Friday, August 31, 2007

Sent to Whom? Settled Into What?

This past weekend, as mentioned, I had the opportunity to hear the ELCA's Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson preach. His sermon was based on what I later found out is kind of a denominational mantra these days: We need to be a sent church, not a settled church.

Well, that's rather obvious. But to whom are we sent?

This past week I encountered an individual on Beliefnet who is obsessed with hell; who has posted serial topic threads on more than one forum asking things like, "I love God...what can I do so that I don't sin, so that I won't go to hell?" and "Does God send children to hell?" and "Are all sins the same or are some worse than others?"

I also encountered a newspaper feature article on a local teenager dying of incurable cancer, who is spending his last days worrying that members of his family aren't "saved."

Lutherans are practical folk. When we're told that we're called to reach out to others, the reaching-out is often in tangibles -- a quilt for a refugee; a roaster of food for a family in distress; a helping hand on a building project. But I might suggest that one of the most important ways we can reach out to people around us is to actually proclaim the Gospel -- not the Bible-banging, prooftexting blather of stereotypical evangelism, but the real good news of Christianity: That God's default characteristics are love and grace, not hate or anger or contempt for creation or a stony bureaucratic insistence on The Rules; that God loves us, no matter what, and has demonstrated that love through Jesus Christ, God With Us; that God has saved and is saving and will save us. This is frankly not a message that resounds through much of American Christianity today, as evidenced, at least to me, by the number of Christians cowering in fear of being kicked off the God bus into the abyss.

But being sent means no longer being settled -- no longer settled in the whiny, defensive self-pity that many of us mainliners seem to marinate in when we see our denominational membership statistics or Sunday attendance stats; no longer settled in our rhetorical comfort zones, wherever those may be, in our endless intra-denominational pissing matches; no longer settled in the drowsy mists of personal/tribal curvatus in se.

We're sent to tell other people -- including other Christians for whom this is news -- that God loves them. What a concept.

A Seasonal Friday Five

1. Share a highlight from this summer. (If you please, don't just say "our vacation to the Canadian Rockies." Give us a little detail or image. Help us live vicariously through you!)

I remember sitting up in the nosebleed seats of Comerica Park, watching the Detroit Tigers but also looking at the downtown skyline, thinking about how my mother spent some very enjoyable years -- probably the best years of her life -- working as a secretary there, before she got married and moved to Outer Podunk. I felt, for a moment, as if she were revisiting Detroit through me.

2. Are you glad to see this summer end? Why or why not?
In a way I am, because we've had a lot of illness and stress this season that I'd just as soon distance myself from. On the other hand -- as much as I love autumn, the discernably shortening days of late summer always make me feel melancholic.

3. Name one or two things you're looking forward to this fall.
I am looking forward to apple season, particularly looking for antique apples; and I'm looking forward to leaf-peeping "up north" as the season progresses.

4. Do you have any special preparations or activities to mark the transition from one season to another? (Cleaning of house, putting away summer clothes, one last trip to the beach)
Sadly, the rituals are all un-fun, practical ones: replacing and weatherstripping the storm windows; calling the furnace guy for an inspection and cleanup; pulling straggly annuals and spent tomato plants. Well...let me take that back: Going to the Wheatland Music Festival, the weekend after Labor Day, is an enjoyable transition; it usually still feels like summer proper, but the morning mist and chill, the drying grass of the fields, the scattered red and yellow leaves here and there along the roadsides, hint of a change.

5. I'll know that fall is really here when __________________________________.
When I hear the furnace turn on!

Hat tip: The gorgeous artwork is Ros Forbush's "End of Summer," available at South Street Gallery .

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mucho Salsa

The other weekend while we were tour-guiding the relation around Amish country we bought a pint of Amish salsa. It was very good.

"You know," Fellow Traveler mused, "we could can our own salsa."

This was true. I still had my mom's canner and jars and canning accoutrements. And the local farm markets are overflowing with raw materials.

Tonight, Ball Blue Book in hand, after FT spent an entire day peeling blanched tomatoes and chopping other vegetables, we began to can salsa. We are still canning salsa.

This is either one of our most inspired or most insane summer projects.

I am designated lid-pop listener. If the lids don't pop, we are going to have to throw one heck of a taco party.

Says Fellow Traveler: "I will never, ever complain about the price of store-bought salsa again."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Joke...Sort Of

This joke comes to you courtesy of theologian Marva Dawn, by way of my blogpal Andy at Sinning Boldly:

A worldwide survey was conducted by the UN. The only question asked was: "Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?"

The survey was a huge failure.

In Africa, they didn't know what "food" meant.
In Eastern Europe they didn't know what "honest" meant.
In Western Europe they didn't know what "shortage" meant.
In China they didn't know what "opinion" meant.
In the Middle East they didn't know what "solution" meant.
In South America they didn't know what "please" meant.
And in the US, they didn't know what "the rest of the world" meant.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Birth of the Blues?

During my commutes back and forth to my retreat this weekend (I still chuckle at calling my trainings "retreats" -- we don't retreat very far, do we), I was listening to Eric Clapton's excellent From the Cradle, his paen to the blues greats. These blues are so low-down that you get road rash on your belly just hearing them.

Juxtaposed against the Psalm laments -- they were the perfect soundtrack. Serendipity!

Being There

Quite a celebration they had for our synodical bishop's installation on Saturday.

It was really quite a moving event -- seeing all the clergy there (especially all the female clergy) decked out in their red and white vestments (even my generally ecclesiastical-swag-averse pastor was clad in a regulation red stole); the music, which featured everything from a massed choir with brass and woodwinds to the bishop's son, who performs in a folk-rock duo, singing a song he and his musical partner composed specifically for the event; seeing and hearing Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, whose sermon about striving to be a sent church rather than a settled church I hope our laity takes to heart; the actual installation ceremony, in which the entire congregation was invited to raise a hand and symbolically add our blessings to those of the clergy actually laying hands on him.

As Constant Readers know I have equivocal feelings, to say the least, about Church, Inc. But I truly wish our new bishop well. Earlier in the morning he'd stopped into our lay ministry classroom for a few minutes, and he was most gracious and supportive.

I would love to be a part of a church that has gotten over its sentimentality for 1950's-era white-gloved cultural Christianity and its self-pity over its changing demographic fortunes, and is ready to get on with it and live Christ into the future. can read about the installation here .

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Culturally Engaging Friday Five

Sally from the RevGalBlogPals offers the following challenge this week:

I have spent the week at Summer School studying the Gospel and Western culture, we have looked at art, literature, music, film and popular culture in their myriad expressions. With that in mind I bring you the cultural Friday 5.

Name a

1. Book

2. Piece of music

3. Work of art

4. Film

5. Unusual engagement with popular culture

That have helped/challenged you on your spiritual journey.

Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why?

Wow...having just gotten back from my commuter retreat with a case of major fatigue/brain fry, it is going to be difficult to be very thoughtful here...but I will make the attempt:

Book. Robert Farrar Capon's Supper of the Lamb is a delightful book that explores the connection between spirituality and food. Even though it's been around awhile, I recently noticed it featured in a cookbook-of-the-month club; it made me happy to think of it reaching a wider audience in this way. As I've noted in other blog entries, I've never thought of myself as much of a hostess-with-the-mostess, but offering hospitality has become a greater part of life over the past year and a half; and I'm interested in approaching this from a spiritual perspective.

Piece of music. The Godspell soundtrack was a formative influence on me when I was still a fluffy young LutheranChik.

Work of art. I love the artwork of Carl Larsson, which celebrates home life and a simple but aesthetically mindful lifestyle. To me his paintings of his home and farm and neighborhood represent a kind of ideal of an integrated life.

Film. I'm so tired I can't answer this one. Casablanca. That's always a good answer; right? Virtue exhibited by a flawed individual?

Unusual engagement with popular culture. I think that having circles of friends and acquaintances well outside the circle of "church people" -- a neighborhood where many of us folks of faith would, in our heart of hearts, prefer to dwell -- has done nothing but benefit my faith walk. Spending a significant number of years on a Christianity vacation has also provided me with a kind of outsider's perspective that I now find most helpful in engaging with the wider world. And I'd truly rather be here on the margins than anywhere else. I think it's where God has called me to be.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Good Things

In many ways this has been a very frustrating summer at our house -- neither of us have felt our best physically or emotionally much of the time; and then there was Fellow Traveler's tumor scare; and we've had various obligations steal our time away; and I've had the added stressor of extreme job dissatisfaction. And let's not even talk about the constant negative drumbeat of current events.

Despite this, we have found ourselves counting a number of blessings, big and little this summer. They include:

FT's nephew, who just spent a weekend with us. He's a smart, sensitive, thoughtful and wryly humorous young man who went through an incredibly difficult childhood that forced him to, more or less, grow himself up. He's also had to live through the trauma of his sister, his only other sibling, being murdered, and carries the burden of caring for and worrying about parents who've made poor life choices they're now paying for physically and otherwise. We were so happy to get to know him, and help him reconnect to his extended family history, and offer our support to him.

The recreational area that is just a hop, skip and jump from my house. When I was a kid, this was a private sportsman's club; it later became county property. We love to take the dogs here to run around, and we've also spent enjoyable times fishing and picnicing here. There's winding roads and trails; a river with an observation deck; picnic tables, barbecue grills and horseshoe pits; even a log lodge that groups can rent. I can't believe that I never took advantage of this wonderful recreational spot before.

My front porch -- another unused gem right under my nose. My parents never sat on their porch; my mother, particularly, was afraid of bugs and bats and weather. We have reclaimed my porch -- have a table and stadium chairs set up; have my houseplants, outside enjoying summer camp, nearby for ambience. It's the bestest place to drink coffee on a weekend morning.

Jones Sugar-Free Cream Soda. It rocks. It contains sucralose, which the Jones Soda folks maintain is a better tasting artificial sweetener, so if you're put off by other sugar-free beverages you might want to try this.

Chateau Chantal Naughty Red Wine. This is the actual name of the wine -- a red wine from the Grand Traverse region, which is more well known for its Rieslings and other white wines. This wine is very light, and just a teeny-tad sweet; it's actually better chilled, and as the label suggests, you can be "naughty" and pair it with fish or other light foods that are typically served with white wines.

Our grills. I am a grilling newbie; my dad would clean the cobwebs off our old charcoal grill maybe once or twice a summer for a hot dog roast, and that was it. This year, I've really gotten to enjoy experimenting with our charcoal grill -- trying different charcoals and wood chips. (A major discovery -- pork steak, usually thought of as po' food, grills up really well, especially when it's flavored by apple chips.) We've also gotten a lot of use out of my old George Foreman outdoor kettle grill, which is now on Fellow Traveler's patio; it's easy and fast and a good cooking alternative to the stove on a hot day. I'm told that I can use wood chips in "The George," as we call it...we'll have to try it out sometime.

Wasabi-coated almonds. Very addictive, especially as road food.

The Yoder kids. These are two engaging Amish lads -- Prince Valiant haircuts, straw hats, no shoes -- who sell quilts, baskets and canned goods on a well-traveled intersection not too far from Outer Podunk. The older brother is the salesperson, and a good one; the younger brother mostly looks charming, but occasionally joins in the conversation. We have bought numerous items from them and gotten to know them. This past weekend, when we were taking FT's sister and nephew around the neighborhood, we felt sorry for the boys sitting there in the heat, and on the return trip we brought them pop and Snickers bars -- their surprise and delight was itself delightful.

Putumayo music. It's funny how we go through music phases. This summer, after listening to an album by a group called Inanna, I really started wanting to listen to more world music. We listen to Music From the Coffee Lands and Music From the Wine Lands quite a lot; "Puerto Claridad," from the latter compilation, is my favorite song...quite friskifying, if you get my drift.

I'm sure I could think of more Good Things, but I'll stop now.

I Didn't Say It -- My Therapist Did

My therapist, on maintaining one's internal locus of control in the face of constantly critical/uncomprending presences in one's life -- the kind of people who suck the soul and morale and energy out of you:

"You know, it's okay to listen politely, nod your head and say you understand...and then walk away thinking, Fuck you."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pawn Meets Bishop

I got an invitation to a bishop's installation this Saturday. Actually, it's at the church where I'm having a lay ministry retreat.

How does one dress for an installation? My retreat-wear usually consists of blue jeans and MSU sweatshirts; guess I'll have to gussy up a little.

Reunion Recap

Hey -- family reunions are cool. Especially when they're not mine. I mean -- one side of my family is a little too hoch und heilig to be much fun, and the other (the barbecued beaver on a bun side) is a little too jackpine savage. Fellow Traveler's reunion, by contrast, was a great deal of fun. I even won a golfing-practice thingmabob during the reunion auction.

A good time was had by all.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Poetry Blogging

With the beginning of school just around the corner, here's an ode to a teacher who made a difference. I hope we all had a Mrs. Krikorian in our young lives.

Friday Five: Word Play

This Friday's RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five asks us to free-associate using the following words, taken from this coming Sunday's lectionary readings:

vineyard: When I was a kid my experience of grapevines was limited to the wild ones that meandered through the brush along the side of the road and the sprawling Concord vine, covering a length of fence and taking over the nearby yardlight pole, that my aunt and uncle had in their backyard. So when I first saw an actual vineyard, I was shocked at how short and stubby and frankly ugly the grapevines were; it seemed impossible that so many grapes could come from these unpromising rows of gnarled stumps. Thinking about it, though, especially as I try to live a more mindful and ordered life -- what a metaphor for the benefits of wresting order from chaos; for selective pruning of those parts of our behaviors and reactions to life that aren't necessary, that draw the life away from that part of ourselves that's creative...that's fruitful. Although once in awhile we also need to get away to those wild, tangled woodland vine arbors for refreshment and inspiration.

root: Roots have been on my mind lately because my container tomatoes -- which is all of them, because keeping them in pots close to my house is the only way I can protect them against marauding deer -- are becoming potbound at this point of the year. Their soil has become a solid root-sponge; I have to constantly water and feed the containers to keep the plants alive. The same thing seems to happen to our spiritual roots when we deprive ourselves of the soil of Word and Sacrament and when we don't give ourselves room to move intellectually or emotionally or relationally in our faith lives -- we become potbound; stunted; sickly; easily dried up.

rescue: Once upon a time, when I was exploring alternative forms of medicine, I bought myself a little bottle of a Bach elixir called Rescue Remedy, to use when I was feeling anxious and scattered. (The Bach flower remedies are -- and I'm sorry if I offend anyone here -- a little bit of homeopathic hoo-doo; the Bach people shake and dilute, and shake and dilute, and shake and dilute, to an exponential degree, tiny amounts of plant material until, they claim, one is left with the "essence" of the plant. They then mix this water with brandy in a little bottle. You're supposed to squirt a few drops of this substance on your tongue to derive the medical benefits of this "essence.") Anyway, the Rescue Remedy did not rescue me from my next bout of acute anxiety. And that's what I think of when I think of rescue -- a feeling of relief and closure and beating back chaos.

perseverance: I used to work in an office with an ex-Marine whose favorite exclamation, whenever he was frustrated or confused or under a deadline, was, "Persevere!" I have to say -- while that particular job was forgettable, I often find myself falling back on his self-reminder when I am in a jam.

divided: On one hand I think of unhealthy divisions, like the various issues that divide faith communities. On the other hand, I also think of my perennials, and how if some of them, like irises, aren't divided from time to time, they tend to lose their vigor and fade away.

(Note to the RevGals: As helpful as it sometimes is to think about The Big Things, I'm ready for some fun and frivolous Friday Fives again...just a suggestion!)

Living the Psalms

One of my required readings for my upcoming lay ministry retreat is James Limburg's Psalms For Sojourners. It occurs to me that, with all the medical Sturm und Drang we've been through this spring and summer, we've been living a lot of the Psalms in a very immediate way.

I recall whining to someone once about the diminished or even vanished role of the Psalms in Sunday liturgies, and their response was that, because the Psalms are so emotionally raw, they're perhaps more fitting for individual and small-group worship anyway. He may have had a point.

Family Reunion

I'm going to a family reunion this weekend.

Big deal;right? Well, it is if it isn't your family, biologically speaking. And it's a big deal in our household because we'll be bringing along Fellow Traveler's sister, a former wild child of the 60's and 70's who has been estranged from the rest of the clan, and whom FT herself hasn't seen in 20 years; her sister and her nephew are flying in this weekend and staying with us.

I don't have a lot of experience with family reunions; my extended families, for various reasons, weren't too keen on rendevouzing. I do remember one reunion, when I was a tween, of my paternal grandmother's side of the family; these folks were all avid hunters,fur trappers and fisherpeople, so the reunion potluck was rather...eclectic. (Barbecued beaver on a bun, anyone? And, no, I didn't make that up.) When I was in college the paternal grandfather's side of the family got together; but at that point my interest in familial bonding was at low ebb, so I stayed away.

In some respects I find it something of a relief to go to a reunion where I'm an "other" biologically, if not relationally, and don't have any family baggage to tote along. And I like the members of Fellow Traveler's family I've met so far, and they seem to like me in return; they keep asking FT, "You're bringing LutheranChik, aren't you?" But in a way this actually makes me feel more protective of FT's sister; I want people to be as kind and welcoming to her as they've been to me.

So...we are bringing Amish pies from our friend Lydia and my famous Chinese cabbage salad, and some tschotshkes for the family secondhand auction. I'm hoping we have a great time, and that FT's sister's family-baggage load lightens up a bit.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Sign That the End is Nigh

Today, for about 30 seconds, I seriously considered ordering and reading Accounting For Dummies.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Life Is Good

Fellow Traveler's tests came back today negative for any sign of cancer.

When people ask me where God is during times of me God is in the hearts and hands of God's friends who reach out to help. So thank God, and thank all of you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

To Hell and Back

A discussion on the Beliefnet Lutheran forum about hell -- a trollish correspondent is having a fit because, in his perception, not enough Lutherans have a sufficient appreciation for the horrors of hell and all the people that, presumably unlike said correspondent, are headed there -- reminded me that I took a trip to Hell last week.

Hell, Michigan , that is.

We made a side trip to Hell, a village in Livingston County, on the way home from Ann Arbor. Hell is pretty empty most of the time, although it's a popular tourist destination at Halloween. There's a party store in Hell, and a tavern called the Dam Site (there really is a dam), and a tourist-kitsch/ice cream place. The residents of Hell we encountered were unfailingly nice, and also articulate and enthusiastic promoters of their hometown.

We'd intended to have an ice cream cone in Hell, but thought the better of it. I did find it interesting, though, that the kitsch portion of the store seemed to be hedging its bets, because in addition to the hellish merchandise it also carried a buff Jesus action figure.

I had my semi-sister-in-law snap a photo of my dog Cody peering out from a signboard proclaiming "I'm a Little Devil From Hell"; unfortunately it's still in her camera. I can say I've been to Hell and back.

Who Da Man? He Da Man

This summer, more than ever, I have let my Inner Jock -- consigned to a dark corner of my psyche ever since I was a fat, gym-challenged kindergartener -- run free.

It's fun. I watch the Shock. I even watched golf the other day. But most of all, I watch the Tigers.

Curtis Granderson is awesome -- I mean, that guy is everywhere and does everything. Pudge Rodriguez rocks; what a team player. But my fan-ish heart belongs, most of all, to...Magglio Ordonez. I would wear a Maggs jersey any day.

Monday, August 13, 2007

One Perspective on the 2007 General Assembly

Before the 2007 ELCA General Assembly: Chop wood, carry water.

After the 2007 ELCA General Assembly: Chop wood, carry water.

Go Ahead -- Wine

As some of you know I am a shameless promoter of all things Michigan (someone has to be). One of Michigan's best-kept secrets (thanks in part to our own state's archaic and chowderheaded moral-nanny legislation that keeps state wineries from promoting their products the way that, say, California wineries can develop their markets) is its wine industry. Some of our wines are quite wonderful.

If you go here , you can learn how to win a mixed case of Michigan wines. Even though I am lowering my own chances of winning by sharing this contest with you...gol' darn it, more people should drink Michigan wine. And you can read all about it on this website.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Life is Good (99 Percent of the Time)

Here's a Fellow Traveler health update:

We went to Ann Arbor on Friday to see FT's doctor. He examined her and said, "We can schedule you for surgery next week, or I can remove the tumor now." FT said, "Do it now." So that's what he did. From what I was told later the surgery was a scream -- literally -- but FT walked out of the Women's Health area on her own, with a thumbs-up sign.

Her doctor thinks the tumor is benign; he noted that only 1 percent of tumors in that particular area of the anatomy turn out to be malignancies. We will not know for sure until her biopsy results come back the end of next week. But today -- today -- life is pretty good.

FT is technically on complete bedrest -- I say "technically" because short of hog-tying her or shooting her with one of those Wild Kingdom tranquilizer darts she isn't going to do complete bedrest. But we've spent a fairly lazy day listening to my excellent Putumayo Music From the Coffee Lands CD and watching mindless TV.

Life is good, 99 percent of the time. We're hoping, and living like, we're in the 99 percent.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Getting Honest About Sick Days

I called in sick today.

This was something of a fib, of course; I called in because in about an hour we're headed to Ann Arbor to see the GYN and oncologist. So shoot me.

Our organization follows an arcane system of calculating time off -- in a given fiscal year, if you don't use sick days they turn into vacation days, or personal hours, in a formula that I frankly haven't understood for the seven years I've worked there. And unused time-off days don't roll over into the next fiscal year, so there's an underlying message to "Use 'em or lose 'em."

We have vacation days, but given the immediacy of our situation it would have been bizarre to put in for a sudden, "emergency" vacation day. We have a limited number of personal days, but I tend to whittle those away hour by hour for things like my own doctors' appointments and other necessary personal "bidness" that I can't manage during my lunchtime. So withdrawing from my infrequently used bank of sick days seemed the most prudent thing to do in the circumstances.

Awhile back, on public radio, I heard a great audio editorial suggesting that employers get real about their employees' need to take time off for reasons that don't fall neatly into systematized categories, and just call all time off "personal time." Put it all into one big pot that an employee can draw on whether s/he's in bed with the flu, stuck at the mechanic's for a day with vehicle problems, planning a week off for a vacation, attending to another family member's needs, or just in need of a "mental health day"? What would be so hard about this? What would be the down side? It seems to me that it would protect employee privacy, which in turn would promote honesty -- if you don't have to justify or categorize why you need time off, you don't have to lie or equivocate about it.

Friday Five: Stressed Edition

Questions from the RevGalBlogPals:

1. First, and before we start busting stress, what causes you the most stress, is it big things or the small stuff ?

2. Exercise or chocolate for stress busting ( or maybe something else) ?
How about a 45-minute walk down my quiet, tree-lined neighborhood roads...followed by one of those mack-daddy 88-percent-cocoa dark chocolate bars?

3.What is your favourite music to chill out to?
Gentle classical music -- Chopin, classical guitar, etc; the Sirius Coffeehouse channel; classic pop (Ella, Billie, Frank, Rosemary, et al).

4. Where do you go to chill?
The sofa, mostly. Or my shady front porch.

5. Extrovert or introvert, do you relax at a party, or do you prefer a solitary walk?
While I've become more of a social butterfly than I've ever been -- to me "party" and "relax" are mutually exclusive concepts. Definitely the solitary walk.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Katie: A Very Good Dog

We lost our Katie, i.e., Miss Kate, i.e, Katy-Did, today. May she rest in peace.

Most high, almighty Lord, our Creator,
yours are the praise, the glory, the honour and all blessings! To
you alone do all things belong. Be praised for giving
us the animals, birds and fish which fill your world.
May we think of you and thank you when we play with and
care for our pets. Be praised for making us so happy
to have our pets. We ask
you, Lord, that we may be good to our pets always, so
that they may be happy also. Help us always to take
care of them so that they will be healthy. O God, your
world is wonderful. May we all come into your even
greater world of the kingdom of heaven where we shall
see even more wonderful things and where we shall live
and love for ever. This we ask to your eternal praise,
and to our blessing. Amen

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Pastoral Care -- Home Edition

We're sitting on the sofa. We've done some crying and some out-loud worrying, and some explaining to Son #2, who's just called.

"What can I do for you?" I ask Fellow Traveler. This is partly a snippet of counseling advice from my lay ministry training; partly the modeling of my own pastor; partly one of my own favorite defense mechanisms against encroaching chaos --namely, get assigned a bulleted list of jobs. And I recall that Jesus prefaced at least one healing with that question; that's a good precedent.

Fellow Traveler laughs. "Well, there's the dishes...and the kitchen floor..."

Then she gets serious. "What you can do is help me not give up."

I've got a job.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

It's Always Something

Last week at this time, my list of anxieties -- such as they were, in my new pharmaceutically mellowed frame of mind -- were pretty banal: a tussle with my phone company over a bill; morning fuzzy-headedness; everyday workplace irritations.

Today that all changed. Actually, it began to change this past weekend, when Fellow Traveler started exhibiting some unexplainable and frankly worrisome bleeding. She was able to see her primary care provider today...who examined her and found a bleeding tumor in a place it hadn't been even a couple of months ago, when she had her last surgery. This is serious stuff. On Friday she has to go to Ann Arbor to see a specialist, someone who assisted with her last surgery.

Needless to say, life has taken a dramatic turn here. Lots of why: Why is this happening? Why is it happening to someone who has had to struggle with so many medical problems and so much pain for so long? Why is it happening to someone who tries so hard to take care of her health? Why is it that, whenever we pass through one life crisis, another lies right around the corner? Lots of how, as in How are we going to navigate through this together? Our normally light-hearted evening chats the past couple of evenings have ventured into the scary territory of what if.

If partners are priests to one another, I have to say that my chaplaincy skills leave a lot to be desired. How do you pray with someone when your own head is exploding in fear and anger and sadness? "HELP!" is the best I can manage.

We are trying to remain as calm as possible until Friday, when we have a better idea of what's happening. Right now we're sitting watching mindless TV (Dog the Bounty Hunter, to be exact) and tip-tapping on our respective laptops. We're also distracted tonight by Katie the golden retriever, who has been very ill for the last day -- drooling and incontinent and unsteady, as if she's eaten something toxic.(Our local traveling vet is stopping by tomorrow.)

Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated in the days to come as we face this challenge.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What I'm Reading For Fun

One of the goals my therapist and I have set, as a means of dealing with my chronic tendency to be mean to myself, is for me to schedule time to do things that I enjoy, that I've not been doing.

Pleasure reading is on the short list of such activities. So -- after over a year of not picking up a book just to read for the fun of it -- I am reading an espionage novel: Daniel Silva's Prince of Fire, featuring conflicted Israeli spy/master art restorer Gabriel Allon. Before my mother got sick, we both enjoyed Silva's thrillers; it was nice to once again lose myself for a little while in the suspense.

My other fun book is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Golf. I've just gotten through the first chapter, but it does seem geared to someone of my knowledge level, which is to say hardly any. Now at least I know a birdie from a bogey and a chip from a putt. One of these days I'll actually garner the courage to move from backyard whiffle-ball-smacking to an actual driving range with real golf balls.

Rock, Meet Hard Place

I'm going to do my best to ignore the General Assembly this year. But it is ironic that, last week, I had at least one new orifice chewed out for me on the Beliefnet Homosexuality and Faith forum, where one of my brethren or sistern more or less accused me of being an ignorant, self-hating quisling for remaining in the Christian faith in general and the ELCA in particular.

Hmmm...does that feel better or worse than being called "intrinsically disordered," or whatever the ELCA conservatives' version of that is, and schismatic?

It's pretty much the same.

Good thing I took my happy pill tonight.

Retreat Treat

I was disappointed this past year when our lay ministry retreat focused on the Psalms was cancelled due to bad weather.

Well, it's on again, for the end of the month. Lisa Dahill, Assistant Professor of Worship and Christian Spirituality at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, will be our facilitator.

A Lutheran professor of Christian Spirituality...may her tribe increase.

My last lay ministry outing, a skill day where various professional Lutherans came to advise us on ways we could use our training and continuing education opportunities, was incredibly depressing for me because it seemed almost totally focused on pastoral ministry. It reminded me of my high school gym class, which over the years had become nothing more than a farm team for girls' varsity sports; if you weren't varsity material, as far as the teacher was concerned you were basically wasting oxygen. Likewise, after listening to various pitches for late-in-life seminary all day, I felt like something stuck on the bottom of a seminarian's shoe.

Since then I've become much more philosophical about the whole endeavor. I'm just in this thing, I've decided, to learn and grow. What I do with what I learn -- who knows. Probably something off the books and under the radar. Which might be the most interesting place to be anyway.

Making a Good Recipe Better

One of Fellow Traveler's very favorite dishes is my Chinese cabbage salad. It's not something I made up -- the recipe is from my battered, well loved Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. But sometimes it pays to play around with a familiar dish. In this case, some leftover charcoal-grilled pork loin and sweet chili sauce made a good recipe really good.

Chinese Cabbage Salad With Pork

Toast in a pan over medium heat until golden brown, then set aside to cool:
1 package ramen noodles, without seasoning packet
3 TBS slivered almonds
1 TBS sesame seeds

Meanwhile, whisk together:
3 TBS soy sauce
2 TBS rice or white vinegar, or to taste
3 TBS oil
2 tsp sugar, or to taste
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp chili sauce (in the Chinese/Thai section of the supermarket), or to taste

Toss in bowl:
3 cups shredded napa cabbage
1 cup or more leftover extra-lean pork, shredded or diced
1/4 cup slivered red bell pepper
about three green onions, sliced

Just before serving, toss vegetables with dressing; season to taste. Top with toasted mixture.

Cooks' Notes: I really like the dressing and usually make half again as much to add to the salad. Chicken is also good in the salad, although I usually make it without any meat, and if you like to add fruit to dinner salads orange bits or mandarin oranges are good in here.

Tip: If you like charcoal-grilled food but don't have the time or energy to do a lot of long as you have hot coals, make extra food to enjoy over subsequent meals. We did this the other day with chicken thighs, pork loin and pork steak -- three days, three meals, one grillling session! Veggies are also good grilled ahead of time, then made into a salad.

The case for unfamiliar seasonings: Why go to the trouble of purchasing some fairly exotic ingredient like sesame oil or chili sauce for a recipe, especially if you're pinching pennies? Because they can be used to punch up other recipes. Toasted sesame oil, for instance, is great to add to recipes calling for sesame seeds or other nuts/seeds if you have someone in your household who has a hard time digesting those foods; it provides a great nutty flavor if used prudently and stored in the fridge in between uses to keep it from going rancid. Sweet chili sauce tastes fantastic in/on all sorts of things -- mix it with soy sauce, for instance, and it makes a great wing sauce; mix it with a bit of soy sauce, some peanut butter diluted with a little hot water and green onion, and you can turn a humble bowl of noodles (even the infamous ramen noodles) into spicy peanut noodles.