Friday, March 26, 2010

Renewed, Refreshed Friday Five

Our RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is easy-peasy this week: What are five things that we do to refresh/renew/redo this time of year that is simultaneously crazy-busy for us yet also full of so much potential?

1. Massage. I cannot say enough about the restorative qualities of my monthly one-hour massage at the Freaky-Deaky Hippie Alt.Healthcare Palace. When I'm safely draped, and the lights dim, the ambient music clicks on and the therapist gets out her toolkit of interesting little aromatherapy vials...o mama. When I emerge from the Palace an hour later I am ready to change my life forever, yessir...start that yoga and tai chi, vegetarianize my diet, walk two miles a day. Unfortunately, the Palace is in the same city as our favorite restaurant.

2. Growing plants. As I write, I am champing at the bit waiting for my new grow light, wanting to get my tomatoes in the starters.

3. Adventure-tripping. Sometimes when we feel like we're spinning our wheels we get in the car and just drive somewhere we haven't been before -- which may be across the state or just across the county. It's not about shopping or eating out or sightseeing in a goal-oriented way. It also helps to live with a dog who loves -- who lives -- to ride. She doesn't care where.

4. Music. I'm funny about music. I often forget to listen to it; then I'll hear a piece of music that really speaks to my soul or energizes me, and I think, "Why aren't I listening to more music?" We're a two-iPod, Sirius-accessible, Pandora-bookmarked household, so there's really no excuse other than distracting, buzzy busy-ness.

5. Learning something new. I get jonesed learning things; I figure that as long as the old dog can learn something new about anything, there's still hope.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Update on Our Little Parish: Our pastor, thanks be to God, came through surgery with flying colors, is recovering in the hospital and should be home sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile...I've been busy. (As may be evident by my sparsity of posts.) I spent Monday and Tuesday at church answering the phone and doing other tasks related to our pastor's absence, and filled in for him at our last Lenten service this week.

And yesterday I helped welcome our interim pastor to our humble church home. He is commuting from across the state two days a week to act as a pastoral resource, which is partly about doing stuff that we lay ministers aren't authorized to do and partly about, as I remarked only partly tongue-in-cheek, making sure that the inmates don't wind up running the asylum in the next six to eight weeks.

Actually, our interim is a long-time friend of our pastor who, I'm sure, has heard an earful about our congregation over the years. But there's always a first day on the job, and when he walked into the office yesterday morning -- into a scene that included two of our church matriarchs fussing with bulletins and Fellow Traveler installing a new phone system -- I detected the tentativeness of unknowing.

So I took him on a grand tour of the facilities. I shared important names and phone numbers with him. I gave him a heads-up on some of our seriously sick and afflicted. And, as noontime rolled around, Fellow Traveler and I invited him to lunch down the road at the local diner.

The little unincorporated community where our church has been on a downhill slide ever since the end of the timber era, but it still maintains a post office, two churches and a restaurant. The restaurant, as we informed our interim, is the place to meet everyone and learn everything about anything going on in the general area. 

The diner is housed in an old false-front building from the village's short-lived glory days; one walks into a kind of lean-to, then opens the door into an atmosphere thick with the mingled aromas of cigarette smoke, brewing coffee and fried onions. I had thought that our presence would be the most newsworthy event of the moment; then I saw the perky, clipboard-bearing young Health Department inspector striding into the kitchen, followed by several pairs of customer eyes, and knew we'd probably only get second billing on this day.

We took our seats behind the booth of one of the church-bulletin ladies, who was having lunch with a crusty old parish patriarch  and next-door neighbor to the church who holds court at the diner for much of the day. We exchanged pleasantries, then got to talking with our interim about the neighborhood.

As I was trying to play helpful co-hostess during the meal, though, I kept hearing loud snippets of conversation from the next booth:

"Well, someone had better tell the new preacher to turn off the goddamned lights in the church when he leaves! People keep leaving the goddamned lights on!"

"Shhhh...not so loud..."

"I had to call my boy the other night and get him to stop in and turn off the goddamned lights."


A few minutes later I felt a poke in my shoulder. I turned around to find  the old man waving a large, screwlike device in my face.

"Here. Take it. Where you think that came from?"

I didn't know. I fiddled with the interlocking parts.

"That's what the doctor took out of my hip the other week 'cause it was sticking outta me."

I dropped the screw on the table. I looked around for the Health Department inspector.

"Wow...that thing titanium?" inquired a nearby diner.


"That's expensive. Maybe you can sell it."

We proceeded to hear about the replacement procedure, in detail.

Then we proceeded to hear, also in detail, the deficiencies of the gentleman's visiting nurse in dressing his healing wound. Another diner contributed his thoughts on wound hygiene. Gangrene, pubic hair and scabbing all made a conversational appearance.

"That's enough," the old man's luncheon guest murmured.

"Too much information!" echoed the waitress.

After lunch, the interim said, "I really want to thank you two for introducing me to this place."

The thing is -- he was smiling. And I think he meant it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ministry Rubber: Meet Road

My adventures in lay ministry are about to take a new and more intensive turn.

Our pastor is on the docket for open-heart surgery in less than two weeks. He had been experiencing fatigue and shortness of breath during his volunteer first-responder runs that were worrisome to him, more than something attributable to simply physical exertion or stress, so his doctor put him through some diagnostic tests...and found that he has a severely blocked artery needing a double bypass.  This appears to have been  a shock for all concerned.

So we've been given ten days to get a contingency plan together for how our church is going to run during the almost three months that we can reasonably expect our pastor to need for convalescence.

We had a meeting last night -- the pastor, the lay ministry team, the church council -- and we came up with a plan. What's good is that it's not going to rock the world of our congregation more than it has to be. After some pow-wowing with our synod, our pastor is going to invite his clergy colleague -- someone with expertise in interim ministry who's also comfortable working with lay ministers and who, through our pastor, is very much in tune to how things work in our parish -- to supervise and mentor us lay ministers for the months to come. We envision a weekly staff meeting. This pastor will also be available to do the sort of heavy-lifting pastoral duties that we are not authorized or trained to perform. But weekly worship and the everyday chaplaincy and visitation tasks of the parish, as well as the sort of drop-in/call-in support and referral work that goes on during the week, are all going to be our lay-ministry dog, Charlie Brown, as much as possible. We are also serving the secondary but important function of running interference for our pastor and his wife, who are already getting fatigue by the constant stream of well-wishers coming to the parsonage door, and who will really need their private, recuperative time after the surgery.

As you  might recall, our pastor went on sabbatical last summer, an experience that gave us all a taste of how to "do church" in his absence. So we aren't deer-in-the-headlights here. In fact, after our meeting-of-the-whole, we lay ministers stayed afterward and hammered out a pretty comprehensive schedule for Sunday and Wednesday worship.

But it is a sobering situation, and a sobering responsibility. We hope we're up to it, and can invest the entire congregation in the process of keeping things going smoothly into the summer.

If you have a moment, send up a prayer for our pastor and his wife, and for our ministerial team.

Where Are the Musical Lutheran Chicks?

There are murmurings around our church that Rachel Kurtz, one of the singers/songwriters on the Lutheran youth/campus ministry circuit, might be coming to our area this summer and stop by for a gig.

This would be great.

It's got me to thinking , though: Where are the rest of the women in Lutheran contemporary music?

Is it because contemporary Christian music is in general an unfriendly place for a non-Evangelical female Christian? Is it because male musicians have more appeal for high school and campus ministry types?

I don't have a theory. Just askin'.

Friday Five: "Religious" vs. "Spiritual" Smackdown

Well, not quite. But this week's Friday Five , inspired by Diana Butler Bass' thoughts on this issue, asks us to list five things we would classify as "religious," and five as "spiritual."
I've never really gotten a lot of the negative animus toward the word "religion," or the idea that there is a strong demarcation between "religion" and "spirituality." Etymologically, the word "religion's" Latin roots have the connotation of restraint, tying back, reliance; which I think is unconsciously reflected in society's current negative reaction to the word vis-a-vis "spirituality" -- that religion artificially restrains our natural urge for spiritual meaning and connection.

But comply with this week's challenge, I will attempt to tease out five things I would, if I had to, consign to separate "religion" and "spirituality" columns. It's not necessarily a value judgment, although in some cases I suppose it is; just sayin'.


1. Polity. How people who share a common faith organize themselves in terms of authority and function.

2. Church membership: Defining the boundaries of what makes someone part of, or not part of, a particular belief system or faith tradition within a belief system.

3. Creeds: Criteria of #2, as well as a response to threats to #1 or 2.

4. Church discipline: Not in terms of personal disciplines, or even the sort of mutual accountability that's part of a monastic community, but the general exercise of power by a religious group/leaders in that group to ensure conformity of behavior or punish members for perceived misbehavior.

5. Theology: The comprehenive system of belief and thought that holds a belief system together; the skeleton that gives form to the spiritual experience of a collective body of faith.


1. Spiritual experience: How we perceive the Divine in our lives and in the life of the world.

2. Prayer: Personal engagement with God , whether by oneself or as part of a group.

3. Spiritual discipline: The organized ways in which we both nourish and respond to the sense of the Divine in our lives: daily worship and prayer practice; meditation; devotional reading; almsgiving; and so on and so on.

4. Sacraments. Another intersection between the Divine and ourselves, through the agency of the simple stuff of everyday life: water, bread, wine.

5. Worship: How we create sacred space, as a faith community or as individuals, for God to move in, touch us, send us back out into the world.

I see a bit of overlap in some of these. Theology, for instance can be -- at least it is for me -- a means of engaging God in a personal way via my brain; spending quality time thinking about God.

And then there's a topic like evangelism -- something that my Good Do-Bee would say is a function of spirituality because at its best it's an outpouring of our own transformative experience with God, but that my cynical self says falls more into the category of religion because it usually degenerates into mere group dynamics -- trying to "win"; trying to get more members on the "team."

My guess is that my responses, as a church geek, look quite different than those of someone who isn't in the church. That would be an interesting study.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Garden Porn Revisited

It's that time of year again...the time when I sort through multitudinous garden catalogs and buy seeds for the veggie and herb gardens. I call it garden porn. And if you're a gardener too, you know what I mean -- all those tantalizing photos of bodacious vegetables and flowers and shrubs and trees and...ahem...that kind of thing.

I am already hooked up with the bulk of my vegetable seeds, thanks to last year's leftovers and  FEDCO Seeds, a cooperative out of Maine. (For any interested readers -- they have a very short ordering deadline -- I believe March 15 -- so you'll have to get cracking if you want to buy seeds from them.)  Now it's fill-in-the-blank time.

It is always a stressful thing for me to balance my love of variety and novelty with the limitations of time, space and climate.

What I am trying to do this year, as I did last year, is think hard about what vegetables are really better left to our Amish neighbors to grow -- Amish neighbors with expertise, lots of sunny acreage and lots of free labor. It's ridiculous, for instance, to grow butternut and Delicata squash in my partially shaded little plot when Mrs. Mast down the road grows pounds and pounds of exhibition-size, high quality squash. On the other're not going to see the lovely patisson squash above on any Amish roadside stand anytime soon. Worth the risk for some rockin' steamed baby squash to gently spoon next to our pasta some summer evening out on the patio? Maybe.

So my garden is going to be something of a curiosity shop of heirloom tomatoes, technicolor leaf lettuces, and lots of green beans -- one of the few great successes of last year's poor growing season, which we froze and have been enjoying all winter long. I'm planting leaf celery, another success story -- dried, it's very good in winter soups and stews, especially on those days when you go to the crisper for celery and realize it's all gone. I'm upping the herb crops, since we couldn't keep ourselves in herbs last year. And, as we seriously attempt to help the honeybees and native bees around here, I'm growing more annual flowers, which I like to randomly add to the vegetable garden to attract all manner of pollinators. (And they look great.)

On the live plant front, I'm getting excited by a couple of native-plant sales coming up in the next few weeks. Our local extension office offers inexpensive trees, shrubs and native flowers on a pre-order basis; and in a couple of months a regional nature center will be hosting a native plant sale involving, I believe, plants that have been rescued from building projects; you bet I want some of those. 

Of course, part of this irrational exuberance is due to longer, brighter days and the promising drop of thawing snow slipping off the gazebo roof. Next week, for all I know, we'll have an eight-inch blizzard. But a girl can dream.

I Hate RA

Rheumatoid arthritis, that is.

Fellow Traveler has it. Once upon a time, when she suffered from ulcerative colitis (the two disorders are interrelated), she was so debilitated from RA that she had to use a walker. She was shot up, and puffed up, on steroids to try and manage the pain. It took an ileostomy, and several joint replacements, to halt the progress of the disease and help her regain her mobility. She's more agile than I am these days.

But RA still lurks in her system. It will lay low for weeks at a time, then surface with a vengeance -- one day it may be in her fingers; a couple of weeks later it will hit her shoulder; a month later and she'll wake up with RA in her foot.

For the past few days FT has been in intense pain from RA in her jaw, which is so inflamed that it's swollen and hard; she looks like someone with the mumps, and describes the pain as something akin to a migraine crossed with a toothache. It's bad enough to keep her from talking, or eating solid food. It hurts enough to be fatiguing, to send her into sleep as a kind of natural anesthetic; as I type she's taking an afternoon nap with a microwaveable beanbag next to her aching head. (I'm trying to avoid the irony that this pain really began to flare up after our church's healing liturgy.)

It's a very helpless feeling to watch someone you love try to navigate with this type of affliction, and to wake up every morning wondering if it will be better, or worse, or migrate to some other joint.

FT's doctor has told her that surgery is an option, but a dangerous one because of the proximity of the jaw to the brain; and the operation obviously requires a very long recuperation. It also doesn't have a very encouraging success rate over the long term.

So we are trying to assemble the best toolkit we can of alternative options. FT has gotten out of the habit of wearing her mouthguard, which was molded by her dentist with her particular problem in mind and which she is supposed to use most of the day, not just at nighttime. So she has resolved to bite the bullet -- or the plastic -- and start wearing it again, day and night. I have also been doing some reading up on ways of managing RA, and she is open to some of the therapies that have so far passed the quack test in mainstream medical research; stuff like aromatherapeutic hot compresses, more omega-3 fish oils in our diet, more green tea and blackcurrant oil as a dietary supplement.

We are also going to work our way around medically credible diet recommendations that pose a problem for FT because of her ostomy, like the emphasis on fruits and vegetables in RA diets...fruit and vegetable juices, for instance, rather than the fruits and vegetables themselves. (I had previously found "anti-inflammatory" diet plans rather limiting, especially for someone who already has diet restrictions for other reasons, and was cheered to see that a lot of these diets are bunkum -- there is, for instance, no evidence of a connection between nightshade-family plants and increased RA symptomatology.)

One more speed bump on our road of life. But we are not going to give up on lifestyle-change solutions to this problem. We hate you, RA, and we are going to mess with you until you crawl back into dormancy.