Monday, December 31, 2007

(Partial) Year in Review

I saw this at Jan's place and then also at Mimi's and MoreCows, so I thought I would try to do the same, even though I haven't been blogging for a whole year. These are the first sentences of each blog post for each month, starting on April 12, 2007, my first day of blogging. Also, I include something about a couple of my favorite posts of the year:

In the first throes of spring, I opened a file drawer to sort and toss and shred the other day.

Monday we took a short trip to Owatonna, stopped again at "Uncle Tom's Antique Mall" so that I could get a copy of an old book: "How to Take care of your Puppy" written in the 1940's. (It cost $1.00.)

After confirmation, my story of the confirmation of my group of ninth graders, and my own memories.

One of my first Friday fives, courtesy of Sally:
1. Think back to the time you left High School, what were your hopes visions and dreams for your life/ for the world?My dreams and visions for my life were simple: go to college (mine was the first generation in my family to attend college and I felt so proud and excited to go, no matter what I studied (and I studied English literature).

My husband thought I should post this:He was having a problem with some phone conversations regarding business matters (felt that he just wasn't getting anywhere with getting his requests understood or acted upon).

Women in Ministry, a post about vocation.

Please keep the people of my community in your prayers this evening and over the next days as the 35W Bridge collapsed over the Mississippi River at about 6:00 p.m. tonight.

Praying, by Mary Oliver

My Last Day in South Dakota

There's a small cat (maybe a kitten) who lives part-time in our garage.

I only ever knew one person named Beatta.

It's snowing like crazy outside, has been since mid-morning.

Redeeming the Mittens, about my habit of losing mittens every year.

Well, there you have it! It's a random sample of my blogs, very random, but it was fun to go back.

Next on the docket:
New Year In Japan (a few very old memories)
7 Lies About Me

Saturday, December 29, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

I have been thinking about New Year's Resolutions more than usual this year. To be honest, I usually don't make one resolution. I don't have much faith in my ability to get more than a week or two into my program without abandoning it. I know this doesn't say good things about my moral character, but there you have it.

But since I am preaching this weekend, on the cusp of the new year, I've been thinking about the whole "resolution" thing, and what kind of resolutions I might make, if I were the resolution-making sort of girl.

1. Walk the dog more. Also just play more. Invent more games to play with Scout. See which ones she likes best.
2. Make soup more often.
3. Pay attention to relationships. Listen to what people say, and what they don't say. Delight in their word choices.
4. Worry less. Trust people. If they let me down, forgive them. If I let me down, forgive myself. Remember that happens more often than I care to admit.
5. Fail. Keep failing until I succeed.
6. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write.
7. Find at least one person to write with, and to hold me accountable develop writing and publishing goals.
8. Meet more bloggers.
9. Laugh more often. Cultivate relationships with people who are good at laughing. Remember G.K. Chesterton's quote: "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."
10. Hold hands with my husband more often.
11. Sing. Write poetry. Stand on my head. See things from a new perspective.

What about you? What do you want to do in 2008?

Also, here is Kate's list

Friday, December 28, 2007

Scout Has Her Own Blog

Scout has been begging me for some time to get her own blog, so for Christmas, I got her one (also, two tennis balls that squeak.) (Don't know which she likes best)

It is a work in progress, but I'm sure she would like you to visit her sometime.

She's at Scout's Food For Thought, and she's working hard (when she has time in her busy schedule) to learn her new software.
She promises everyone that she will reveal the many secrets of her life!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

An "Auld Lang Syne" Friday Five

Singing Owl from over at Revgals writes:

It is hard to believe, but 2007 is about to be history, and this is our last Friday Five of the year. With that in mind, share five memorable moments of 2007. These can be happy or sad, profound or silly, good or bad but things that you will remember. Bonus points for telling us of a "God sighting"-- a moment when the light came through the darkness, a word was spoken, a song sung, laughter rang out, a sermon spoke to you in a new way--whatever you choose, but a moment in 2007 when you sensed Emmanuel, God with us. Or more particularly, you.

1) April 16, 2007 was my 50th birthday. I had just started blogging. It was also the day that a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people, including himself. No matter how much people write about it, I still don't understand it. But I, and others, sensed God-with-us when we witnessed and heard about moments of heroism in the midst of the tragedy, like the professor who stood in the path of bullets so that his students could escape.

2) August 1, 2007, the day the 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. The news put the Twin Cities on the map, and got people talking about our infrastructure. Perhaps it will get us talking about building bridges and relationships, instead of tearing them down. I can only hope. And I saw God-with-us in those who jumped into the water to rescue others, who pulled children off of a bus on the edge of the chasm.

3) November 15-18, my husband and I traveled to New York City for a short but memorable trip, where I met fellow-blogger Fran, and saw some of the sights with friends A and D. What was memorable? The Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Empire State Building...the wonderful diners, and the Jazz Club on Saturday night. We are already hoping to return.

4) April 12, 2007, the day I started my blog! My first post was called Saving Newspapers, and as far as I know, no one read it! Little did I know then what kind of a community I was getting into. I have been privileged to "meet" so many wonderful people.

5) The week in July when we traveled to Albquerque, and especially the moment when I walked into the little chapel in the Old Town Area again after many years. I blogged about it here

God-with-us. When my neice and I crossed Gooseberry Falls together, hand in hand. When a few priests in San Joachin decided to Remain Episcopal. When Splotchy (and many others I don't know) decided to go to New Orleans and build houses. When people gather together in the face of death to worship and to proclaim Christ's resurrection, as has happened so many times in my congregation this year.

I Must Have Been Temporarily Insane

Between the 3:00, 5:00 and 10:00 Christmas Eve services on Monday, I had Christmas Eve dinner at my house. Husbands two boys, my inlaws, my brother and his two kids came. It is not a huge crowd, but our house is not a large one either. To be honest, I have hosted Christmas Eve before, but in those years, my parents were around (they are now in Arizona) and my mom and my mother-in-law helped with the cooking. In fact, last year, I gave my mom a key and she started cooking early, so we wouldn't have to eat so late.

Not this year, though. This year it was just me. Mother-in-Law had us over the night before at their apartment. I decided if I was going to do this, we were going to keep it simple. So here was the menu:

Store bought appetizers: veggie tray with dip, and shrimp and cocktail sauce.
Swedish Meatballs, Sour Cream Hash Browns, Green Bean Casserole (the recipe even got in The Lutheran Magazine last Easter!), corn, and White Jello (my sister-in-law's recipe, and a favorite of my stepsons'). (Recipe to follow). Dinner rolls, lefse, and a box of cookies sent from my mom! My brother came through with a pumpkin pie!

For two days I was a wreck, trying to figure out how I was going to get sermon-writing, worship planning, shopping and cooking done. (I made the meatballs and the jello Sunday afternoon and evening, and the two casseroles Monday morning before going to church.) I kept saying, "I'm not doing this any more! I'm not doing this any more!"

In the end, it worked. Everything timed out okay. The white jello tasted delicious, and there was just a little left over of everything (except corn. That was gone.)

Still, I don't think I'm doing this any more. Please.

Now, here is my sister-in-law's wonderful recipe for White Jello:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup Cool Whip
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 envelope Knox gelatin

Grease mold with margine or Pam spray. Beat cream cheese and sguar with electric mixer until fluffy. Dissolve gelatin in 1/3 cup boiling water, and let stand. Mix milk, lemon juice, vanilla and gelatin water until well blended Pour into mold and chill overnight. Garnish serving plate with mint leaves and fruit if desired. (I doubled the recipe for the mold I used.)

Merry 3rd Day of Christmas!
P.S. My meatballs did not have little Swedish flags.


My friend Gartenfische blessed me through her blog Wyrdbyrd. If you want to learn about about the rules, just click here:

The idea… it’s a game of tag with a difference, rather than looking inwardly, we
look outside ourselves and bless, praise and pray for one blog friend. By
participating in this endeavour we not only make the recipient of the blessing
feel valued and appreciated, but we are having some fun too. We’re going to see
how far the bloggin’ blessings can travel around the world and how many people
can be blessed! Recipients of a bloggin’ blessing may upload the above image to
their sidebar if they choose to. If you recieve a bloggin’ blessin’ please leave
a comment on this thread here so that we can rejoice in just how many blessings
have been sent around the world!

The blessing has been amended from one to three people, so I get to bless three people, and to tell them why I blessed them. I would like to bless my new friend Catherine+ for her excellent poetry, RevDrKate, because she is so wonderfully insightful, and Steve because he blesses me with honesty and wisdom. You are all great blessings!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Strawing of the Manger

After our 3:00 Christmas Eve service, our sign language interpreter said to me, "I like the Strawing of the Manger best. We don't have that in our tradition." (She's Methodist.)

I didn't know about the Strawing of the Manger either. A few years ago, when the children stopped singing on Christmas eve (so many of them were out of town), we were trying to figure out what to do differently for our afternoon service, and decided to make it into a "family" service." I have a couple with a new baby play the "holy family" every year, process into the church and stand by the manger during the reading of the gospel. We have six children read a verse of prophecy near the beginning of the service. And the Senior Pastor suggested that we have the youngest children put the straw in the manger, to get it ready for the baby Jesus.

We get a big bag of straw and invite them up. We don't reallly have a "children's message", but we have each of the children put some of the straw in the manger, to make a soft bed for him. Some of them put a few straws in, some put whole armfuls in. The last little boy on Monday made two efforts. He was about 2 1/2 or 3.

Afterwards, there is straw in the manger, and straw all over the floor too. In other words, it's a moderate to big mess. And we don't vaccuum it up between services. It stays a mess, all during Christmas eve.

It's just right for Christmas eve. For when else does God come to us, but in the middle of our mess? I get up to preach at that early service on Christmas, and I think: I try so hard to make the perfect Christmas, to preach a lovely sermon, to design wonder-ful worship services, to make a good family dinner, to buy meaningful presents. It's good to remember as I get up to preach, that my best efforts really end up being a big mess.

But God comes anyway.

Emmanuel -- in the middle of our mess, when our best efforts make it worse, when our best efforts are not enough, when our hearts are still hard.

I visited a woman with Alzheimers the Saturday before Christmas eve. Her husband was with her, but it wasn't a good day. She kept saying, "I'm so afraid," and he kept trying to reassure her that he would stay with her and take care of her. At one point she turned to him and said sharply, "What if you can't do it? What if your best isn't good enough? I'm afraid."

Our best is never "good enough".

But God comes anyway.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Glory to the Newborn King.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas in Japan, part III

....But something had happened -- deep down inside of me, and I hope deep down inside of many of those visitors who came to the church and heard the story for the first time. I saw it in the faces of all of those awestruck visitors, their eyes glowing in the light of the candles. I saw it in the faces of my Japanese Christian friends, all celebrating the true Christmas when thoughts of family and presents danced in my head. I felt it in my heart as I realized the difference between the Christmases I had celebrated before and the Christmas I knew now. Christmas doesn't have anything to do with food or family, glittering decorations or presents and parties. I thought about this as I sat and heard the Christmas story in Japanese that evening. I thought about the strange exotic place where I lived, and how the story I was hearing was really strange and exotic too -- except that I had known it so well that I didn't think about it. Shepherds and angels -- the heavenly host lighting up the sky with their songs. A tiny baby who is really God -- come to dwell with us, come to this strange cold planet at this cold cold time of the year, come to befriend us and to lead us, come to intimately know us and be known by us. How strange and how amazing that is -- that God should be among us, should choose to dwell with us. How strange and how amazing it is that God should come among us not with might and power, not with thunderbolts or armies, but quietly and softly, in an out-of-the-way little town called Bethlehem. How strange and how amazing it is that God should come among us in ordinary ways, in all our ordinary days, in whatever place we find ourselves. It is a strange and exotic story, this story about God hidden among the poor ones, hidden in the hay, hidden in Bethlehem, hidden your life, no matter where you may be.

Despite all your preparations and your celebrations, despite all your planning and hard work, Christmas is not, in the end, something you do. Christmas is something that happens to you when God enters your life and takes you by surprise. It happened when Jesus was born in a strange city far away called Bethlehem, and it happens whenever the Christ child is born in our hearts, when the old old story becomes new, when we hear it again but for the first time. Christmas can happen in Minneapolis or in Japan, among friends or strangers, in an empty room or a crowded church -- for the presence of God in our midst makes even hay and straw exotic, and the song of the angels makes the most ordinary evening mysterious. And the glow of the smallest candles sheds light on us as God comes as a stranger to dwell in our world and make it holy, to walk through our nights and make them holy, to enter our hearts and lives and make them holy.

Those church visitors were right on that Christmas eve in Japan. It is a strange and mysterious story. Something has happened, deep in your hearts, deep down on the inside. God has come here, and behind and underneath everything that seems just the same -- everything has changed. Everything has become holy. Even though you might get up tomorrow morning and see the same Christmas tree as you did last night, and even though the faces of your family might look just the same -- everything has changed, and everyone has changed, and you have been changed -- deep down, on the inside, where God works wonders.

May the holy Child dwell in your hearts this Christmas eve and every evening, and may we all hear the story again for the first time.

Thanks for your patience. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas in Japan, part II

I arrived at the church amidst the buzz and chatter of children scrambling into haloes and adjusting wings. Bathrobes were hastily tied shut as they assumbled to make their Christmas presentation. The kerosene heater had been lit, and the warmth of the fire slowly made its way into every corner of the small church building. Those who had gathered around the heater warmed their hands one final time and sat down to listen to the children. Shepherds cowered in the church's center aisle as dark-haired, brown eyed angels sang "Glory to God." Mary held a baby Jesus graced with a mop of fine dark hair. Everyone sang "Away in a manger."

After the program, we ate supper together and exchanged small gifts. Then we walked through the neighborhood visiting shut-ins and singing carols. One father carried his little girl high on his shoulders as they sang. A few high school students in their black uniforms joined us as we walked through the winding back streets. I walked with a tall high school senior boy who had never been to church before.

When we returned to church, cold and hungry and tired, instead of cookies and hot chocolate, there were varieties of noodles, sweet beans and steaming soups. We wrapped our chapped hands around cups of green tea, and warmed ourselves around the church heater. Then more visitors arrived, packing the church for the first time, for the only time all year. Visitors arrived with stars in their eyes, visitors who wanted to hear the story, the story I knew by heart, the story they thought strange and exotic. Then visitors came for that late service, and we each received a candle. We sat closed together in the pews, feeling the warmth of candlelight on our faces as we sang "Silent Night" in Japanese.

Kiyoshi kono yoru
Hoshi wa hikari
Sukui no miko wa
Mabune no naka ni
Nemuritamo -- ito-ya-suku.

It was late when everyone left the church, walking through the narrow winding streets, waiting for trains and subways, riding for sometimes an hour to get home from church. Waiting for me were presents from mom and dad, missionary friends who would have a "family" Christmas together. But for my Japanese friends, this was Christmas, this one evening whe nthe church was full, when the candles were lit, when people came to hear the story of Emmanuel, and to experience the worship of those exotic Christians and their strange Bible. There we no large family gatherings with presents piled under a tree, and no surprise deliveries from Santa either. There was no traditional Christmas dinner to be cooked, and there were no Christmas cards lined up on the walls and ledges. There was just thier one evening, with brothers and sisters in Christ worshiping and feasting together as a family, and sharing the light with their friends and neighbors who had never heard the story. There was just this one evening. When Christmas Day dawned, alarm clocks rang and people got up early and went to work. Christmas Day is not a holiday in Japan. The trains were full of commuters, living and working another ordinary day, just like every other ordinary day.

... to be continued (the "preaching" part)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas in Japan

A while back, Pastor Eric over at Heart of a Pastor challenged us to tell a Christmas story. Well, I have been thinking about it for some time, and I am going to cheat a little bit. I spent some time over in Japan a long time ago, and several years ago my Christmas eve sermon spoke of this experience. So I will be posting that sermon, only, I think, a little at a time, over the next few days. Possibly there will be pictures along the way...

"The Strange and Familiar Story"

It was the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Eve. The Christmas program was going to start at 4:00 p.m., and I was on my way to church. The sky was just beginning to dark slightly as I walked up the street lined with colored flashing lights and red and green, silver and gold decorations. As I passed an electronics store, I heard Bing Crosby's voice singing, "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas." It was cold, but it wasn't snowing, and the streets were dry. I thought of the Christmas eve service, and I thought of the presents I wouldget when I returned home from church later that evening. I thought of the cider and cookies we would share as we came in from the cold. I thought of how it was the same as other Christmases I had celebrated. Yet one thing was very different. For it was Christmas eve of 1981 and I was in Japan.

Still I was doing many of the things I would have done in the United States. Every week of advent, we lighted another purple or pink candle, and most of the songs we sang were the familiar ones, even though we sang them in Japanese. The children put on their pageant just as they did at home, and people exchanged gifts and caroled together. The stores, too, proclaimed the season, blaring Christmas music, and announcing pre-Christmas sales. There were Christmas trees and decorations in the public places, although there were non in homes. I saw no Christmas tree lots in Tokyo, and it was hard to imagine being able to carry one home on the train anyway. So that year I settled for a small potted fir, and put tiny paper decorations on it.

The streets were quiet on Christmas eve as stores shut down early. There are not many Christians in Japan, and fifty or sixty members make a pretty large church. However, many visitors show up on Christmas eve, attracted by the mysterious story (the weary couple finding shelter in the stable, the excited shepherds on the hillside, the newborn baby called "God with us"), and by the lighted candles at the end of the dark evening service. It is such an exotic and unfamiliar story to them, and the evening service is a mysterious time to hear this strange story of the son of God come to earth. So they come -- more out of curiosity than anything else, and churches which are empty the rest of the year are filled that night.

.... to be continued

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advent Calendar

Image from here

Husband and I were antique shopping Sunday afternoon and came across some beautiful, unused Advent Calendars. One thing about them: none of them had anything to do with Jesus.
It has never been obligatory for an Advent Calendar to be about Jesus. While I think of "advent" as a religious word, "Advent Calendar" is not.

I believe the concept originated in Germany in the 1800s. Many Advent Calendars had a small piece of chocolate behind each door.

I got a beautiful Advent Calendar at the Metropolitan Museum Art when we were there in November. It is just as much about the art as it is about the nativity. (can't find a picture of it on line, though I did find this nifty one:)
Image from here

Anyway, my apologies to Olive lovers. And enjoy your Advent calendars, religious or otherwise!

Advent Prayer

O God:
Enlarge my heart
that it may be big enough to receive the greatness of your love.
Stretch my heart
that it may take into it all those who with me around the world
believe in Jesus Christ.
Stretch it
that it may take into all those who do not know him,
but who are my responsibility because I know him.
And stretch it
that it may take in all those who are not lovely in my eyes,
and whose hands I do not want to touch;
through Jesus Christ, my savior. Amen

Prayer of an African Christian
With All God's People, World Council of Churches, 1989
From the book Bread of Tomorrow, ed. Janet Morley, Orbis Books 1992

Right now, it just seems right to ask God to stretch my heart, although the stretching is sometimes painful.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm Dreaming

As Christmas nears, I'd like to share this poem by J. Barrie Shepherd:

I'm dreaming
of a right Christmas
when every item that I buy
will be on sale and also
the ideal gift for persons
who have everything already.
I'm dreaming of a bright Christmas
when the tree lights work first time
and flash their brilliant message of success
from every tasteful, decorated, artificial,
non-allergenic yet natural lookalike limb.
I'm dreaming of a lite Christmas when,
no matter how much fruit cake, cookies,
eggnog, champagne, other goodies I consume,
my weight will magically fall to just below the average.
I'm dreaming of a write Christmas when all my cards
bear personal, intemately joyful greetings
and arrange themselves in matching multitudes
on every horizontal dust-free surface.
I'm dreaming, but I'll be what I get
will be the usual trite Christmas,
impolite Christmas, damp-with-fog-not-white
tight Christmas, goodnight Christmas,
bank-will-not-underwrite Christmas.
I'm praying that, despite Christmas,
I find myself midnight Christmas
able to invite Christmas and its newborn child
to stay and light a way into my Christmas-darkened

Copyright 1989 Christian Century Foundation. Reprinted by permission from the December 6, 1989 issue of the Christian Century. Subscriptions $49/yr. from P.O. Box 1941, Marion, OH 43306 (800) 208-4097

Reprinted by permission in "Faces at the Manger", by J. Barrie Shepherd, Copyright 1992, Upper Room Books.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Unfinished Advent

I shouldn't be writing this. I shouldn't be up. I should be in bed.

We have a tree now. It is sitting in a bucket of water, leaning against the front window, of course undecorated. We have three baskets of decorations, for tree, shelves and table, half unpacked, in the middle of the living room floor. The advent wreath, with blue candles unlit, is sitting on the far edge of the dining room table, amid papers, coffee cups and assorts decorations.

The creche is fully up. Mary, Joseph, Jesus are there, as well as a camel, three wise men (they look like kings), a cow, a shepherd (not looking nearly unsavory enough, if you ask me), and one lonely lamb.

There are five stockings hung by the fireplace, for us, for the boys, and for Scout.

I shouldn't be up. I should be sleeping, and preparing for the big final push to Christmas. The last-chance, lowest-price sales, the grocery shopping for french cut green beans, Swedish meatball mix, Swedish sausage, cheddar cheese, sour cream and Southern style frozen hash browns, the last-minute brillliant sermon ideas for Christmas eve, and the calls to youth readers to proclaim prophesies at the family service.

I am not ready for Christmas. But ready or not, Christmas will come. This is my fear.

It is also my hope.

Luther on Dogs, part II

This post is dedicated to Rowan, Cub, Molly, and Grendel (who begged me). Also, Scout, and Diana over at Wounded Bird. And All the Other Dogs.

Two more quotes from Luther about dogs. These I found in Table Talk, one of the last volumes in Luther's Works. It's called Table Talk because after Luther got married, he always had students and other guests over to his home (the Black Cloister); some of them were semi-permanent guests. Oftentimes, these students would jot down Luther's remarks as he was speaking. The Table Talks contain remarks that are often funny, sometimes earthy, sometimes offensive. Imagine if you were speaking off the cuff, and had admiring fans recording everything you said!

Luther's household sounds chaotic to me. In addition to his wife, six children, his wife's aunt, and several children, the household included students and a wide array of animals, including a little dog, Tolpel (called Clownie in the previous post.)

Dog Provides Example of concentration:
"When Luther's puppy happened to be at the table, looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes, he (Martin Luther) said, "Oh, if I coud only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope." (# 274, pp. 37-8)

A Dog Suggests a Topic for Comment
Dr. Martin Luther played with his dog and said, "The dog is a very faithful animal and is held in high esteem if he isn't too ordinary. Our Lord God has made the best gifts most common. (from #2849b, p. 175)

Personally, I think what Luther might mean in the second quote is that the dog would be held in even higher esteem if he wasn't so ordinary (so common). I love that he says that "God has made the best gifts the most common." To me, that's one of the main points of Luther's theology.

The Leader of the Band Has Died

Sad news: I just learned that Dan Fogelberg died yesterday. His music provided meaningful foreground and background at certain periods of my life, but my friend Crysta has said it much better than I could over at her place.

Plus, she provides a snippet of his music.

Pay her a visit today.

Picture is album cover of Souvenirs. I found it here

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sermon for Advent 3

Advent 3 Year C
Matthew 11:2-11

"Will the Real Messiah please stand up?"

The other day, my husband and I were doing some Christmas shopping and we came across what I thought at the time was an unusual item. It was an "Olive the other Reindeer" pop up Advent calendar. (FYI: Olive is relatively new in the Christmas pantheon. and by the way, she is not really a reindeer, she's a dog. But her name is Olive. And she helps Santa) I stood there, looking at the Olive Advent Calendar for a minute, trying to figure out what was wrong with this picture. Olive the reindeer... Advent... hmmm.... then I called my husband over to take a look at it as well. "I thought advent was about waiting for Jesus to come," I finally said. He agreed, and added, "Maybe the Olive calendar is for people who are waiting for Christmas, but who aren’t quite sure what they are waiting for."

The more I think about it, the more I think that statement describes most of us, at least sometimes. We’re waiting, but we’re not quite sure what we are waiting for – or how to know when it has arrived. Certainly this describes John the Baptist, who in our gospel lesson today asks the question, through his disciples, "Are you the One who is to come? Or are we to wait for another?" He’s been waiting for the Messiah all his life. He’s even been preaching about the Messiah, calling people to repentance to prepare for the Messiah, baptizing people in the river Jordan because the Messiah was coming soon. And he is today, sitting in prison, and he’s wondering, and doubting, "Is he the Real Thing? Or should I keep waiting? Should we keep waiting?"

We’re all looking for the Real Thing, aren’t we? But how do we know it when we see it? Sometimes we’re sure that we have the genuine article, only to be told the what we have been believing in was FAKE, what we have been treasuring was WORTHLESS. I still remember how once long ago I had to (well, I guess I didn’t HAVE TO) tell a group of young women that Betty Crocker was NOT a real person. They were devastated. They had bought CAKE MIX because of her. She had such an honest face. They trusted her. Then they found out that she was just another marketing ploy, like the kindly faced man on the cover of the Quaker Oats box, who used to always say, "Nothing is better for Thee than me." And we believed him, didn’t we? He has such an honest face.

If John the Baptist has doubts, perhaps he can be excused. After all, he is in prison, and he has a lot of time on his hands – time to think about how certain he was about everything when he was out on the road eating locusts and wild honey, and preaching judgment and repentance. The crowds loved him; the leaders did not. And perhaps he can be forgiven his doubts when we consider that he is in prison – probably not the place where he thought this whole enterprise would end up. If this Jesus was the Messiah, he must have thought, what was he (John) doing in prison? Wouldn’t the Messiah have the power somehow to vindicate his servant? If the Day of the Lord was really approaching, as John had preached with conviction, why were the wicked still prospering and people like John the Baptist still sitting in prison?

Then again, Jesus’ preaching seems to have taken a different direction than John’s. Where John preached fire and brimstone, warning the comfortable about the upcoming Day of the Lord, Jesus comforted the poor and the afflicted, promising that there would be a Day of the Lord for them: and that it would be a day of healing, grace and forgiveness. John was waiting for a Day of Judgment, a Messiah who would deal with the wicked once and for all, and permanently. Jesus was proclaiming a day of Salvation, a day of grace, especially for those who needed it most.

So John asks his question, not so far away from ours, "Are you the one who is to come? Or are we to wait for another?" It’s the question for people who are waiting, but aren’t quite sure what they are waiting for. It’s a question particularly appropriate for this time of year, when we see Olive the Other Reindeer calendars and watch heartwarming Christmas specials and hear messages proclaiming from the wilderness: "Buy more Christmas presents! You aren’t done yet!" We’re waiting, at this time of year, but what is it, exactly, that we are waiting for?Are we waiting for just the right present? Are we waiting for a family reunion, all gathered around a warm fireplace, eating and talking and loving each other? Are we waiting for special gatherings with friends who care about us, and who we care for? What is the real meaning of Christmas, anyway? ...Will we know it when it comes? One Christmas special recently announced, "It’s all about family and friends. That’s the real meaning of Christmas." What are we waiting for? Or who? And how can we tell when he has arrived? How can we tell that Jesus is the real thing, the Messiah, the One that we really are waiting for?

This is the answer that Jesus gave John’s disciples: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them." He doesn’t say, "Yes, I’m the Messiah," or "No, I’m not" – he points to what he has been saying and what he is doing – healing, forgiving, raising the dead – and who he is speaking to – the poor, the lonely, the vulnerable, the dying. And then he says: "You be the judge. I make the blind see and I raise the dead. I set free the captive and feed the hungry. I am on the side of the poor and the grieving, on the side of the prisoner and the homeless. Is this what you have been waiting for? Am I the One you have been waiting for?" What is the real meaning of Christmas? What kind of a Messiah are we waiting for?

That’s the heart of the question today. Because there are a lot of different messages being proclaimed this time of year, some of them commercial, some of them sentimental, and some are spiritual. What kind of a Messiah are you waiting for? Because Jesus is the Messiah who makes the blind see and raises the dead, who cleanses lepers and sets the captives free. Jesus is the Messiah who feeds the hungry, and lifts up the poor, who sets free the captives and sits down to eat with sinners. And it seems that this is the way you can test the different messages you hear at Christmas: any Christmas message which includes you and your loved ones but leaves out the poor and the hungry and the lonely – is a FAKE Christmas message, not a real one. Any Christmas message which promises peace to our friends, but not our enemies, is a FAKE Christmas message, not a real one. Really good good news has to be for you and me, and for John sitting in prison, for our children who will be performing here today, and for the children who come to us homeless with Families Moving Forward. Really good news promises forgiveness to those who really need it; God’s presence to those who are really lonely; God’s healing to those who are really hurting; God’s life to those who are really dying. All too often, people who doubt or disbelieve the Christian message do not see enough evidence of its truth in our lives. Are we the Real Thing? What kind of a Messiah do we believe in? What kind of a Messiah are we waiting for?

The news was scandalous, but also all too common. A school shooting; 5 dead, and the shooter.But this time it was different. For this particular school shooting was in an Amish community, where no one could imagine something like this happening. And after this particular school shooting there was an outbreak of scandalous forgiveness. It was the big story, even bigger than the shooting itself. People could not comprehend the action of the shooter; but even more, they couldn’t comprehend the community, which reached out to the family of the murderer with words and actions, words and actions – of forgiveness and reconciliation. How could they do this? They have been praised – and they have been criticized. But this is the kind of Messiah they are waiting for, the kind of Messiah they are preparing for: one who heals and feeds and raises the dead, even forgives enemies. This is the kind of Messiah Jesus is: God with us, all of us, and especially with those who really need him.

What kind of a Messiah are you waiting for? What kind of a Messiah are you preparing for?John prepared for a Messiah who would judge the world; he got a Messiah who opens his arms to embrace the world, who loves us, the lonely, the forgotten, the hungry, and the fakers— he got a Messiah who came to us as a child, and who speaks to us even through the words of children. He got a Messiah who is on the side of the broken and the misfits, not the rich and the successful.

Advent is a time of waiting: and it’s not a bad question to ask ourselves at this time of year, as we light candles and make cookies and sweep our floors and dream: What is the real meaning of Christmas – for you? What kind of a Messiah are you waiting for? What kind of a Messiah are you preparing for?

More thoughts on Betty Crocker here

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ugly Sweater Party

At last week's staff meeting, our director of youth ministry told us that he and his family had been invited to an "Ugly Sweater Party." It was the variation known as the "Ugly Christmas Sweater Party" where everyone comes in an "ugly" sweater of the Christmas variety.

He told us that he was a little worried about finding ugly sweaters for them to wear. Turns out, it was no trouble at all. If you google "sweater" you get a respectable number of hits. If you google "ugly sweater" you get hundreds of hits. They were able to get ugly sweaters for the whole family, including their two toddlers.

Turns out, ugly sweaters are kind of a hot item, as are the parties. This shows how out of the loop I am. I had never heard of an "ugly sweater party".

I just went on line to find a few ugly sweaters myself. Some of them looked all right to me, until I did a close up of the picture, so I could see the design. Others were obviously ugly at first sight. And a couple of them -- dare I say this -- looked ok to me. I shudder.

There's something so "right" about the popularity of ugly sweaters right now. The formerly despised, now finding a home, like the toys from the Island of Misfit Toys, or the Puppy That Wanted A Boy. There's something hopeful about ugly sweaters being popular. Not exactly the ugly duckling becoming a swan, but the ugly duckling being wanted just for himself.

May all of us, ugly, garish or useless, too large or too small, be redeemed and made useful and beautiful in God's eyes.

P.S. I am more out of the loop than I realized. Go over to this post at Quotidian Grace's and read more about this amazing trend!

Picture from here

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday five: Rejoice

Mother Laura over at Revgals asks:

Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice!

Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness.

What makes you rejoice about:

1. Waiting?
The time anticipating and imagining and getting excited about the thing I am waiting for. Husband and I take a week at a relative's condo in Arizona every January. The anticipation is almost as good as the event. Even now I am imagining morning walks, fresh squeezed orange juice, and staying in the spacious home they so graciously offer us every year.

2. Darkness?
When it's dark, you can see the light better. At our advent service on Wednesday, we had two little girls dressed up as Lucia, wearing battery-operated crowns, and white robes with red sashes. We turned the lights low and their crowns looked so cool in the dark!

Also, I used to love going to the planetarium, where my white shirt would glow in the dark!

3. Winter?
Right now, not much! it's about one degree, with the windchill below zero, and Scout the wonder dog is not getting a very long walk. However, she loves to roll in the snow. I don't like to roll in the snow, nor am I big on snow angels any longer, but I still love to look at the snow, and to watch it coming down.

4. Advent?
Advent calendars and wreaths, and all of the traditions that help us wait with anticipation. One year I made a "Jesse tree" to use with the children during the children's message time, and put a decoration with a different ancestor of Jesus on it.

5. Jesus' coming?
God is with us -- in the cold and in the dark, in prison and to set us free. As Songbird put is so eloquently the other day, that God is pleased to dwell with us as Emmanuel is such an incredible statement

Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Luther on Dogs

Over at Lindy's blog, she has posted this wonderful quote:

Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail. -- Martin Luther

I didn't know that Martin Luther said such a wonderful thing, and I don't know where it came from. But I checked around on the web, and found these:

"Before we leave the Black Cloister one humble inmate must not be forgotten, the little dog named Tölpel, or Clownie:—'One of Luther's children had a dog. The doctor said: "We see now the meaning of the text, 'Ye shall rule over the beasts of the field,' for the dog bears everything from the child."

Asked about the restoration of all things and whether there would be dogs and other animals in that kingdom, he said: "Certainly there will be, for Peter calls that day the time of the restitution of all things. Then, as is clearly said elsewhere, he will create a new heaven and a new earth. He will also create new Clownies with skin of gold and hair of pearls. There and then God will be all in all. No animal will eat any other. Snakes and toads and other beasts which are poisonous on account of original sin will then be not only innocuous but even pleasing and nice to play with. Why is it that we cannot believe that all things will happen as the Bible says, even in this article of the resurrection? Original sin is at fault.'"[from Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, (London: John Murray, 1911) p. 362.]

I found this quote here

Over at Lindy's blog, I said that I thought all theologians should have a dog.
I stand by that opinion.

After all, how can you look at this face, and not think of God?

P.S. Please pray for Scout, as she is having blood tests to try to determine what is causing her intestinal difficulties. She has been losing weight lately, too.

St. Lucia Day

Today is St. Lucia Day in Sweden. This day was part of the inspiration for our advent worship this year: Advent Saints. Last week, we talked about St. Nicholas. Last night, we had a couple of "Lucias" visit us during the church service.

One of the challenges this advent (besides designing the services, which the intern usually did) has been putting together the monologues and finding costumes for the "visitors" each week. Actually, the monologues have been pretty fun, and perhaps I'll share them with you (Sr. Pastor will write next week's, on Katherina von Bora, Luther's wife.)

So, on Tuesday, I found myself at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, buying two "Lucia Crowns" (inexpensive ones with battery powered lights) for our two young saints.

The American Swedish Institute is housed in an old mansion, built by Swedish immigrant Swan Turnblad at the turn of the last century. He had made a fortune managing a series of Swedish language newspapers. At that time (the Gilded Age) if you made a fortune, you had to build a mansion. Now it is a museum and gathering place for Swedes and others wanting to know more about Sweden and Swedish-American immigrants.

As a girl, I used to usher sometimes on a Saturday, greeting people at the door, and guiding them to the programs they were set to attend. I also sang in a children's chorus. However, I never got to be Lucia for the programs. There was one girl slightly older than me, taller, blonder, and more poised. I would see the wax dripping from her hair and envy her.

When I entered the building on Tuesday afternoon, I had the sense that I was going back in time -- back to those days when I suddenly became obsessed with my Swedish heritage, with my grandparents' immigrant past. I remembered my afternoons spent in the old museum, practicing songs, wandering the halls, wishing to be able to read the Swedish books. I remembered my grandmother, who died when I was 16, and her attempts to teach me a few words, and to tell me a little bit about who she was. I'm not sure we really knew.

She was proud to be an American. She was also proud to be Swedish, and she kept in touch with the family across the ocean. She came across that ocean by herself. So she must have been brave.

I didn't have much time on Tuesday. But after I bought the crowns, I stopped and got a cardomum roll, just for old times sake.

Picture is by Carl Larsson and is in the public domain

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Something is Wrong With Me

In the last few days, I have mislaid or possibly permanently lost the following items:

1. my journal. (yes, I still do use it occasionally.)
2. my church keys
3. a Christmas present I bought for my brother
4. a pair of woolen gloves (red, black and gray striped. They match a scarf and hat I bought last year)
5. my GLASSES, for crying out loud.
6. the skit I want to do at confirmation tonight.

update: I found my journal by calling Large Chain Bookstore where Husband and I ate soup a couple of days ago. I found my church keys by dumping everything out of my Large Bag onto the floor of my office (after closing my door so that no one would hear the din).

I think that I am not handling stress in the best way right now.

I am working on sermons for weddings, funerals, Sunday and Christmas. I have not yet started asking children to read at the family service on Christmas eve, nor have I gotten a young family with a baby to play the Holy Family at that service. I also am trying to reschedule a dentist appointment, have some regular medical tests before the end of the year, and get a hair cut.

Also, take Scout to the vet to see if we can figure out why she is having so many problems with her intestines.

Also, clean the house, decorate and figure out what we are going to have to eat on Christmas eve and day. And finish shopping. And wrap presents.

Advent 2 service is tonight and is devoted to St. Lucia and to light.

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."

A small light would be good, too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Repentance Story

AKA: "Storm Home"

Once upon a time, I lived out on the prairie of South Dakota, in a little town with no gas station, no restaurants, and no grocery store. We did have a post office, though.

I thought I knew something about rural living because my mother grew up on a farm in southwestern Minnesota and I used to spend time with my grandparents there, especially in the summer. I also thought I knew how to behave in a snow-storm: after all, I'm from Minnesota. I know how to drive when it's slippery, and I know about keeping a shovel in my car, and I even used to keep an extra bag of cat litter in the car just in case I would get stuck (yes, cat litter).

So one Monday morning (my day off) in December, I made an appointment to get my car "winterized." Now I'm from Minnesota, so I know how important it is to get your car winterized. But that same morning I also heard that there was some weather coming in -- they thought at about noon.

And they said that it was going to be a pretty big storm.

So my two thoughts were: 1) It's even more important that I get my car winterized this morning, and 2) I'm sure I can get it done and be back home before the weather gets really bad.

So I went and fixed the car up in the nearest city to me (30 miles away) and then I headed for home. It was already starting to snow and to blow (that's the important part) but I thought, "This isn't too bad. I can do this. After all, it's not slippery or anything."

As soon as I got outside the city limits, I realized that I was wrong. I also learned what the word "white out" means. It means that everything is literally white. I couldn't see anything on the road ahead of me. All I could see (sometimes) was the white line marking the edge of the road. I wasn't thinking any more "I can do this". I was scared. I wasn't sure at all that I could do this and not end up in a ditch.

At one point my route passed through a very small town, and I was able to see a little better. At the same time, I suddenly remember that a retired couple from my church lived in this town, just off the main road. In desperation, I turned into their driveway.

Lucky for me -- they welcomed me. In fact, they were happy to have me stay -- for the next two days while the storm continued. They even found an extra toothbrush for me. (You see, they were prepared.) After that, I sometimes referred to them as my "storm home."

I got smart after that -- or at least I thought I was smart. I thought -- from now on I am going to be better prepared for emergencies. So I started always to keep a bag in my car from then on, with a change of clothes, my Bible, a toothbrush and a couple of other items. Of course, I never had to use the bag, because I never got stuck in a snowstorm again. I had learned my lesson, I suppose, about the dangers of snow and wind out on the prairie. I suppose you can say that I "repented" of my foolhardy ways, learned to be more cautious, and learned as well to be better prepared.

But is that what the word "repent" really means? It does mean change -- that's for sure. It also means "turn around", which gives me a whole different perspective on repentance, and when and why it occurs.

So, when do you think I "repented" in this story?

I believe that I repented when I entered that little town and remembered the home where some friendly people lived. I repented when I realized, "I can't do this any more," and turned in the driveway and knocked on the door. I repented when they opened the door and welcomed me in out of the cold and out of the storm.

Repentance is when you admit you are lost on a dangerous road, that you can't see your hand in front of your face -- and yet you are welcomed in from the cold. Repentance is when we realize we have gotten in over our heads, and cry out, "Lord save me!" Repentance is not just (or mainly) about what we turn away from, but what we turn TOWARD: life, love, grace, light.

Oh, and this as well: Most people believe that you repent in order to get forgiven. But I believe that it happens the other way. We repent because we have been forgiven.

We turn off the dangerous road because we know there is a house with a light in the window and a fire in the fireplace, and friendly people with open arms and soup simmering. And we keep turning toward God's promised life of grace and adventure, because we know that there are storm homes dotting the landscape, with open hearts and hearths, welcoming prodigals and pilgrims.

That's my repentance story.... and I'm sticking to it.

Christmas Memories....

A while ago Pastor Eric Hullstrom asked his readers if they would share a Christmas memory sometimes during the season. He led by sharing his.

Now David over at Here I stand has shared a lovely memory as well.

I'm thinking about my entry....

In the meantime, I'm getting ready to post, sometime later today, a repentance story.

Merry Advent!

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'm not a Buddhist, but....

There's a zen koan that I really like. It goes something like this:

Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood carry water.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

(And Lindy, stop laughing so hard!... I know, I'm not Catholic either.)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

In the Darkness the Blogging Stars Shine

A long time ago my good blog friend Fran presented me with a coveted blogging star award. I didn't do anything with it then except thank her very much The truth is, I would like to give every blog I visit a blogging star! I didn't want to choose, so I kept putting it off.

But I felt guilty. And I have been thinking about this for a long time. So, from a long line of worthy blogs, here are some stars:

1. Beth's Photo Journal. Beth is a young woman who is taking a year to chronicle her life with pictures and commentary. She's a great photographer and an insightful writer. I enjoy her travels.

2. Proclaiming Softly. She has a great perspective on faith, worship, life in a small town, and social issues. Plus, she just got back from Africa. I especially liked her post recently on imagining the world as 100 people

3. Presbyterian Gal. She makes me laugh, she makes me cry, she makes me think. What more can I say?

4. Rowan the Dog. I love lots of dogs (and you can see just a few others, including Grendel) on my blog roll. But Rowan is not just a dog, he is a hero. He is also a great theologian. (I hope he updates his blog soon!)

5. Heart of a Pastor. Pastor Eric serves in the small town in which my mother grew up. I was looking around on the "net" one Saturday night and ran into his blog. He really does have the "heart of a pastor."

There are lots more "stars" in the heavens... some I am just starting to discover.

Thanks for being a light!

Happy Anniversary!

Today we celebrated my congregation's 60th Anniversary with one service at 10:00 a.m. and a special luncheon afterwards. Our bishop preached, and all of the choirs sang.

By far the highlight of the event (other than the food) was a song by the children's choir. They sang: "We are the church", interspersed with bits and pieces of popular music from the 1950's through today (including a little bit of rap and disco!).

Saturday, December 8, 2007

In the Mess

Yesterday, I took the car in for an oil change, and ended up with a bill of $432.00, more or less. It also needed new windshield wiper blades, a serpentine belt -- oh, and brake pads. Just in time. It went below zero last night. 2 below, or 4 below, or 8 below. Really, after it hits zero, what possible difference can it make?

I had a car once that I could get started (with some ingenuity on my part, I must say) until it got to about 15 below. At 16 below, there was nothing I could do. Nothing. People don't believe me. But it was a Renault. Renaults should never have been allowed to immigrate to Minnesota. They just don't belong here.

So last night it got something below zero. It's about 8 degrees (give or take a couple) right now at 3:30. But, wait until the sun goes down (in about a half an hour). And, last night, Scout got sick. Three times. Did I mentioned it was below zero outside?

So I was cold, and worried about her, and I didn't sleep that well, either. I have some medicine, and after she gets done fasting, we will try that. Also, we have an appointment at the vet.

This morning I had a meeting. It was a meeting with some of the people who have been involved in the congregational inreach. We are trying to strengthen the sense of community in our congregation, by engaging in "one to one" visits with people, particularly younger people in the congregation. We also want to discover community concerns, and band together to work on certain justice issues of local concern.

This meeting did not have a huge turnout, although I will say that those who came were engaged and inspiring to be around.

In my more cynical moments, I consider that perhaps most people don't really want to deepen our sense of community. Or, I think, most people don't want to get involved in working for justice.

Actually, though, I think it has more to do with the car, and the dog, and the kids and the dishes and the laundry and the __________(you fill in the blank).

It's hard for everyone, including me, to figure out how to balance out the important things in life: the kids, the laundry, the car, with the important things in life: paying attention to people, working for justice, serving those in need. Most people really do want to live out their faith in their daily life, I think: but when you are cleaning up dog messes or sweeping up crumbs or looking after your elderly parents, it's hard to know how to do the other things you think are important, like advocating for kids in the schools, or making sure people have access to good jobs or day care.

By the way, I don't have the solution to this. But I know that living our faith is a juggling act, sometimes. And that we drop a lot of balls.

And I also know, this Advent, that God is in the mess with us, in the laundry and the dishes and the crumbs. And God is in the justice work as well: in the schools, and in the struggle for decent jobs and health care. God is with us.

Pray for me.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday 5: Preparation, preparation...

Sally over at Revgals writes:
This has been a difficult week for me, the death of a little six year old has overshadowed our advent preparations, and made many of us here in Downham Market look differently at Christmas. With that in mind I ask whether you are the kind of person that likes everything prepared well in advance, are you a last minute crammer, or a bit of a mixture.....Here then is this weeks Friday 5:

1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting ( or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how do you cope?
yesterday, I sat in the middle of my office, surrounded by bankers boxes, and cleaned out old periodicals to send down to the church basement. The church administrator saw me, and I said, "I have so much to do! I shouldn't be doing this!" she replied, "No. This is exactly what you need to do right now." I cleaned off an entire shelf for the Advent calendar I bought from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I cleared out a little of the clutter from my office.

2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?
We have a couple of good menus to order out from -- just by coincidence we have tortellini soup in the freezer if they would like that, but generally it would be: order out.

Three discussion topics:
3. Thinking along the lines of this week's advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of advent preparations.....
Repentance is a nitty-gritty thing in a season that is often sentimental. I'm reading a great book called God with us for my Advent devotions. It talks about the nitty-gritty of incarnation. God is not simply "spiritual" but becomes material -- and so material things matter to God: mountains, people, the relatives we can't stand, the strangers we bump up against in the store, people who are's a great quote from the book: "Christmas comes around again and forces us to deal with God in the context of demanding and inconvenient children; gatherings of family members, many of whom we spend the rest of the year avoiding; all the crasser forms of greed and commercialized materiality; garish lights and decorations. Or maybe the other way around: Christmas forces us to deal with all the mess of our humanity in the context of God who has already entered that mess in the glorious birth of Jesus." (p. 9)

4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.

yes, but how to leave time for the flow? That's one of the challenges of the season, so overscheduled, with concerts, meetings, parties, planning church services, that there is hardly room left for a surprise. And God wants to surprise us...

5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...
But I am a "big picture" kind of person...are the bread and wine details or a "big picture"? I think both.

Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?
Well, I did send some gifts with my Mom to Arizona, but I'm not anywhere near as prepared as I'd like to be. We still haven't gotten our decorations from the basement, and some important people still need to be considered. (sigh).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

O Come O Come Emmanuel

My humble Swede died early this morning. His wife and one of his sons were with him. I came over and we did the service for "Comforting the Bereaved" from the Occasional Services Handbook. His wife especially liked the scripture from John 10. But I also thought of these verses, and I'd like to share them with everyone today:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation:
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles:
and the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

(from the red SBH, the Nunc Dimittus)

This is the closing prayer I wrote for our advent services:

O God, who called forth light out of darkness, who made the sun and moon and stars, come to us in the darkness of night and in the midst of our grieving, and give us hope for your new day. Come to us in the darkness of night and in the midst of our loneliness, and give us the joy of new life. Come to us in the darkness of night and in the midst of our fears, and show us the face of your Son; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God forever. Amen

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

So the other day Husband and I were doing a little Christmas shopping at a local upscale variety store. They are usually a little out of our price range, but they have wonderful cards and stationery, as well as women's clothes, earrings, toys and books, kitchen accessories and decorative objects (did I miss anything?) And, sadly, we needed to get a sympathy card and two get well cards.

They also sell a large variety of Christmas decorations and ornaments.

And, while we were browsing, we both spied this item:

So, what do you think? I always thought that "Advent" referred to the season of preparing for the coming of Christ. And, nice as Olive seems to be (she is a dog, after all), I just have a funny feeling that this Advent calendar doesn't have anything to do with Jesus.

By the way, if you would like to order one of these calendars, you may do so here


This morning I dropped Scout off at Day Care. I stopped to watch her run and play with the other dogs before leaving. I love to hear the Day Care people praise her. They talk about how social she is, her cute ears, her little howls, how she loved to be petted. I want to get her a t-shirt that says, "Plays well with others," because she does.

I remember back when a dog behaviorist told us that Scout Would Never Be Able to Go To Day Care. Not that we would have been able to afford it, then. We just knew she was a highly energetic dog, and wondered about different outlets for her energy. Day Care would be out of the question, this person said. That was Final.

Some people who know Scout well, know also that she is, in some ways, a Deeply Flawed Dog. She was diagnosed, at 10 or 11 weeks, as "Possessive." That means that she got snarly when she wanted something. Scout was never possessive about her toys. No, it was plastic bags, or paper towels, or socks, or soap (she still likes soap). All things she wanted, but that we didn't want her to have. She would fight us for that.

Lest you think this is kind of funny, she even bit me once, drawing blood. She wanted to eat a plastic bag; I didn't want her to. I won, but at great cost. After that, we really got serious about handling her possessiveness.

Now she hasn't had an incident for over a year. I know that she's still possesssive. She, and we, just handle it differently. She's gotten less anxious about "stuff"; so have we. We've learned that this is one of the keys to handling her behavior.

I think about being possessive a lot, though. A dog who is possessive is considered Deeply Flawed. She is supposed to cheerfully give up everything she owns to her Leader, in trust and submission. Humans, on the other hand, are a possessive breed. It seems normal to grab and to accumulate, and to fight over our possessions, as well.

On this, the first Wednesday in Advent, I've been thinking a lot about Scout, and about being possessive. She has taught me a lot about what it means to live in gratitude, and to trust, to make room for the next good thing that may come my way. She has taught me about how Deeply Flawed I am, and how grateful still that she loves me.

She has taught me as well that even those who are Deeply Flawed deserve to be loved.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy birthday, Janet!

Today is my little sister's birthday. We shared a room until I was in the 9th grade. We fought a lot and had a lot of fun, as well. At least, that's the way I'm choosing to remember it now.
I remember we used to fight over whose turn it was to do the dishes. After my parents developed a system where one of us would wash and one would dry, then we fought over whose turn it was to wash and whose turn it was to dry. We also fought about who would sit where in the back seat of the car, but since there were three of us, with my brother, someone always had to take the "hump" in the middle. Of course, the way I remember it, I was always right. (There has to be some benefit to being oldest.) We must have driven our parents crazy.

On Friday night my dad used to work late at his shop. Sometimes, that would be "pancake night" (my father did not consider pancakes to be a proper dinner). Sometimes my sister and I would have pancake eating contests. A few times we would start laughing so hard we could hardly finish our dinner. My mom always looked a little mad then. I remember thinking, "why is she mad? We're not fighting."

My parents also enjoyed the game we invented, called "Flood." We only played it on Saturday mornings. We pretended that our house was flooded, and that our beds were high ground. Eventually, though, we needed to go out to the living room to watch Saturday morning TV, and also to the kitchen to eat breakfast. Here's where it gets interesting. We would take all the books off the shelves, and use them as stepping stones to get to the other rooms in the house. Yes, our parents were wild about that game.

My sister and I tried not to be competitive. If I liked Simon and Garfunkel, she got interested in John Denver. I played the piano; she switched to violin and guitar. I liked writing; she was interested in art. Sometimes that worked, but not always.

My mom used to tell me that when I grew up, I would appreciate having a sister. I think she would say this during fights, and from her own perspective, she became really good friends with her older sister. In fact, I believe they shared an apartment in Minneapolis after they moved from the farm. I shared an apartment with my sister for a few months after I graduated from college, and while she was a student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was a funky old brownstone one bedroom with hardwood floors and a huge walk-in closet.

Then, she got married and moved to Phoenix. The rest, as they say, is history.

I'm proud of my little sister. She became a graphic designer. She designed my ordination announcements, and also our wedding invitations. I used to dream that we would become a writing/illustrating team. But then, I would actually have to finish writing something. Perhaps I could self-publish a book of sermons someday, and have her illustrate them.

What do you think?

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Janet!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Redeeming the Mittens

This morning, it was 2 degrees outside (give or take a couple of degrees.) (Or, what's a couple of degrees among friends?) I have two full sets of wool mittens -- well, actually, now I have one set. I'm hoping that I left the other set at church yesterday.

Losing mittens or gloves is a very bad habit for me. I have lost full sets, but it is more common for me to lose one out of a set. Right now, I have one black and one white glove sitting on the mantle by the front door. I think there is one red glove somewhere also in the closet. I have still a small hope that I will find the other, but it's a very small hope.

Why even keep the singles? Sometimes I don't. I have sighed and tossed more single gloves than I care to count. But I haven't gotten there with any of these gloves yet. Give me time. Maybe it's laziness. Maybe a little wishful thinking. Maybe a little pity.

Single socks are sad, but there is something even sadder about a single mitten. We've all seen them, haven't we? On the sidewalk, in the street, in the parking lot of a discount store, single gloves destined never to find their mates. Somewhere, the partners of my lonely gloves are out there, never to be re-united with their mates.

They're so pretty, but they were never meant to be alone.

Like us.

Maybe that's another reason it's called "Faith in community."

by the way, the image is from here

Sunday, December 2, 2007

"Christmas Three" Meme

Carolyn over at Law and Gospel has tagged me for this meme, which asks three questions about Christmas:

What are your three favorite Christmas songs and who sings them?
I have a lot of Christmas songs I'm tired of, and a lot that I really love, so this was really difficult! There's also the difference between the Christmas songs I love to listen to, and those I love to sing. So, without further ado:

1. I'll Be Home For Christmas -- from Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas album. We always trimmed the tree to this album. My dad and I used to sing Silver Bells together as we drove to pick up our Christmas tree (usually about the middle of December, and yes, a real tree). But the last song has taken more meaning for me since learning of the album's release, during World War II, and also since being away from home myself, for three years in Japan.

2. The Rebel Jesus -- from The Chieftains Christmas Album, sung by Jackson Browne. It's not a hymn or a carol, but it has really thought-provoking words. I first heard it on the radio on Christmas day (NPR), as I was driving home to Minnesota from South Dakota. Later on, the Chieftains album became my Christmas Album of the Year, and I was pleased to find this song on it.

3. Joy to the World -- as sung by the congregation, at the very end of the late Christmas eve service. After communion and after the candles and after Silent Night, the lights come back up and everyone is blinded by the light. And we all sing Joy to the World. After coming to this congregation, I have grown to love this hymn even more, because of the way we do it. After communion, the chancel choir lines up in the center aisle of the sanctuary. After the post-communion prayer, and just as the lights come up, the organist begins to play Joy to the World. The choir each has a handbell and they ring them all during the song while we process out. I always cry.

Three favorite foods

1. Lefse, of course. They are a thin Norwegian potato crepe, rolled up with butter, with butter and sugar, with butter and brown sugar. Our family prefers the butter and sugar variety. In fact, the children in our family were responsible, before Christmas eve or day dinners, for rolling up the lefse with the butter and sugar inside.

2. Kringla. Another of my grandmother's Norwegian recipes. It's hard to describe, but it's a kind of a cookie, shaped like a figure eight. And it's not easy to get right. I tried to make it once, in Japan, and ended up burying the dough in the backyard. I blamed it on not being able to get buttermilk, but I think there was more to it than that.

3. Swedish Meatballs. We've never really known what was in the ones my grandma made. She didn't have a recipe. We get Swedish meatball mix at a local store called Engebretsons.

Three Christmas Secrets

1. After a Christmas morning where a game of Racko mysteriously appeared from Santa to my parents, I spent an extra $10 and bought my parents a box of Fannie Farmer candy, put it under the tree, and wrote: to: (my parents names) from: Santa on it. The next year, my parents bought themselves Christmas stockings and we kids filled them. If mom and dad are reading this, the secret's out!

2. I have never cooked a turkey. My family knows this, and I'm not proud of it. Still waiting for my "first time", but with the responsibilities of Thanksgiving and Christmas services, it's hard to figure out when would be a good time. (and yes, I know, it's not hard.)

3. oh, like Law and Gospel, I have a "missing baby Jesus" story too. One year in South Dakota, I could not find the baby Jesus for the creche. I looked everywhere, and he was nowhere to be found. I found him the next July in the trunk of the car. I had used him for a children's message (now I really forget the theme). Now how he got into the trunk: well, I had a three-point parish and drove to two churches every Sunday. So I had these sermon illustrations in a paper bag, which at some point got put into the trunk.
Ok, I tag FranIAm, Barb at Views from the Road, and Pastor Eric from Heart of a Pastor. Have fun!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Snow Day

It's snowing like Crazy outside, has been since mid-morning. They say sometime later it will turn into sleet, which I am not wild about.

In the meantime, I am making tortellini soup, and dreaming of a quiet evening at home.

Here is the recipe, which I received from a young woman at my internship congregation in Denver:

2 lbs ground italian sausage
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cups beef broth (3 cans)
1 cup water
4 cups fresh tomatoes peeled and chopped
(if using canned tomatoes drain)
3 1/2 cups tomato sauce
2-3 large carrots
2 T. oregano
2 teaspons basil, dried
2 T. parsley, dried
a bay leaf
1 medium zucchini, chopped
2 10 ounce packages fresh or fresh frozen tortellini (cheese filled only; one spinach pasta can be used for color)

Brown sausage, keeping it in large chunks. Remove browned meat from pan, reserving 2 T of the oil Saute onion and garlic.

In a large soup pot, mix all ingredients, adding back sausage, except fo the chopped zuccini and tortellini. Bring to a boil and lower the heat.

Simmer the soup for 2-3 hours. About 45 minutes before serving, add the tortellini and the zucchini and summer until tortellini are done.

Soup can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept cool in fridge. Reheat to serving temperature.

Soup, corn bread, hot cocoa, maybe a little knitting and of course, the ubiquitous laundry before the first Sunday in Advent tomorrow.

I found the picture and an alternative soup recipe here

Friday, November 30, 2007

Rejoicing and Weeping

On Saturday, I wracked my brain for a children's message idea and finally went up to the church attic, where I found a crown, a scepter and a cape. I had the children come up at the right time and asked them about kings. Why did they look like? What did they have? Then I had one child put on the crown, hold the scepter and wear the cape. I also said that people follow kings, so I had all of the children line up in back of the dressed-up child. But then I said, "Jesus was a king. Did he have a crown?" (No!) Did he have a scepter? (No!) Did he have a cape? (No!) what did he have?

Love, someone answered.

I was going to say a cross. I liked their answer better.

On Wednesday morning, I had a nursing home service. I was preaching on my go-to text, Matthew 14:22-33, where Peter walks on water -- kind of. At one point, I was telling about Peter stepping out of the boat and how incredible it must have felt when he was walking on the water. Then, I said, he noticed the wind and the waves, and looked down. Then what happened?

From the back of the room a voice: "He got baptized!"


Yesterday, I got a call from a hospice chaplain. She is also visiting a couple from our congregation. I also have been visiting them for three years, ever since he was diagnosed with ALS. He's a tall, humble Swede, who always seemed to have his head tilted a little to the side, as if he were listening intently to everything you said. He was quick to smile, and to cry a little, too. For about two years I came every month and gave them communion. Now he cannot take communion any more. I give him a blessing instead. He has had a feeding tube.

The hospice chaplain called to tell me that yesterday his feeding tube fell out. When he was asked whether he wanted it back in, he blinked once. That meant, "No."

They said that it will be seven to ten days until he dies.

Today, I went to visit him.

I gave him a blessing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Friday Five: Grumpy Holiday Edition

Will Smama over at Revgals writes:
Parishioners pushing for carols before you digested your turkey?
Organist refusing to play Advent hymns because he/she already has them planned for Lessons & Carols?
Find yourself reading Luke and thinking of a variety of ways to tell Linus where to stick it? (Lights please.)
Then this quick and easy Friday Five is for you! And for those of you with a more positive attitude, have no fear. I am sure more sacred and reverent Friday Fives will follow.
Please tell us your least favorite/most annoying seasonal....

1) dessert/cookie/family food
lutfisk. Although you can't really call it a family food any more. We only eat it at church suppers.

2) beverage (seasonal beer, eggnog w/ way too much egg and not enough nog, etc...)
Eggnog, if it doesn't have rum in it. I mean, really, what's the point?

3) tradition (church, family, other)
Taking turns opening gifts, one at a time. Takes forever.
Also, the tradition of spending more than you can afford, and the tradition of believing that everything should be "perfect" on Christmas

4) decoration
Any decorative candle in the shape of i.e. a Christmas tree, church, choirboy, etc. once it is half-burned down.
Also, the little church with the electric light inside it.

5) gift (received or given)
I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me.

BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it.
John Lennon's Merry Christmas (War is Over). Sorry all of you John Lennon fans out there.

Ok, I'm a grump, but I'm going to put up a short list of favorites too:

1. Dessert
lefse. Deserves a post all its own.

2. Beverage
We don't really have a special beverage for Christmas, but I certainly like spiced cider.

3. Tradition
Listening to Bing Crosby's White Christmas Album while decorating the Christmas tree.
Also, I really like the tradition where some churches give their pastor presents (just kidding!)

4. Decoration
the cardboard angel we always put on the top of the tree

5. Gift (received or given)
The year I gave my mom a scarf which exactly matched her coat! It maybe cost $1.50, but I knew she would really like it. (It was the first year I picked out gifts myself.)

BONUS: You haven't lived until you have heard Bing and the Andrews sisters sing Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is coming to town. Really.
Right, Janet?