Friday, January 29, 2010

Not Anytime Soon

If you are a Floridian, please understand that I don't think less of you as a person.

But...I don't want to be you.

It's nothing personal. It's me, not you.

It was awkward visiting Florida last week, being beseeched by family and friends to come back for two weeks, or a month, or a season, or forever, and smiling politely while thinking, "Not only no, but hell to the no."

As far as Orlando or Kissimmee, there's no question: Short of being kidnapped and held in chains (perhaps in the Medieval Times dinner theater), nothing could compel us to live there; not even our sons. Visit, yes; not live, not even for a month.

Fellow Traveler reconnected with one of her very best high school friends, who now lives with her husband in a retirement mobile home community in the cow-country interior. As much as we enjoyed that visit -- this lady and her husband are delightful, and real pistols -- we couldn't help but think, why? Why, of al the places on earth to live year-round, would they choose this place?  Now, I'm sure many of our friends would ask the same thing of us. But it seemed that this particular community, ironically, was quite a bit like ours, only without any of the good things, plus venomous snakes and breath-sucking humidity.

Our big road trip of the week was an excursion to St. Augustine. I enjoyed St. Augustine a lot -- its historicity and artsy-ness with a dash of college-town, and its proximity to the water. It looked and felt like the Leelanau in the summertime, only with more pirates. But, as Fellow Traveler told our filial chaparones, "This is the only place in Florida I'd ever consider living, and only if the weather were like this [breezy and barely breaking 70 degrees] year-round." -- an observation met with nervous, defeat-conceding heh-hehs.

Of course, our kids think we're insane for enduring the single-digit weather we came home to. But we don't mind. It actually, and I can't believe I'm saying this, felt good to feel the cold wind hit my face as we walked out of the airport to the parking lot. The Upper Midwest is a pretty good place to live.

Stealth Church

It's difficult to know even where to begin to blog after spending a week of nonstop activity in Florida -- and I'm still bringing my brain up to speed after a day of recuperative collapse here at home -- but since I'm a church geek, perhaps I'll start there.

We didn't get a chance to visit the ELCA church just a couple of blocks from our resort, because Saturday and Sunday were our busiest family-and-friend days. I enjoy intramural church tourism, so that was a bummer. As far as that goes, even in a tourist-focused community like the greater Orlando/Kissimmee area, it's hard to spit without hitting a church of some kind -- on the 192 main drag, usually a Spanish-speaking Protestant congregation operating out of a storefront.

What I found amusing, though, were the stealth churches. On our one free morning we decided to have lunch in a nice little Chinese place in the Watertower Plaza of Celebration, the Disney-engineered planned city between Kissimmee and Orlando. Despite the Disney connection, the plaza was refreshingly free of theme-park-icity, and actually seemed to be more geared toward locals than tourists. As we drove around the neat yellow blocks of storefronts we came upon one with a sign reading "The Hub"; underneath was a subtitle something like "A Place To Connect," with information about meeting times. A logo reading "Celebration!" was off to the side. Then, in the billboard equivalent of 5-point type, like the kind on the back of your credit card bills, was something about "Church." My keen analytical mind kicked into gear: Aha! A church that doesn't want you to know it's a church!"

After we got home I tried looking up this outfit online. Apparently it is a kind of satellite ministry of Celebration Community Church, a non-denominational congregation whose theological orientation was difficult to ascertain, even after wading several pages deep into its website and into its "What We Believe" section. I'm guessing Southern Baptist in a cabana shirt with a happy-face pin on the collar. I'm also guessing that, after getting involved in the congregation enough to feel comfortable enrolling in a "Lifeshaping" class ("I went to Pilates this morning, and then after dinner we're all going to Lifeshaping..."), one would find out that if you're female your role in the congregation is pretty much relegated to Kinder und Kueche, and that if you're gay or lesbian...well, let's not even go there.

My reaction to all this twee coyness and equivocation: Oh, cut the crap already. Or as our church-estranged Orlando kids, whose livelihoods are based on creating convincing worlds of illusion and who can thus spot fakery in a nanosecond, would say: Really? I mean, seriously?

On Monday, while visiting St. Augustine, Fellow Traveler and I paid a visit to the St. Augustine basilica in the middle of the old town. (Son-in-Law's comment, when we've gone church sightseeing before: "I'm always afraid I'll spontaneously combust if I step inside.") Here we got unabashed old-school Roman Catholic: crucifixes, candles, statues of Our Lady and the Infant of Prague, holy cards of tortured saints. A hint of lingering incense.

It is what it is. Hallelujah. As are the multitude of shabby little Pentecostal tabernacles and white clapboard churches dotting the backroad Florida countryside. As are the ecclesias along 192.

Here's a unique marketing concept for churches desperate for outreach: Stop the bullshit. Please. Stop trying to pretend that you're a "lifestyle center" or "gathering place." Stop the lying-by-omission on your signboards and in your websites.  You're not fooling anyone.

Authenticity. Being who you are, not what you think other people want you to be. What a concept.

Friday Five: "Friend Me!" Edition

This week the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five comes to my 'hood -- the world of social networking!

1) What have been the benefits for you of social networking (blog, twitter, facebook, etc...)
For me the biggest benefit has simply been the opportunity to meet people I would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise...including Fellow Traveler, whom I'd met through other online acquaintances whom I'd met on a Yahoo group. Imagine that. And more recently, since getting involved with Facebook, I've had the pleasure of reconnecting with a couple of high school friends I'm really glad I've had the opportunity to find again; I enjoyed their company back then, and I enjoy their "seasoned" presence in my life even more now.

2) Which medium do you use the most? Or if you use them all, for what do you use each of them?
These days I'm on Facebook more than anything. (Which in part accounts for the paucity of my postings here, sadly.) I love the little snapshots of other people's days. When I'm not Facebooking, I'm usually focused on our church blog -- we have a readership now, and a thematic schedule, and I need to keep that up on a daily basis.

3) If you could invent a networking site (with no limits on your imagination), what would it provide? What would it not provide?
I think my head would explode if I had to deal with another networking site, so I'm not even going to answer that. I have a hard enough time even with Twitter -- and, really, my life is not nearly exciting enough to "tweet" -- which I subscribe to but don't do anything with. (And the really scary thing is...despite this, I get regular notifications of Twitterers "following" me...following me where, I wonder.)

4) Who have you met that you would not have met if it were not for the 'miracle' of social networking?
Once again -- Fellow Traveler, first and foremost; most of the RevGals and Pals; my Brit and Antipodal friends on the Ship of Fools community forums; and many other bloggers whose work I admire and enjoy.

5) Whom do you secretly pray does not one day try to 'friend/follow' you?
The only people I really do not want to be a part of my online life in any way are my former boss and Big Boss. I still experience frissons of terror if I think I see one of their vehicles in a local parking lot -- one day I delayed grocery shopping at the Outer Podunk supermarket for a full half-hour waiting for Big Boss' pickup to leave, that is how much I do not want to encounter either of them ever again.

BONUS: What was the most random/weird/unsettling/wonderful connection you made that would not have happened if it were not for the ease of which we can find each other in the computer realm?
One of my Facebook friends is a Swede, Anders, who asked me to friend him after seeing me on the Lutherans Concerned/North America "fan" list. Anders is an organist and belongs to the Church of Sweden, and he FBs a lot -- he has, like, 900 friends -- and he writes mostly in Swedish, which means that his posts are a mystery to me unless I take the time to run them through a translator, or unless they're churchy posts where I can pick out the operative words. I enjoy my Facebook page hosting random thoughts in Swedish; what can I say?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Florida, v.2

I am playing beat-the-clock on a complimentary resort computer -- spotty wi-fi here that I've not been able to access for more than 10 minutes -- here in Kissimmee. It's actually a nice, quiet, shady resort off the beaten path from Highway 192; just a little tatty in places, but that's okay.

This has been the un-theme-park, family vaycay, with every single day devoted to some activity involving family or relocated friends of Fellow Traveler. We finally got away this morning for a mini-date at a Chinese restaurant we discovered off the beaten path in a rather quiet, pleasant shopping center in Orlando, and a short drive around the original main drag of Kissimmee; FT called it "unplugged" Kissimmee.

FT and I wouldn't make good Floridians. For us the novelty of 75 degree January days, common northern houseplants the size of trees in the local landscaping and yards of Spanish moss are just that -- novelties; interesting but not something we want to live in the midst of. Son #1 and his partner are always lobbying for us to move south, but -- sorry, kids; ain't happenin'.

And, oddly enough -- we do not feel as physically safe here as we did in Brooklyn. We just don't. Nor do we feel accepted as a couple, really, anywhere outside Orlando, or even outside the gates of Disney World or Universal Studios or other haven of local creative types.

We always enjoy ourselves here. But we always enjoy coming back home.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Five: Interview Edition

Around here we likes us our lowbrow television, so this week after watching Modern Family (in these days of Balkanized TV viewing it's the one program that everyone in our own extended fam seems to watch, so that we can actually talk about it with one another) we stayed our remote-clicking hands and watched another ABC family comedy, The Middle. Not as funny or as well done; but there was a hilarious scene where the dad, an out-of-work construction guy having to look for another job for the first time in many years, found himself subjected to interviewer after interviewer earnestly quizzing him with Baba Wawa, pseudo-psychological questions. He had a good work record; always got to the job on time; never took a sick day. What more did these people want from him? Well...stuff like this:

1. If you were a color, what would you be?
This is interesting...I picked burnt sienna, that quirky Crayola color that I'm not even sure they make anymore, because I always seem to be the odd crayon in the box. When I asked FT what color I was she said maroon, because (in her words) at first glance I'm a little dark and inscrutable, but if one looks a little harder they'll appreciate my deepness and richness. That was very nice of her. I think this means I'm buying lunch today.

2. If you were a flower (or plant), what would you be?
I think one could do worse than to be culinary sage: seasoned; adaptible; occasionally colorful; not the star of the herb garden, but the dependable botanical workhorse.

3. If you were an animal, what kind would you be?
I think I have some catlike qualities -- not anatomical, mind you, just dispositional. I can see myself as a bookstore cat, watching the action from some safe, warm corner; blinking benignly at customers; perhaps occasionally offering myself up for a scritch from some obviously cat-oriented passer-by but not going out of my way to ingratiate myself with the public.

4. If you were a shoe, what type would you be?
This is easy, and o so cliche' -- a Merrell-y/Keene-y shoe; something that's practical and absolutely un-foofy but nonetheless possessing a certain sense of style.

5. If you were a typeface, which font would you be?
A far more difficult question. I think maybe Freestyle Script -- flowing and mildly quirky, but with aspirations to become something edgier, like Rage Italic or Viner Hand. Although considering my love of things rural and agricultural and anachronistic, maybe at heart I'm an old-school typeface like something in the Goudy family -- something you'd find in an almanac.

Bonus metaphor: If I were a bar burger I'd be the locovorious special -- made with beef from the local 4-H sale, super-aged Pinconning cheese, sweet Amish onions and homemade pickles, served with a regional microbrew.  Sadly, no restauranteurs in our county would ever offer something like this, not even with Gordon Ramsay screaming and swinging a bar bat over their heads...but it sounds really good, doesn't it?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Jack Sprat Syndrome

I feel so bad.

For the last two days Fellow Traveler, who has an ileoostomy, has been suffering ill effects from the brown-and-wild-rice pilaf I made for dinner.

FT was just recovering from this major surgery when we met, so we have both been on an almost four-year learning curve regarding food. Some foods, like nuts, are an absolute no-no. Others, like mushrooms or berries, are fine going down one day...but the same things eaten a month or a year later can result in hours of agony -- or even a trip to the ER.

Usually FT can handle rice, even brown rice, with no problems. But not wild rice, apparently.

FT's general rules are to avoid fiber; to drink juices like V8 with high concentrations of vitamins and minerals; to eat lots of dairy, particularly cheese.

My dietary needs, ironically, are almost the exact opposite because of my hypertension and cholesterol management issues. I need lots of fiber; I need lots of vegetables and fruits; I need less animal protein and fat and more plant protein, meaning more whole grains and legumes, meaning...more fiber.

This is all the more ironic in a home where we enjoy food, care about it, love to try new foods.

But love conquers all; and we manage, and do so without having to make separate meals. It involves celebrating our commonalities (oatmeal, for instance, and Chinese cabbage -- of all things -- are good for and good to both of us), respecting our differences (I like to keep a supply of baby greens on hand in the fridge to make an impromptu vegetable course, and I've also been bumping up the cholesterol-fighting factor with a couple tablespoons of flaxmeal a day), compromise (tofu, while not my favorite foodstuff, is good for me and highly digestible for FT, so we're trying to incorporate more of it into our meals) and planning ahead (no weirdo/potentially problematic food before travel or important appointments).

People with ostomies have to contend with a lot, logistically and otherwise, not the least of which is perceived discomfort on the part of others. I remember mentioning something about FT's surgery to a former coworker who looked surprised...then confided to me that she too had  an ileostomy. We started sharing stories, food experiences, helpful hints. This woman told me it was a relief to finally be able to work with someone who understood, who wasn't "grossed out."  We ourselves appreciated the bed-and-breakfast owner up in Empire who, when we expressed some misgivings about her proposed menus because of some potentially difficult ingredients, was willing and even eager to substitute different recipes to accomodate FT's needs. "I love a good challenge," she told us.

To me our meals are a metaphor for our life together in general. To which I say, l'chayim and bon appetit!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Silver Lining Behind Pat Robertson's Haitian Earthquake Comments

You, know...his blaming the earthquake in Haiti on an apocryphal Haitian "deal with the devil," and calling it a "blessing in disguise." (See/hear here .)

The silver lining? It inspired me to coin a new adjective: asshattic. Used in a sentence: "Pat Robertson and  Rush Limbaugh  are asshattic fuckwits."

You're welcome.

Meanwhile...numerous relief agencies are mobilizing resources to send to Haiti. You know what to do.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Still Not Getting It

After a bit of holiday respite, I notice that the ELCA Facebook page is once again filling up with people angsting over the Churchwide Assembly vote allowing congregations to call partnered gays and lesbians as pastors/other rostered leaders.

Obviously I have a bias here; I have a dog in this fight, not so much for myself but for my sisters and brothers who are called to these vocational paths as well as to their relationships.

But can someone please explain to me why solidly heterosexual congregations in Outer Possum, North Dakota are freaking out over the thought that a congregation in NoCal or Ann Arbor or Manhattan might call a partnered gay person as a pastor? Can someone explain to me the use of words like "anguish" by these people in describing their state of upset?

Here's why I ask this.

This evening we are entertaining one of Fellow Traveler's high school friends, a fellow veteran, whom she found on Facebook about a year ago. He'd been seriously underserved by the VA, and FT has been helping him navigate through the system to quallify for the benefits he has coming to him, particularly for what is most surely PTSD that dates all the way back to the Vietnam era, as well as for possible Agent Orange exposure.

He's at our house today because this morning, somewhere en route to his "comp and pen" exam, he checked out. He tried calling his home but no one answered. He'd lost FT's and my phone number. He wound up calling another high school friend who is also on Facebook, and asked her to ask us to call him. And she did -- IM'd us in a panic. (All the Farmville and viral cut-and-paste silliness aside, Facebook can be a wonderful thing.)

When FT finally got ahold of her friend, he had made it to the VA, but had no idea of how he'd gotten there. He was crying over the phone, and not always coherent: "I can't remember driving here...I can't stop shaking...I don't think I can do this." FT jumped in the Jeep and drove the 40 miles to the clinic to help him; when she got there the nurses told her they were so concerned  about his not having someone with him to take him home that they were going to admit him as an inpatient. FT got her friend calmed down; spoke to the staff on his behalf; helped him get his VA ID card and some meds to tide him over for a couple of days, and insisted that he stay the evening at our home instead of attempting the four-hour drive back home. She had intended to have him park his car at the VA and ride back with her, but he chose to follow her back this far. We had supper, and now we're just watching TV, chatting, trying to keep things light.

Anguish is thinking about your Vietnam tour of duty in the dark of the morning, on a four-hour drive, and suddenly finding yourself there in the jungle with your friends getting blown up next to you by unseen enemies all around you, and  your heart pounding its way out of your chest, and your suddenly losing your ability to think or even to breathe, and your winding up in a hospital parking lot two hours later not remembering how you got there.

Amguish is sitting in a room with a VA doctor who's trying to find reasons to not grant you service connection, describing your experience all over again, along with the details of your entire military career and along with all the physical and emotional pain, all the failures and humiliations you have suffered, for the next 30 years because of what happened to you while you were in the Army.

Anguish is not being able to string words together into sentences, or remember instructions that someone gave you 30 seconds ago, or sleep through the night. Anguish is waking up each morning wondering what strange physical symptom is going to plague your body that day. Anguish is having panic attacks that come out of nowhere and leave you shaken and gasping. Anguish is knowing that your loved ones, the people closest to you, don't know what's wrong with you -- not really -- and not being able to explain it to them in a way they can understand.

That, dear readers, is anguish.

Getting upset because someone else's ELCA congregation may call a partnered gay person as a pastor, getting upset because you think the ELCA hasn't gotten it right about "the homosexuals," isn't anguish. I don't know what you're feeling, folks, but it's not that.

The Bee's Knees

Here I was, all ready to embark upon a thoughtful blog meditation expressing my misgivings over The Eucharist Diet ...oh, let's be honest; I was going to launch into some major upraised-eyebrow snark...but then the good angel who occasionally lights upon my shoulder whispered in my ear, "Just stop now."

I hate it when that happens. I heart my snark.

But anyway, I'm going to talk about bees instead.

Fellow Traveler, as I've mentioned in previous posts, has developed a fascination about beekeeping. I myself, gardener that I am, are fond of honeybees even though I've never really thought about raising them. And I keep running into articles like this one, about the hard times honeybees are facing these days;  how they need all the human friends they can get.

We are not at the hive-purchasing phase...we're not even at the hive-visiting phase, although we want to finagle ourselves into a tour or two this spring. For one thing, we're still at the baby stages of getting into our glass hobbies and gardening, let alone taking on a new endeavor. And I also have stepchildren to think of: "What the hell are you letting our mom do?..." But the more I think about it, the more I'm digging this idea as a long-term goal -- not a commercial enterprise, mind you, just a household hive out back. And even if we lose the magnificent obsession with beekeeping per se, I'd like to make our yard a more bee-friendly place, if not for bees of our own then for the honeybees I was so delighted to find in my garden this past summer, after so many summers of seeing hardly a one, and the native species of bee that are also losing ground to disease and habitat destruction. I see more flowers in our future.

Mollie's Bedtime Story

Our cat Mollie's ongoing personal development from mostly absentee roommate to animal pal has been really remarkable over the last three years.

Mollie's new thing: The family bed.

Now, Mollie has always made nighttime excursions onto household beds; my first night here, for instance, I awoke to find a neatly severed mouse's head laid on the quilt. (True story.) But these visits used to be solely while the humans were asleep.

Then Mollie began to check in when we went to sleep; shortly after turning off the light we'd hear a pitter-patter of little cat feet approaching from the hallway, then a cheery "Brrrrt!" and feel her jump lightly upon the bed. She would walk up and down the quilt a few times...then jump off and spend the night elsewhere.

Ever since we installed a television in the bedroom, though, Mollie has been hanging out with us for extended periods of time. Maybe it's because she enjoys the Food Network and the cheesy reality shows that make up the bulk of our must-see TV. (As I mentioned on Facebook, Pawn Stars is just like Antiques Roadshow, but with tattoos.) But now when it's bedtime she follows us into the bedroom, waits for us to get situated, and then leaps onto the bed: "Oh! Hey! Hi!" Mollie touches noses with Gertie, who at this time of day is a little tired and grumpy, self-exiled to the foot of the bed and not terribly happy that the humans are watching television. Then Miss Moll saunters up the bedspread, purring like a motorboat, and collapses into a writhing ball of kitteh happiness, pushing her head into the palms of our hands and boxing us with her feet. And she stays there until the TV goes off.

It's a surprising as well as endearing new quirk, especially contrasted with Mollie in the morning, when after her breakfast she stalks off to her room -- once a spare bedroom we referred to as The Grandchild's Bedroom, before it became Mollie's Room -- and spends the day atop her pillow on the bed. Mollie's grace toward human interlopers here lasts about 30 seconds -- if I need to get into the closet I make my apologies to the disapproving creature glaring at me from across the room, do what I need to do and skedaddle -- and Gertie is so intimidated that she won't even cross the threshhold.

It may be true that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but our old cat seems to have taught herself a new one.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday Five: "Beautiful Dreamer" Edition

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five sends us to Dreamland -- our own!

1. Do you tend to daydream?
Sometimes I think that's my usual state of consciousness.

2. Do you usually remember your night dreams? Do you find them symbolic and meaningful or just quirky?

I used to remember them almost every night, quite vividly...went through a patch, during my last employment, when they came few and far seem to remember more of them again. I have had some dreams in my life that were indeed very meaningful to me whether metaphorically or in a very direct, smack-upside-the-head way. And others -- well, I chalk up last night's dream, in which I found myself tasked with driving part of a multi-unit float in a Presidential motorcade, to eating kale chips at suppertime. Sometimes a cigar is just a bad burrito.

3. Have you ever had a life changing dream which you'll never forget?

Oh, yes. I once dreamed that I was being embraced by God -- it was not only a visual dream but a tactile one. It was during a time in my life when I didn't feel particularly spiritual or connected to God; it seemed to come out of nowhere. I will always remember that. (And how does God feel? some of you may be asking. It's really hard for me to describe what I felt; something warm and all-encompassing and electric, with a definite personality and ability to communicate.)

4. Share a long term dream for one or more aspects of your life and work.

Having come up in the 80's when we were schooled to always have a very targeted and aspirational plan for personal and professional success -- my long-term dream is to divest my psyche of whatever's left of that b.s. and instead cultivate real openness to whatever God may be up to in my future.

5. Share a dream for 2010....How can we support you in prayer on both the short and long term dreams?

One of my current magnificent obsessions in ministry, as constant readers know,  is the concept of the domestic church. I think that as denominations continue their slow deconstruction and as the cultural/civic Christianity of past generations gives way, this is going to become a more important element of Christian self-identity and of spiritual formation. I've touched on this on our church blog, providing our readership with links to various online resources for Christian households. Maybe one of my dreams is to do more with this idea in the future, although at this point it's a very freeform/unfocused idea.

Bonus share: While trying (competitive person that I am) to come up with a good "bonus" dream reference, a song I haven't heard or thought of in years, if not decades, popped up in my head: "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream." I did a little YouTube research and came up with this clip of a young John Denver, in 1971, singing it at an antiwar demonstration. For a moment I was overtaken by a profound wistfulness for the idealism of those times, and the sadness of their passing and of John Denver's passing. I miss that simple, unaffected voice from back in those early days of his career. Requiem in pace.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Bible Study With the Church Ladies

Tomorrow I will be, in our pastor's absence, leading women's Bible study at our church. This venerable institution has been going on pretty much since World War I, and most of the participants are the true matriarchs of our congregation.

I recall, a few years ago on this blog, expressing my intense dislike of group Bible studies, so it's another indication of God's sense of humor that I have been tasked with this assignment. It helps that I enjoy the participants -- they're right-on women who take their faith seriously but can cut loose in a way that the uptight church ladies of my childhood did not. I think we'll have fun. Might learn something too.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Chalking the Door: Church Goes Domestic

Yesterday on the way home after church I stopped by a local dollar store and picked up a packet of chalk...for our first ever household Epiphany blessing/chalking of the doors.

I've never done this before. But over the past couple of weeks I've experienced an odd convergence of personal e-mails, Internet rabbit-hole meanders and readings that all seem to lead to discussions of this custom. "Hmmm," I thought. "Maybe the Universe is telling me something."

If this is an unfamiliar custom to you: In many countries households mark Epiphany by a general blessing of living quarters and, in some cases, by a ritual marking of main doorways as a means of blessing all who enter in the coming year. This idea of blessing resonates with me on any number of levels.

I was thinking about Epiphany anyway this weekend, and how at least in Lutheran circles, like so many other festivals that fall in mid-week, it's disappeared into the ether; and as a result laypeople lose opportunities to learn/refresh their memory of important Bible stories, history of the Church and major themes of Christian theology and worship. Yes, it's true; we're not in the Middle Ages, and the logistics of conducting worship services for all these special days, not to mention trudging off to them, simply isn't doable for most of us. But there is a means for preserving this wisdom and tradition: The so-called "Domestic Church."

I know that my more cerebral coreligionists are probably rolling their eyes right now. But I'm unabashedly riding this particular hobbyhorse this year. Just as we need more biblically literate laypeople in the ELCA, I think we need to inculcate a sense of everyday spirituality in our people -- ways to engage hearts as well as minds in our beliefs and heritage and practice. (Our Jewish friends are way ahead of us in this regard.) I believe that we are hardwired for ritual; and, to paraphrase one dog trainer, if you don't give people a ritual, they'll make up one of their own, and you won't like it.

I am also aware that some readers may have a difficult time observing traditional Christian holy days with questionable factual basis; who, for instance, respond to the issue of Epiphany by questioning the historicity of the Magi, sneering at the layers of folkloric embellishments to the biblical text, and so on. Well, that's okay; been there, done that. But maybe -- just maybe -- it's okay to turn off the historical criticism for a few minutes on any given day, and just play with the stories of faith, because they're our stories to tell to one another, generation to generation.

And if you'd like to chalk your door this Epiphany and ritually give the gift of blessing and goodwill to everyone who enters your home in the year to come, in Christ's name, here's how that works.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

On the Nightstand

Christmas was very, very good to me in terms of books; I find myself with a tantalizing new pile of them to peruse these cold, wintry days.

The Kids, bless their hearts, hearing that I had never read any of the Harry Potter books (yes, it's started out that, during the height of Harry-mania, I could never get my hands on one of the books at our local library, and then I just got busy and never followed up) me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I got started during our stay in Brooklyn, and read more on the plane on the way home. It's great fun; and there's a Dickensian quality to the matter-of-fact way in which J.K. Rowling portrays Harry's ghastly pre-Hogwarts life that I think may resonate with many young readers, along with that note of hope -- that the despised "other," the one who doesn't fit in, the sufferer, can be a hero for others and the hero of his or her own life story. That's pretty cool.

A wonderful surprise was Julia Child's classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which Fellow Traveler told me she ordered shortly after we went to see the film Julie/Julia. My foodie heart went pitter-patter as I tore open the wrapping paper. While I have no aspirations to replicate Julie Powell's blogged journey throughout the entirety of the cookbook, we did talk about maybe doing a "Julia" meal once a week.

Two books, also cookbooks, were explicitly on my wish list: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, both by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, a pastry chef and scientist/amateur bread baker who have come up with methods for creating no-knead yeasted bread doughs that can be kept in the refrigerator and broken off as needed for fresh, artisan-quality loaves. While I love the ease of a bread machine, it has its limits; so I'm really interested in trying out some of these recipes, even though it means a willing suspension of my disbelief in most things "new and improved."

Finally, a book I gave myself for Christmas/my birthday: Gertrud Mueller Nelson's To Dance With God, a book about sanctifying home life through ritual; something I want to do more of in our own household and a concept I'd like to share in our own faith community and beyond.

My only regret in all of this: I can't find my booklight, which I think I am going to need as I work my way through all these wonderful books!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

My New Year's Resolutions

Today I came across a blog written by a con-evo Intervarsity type -- someone who seems to embrace the sort of Pietistic scrupulosity an online acquaintance of mine once referred to as "Is picking my nose Scriptural?" -- who suggested that New Year's resolutions have a whiff of Pelagianism about them. This made me chuckle -- a neo-Puritan wringing his hands over other people's perceived works-righteousness. Off to the pillory for you, dude.

But anyway: I have found making resolutions to be less than helpful, not because I think of them as a Pelagian stairway to heaven but because they generally don't take; which isn't surprising since it takes about 21 days, so I'm told, to train oneself into a new habit, and that the average human being can't handle more than about three of these new habits at once.

Nonetheless, I have made a couple of small and I think doable resolutions for the coming year.

One is intended to solve an ongoing annoyance/stressor in my life: Using the many cloth grocery bags we have obtained over the last year in the way they were intended -- hauling groceries -- instead of keeping them stashed behind the pie chest in our entryway or using them for carrying shoes, last-minute travel supplies, empty bottles, dog toys -- everything except groceries. We have at least a half-dozen of these things; my goal is to keep two of them in each of our vehicles, and the spares stowed in the entryway. We bring a full bag of groceries into the house, we take an empty bag back out. I think we can do this.

My other resolution is a joint venture with Fellow Traveler: We really want to start a weekly Bible study at home, on a designated "front room" evening. FT has a difficult time with our church's Sunday morning Bible study, which covers the day's lectionary lessons, because in the herding-cats milieu of the regulars' group the discussion tends to fall off the topical trolley rather quickly, and because a couple of the participants frankly use the hour for impromptu group therapy rather than actually discussing the texts at hand. FT says, "I know I'm not being patient -- but I'm a very concrete, task-oriented thinker. If I'm going to commit to an hour of Bible study I want it to be Bible study and not hearing the same stories about people's personal issues over and over again." (Don't tell FT, but I think she'd really dig the seminary-professor-taught biblical studies sections of the Lay Ministry Training Program, which are pretty down-to-business simply because of the volume of information being presented within a limited amount of time.)

So -- we're trying to come up with something workable. Since I do a mini-study every week on Sunday lectionary texts for our church blog, that might seem to be a logical starting point; but FT has noted that, when she reads these, and then hears our pastor's sermons that will touch on some broad theme of the week but that often don't directly engage the texts for very long, she feels like something's missing.

My thought is to just start at the beginning of one book and go right though the whole thing, using all our available study-Bible and other reference tools but then also re-approaching the text from a more immediate, personal "What does this mean for me at this time?" perspective. We might just start at Genesis. I'm sharing Luther Seminary's Enter the Bible website with FT to see if that resonates with her.

FT is an eager student ready to, as Kelly Fryer puts it, swim out to the deeper end of the pool, so I think we'll have some fun with this.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Year's Day Friday Five

Happy New Year to all!

We're having a low-key day back home...I'm getting ready to make a lamb roast, and this evening we'll be playing Family Feud on the Wii.

But of course a new year (not to mention a new decade) brings with it much potential...maybe some anxiety...maybe some regret. Here's this week's questions from the RevGalBlogPals:

What will you gladly leave behind in 2009?
My former job. I honestly thank God every day that I don't have to work there. And my former vehicle -- I really grew to hate The Hoopty that last year. I love my Prius, even though at this point we treat it like a hothouse flower and keep it garaged except for weekly exercise sessions (good for the battery and the motor) and long trips -- at 40 miles to the gallon, it's our vehicle of choice for our monthly excursions up- or downstate.

2. What is the biggest challenge of 2010 for you?
I think my greatest challenge is going to be to start crafting an intentional life that involves some sort of useful labor on my own terms. When I quit my job I had visions of immediately plunging full-tilt boogie into some equally intensive endeavor; but I didn't -- because I couldn't. I had to recover -- recover emotionally, intellectually, even physically -- from my previous employment. That has taken an entire year. And both Fellow Traveler and I got temporarily, if happily, sidetracked by the arrival of G-Baby, a Big Event in our family. I feel regrouped now; humbled by some false starts, but ready to move on, this time in perhaps a more intuitive way.

3. Is there anything that you simply need to hand to God and say "all will be well, for you are with me"?
It's interesting...I've begun feeling my mortality more in the last couple of years. Some days more than others; I'll get a sore muscle in my arm or a touch of indigestion after a challenging meal, or hear about people younger than I am succumbing to a heart attack or cancer and will actually begin feeling anxious. These are good times to remember the Serenity Prayer.

4. If you could only achieve one thing in 2010 what would it be?
Only one thing, eh? I think I want to achieve a daily schedule that has the right amount of structure -- enough to keep me purposeful and focused (that teaching us to number our days thing) without overprogramming myself; enough to go to bed every night feeling satisfied and thankful, not frustrated and stressed.

5. Post a picture, poem or song that sums up your prayer for the year ahead....

I'm posting this for the lyrics, not the video -- just so you know: