back then” that is different from what you know about schools now?
More academics and less social work; arbitrary and irresponsible corporal punishment (like playing with a toy inside one's desk and having an angry teacher slam the desktop down on the child's hand). Am I close?

Did you have to memorize in school? If so, share a poem or song you learned.
Well, growing up in the 60's we weren't encouraged to memorize the memorized songs and poems I recall are of the playground variety. One popular ditty, sung to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," went like this:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
We have tortured every teacher, we have broken every rule
We have stormed into the office and kidnapped the principal
Us brats go marching on...

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Teacher hit me with a ruler
I hid behind the door with a loaded .44
And she ain't my teacher no more.

We found this song quite droll; nowadays, sadly, I suppose if someone heard a child singing it in school there'd be a SWAT team surrounding the building in 15 minutes.

Did you ever get in trouble at school? Were there any embarrassing moments you can share?
I once got in trouble for laughing at a classmate who was getting in trouble; for that infraction I had to sit in the corner with my back to the class. I never told my parents about that incident until I was an adult. And as far as embarrassing incidents...well, in first grade I -- let's just say that I didn't make it to the bathroom quite in time; my parents were called and had to come to school with a change of clothing. And yet here I am, 40 years later, a responible and continent adult.

Black-eyed Susans mean...summer's almost over and schooltime's almost here. Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 25, 2006

Heroes and Superheroes

Last evening at Fellow Traveler’s house, meeting one of FT’s sons and the son’s partner, in town for the week (two very nice kids, as I told FT), I was introduced to one of those television shows that those of us with po’ people’s TV have no opportunity to watch and appreciate – Do You Want to Be a Superhero? On the Sci Fi Channel. This is a show where contestants, assuming the persona of a self-created superhero, compete to have comic-book guru Stan Lee develop a comic book based on their character.

This program, as FT’s son noted, has a kind of car-wreck quality – it’s pretty awful, yet you can’t look away. It’s at the end of its run, and the contestants are currently down to three: Feedback, a kind of supernerd so nerdy that he managed to bore a squirming class of elementary-school kids into a glassy-eyed stupor; Fat Mama, a zaftig earth mother type whose belt of power is ringed with donuts; and Captain Victory, a guy with a Jimmy Neutron hairdo who seemed to be doing an impression of Jim Carey doing an impression of Dudley Do-Right in tights and a cape. All three have some poignant human-interest angle in their bios; and I think there’s some reason to believe that Feedback has actually mind-melded with his character to an alarming degree. Anyhow, by the end of the show there was crying and hugging, V-man had been defrocked by Lee, and our living-room panel was rooting for Feedback, whom at one point I’d described as “the Charlie Brown of superheroes.”

(I hope you’re all impressed that I can watch a program like this and then go and read Craig Koester’s Revelation and the End of All Things. Holy Hermeneutics!)

Anyway, this show got me to thinking about my own heroes. When I was a kid I watched all the standard superhero TV shows – Superman and Spiderman and Batman. (This was in the 60’s before there was much X-chromosome representation on the superhero bench.) I even remember throwing a blanket over my shoulders like a cape and running back and forth across the living room in what I thought was an heroic manner. But I never really liked Superman; I actually preferred his Clark Kent alter ego. Batman’s uncaped life was so glamorous that I always felt that his superhero shtik was a little superfluous. I thought Spiderman was pretty cool, but his show was broadcast on a faraway station that went static-y a lot, so I couldn’t watch him every week. But these guys weren’t my favorite heroes, even if they were super. Maybe that was the problem – the superness of superheroes.

No; my favorite heroes had no magic powers. They were people like Sherlock Holmes; Zorro; and my ultimate hero, Robin Hood.

I first met the acquaintance of Robin Hood watching Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood on the local TV station’s afterschool movie matinee. Then I read (precocious kiddo that I was) the Howard Pyle Robin Hood stories. I was thrilled to learn that there really was a Sherwood Forest (and even a Sheriff of Nottingham); I was outraged to learn that some people questioned the historicity of the Robin Hood stories, and even of his very existence: There is so a Robin Hood! I found cartoon versions of the story patronizing and insulting to Robin’s memory.

How I loved Robin Hood. I wanted to be Robin Hood. While my little-girl peers were playing house (to the extent that I was even invited to participate at all I was generally relegated to the role of baby sister – “Just sit there and don’t say or do anything” – or, in one instance, family dog) or Pregnant Barbie (don’t even ask), I was longing to fight for truth and justice, to uphold the poor and the marginalized, to thumb my nose at oppressive and incompetent authority figures, and to live in the woods in the merry company of colorful societal rejects creating our own alternative community.

The more I thought about this, the more it dawned on me: Honey, you’re there. That’s where you live now.

I wish I could time-travel back to my 7-year-old self, and give her a hug, and say, “Just hang in there, kid. It’ll take awhile; but just hang in there, and you’ll make it to Sherwood Forest.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006

(Almost) Midnight Confession

You know the weekly scene, on a typical reality show, where a contestant dishes sotto voce in front of a camera, directly to the audience?

That's how I feel right now. I'm talking to you up close and personal. I'm going to say something not very nice; not very lay-ministerial; bitchy and mean, really. Just between you and me.

Christians drive me crazy. Specifically the self-identified born-agains; the Bible-thumpers; the people whose mission is to hector me into abandoning my "dead" tradition, murmuring the Sinners' Prayer and "making a decision for Jesus."

Once upon a time in my life I was what I would call a skeptipagan. An agnostipagan. I never really signed on the dotted line of neopaganism, but I did find something evocative about certain aspects of it -- the rhythms of the pagan year; the ritual; the tat. And the pagan folk I met tended to be nice people -- a little flaky, sometimes, but nice. I look back at this phase in my spiritual formation with a mixture of humor and embarrassment. But I've got to tell you: If anyone could drive me out of Christianity and back into neopaganism, it would be the born-agains. I would frankly rather spend a decade on a desert island with a coven of neopagans than two minutes in an elevator with some arrogant, self-righteous, preachy fellow Christian nattering regurgitated prooftexts and pious platitudes at me. I find nothing particularly compelling or appealing or referential to the Gospel in this behavior; if anything, it makes me wonder how I sound when I'm around non-religious people: Dear God, please dope-slap me if I ever sound or act like that.

The great irony here is that the most obnoxious of these folks have a handy self-fulfilling martyrdom that if it's ever suggested to them that perhaps their words and behaviors, instead of attracting others to Christianity, actually drive people away, their response is likely to be along the lines of, "Praise the Lord! I am being persecuted for my faith! Jesus said this would happen to me! Hallelujah!"


Anyway...I just needed to get this off my chest. Just between you and me. Shhhh.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Two Good Recipes

My theological reading and reflection may be on hiatus due to poor attention span, and my blog-surfing and networking may likewise be languishing...but I can always post a recipe.

Here's a crockpot recipe my pal gave me for use with any chunk of meat that lends itself to slow cooking. It is insanely easy, and tastes good -- I tried it with a Boston butt roast that I'd found in the back of my freezer, and it turned out great.

Cranberry Crockpot Roast

a roast -- a beef roast or pork roast, or a turkey breast that will fit in your crockpot

1 can whole-berry cranberry sauce

1 package onion-soup mix
Place the meat in your crockpot; throw the cranberry sauce and onion-soup mix over the meat; add a little bit of water. Cook on Low all day, or until the meat is done.

I found this recipe while looking for a way to use up some buttermilk. It rocks -- lovely flavor and texture; makes wonderful toast.

Buttermilk Bread For a Bread Machine

1-1/2 lb. size:
1-1/4 cup buttermilk
1-1/3 tbsp butter
2-1/2 tbsp honey
1 tsp salt
1/3 tsp baking soda
1-3/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 tsp yeast

2 lb. size:

1-1/2 cup buttermilk
1-1/2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp honey
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp yeast

Place ingredients in your bread machine in the order recommended by manufacturer and process/bake using the Whole Wheat cycle. You may need to add flour or liquid in small increments if the dough in the machine, during the first knead, appears overly soft or stiff; when I made mine I wound up adding maybe a scant quarter cup of flour to the dough to firm it up.

Too Much Information

In an ironic case of biting off more than I can chew, I found myself, tonight, trying to compile a "potluck" roundup of blog entries for the RevGalBlogPals . At the time I volunteered, it sounded like fun.

After receiving only a few nominations via e-mail for inclusion in the roundup, I decided to go through the RevGals blogroll and randomly review blogs for inspiration; I know that, back when the RevGals blog roundup was an almost-daily event, I enjoyed being able to browse through lots of them, and wanted to recreate that. But was at the end of the C's that I started to hyperventilate from the sheer volume of blogs I had yet to scan, at which point the blogroll mercifully disappeared from the page, for some unknown technical reason.

So that's where I'm at, here at midnight. I used to read quite a few blogs every day, but lately I simply haven't had the time. And I miss them. I miss the people who write them. As another blogger in a similar frame of mind noted ruefully of her own diminished participation in blogdom, "There's a party going on and I'm not there." All of which is to say, I think my first roundup is going to be my last. I'd rather be reading blogs for pleasure, and writing my own -- another pleasure that's gone by the wayside lately in my overprogrammed life.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Gospel Fatigue

Have you ever found yourself getting tired of a partcular Gospel?

John's Gospel has always been my favorite -- the Gospel that goes beyond the narrative to explore the meaning of it all. But -- it hurts me to say this -- John is starting to wear on me. Which is especially unfortunate since this is the Gospel we're discussing in my next lay ministry class.

What I need is some Mark -- short, sharp, shocked.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Requiem in Pace... my green Pyrex mixing bowl. You know -- one of the ones in primary colors that everyone's mom had a set of in the 50's and 60's. My mother had broken the small blue bowl of the set sometime before I was born, I think...but the other three bowls have been in our household my entire life.

The green bowl, in particular, was the workhorse of the trio, holding innumerable batches of cookie dough, meatloaf, pancake batter and leftover soup. So imagine my dismay when, as I dried it and slipped it inside its big yellow bowl-sibling on the shelf, I heard an ominous crack and clatter, and looked to find it in ruins -- collapsed into several jagged pieces.

I guess it was just its time to go. But now I am sad.

"I Was So Much Younger Then, I'm Older Than That Now"

Well, it's almost time for lay ministry classes to commence again, and I find I've been assigned the job of leading a closing devotion.

I remember, back in my university days, going to LSM retreats just champing at the bit to write up a liturgy. Not that we knew what we were doing back then. I shudder to think of some of the self-important and silly stuff we may have come up with sitting there in our sleep-deprived states in drafty, smoke-filled lodges in the middle of Middle America. (Mime service, anyone? We did that.)

The more I understand about the mechanics of worship, the more humble I am approaching the task of creating worship. I find myself inclined to fall back on the tried and true.

I haven't decided if I'm going to wing it with this particular devotion, or go with what I know. I could take the easy way out and announce that we'll engage in 30 minutes of silent meditation.

Or not.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Good Night, Rutherford

You'd think that after several days of adventuring in the Upper Peninsula I'd be dreaming about lakes and waterfalls and pasties and sing-songy blondes with vowel-laden Finnish surnames.

Instead, I just dreamed about Rutherford, New Jersey.

Which is odd, because I've never been to Rutherford, New Jersey, ever. I'm not quite sure I've ever even actively thought about Rutherford, New Jersey, before.

This isn't the first time I've dreamed about a place I've never actually visited. I recall one memorable and quite complex dream about going on an extended walking tour of Greenwich Village...many months later I saw a PBS program about historical sites in New York City, and I was so startled by the similarities between its exploration of the Village and the landmarks in my dream that it made my hair stand on least until my rational self suggested that my dream was less a product of ESP and more a product of my brain's whimsical withdrawal from my memory bank of some travel writer's description of Greenwich Village.

But sadly, my dreamtime excursion to Rutherford only got me as far as a municipal parking lot. In my dream I was in college (which college is something of a mystery -- someone suggested Princeton Divinity School, which would certainly be trading up from my actual college experience at a Large Agriculturally Oriented Midwestern Diploma Mill), trying to get home to Outer Podunk; after attempting in vain to find a train to take me home directly, I somehow wound up in the city of Rutherford, in a parking lot. A friend -- someone I didn't recognize upon awaking -- was with me, inviting me to borrow her car and drive home; but I demurred because driving other people's vehicles for any distance makes me nervous. (This is actually the only bit of the dream with any resemblance to real life; Fellow Traveler and I had this discussion just last week, when she offered to let me drive her Jeep. Having recently dinged my own car, and knowing how much she loves her Jeep, I got the heebie-jeebies -- with my luck I'd have probably run into a moose or something. But back to our story.) Suddenly my parents -- both deceased in reality -- showed up in the parking lot, in their old Delta 88. "Great!" I said. "I can just go home with you." To my dismay, they didn't seem particularly excited by this prospect. And that's when I woke up.

So my initial impression of Rutherford is not a particularly positive one. But that might have just been viral delirium. To any residents of Rutherford who may be reading this, I'm sure you have a really lovely community. A nice, big parking lot, anyway.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Back, But Not Quite Here

Some souvenirs from trips are fun: postcards; fudge; novelty T-shirts.

Some souvenirs -- not so much.

I've just gotten up after an afternoon in bed while unseen viral gremlins worked my intestines into macrame. Ouch. Sore throat and fever too. I begged off work; came home, got into my nightgown, microwaved my flaxseed neck pillow to serve double duty as a heating pad, and hunkered down in bed with the Mark Powell book I've been trying to finish before my next lay ministry retreat. (For some reason I felt compelled to pair abdominal cramps with Serious Theological Reading.)

Fellow Traveler -- who is just getting over the feverish, sore-throaty bug -- came by with sympathy (at a distance, as the song says) and fruit-juice popsicles, then backed quickly out the door.

First my camera broke. Then I came home to find that in my absence the resident deer herd had stripped every one of my carefully nurtured container tomato plants down to nubbins -- even ate all the little green tomatoes. Then I found that the voice mail function on my cheapazoid dollar-store Terrorist Special cell phone isn't working -- every time I try to access my voice mail I wind up talking to a cranky directory assistance operator. Now my immune system is temporarily shot. And as I'm typing, I'm feeling the heat generated by the battery in my Dell computer, and wondering if and when that machine's gonna blow.

I did have a really lovely vacation, though.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Pasties in Paradise

My pal and I traveled miles and miles along the Lake Superior coast -- long stretches of forested, uninhabited land with periodic glimpses of the big lake through the trees -- but it was in the small town of Paradise, up near Whitefish Point, where I finally felt as if I'd truly arrived in the Upper Peninsula. We'd stopped at a place called the Berry Patch Bakery -- this after passing the town welcome sign ("Welcome to Paradise -- Glad You Made It") and looking around for a place to eat lunch.

The bakery, which includes a gift shop, was packed with the lunch crowd; we wound up sharing a table with a delightful older couple from Battle Creek who have a summer home nearby, who told us about how they'd gotten together in their later years and how they wound up in the U.P. The friendly bakery staff greeted us with lilting Yooper accents. My friend and I split a pasty.

You are here.

And then we made it to Tahquamenon Falls; a very busy park that, on the sunny afternoon we arrived, was filled with visited from all over -- literally from all over the world, who'd somehow made it to this relatively remote corner of the country: families of various configurations (including a surprising number of "family" families); group tours; lone hikers; lots of little kids; lots of dogs. Yet despite the number of people, and the more touristy areas of the park (a brew pub; a gift shop that featured some of the same kitsch we had laughed over back in St. Ignace), there was still a profound sense of wildness, of frontier. We marveled over the size of the hemlock and beech trees around us and the beauty of the tumbling water and surrounding rock formations and sky overhead. It was awesome; truly awesome. Several of my relatives, on arriving at Michigan Tech as students, went native; simply stayed up there. Now I understood the attraction.

And now I can say that I ate a pasty in Paradise. In more ways than one.

Tahquamenon Falls, upper level Posted by Picasa

Tahquamenon Falls, lower level Posted by Picasa

Lake Superior Posted by Picasa

Point Iroquois Lighthouse Posted by Picasa

Adventure Dog

We got back to Outer Podunk around midday today, after traversing a large portion of the eastern U.P. I'm still readjusting to dial-up Internet (argh!), which is making the upload of more travel photos difficult; but in the meantime I want to tell you about my li'l dog Cody.

Keeping in mind that Cody is 14, which makes him nearly a centegenarian in people years, that he's as neurotic as Woody Allen on an espresso bender, that he has a weak ticker and that his travel experiences have been very limited -- he was a real trouper during this excursion. My travel buddy's golden retrievers, who can be a handful, are staying with a relative, but we felt that because of Cody's special needs he should come along. And so he did.

And he loved it. He loved the car rides, which were spent alternately snoozing, sighteseeing out the window and begging for treats. He loved our motel room, and the "snausages" we saved him from the complimentary breakfast. We took him everywhere he was allowed (and even in a few places where he wasn't); he gamely walked boardwalks, sidewalks and shorelines with us, waited (although not always patiently) in our vehicle for us, rubbernecked sites of interest and put up with solicitous fellow tourists without attempting to bite them. (Although he did have thoughts about going after a huge, doofy and I'm suspecting utterly harmless German shepherd mix at the Tahquamenon Falls: "Let me at him! I know I can take him! Let me at him, I say!")

Dogs, especially fluffy little ones, make great conversation starters with strangers; that happened a lot. And I think that the rigors of traveling with a pet, which I think are analogous to traveling with a very small child, provide a combination school for character and means of learning more about your fellow human traveler. I mean, not every couple can handle sharing "poop patrol" with a dog 24/7, and not only that but also wind up having meaningful and mutually concerned conversations about said dog's bowel and bladder habits.

I think the thing that tickled me the most about The Codeman during our travels was his obvious delight in exploration. He's a dog who does not hesitate to put on the brakes, so to speak, walking around our neighborhood on his leash. But this past week, whether we were on city sidewalks, exploring beaches or taking a rest stop break along the freeway, he scampered along full-tilt boogie, on his little bowed legs, his tongue lolling in a big lopsided grin. He had the time of his long doggie life. He was a very good dog as well. And now he's a very sleepy dog, back at home on his sofa in Outer Podunk.

Cody, aka Adventure Dog, taking a sightseeing break back at our motel. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Say "Ya" To Da UP, Eh?

A few touristy photos for your viewing pleasure:
Photo 1: The Pere Marquette Memorial in St. Ignace. Father Marquette was a 17th century missionary and explorer.
Photo 2: Wildflowers along a Lake Huron breakwall.
Photo 3: The Gerstacker beach sanctuary near Hessell, overlooking the Les Cheneaux island chain.
Photo 4: The Mackinac Bridge at twilight, seen from the UP side.

I'd love to post more photos, but my camera began malfunctioning yesterday. You'd see, among other things, the folkloric/historic village of Hessell, and a couple of amazing beach wildflowers that I can't identify and was hoping that any botany mavens reading this could help me ID. One of the flowers, growing among the dune grass, was like a cross between a buttercup and a spring beauty -- white flowers striped in pink, buttercup shaped, nodding from a stalk about a foot and a half tall. Another was a small lavender/fuschia colored tube-shaped flower in amongst the grass. Any experts on beach flora, feel free to take a stab.

And two restaurant recommendations for anyone considering a trip to the Upper Peninsula: Java Joe's is a funky little diner and coffee shop on the north side of St. Ignace -- it's hard to describe, but imagine "Alice's Restaurant" and a Grateful Dead riff crossed with "Margaritaville" and you'll get some sense of the establishment's flavor. And there really is a Java Joe, whom you're likely to meet when you visit. You pretty much can get anything you want, at least for breakfast, at Java Joe's. We had Swedish pancakes...a very light, yummy meal first thing in the morning. It's all about fresh Great Lakes fish up here, and the laid-back Hessell Bay Inn in the Les Cheneaux area has wonderfully tasty whitefish and perch...I've tasted panfried perch and a blackened whitefish sandwich there, and both were terrific.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

We're On Vacation...And You're Not!

The annoying Mr. Stone seems to have jumped ship, so to we hopped in the Jeep and took off as soon as we could get packed. We've decided to scrap our itinerary and just go wherever the mood strikes us; we're making the town of St. Ignace, just past the Mackinac Bridge, our base camp for the next day or so, and may go exploring the Les Cheneaux area, to the east, along the Lake Huron coast. Or we may not. Dang, this is fun.

Moonrise over Bois Blanc Island, taken from the water's edge at St. Ignace. Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 07, 2006

Bad Theology, Meet Bad Civics

Yes; I'm cross. It's easy to get that way waiting with someone you care about who's hurting, in a way you can't do much to assuage. (My modest contribution to helping pass my friend's kidney stone is acting as Water Nazi, using whatever means necessary to get the daily two gallons of H20 prescribed by the doctor down my friend's throat. And meanwhile our bags are packed for heading up north...whenever. Whenever Mr. Stone makes his exit.)

Anyway, when I'm cross, a lot of things bug me. And something that got to bugging me today was reading a post on Beliefnet whose author -- whom I assume to be an American citizen -- was talking about praying "for our rulers." Excuse me? Our rulers? Last time I checked, wasn't the United States a democratic republic (at least on paper)? We don't have rulers. We vote people in to work for us, and if they don't do a good job we vote them out. I think we learned this back in grade-school civics class, from a book that showed Norman Rockwell's famous painting of a citizen speaking up at a New England town meeting. (Do they even have civics class anymore?)

On a related note, in another Beliefnet discussion about "sinful music" someone related the tale of a rebellious daughter whose life started going downhill after she began listening to music that, among other things, was "anti-government." My God -- anti-government music! Alert Homeland Security! Round up the usual suspects!

The dumbing down of Americans' understanding of/appreciation of democracy, and their confusion of nationalism with Christianity is frightening; and the cynical contribution of the Religious Right to this process is appalling.

I'm reminded of the Israelites in the time of the Judges, kvetching because they didn't have a king like the cultures around them. Be careful what you wish for, people.

Daily Bread

I'm a foodie. I admit it. I love food of all kinds. And I love complex food -- dishes with umpteen ingredients, made in complicated ways.

So it was interesting to me, this past Lent, to place myself under a discipline of eating very simply for most meals. In doing so, I rediscovered the goodness of bread. For lunch I'd very often have a simple whole-grain crusty roll, and that was it. But that was enough. I began to look forward to the texture, the flavor, of the bread. I was truly grateful for it at midday. And it stayed with me until it was time for supper.

It's tempting, as people of faith, to want our encounters with God to be novel; flashy; "wow." But in the Gospels, we find Jesus so often using bread -- humble, everyday bread -- as a metaphor for what we need for our spiritual nourishment; indeed, as a metaphor for himself. Not the ancient Palestinian equivalent of filet mignon or cherries jubilee or a salad of arugula and goat cheese; just bread.

How do we nourish ourselves with this bread? By regularly hearing the Word; by partaking of the Sacrament; by opening ourselves to God's presence through prayer and contemplation. Following the Daily Office is a way to open our hands to receive daily bread -- a simple, regular "meal" of Scripture and prayer to keep us going from day to day and hour to hour.

Not too long ago I was in a bakery in northern Michigan that, post the low-carbohydrate fad, sold bumper stickers proclaiming "BREAD IS BACK." Those of us in the broad catholic tradition of Christianity have a gift, in the daily disciplines of our praxis, to offer other Christians who've become jaded by pop-Christian novelty and splash, who just need to be fed spiritually, in good square meals that have staying power. Bread is back; as Christ feeds us through Word and Sacrament and prayer, let's invite others to join us.

"Mother With Baby, Child Placing Bread in Oven," Hablot Knight Browne Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday Bloom Blogging

Here's a heliotrope from my purple garden, shot this morning before I went to work -- some of my other plants are being bullied, space- and sunwise, by the larger, more sprawling plants like my butterfly bush, but this flower seems to thrive in the dappled sunlight. (Smells good too.)

This is an anxious and somewhat gloomy bloom blog, because my travel pard had a kidney stone attack yesterday and this morning, and is at the hospital about 70 miles away right now. She was in another city, visiting a relative and running errands, when this all happened -- which is a lot better than being, say, in the middle of a hiking trail in the Seney Wildlife Refuge. I'm thinking we're going to wind up being trolls (i.e., under the Bridge) next week instead of intrepid adventurers...but that's okay. Nonetheless, I am on standby. Think of us, everyone.

The RevGal Friday Five: "That's Entertainment"

Describe the last play or musical you saw. (At least provide the what, when, where, and why). What was your opinion of it?

It's funny: I love theatre, and I love musicals -- I quite frequently break into show tunes, which is pretty scary if you've ever heard my voice -- but it's been ages since I've been to a real stage show. I want to say that the last one I went to was a small-town (not my small town) community-theater presentation of The Fantasticks -- a musical I'm not all that fond of anyway -- and it wasn't very good.

All time favorite play? Musical?

Wow. I have to go with the Bard -- Macbeth for drama, A Midsummer Night's Dream for comedy. It's hard to pick just one musical; I love an oldie but goodie, Anything Goes, for the music and dancing. Showboat; Cabaret; Oklahoma; Camelot; Damn Yankees; West Side Story; The Sound of Music; Godspell; Cats; Rent; Avenue Q. (No real thematic pattern here, is there?)

The Producers, The Philadelphia Story, Hairspray, The Wedding Singer…all were movies before they were musicals (okay “The Philadelphia Story” was a play and then a movie, and they changed its name when it became a musical, but whatever). What non-musical movie do you think should next get the musical treatment?

How about Snakes on a Plane? Just kidding. Honestly, I'm not all that into movies-into-musicals.

Favorite song from a musical? Why?

"Anything Goes" -- it's just fun to sing. It almost makes me want to dance, too, which is another scary proposition. (I bet you wanted me to pick something from Godspell, didn't you? Well, my favorite song from Godspell is "On the Willows." There you go.)

The most recent trend in Broadway musical revues is to construct a show around the oeuvre of a particular super-group or composer, where existing songs are woven together with some kind of through story. The most successful of these(Jersey Boys (The Four Seasons), Mamma Mia (ABBA), Movin’ Out (Billy Joel) have made a mint, but many (All Shook Up (Elvis), Hot Feet (Earth, Wind and Fire)) have bombed. What great pop/rock singer/composer or super-group should be the next to be featured, and what might the story-line be for such a show?

Constant readers know of my strange, twisted and frankly unexplicable, even to me, fondness for the "reality" television program Rock Star. If you made a musical comedy out of this, it would combine elements of A Chorus Line, The Producers, The Full just might work. The story line would be: A mostly washed-up, dissipated self-parody of a formerly popular rock-and-roll band tries to revive its vanishing fortunes by making a comeback with a new lead singer. Contestants include: a resentful, "I could have been a contender" bass player from another down-at-its-heels rock-and-roll band -- a person so obscure that no one recognizes him as a veteran; a ringer planted by a villainous individual or group that tries to work the show to serve its own evil agenda; a famous performer of another artistic genre who has made much publicly of "wanting to grow as an artist" and "wanting to change direction," who really sucks at being a rock-and-roll singer but doesn't quite understand that; and,of course, the pure-hearted, kick-fanny amateur hero or heroine just looking for a chance to make it big.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Of Grace, Works and a Tale of Two Dogs

I want to tell you about my friend Cassie.

Cassie is a golden retriever. She loves everybody. She loves me. Whenever she sees me she hurls all 60-some muscular pounds of her wiggling, wagging self at me and ecstatically pushes her face into mine: I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!

Cassie also gives me stuff. The first time I met her, she excitedly offered me her teddy bear, an act that made my heart melt into a puppy-love puddle. She gives me her other toys. Very often she gives me my own stuff -- my shoe; my sock; my book. Sometimes she gives me stuff I don't understand, like a wadded-up page of newspaper. Whatever she gives me, she presents it with enthusiasm; a full-body wag, a bow, a growly chortle: I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!

Like I said, sometimes Cassie gives me stuff I just don't get. Sometimes she gives me stuff I'd rather not get, like used underwear. And sometimes, frankly, the gift appears to be a means to an end: I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! WILL YOU LET ME OUTSIDE NOW SO I CAN CHASE THE SQUIRREL?

But no matter whether her gift is endearing, perplexing, goofy or gross -- I love her. I'd love her even if she never gave me anything; but I love her gifts (or at least try to), because they're from her.

Let me tell you about another friend of mine. Many of you know him already. His name is Cody; The Codeman; The Codester. He doesn't bring me stuff. For one thing, he's not into carrying things around in his mouth except for kibbles and biscuits, and he ain't sharin' those with nobody. He's also never leapt into my lap and showered my face with kisses.

If Cody had words to live by, they'd be, "It's Hard To Be Little and Scared." For a variety of reasons -- his genetics, his past experiences, his age and its related ailments -- it's hard for him to trust anyone, human or fellow beast. He's hand-shy; he's a fear biter; sometimes when he is afraid he gets so upset that he loses control of his bowels, or throws up.

But when Cody greets me at the door with a "Wheeeee!"...or quietly inches closer to me to snuggle with me on the sofa, even on a hot day like today...when he walks up to me and ever so slightly wags his tail until I pick him up...when he does his crazy little "butt dance" up and down the hallway for no particular reason...when he cautiously starts to make friends with other sentient beings (including the irrepressible Cassie) me, those are gifts too, even if, like Cassie, sometimes the gift doesn't make a lot of sense, or has some obviously self-serving end. And I love the gift. But I'd love him even if he didn't do these things.

Many non-Lutherans have a hard time understanding the Lutheran approach to good works. Sometimes they think we think they don't matter; that we rest on the cheap-grace laurels of our baptisms. And sometimes we Lutherans don't seem to understand our own theology regarding good works. My father's family belonged to a Pietistic faith community where getting involved in, say, a worthy public service was likely to be seen, not as an expression of faith in action, but as a self-serving exercise in what Grandma called Augenschein, or vainglory, and people were constantly made to second-guess their motivations for doing good things. Which kind of made good works bad, in that parish.

Cassie and Cody are both loved, very much, no matter what they do. They've both been met and accepted where they are. And that love and acceptance stir something inherent, given, in each of them that wants to respond, somehow. Sometimes the response is sweet; sometimes not so much; sometimes it has to rise above some equally inherent unloving, ungiving, fearful impulse; sometimes it needs to be guided or corrected. But they're both still loved, cherished members of their households -- not because of what they do or don't do, but because of their humans' embrace of them; the humans' "Yes!" to the canine presence in their lives.

Do you think that maybe "going to the dogs" can tell us something about God, and something about ourselves?