Monday, April 30, 2007

blog, interrupted

I spent the last weekend at Camp Friendship, near beautiful Annandale, Minnesota. It's a YMCA camp with special equipment for youth with disabilities. They also have a ropes course and a "challenge course" -- something we participate in every year with our 9th grade confirmation class. So I spent the weekend roughing it with 13 ninth graders. And I began to think, "I'm too old for this...!" Friday night lights out was supposed to be at 12:01 a.m. Unrealistic, I know, for there was a time when I was a 9th grader, and I went to camp. Going to bed "early" was not on our agenda. In fact, I believe that one of our stated goals was to stay up as late as possible. So I decided to be a little lenient and not yell at them for talking ... at least not right away. I tucked myself into my sleeping bag, said my prayers and listened in.

I heard lots of laughter and attempts at mild bawdiness (and then giggling again). I was heartened that I heard nearly everyone's voice -- no one was left out. There was a conversation about a young girl (nearly two years younger than they were) who was already having sex with her boyfriend -- and what a terrible thing that was. I was glad for find out that they thought that 13 was too young to be sexually active. I heard one young woman talk a little about some serious worries she was having ... and finding support. And I thought ... this is just as important as the faith statements and the banners and the confirmation verses. There's something important about lying in the dark, and sharing joyful and scary moments, doubts and confessions.

Perhaps if we could spend a little more time in the dark, sharing our joyful and scary moments, we could make it through those times of doubt. The 9th graders are all together now, supporting each other, and caring about each other. But it won't be long before some of them will disappear. We've got to get them back to whispering their secrets in the dark ... at least once in awhile. And it would be good for us too ... to stop thinking we are alone in this world, struggling to find our way, to get ahead, and start whispering our secrets in the dark, and find out how many people are with us.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

gilead

I just finished reading Marilynne Robinson's book Gilead. I've been meaning to for a long time, and finally I assigned it for my book group and we read it last month. It was a difficult book in many ways. It's not that any of the sentences were hard to read or to understand. But there was a lot of meandering back and forth in time at first, and it was confusing.

But it was all worth the effort in the end. Marilynne Robinson has written a book that deserves to be read again and again, so rich in themes is it: slavery and freedom, pain and forgiveness, the possibility of redemption.

John Ames has led, in many ways, a small life; he has lived in the same small town almost his whole life. Yet his life touches so many of the large themes that we live with as Americans, as Christians, as human beings. So much of life has passed him by: but he has received so much happiness in the end.

It's sad that I wouldn't have read it if I hadn't forced myself. That's true of so much of life: we quit when it gets hard. I have a half a sock, a partially cross-stitched sampler, a couple of half-done stories to prove it.

So even though it is only a book, it seems like an accomplishment to have completed it.

Next we'll read something less demanding.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

why I like antiques I

I remember the first time I drove into the driveway of the big parsonage at my first church in Vienna, South Dakota. I was the last car in a caravan hauling all of my belongings from Minneapolis, and as I drove up there were at least 50 people standing in the front yard, waiting for me. They got everything unpacked and in the house in record time, and served sloppy joes (known in South Dakota as "barbecues") and lemonade besides. As everyone left that evening, I heard one of the men say something about me living in "that big house all by myself." And I didn't have much furniture either.

And I didn't have much money either. So I started shopping at antique stores. There were two advantages: I could get better furniture at a lower price, and I could pay a third down and wait until I had the rest. So I got an old dresser, a rocking chair, eventually even a desk. I also found a few old kitchen supplies (remember glass pyrex refrigerator containers?) and decorations.

I enjoyed looking for antiques as well because I often found things I remembered from growing up. Suddenly, those things had become valuable. My aunt's Fiestaware, which I loved for its bright colors, had become a treasure. Multi-colored pyrex mixing bowls, my grandmother's juice glasses (rare), aluminum iced-tea glasses: all were lovingly displayed as if they were not ordinary kitchen ware, but something dug up on an archeological expedition.

Depression glass is a great example. Oftentimes it was a premium. It came free with the purchase of something else. Now there are depression glass bowls worth $100 or more.

There's something gracious -- and hopeful to me in this. Especially in our time when it's so easy to throw things away when we are done. The idea that as things age, they may increase in value: that is a wonderful thing to believe. Because I think that now it's more common to believe that things (and people) become useless as they age, not more valuable.

I think that heaven is God's antique store -- and there we will all be displayed, we will be seen as the treasures we are in God's eyes. He'll blow the dust off us, tell us we're beautiful, and actually use us -- even if we aren't in mint condition.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

shoes

My shoes are too wide. They practically fall off my feet when I am processing up the aisle at the start of the worship service. They get caught in the hem of my alb when I am going up and down the stairs. People think they look cute, though. Someone saw me wearing them once in a hospital elevator, and said, "where did you get those shoes? they look comfortable!" They would be comfortable, if they weren't so wide.

Shoes and I have had a checkered history. I have been searching for comfortable, affordable, attractive shoes for all of my adult life. I have concluded that, for me, they do not exist. I have left shoe stores in tears because I just couldn't bear the stylish shoes I so wanted to wear.

I have bad feet. Not the worst feet ever, but seriously sub-standard. I should probably be wearing the kind of shoes nurses wear, but I don't. Support shoes. Bad foot genes run in my family. My dad retired early from (then) Daytons because he just couldn't stand up for eight hours a day selling entertainment centers any more. Because of his flat feet, he kind of walked like a duck, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. He's a very nice man, but he couldn't do the work he loved any more.

Once, in a sermon, I held up a number of pairs of shoes, and asked the congregation to clap for the pair that seemed most appropriate for "walking with Jesus." One was a pair of beautiful high heels. I wore them for my wedding, but never since then. They make my feet swell. Nevertheless, a few of the men clapped for them. Another pair was a very expensive, razzmatazz pair of running shoes. Maybe they even had those flashing lights on the sides (good for running at night). I believe the third pair was an ordinary pair of tennis shoes. I think most people thought those were most appropriate for "walking with Jesus." Maybe not for church on Sunday, though.

The most important thing is to, "Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God. There's the upside of having bad feet. The only way to walk is humbly. Come to think of it, walking is, in and of itself, a humble activity. And to think that God walks with us -- puts up with sore feet, fallen arches, aching backs -- is more humbling still.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

roman holiday

One of my favorite movies was on tonight. Audrey Hepburn is a runaway princess, and Gregory Peck is the reporter who hopes to make his name reporting on her clandestine experience in Rome. Only it doesn't turn out that way. I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it, but suffice it to say that it really does come from a bygone era, where the values of duty and obligation were more important that personal fulfillment -- where there was a higher calling than simply whatever makes you happy, and where love sometimes meant sacrifice.

Contrast if you will with a recent romantic comedy, You've got Mail. Now don't get me wrong, I love Tom Hanks, but he puts Meg Ryan's small, wonderful bookstore out of business, and never looks back. He's a nice guy you see, and it's "just business." Plus, he gets the girl. In this world, you can have it all. You can make a lot of money, be ruthless, be happy, and get the girl. You don't have to sacrifice anything.

Friday, April 20, 2007

bookmarks

I collect bookmarks. I don't know anyone else who collects bookmarks. My oldest bookmark is the one I picked up at Yellowstone National Park when I was about 11 years old. It reads "Meet me Where We Parted Last" in blue ink that I printed when the words rubbed off.

I have several bookmarks with Bible verses on them, from various different kinds of religious episodes in my life (high school Bible camp, college, holy roller, etc.) I have a felt hand-made bookmark with all of the names of the third graders in my Sunday School class. They have to be really old now. I have two hand-made cloth bookmarks: the only things I could afford from an artists' colony in Jerome, Arizona. I have a couple of book marks with the initial "D" printed on them. I have a Mickey Mouse bookmark from Disneyland, bought on the memorable honeymoon trip with John's then 11 and 16-year-old sons.

Just the other day I read a quirky article in the paper about the odd things people use as booksmarks. Librarians say they have found drivers' licenses, Social Security cards, money, old pictures, love letters. Once a knife, with butter on it. And a condom (unused)(thankfullly).

I like my bookmarks better. And nobody else collects them, so there's no competition.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

sharing the peace

Lately I've been thinking about "sharing the peace." This is a relatively new concept in Lutheran churches -- people have only been "sharing the peace" since about 1978. Usually it occurs after the prayers of the church, when the Pastor announces, "The peace of Christ be with you always," and the people reply, "And also with you." And then people turn and SHAKE HANDS with each other, and say "Peace" or something on that order. Therein lies the controversy. Some feel that it is not quite a serious enough gesture for a church service -- here we are concentrating on GOD, and all of a sudden we are shaking hands and saying, "Hello."

The idea comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 20. After the resurrection, the disciples are huddled together in a locked room, when Jesus comes through the door and greets them: "Peace be with you." Then he tells them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Or, more colloquially, "Get your behinds out of this room and share my peace." "Peace be with you," is a greeting (think Hebrew, "Shalom") but it's not exactly like saying, "Have a nice day."

When we overcome our fear or our shyness or whatever it is to turn to our neighbor and say, "Christ's peace be with you," we are practicing for a life of getting our behinds out of our churches and our houses (anywhere we hide) and sharing Christ's peace with the world. It's not about standing on the corner passing out tracts, which would scare my dog. But it is about caring about the world and our neighbor enough to work for the world and our neighbor's good. So -- crusade against pornography. Work for the good of your neighborhood public school. Volunteer at the crisis nursery. Share Christ's peace.

Sorry about the sermon. Occupational hazard. Have a nice day -- oh, I mean, "Peace."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

emma's birthday

Today is my grandmother's birthday. She died back in January of 1992 at the age of 88. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother -- a couple of weeks every summer. We would walk downtown to go grocery shopping together. People would stop us on the sidewalk and say to my grandmother, "Oh, this must be Arlene's little girl." It made me feel pretty special. I loved to help her out in the garden, or with the laundry. She still had one of those wringer washers. I also spent some time learning to paint on cloth and cross stith. I cross-stitched two pillow cases one year, and made a set of dish towels for my "Hope Chest."

I didn't have a "Hope Chest." I knew what it was, though. It was a place where you put all the things you were preparing for when you would be married. Considering that I was in about the 5th grade when I made those dish towels, I was thinking about getting married for a long time!

Back in the 5th grade, when life was simpler, I thought I would get married and have children. I was sure that my husband would agree with me that our daughter's name would be "Emma." It's funny how life turns out so differently than we have planned.

My grandmother was the soul of fairness. She loved all of us equally. She never played favorites. I tried -- I would ask her, "Grandma, do you think I'm pretty?" and she would answer, "I think all of my grandchildren are goodlooking." or, "Grandma, do you think I'm smart?" "All of my grandchildren do well in school." She was a farmer's daughter and a farmer's wife -- and a farmer's mother as well. She loved hearing and singing hymns. She didn't travel very much. She liked to be busy. She worried too much. She never learned to drive.

Happy birthday, Emma!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

visiting another era

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 50, which seemed a surreal event. (How did that happen?) My husband decided, for one of my presents, to take me antiquing in the small towns around Minneapolis. We visited "Keepers" in Faibault, and someplace called "Tom's Mini-mall" in Owatanna. I particularly like to look at old Hall pottery and Hazel Atlas glassware, and old children's books. On this particular day (approaching 70 degrees, sunny in the Twin Cities) I looked at a lot of old children's religious books. I bought a particularly cute one, called Prayers for Little Children, from the 1930s. It also has ideas for mothers and fathers, who are teaching their children how to pray.

We ate hash browns for breakfast. We had milk shakes at Culvers. We didn't listen to the car radio all day.

Then we returned home, and I got online. 32 people dead at Virginia Tech. That seemed surreal. I read an online Newsweek account about a student who text-messaged her brother and her mother, while hiding under her desk. I tried to hold together the images in my mind -- the cherub-faced child in "Prayers for little children", and the stalking gunman in Blacksburg. Both images seem surreal. Reality is more complicated. Moments of enormous evil and strong goodness co-exist.

Maybe what I like about "antique world" is that it can't be changed. But the present and the future: in these times I have the opportunity, I have the responsibility to try to work for change, for the kind of world I want.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

building a foundation

These are excerpts from my wedding sermon for A. and D. yesterday:

"When I was a little girl, one of my mother's sisters and her husband and their two small children moved to rural Zumbrota, near Rochester, Minnesota. They did this because my uncle had decided that he wanted to build a house -- by himself. I remember the first time we visited them -- it was memorial day weekend, I think. They had just bought this property with an old, falling-down farmhouse on it -- that was all. Our family brought a tent when we visited them, because there was no place to stay in their house.

It seemed like an adventure to us -- although (when I think back) it probably didn't seem so much like that to my aunt. For awhile they lived in this old farmhouse while my uncle got started. It think it is diplomatic to say that this old farmhouse did not have many amenities. And -- you guessed it -- the first thing my uncle had to build was the basement -- that is the foundation. I remember going to visit them again, when they were actually living in the basement of the house. That's how they did it. They would build a section and then stop for awhile until they had enough money and time for the next step. So for awhile -- actually it seemed like a long time to me -- they lived in the basement of their house. They had these multi-colored carpet squares on the floor, and a kitten who lived with them. Since they lived in the basement for a long time, you know it had to be a GOOD basement.

Now in case you are getting worried, I do remember visting them after the house was all completed. It was a lovely, large house with a beautiful floor plan. But I'll never forget camping out the first weekend, and the carpet square basement they lived in. In fact, I think I visited them in their basement more often than I visited them in their finished house.

You may be wondering why I'm telling you this story. One of the things you have told me in our time together, is that building a foundation is important to you. You were both looking for someone you could build a foundation with. That is one of the things that attracted you to each other. Here is someone I can build a foundation with, you each thought. Of course, one of the pictures I want you to have in your mind when you think about "building a foundation" is the carpet-squared basement, because building a good foundation takes time. It's messy work, and it's not always exciting work. When you talk about building a foundation, you're taking the loing view. That's so important on a day like today, the first day of your marriage. I want you to take the "long view" when you think about your marriage too, a foundation you are building for a house you are going to live in for a long time, a house that, in some sense, will never be finished. You'll be working on your house for your whole married life. Sometimes you'll be building that basement, sometimes you'll be working on the windows, sometimes adding a room or re-modeling for a different time of your life. But you will always be working on something. I'll bet a lot of people in this room can tell you stories about painting the living room, or re-papering the kitchen, and they won't be pretty stories. In order to build a foundation, there are certain skills that you need, and not just pouring cement and pounding nails. You need patience, understanding, compassion, forgiveness ... and oh, an ability to laugh about it later. That comes in handy too...

... Our gospel story today (Matthew 7:24-29) tells us that it also matters where we build our house. If we build on rock, our house will stand, but if we build on sand, our house will fall. I think many people build their house on sand rather than rock, because they build on romantic love, which is great, but not enough, or on faith in each other, which is also great, but not enough. Because you, D. and A., wonderful as you are (and I think you are both wonderful people) are human beings, and you are bound to disappoint each other sometimes... you are bound to put up a few bad planks, or put up with some multi-colored carpet squares. You are bound to need to say "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you" sometimes...

.... In a little while, you will be joining hands and making promises of faithfulness to one another. My prayer for you on this day, is that you know that there is one who in baptism has made an eternal promise of faithfulness to you -- and who renews that promise every time you share his meal. My prayer for you, is that you build your marriage on his love for you, his promise of faithfulness, and his forgiveness, so that whether you are living in a tent or a basement, an apartment or a mansion, you will be living with God, and relying on his love."

Friday, April 13, 2007

tarnished angel

The other day I was sucked into another old movie on TCM. This one, a 1937 drama called "Tarnished Angel," features Alma Krueger as a night club hostess who can't find work because of her association with a shady character. She moves from town to town and no one will hire her because the police are always just behind her.

Finally, she finds a storefront church and stops into an event worship service because of the promise of hot coffee. She decides on a new career as a gospel evangelist. She does pretty well, even with the police still on her trail, and she also enters into a jewel theft scheme with that shady character from the nightclub, Dan.

At one point in the drama, they are going to stage a phony "healing" with a fake cripple. But the actor really breaks his leg and can't come. Someone else comes forward, a man who believes her words (even though she doesn't) and really gets healed.

This seems to be the turning point in the drama. After all, she has just witnessed a real miracle. But this isn't the real turning point. For at this point, she is also still planning to rob the woman who trusts her, with the help of Dan. The movie shows her having doubts, but she keeps saying that "we can't turn back now."

The real turning point is when our heroine decides "she can turn back now." She changes her direction, she decides not to rob the woman who trusts her and believes in her. I believe that this is as much because she loves the woman as it is because of the miracle of healing she witnessed.

We are often fascinated by the miracles of Jesus in the Bible: feeding thousands, making the blind see, making the deaf hear -- casting out demons. But those aren't the real miracles. The real miracles are the things that make us believe that we can change our direction, we can turn back, we can move ahead. The real miracles are that when Jesus said, "Follow me," some people actually got up and followed him. They didn't suddenly become perfect: but they were able to believe that there were other roads open to them than the ones they had always traveled on, other futures than the ones they had always imagined.

Whether or not "miracles" still happen, the future is open and lives do change. That's why this old movie fascinated me. Because I want to believe in those miracles most of all.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

saving newspapers

In the first throes of spring, I opened a file drawer to sort and toss and shred the other day. I discovered one file filled with newspaper clipping, some going back to 1980. Fresh out of college then, I began by clipping the columns of Russell Baker. Indiscriminately. I loved his elegant writing and his trenchant commentary. I clipped everything he wrote, no matter what the topic. AFter awhile I branched out to other columnists: national, like Thomas Friedman and Ellen Goodman, and local, like Steve Berg. One long-ago column, named "Wearing ties, telling lies," all about the correlation between wearing and tie and... well, you guessed it seems subversive enough now to be interesting to my young-adult stepsons.

Somewhere alone the line, I started saving other articles as well. A five-part series back in 1985 about the importance of Asia in public relations. Several articles about bad weather -- tornadoes and flooding in July of 1987, storms in July of 1997. (It seems I am, like many Minnesotans, fascinated by weather.) Dave Moore's obituary in 1998, and Paul Wellstone's in 2002. "Bound up in Books," an article about a local book bindery (no date). The October 28, 1987, front page picturing the downtown parade after the Twins World Series victory. The ARgus Leader article about the small town of Henry, South Dakota, sending its boys' basketball team to the state championships. Another series in 2004 about Red and Blue State Politics. A recipe for Pear and Arugula Salad.

Why did I save these particular articles? In some cases, the answer is: I don't know. I don't remember anymore why I thought a particular event or idea was so important. Sometimes I believe the writing itself impressed me. Sometimes a picture, or a series of pictures, caught my eye, as in the spread a couple of years ago on July 4 on "Four Freedoms: Freedom from Fear, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want." Often an article or commentary reflected an interest (or opinion) I held, or still hold.

But the articles also expressed a connection to a community, or communities -- a belief that I am connected to others, in Japan and in the Philippines, in Iraq and in New York City, in Henry, South Dakota, and in Washington, D.C., in the city and the suburbs and on the farms. I wasn't in a half-submerged car on 35W in 1997, but I was in the cheering crowd downton in 1987. I felt connected somehow to the people, the events, the ideas expressed in the paper. That's why I saved them.

Several years a go, my uncle carried on a lengthy political conversation with a local conservative in his small-town newspaper's opinion pages. For several months, the paper printed their arguments and counter-arguments. He saved all of the papers.

This is what a newspaper is: our voices, our community, our interests. It reminds us that we really are connected to each other, whether by grief or rejoicing, by faith or by freedom, or by Pear and Arugula Salad.