Monday, March 31, 2008

Minding the Generation Gap

We just got our first couple of teen friends on our church MySpace page. And I'm here to tell you that whatever fears I've had about my finger not being on the pulse of the younger generation have all come true. These kids live in a whole 'nother world than I did back in the 70's. And not a better one.

All I can say is...God bless youth pastors and DCE's and catechists and everyone else who works with teenagers.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Cheese, Please"

Last night for supper we had cheese and crackers, gourmet style...what we do is visit our favorite gourmet store (which is actually the only gourmet store in a 40-mile radius), head to the rather imposing cheese counter, and buy up any little odd packages of cheese -- tag ends, other customers' mistakes, and so forth. We've found that the less research we engage in beforehand, the more interesting the result. This is a great way to buy fancy-pants cheese for not much money.

Our grab bag Saturday included a small chunk of Mimolette, a rich orange-colored French cousin of Edam; a small wedge of Petit Basque, a mild white cheese; a half-mini-wheel of Fleur des Alpes, a Brie-like soft cheese with a white rind; and a bit of Carr Valley Menage, a white cheese from Wisconsin that's made from a mixture of cow's, goat's and sheep's milks. (This is all information we learned after the fact.)

We baked the Fleur des Alpes with some butter, almonds and maple syrup and ate it on wedges of Granny Smith apple, but ate the other cheeses alone or on crackers. Not a bad one in the bunch. We did take a particular liking to the Menage, which was smooth and nutty.

If "Living well is the best revenge" and "Retail is for suckers" are in a perpetual duel in your brain, this is a great way to have a little fun with food, for not so much money.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Reverence and Ritual

We had our monthly lay ministry meeting yesterday evening.

Part of the meeting was spent tinkering with our church's new sound system to find out which settings work best for each of us on Sundays when we're assisting. But we spent most of our time together talking about the structure of our worship services, and how to bring back a sense of reverence to the worship experience. How do we initially ritually create sacred space that lets people know that they're not at a social, not in a lecture, not at a game show, not at some assembly of individuals all cocooned inside their own private faith dramas, but the gathered people of God, ready to be fed by Word and Sacrament and then sent back out into the world? How do we move ritually, in the course of the service, in ways that express reverence toward God in this special time and place?

High-up-the-candle type that I am, my reaction to this discussion was -- I guess ironically, come to think of it -- Thank you, Jesus! Because I fear that, in our institutional desire to be friendly and welcoming and immediately accessible to anyone who walks through the door, we lose a sense of holy mystery. I remember a neo-pagan "recovering Catholic" friend who told me, in all seriousness, that what she really longed for spiritually was pre-Vatican-II-style worship, but in the context of a socially and theologically progressive church -- Tridentine masses led by a female priest. And I got what she meant.

To me the problem of worship accessibility is not ritual itself, but the failure to guide people through the liturgy, both in terms of basic religious instruction for adults and children alike about the form and function of catholic worship and in terms of actively, mindfully leading people through any given service. And those things can be fixed, I think fairly easily: including a discussion of worship in both our kids' and adult education classes; frequent narrated liturgies, and a general sensitivity on the part of those leading the service about bringing the folks in the pew along with us; using our newsletter and website and bulletin to continually answer those unasked-but-present "whys" regarding worship.

Gertie the Geometrist

The first time it was funny: One evening as I entered the living room from the kitchen I noticed that young Gertie the pup had placed a variety of dog toys into a very close approximation of a circle. I showed Fellow Traveler. We both laughed. What a cute coinkydink! "You're a smahhhht li'l girl!" we praised.

Then, last week, FT called me at work in a state of excitement: "You will not believe this!" she exclaimed. "Gertie has pulled toilet paper all the way from the bathroom to the living room, and she has her toys placed all along the toilet paper at intervals, like she's weighing it down!" Well...hmmmm. Maybe that's not a coincidence.

Last night, when I got home from a church meeting, I found Gertie's latest toy arrangement: Her several loofah dogs, placed end to end, interspersed with her other chewy favorites, making a graceful "S" curve on the rug.

Now, we would much rather have a smart dog than a stupid dog; but -- and maybe this is just our speciesist bias speaking -- it's kind of frightening to live with a dog whom we suspect may be smarter than we least in terms of geometry.

A "Big Money" Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is short and sweet: What five things would you like to do with a million bucks?

Well, maybe it's not so short and sweet, because I've been spending some moodling time wondering whether to respond in terms of, once having the check deposited in the bank, spending it on five different things, or whether to come up with five completely different spending scenarios. (And, yes, I've had waaaay too much caffeine today.)

Let's assume the former: That I've been given a million dollars and have to divvy it up five ways. Let's also assume that I tithe to my church. Here's one way I might spend the rest:

1. Set up some sort of income-producing investment fund that would generate a decent regular household income enhancement, and then not touch the balance, at least for the next three decades or so. With any luck this would generate some money for, among other things, our favorite charities and "random acts," and, if there was money left upon our passing, at least some of it could go toward some cause we truly believe in and wish to support in a significant way.

2. Set a (relatively) small chunk of change aside for my Vehicle Fund. One of my chronic life anxieties is to some day run out of funds for purchasing vehicles as I need them.

3. Set another chunk of change aside for handyman services, and be able to keep a reliable tradesperson or two on retainer to do all those home-maintenance and improvement projects that make families brux their teeth because we either don't have the time or the expertise to do them the right way.

4. Set yet another chunk of change aside for a Family Recreation Fund. FT and I, and our four-legged beasties, very much cherish our recreational time. This would be our fund to draw upon for trips, for books and magazines and music, for hobby supplies (let's include recreational cooking and wine tasting here), for our outdoor activities, for games and entertainment. (Gertie says, "More loofah dogs! I want more loofah dogs!")

5. Reserve a final, much smaller, chunk of change for small personal luxuries -- a massage here, a pair of art-fair earrings there, a foot spa there. I might call this my Crappy Day Comfort Fund.

Keep in mind, of course, that it took me five minutes to come up with all this, and if you asked me five minutes from now it might all look different. And I've had no input from my better half, either. But the above is what I might do with a million dollars, if I ever found myself with such a thing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

MySpace Invitation

My parish just launched a MySpace page. It's in a bare-bones state right now -- we hope to get our kids involved in helping us with design and content -- but we kind of want to aim it at teens and 20-somethings.

If your church has a youth group or young adult group whose members would like to hang out online with their counterparts from our Little Lutheran Church Next To the Hayfield, please contact me, via my Blogger Profile e-mail link, and I will send you our MySpace URL.

Help! Board Silly

For reasons that I don't quite understand, the Spirit, or perhaps my inner frustrated schoolteacher, is moving me to tackle a sticky problem at my church: the church bulletin board.

The board takes up the better part of a half-wall in our fellowship area. It is a mess, reminiscent of those laboratory studies where scientists got spiders hopped up on caffeine, then videotaped them weaving chaotic tangles of webs; stuff is just stapled willy-nilly all over it. And good judgment is not a strong point in the management of our board either; last Sunday I was rather appalled to see the lurid poster of some fundagelical area church advertising a drama entitled, "DESTINATION: HEAVEN OR HELL?" Considering the fact that, half the time, our key people fail to communicate news of our own activities to the rest of the parish, I had to wonder why the "HELL" this thing wound up on our bulletin board.

I would like our bulletin board to be aesthetically pleasing, with information easily accessible and helpful to visitors as well as regulars. I would like the material on it to be organized by category. I would like to use the space in the best way possible. And I would like someone to have veto -- or, let's say, "misplace with extreme prejudice" -- power over content. (Even at the risk of offending the Church Basement Ladies Who Must Be Obeyed, into whose domain I dare to enter.)

If anyone out there in Blogdom has expertise in this little cul-de-sac of congregational ministry, please share your wisdom with me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kids Say the Darnedest Church

Today at work the conversation turned to the topic of children's embarrassing comments. One of my colleagues related the following church incident:

It was time for "children's church," before the sermon, and the pastor was complimenting the dress of my friend's small daughter: "That sure is pretty."

"I know," replied the tot. "But it's a real bitch to iron."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Occupation: Celebrant

When I was visiting a nearby university town the other day, I ran into one of the local bookstores to buy an Utne magazine. I've been an on-and-off reader of Utne ever since its beginnings as The Utne Reader; although for about the past decade I've been off far more than on, because to me the publication seemed to have lost its identity as a kind of Reader's Digest of the alternative press.

But every year or so I check in to see what's going on. And the current issue is pretty good; the cover story is about the infantilization of the workplace, and there's also an eye-opening article about the Bush administration's problem with truth decay in the form of government censorship.

To tell you the truth, though, upon my first cursory skim-through the thing that caught my eye was an advertisement for an organization teaching classes in how to become a...celebrant.

What is a celebrant? Well, it's the secular world's solution for people who want to ritually recognize various touchstones in their lives but who don't want such events laden with religious complications. A celebrant is an equal-opportunity ritual facilitator who can help people design meaningful rituals and then officiate at them.

It's easy, I suppose, for church folks to roll their eyes at this sort of thing. But I can also sympathize with people who, in our ritually impoverished society, long for some kind of ritual action that celebrates, or mourns, or validates, their experience in this life without theologizing or dogmatic hoop-jumping.

If my family's beloved pet dies, and we feel the need to mourn that passing, why isn't there more willingness within the Christian community to help do that? Why does the conversation degenerate into frowny-faced debates on whether animals have souls or the worthiness of invoking God's name in connection with a dead dog? Why does someone wanting some sort of ritual marking the sadness and closure of a divorce have to justify that? Why do Christians have to turn everything into a thing?

It's interesting that, in the church-estranged circles I hang out in, when I tell new acquaintances I'm a lay minister, very often I'm asked if I'm willing to officiate, off the books, at various life events. I may get my union card revoked for saying this, but -- if I can bring some type of ritual affirmation or comfort to someone, and even invoke God's presence and help in a way that doesn't involve slamming the person(s) involved into a metaphorical wall and shaking them down for evidence of theological correctitude -- I'd do it. I'm happy to say a few words over the deceased Fluffy, or invoke God's blessings on someone's new house, or celebrate someone's biological transition into cronedom (or, as a friend of mine likes to call it, crowndom). I'd like to think I have more street cred, albeit grounded in my own Christian formation, to help people in this way than someone with a mail-order "celebrant" diploma. And I'd do it for free.

Wolf Cub Update

For those of you who've been holding our neighbors the Children Raised By Wolves in prayer...some good news:

They will not, as we had feared, be going to live with their grandmother and her sex-offender boyfriend. Child Protective Services in the county of their destination got involved, somehow, and put the kibosh on that. In addition, one of the workers there did some research and found the family an alternative place to live in a community not all that far away from us.

Not that this is an ideal situation. The new home is in a trailer park, with all the connotations and dysfunctions that go along with that atmosphere. The social worker also found a new home, in the same park, for the completely deadbeat, non-disabled tag-along relatives who currently live next door and mooch off the meager resources of the Wolf family; we weren't too happy to hear that, once again, these people were going to be the Wolf family's camp followers. And of course the kids are saddened to be moving to a different school and losing friends, and at least some of their pets.

But it's a much better scenario than what was about to happen.

FT and I were talking to our pastor and his wife about this situation, and their comment was that the best thing we can continue to give these children is hope. We can tell them that, yes, their childhood pretty much sucks right now, but it's not going to be like this forever; it's not the end of the story; their liberation is going to come.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Our Groaning Board

We had Easter dinner for six yesterday, after we got home from church.

Last year we made Greek dishes, just because we like them. This year, as a paen to the Irish side of my partner's Celtic ancestors, I thought I'd try an Irish Easter feast.

We served crackers with smoked salmon, Dubliner cheese and a yummy dill/onion/horseradish spread we picked up on a whim;leg of lamb marinated in an orange juice/orange marmalade mixture seasoned with a good dose of garlic and chives; spiral-slice ham; boiled new potatoes with butter and parsley; roasted root vegetables -- carrots, parsnips, celeriac (a fact which I left out of the description at the table, since celariac takes too long to explain), leeks and a little red onion and garlic, seasoned with thyme; sauteed savoy cabbage with bacon; homemade whole-wheat soda bread and potato yeast bread with butter, marmalade and strawberry-rhubarb jam. Our guests brought a totally decadent chocolate cake layered with caramel, nuts and chocolate chips, and two adorable lavender-spotted bunny cakes with paper ears.

I have to say -- it's amazing how much food six women can pack in. Even taking into account the take-out bags we sent home with them...there's really not much left.

He is Risen...He is Risen Indeed!

Happy Easter, everyone.

Artwork by He Qui

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Good Friday Five

1. Our prayer concerns are as varied as we are this day. For whom would you like us to pray?
Please pray for our little friends across the street -- who are coming over tonight for an egg hunt/Wii and pizza party -- that God's protective hand will rest on them no matter where they find themselves within the next few weeks. And please pray for our friend struggling with substance abuse.

2. Are there things you have done or will do today to help the young ones understand this important day in our lives?
Since the kids across the street have no real context in which to understand Good Friday or Easter, we're just going to take it as it comes if they have questions. As far as the kids in my congregation -- we've been giving them little coloring/activity bulletins during the service that help them relate to the day's lessons. I know we're passing out Good Friday editions tonight.

3. Music plays an important part in sharing the story of this day. Is there a hymn or piece of music that you have found particularly meaningful to your celebrations of Good Friday?
"O Sacred Head, Now Wounded." "My Song Is Love Unknown."

4. As you hear the passion narrative, is there a character that you particularly resonate with?
I'd love to pick a more noble character -- one of the faithful women, for instance, or Joseph of Arimathea -- but I think I'm actually more like one of the anonymous passers-by: looking away in distaste; shaking my head; muttering inanities to my companions; quickly getting "back to business."

5. Where have you seen the gracious God of love at work lately?
I think -- and I say this with all humility -- that I've felt God at work in our household, connecting us with people who need help. They just seem to fall into our lives. And, frankly, they complicate our lives, and sometimes break our hearts, and sometimes fall back out of our lives. But that's okay.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The View From Here

So how do you think the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments play here in Outer Podunk?

As you might expect, the relatively innocuous fact of Barak Obama's middle name is enough to get xenophobic tongues wagging around the cracker barrel here in the rural heartland, so you can imagine the effect of the Rev. Wright's oratory, particularly his refrain of "God damn America!"

In the interest of full disclosure, however, here's my reaction to the Rev. Wright:

My inner frustrated Democrat: Oh, God -- another election lost.

My inner Christian conscience: Considering what's happening to us now, perhaps we've already damned ourselves by our individual and corporate behavior.

My inner WASP: What did I do? What did I do? Why are you so mad at me?

My inner underdog/minority: You tell 'em, preacher.

Partner of a disabled veteran and friend to older adults who are veterans: WHAT did you say?...

I give Barak Obama credit for acknowledging, in his speech on race, that we all live with a lot of inner conflict and tension. I also give him credit for repudiating his former pastor's comments without rejecting him as a fellow human being and friend. It was a thoughtful, honest speech that, unlike so much of political rhetoric these days, avoided the easy sound bite and dumbed-down talking point. I don't know if it was enough to assuage the anxieties of Outer Podunk's citizens, but it made me hopeful that the intelligence quotient of this election has been ratcheted up from the norm.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Online Labyrinth

Betwixt and between other things I found this online labyrinth, with accompanying text for meditation.

I'm not sure it translates fully into a virtual context, but...check it out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Supper of the Lamb

It's always amazing to me how difficult it is, here in the farming midsection of Michigan's mitten, to find locally grown meat.

I'd wanted very much to purchase Michigan lamb for Easter. There are a number of sheep farms in mid-Michigan, so I thought all I had to do was call a couple of local meat packing places and find out where they got their lamb. Well...they get it from New Zealand and Australia. By the time I found a relatively local farmer who sold his lamb retail we'd given up and purchased a leg of lamb from Meijer.

All of which is to say...there's got to be a better way to get farmers together with people who want to purchase locally grown food; better than playing phone tag, better than driving around the countryside until you find a roadside stand or "For Sale" sign.

One online resource for those of you who'd like to join our household in "eating locally" is Local Harvest . You can search for organic/sustainable produce, meat and dairy products by state, by product or by venue.

If you check out my sidebar, there's also a search widget courtesy of Sustainable Table , to help you find better food sources in your area.

A Conversation

Fellow Traveler related the following conversation she had with Oldest Child Raised By Wolves:

OCRBW: Sometimes I think about God. But I don't tell my parents.

FT: Do you believe in God?

OCRBW: Sometimes. But sometimes I wonder if He's on my side.

FT: Are you alive?


FT: Then God is on your side.

I think that one of the greatest gifts my faith tradition has to offer is the good news that God is on our side; that Christ, God With Us, is the ultimate expression of that.

So much of American Christianity is opposed to this message. Its message, by contrast, is that God is not on our side; that God holds us in contempt; is looking for reasons to damn us to hell; that we'd better shape up to get God on our side.

God is on our side. How do we best communicate that to people -- including Christians -- who need to hear it?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Dogs Ate Our Palm Sunday

So we're all dressed and ready to go to church. We call the dogs, who've been outside engaging in their morning constitutional. No dogs.

We then see the dogs, across the property in the neighbor's yard, looking up into a tree.

We call the dogs. The dogs run in the other direction.

We call the dogs again and again. Finally the younger one comes scampering back home. The older dog remains staring up at a tree.

We call the older dog again. The younger dog squeezes through the open patio door and runs back out to be with the older dog.

We call the dogs again and again. We promise rides and treats and other happy dog fun time. Then we use our Mom voices. No response.

We look at the clock. We cannot make it to church.

We sigh.

The dogs come home.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

South-of-the-Border on the Sunrise Side

Needless to say, we were pretty tired this morning. I had restless dreams involving skeetball and an arcade machine where the player had to try and collect bouncing "bees" into a net and deposit them into a honeypot. FT was just out for the count.

We finally emerged into the daylight very late in the morning. Our major task of the day was moving the family caravan from Cold Comfort Cottage to the newly repaired/restored Big House. But we also needed to do some grocery shopping; and we were kind of hungry; so we took an adventure trip to Standish, east of Outer Podunk on the sunrise side of the state, and drove down M-13 just past the city limits to look for Tony's Tacos.

Tony's Tacos is just a taco stand along the road, run by a guy right from Mexico. It used to be open only during tourist season, after which Tony would spend the winter back home; but now the stand is open all year. Tony's has the best Mexican food, in my estimation, north of the big cities. It's real food. It's worth sitting in the car, in an ugly industrial area, in 40 degree weather to eat.

We had chalupas -- spicy pulled pork and cheese inside thick corn flatbread -- and a brunch-y chorizo-and-potato taco. They were so good.

Anyone reading this who travels up the I-75 corridor -- instead of eating fake Mexican food, take the Standish exit, travel a little south of the city limit on M-13 and look for Tony's on the west side of the highway. It's the real deal; as Guy Fieri might put it, it's money.

The Birthday Party

We had our birthday party for two of the Children Raised by Wolves last night. I made a call to CPS earlier in the week to express our concern for the kids (and was told that CPS was already aware of issues with this family), so both FT and I had been afraid that, by the time Friday rolled around, the kids would have been whisked out of the trailer to foster care. But they were still there on Friday, and incredibly excited on the phone when we called to confirm our dinner date.

As soon as I got home from work I changed into my casual clothes and we went next door to pick them up. I was somewhat cheered to see that the boys were in clean clothes -- the oldest child has to nag his mother to achieve this -- but dismayed when Mama Wolf informed us, matter-of-factly, that she'd given the younger boy a Benadryl "so he'd calm down." (LC and FT make yet another mental note for the next telephone chat with CPS.) The younger boy curled up in the back seat of the Jeep and promptly fell asleep. The older boy was quiet, but expectant.

First we stopped at the local hobby shop, because the boys like model cars, and let them pick whatever model kits and supplies they wanted. (Because the parents have a habit of buying the boys merchandise at this store, then turning around and returning it for cash, we had the owner -- who is also on to some of the dynamics of this family -- tear up the receipt, and asked him to under no circumstances accept returns of our gifts.)

Then we went to -- laugh not -- Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mt. Pleasant. FT had a Player's Club card from an extended family outing a couple of years ago that would pay for buffet dinners for all of us, so we decided that would be an good venue for these always-hungry children to get a full meal of anything they wanted. The casino also has a large arcade, away from the gaming area. Up to this point the kids had been rather subdued -- one by medication, one by excitement over his new model car kit -- but once they got inside the casino, their eyes grew wide as saucers, and they started smiling and goofing around like kids. As we approached the dining area, with its numerous food stations and Rainforest Cafe-ish tree pillars and thousands of ceiling lights simulating fireflies, they were positively enchanted.

We had to help the overwhelmed boys pick foods to try from the buffet, but by the time we got to our table their plates were stacked with kid-friendly foods like fried chicken and mac and cheese. We noted how excited they were by the presence of fresh fruit, and how when we asked them what they wanted for dessert the younger boy wistfully requested applesauce. When FT offered the boy a piece of barbecued rib, he told her that he'd never eaten spareribs before. (It didn't make an impression.) Both boys seemed afraid to leave food on their plate; we had to reassure them that if they didn't like something it was okay to let the waitress take it away. When it came time for dessert, the kids bypassed the fancy cakes and pies and other pastries on the table, and instead picked soft-serve ice cream, sans toppings despite our observation that they could make their own sundaes. (Younger Brother did mix gummi bears into his). Despite all this sensory overload, though, these children behaved as much like little gentlemen as an 8- and 9-year-old can, and held their own in conversation with two boring middle-aged broads.

It turns out that they were curbing their enthusiasm until they could get to the arcade. We loaded up a couple of cards for them and let them at the machines...and I think they tried most of them: basketball and simulated motocross and skeeball and air hockey and a few games we couldn't figure out. FT and I became exhausted just watching them. But they were all about the games, until they were literally down to their last 25 cents, searching for a machine worthy of one final play. They were both grinning from ear to ear.

"This is the best place I've ever been to since...well, it's the best place," pronounced the younger brother.

"I want to come back here," said the older brother.

"I want to live here," pronounced the younger brother. "I want to own this place, so I could play the games for free." He then looked at us. "I'd let you come and eat for free whenever you wanted. But you'd have to pay for the games."

We stopped at a Starbucks to caffeinate ourselves and get the boys some whipped-creamy strawberry drinks -- and then we were on our way back home. Now the kids couldn't stop talking. About everything. And they finally started sounding like little kids living without anxiety -- kids making farting and booger jokes and laughing at themselves.

We are both positively worn out today -- but it was worth it, and worth every penny, to take these children out for a big adventure.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"Be Not Afraid..."

Notes on our informal household ministry of hospitality:

We just sent out invitations for our second annual Easter open house. We already got a couple of returned RSVPs.

We're going to serve leg of lamb. We do not yet know where we will get the leg of lamb.

We usually try to include a vegetarian alternative for these affairs. I have no idea what we will serve as a vegetarian alternative.

I do not yet know what side dishes I will make to serve with the leg of lamb.

I do not yet know what dessert I will make to serve with the leg of lamb and unknown side dishes, or if our guests (invited to bring an appetizer or sweet) will bring dessert.

But I am not panicking. Yet.

My Bucket List

One of these days Fellow Traveler and I want to get out and see the film "The Bucket List" -- the title referring to that life list of things each of us would like to do before we kick the bucket.

We were talking about this the other day at home, and I observed, with some alarm, that my list is not all that long -- which I hope doesn't translate into my bucket not being all that full.

There's not a lot of drama in it either -- no deep-seated desire to bungee-jump off a suspension bridge in New Zealand or travel in space or sell everything I own and become an itinerent motorhome-dweller.

I'd like to learn to fly-fish. It's such a challenge -- it's really a multidisciplinary course of study that encompasses everything from entomology to the arts-and-crafts quality of fly-tying to the motor skills necessary to properly cast. But considering that I can't even manage the logistics of a humble spinner reel, I give fair warning to any instructors out there that I am not a quick study when it comes to sports of any kind.

I'd like to learn tai chi...although, again, there's that kinetically challenged thing to deal with.

I'd like to visit New England and the Maritime Provinces -- especially Vermont, a.k.a. the Promised Land.

I'd like to learn Spanish. (I did recently update my Google homepage to include a Spanish word of the day. It's a start, anyhow.)

I'd like to learn enough about kayaking and canoeing to not embarrass myself and frustrate my partner.

My gardening jones comes and goes in fits and starts. Last month I pruned and fertilized my remaining ferns in an attempt to re-green my thumb...despite the presence of pets in our household, I'd like to find some type of indoor plant that's aesthetically pleasing, that really sparks my interest, that isn't too much of a challenge to maintain.

And I'd like to -- we'd like to -- move up north. Sometime.

Like I said, it's not much of a list. I don't know if that spells contentment or just a lack of imagination.

A Random Facts Meme

I have been tagged by Heidi for one of those random-facts memes where I must list six unimportant facts about myself. There are actually many unimportant facts about myself, but I will help keep you awake by sticking to just six:

Fact 1: I cannot cross my toes at will.

Fact 2: I like to mix M&M's with popcorn. Back in my single days this often constituted a meal.

Fact 3: I still don't really know how to operate my iPod. I just guess, and then promptly forget what I did to make it work.

Fact 4: I will do anything to avoid parallel parking.

Fact 5: I enjoy putting more than driving.

Fact 6: I have a strange abiding love for magazines that often overpowers my love for ready folding money, trees and sustainable waste disposal.

I'm now supposed to tag six random blog visitors. Since I'm not sure I have six random blog visitors, I'll open this up to anyone reading: Go for it.

Friday Five: Time Keeps On Slippin', Slippin', Slippin'

This week's RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five is all about time and transitions:

1. If you could travel to any historical time period, which would it be, and why?
I think it would be interesting to set the Wayback Machine for the late Victorian era and the turn of the century, when there was such a passion for social reform -- and when things actually got done to improve people's lives. Purely for the aesthetics -- the fine arts as well as pop culture -- I'd love to visit the Roaring Twenties as well. And it would be interesting to, as an adult, take a shorter trip back to the early 70's and the "back to the land" movement -- again, it seemed like a time when people had optimism in their ability to change the direction and quality of their own lives even if they felt there was no hope in changing the direction of the government or industry or popular culture. I know people who came up at that time, who still live those values, and they're frankly some of the most interesting and inspiring folks I know.

2. What futuristic/science fiction development would you most like to see?
Because I am an unenthusiastic city driver, I would most like to see the day when I can simply sit passively in my vehicle and let it do all the navigating and maneuvering for me. And I hope it's not science fiction to want to see the end of primarily-fossil-fuel-based energy. And I also hope it's not science fiction to want to see Americans become as concerned about sustainable/renewable and healthy living as our counterparts in Western Europe. I really think we've missed the boat in our pursuit of individualistic fat-dumb-happy.

3. Which do you enjoy more: remembering the past, or dreaming for the future?
I can't say that I don't have some fond memories from my childhood -- principally times when I was growing up on our farm, living mostly outdoors and immersing myself in nature -- and from my college days. But I don't consider myself a sentimentalist in this regard. To quote another former farm kid, John Mellencamp, "Your life is now."

4. What do you find most memorable about this year's Lent?
My lack of structured Lenten discipline. In a way it feels like failure, but I'm sure if I'd plotted out a formal Lenten regimen I'd be failing in it as well by now.

5. How will you spend your time during this upcoming Holy Week? What part do you look forward to most?
Our church has over the years tried a lot of innovative Holy Week programming -- everything from a joint Good Friday noon service with the fundamentalist church down the road (don't ask) to Easter Vigil. This year we've dialed it back to our now-traditional Maundy Thursday supper, where we incorporate the Eucharist into a real meal (it's a way to put the Last Supper in context without trying to appropriate a seder in an inauthentic way), and a traditional Tenabrae service Friday evening. There's something about the Tenabrae service I find very moving -- the starkness of the bare altar; the darkness; the slamming of the book. It always brings to mind the metaphor of Christ being "poured out like a libation," to the last drop, for us.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ed Begley, Jr.: Outreach Coach

Since becoming a member of our church Evangelism Committee, I have been on the lookout for edifying reading about outreach. And -- by golly -- here's some good advice by Ed Begley, Jr., in the latest issue of Body + Soul magazine. He's talking about environmentalism, mind you, not Christian evangelism, but still.

B & S: What's the secret to spreading the word without sounding preachy?

Begley: Easy. Don't preach. I've never taken an evangelical approach to this lifestyle. I don't call press conferences or tell people what to do. I model the behavior. And I'm happy to explain why I do what I do to anyone who asks -- and lately, I've been getting lots of questions. I'm definitely not about saving sinners here. I just like to share what I've learned from trying things myself.

I think there's a lesson here.

Mean Lutherans; and a Blogthing

Every so often I try to climb out of my blogosphere curvatus in se by reading other blogs.

Usually I go down the formidible list of RevGalBlogPals to see what's going on with everyone there. But every rare once in awhile I visit the Blogging Lutherans webring. I say "rare" because...well, because most of these folks are way too angry for me. It's like reading Rush Limbaugh radio-show transcripts with "Jesus" and "Confessional" and "Formula of Concord" thrown in.

This makes me sad. I rather suspect that we all share a similar church-culture background. I suspect we could have amusing conversations about beer and wine, or music, or funny church stories, or any number of other topics, without the bloody razor-wire fence of inter-Lutheran relations intervening.

Today I read one blog, by an individual whom I assume numbers himself in the "Confessional" category, that more or less said the same thing: that some of the other Lutheran blogs contained rhetoric so vitriolic, so downright mean, that they presented a poor Christian, and poor Lutheran, witness.

Oh. My. God. Talk about throwing down the gauntlet. This poor guy had at least a couple new orifices drilled into him by his Confessional coreligionists for being a wuss, and probably a closet ELCA symp as well.

I had wanted to drop him a line on his blog and say, "Thanks for being brave enough to say this"...but I don't want to get him in even more trouble with the theological Sturmwaffen.

So...I bid adieu to the Blogging Lutherans for another year or so. Please don't hurt me.

But on one of the more innocuous blogs on that webring I did find a cute Blogthing:

You Are Garlic

Of all the spice types, you are the most universally loved.

You get long with pretty much everyone, and you leave a lasting impression.

You adapt yourself well to situations. You can fit in or stand out, depending on what you're called on to do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Our household medical saga continues, with Fellow Traveler felled today by what we think is the same stomach flu that afflicted the fire-restoration cleaning guy at the Big House, whose illness postponed cleanup by a week. She wound up in bed today, writhing in discomfort.

Now, I'm as game as the next person to roll with the inevitable punches of each season's various bugs. But after two months of Germapalooza repeatedly passing through my office, our church and our home, I'm crying foul.


Soup's On

Last month FT and I signed up to make soup at church one week during Lent, for our pre-service Lenten supper...we decided to make one of our own vegetarian favorites, Monastery Lentils . We use vegetable stock, add some garlic and celery, and bump up the number of carrots to add some extra vegetable goodness.

I cooked up a triple batch in the crockpot last night...woke up to a most delicious aroma wafting its way throughout the house. I can't wait 'til tonight, when we serve it with ooey-gooey cheese on top.

Good News...

I saw a bluebird yesterday -- a less grumpy bluebird than this one.

Monday, March 10, 2008

More Dangerous Than Terrorists...

That's how Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern feels about...well...about me. Hmmm. Maybe she hasn't heard the news about that Death Star and its cosmic gamma rays. Or maybe I'm more dangerous than that too. But you can hear her deep thoughts for yourself:

Meet the New Sins...Same as the Old Sins...

News flash! The Vatican has updated its list of sins!

Well, wait a minute. Yours truly, cantankerous blogger that I am, have some issues with all of this.

First of all: The Vatican hasn't invented any new sins. Contributing to the degredation of the environment is a good double-barrelled example of failing to love God and failing to love our neighbor. Abusing drugs is another example of disrespecting God's good gifts of life and health, and of engaging in behavior that hurts one's family, friends and society in general far beyond the damage one does to oneself. Ditto the other examples of supposedly "new" sins. They're not new. They're the same ol' same ol' we confess every time we do confess.

But -- having said that -- I find exceedingly irksome the Church's tendency toward ham-handed treatment of discussions involving sin. Where is the moral deliberation that helps laypeople understand what sin is? Where is the observation that sinful acts are simply symptoms of our sinful human condition? Instead, the faithful tend to be treated like learning-disabled cocker spaniels chewing on the sofa: "Stop doing that! No! Bad! Bad people! No! No!"

But -- having said that -- I find equally irksome laypeople's incuriosity regarding big questions like this. Their attitude seems to be, "What's the least I have to do to get my 'Get Out of Jail' card?"

Talk about codependent relationships.

The other day I heard an NPR news feature on raising ethical children, that spotlighted a religiously diverse class, organized by parents, to teach their kids values -- to teach them how to be decent, responsible, conscientious adults living in community. I honestly detected more real moral discernment going on in this group of little kids, guided by their parents -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Bahai -- than in the world of Christian adults in general.

"Good Drink, Good Meat, Good God, Let's Eat"

If the cosmic gamma rays do get us in the end, one of the places I wouldn't mind being when they do is The Brass Cafe' and Saloon , as I'm sitting there enjoying the last of a great meal.

This is our favorite place to eat within a 50-mile radius. We have never had a bad dinner here, ever. The menu is wonderfully varied, and amazingly reasonable in price -- many fancy-schmancy dinner entrees under $20. And The Brass provides one of those rare intimate dining atmospheres where you can enjoy nice music (live jazz on weekends) while being able to actually speak with tablemates at a conversational volume. The waitstaff is polite, helpful and discreet. The restaurant interior is homey in an eclectic way(I dig the row of swaying palm fans providing ventilation overhead) without being gimmicky.

After weeks of postponing an evening out because of our various health issues we finally got to The Brass this past weekend.

FT, ordering from the regular dinner menu, had a half-rack of lamb chops, seasoned Mediterranean style and topped with a black-olive tapenade. That came with an unsweetened mint sour cream, garlic smashed potatoes and mixed vegetables. I had walked in expecting to order duck with berry sauce -- a menu item I loved the first time I tried it, and something I'd probably not fuss with at home -- but instead ordered a specical of the day, balsamic glazed chicken breast with crispy fried kale and roasted root vegetables.

The chicken was fine. But the vegetables are what really excited me. I've made kale before, Irish-style with mashed potatoes and steamed, and found it so-so; like the kids in the old Life cereal commercial, my assessment was a lukewarm..."It's 'sposed to be good for you..." Well, this kale was absolutely delicious -- I'm thinking very quickly stir-fried so that it became crispy without becoming browned; not only was it still a bright green, but it was tender, and not not bitter at all. The roasted vegetables included potatoes, beets, carrots and onions; a kind of chunky red-flannel hash with a pleasantly cripsy outside, and an appealing sweetness thanks to the roasted beets.

Desserts aren't the Brass' strong suit, but we both enjoyed ours -- I had a square of creamy tiramisu, while FT ordered a white-chocolate raspberry gelato. The gelato was especially wonderful.

We also had a very nice, inexpensive wine -- one I picked because, frankly, I hadn't brought my glasses, couldn't read the tiny, 6-point wine list type very well, and didn't want to think too hard about what wine might work with both lamb and chicken. I took a stab and selected Lolonis Ladybug Old Vines white wine. It's a crisp, dry white wine from California, made from a mix of several varietal grapes, with a peachy-apple-y flavor and just a tiny hint of effervesence (believe it or not, there's a French term for this little tingle on the tongue that is escaping me at the moment). It's a lot like a Riesling with maybe a little more "oomph." Afterward, when I Googled the vintage, I found out that the "Ladybug" on the label refers to Lolonis' organic farming methods; they use ladybugs as pest control on their grapevines. I also found out that old grapevines, which means vines from maybe 30 years old or more -- which are often uprooted by vineyards because they're less productive than newer vines -- often produce grapes with a more concentrated flavor; so rather than destroy them, some vineyards use them to produce special reserve vintages that spotlight those flavors. Anyway, it's a great, fun (and "green") wine that retails for only about $12 a bottle.

And -- coffee lovers take note -- The Brass' house java rocks; it's smoooooth going down.

If you're ever in the middle of Michigan's mitten, 'round about the Mt. Pleasant area, The Brass is the place to go for lunch or dinner. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.

It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Bummed about those ever-spiraling fuel costs? The mortgage crisis? The neverending war?

Don't be.

Because things are going to get a lot worse, at least according to this article:;_ylt=Avu4.6ZZJjASfFsBTnTEkhoDW7oF

But in the spirit of Monty Python, "When yer chewin' on life's gristle/don't give up/give a whistle!", Maestro, please:

Spring Fever...or Reverse SAD?

You know how the short, cold days of winter are supposed to trigger sluggishness, even depression? How the brightening sun is supposed to energize us physically and mentally?

For some reason I'm experiencing the opposite...and not just after losing an hour's sleep.

I am so fatigued lately. And anxious -- despite my daily pharmaceutical fortification. Life just feels overwhelming on a gut level, if not an intellectual one. It's like watching one of those fast-paced, frenetic commercials that flash different pictures on a second-by-second basis until you feel your blood pressure spiking.

I'm not liking this.


Good, responsible citizens that we are, we pre-spent our as-yet unreceived economic stimulus checks on...a Wii. We engaged in some aggressive bidding on eBay and got a very good deal.

Yesterday afternoon we went on a tour of our game package. Since we're still in a Daylight Savings Time haze we didn't attempt golf, but we did play a few games of bowling, baseball and darts. Pretty cool; and good exercise too -- we were actually sweating after our second round of bowling. I understand there's even an aerobics Wii program out there, complete with a wired exercise mat to help exercisers hit the right marks, at the right speeds.

(The pets' assessment of Wii: halfway between confusing and frightening. As in, "Let's all go in the other room.")

Listening to the grim economic news this morning, I thought, "The barbarians are at the gates...but at least we'll be fit and entertained when they break through."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Daily Bread

Once upon a time, I baked bread nearly every week in my bread machine. I even wooed my sweetie with warm loaves of fresh-baked bread.

Then one day I thought I damaged the bread machine cord. And I was getting tired of having to work around its bulk just sitting there on the kitchen counter day after day. So I took the bread machine downstairs.

This past week, I brought the bread machine back upstairs. I checked the cord again. It seemed fine. I made a loaf of whole-wheat-oatmeal-honey bread with a smattering of flax meal. It was very good. It made the house smell very good.

In these days of $4-a-loaf storebought bread, it's kind of a win-win -- an economical alternative whose ingredients are completely in our control.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Unfit (Pretend) Parents

We went to see the Lost and Found concert tonight. It was swell -- we had pretty much a standing-room-only crowd, from all over the area, and the kids really got into the music. (The band does sound like The Ramones -- imagine The Ramones singing "The Church's One Foundation," and you'll have a pretty good idea of Lost and Found's rendition.)

During the concert, the band directed the crowd to an information table in the narthex, for a child-sponsorship organization; one of those places where you sponsor a kid and the kid's family for so many dollars a month. The guys noted that they themselves sponsored children, and had actually visited their sponsored kids' families in various countries, and could vouch for the effectiveness of the program.

Now, I tend to be suspicious of such operations in general, and I've also questioned the wisdom of providing these sorts of piecemeal solutions to problems, in ways that aren't equitable within a community; it's why it usually makes more sense to me to help a village build a school or start a farmers' cooperative than to extend help to just one family. But by the end of the concert I felt my resistance wavering; and when FT said, "I'm going over to that table," I pretty much knew how this story would end.

So we are now the proud pretend parents of a four-year-old in southern Asia. His mother is a single mom, which we know makes for an exponentially harder life in an impoverished, patriarchal society; she's a sometimes-day laborer. He looks remarkably like FT's two sons when they were little -- gangly, stick arms and legs and big, intense brown eyes.

But when we got home, and started reading the literature about how to interact with our sponsored child, we were struck by the astoundingly homophobic warnings in the brochure -- how sponsors can't "condone lifestyle choices inconsistent with [the organization's] beliefs...condoning sexual relationships outside the heterosexual marriage covenant...advocating the living out of a homosexual lifestyle."

Well, excuse me...what sort of freak show do these people think we run? Why would we be condoning any kind of sexual anything to a little kid? We're going to be condoning playing and studying and praying and daring to believe in a world that God cares about and where people take care of each other. And what part of our family's 'homosexual lifestyle' does this organization fear will taint the souls of these children, or jeopardize the organization's work overseas?

FT's eyes grew wide as I read the brochure aloud. "Does this mean we're in trouble?" she asked. "Or does it just mean, 'Dont ask, don't tell'?" She also noted that the person at the table must have seen that we were clearly a couple, yet didn't seem to have a problem taking our money.

I don't think, by the way, that the attitude of this organization is reflective of the attitude of the band. But it did -- once again -- give me a reason to get angry at conservative Evangelicals. Whenever I let down my guard and try to think ecumenically, as I tried tonight -- Kumbaya, here we are, sisters and brothers in Christ, all enjoying a pleasant evening of music and helping underprivileged children -- they kick me in the teeth somehow. Again and again and again.

But anyway...

So here's the deal. We want to do something for this kid and his mom, to give them a chance. (On the way home we observed, somewhat glumly, that the odds were probably better for this overseas child than for the kids across the street.) The fact that idiots want to stand in the way of our helping is simply a minor speedbump in the process. I thought of that word that stood out for me in the mysterious Latin blog post I recently received: caritas.

So Fellow Traveler is going to become Pretend Mother of Note. Insofar as I wind up in the narrative of our letters, or in our photos, I am going to be FT's friend and neighbor. (Both of which things I am, really...the latter in a moral/theological sense, but still.) I'm okay being Ethel to FT's Lucy. I'll play that game.

Are you happy, Child Sponsorship Organization? Are your "family values" nicely preserved now? Meanwhile, don't feel you need to rush cashing that queer check of ours -- we're good for it, and we're not changing our minds about our commitment. That's, like, one of our family values.

Meanwhile...I look forward to the novelty of receiving a Mother's Day card this year.

A Mid-Lenten Prayer

I originally posted this on the RevGalBlogPals' prayer blog...I haven't been a very faithful follower of devotional readings this Lent, but William O'Malley's Lenten Prayers For Busy People have resonated with me especially this year:

Great Friend,
I’m not yet up to the total make-over.
Help me proceed, as Italians say,
lentamente, slowly.

- William J. O’Malley

Photo by Sean Unruh

A Hopeful Friday Five

The RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five challenge this week: In the last week, have you experienced:

1. Sign of hope?
Fellow Traveler and I have both been sick -- she with asthma issues, I with an upper respiratory infection that just wouldn't go away -- for the better art of a month. We both finally went to our respective doctors, and are both finally getting better, slowly. It's not even the physical discomfort of such ailments, but the overwhelming fatigue they cause, that's just been sucking the life out of us. But we're beginning to see some results from our medication.

2. An unexpected word of light in a dark place?
Okay...this is giving me a little shiver up me spine, but just before I read the Friday Five I'd gone to the Content Moderation page on Blogger to see if anyone had checked in on the blog. I saw a couple sentences in Latin. Without reading the entire post, I okayed its publishing. Then I wondered, "What post of mine was that in regard to?" So I went searching. I couldn't find it. But the one word that stuck in my memory from my cursory glance at that first Latin sentence was caritas. In the context of our dealings with the neighbors, and then in the context of the Friday Five, this was something of a "God moment" for me...a reassurance and a call for continued active compassion, at the same time.

3. A sign of spring?
For the last couple of weeks the cardinals have been singing their hearts out in my yard and in the trees around my office. It doesn't feel like spring yet, but at least it sounds like it.

4. Challenging/surprising?
That would be the education of young Gertie. There are times when I think, "What did we get ourselves into?" I mean -- Gertie is a baby; we two middle-aged broads have adopted a baby, and are now responsible for raising her into adult dogdom. What were we thinking? On the other hand -- Gertie is a quick study. She has been astoundingly good about waking us up to go outside and do her thing. She's learned to sit for treats. She copies our behaviors to a comic degree, which tells us that she's very observant, and also wants to please. And although it's taken almost a month -- she has started to become a loving pup. In the beginning, while she wanted to run and play with us humans, there wasn't a lot of doggy affection involved; unlike Cassie, whom she regarded with complete starry-eyed little-sister adoration, we seemed to be simply novel, and somewhat goofy, two-legged hit-and-miss playmates for her. Now she snuggles and kisses. In the morning when I get up for work, and when I get home from work, we have our special "hello" time; when FT lies on the floor, Gertie will sidle next to her and curl up, maybe with a paw on her arm.

5. Share a hope for the coming week/month/year....
I want to continue to become physically healthy. I began the year with good intentions, but illness sapped me not only of physical energy but of the mental energy needed to be mindful and proactive. I now feel that I'm at least beginning to crawl out of that miry mental slough.

Bonus play... a piece of music/ poem guaranteed to cheer you?
Last night while channel-surfing we came across our local PBS station's broadcast of James Taylor in concert. It was great. For me James Taylor's voice and lyrics are like aural Lexapro; they seem to contain, as Garrison Keillor might put it, natural mellowing agents. "Carolina in My Mind" -- oh, yeah.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Birthday Party

Two of the Children Raised By Wolves have birthdays coming up next week.

Fellow Traveler and I have been discussing what to do for these kids. We can't give them money because their parents will take it away from them. (FT worked it out with the oldest that, when he does odd jobs at the Big House, she will give him half his wage for his mother to take -- she'll do that anyway -- and squirrel away the other half in a secret hiding place for him on our property. How incredibly sad that we have to play these kinds of games with the kids' parents.) We can't give them gifts with any kind of monetary value because the parents will pawn them.

So we are going to take the two birthday boys out to eat on the eve of their birthdays. Fellow Traveler told them they can go anyplace they want except McDonald's. Oldest Child broke out into a smile...thought a moment...then said, "I really don't know what places there are to eat."

We know they like pizza, so we're aiming for a local place that serves that, and also has a couple of arcade games the kids can play.

We've found out that Mama Wolf has been keeping these kids out of school for no good reason (other than that she can't rouse herself out of bed early enough to get the children ready for the bus). We're rapidly reaching the tipping point of sending in professional reinforcements. But, no matter what happens to these kids in the future, we really want them to know that not all adults are like their parents and the others who've failed them; that there are people who care about them and mean them well; that there's a way of life other than what they've experienced thus far. We want them to be able to look back on a day when they had fun with no strings attached.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Book Meme

I am way behind on meme invitations, and have lost a couple of them in the post comments...but here's a book meme that's going around:

1. Find the book closest to you with more that 125 or more pages.
2. Go to page 125.
3. Read the first five sentences in the book.
4. Post the next three sentences in the book.
5. Tag five people.

Okay. I have two books sitting equidistant from me. The first book, page 125, sentences 6, 7, 8, read:

"How could anybody break into your apartment without anyone seeing them, without your knowing?"
"The FBI could.
"Abby," I said, exasperated

That's from Patricia Cornwell's All That Remains, by the way. (An ironic title, since I found my book tucked away in a corner of the bedroom closet with one entire page missing and the last 25 pages or so significantly mauled by a young Gertrudinous pup.)

The other book, page 125, sentences 6, 7, 8:

Who could expect this type of doctrine to motivate Christians to move to the frontline in the struggle for peace and justice, for the human rights of all people?
The story of theology's entanglement with the violation of basic human rights does not end with the Lutheran two-kingdoms doctrine. The most notorious denial is taking place in South Africa under the aegis of the Afrikaners' redaction of Calvinist exodus-theology.

And that's from Principles of Lutheran Theology by Carl Braaten.

If you're reading this and haven't blogged this meme, you are hereby tagged. And for those of you who've tagged me and are waiting...I'm dancing as fast as I can.

Compassion Fatigue

We got a call from the Children Raised by Wolves' mother. She asked Fellow Traveler to co-sign a yearly lease for a house. FT said, sensibly, sorry but no. The mom started crying over the phone.

It is so hard to help these people; whenever we do, they up the ante. But we know enough about their robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul financial m.o. to know that entering into any kind of contract with them is a Very Bad Idea. And this is the family that won't consider public housing because then they'd have to give up their junked cars, pack of mangy-curs-on-chains and rabbit hutch: "The rabbits are fun."

I have a friend who, through her church work, got involved with a similarly dysfunctional household. Soon she was being called in the middle of the night with requests like, "So-and-So is in jail. Can you go and bail her out?" She'd schedule doctors' appointments for the pregnant unwed daughter only to have the daughter refuse to comply with the healthcare provider. She'd arrange for the family matriarch to get hooked up with this or that social service, only to have the woman fail to show up for appointments or turn in paperwork. After many months of this, my friend was becoming physically ill, anxious and filled with guilt over somehow "not doing enough" for these people. "Whenever I say I'm done with them, I think, 'What would Jesus do?'" she said, tears in her eyes.

Maybe I'm just channeling the values of my hardworking blue-collar parents, but I can't help but think that at some point Jesus would tell immature, deadbeat parents to look for work, and pursue social services for which they're qualified, with the same energy that they look for excuses; and to make their children, rather than their own comfort and whim, the family priority. Our community is filled with disabled people who nonetheless get up every day and go to a job, as well as with poor families whose family priority is giving their children an opportunity for a better life than theirs.

FT has more opportunity to interact with the neighbors than I do, and has on more than one occasion told them rather bluntly that they need to pull it together for the sake of the kids. We're told that visiting family members have also warned them that they need to start taking responsibility for their lives.

When you think about poverty on a macro level, and wonder how one fights that as a can society even fight it on the household level, when the household won't cooperate? How do you warn people about the consequences of their continued behaviors when "consequences" as a concept holds no meaning for them; when they see themselves as utterly passive objects to whom things simply "happen"?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Morning at the Improv

I passed a milestone today in church -- I led the Prayers of the Church without a net; without notes.

While I speak extemporaneously to groups all the time in my work, and while I've probably had more experience praying extemporaneously in group settings than the average Fritz or Frieda in Lutherland, for some reason I've not been able to pray the Prayers of the Church without first writing them down. I'm a writer at heart, not a speaker; I'm just more comfortable reading than riffing.

But this week, truth be told, I felt too tired and unmotivated to wrap my head around the task at hand. Dragging through the morning today in my oxygen-deprived, sinus-medicine-enhanced haze, I more or less told God, "I'm on autopilot. I can't think any harder about this. Please help me."

Which, of course, God did. My prayer wasn't as "pretty" as it could have been, but it covered the bases, and was sparse enough to, I hope, give listeners room to shape their own prayers around the basic petitions.

Our Church Rocks

Little Church Next to a Hayfield is hosting a concert this Friday night -- Lost and Found , a duo of singer-songwriters whose website describes their sound as "the intersection where the Ramones meet John Denver," and who are a favorite on the pan-Lootern Yout circuit, are playing a gig at our place. I think we get their award for Most Remote Concert Venue in the Continental United States, which is probably only because they're on a first-name basis with our pastor.

I've been using my PR connections to get some last-minute plugs for the concert in the local media. It's interesting to promote music that I don't listen to...I mean, we're going to the concert and all, but these days I'm either listening to classical music or jazz or classic Sinatra/Clooney-era pop or the sort of ambient world music one finds on Putumayo compilations, with a few folksinging wimmin thrown in. I shall nonetheless keep an open mind. Gabba-gabba-hey, y'all.

Wine and Cheese on the Cheap

We were busy yesterday -- as busy as one asthmatic and one post-flu semi-invalid can be -- but while we were running errands in Midland (the closest pocket of Kultur to Outer Podunk)we made a stop at Eastman Party Store, our favorite purveyor of special foods. Our mission: wine and cheese on the cheap.

The store has a formidible cheese case. I've mentioned this before, but one of our favorite things to do at this place is to buy the tag ends/odd packages of cheese lying in the case. It's a way to try cheeses we might not normally select on our own, on the cheap, in sizes that don't require a lot of emotional commitment. Fellow Traveler wound up with small packets of Montgomery's cheddar; Fourme d'Ambert, a venerable blue-veined cheese from France; an aged provolone of unknown provenance; and Locatelli Romano.

Meanwhile, in the wine aisle, I exercised my Dumb, Cheap Wine Buyer's skills and, after some strategic browsing in the Australian section, selected a bottle of 2005 Hope Shiraz...because it was cheap (under 10 bucks) and because I really liked the label; it looked cool. (Serious wine aficionados across the blogosphere are probably snapping their stemware in horror.)

This afternoon, after performing some scheduled tasks (installing Publisher on our computers to start tinkering with a church website, doing some PR for an upcoming concert at our church, trying to change the kitchen fluorescent lights and in doing so not only breaking the light cover but discovering that the issue wasn't with the bulbs but with the ballast), we had a leisurely wine-and-cheese trial, with succeeding chunks of the aforementioned cheeses, water and whole-wheat crackers, apples and raw almonds.

The wine was absolutely fabulous. Contrary to some wine snobs' dismissal of shiraz as a kind of cloying soda-pop vintage for the unsophisticated, the Hope shiraz had a big, complex flavor -- deep and berry-plummy and not all that sweet.

Our favorite cheese was the Fourme d'Ambert, which I read has a pedigree going back to Druid times. It's quite soft, with an assertive but not sharp, mushroomy flavor. We also enjoyed the Romano, which brought out both sweetness and pepper in the wine...although the cheddar was awfully good as well, especially with the apple. We didn't not like the aged provolone, and it was head and shoulders above supermarket provolone...but the wine didn't do anything for it, or vice versa.

I have to get completely back in the saddle again tomorrow -- work, other responsibilities, my diet and exercise agenda -- so after being sick, fatigued and generally miserable for most of the week, this was a nice little segue back into normal life, or what passes for that around here.