Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lenten Project Footnote

At the beginning of Lent I wrote about how I'd undertaken the project of praying for a particular journalist/columnist whose by-turns embittered, obsessional and at times simply mean commentary is so troubling to me that, ironically, I couldn't stop reading it.

I'd love to report that this process resulted in some sort of metanoia moment in my feelings toward him. But instead I will share a prayer that serendipitously appeared today when I went to visit the Beliefnet website:

Heavenly Father, I sometimes get into relationships
that are not good for me.
Please help me better discern how I relate to
the people in my life
and give me the wisdom to know when a relationship
is not giving you glory and is harmful to me.
Bring me courage to avoid toxic relationships
and help nurture what is good and just in all things.'s not exactly in the league of the Book of Common Prayer, but you know where the author is coming from.

The result of my little experiment is that I've lost interest in engaging with this type of individual perhaps because I've developed a more realistic sense of my ability to deal with negativity without becoming infected with it myself. The fact of the matter is...I'm not very good at it.

I recall a time in my life when I developed a taste for reading true crime stories. I don't know why; perhaps that genre appeals because the horror of violent death puts everyday anxieties into perspective, or because of the good vs. evil subtext of such books that lets us be vicarious heroes as we root for the detectives and investigators who crack the case. But after awhile I started feeling as if I were carrying around residual darkness from what I'd been reading; a dark film developing over my soul. One day I reached for a book on my nightstand, stopped midway...and said, "I don't need this in my life."

I think maybe I've come to the same conclusion with writers and bloggers who endulge in negativity, either to exorcize their own demons or because provocation keeps readers, whether fer or agin, coming back for more. They make me feel dark inside.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lay Ministry 2.0

Our pastor is going on sabbatical this summer, getting some inspiration for his other, artistic vocation by traveling by motorbike around the perimeter of the U.S. to photograph and write about works of public and "outsider" art.

This means, of course, that we lay ministers will be front and center leading worship for the better part of three months, both on Sunday morning and at our midweek Evening Prayer. Even considering our fairly relaxed schedule now -- we each take turns assisting once a month, and once a month one of us preaches -- I'm ready to take on greater worship responsibility.

But we will also be increasing our presence in the parish office. At our last meeting, when we sat around discussing how best to deal with the "pastor gap" this summer, I suggested that simply being present at the church for regular office hours might help keep things running smoothly. The others agreed; and because of where we are in our lives, we're each able to take one day a week to be in the office to answer the phone and greet walk-in visitors. Obviously pastoral counseling is not a part of this equation; we will be armed with a list of referral phone numbers for the usual situations that go on in our neighborhood (usually, sadly, struggling families calling for emergency assistance). But we also told the pastor we were willing to take on more hospital and shut-in visitation ourselves.

This will be something new for me, but I think I can do it competently. I've spent enough time in hospitals and care institutions with my own family members to be fairly unrattled by the experience, and I think being one step removed personally from the situation will help. My one big qualm about the whole thing is big-city driving, which I do not in any way enjoy, and which actually causes me more anxiety than the thought of communing someone in ICU or being with a family on a difficult day. I'm hoping that requests for visitation on my watch will involve less harrowing trips to smaller hospitals that people around here tend to wind up in for their routine ailments. Or that Fellow Traveler, who enjoys urban driving, can be bribed into piloting me if necessary. ("Hey! Want to go to Whole Foods by way of U of M Hospital?") I know that attitude is not very pastorly; but on the other hand I am not a pastor.

None of this, by the way, is a paying proposition. Which is why I think the lay ministry program is such a useful program for small/underfunded churches. Our presence in our parish increases the flexibility of our ministries and our pastor's schedule tremendously. It's a good thing.

I Am But a Stranger Here

So it's been four months fulltime here in Castorville, down the road from my hometown of Outer Podunk. (Castorville referring to the fur-bearing rodent for whom this town is actually named -- a source of much mirth among local adolescents.)

When I was growing up we might visit Castorville on perhaps a quarterly basis. My parents had an account at the local bank here -- Dad said that our primary bank, back in Outer Podunk, didn't need to know all our family business -- so on an occasional Friday night, when the lobby was open late, we'd go do our out-of-town banking. We'd always stop at the local dime store, an establishment whose hodge-podge of tantalizing fire-sale/fallen-off-the-truck/remaindered merchandise made our venerable 5-and-10-cent store back home seem quite modest and boring in comparison. On a very rare occasion we might even get ice cream down at the ice-cream shack across from the high school, or stop at the shabby little grocery store for a local sale.

Castorville was our school's cross-county rival, so of course Castorvillians were considered backward, likely inbred, yokels whose academic credentials were as poor as their prowess in sports.

Who'd have thought that, three decades later, I'd be living here?

I make an excursion perhaps every other day to the post office, just down the street. They've cut their office hours in such a draconian way that picking up box mail is difficult even for those of us in town during the day. But the two clerks are beginning to say hello to me if I stop by the window on the way out. I visit the supermarket -- still shabby and mainly limited to basics, although every once in awhile they surprise us with exotica like portabello mushrooms or frozen quail. About once a week I visit the local farm store for some item of pet care, and to buy eggs from the owner, who raises chickens on the side.

It's feeling more like home. I'm starting to recognize faces of staff and regular shoppers. But it's still...different. People, in general, look different here than they do up in Outer Podunk. And it's interesting, this difference. Because I've certainly lived in other cities away from home. But there's a certain familiarity curve that I would achieve in a very short time in those other cities that I don't feel here.

Last night we took a trip to the local cemetery, next to the big lake in town, to let Gertie run. Walking among the gravestones, it struck me that so many of the surnames were unfamiliar to me -- unlike the cemeteries of greater Outer Podunk, where I -- much to the amusement and occasional bemusement of my partner -- can confidently point out city fathers and businesspeople of yore, my parents' old childhood neighbors and classmates who died young.

I wonder if this is because, while this is our home and we're planning on investing some years here until our mortgage is paid in full , we don't feel that this is going to be our final stop in the world; that in the words of the Catie Curtis song, we're actually "only passing through."

Friday, April 24, 2009


I suppose some of you are wondering what the deal is with the blog lately -- why I haven't been posting with my usual regularity.

I don't know. I'm just feeling meh lately -- think Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas, complaining to Lucy that "I know I should be happy, but...." It's hard to think or to write or to get moving. I'm trusting it's just some sort of cyclical serotonin problem.

Friday Five: Bucket List

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five asks us to share five items from our "bucket list" -- for the uninitiated, those things we want to do before we kick the bucket.

Here are five of mine -- big and little, short and sweet:

1. Visit Vermont.

2. Learn to fly-cast.

3. Learn tai chi.

4. Learn to navigate in a personal boat -- a kayak or a canoe -- without maiming/kiling myself or others.

5. Find another "special someplace" here in Michigan, apart from our usual haunts in Leelanau and Benzie Counties, that pleases us -- that's a good place for a getaway.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sermon For 2 Easter

Contrary to all appearances, I have not abandoned my blog; I just took a week or so off because of other priorities.

I preached this past Sunday. Here's my sermon:

I bring you grace and peace from God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray: Lord, sanctify us in your truth; your word to us is truth. Amen.

A continued Happy Easter season to you all…as a friend of mine puts it, “Jesus is on the loose again!” Because the Easter season runs 50 days – more than a month – for the next few weeks we’re going to hear Gospel stories of the risen Jesus on the loose again in our world.

Let’s revisit the first part of our Gospel text. The first Easter morning has come and gone; a few of Jesus’ friends have encountered this empty tomb, or even the risen Christ himself; but as a group the disciples are still confused, afraid and in hiding for fear of the religious and political authorities.

Suddenly, that evening, Jesus appears ; the door of their hiding place is locked, but he nonetheless appears. What do you think that would be like? Imagine being at the deathbed of a loved one, and three days later having that person show up in your living room. It’s no wonder that Jesus’ first act in this story is to bid his friends peace…twice, even.

Jesus shows his wounds to the disciples; in other words, “I’m not a ghost. I’m not an hallucination. I’m real.” Because when the risen Lord is on the loose in the world, in these last chapters of the Gospels, sometimes he’s able to do things that defy physics; he appears and disappears; he walks through solid objects; so people are confused. But Jesus convinces them of the reality of his presence among them.

And then, as his disciples rejoice at this incredible miracle in their midst – Jesus gives them a job: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He gives them the authority, the responsibility, to be like him in the world. And to help them do that job, he gifts them with the Holy Spirit.

A few years ago, one evening after work, I was shopping at Glen’s Supermarket in Gladwin. I had a half-hour window before I needed to be home; so I was in a hurry. You probably know how that feels, shopping with the clock ticking. I was rushed; impatient; on a mission. Suddenly, I rounded a turn and encountered…a smell. Have you ever smelled the smell of an unwashed human being, so pungent that it creates a kind of wall of smell? That’s what I smelled. I looked up. A woman, dressed in layers of dirty clothing, her hair disheveled, was standing there in the aisle, rocking back and forth on her heels, mumbling to a row of canned tomatoes. She was, as they say down South, afflicted.

Being the good Christian, good citizen, compassionate defender of the rights of the oppressed, my first thought was…”Maybe I don’t need to go down this aisle.” But I did; I needed something in that aisle. My second thought was, “If I don’t make eye contact, maybe she won’t talk to me.” I used to live in the city; I used to encounter verbally abusive, whacked out street people; I didn’t want to deal with it; not this evening, not while I was in a hurry. So I grabbed my shopping cart with extra firmness, stared straight ahead, and proceeded to walk purposefully past the afflicted woman.

I’d gotten maybe three long steps away from her when I heard a quavering voice: “Excuse me?”

I knew it. I knew she was going to talk to me. I turned around.

The afflicted woman was no longer talking to the tomatoes. She was smiling at me – despite her wild, darting eyes, she was smiling at me.

She said, “I have a message for you from the Holy Spirit. Would you like to hear it?”

How do you respond to that, in a supermarket aisle? My mind was churning with a mixture of confusion and irritation and shame for being so unkind…and fear; fear of her; fear that this scenario was spinning completely out of control.

“I have a message for you from the Holy Spirit. Would you like to hear it?”

I finally said, “Okay.”

The woman then clapped a grimy hand on my forehead, there in the supermarket aisle. She closed her eyes and began rocking on her heels. I thought, Please don’t let anyone else turn the corner right now and see this.

The woman finally opened her eyes. She was still smiling.

She said, “God wants you to know that He loves you very much.”

I honestly don’t know what I said to her in return; “Thank you,” or “God loves you too”:. But I got out of that store, and into my car, and just sat there in the parking lot for a long time. Because something big had just happened to me.
Equipped and called to be Christ in the world; to tell the good news that God loves us no matter what; that God forgives us; that God wants to be our friend; that God will do whatever it takes to draw us into relationship. Do I believe that this woman in Glen’s Supermarket, despite her illness, had somehow been equipped and called to be Christ for me, to shake me up a little, to wake me up and remind me who I am and whose I am? I do. And I tell her story now because I believe her message to me is also a message to you, and that my job is to tell it.

We Lutherans talk a good game about justification; how we are justified, made right with God, purely through God’s grace and mercy and not because of any real or perceived merit on our parts. We know we are given new life, life as children of God, through our baptism. We know about “saved.” But sometimes we forget why we are saved. That salvation isn’t all about our own little private, personal get out of jail free drama with Jesus ; that it’s about Jesus calling us to help him love and heal the world, as any situation arises for us to do so. That is our job, each one of us and in community, as the called, forgiven, freed and equipped people of God.

And the thing about Jesus being loose in the world, equipping us with the Holy Spirit and giving us the job of loving and healing the world: He doesn’t care about our qualifications. He doesn’t care about our resumes. We don’t have to achieve some special level of maturity, education or purity of intention for him to show up. We know that from Scripture, from lessons like today’s…the disciples to whom Jesus appeared were the same people who’d turned tail and abandoned him when he needed them most. They were the same people who, day after day and month after month with Jesus, didn’t get what he was telling them. They were grumbling, quarrelsome, fearful….generally clueless. In today’s Gospel lesson we find Thomas, in the face of his friends’ amazed testimony about meeting a risen Jesus, putting conditions on his belief: “Unless I can see and feel Jesus, I’m not buying it.” And yet Jesus came back for his disciples; even for Thomas.

And Jesus comes back for us. Jesus comes back, though the locked doors of our busy, complicated, confused lives, every time we meet together to hear him and to share the Sacrament with him. He comes back for us when we are touched by something we hear in a prayer or a sermon or in the stories we hear here of one another’s lives.
Jesus is still on the loose in the world. He wants to take us with him. He’s given us our assignments. He’s given us the tools. Let’s go. Amen.

And now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding,keep our hearts in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Domesticated Friday Five

Ironic that this Friday Five comes on a day when we're planning to eat out, out of town, partly as an temporary respite from our neglected household in the wake of Fellow Traveler's long bout with bronchitis.

1. What is the one appliance you simply couldn't be without?
I love our contact grill.

2. What if anything would you happily give up?
The blender, which to me is often more trouble than it's worth when it comes to cleanup. Ditto the food processor, for the same reason, and because it's simply so difficult to put together.

3. What is the most strangest household appliance you own?
Our matching University of Michigan and Michigan State University bottle openers, which play the fight songs of the respective schools when you pry off a bottle top; our dog-cookie jar, which plays "Who Let The Dogs Out?" or "Hound Dog" when you lift the lid.

4. What is the most luxurious household appliance you own?
It's not very luxurious at all, but coming from a home with a 40-year-old economy-model stove I've had to get used to our programmable stove with glass stovetop and multitudinous controls. My new Breadman bread machine is also fairly whiz-bang; enough to make me somewhat nervous trying to program it each time I use it. Oh, and then there's our new upright vacuum cleaner with the detachable canister for certain walking-around cleaning tasks and a special pet-hair-sensitive somethin'-somethin' for maximum pickup; although "vacuum" and "luxury" are not concepts I generally put together.

5. Tell us about your dream kitchen-the sky is the limit here.
For me it would be less about appliances and more about storage space. Just -- lots of accessible storage space so that everything can have its own spot. And I also have a craving for more light -- we get good sunlight from the window over the sink and from the French doors to the patio, next to the kitchen, but I think especially because of feeling like a mushroom in the dark Cold Comfort Cottage I'd like even more light -- if not from windows, from the artificial lighting.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ah, Holy Jesus

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Maundy Thursday: Tough to Digest

Fellow Traveler woke up today with a chest cold, which makes participation in our church's Maundy Thursday community meal problematic in itself.

But it would be problematic anyway. Because of FT's particular health issues, she can't eat most of the meal that our church serves -- oven beef stew, whose meat and (intentional or otherwise) al dente vegetables she finds difficult and painful to digest; an apple-and-nut salad -- our Upper Midwestern alternative to hasoreth -- which could actually send FT to the ER. So she'd pretty much be left eating the bread, even though the liturgy that accompanies the meal incorporates all the elements of the meal, leaving her hungry and idle, watching everyone else be fully interactive with the liturgy and eat their fill. When we attended together the first time FT came home in actual physical pain from trying to eat the main course, and the last time she wound up having to eat a meal before the meal and then just go through the motions of the mealtime liturgy, which defeated the whole Eucharist-as-part-of-real-meal theme.

I'm not saying that our church should jettison its service, which gains in popularity each year, because not everyone can partake of all the food. But it's been a learning experience. And it makes me appreciate the "hungry feast" of the traditional Eucharist more.

Pimping the Recession

I'm watching television. The local TV affiliate is broadcasting a commercial for a church -- one of those megachurches, and one that has a reputation for "deliverance" ministry -- showing scene after scene of unemployment lines, people frowning over desks of household paperwork, crying people, people holding their head in their hands. The pitchman exhorts viewers that "There's no problem God can't handle!" and urges us to come to this church and get all our problems solved.

Several minutes later I'm watching the latest commercial of a notoriously ambulance-chasing plaintiffs' law firm. More talk and imagery related to "these tough economic times," and the suggestion that if life isn't treating us right it may be because we haven't sued someone who deserves it: "Call the offices of ________!"


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Not to Belabor the Point, But...

We've been talking about how we might be addressed by a future grandchild.

Back when I was a kid, grandmas were Grandma. Period. Maybe with an identifying initial at the end, but it was still Grandma.

These days it seems that kids can call their grandmothers anything -- Grandma, Nana, Gram, Grammy. My second-cousin's grandson, at a very early age, decided that she was "Sweetie" -- so Sweetie she became, and stayed. When his younger sister started to talk, she couldn't vocalize the S sound, so Sweetie became Tweety.

Our Semi-Son-in-Law's little niece and nephew refer to us as Grandma _____ and Other Grandma _____. (For late arrivals to this blog -- in real life FT and I share a first name.)

Fellow Traveler is rather taken with the title G-Mama.

I'm not picky. Honestly, I never thought I'd be puzzling about this issue ever, not in my entire life. Although G-2 has a ring to it.


[circumspect glance]

I want to be sure no relatives or friends of relatives are reading this...

...because we got the news this morning that we are going to be grandmas for the first time. (We're already dogmas -- rim shot! -- to Levi, the other set of kids' new beagle pup.)

This is supposed to be on the QT for now, although Fellow Traveler and I already managed to spill the beans to our post office clerk, our next-door neighbor and a random stranger in a parking lot.



Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Taking a Gamble

Last week we took a spontaneous one-night vacation up to Cadillac, where I used to live -- just for fun; just because we can. We found an inexpensive dog-friendly motel, so we were able to bring Gertie along too.

We drove up early Friday morning, in a cold, steady rain, which literally dampened our plans for antiquing and other activities requiring a lot of in-and-out. Because I'm a good partner and know that Fellow Traveler enjoys an occasional trip to a casino, I suggested that we drive across M-55 to Manistee -- a city FT had never visited before -- and check out the casino there.

As frequent readers here might remember, gambling is not one of my favorite pastimes. I tend to be pretty tenacious in holding onto my money, for one thing. For another, the sad parade of the lame and the halt who frequent casinos always makes me depressed -- far from the buff young party people in the casino commercials and billboards, casino floors are crowded with the desperate elderly, often crippled or on oxygen or both. Sometimes I think this is the poor, impious person's Lourdes.

But even as I say this I have to admit: I win when I visit these places. I don't know why. I don't know why I, as a disciplined and not terribly excited occasional visitor, multiply my modest investment while the haggard old fellow with the cane and the O2 tank next to me loses all his money. And I do it on the penny slots.

Fellow Traveler, who actually does enjoy games of chance, is sometimes frustrated by my lack of exuberance at these venues. On this particular trip, I'd won $300 before quitting; enough to pay for our lodging and our food. "I had fun. Did you have fun?" she asked, there in the cashier's line. "Uh-huh," I replied. "That doesn't sound like fun," she replied in bemusement.

Well,; a pleasant surprise, maybe. And maybe it's just Lutheran/northern European guilt for acquiring a gain through something other than work. Fun for me was the next day, when we went on an unscheduled expedition farther north to the Leelanau to sightsee and pick up some favored agricultural products (Boskydel vin blanc from Lake Leelanau and various smoked delicacies from Pleva's butcher shop in Cedar). Fun for me was also just getting out of our usual environs for 48 hours.

And fun was seeing Gertie go on her first overnight vacation with us. She was such a good lodger; we had no problems with her being away from home. She seemed to enjoy the novelty of sleeping in a different place (although since we'd packed her favorite binkies and a tote bag full of her favorite toys, it wasn't all that different), and she spent much of the two days with her head out the window, drinking in the sights and smells of northern Michigan with great gusto.

Even though we were bone-tired when we got back here, we've decided that these little mini-breaks in the routine are worth doing on at least a quarterly basis. We are seriously considering, next time we're feeling happy feet, closing our eyes, taking a wild stab at a map of Michigan, and then heading whereever our deciding finger lands. Now, that's a gamble that does sound fun to me.

Garden Party Pooper

I'm itching to get my hands in dirt...but this week's dreary extended forecast -- temperatures in the mid-30's, snow showers -- don't bode well for planting, even the hardy stuff.

Meanwhile, my baby leeks and scallions are shooting up by what seems like inches each day, my chard just sprouted, and I think I saw the hint of a young rhubarb leaf in the new patch.

To add to the frustration, our yard guy, who's going to rototill a garden plot for us, has been AWOL for the past week.

My practical, native Michiganian self is telling me that I'm getting way too impatient to plant in our notoriously fickle springtime weather. The rest of me wants to see a lovely black rectangle of plowed earth out there next to the front garage, waiting for me to cultivate and smooth it and section it into plots.

Oh, well...maybe Yard Guy will call tomorrow. Today...I'm planting more tomatoes.

(Hat tip to Fedco Seeds,, my new favorite seed source. They're a cooperative located in Maine. Their catalog is crunchy-granola-charming -- I love catalog writers with a sense of humor -- and awesome in its range of seeds, and their service has been prompt and accurate. I'm only sorry that I missed their rather narrow window for ordering 'taters and alliums, because they have some great varieties.

Doin' the DO: April 7

Today's Morning Prayer Gospel lesson is from the 12th chapter of John, and begins with a scene of Greeks coming to the disciples asking to see Jesus -- perhaps, one might assume, with the intent of wanting to become disciples themselves -- and Jesus responding to this news in a way indicating that this extension of the good news into Gentile territory signals the denouement of his story: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified..."

I will confess that I was intrigued enough by the day's text to take a side excursion over to Brian Stoffregen's Crossworks online ponderings on Scripture to see what he had to say.

Stoffregen's comments on the text as a message for a missional church are an "aha," especially coming out of last night's Evangelism Committee meeting.

I'm trying to apply his comments to our congregational situation. In our depressed rural area, the "Gentiles" in our midst are not pomo cosmopolitans in the mold of the Greeks in the Gospel story. They are largely, to use my pastor's pithy description, "People raised by wolves"; more akin to the ancient barbarians emerging from the European woods in furs and bear-grease pomade.

The community surrounding our church is a dichotomy of "good church people" -- German and Polish farmers who've been there for generations, aspiring to if not achieving what counts as a modest middle-class lifestyle in outstate Michigan -- and an underclass crippled by poverty, lack of education and rural isolation; in some cases by generational cognitive deficit. Their lives often lack even a marginal Christian context, and even a context of basic competency in life skills; their households and relationships are in constant chaos and want. Spousal abuse and child abuse and neglect are common consequences.

Stoffregen notes our complacency, our desire to keep our churches as comfortable meeting places for "people like us," and challenges us to reach out to the people around us who seem to be nothing like us.

How do we do this in our congregation? How do we get beyond the idea of evangelism as merely attracting new residents looking for a local church home or the disaffected from other churches, and get real about extending the Gospel to our "Gentile" neighbors who don't fit our expectations of what new members should be like -- people we have a difficult time relating to in the community in general, let alone within the circle of our faith community?

I'm sending Stoffregen's comments to our other committee members.

Monday, April 06, 2009

How the Spirit Moves

One of the regulars at our Lenten suppers and worship is a high school girl who comes with her grandmother. I've known this kid ever since she was a tiny tot -- who, again, came to church with either one or the other set of grandparents. I don't remember her ever speaking as a child; not once; when I cohosted coffee hour with my mom, she'd simply come through the line and point to what she wanted, even after reaching elementary-school age. She always seemed solemn, and sad.

At the beginning of Lent this year, she was likewise silent; she spent suppertime playing games on her cell phone, and when we tried engaging in some small talk with her to include her in the adult conversation, she just looked at us with a blank expression.

But over the weeks, something has been going on with this kid. She's started to smile. She's started looking people in the eye. I heard her actually responding to our pastor in a friendly manner. Last week after supper the pastor asked her to informally acolyte for Evening Prayer, and to me something seemed to light up inside her along with the candles as she served. On the way home Fellow Traveler and I both remarked that Lenten worship seemed to resonate with her in a profound way.

Tonight at our Evangelism Committee meeting the topic came up of including our teenagers more fully in the life of the church by getting them involved in our committees. When our pastor asked us who we thought might be a good candidate for the Evangelism Committee, Fellow Traveler and I both blurted out, "___________." We said she seemed to have a special affinity for being around adults, and a kind of gravity and thoughtfulness we needed. He smiled and nodded, and gave us background into her problematic family situation that finally put some pieces together for us and seemed to affirm that this was a good choice. Even if she declines our invitation, I think that a group of adults asking her to be a part of our group because we think she'd add something special to it would be an incredible gift to her.

This convergence gave me goosebumps, in a good way. I can be kvetchy about attending meetings...but they do seem to be places where the Spirit moves, sometimes.

Ecumenism and the Karlin Inn

Many years ago when I lived up north, in the summertime I'd often take a Sunday morning drive to Interlochen to take advantage of its discounted weekend arts schedule -- you could spend the entire day there, starting out with an interfaith Sunday service mit Musik in the open-air auditorium and then flitting from venue to venue on campus for various recitals and plays.

Every time I drove to Interlochen, I'd pass through the tiny, blinking-caution-light village of Karlin. Near the light was a quaint, "full homely"-looking little restaurant called the Karlin Inn, whose sign promised "Family Dining." It seemed so cozy from the outside -- a hot-meatloaf-sandwich kind of establishment -- that, on passing, I'd always think, "I'm going to stop there for supper one day."

One Sunday I did just that. I walked up the sidewalk, opened the door -- and found a biker bar. A couple of grizzled men in Harley leathers looked up from their smokes and eyed me suspiciously. An elderly waitress -- I guess she was elderly; in retrospect, in that neighborhood she may have been 40 or so -- whose arms were covered with tats literally threw a set of eating utensils on the table in front of me. "Whaddya want?" she rasped.

As memory serves, I ordered a burger to go and got the hell out of Dodge. I later told my friends, "When they say 'Family Dining' I didn't think they meant the Manson family."

I have to say that's been my experience in the last couple of weeks exploring the Christian world beyond my mainline neighborhood; specifically the realm of Evangelical Christianity. It's not just about The Troubles or about women's issues -- I've just come back from reading a rather disquieting discussion about the concept of enforcing marital rape laws in Islamic countries that left me thinking that some of the good Christians weighing in think "marital rape" is an oxymoron -- it's an entire theological and social point of view that I find precludes much in the way of meaningful dialog.

It reminds me of a few years back when my congregation tried engaging in what one Lutheran wit has termed promiscuous ecumenism. We attempted to organize Lenten worship with the Missionary Alliance church down the road -- people who think we're heathenish reprobates -- and even fundraised for them to bring their rickety building up to code. After a few such hands-across-the-picket-fence we were disinvited from further engagement with them. My pastor went over to the SDA church, which at the time was sending regular evangelists to his doorstep pleading with him to repent from crypto-Papism and desecration of the Sabbath, and invited the congregation to a "no preaching" picnic at our place; his invitation was declined. We entered full-tilt boogie into a local ministry coalition originally intended to both promote ecumenism in general and coordinate good works on behalf of the communities served by the member churches, that's since seemed to lose its reason for being. We've wound up pretty much where we started, with the local Roman Catholic parish -- half of whose congregation are in-laws with half our our congregation -- our primary ecumenical partner in the 'hood.

So I guess a moral of this story story may be to better appreciate the Gemuetlichkeit of "Family Dining" closer to home, with my mainline and RC peeps, and not attempt to crash the meals of coattail relation who seem to resent the thought of adding another plate to the table.

Kid Stuff

Fellow Traveler has a way with the kids in our congregation -- I think because she exudes a combination of respect and toughness, like a good coach, that the younger folks in turn respect. (My observation is that kids don't want adults trying to be their pals; they want, as Gertie's guru Cesar Milan might put it, calm assertive pack leadership.) Anyway, one day one of our high school kids confided to FT that she and her peers were very unhappy with the adult leader of their rather moribund youth group; that this individual never organizes activities, at least any that the kids want to participate in, and instead spends most of the time burdening them with her own personal adult issues, and then scolding them for not being more interested.

"I wish you'd take over," the teen murmured wistfully. You and LutheranChik are fun."

When I heard this, and wondered aloud what sort of youth group these teens envisioned, FT looked at me with horror.

"Don't even," she warned. "No."

And truth be told, we have enough church responsibilities on our respective plates without taking on a handful of hormonal adolescents.

But I do think these poor kids need a voice -- someone to advocate for them. Because they're the church too.

In the church where I grew up, our high school teacher was a 70-year-old church lady, and our youth group leader was Pastor. Our group activities consisted of stuffing Wheat Ridge stamp envelopes, once, and a trip to Higgins Lake for a picnic where we got yelled at by El Padre for playing Anarchist Volleyball. ("You have to have a score! You can't just bounce the ball back and forth! Ordnung muss sein!") Our supposed status, conferred via confirmation, as members in good standing of our congregation was a joke; the expectation was that we be seen and not heard until we were ready to "match" and "hatch." So my own experience of youth ministry was pretty dismal until I left home and got hooked up with Lutheran campus ministry, which was truly a valuable part of my religious formation.

How might I take some of the positive experiences I had as a young adult, translate that into the milieu of our church, its surrounding community and a slightly younger demographic, listen to the kids and find out what they want in a youth group (quelle concept) and then make informed suggestions to the people who can make them happen?

Or should I just mind my own beeswax?

Palm Sunday at Our Place

Our church's Palm Sunday service has always, in my admittedly critical opinion, left a lot to be desired...bemused parishoners half-heartedly waving craft-paper palm leaves imprinted with a hymn and liturgy.

This year, our Worship Committee stepped it up a notch. During the opening hymn, our smallest kiddos, with minimal adult prompting, systematically laid a path of real palm fronds down the center aisle; two robed older children then served as crucifer and bearer of the Bible, solemnly processing down the path of palm leaves. Ironically, it brought to mind our pastor's wistful comment to Fellow Traveler and me a few weeks ago that he'd like to have more "grownup church"; and our kids get ritual much more than some of the adults, so perhaps it was appropriate that they set the tone for worship.

The sermon was on the mark as well. Our pastor talked about his experience as a child attending the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit every year to see Santa Claus; he contrasted that parade with the "parade" he experiences as a volunteer firefighter, when his colleagues converge from all corners of the area to help households in trouble, or the Prodigal-esque procession he's experienced as a father coming to meet a child who's gotten into a mess and needs rescuing. He challenged us to grow out of our "Here comes Santa Claus" understanding of the original Palm Sunday and instead enter into the participants' experience of hope and rescue from oppression that led to their hailing Jesus as a liberator. He also read past the Gospel lesson to Jesus' mournful judgment upon Jerusalem, and challenged us to be open to Christ's ongoing redeeming, transforming power, so that he wouldn't also be weeping over our own community.

We always do a bit of armchair quarterbacking of the service during the ride home; yesterday we agreed that we'd just experienced grownup church, and appreciated it a lot.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Doin' the Do: April 3

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. -- from the Book of Jeremiah

How odd that, with this morning's powerful Gospel lesson from John's account of the raising of Lazarus -- "I am the resurrection and the life" -- my attention, for some reason, was drawn to this line in the Old Testament lesson.

I wonder what would happen, in this Balkanized world, if those of us who for whatever reason feel ourselves in exile, attempted to cultivate this attitude instead.

Timeout Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five asks us what keeps us going during, particularly for those of us with special responsibilities "front and center" or elsewhere in church during Holy Week. I am getting ready to head out of town for a rather spontaneous up-north getaway day -- hey, maybe that will answer one of the questions! -- so I will be very brief!

1. What restores you physically?
Being in the out-of-doors; and going to the gym (even though we've been terrible with this lately.

2. What strengthens you emotionally/ mentally?
Learning; networking with like minds; getting away from home every once in awhile.

3. What encourages you spiritually?
The Daily Office, or variations thereof, grounds me in a way that's hard to explain. You just have to do it.

4. Share a favourite poem or piece of music from the coming week.
"O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" is I think my favorite Holy Week hymn. (If I weren't sitting here half in my skivvies trying to hurry I'd go on YouTube and find a good recording of it.)

5.There may be many services for you to attend/ lead over the next week, which one are you most looking forward to and why? If there aren't do you have a favourite day in Holy week if so which one is it?
Our church's unconventional Maundy Thursday supper -- we have integrated the liturgy and Eucharist into a stew supper -- grows on me a little every year; I think not so much for me personally but because I see other people derive benefit from it -- I think it helps the Eucharist really come alive for some of our members. And one of the themes of Maundy Thursday I find meaningful is that of community; it's moving to me to read the texts where Jesus talks to his disciples as intimate friends.

We're off to Cadillac -- just because we can be -- this morning. See you tomorrow evening!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Facebook Drive-By Bible Study

Constant readers here know that, unlike academic Bible study, I sometimes have problems maintaining my patience during conventional Bible studies. Well...let's not sugarcoat it: Bible studies usually make me want to concuss myself unconscious against the nearest cinderblock wall.

But a pastor pal of mine who's also a Facebook friend has hit upon a Bible study format that I actually enjoy.

One day each week she posts a lunchtime query regarding one of Jesus' parables. And then Facebook friends respond with their insights and questions. For readers familiar with the RevGalBlogPals' Tuesday Lectionary Leanings , it's like a very condensed, amped-up version of that; a drive-by Bible study.

It made me wonder how to craft something similar for a wider Facebook audience -- and people not in the usual market for such stuff.

The Office

Gee -- if I could have had this much fun at my previous job I wouldn't have quit.

Over It

My attempt at bridge-building with supposedly new-school, sensitive-type Evangelicals over The Issue That Dare Not Speak Its Name.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Vox Populi

Heard in the supermarket checkout line today, here in Castorville -- verbatim conversation:

Clerk: I hate Obama. He's evil.
Customer: So do I.
Clerk: He's a socialist.
Customer: You got that right.
Clerk: And where did he even come from?
Customer: Yeah. And he don't even run the White House. His wife does. He can't even run his own household. Har-har-har-har!

And yet, we live here.

FT Gets Fan Mail

One of our friends at church is a little boy who lives with his sisters and grandma -- his mother was involved in drugs and various other shenanigans, and Grandma got permanent custody of the children. The kids took a shine to us, and the boy particularly to Fellow Traveler. He's a bright, funny, curious child whom I suspect has been overanalyzed, overdiagnosed, overtherapized and otherwise excessively hovered over by various caring adults until it's hard for him to be a kid.

When I'm assisting in church FT has taken to sitting in the narthex nosebleed section with him to give Grandma a break and to keep him from spinning out of control. She says he's keenly interested in the church service, so she spends a lot of time explaining to him what's going on. She also, on occasion, has to keep a rheotrical foot up his rhetorical fanny so he doesn't harrass his sisters, talk loudly or wander around looking for trouble.

The last time they sat together he drew Fellow Traveler a picture of an airplane -- he knows she used to serve in the Air Force -- with this note: You are a graet fraind to me. Thank you fary much. We loved this so much we've added it to our fridge art.

He also told FT, "I like you because you don't yell at me, but you're still able to make me mind."

Doin' the DO: April 1

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep." -- the Gospel of John, the 10th Chapter

Again today I found great comfort in the Morning Prayer's Gospel reading, which in the context of my own life and experience speaks to anyone who's ever been let down by the Church. And it's another reminder to keep Christ, not his assorted bumbling followers, as the focus of faith, both in my own life and when I'm in teaching or preaching mode.