Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Bleeding-Heart: A Conversation about Poetry

On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, it seems appropriate to meditate on a poem by Mary Oliver, a poet in love with the natural world. She's someone I have just recently discovered, in part because of some of you. If you are not already out enjoying the summer, come over to Seeking Authentic Voice, and join our conversation. And if not today, join us tomorrow, or the next day, or sometime when it's raining.

As for me, I'll be out at this beautiful locale for awhile this afternoon, but hope to be back with wisdom, and insights to share.

A stranger in Japan discovers liturgy

A few people have asked me to post about my time as a missionary and high school teacher (boys) in Japan, from 1981-85. It's hard to know where to start, so I'd like to begin by posting a column I wrote a few years back, in seminary, which was printed in the campus paper. For one year, I had a column, called Expectations and Visions. If people are interested, from time to time, I'll post other items as well.

"My first month in Japan was the hardest. A stranger in a strange land, I felt most of the time like I was on the verge of being lost. Streets were narrow, winding mazes, and I had no nose for direction.

"Signs were not landmarks but cryptic messages mostly undeciphered. Everything was new: the smells of skewered meat being sold on the street, the cries of vendors, the crowds of dark-haired people standing on the train, reading newspapers and magazines incomprehensible to me. Every corner I turned was a place I had not been before, an exiting but fearsome proposition.

"Wherever I got on a train, I wondered where I would end up and what it would look like when I got there. I read the map, all right; that first month I read it microscopically, clutching it like a security blanket, ever alert, unable to relax or let my guard down.

"I had come to Japan to serve god; that was the official reason. But underneath it all was a secret desire to escape the dull routine of my ordinary life in my ordinary office job, a desire to meet God in the kinds of places I had only read about in books before. In Japan even ordinary life became an adventure, and I discovered that constant new experiences were not only stimulated, but wearying.

"Sundays promised a reprieve from all the newness, for every Sunday I would go to church. In the midst of all the strange smells and sights, I entered a familiar-looking western-style building, complete with steeple, and took my place in a wooden pew. In the midst of unfamiliar words and tones, I heard "Amen" and "Alleluia," and "Jesus." No longer was I lost. I knew where I was. I was at home in the midst of the liturgy. Or was I?

"Appearances can be deceiving. Even in church, I couldn't keep up with even one petition of the Lord's prayer in Japanese. I sang the hymns intensely aware of each syllable I was reading, still not knowing what most of it meant. I listened to sermons hoping for a word I could recognize, and never finding one. Worship was more of an effort than it had ever been, and the returns were much diminished. Even getting to church was a lot of work.

"Every Sunday I took a train from my home at Meidaimae to Shibuya, transferred to a train to Hiyoshi, and walked fifteen minutes from the station at Hiyoshi to my church. The whole thing took about one hour fifteen minutes. It was quite a trip. The first week a member of the church met me at the station and we walked together. She carefully explained the way, each twist and turn of the road. I in turn paid close attention to every step, sure that I would lose my way when I would have to walk those narrow unfamiliar streets alone. I remember the first few times feeling immensely relieved when I first caught sight of the church steeple in the distance.

"But after awhile I began to relax, loosen my grip on the train map, look around me, and follow the way my feet had come to know, without even thinking about it. I had the way memorized it. I knew it by heart. It was a routine to me. It was a part of my liturgy in Japan. Imagine being excited by having a routine!

"Suddenly routine took on a new and gracious meaning for me. Rather than just dull and lifeless repetition, my routine could be liturgical. And liturgy too became more gracious. No longer did I think it merely boring routine, words pronounced automatically. Liturgy became instead the place where I could loosen my grip, take off my shoes and feel at home. It became the well-worn road to the place I knew so well. It was the "Amen" and "Alleluia" in the midst of all the cryptic messages that surrounded me. It is in this place, I discovered, and not so much in my adventures, that God comes to meet me.

"Still I seek adventures, but God seeks me, and where I least expect. In the midst of strange places and new experiences, God gives a home, a place where I can let down my guard and listen and learn. Sometimes it is a song from long ago that I have memorized, whose words I finally understand. Sometimes it is a story I have heard so many times, and for the first time now. It is called liturgy, but it doesn't happen only on Sunday morning.

"It happens to all pilgrims and sojourners as we come to recognize our path, and travel it with confidence. It is in the familiar places where our true adventures happen, as gifts of grace, given by God."

P.S. Picture was taken in front of Kyoto Lutheran church. I still know what the sign says: "Jinsei no mokuteki wa?" or "What is the purpose of life?"

Friday, June 29, 2007

A Lake, a Dog, a Cool Breeze

It was a lovely evening. The last two days have cooled off considerably. "Nice sleeping weather" is what they say around here. So tonight we packed up the dog in the car and drove to one of the nearby city lakes.

My husband stopped to get a cigar. For some reason, he likes to smoke a cigar while he's walking around the lake. Then we walked a few blocks down, past the big houses with bikes instead of cars in front, and past the small front yards filled with flowers, and past the end of the month moving vans.

The lake front has been tailored for traffic. There are two paths, one for walking and running, and one for bikers and rollerbladers. Whenever I go to this particular lake, I start feeling very nostalgic, pining away for my young adult days, when the future with endless possibilities was spread before me. I got nostalgic for picking up an Utne Reader at Orr Books (now out of business) and taking it down to the beach to read. I got nostalgic for Morris and Christie's Market, where I would stop for some kind of funkie juice drink. I fondly remembered the time a guy tried to use his two cute daughters to pick me up. (I was so young and single then!) This particular lake reminds me of being young, and adventurous and just a little counter-cultural, harboring heretical thoughts. Makes me wonder what others are nostalgic about, what places, people, smells or sounds.

Walking around, I noticed the earnest runners in their bright orange shorts, the women whispering and laughing, families with little kids in strollers, or backpacks or arms. I noticed families of all nationalities, wearing varieties of bright colors. I noticed synchonized rollerbladers, skating to unheard music. For the most part, people were smiling.

We stopped at the Pavilion to get something to eat, stood in a long but friendly line, where Scout made many friends and obtained admirers. A young dad and his little boy oohed and aahed. A Bernese Mountain Dog sniffed Scout and Scout sniffed back. A little girl absently patted Scout's head. She loved it all, played to the crowd.

We ran into Newest Parents from church, and their 2 1/2 week old daughter. She's beautiful. I'm a little prejudiced. I got to hold her when she was 1 day old. They are filled with gratitude for this gift in their lives.

I'm not old, but I'm not young any more. Going to the lake doesn't feel the same as it did once. But somehow, maybe for different reasons, it still pulls me -- to find respite, to find a sanctuary, to find hope.

Friday five: gifts and talents

Sally over at the "rev gals" says:

Our Circuit (Methodist) is having a "Gifts and talents day" tomorrow- we have a minister visiting from another circuit who has modified the Myers Briggs personality test and added a few things of his own to run a day where we get to look at ourselves in the light of giftings and of the whole church. The idea is to encourage everyone with the news that there is room for you in the ministry of the church- and perhaps to discover where that ministry might be.....It should be an interesting day, and one where I hope people will leave feeling encouraged and challenged...

So with gifts and talents in mind here is todays Friday 5:

1. Personality tests; love them or hate them?
I find them fun, sometimes. I really enjoyed taking the Myers-Briggs once a long time ago. It helped me to understand why I gravitate to certain things and not others (why I wasn't really enjoying being a secretary, for one thing.) We use a little "gifts inventory" with confirmation students when they are being confirmed, and it's fun! I noticed that everybody likes to learn things about themselves. I do think they can be overused.

2. Would you describe yourself as practical, creative, intellectual or a mixture ?A mixture. I like to think of myself as creative, not as practical as I would like, and a little intellectual. I like to get the "big idea" but I need those more practical types to help me break it down so we can actually get it accomplished!

3. It is said that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame; have you had your yet? If so what was it, if not dream away what would you like it to be?
I suspect that I already had mine, some time when I was in Japan as a missionary for three years. Went around with a couple of other people singing during that time, as well as taught English. I hope not, though, but I would really like to publish a book before I die. Blogging has helped me to think: maybe I just might have an idea or two!

4. If you were given a 2 year sabatical ( oh the dream of it) to create something would it be music, literature, art.....something completely different...share your dream with us
The book... and my dream would be to work collaboratively with my sister, who is a graphic designer. I have a lot of ideas (one would just be about THE DOG) but I'd like to tell and collect stories, too. Also, creative Bible work.

5. Describe a talent you would like to develop, but that seems completely beyond you.
I'd like to learn to play another musical instrument (other than piano). Probably guitar. And I'd like to learn to speak Spanish. I used to speak Japanese pretty well, but I don't know how I'd do learning now. I sure would like to, though.

Bonus question: Back to the church- what does every member ministry mean to you? Is it truly possible to encourage/ implement?
To explain this, I'm going to tell a story.
A few years ago, I attended an event that I never knew existed before. That's what you get for being connected with musicians. It was a Bluegrass music retreat (for lack of a better word) that took place at a local hotel. There were, as you might suspect, concerts going continuously, all weekend. But that wasn't all. And that wasn't what struck me. As my family and I were entering the hotel, we noticed that almost everyone who came, came with an instrument. A guitar, a mandolin, a banjo, everyone had something they were carrying. Along with the concerts, there were a variety of workshops as well, on improvising, on singing, on playing different styles. And all throughout the weekend, little imprompto jam sessions would break out in the hallway. I was impressed, because it was clear that people did not just come to listen. They came to play. That's what I want the church to be. A place where everyone brings their "instrument" -- where we all come to "play".

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Some random thoughts on community

1. Overheard -- a retired pastor explaining the difference between a "condominium" and a "cooperative." In a "condo", he explained, you consider what's good for me. In a cooperative, you consider what's good for us. And what's good for us, is good for me.

Do we really think this way about the community we live in -- or for that matter -- the church? Do we think of our congregation as a cooperative venture where we are in misison together -- and what is good for all of us turns out to be good for each of us?

2. Overheard -- in a discussion regarding the Scriptures. "It is a community book, and it is meant to be heard in a community."

How does it skew our reading of the Scripture that we read them more individually (i.e. daily devotions) than communally (group Bible study)?

3. At a church-based organizing event, at least half of the people gathered were hispanic. It seemed that the anglo churches had to work hard to convince people to give up a Sunday afternoon to come together to worship and to be re-energize to work for justice. But not the hispanics. The woman sitting next to me turned to me with some awe, and said, "Why did so many come?" I replied, "Probably because they know they can't do it alone. We still think we can."

4. Overheard -- a bishop's assistant, talking about churches in the city that need to re-develop. But they're not quite ready, because, "they haven't died enough yet." An old man in a nursing home, asking about the condition of the small town he grew up in, which is slowly returning to prairie. He shakes his head and says, "There's just no use for the small towns any more." And suddenly I realized that he was not talking just about small towns. He was talking about himself. There's no use for me -- not in the world the way it is now.

5. But it shall not be so among us.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Digging in the dirt

Tonight I did something I haven't done in a long long time.

I planted a garden.

It's a small garden. Just a few herbs. Parsley, two kinds of thyme, tarragon, one tomato plant (an afterthought). I've been saying I wanted to have an herb garden for a long time. I tried planting a few herbs in a pot a few years ago, but they all died when we went on vacation. Every year I say I'm going to plant something. Every year I don't. I look at my huge yard, overgrown peonies, weeds on the south end of the yard, saplings growing by the side of the house, and I sigh. The job seems too big. So I don't do anything. 'It's all or nothing,' I say, 'and I choose nothing.'

This year, again, I told myself that I would do SOMETHING. This time I also told New Friend, who is a fantastic gardener. Really. We went to an open house for her daughter a couple of weeks ago, and she had beautiful flowers everywhere. I think gardening is a spiritual experience for her. She also has some tomatoes on the balcony.

Back in South Dakota, I did a little gardening. Not a lot, and mostly it was vegetables. I had great rhubarb, but I couldn't take credit for that. I just stopped mowing it down. I had a few peas one year, got all excited and planted twice as many the next. The rabbits ate them all. Carrots were my specialty. I loved growing carrots. Some of them looked kind of funny, but they tasted great. In fact, my neice and nephew who were pre-schoolers and didn't eat vegetables willingly, liked to eat "Diane's carrots." "Are these Diane's carrots? Ok, we'll eat them then."

I don't know if my vegetable garden was quite as much the spiritual experience as my friend's garden is. I know I loved having vegetables to eat and to share. I loved to watch them grow. But for some reason, I never did anything with a garden here. I used the excuse: I am too busy. And I am busy. But I think it still might be an excuse.

Anyway, at Eastertime, I said, after Easter I would like some help getting started in gardening. She encouraged me to start small. I said I would call her after Easter, when it wasn't so busy. But I didn't. In my defense, I didn't really seem to be any less busy after Easter.

I had pretty much convinced myself that it was too late to do anything ... just like I do every year. But I had promised to call her, and I finally did. She said, "It's not too late. There is always something you can do." Wise words. And she also said, "start small."

So she came over tonight, and we plotted out just a small area to plant a few herbs, and one tomato plant (an afterthought). I thought it was too late to plant a tomato, but she said it's never too late.

We bought a new big shovel, some peat moss, some compost, and a few plants. We plotted out what would go where. She promised to bring over some oregano on the weekend. I promised to try to find some basil tomorrow. Then she was supposed to leave: she had a bathroom plumbing problem and someone coming to the house. But she just started digging down with the shovel.

I said, "I think you have to go." I felt a little guilty. She was doing some of my hard work for me. She said, "I know. But this is more fun."

This is more fun. I have been thinking about that ever since. Getting all of the sapling roots and the weeds up (some roots were really deep), turning the soil: to me, this was hard work. To her, it was fun. She turned the shovel the first time, and she said, "You have good dirt."

I have a couple of books on gardening, one even on starting an herb garden. I have a book, or books, about a lot of things. I love books, maybe more than life itelf. But the book didn't make me start a garden. My friend, who sees possibilities in dirt, even before the roots are in the ground, made me start a garden.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scout has been tagged!

Molly has tagged Scout! That means that she has to come up with 8 random facts/habits about herself. So I'm letting Scout at the computer for a little while. She thinks she is the world's cutest, smartest dog, and shouldn't have any problems coming up with fact about herself. So, with Diane's help, here are Scout's 8 facts/habits:

1. I am a girl dog. Many people think that because my name is Scout, I am a boy. I just don't see how they can't see how pretty and delicate I am. Can't they tell I'm a girl? I was named "Scout" after the girl in the book, To Kill A Mockingbird. I haven't read it, but one of my cool human brothers has. I was almost named: Grateful Dawg. I am grateful that I wasn't! (and so is mom)

2. My mom is a golden retriever. She's a very nice dog who goes to a nursing home and helps the patients there sometimes. I have never met my dad, but I hear that he is part husky. I suppose you could say that I (and my 7 brothers and sisters) were an accident. But I don't think so.

3. My best friend lives next door. She is a goldendoodle and her name is Sadie. She is still a puppy, but is still a very nice dog. Sometimes we just run back and forth on our own side of the fence, and sometimes we get to play together in my yard! She lets me win all the games. That's why I like her.

4. I like all food. I am not picky at all. I like kibble, but I also like chicken necks and ground turkey. I ate a toad once (a little one). It was just there, in the dark, so I I gobbled it up before mom could stop me. I have also eaten a banana or two (not the peel). Mom doesn't know how I do that. I'm not telling

5. I have been to Chicago, where the Dog People live, and also to the North Shore. Both of them are great places for dogs. They have cool dog parks in Chicago. And the Dog People who live there are really nice and have lots of treats and toys for me to play with! Also, I have dog cousins in Chicago: Kramer, Sam, Gabe, and Luna (who I have not me yet). And a lot of dogs visit the North Shore too. I am now friends with all of them

6. I love it when it snows! I love to roll in the snow! In fact, once when we were up in the North Country this spring, I discovered that they still had snow there and I got so excited that I rolled around in the snow and snapped off my leash! I ran around and around the hotel several times before mom and dad opened the front door and I just ran in.

7. I just finished taking my first agility class. I am very good at jumping, and at running through the tunnel. The teeter-totter still scares me a little.

8. My mom doesn't know it, but I am going to help her plan a service for Blessing of Animals this fall. I have a lot of good ideas. Woof! Woof!

Scout doesn't know 8 dogs who blog! If a dog reads this, and wants to share, he/she should consider herself tagged. Perhaps MochaJavaPuppy or Rowan the Dog would like to share?

Now Scout is tired and thinks she will take a nap. (heavy sigh)

Monday, June 25, 2007

I used to be a pastor in a small town

... a really small town. The sign seen upon entering the town said, "Population: 90", but it was really 63 people. I learned that because once when I went to vote in an election, we counted all the houses and who lived there. And we came up with 63 people who lived in the town.

My neighbors across the street used to comment sometimes, "Usually you turn on your lights at 7:00, but today you didn't turn them on until 7:30. Are you all right?" Once, on Monday one of the farmers who came to the post office for coffee and doughnuts said, "I saw you leave town yesterday. I thought you were going to turn left. But you turned right. Where'd you go?"

That was in the days when I still had a red Mazda, pretty rare in our neck of the woods. Later on I bought a blue Buick, thinking I would be harder to spot. (However, the day I got a speeding ticket, and the school bus drove by just as I was being ticketed, everyone knew what had happened by the time I got home. A little girl waved to me from the bus.) So the car didn't work as well as I expected. Besides, everyone still knew where I lived.

Whenever there was a fundraiser at one of the schools, there was a steady procession of students to my house. And once, a couple of girls in the town called me frantically, because they needed a ride to the school for a school function, and both of their mothers were working. Another time, a frantic knock on the door brought in a young woman who was hiding from her abusive boyfriend. They lived behind the church.

Now I live in a big city, where people aren't so connected to each other. I think that I can live a more anonymous life. For example, there are millions of tan Toyota Camrys on the road, so people don't know so much whether I am coming or going. I think, anyway. When I go shopping, everybody doesn't know what I bought before I get home.

Lately, though, I've been getting some comments from people who say they see me walking my dog in the morning. They don't wave or honk or anything, so I don't see them. But they see me. And, as it turns out, the next door neighbor -- a nice young couple with a dog, by the way -- are members of my church. We've been having some good, old-fashioned talks across the fence. And yesterday, my extended family and I went out to a local steak house. As soon as I walked in the door, I heard voices, "Pastor!" Two of the young people from my congregation were the greeters. One is entering college this fall. Our waitress was also the granddaughter of members of the congregation.

Maybe I'd just better get used to it. From now on, I'll never really be anonymous -- blue Buick or tan Toyota, dark glasses or clerical collar.

Or, it's just about time for a vacation

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Sermon for June 24, 2007
based on Luke 8:26-39

I still remember, after many years, the day I opened a door and entered Ward 7. It was called "Women's Locked" -- and it was part of the mental health care facility in Cherokee, Iowa. This was part of my training to be a pastor. some students go to nursing homes. Some go to hospitals. I ended up (with several others) in Cherokee. It felt strange, that first day, to walk in and hear the door close, and lock behind me. I had to remind myself that I had a key. And it felt strange because I saw things -- and heard things -- that had been outside my experience until that day. Oh, it's not that I had never encountered mental illness before. I had seen the bag ladies on the bus, and the people who hng out at hte bus depot, using newspapers as blankets. I had worked downtown, and on occaison I would walk by someone talking to himself or herself, in a loud voice. And of course, I had heard of people who were a little "touched" (as they call it) -- sometimes because of sad experiences they had had. I had heard of one man, a WWII vet, who couldn't keep the seasons straight and hwo wore a heavy coat in the summer, and sandals in the winter. But these were things I always saw out of the corner of my eye. I was simply an observer of human nature then. Now it was another story. I walked into the ward, and I thought I had entered another country. And I also knew that this time I wasn't simply an observer. No, I was there to engage in conversation -- to a certian extent, to develop relatinoships. But that wasn't easy to do. Because, I'll admit it: I was afraid. I wanted to keep my distance. I didn't wnat to be touched by the women of Ward 7.

I wonder if this is how Jesusand his disciples might have felt when they first entered the land of the Gerasenes. First of all, they were in Gentile territory -- a strange and unfamiliar country for them. It was a land of unclean animals and a lan of unclean people they were stepping into. And then -- one of their first sights upon entering is thisw wild man who has been living in the tombs. He runs up to them and falls at Jesus' feet, and he even knows Jesus' name! That has to be disturbing to the disciples, who I imagine, like me, want to keep their distance. Even the people who know him, the people who live in the city, want to keep their distance. this man isn't just a little "toched." He is out and out crazy.

A bible study group last week flat-out called the story "weird." I suppose that they were talking about the herd of pigs, and their untimely demise. A Jewish audience might have thought this stor funny -- or apt. The unclean animals receive the unclean spirits, and are destroyed. but certainly to the swineherds who witnessed the event it wasn't funny. It was frightening.

Frightening too is the man himself. He is filled with demons. When asked, he says his name is "Legion." But what does that mean? Luke's readers would have understood a "legion" in terms of the Roman army -- a legion contained 5,000 - 6,000 men. and they would have understood hte compariosn: just as the Roman legions were occupying Palestine, so was this man Occupied. He had been taken over by another Power -- and not for good. Like those haunted by war, those marred by childhood experiences -- he is occupied by forces that are bent on destroying him. He is "touched." And no one wants to touch him.

But what is the most frightening thing of all in this story? Is it the sight of the man, running through the tombs? Is it the sight of the herd, going over the cliff? No, it's the sight of the man, clothed and in hisw right mind, sitting at thefeet of Jesus. When the people of the town see this man, formerly filled with demons -- now touched by the power of Jesus -- they are sezied with a great fear! -- and they ask Jesus to leave them. Here they see this hopeless case of a man, formerly shunned and kept away from the community, and he's clothed and tlaking and he's even making sense -- and the result is that the people are so afraid of Jeuss that they want him to leave. Which he does. Kind of. But we'll get to that.

To me, that's the most puzzling aspect of the story. I can't for the life of me figure out why people would witness this spectacular healing, this spectacular display of power, and then ask Jesus to leave. what's wrong with THOSE PEOPLE... is what I want to say. Aren't they happy that this man is put right? Now he is not longer "touched" by demons -- he has, instead, been touched by Jesus, and the people seem to be happier with him as a crazy man running around naked, someone they old shun, and lock up, and talking about, saying, "I'm not perfect, but at least I'm not like him." You see, they want to keep their distance. -- they don't want to be touched. Just like me -- and the women of Ward 7 -- women's locked.

thinking about my own experience, I think I understand a little of what the townspeople feel when they see the formerly possessed man, now perfectly sane and sitting with Jesus They used to be able to keep him separate, keep him at a distance, and believe that they were different. He's crazy, we're not. He needs help, we don't. He's homeless, we're not. He's poor, we're not. He's 'legion', occupied by the forces of evil. He's a sinner -- we're not. That's what they have been able to say to themselves. They have been able to keep their distance. they haven't been touched -- they haven't touched him. and that's all right with them. Because they are allowed to keep their illusions about themselves.

Oftentimes when we confess our sins in this place, we use this phrase, "we are in bondage/captive to sin and cannot free outselves." do we really know what we are saying when we say these words? We are saying that we are occupied by a power which is bent on destroying us. And that is true of us as individuals, and as a community as well. It might be easy for us to see this in the lives of those bound by poverty or homelessness, fear or loneliness. It might be easy for us to see this bondage in the lives of those "touched" by war, or disease, or abuse. And it might be easy for us to see this bondage in the lives of those whose personal choices have been different than our own. But the truth is, we are not so different from the wild man, who was haunted by demons. We too are in bondage to sin... And if we allow ourselves to be touched by him, we might come to realize that.

If you think about it, it's not such a surprise that the demon-possessed man wants to leave his life behind and to with Jesus. The surprise is that Jesus tells him, "no." Jesus tells him to stay behind where people are sitll afraid of him, and be a witness to what God has done for him. Jesus tells him to stay among the people who might still think he's a little crazy. He is to stay and witness to the power of sin -- and to the power of God. He is to stay and be the presence of Jesus for them and the power of God touching their lives.

That first day I came to the Locked Ward, I didn't know what to do. I wasn't sure how to approach another person. I didn't know what to say. I was afraid. But a young woman there approahced me, and sat down to talk to me. She treated me as if I were her pastor. she talked to me about her life, and aobaut her fears, about what it was like for her to live in this place. I'll be honest -- at first, she didn't make much sense. but she approached me every tie I came on the war, and after awhile, I learned to hear her, and to understand her. I understood there was a connection between us. We were two sinners, bound by sin, forgiven by God. We both had fears, we both had hopes. We both had experienced failure, and success, love and sorrow. I had been touched by her life -- and by others.

I used to go to a certain nursing home about once a month, and do a church service there. I would pray and sing and play the piano, read scriputres and give a short message. I noticed the first time I was there, a younger woman sitting next to a very old woman, singing ad worshiping with her I found out at the end of the service, this was one of my parish members. she came out to be with her mother-in-law every week. At the end of the service, the veryfirst time I came, she introduced herself to me, and she gave me a piece of advice. She said, "Don't just conduct the worship service and leave. Take time to touch them. You need to touch them. They need to be touched." So, on her advice, I went around to everyone there, and introduced myself, and shook their hands.

"You need to touch them. They need to be touched." This could be said of all of us -- homeless and living on the street, lonely and looking for community, hungry and looking for ameal to share, grieving and living among the tombs. The truth is -- we all need to be touched. We all have fears that bind us, and forces that occupy us, and sins that cling to us. We need to be touched and we need to touch others -- to tell them that god is with them, to witness to the love that will not let us go, but walks right into the cemetery to set us free from sin and death.

"Go and tell others what god has done for you," he tells us. If we do, people might think we're a little crazy. But that's all right. We need to be touched. By Jesus. and by one another. AMEN

For two other takes on this text, see
What's the Buzz?
A New Order

Great Moments in Ministry

1. One Sunday I was just at the beginning of what I thought was a pretty incredible sermon. Not long after the first sentence or two left my lips, I thought I was hearing Another Voice. At first it seemed rather indistinct, but then it became clear! It was the Senior Pastor! He had left the sanctuary to go and make a phone call to a member of his family, who was ill. Except that he forgot to turn off his microphone. I tried a couple more sentences, but found that I wasn't getting a word in edgewise, while out of the corner of my eye I spied an intrepid usher, darting out the back door. A minute later the Voice died down. I found a suitable quip, recovered my wits, and went on. The sermon's title, I believe, was "Hearing voices." At least two people thought the gaffe was intentional.

2. Another time, out at the prairie parish, the youth were leading the service. They had just gotten back from a trip to New Orleans. They were sharing prayers, lessons, the sermon, and even some of the songs. I was to accompany them on the piano. At one of my churches, they had an old piano and round piano swivel stool right in the chancel, although it was rarely used. (The organ was up in the balcony, in the back.) I sat down at the piano, put my foot on the foot pedal (at least in part to show that I was a Real Piano Player) and then thought to adjust the seat a little backward. As I lifted the seat I heard an audible gasp from the congregation ... because they knew something that I did not. They knew that the top had come off of the piano stool. I had a rather inelegant landing, but we went on with the service nonetheless. When I recounted this story at my other church, someone remarked "how come nothing good ever happens at our church?"

3. A couple new to the church wanted to have their little boy baptized. We were in the beautiful sanctuary together, surrounded by stained glass windows of the eight days of creation. We were rehearsing the baptism service, when suddenly, a mouse ran across the floor! The family joined the church anyway, and is now quite active.

4. Today the special music was a duet written by Natalie Sleeth and performed by a couple at our church. They have been singing together for many years. He also chants sometimes on Sunday morning, and sings often for the Matins service we have on Wednesday morning. They both have beautiful voices, and have sung together for many years. He has early onset Alzheimers, though, and sometimes he makes a mistake, sings the wrong words, chants the wrong line. Today, however, they both sang perfectly. The song is called "Hymn of Promise" or "In the bulb there is a Flower." At the close of the first verse are these words:

In the snow and cold of winter
there's a spring that waits to be
unrevealed until its season
something God alone can see.

"For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us." 2 Corin. 4:7

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday five: hot town, summer in the city

Reverend Mother writes:

...or town, or suburb, or hamlet, or burg, or unincorporated zone, or rural area of your choice---pretty much anywhere but the southern hemisphere, it's summer. (Australians and others, consider this an invitation to take a break from winter for a while.)

1. Favorite summer food(s) and beverage(s)

We can eat strawberries any time now, but I always associate them with summer, because my grandparents had a huge strawberry patch on their farm when I was little. I loved to pick and eat the strawberries -- still do. A few years ago we travelled to Bayfield, and spent an afternoon picking fresh strawberries. Better than anything in the store! As well, I love raspberries, corn on the cob, fresh lemonade, wine coolers.

2. Song that "says" summer to you. (Need not be about summer explicitly.)

Chicago's: Saturday in the Park
... I think it was the 4th of July
wonderful images of summer in the city...
And I associate it with weekend family camping trips, where we had the transistor radio blaring while running back and forth to the lake

3. A childhood summer memory

evening picnics by the lake, meeting my dad after work by one of the city lakes, bringing a picnic basket and sharing sandwiches. Simple pleasures are the best.

4. An adult summer memory

the caravan of cars travelling out to the Black Hills, with my sister and her husband, my mom and dad, and my neices and nephews. We stopped in the Badlands, where it was about 98 in the shade, but in the Black Hills it was a cool 72! The neices and nephew were pre-school age and like the buffalo and the Fairy Tale Park best. It was a wonderful time

5. Describe a wonderful summer day you'd like to have in the near future. (weather, location, activities)

I'd just like to spend a lazy day at the lake again someday. (so near, and yet so far)

Optional: Does your place of worship do anything differently in the summer? (Fewer services, casual dress, etc.)

We have only two Sunday services instead of three, and the 8:00 a.m. one is out on the lawn unless it rains. There is still communion every Sunday (even outside), but the outdoor service is more casual, with a lot of rowdy hymn-singing.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mending Wall

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise. -- Gal. 3:27-29

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pine, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors?" Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to him,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says it again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

--Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall. "Good fences make good neighbors."
When have you not loved a wall?
When has a fence made a good neighbor?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Church Book Club

Our church book club is reading Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler. We'll be discussing it next Thursday. I'm not as far on it as I would like to be. Sometimes I have trouble pacing myself. Also, (and I don't know if anyone else has this problem) I often have too many books going at the same time. I am also working on a lovely little book called God's Echo, by Sandy Sasso. It's all about reading Scripture with the help of Midrash. I highly recommend it. I'm also re-reading some of George Herbert's poetry. And Three Cups of Tea. You see the problem.

Our book club has read other books by Anne Tyler. We really enjoyed Saint Maybe, a few years ago. We are a church book club, but we don't just read religious books. We don't even mostly read religious books. We did read Walter Wangerin's book Paul a few years ago, and we get off on Anne Lamott, but being a "religious book" is not a requirement of our church book club. My feeling is, if a book is at all good, there will be some intersection with issues of faith: ethical issues or issues of forgiveness and reconciliation, human evil, grace.

The woman who chose this month's book is a new member of our group. She's a lovely woman, and really excited to see the selections we have chosen in the past. After she picked this one, though, she called me up just to make sure it was ok. "Why?" I asked. Seems a friend had asked her what a "church book club" was doing reading a book "like that." Not to give away the plot, but the main character leaves her family not too far into the book. "Runs away from home," might be one way of putting it. It just didn't seem like a very Christian thing to do.

I'm not sure I could be a member of a "church book club" that only read "churchy" books. The Bible, properly read, is the least "churchy" book of all. None of the juicy parts are edited out. David with his adultery, Solomon with his idolatry, all the evil kings and the weird prophets. Abraham and Sarah and Hagar -- depending on which part of the story you read, they are saints or victims or sinners. It's too bad that the Bible is so daunting. There are parts of it that are actually hair-raising.

I'm sure that we'll find traces of God as we read Ladder of Years this month. We'll find estrangement and forgiveness, sin and redemption, the complicated dances of relationships that Anne Tyler does so well.

And I'm sure that we'll find traces of God in our lives as well... not just the hour or so we spend in church, or even the numerous volunteer hours we put in, for those who are so inclined. But even in our non-church lives, in our everyday, working, serving, playing lives, we'll find estrangement and forgiveness, sin and redemption, the webs of destruction we so often weave, and even Grace.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Five Things I Dig About Jesus

this is from John Smulo's blog: I am to share 5 things I dig about Jesus and then tag 5 people, also to leave a link in the "comments" of those other blogs so that we can keep track of what's been shared. So: here goes:

1. Friend of sinnners. Need I say more?

2. Shared with the dogs the crumbs that fell from the master's table.

3. Had women as the first witnesses and proclaimers of his resurrection.

4. Is often found, even now, in the unlikeliest of places, and with the unlikeliest of people. Not a fair weather friend, only with you when you are succeeding. Sticks around when you are down and out (see also: Theology of the Cross)

5. Was raised from the dead. Now raises the dead. (Good news if you are dead.)

Of course, there's more. In the meantime, I tag:

b. Barb

d. lj

The History of Scout, "Scout Is Not A Bad Dog"

Maybe people are getting tired of this: if so, let me know!

So, when we last left Scout and her owners, she had gotten a devastating diagnosis: she was "aggressive." When she wasn't being miss totally sunny personality, sucking up to everyone (which was most of the time), she would suddenly turn on us over something like a measuring cup or a bar of soap. The people at the Humane Society told us that if we didn't want to get rid of our dog, we did have to do something, because, they said ominously, "It will get worse." (They also said, "Aggression can't be cured, because agression is natural in dogs. It can only be managed.") The something they recommended was the State University's Veterinary Clinic, a doctor of behavioral medicine (sort of a psychiatrist for animals).

If you are referred to the University for treatment, you know that it must be Serious. So we felt some urgency about getting Scout to an appointment as soon as possible. We also felt some urgency because we are getting ready to take a short vacation. Without Scout. We were leaving her in the able hands of J's dog-loving son and his girlfriend. But we wanted to leave them with good instructions. Also, truth be told, I felt sort of nervous about leaving The Puppy.

While we waited for The Big Day, I engaged in some not very helpful behaviors, such as reading up on "Aggression" online. This made me more anxious than ever. There are many people, I discovered, who have opinions about what to do about aggressive behavior in dogs. They have different opinions. And they disagree with each other: violently.

We needed to fill out an extensive questionnaire about Scout's behavior, and submit it online. It wasn't easy to find an open time at the University (there must be other dogs with behavior problems), but we got her in on a Monday about 2 weeks after our fateful appointment at the Humane Society.

At the beginning of the appointment, the veterinary students came in. They did the initial interview and observation of Scout. One of the things they observed was Scout finding the Kleenex box and, one by one, taking each Kleenex out. That was fun. They also observed us saying "No" a lot, after which Scout would stop a behavior for a milli-second, and then go right back and do it again, somewhere else. They watched her playing with toys and jumping all over us and them.

Finally, the Doctor came in, a German woman with a good sense of humor, it turned out. She said she had observed us coming in, at the time we were weighing Scout, and had an idea about at least part of the problem. She observed us both, at the same time, telling Scout to "Sit." She said we were making a lot of noise, and perhaps confusing her, and frustrating her. Then she said one of the things that has stuck with me to this day: "What you have is a very smart dog. What you want is a very dumb dog."

She also said, "Your dog is too skinny," which made me feel like a bad dog-mom. But Scout was still getting sick, and the adult dog food she was getting wasn't enough nutrition for her. So she had her nutrtionist order the puppy version of the food for our local vet. She demonstrated for us something called "Target hand training", which worked more with visual than verbal cues, and also operated mostly on the theory of "positive reinforcement." She said that instead of just taking things away from Scout, we should always "Trade up" for something she wants more. She recommended we use something called a "Gentle Leader" for Scout's jumping. She recommended a book to read that has become one of my favorites: Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson. She promised to send us detailed instructions via e-mail for "Target hand training" as well as the full transcript of the interview and diagnosis. She told us that Scout needs more exercise than we had been able to give her. She had a lot of excess energy (and still, remember, the cast).

She also told us that, at least for a while, we were not allowed to give any verbal commands to Scout. Everything had to be done via hand training. We could say her name, and praise her, but we couldn't command her verbally.

Then she said another thing that I will always remember, something that kept me going when things looked grim: "Scout is not a bad dog."

The cost: $500.00

To be continued (if anyone is interested)... "Bad mom"

Monday, June 18, 2007


I am not anonymous. When I started to "blog," I used "pastor diane" for a few days, then I dropped "pastor", but used my whole name in the "about me" section of my blog. When I first blogged, I even told people in my congregation about it, thinking they might read what I write. I think a few of them do, but I don't know for sure. I didn't really think about being "anonymous" then.

I thought about "blogging" for a long time before I started actually to do it. I started thinking about it because a) my step-son, who is a writer and journalism major, started talking about his blog, 2) I read about the "revgals", women in ministry who started a webring, 3) I read about "blogging" in a book called Writing to Change the World, by Mary Pipher, 4) I wanted a venue to get me writing again, 5) I wanted to "get out there" in some way. I didn't do it because 1) I didn't have any idea how to start a blog. I thought I needed special software and would be creating my own web-site. 2) I am not awfully computer literate. I know how to do word-processing. I don't know from hyper-links.

I bugged Journalism step-son for a long time, "teach me how to start a blog." Finally he gave me I kept it on my desk for about 6 months, before one afternoon, I started. I started with an article I had submitted to our local newspaper. I had never done anything like that before, and of course, they didn't print it.

After blogging for oh, about 5 days, I discovered that many bloggers are anonymous. Maybe most are. So why didn't I think of that? Sometimes I kick myself now. There are things perhaps that I could write about if I were anonymous. It really would then be an on-line journal, and I could get advice from my new virtual friends. And I am enjoying the "virtual community" of bloggers I have discovered who read and encourage one another.

I tell myself that I chose to use my name because I think of this as a public venture. When you go pubic, you always have to choose -- what is safe to reveal (for yourself and for others) and what you need to hide. Those of us who use our names are still anonymous, in some ways. My secret desire has always been to write a book, and get it published. And of course, I would never use a pseudonym if I published a book. There's a part of me who wants to be famous -- maybe not with my picture on the book jacket, but at least with my name on the cover.

But RealLivePreacher went public too, but without his real name. His desire was purer, perhaps. His writing is strong, and poignant. I could have done that. I could have written for the pure desire of it, just put it out there without a name, and seen what happened.

But I didn't.

I think that all of us, whether we are "anonymous" or not, are always choosing: what will we share, and what will we hide? This is of course based both on considerations about ourselves and others. At a blog I discovered recently, the author pointed out that in order to remain anonymous, she needs to make sure she doesn't share certain things about herself. I had never thought of that before.

I still blog because I want to write, to go public with my thoughts, ideas, opinions. I fancy that others will find them edifying, maddening, enlightening. I hope so, anyway. And I remind myself that this task, done well, takes a certain amount of courage: whether I am anonymous or not. It takes courage to be honest, really honest about ourselves and about the world.

And I want to remind myself that there are people who are anonymous because nobody knows them or cares about their fate, because they don't have a voice in the world. They don't choose to be anonymous, and anonymity isn't safe for them. Think Darfur. There are times when it is safe to be anonymous (fleeing domestic violence). And there are times when it is dangerous. Help me to remember that.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

This post is to wish my dad (seated in the back, singing along with my mom) a Happy Father's Day! Of course, he doesn't look like this now: now he has Parkinsons disease and arthritis; he uses a walker. And his hair is still wavy, but it's all grey. He still likes to sing, though. Even though it's Sunday, I don't believe my mom and dad are singing hymns in this picture. They often liked to sing the top forty from an old book of standards that my mom had. I remember songs like: Beautiful Brown Eyes (even though everyone in our family has blue eyes) and Jim, and Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? Also: You Always Hurt The One You Love.

I don't want to give you the impression that my dad didn't like to sing hymns too, though. He had his own copy of the (then) red hymnal, which often sat on the piano. Once (only once that I remember) my mom and dad decided to skip church. They were sitting in the living room in their bathrobes, reading the newspaper, and my sister and I were standing in the middle of the living room, singing the liturgy out of my dad's red hymnal. (She still goes to church, too.) (I don't want to give my brother short shrift. But I don't remember where he was during that particular home worship service.) We just couldn't have Sunday without a good Kyrie.

I remember looking through my dad's wallet one time. Along with baby pictures of us, he had a couple of old business cards, one with a little evangelism message on the back: CH_ _ CH. What's missing? UR. Not subtle, but he was doing his part as a businessman. His older brother had become a minister, and I think through that, my dad's faith deepened too. He also liked to read us Bible stories before we went to bed, often from Kenneth Taylor's The Bible in Picture for Little Eyes.

We don't make much ado about Father's day in church these days; there are so many children who don't have a dad, or at least don't have a dad who is active in church. There is also the problem of all of the father-language for God. And I get that: I am one of those who wants to expand our language for God, so that we more accurately reflect the truth of Genesis 1, that all of us were created in God's image.

Today after church I stopped in at the hospital. One of our older members had fallen and fractured a rib, and also punctured his lung. I happened to ride the elevator up with his daughter. He was doing much better today, but was very sleepy still from all the medication. We woke him up, and reminded him that today was Father's Day. We sang part of a stanza of "This is my Father's world." I could tell he was a good dad. I could tell by his daughter's devotion. I also know that he cared for his wife for many years as she had Alzheimer's disease.

So today I want to say to my own father: thank you for being a good dad. Thank you for sharing your faith with me. Thank you for sharing your questions, when you wondered what God was up to. Thanks for the Bible stories and the prayers, and for making us listen to mom. Thanks for bringing us to church every week, and worshiping with us too. Thanks for helping us to know God's love and forgiveness. You aren't perfect, but because of you I know that no one is perfect, but that God embraces all of us with love.

And oh yes, most of all, thanks for the music. "Have I told you lately that I love you? -- Well darlin', I'm tellin' you now."

Happy father's day!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Four Biblical Marys

I have one more reflection for Miriam, based on the story of her disgrace in the wilderness.

I once called Miriam "the first uppity woman" in a Bible study, based on the story from Numbers about how she and Aaron went to God, complaining about Moses' leadership. After all, they reason, hasn't God called all three of them? Aren't they a team? Why is Moses getting all of the credit, all of the respect? It seems that although they both stepped over a line in their complains abut Moses, only Miriam is punished. Only Miriam is afflicted with a skin disease and forced to live outside of the community for seven days. Hence the title: First Uppity Woman. First Woman to Take More Authority Than She Is Given. Let This Be A Lesson to Us All. Especially women.

And yet. Miriam, Moses and Aaron are named together in Micah 6 as the three leaders of the people Israel, the three prophets who led the people out of slavery and into the promised land. And yet. All of the Marys in the New Testament are named after this larger-than-life character, this woman who took more authority than she was given. And yet. In countless midrash, her life and her deeds are recalled.

There was a cost to Miriam's over-reaching. But there was also a prize. That prize is the legacy of leadership: the leadership of a woman who sees and who sings, a woman who reaches and who sometimes overreaches. A woman who dares live large -- confident of her place in the justice and the mercy of God. Let This Be A Lesson To Us.

Prayer: Gracious God, make me unafraid to reach for power, unafraid to reach for respect, to do the work you call me to do. Help me to be a seer and a singer, a prophet and a leader. In the name of your Son. Amen

And now, on to Mary:

The 2nd Mary is Jesus' mother. The Virgin Mary. Mother of God. "Theotokos." God-bearer. Who is she... really? She is often pictured wearing white, or blue, symbols of purity, honored for her chastity and her obedience to God. But who is she... really? Our most frequent portraits of her are as a young girl, bowing her head to the angel, straining to hear the incredible Word. And often when we hear her, we hear her singing, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."

But she is also a namesake of Miriam, for she is a prophet. When we hear her speak of God raising the poor and lowly, and sending the rich away empty, we are to hear the prophets' words echo in our minds, rippling out. She (along with Elizabeth and Zechariah) is the first fruits of the outpouring of the Spirit, predicted in Joel, "in the last days I will pour our my Spirit on all flesh...".

She is "theotokos," God-bearer, as the Greek church calls her. But she is as we are, "god-bearers" -- called to be bearers of God, bearers of hope, to a barren world.

Next edition: Three reflections on Mary

Note: the top illustration is from the St John's Bible

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday five: books, books, books

Sally over at the "RevGals" writes:
I've just returned from a meeting in Cambridge so I'm posting this late here in the UK (it is 3:45pm).. because I took the opportunity of a free afternoon in Cambridge's wonderful book shops... I only bought a few- and they were on sale- very restrained for me!!!

So with my head full of books I've seen and a long wish list in my mind, I bring you a Friday Five on books!!!
Diane writes:
I wasn't going to play a "friday five" this week, but I peeked over and was taken by the subject: books. My subject from way back. Here are the questions:
1. Fiction what kind, detective novels, historical stuff, thrillers, romance????
As an English major, I am a lover of "serious" fiction (i.e. Gilead, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Charming Billy. My favorite "genre" is mysteries. I especially like Nevada Barr, Rita Mae Brown and "Sneaky Pie" (the cat), and the "Peter Decker/Rina Lazareth series" starting with "The Ritual Bath." Oh yes, Tony Hillerman, as well.
2. When you get a really good book do you read it all in one chunk or savour it slowly?
The best way to read a mystery is in one sitting, if you are able, and far into the night, if it's not too scary. I don't always have the time for that.
3. Is there a book you keep returning to and why?
It's schmaltzy, but one of my first "big" books was "Little Women". I fantasized about being an author, like Jo. So I keep returning to that story. Also for some reason, certain parts of "To Kill a Mockingbird." (Scout, our dog, is named after Scout, the heroine.)
4. Apart from the Bible which non-fiction book has influenced you the most?
This is hard. I'm not sure this is the one that influenced me "the most" but the one I'm thinking of now is called "Shantung Compound." It's by Langdon Gilkey and is the story of his imprisonment as a prisoner of war during World War II. But it's not just about him. Now that I'm thinking, both Buber's "I and Thou", and Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" come under that category too.
5. Describe a perfect place to read. ( could be anywhere!!!)
Under a tree. In bed.

Fixing Health Care

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." --Martin Luther King Jr.

Yesterday I attended a meeting regarding the health care crisis in this country. Do you believe there is a health care crisis in this country? There are 46,000,o00 people who do not or cannot get affordable health care here in the richest nation in the world. I heard a few other statistics yesterday, others about disparities between health care for the white community and communities of color. But mostly I heard stories. And I told stories. I heard the story of a pastor whose daughter was denied mental health coverage, and his feelings of betrayal. I heard the story of a man who has to choose between surgery and his home. He is still paying off a $60,000 medical bill. For myself, I know that disparities exist even among clergy, where coverage is often excellent. I know that clergy in rural areas have less access and fewer resources. I know that people in rural areas often have fewer resources -- particularly for mental health coverage.

We heard a few statistics, it's true, but this was not a day for "experts" to come and talk to us about what's wrong with health care, and what we can do about it. For the truth is, we know what's wrong with health care. All we needed to do was begin sharing stories of our own lives and the lives of people we know and care about, to begin to see that this is true. The first task then, is to begin and continue to tell our stories -- to stop giving all of our power to "experts" who tell us what can and cannot be done, who keep us believing that our dreams are impossible to achieve.

We heard the story of Jairus' daughter, and the story of the woman with a flow of blood. We heard the story of her courage in a system that denied her healing. How she reached out and took it. How she didn't wait for "permission." We admitted that most of us are "Jairus" -- most of us have power and access to health care, although there were a few among us who did not. And we admitted that as "Jairus", most of us have more power than we are willing to admit, or use. The catch is, we have to band together. We have to organize. We have to show those in power that we are serious.

In September, there will be a joint meeting of clergy and religious leaders and members of the SEIU. We will be talking about our commitment to changing the health care system. And we are planning to have 500 people at this meeting.

Do you have a story to share about yourself or someone you know who is not treated with dignity by our current health care system? Do you know a child who is a child of God -- but doesn't have access to basic care? Do you know an older person who has fallen through the cracks?

Tell your story. It's true. It's powerful. And it's the beginning of change.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

History of Scout, part 4 "Animal Humane Society"

Do you see this cute picture? Scout is grabbing the measuring cup we used to measure out her food. We are on our way to a nice weekend out of town (up north, if you have to know.) And it seemed like just one of those cute puppy moments until a few seconds after we took the picture, when we tried to take the measuring cup away from her, and she growled and snapped at us. Not funny. It was shocking, actually. We were not prepared for this. And it only had to happen once or twice more for us to feel that SOMETHING WAS WRONG. Or, at the least, that We Were Doing Something Wrong. Another time she grabbed a garbage can paper towel, filled with something, and when I tried to take it away -- same reaction. A couple of times she growled when we tried to pet her. I called the Animal Humane Society for advice -- and also to sign her up for class. Maybe the things we would learn in puppy class, even without "puppy play time" would be enough to stop this scary trend before Scout became a "big dog", with a dangerous habit.

The woman encouraged me to sign up my dog for the puppy classes, which I did. I went to the orientation. But, even with my detailed description of Scout's behavior, she wouldn't give me a definitive answer on the phone. She would need to see Scout, one to one, and do an "assessment." What I really wanted to hear was that Scout was esentially a normal dog, but if we just changed something we were doing, we could nip this behavior in the bud. I just knew that whatever was going on, it must be all our fault, because we were inexperienced dog owners and didn't know how to handle these things. I also knew that between these scary incidences, Scout was a happy, outgoing, energetic puppy. She had charmed everyone she met up north, because she was so cute and curious. (The pink cast didn't hurt either).

I went to the puppy class orientation, where I got reams of information on socialization, worried that I was already behind, and was somewhat reassured by all of the stories told about disobedient and annoying puppies. I was sure everything was going to be okay. I also found out that the class -- and a lot of classes these days -- worked off of a "positive reinforcement" model, and used food mostly for training (sort of an issue with my dog's recurrent bouts of sickness).

The night before our "assessment" Scout was sick again. I had no idea what to feed her. The vet, who had, up to this time, told us not to worry, actually said, "This is not normal." They ordered a low-residue dog food for her, with one problem: it was not for puppies. It was for adult dogs. She was actually beginning to look skinny.

The woman at the Humane Society was really nice, and you could tell she loved dogs. She did a lot of tests on Scout that I couldn't begin to understand. Some I was sure that Scout was failing, like when she would hold Scout in different positions and Scout would put up a big fuss. "Don't worry," she said. "She's just saying that she doesn't like it." She also told me that some of the unique sounds that Scout made were "Husky sounds." She said, "Huskies have a lot of sounds -- not just barks." Then we came to the moment of truth. We practiced giving her things and taking things away. Sometimes it went all right. A couple of times when Scout was approached, she would growl, which was a little puzzling. Then the trainer wanted to do the food bowl test. I first had to call the vet, to make sure it was ok for Scout to eat something. Then we put a little food in a bowl, and let Scout approach. She started to eat. The trainer got out the dummy hand and had the hand pet her. No reaction. That was good. Then the hand reached to the bowl. "Can I see it?" The trainer said. As soon as the hand reached into the bowl, Scout went ballistic! She growled and snarled and attacked the hand.

The trainer shook her head. "But she hasn't eaten anything today." I wanted to defend my dog. "Maybe she was just hungry." "No," the trainer said, " she has other choices of behavior." She assessed Scout as engaging in "spacial and resource guarding." She said she has seen other dogs with this behavior, but "it's unusual to see it in a puppy this young."

She also told me that there were options for working with this behavior, but that behavior modification was difficult, time-consuming and expensive. She tried to make me feel better by referring me to a wonderful doctor at the University of Minnesota. She agreed with me that Scout had many fine qualities. She had seen many scarier dogs.

But it was the last thing she said that stayed with me. "If she came in here to be placed, and she tested like this, I wouldn't put her on the floor." I knew what she meant. She meant that if Scout had come to them as a puppy, she would be euthanized.

After her mid-afternoon meal, Scout curled up and went to sleep in the car. As for me, I cried all the way home.

To be continued.... "Scout is not a bad dog."

Monday, June 11, 2007

I've Been Tagged

I have been tagged by no less than three (three for the Trinity) people: mompriest, lj, and serena. Good grief! Talk about overkill. Soooo...I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

3.At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. (although I think it might be difficult for me to come up with 8... so many people I "know have already been tagged!)

4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So here goes:

1. I'm left-handed. This has caused a few problems along the way, learning to knit, for example, ironing (I discovered that I should stand on the other side of the ironing board), and learning to tie my shoelaces, of all things. My mom couldn't figure out how to teach me how to do it, so every day of Kindergarten she would just do it for me. Until the day we had "a shoe-lace tying contest" at Kindergarten, and I couldn't do it. The little boy who lived two houses down from us, Dan, sat me down on the curb in front of our house and taught me.

2. I wanted to be an author starting from the age of about 7. I used to write my own Dick and Jane stories -- thought mine were more interesting. I tried short stories, a mystery, poetry, a couple of science fiction stories, and even short plays. My sister illustrated a couple of "works." At various points I would look at past stories, poetry and etc. and discover that they weren't as good as I thought, and then I would throw them away. Now that makes me kind of sad.

3. I type 80 words a minute. My mother told me if I wanted to be a writer, I should learn to type, so I learned. I worked as a typist during the summers through college, as a secretary after college, before seminary.

4. My mother is Norwegian and my father is Swedish, which is considered a mixed marriage in Minnesota. I'm Lutheran through-and-through, although in college I forayed into charismatic religion (I drew the line at being slain in the spirit, though).

5. During my senior year of seminary, I played the part of Eliza in a church production of My Fair Lady. I enjoyed learning two accents. I still passed all of my classes. The first time I drove out to South Dakota, I listened to the sound track and sang all the way out there.

6. I have been a pastor for 13 years. My first churches were in NE South Dakota. I had three small churches that I pastored for about 4 years. I am now an associate pastor in a larger congregation in a first-ring suburb.

7. The first thing I learned to cook was spaghetti. In high school I often cooked supper because my mom was working. We had a lot of spaghetti (and hamburger helper, too). (This does not include the open-face sandwiches I made for my little brother. I used cookie cutters to make shapes out of the lunch meat and cheese -- got it from the Betty Crocker kids cookbook.)

8. I got married for the first (and I hope only) time to a wonderful man (and great composer and guitar player) at 41. I have taken a few detours in life, I guess. I have two step-sons, and I am neurotically attached to my dog.

Okay: I'm going to tag Marsha, Dogblogger, Dorothy (who probably won't play), and Singing Owl. But I'll have to figure out how to tag them tomorrow A.M. I'm also going to tag JWB and leah.

Left Behind

Sunday, June 10
Luke 7:11-17

Most of us are familiar with the popular series of novels called "Left Behind" -- all about the end times. In these books (and I haven't read all of them, I'm sorry to say), those "left behind" are the ones who are not taken up to heaven with Jesus before the great tribulation. (You'll notice I did not say "rapured", because the word rapture is not in the Bible.) So those "left behind" have to be among the saddest, most pitiable people in the world -- right? Except that I'm not sure that they are -- at least in the book. Some of those "left behind" have repented and they are putting on a brave fight against evil -- and the others are the enemies of God -- so we're not supposed to waste our time feeling sorry for them.

But "left behind" can have a different meaning -- and everyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one knows what it means. In the gospel story from Luke, and as well in our lesson from 1 Kings, there is a story of a woman who is "left behind." She is a widow, left with an only son, and now her son has died as well. She is alone in the world. She has no one to support her, and she has no companion in life. she is one of those people that the Scriptures tell us most to look out for: over and over, in the Old Testament and the New, God instructs God's people to care for widowsand orphans, and for the alien who resides in theircountry. "Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed," says the prophet Isaiah. "Defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (1:17) The Psalmist writes: "The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and widow." (146:9 And in the letter of James, we are reminded that "religion that is pure and undefiled before God ... is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress." (1:27)

So what's up with orphans and widows? Why are they lifted up for special concern, for special care? why does God instruct god's people to watch out for them, and why does God become angry when widows and orphans are ignored or neglected or taken advantage of? .... it is simply because they were (especially in those times) the ones who are most often left our and left behind by life; they are the ones who mght feel most deserted by God; they are the ones who live on the edges of the community, where justice can be neglected. Widows, orphans, the stranger among us: God is, above all, concerned about those who are left our and left behind, people who need to know God's healing in time of illness, God's presence in time of grief, and God's provision in time of scarcity.

Gordon was an orphan. He lived in my town, in a tiny house all by himself. He was a grown man, but he had the mind of a child. And I say he was an orphan, although his mother lived in a nursing home in a neighboring town. He went to visit her almost every day, but she didn't know him. She had advanced alzheimers. she didn't know anything. She couldn't even feed herself any more. She had cared for him as a child, and even as an adult, until she became ill. She shielded him from some of the hardness of the world. But even when she couldn't care for him, even when shedidn't know him, she was still there, in the world. He wasn't quite alone.

The nursing home called me one night at 11:30, to say that Gordon's mother had died. Would I go over and tell him, they asked? There was no one else, and they thought he shouldn't get the news by phone. (Looking back, I'm not even sure that Gordon had a phone.)

When I gave him the news, he took out a big white handkerchief and sat, crying like a baby. Now he really was alone. He had no one to care for him -- and no one to care about him. And both of those things are so important. He was "left behind."

So it is with ourwidow in the gospel story today. Her husband had died. And now her son, her only means of comfort and support, has died as well. Any parent who has buried a child will tell you that this is one of the cruelest experiences of life, and so unnatural. Parents should never have to bury their children. As wlel, her son was not her only means of support, of legitmacy, in the world. She had no one to care about her, and no one to care for her.

So Jesus steps in, with words of compassion, and with words of power. We have seen his healing power before this, his compassion for those who are broken and cast our. but today he comes in the name of life; he comes to raise the dead. I heard Jesus referred to lately as one who "sucks the death right out of us." And that's great -- so powerful. Jesus comes into the world to heal, to forgive sins -- and to raise the dead. He sucks death our of us, and replaces it with HIS life. Believe this. Cling to this. But then let us notice this one thing in the story. The focus in the story is not in any way on the one who is raised, and his need to be alive. The focus is on the widow, his mother. Does that strike you as odd in any way? It does me. It makes me consider: what is the purpose of the man's resurrection, anyway? Why was he raised? Was it for his personal and individual benefit? Luke's words tell us: "Jesus.... gave him to his mother."

The purpose of this young man's resurrection is to restore his relationship with his mother... so that she will not be "left behind" in this world, so she will not be a widow or an orphan or a stranger in this world. she will have someone to care about her, and someone to care for her, someone to advocate for her, someone to share her name. The purpose of the young man's resurrection is not to simply ensure a longer life for him ... but it is for the sake of their relatinship, and for the sake of sustaining community and justice.

This tells me two things: one, about eternal life, and one about life right here and now. the purpose of eternal life is not simpoloy to ensure our personal individual immortality. Eternal life is about the great reunion around the banquet table of God. It's about feasting with Jesus -- and with grandma Emma and Aunt Doris, and the bikers for Jesus and the Japanese martyrs. It's about seeing again the babies I've baptized, and the old people I've buried, and all of the people I have never met and can't even imagine belong to the body of Christ. It's about welcoming one another home -- to the place where no one is left behind, where broken relationships are restored, where there is enough to share.

But it also tells me something about life right here and now: our mission as people who live in the promise of God's Kingdom NOW. And our mission is to go out and find those who are left our and left behind -- to tell them and to show them God's care -- to speak up for them -- to be God's presence with them .. to let them know that in God's good grace and in God's provision no one is left out and no one is left behind. We are to stand with people and to stay with people, to open up community, to offer relationships of hope and healing. In our baptism we have been raised to life with Christ. We have receive the assurance of eternal life with him. Our relationship with God has been restored. But this is not just for our own benefit. This life -- this power -- is in us so that we can share healing and hop with others, to restore them to community. Just as Jesus raised the young man and gave him to his mother... so also Jesus raises us ... and gives us to each other... especially to those who are "left behind."

This weekend the new Stephen Ministers went on a retreat together so that they would be prepared to become caregivers. Their ministry is probably much more complex than I can say, but above all one of their responsibilities is to create and sustain a relationship with someone who feels left behind by life: whether by illness or grief, doubt or loneliness. they have received Jesus' resurrected life so that they can be a caring presence for someone else. They will listen and pray and hold someone's hand. They wil open their hearts. And they will do all this in the power and compassion of the one who has raised us to new life.

And what about Gordon? He who became an orphan, alone in the world. What happened to him after his mother died? What became of him? He continued to live all alone in the tiny house, but he was not left behind. Because the small community of people who lived in that town and worshipped at the town church watched out for him and loved him, and stretched their arms around him. They gave him work he could do, and made sure he ate, watched out to see that no one cheated him or took advantage of him. He was their son, and their brother. He was not left out -- because the community of faith knew they had been raised from the dead to do this this. God gave them to each other, and especially to Gordon. And I glorifed God because of them.

Just as the son was raised and given to his mother, so too Jesus was raised and given to us -- so that, in life and in death, in sickenss and in sorrow, we might not be left out or left behind. And just as Jesus was raised and given to us -- so too are we raised to care for widows and rophans, give a voice to those who are powerless, to feed the hungry, to do justice and love kindness.

May others glorify God because of us. AMEN

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Small Signs on Sunday

I will be posting my sermon later today, if I'm up for it. I have a monster cold. I haven't been this congested in years. And I'm not taking it very well. I'm crabby and whiny and kleen-exy all at the same time. I just took Benadryl and hope to nap now, and perhaps get a little perspective back. In the meantime:

1. Today I noticed a visitor at our 8:00 a.m. outdoor service. She was a woman who had come to the church to pray earlier in the week. We are used to having people come to get gas or food money, but she just wanted someone to pray with her, as she had just gotten a hard diagnosis to bear. She hadn't been in a church for a long time, and noticed our (new, light-up) sign. She asked what time our services were -- and then showed up! She said it felt good to pray. I was happy to see her.

2. At 10:00 we had the rhythm instruments out for the beginning of the service, as we often do. We sing some "praise songs" to open worship in the summer. We often have a signer at the service, but we have not enough money for the whole summer, so she didn't come today. This disappointed me, especially when I saw K, a young woman with Cerebral Palsy (I think). She communicates by signing. But she is also awesome on rhythm instruments. She played percussion in the high school band. I went to several concerts because my stepson was also in the high school band. Anyway, while I was fretting about the lack of a signer, I noticed that we were singing "Jesus Loves me" and she was signing. I know some of the signs for that song too, so I signed along. We had a little "sign-along" (not a typo). She ministered to me this morning.

3. Oh, I almost forgot. At our early (outdoor) serivce this morning, a very pregnant (should have given birth 2 days ago) woman came up for communion. She said, "will you bless my baby?" At first I thought I had heard her wrong, with the cold and all. Also, I have never been asked to bless a baby before s/he's born. So I hesitated for a moment, and then, put my hand on her stomach and asked God to bless her baby and keep it safe. What a holy and intimate moment. I was all caught up in thinking, "No one will want me to touch them. I'm contagious."

What are some small moments of grace in your ministry, and your life?