Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Eight Years Together

Today is our Anniversary. So, if I count backwards, I guess I was 42, not 41, when we got married. Oops. I guess I'm trying to be slightly more youthful.

We don't have anything special planned (I don't think so anyway.) I'll let you know if I'm wrong.

I do have a worship meeting tonight. But I'm going to guess it'll be a slightly shorter meeting than usual.

I'm leading it.
Have a toast on our behalf...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Being Different

I may or may not have mentioned before that I am from the Midwest. I even live in the Midwest right now. And I belong to an ethnic persuasian that is pretty common in the Midwest. Which is to say: I fit in here. I pretty much look like I belong. And, as a child, I might even go so far as to say that sometimes I was even invisible.

Now there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. But they are for another post.

Back in the fall of 1981 (so long ago it's a wonder I can even remember it) I went to Japan as a short-term missionary for the LCA. (Lutheran Church in America.) With a few other young American Lutherans, I studied Japanese in Tokyo for a time and then went to the small (by Japanese standards) town of Kumamoto to teach at an all-boys junior and senior high.

For the first time in my life, I had the sensation that I was not invisible. Ever.

Everywhere I went I stuck out. And not because I was so cute (although in the early 80s, I was kind of cute), but because I looked different than almost everyone else, with the exception of the few other foreigners who lived in my town.

In case you think I'm exaggerating a little, all of us had this or a similar experience on occasion: a small child, upon seeing one of us, points and screams, "gaijin!" (foreigner) or, even, if a very small child, bursts into tears.

I had never experienced, on an emotional level, what it felt like to be a minority. I had always had the luxury of being part of a dominant or majority group. I didn't understand why people who were not like me would want to ever be in a group of people just like themselves. Now I thought I had just a little window of insight.

The movie "ET" came out while I was in Japan. The other young teachers and I joked that ET stood for "English Teacher". Sometimes we felt that strange.

So, there were times when we did need to be together, to support each other, to share our experiences with each other, just to let down our guard a little.

But of course, there's a danger in "too much" support, too. If we only went around supporting each other and talking to each other and eating with each other, then we might forget that we were in this place for a purpose, and on a mission.

To share God's love -- God's inclusive love for all of us -- no matter how different we feel, or are.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

"We Are Still Here"

I've been having trouble getting to write this last post about our vacation. We spent most of Thursday at the Acoma Pueblo, "Sky City", between Albuquerque and Gallup. For my husband and his son, this was probably the most powerful, most thought-provoking day of vacation.

I had been to the pueblo before, back in 1993. I went with a bunch of Lutherans from Denver who were in town for the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly. I remember being impressed by the beauty of the mesa, and the ancient history of this oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. But I had heard about a casino now being hyped, and feared that this would somehow detract from the image I remembered.

Nobody can go up to the mesa without a tour guide. There is a road up to the mesa, built in the 1920s for silent films. A bus takes you up to the top, but you can walk down. Usually you can pay a fee and take pictures, but this day was a feast day, and no pictures were allowed on the mesa. We took some at the bottom, though. (the second picture is from my first time at Acoma in 1993).

Our tour started near the old mission church, the church of San Esteban. Our tour guide told us that September 2 was the feast of San Esteban, and that the whole village would celebrate on that day. If anyone happened to be visiting on that day, he said, they would probably be invited to stay for dinner. "And I'm a good cook," he told us.

He told us stories from long ago, about how the first Spanish priests gained the trust of the people and came to live at the pueblo. How some of the things that the Spanish did were good, and others were oppressive. How the priests kept trying to force the people to accept Christianity, but they refused. They did not accept the new religion. They thought theirs was good enough. He told us about the graveyard, and the people buried there, and the hole in the wall to let in the spirits of those who had been taken away to slavery. He told about the black tips on the white crosses, to signify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Then, as we were about to enter the church, he told us to take off our hats, "for you are about to enter a holy place. And I will tell you why."

Inside, he told about the construction of the church, how long it took, how many lives it cost, the people who are buried here. He told more about the people's reluctance to accept Christianity, and how the Spanish finally tried to break their spirit.

They made them build the church over their kiva, the holy place of their religion.

"So," our guide told us, "this place is doubly holy. It is holy for two religions. For finally we came to accept Christianity. We didn't embrace it, but we accepted it. It was a pure religion, but it has been corrupted," he said. "We built this church, but we built it the way we wanted to." And he told us about how they used both sacred Christian images and native images and numbers to create the walls and the art, even to the thickness of the walls.

He encouraged us to take some time in this holy place, to leave our cares and our prayers and our concerns there, because he believed there was power here. "Look at us," he said. "We have come through many things. We have been oppressed, and enslaved, and we have endured and overcome. We are still here."
(the first picture is the Enchanted Mesa. According to legend, the Acoma lived on this mesa first, until a storm swept away their means of getting up and down. A grandmother and granddaughter were stranded on top, and jumped to their deaths rather than starve.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

One Good Thing About Santa Fe

There are dogs everywhere. There are dogs who ride in pocketbooks, and huskies who travel in twos. There are sleeping dogs lying, and good dogs sitting patiently, and dogs looking in shop windows. There are purebreds and mutts alike. How do all the people who come to Santa Fe get their dogs there with them, I wonder? (Ok, I know the little dogs just travel in the carry-ons... but what about the others?)

I know Scout would like it here. Well, maybe she wouldn't like a couple of the really upscale shops. But she would like most of the places, and the food, and the people. And especially, I'm sure she would like the dogs.

Two sights in the plaza I wish I had captured on film: a young woman sleeping on her dog in the middle of the plaza in the middle of the day. And a big black lab, lying on its side, with a grey cat perched on top, living the easy life.

I forgot the camera in the car.

Dog Rescuer

Thank you for all of your prayers and concerns regarding our beloved Scout, who went to stay at a "doggie hostel" for the first time. Unfortunately, she did not get better; she got worse. Last night she was sick during the night. The good people at the hostel believe it was stress, based on the behavior of the previous nights. Again, totally a night-time experience. But she slept all day today in their office.

This evening Husband's older son came and picked her up. She is resting at his house this evening and overnight. He and his roommate, who also likes dogs, will give her plenty of Tender Loving Care. They both get special awards for being "Dog Rescuers." (what would be a good token of appreciation?)

There is so much I still want to see and do here... but I'll be glad to have the "family" together tomorrow.

Santa Fe

I am seriously running out of vacation energy, and still feeling like I will have regrets about all of the things we were not able to see/experience on this too-short vacation. Why didn't we stay longer? you might ask. Ah, it's a long story, trying to get carve out a little time together at the same time. But I digress, and I'm already behind.

Yesterday, we spent the day in Santa Fe, which was a deeply ambivalent experience for me. I remember stopping there briefly in 1993, on a road trip from Denver to Phoenix to see the baby niece (same one who was on the North Shore with us 14 years later). It was the end of the day, we drove down the Old Santa Fe Trail, and walked around and looked in a few closed shop windows. But mostly, I enjoyed going into the old churches and missions, and hearing their stories. The oldest church in the U.S. (San Miguel)! The oldest home in the U.S.! The staircase at the Loretto church! Who knew they were all in charming Santa Fe? I was sad that we didn't get to go into the Palace of the Governors, and hoped to return someday.

So we returned.

We spent a good two hours at the Palace of the Governors, listening to an entertaining but somewhat meandering lecture on the history of New Mexico (imagine going from the 17th to the 20th century in one sentence!). It was worth the price of admission just to find out the real name of Santa Fe (the Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi), and to find out that most of the native "art" you find was made in China, or Indonesia. Except what is sold out in front of the Palace. We enjoyed the exhibits, especially those of ancient Native history and the one on devotional folk art -- so colorful, with bright yellows and reds and oranges. Many of these pieces of art were originally done as thank offerings or for home altars.

We ate at a cool 50s style place called "The Plaza Cafe." They have the phone numbers of all of the appropriate elected officials on the wall, from the local mayor and police chief, to Governor Richardson and President Bush. Almost bought a T-shirt. Thankfully, I restrained myself.

Looked in the windows of St. Francis church in the afternoon, where they were actually having a funeral. Then wandered down to the Georgia O'Keeffe museum, on the advice of Jan. This was dubbed "Best Experience So Far" by artistic step-son. We didn't know much about her abstract art, or her life, for that matter. As for me, I was most taken by a photograph by her husband, a famous photographer named Alfred Stieglitz. It's called, simply, "Steerage", and if I can get up the energy to find it, I'll link to it.

For all that, Santa Fe did not seem as charming this time as it did for me the last. Maybe it's never as good the second time around. But I noticed more this time the Coldwater Creek, the Starbucks coffee, the exclusive and trendy shops catering to those who have money, and tempting any who don't. The city seems to be trying hard to sell itself, and I wondered, after all, how much substance is behind the beautiful facade.

Maybe I'm just getting tired of being a tourist, and longing to be a pilgrim again. But then, what sights would I see if I were a pilgrim instead of a tourist?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Poor Scout!

I probably shouldn't have, but this morning I gave in to my maternal impulses, and called "Dog Days" to see how Scout was doing. First, they put me on hold... for what seemed like a long time. Then they came back to tell me:

The Good News: Scout was even then playing nicely with all of the dogs. There had been no incidences of diarrhea.
The Bad News: Apparently Scout had experienced some stress during the night last night, and chewed through the dog run (metal) that she was in. "We'll have to find something stronger tonight," they told me.

Now, I wouldn't exactly characterize this place as a "kennel." It's a doggie day care place, that has recently begun to offer overnight boarding. The dogs are not put in "kennels" but play all day, and have a little mini living room where they have down time (and tummy rubs, I'm told) in the evening. But they do sleep in these kennels at night.

Scout has, up until now, always gone to someone's house, or had someone stay with her when we travel. She's never been in a facility like this before. She sleeps on the floor in our bedroom usually. When she goes to our friend's house, she sleeps under her bed.

So now I feel bad. I feel bad for Scout, who is waking up lonely in the middle of the night, and trying to find a way to escape. And I feel bad because I don't want the dog place to think ill of my dog. My dog who chews through metal. I don't want them to say: "We don't want her to stay with us any more." I want them to regard her with the same warmth and affection that I do.

Please pray for Scout to have good dreams tonight, and good play time tomorrow.

Taos Pueblo

Yesterday Husband and I were up at the crack of dawn, down in hotel lobby getting breakfast shortly after six. Stepson slept. Meanwhile, we were entertained by an extremely perky hotel employee. Husband wondered if they pay her to sit at breakfast tables and be friendly. We have gotten used to surly workers, but everyone here seems to like their work. Perky employee turned to me at one point and asked, in a charming way, "How do you spell the word 'bought'?"

We headed up to Taos as soon as we could all be roused, but stopped in Santa Fe (where we'll be all day today) and almost got stuck! All we wanted was a cup of coffee and good directions, but there is a HEMP STORE there. A college student's dream. We managed to extricate ourselves and continued on our mission.

While driving up Hwy 68, looking at map and road, commenting on the river, it suddenly occurred to me, "That's the Rio Grande." A kind of slap-myself-on-the-side-of-the-head moment. Remember, I'm from the midwest. In my brain, the Rio Grande only exists in westerns.

We stopped shortly before entering Taos to get an incredible vista of the Rio Grande gorge and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. (I hope I can post some pictures later, but need to ask Stepson how.) Then right afterwards were stuck in one of those awful "follow the pilot car" situations. We were actually stopped for about 20 minutes behind a guy holding up a "stop sign" while he was in contact with the highway authorities.

In Taos, besides seeing the plaza, we stopped at a used book store where I saw a way-too-expensive children's religious book, and Husband and step-son had a good chat with the proprietor. It seems one of the "celebrities" who often comes to Taos is Donald Rumsfeld. Most of the people hate him. He just laughs.

By far, the highlight of the day was the Taos Pueblo (pictured above). It was between that and the Kit Carson house, and there was no contest. The man at the bookstore said it was "cosmic." It was. I don't have words to describe it. It's a holy place, but a place of ordinary and simple life.

We took a scenic route back down to Santa Fe, through Kit Carson National Forest. It really is the Land of Enchantment.

And, of course, now even the humble Travelodge has wireless internet. praise be.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Home of Georgia O'Keefe

We left pretty early this morning, with a complicated flight schedule: Husband and I on one flight, and Younger stepson on another flight. For some reason I was miserable during the whole flight: as soon as I got on the plane, my eyes started watering and my nose running, and once up in the air I developed a sinus headache and some feelings of nausea (also, a little claustrophobia). But finally, we all arrived safely in: Albuquerque, New Mexico!. It's not exactly the home of Georgia O'Keefe, but it's close enough. Georgia worked from Abiquiu, which is near Santa Fe, and where we will be headed tomorrow, to spend the day and evening. (By the way, yesterday's picture was of the Acoma Pueblo, near Albuquerque.)

I haven't yet given in to the temptation to call "Dog Days" to see how Scout is doing. I'm not worried; I just miss her. I did bring their phone number and promotional information along. I know; I'm neurotic. I can't help it.

We didn't have so much time left to sight-see once we all got in, got the rental car, and found our hotel (and crashed for about an hour). We decided to spend some time in Albuquerque's Old Town. Once, while on internship in Denver, I spent a little part of an evening in Old Town, and had vague memories, so I wanted to return. My vague memories were of a little chapel we found, hidden among all of the little shops. It was late evening, but I remembered being charmed by the discovery, and wanted to try to find it again.

This time I asked around, trying to describe it. I didn't remember much about it, except that it was tiny, and that on the floor was painted a tree, with the roots starting at the baptismal font, and the branches extending up to the small altar. I loved the floor most of all. The tree reminded me of Psalm 1, and "the tree planted by streams of water."

When we finally found the small alley where the chapel (actually, more like a shrine) was located, I almost thought I had the wrong one. The floor was much more worn than I had remembered, and there were candles and images of Our Lady of Guadalupe everywhere. A man in a wheelchair greeted me warmly as I approached. He gave me one of those "saints" cards for the Virgin Mary and a brochure recommending Ron Paul for President. He then told me how he had had a stroke and almost died several years ago. "It changed my life," he said. "Now I preach." "Oh, you preach sometimes?" I asked "No. twenty-four hours a day," he replied.

I said I thought I had been to this shrine before, but now I wasn't sure. "There was a tree in the floor," I said, pointing down, "and it's not here." "No, it's here, but it's worn out," he said. And sure enough, if I looked carefully, I could see a couple of outlines of leaves. And then suddenly the image of the trunk took shape, out of the baptismal font, just as before. It was worn so that I hadn't noticed it, but it was still there.

"You have a nice smile," the man told me. "I can tell you will go straight to heaven. I have a sixth sense about these things." That was good to hear. And he said, he was planning to repaint the floor, so that the tree would show up better. That was good to hear, too.

I thought about all the feet that had walked on the floor, and worn out the image of the tree, so that I didn't see it. And I thought about God's glory in the world, God's world that has been walked on by so many people passing through: so worn that most of the time we don't notice it. And not just worn, really covered up sometimes, by dust and dirt and sin and sorrow.

Maybe one of our jobs is to repaint it once in awhile.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Getting Ready for Another Vacation (100th post!)

We took Scout over to a new place to stay while we are gone from Monday to Friday on vacation this week. I'm anxious: we have always taken her to stay at her trainer's house before, which didn't seem like a "kennel" or anything like that. Once or twice, one of Husband's terrific sons has stayed here and looked after her. So yesterday and today I cooked rice and ground turkey, and packed up the other things she eats into daily portions, and worried about whether she would get sick (sometimes before, she has gotten sick in our absence). I miss her already. The place is called "Dog Days" and it's in kind of a warehouse district (actually, it is a warehouse, of sorts), but when we got inside they had it all fixed up with big areas for dogs to play in, and an evening "relax" area. She started playing with other dogs right away, so that made me feel a little less anxious. But, as I said, the house is quiet -- I'm looking for a head to scratch, and it's just not there.

We are only going to be gone a few days, but we're "Leaving on a Jet Plane" tomorrow morning, so I'm packing -- mostly shorts, this time -- not so many books either, because we'll be doing some sightseeing. I have been to this place before, but basically just driving through. So I'm excited to be getting a better view. Husband has never been there before.

This is my 100th post. At one point, I thought when I reached 100, I would explain the origin of the cartoon of me on my blog, or go on and on about why I chose "faith in community" for my blog title, or some serious and weighty thing like that. But it just turned out that 100 coincided with getting ready for vacation again, and missing Scout, the wonder dog, whose tale will continue, I promise. (4 Biblical Marys WILL be back, as well... I'll do some jotting on vacation.)

In honor of my 100th post, though, I wonder if anyone can identify the place where I am headed. Whoever guesses, or guesses first, will get some sort of prize (a postcard?). How about that?

And have a glass of wine, or a margarita, or a cosmopolitan, or something, in honor of making it to 100.

Sermon: First Things First

This is my sermon from today:

based on Luke 10:38-42

In our household, we have a very strict rule about Christmas eve. I wonder if any of you had the same or a similar rule. Remember, those were the days before dishwasher. Everything had to be washed and dried by hand. The rule was: not one single present could be opened until the dinner table was cleared, the leftovers were put away, and the dishes as well were washed, dried and put away. It was unbearable. Even with all of the aunts upstairs working together, it seemed to take forever. It was the same rule, although exaggerated, that operated every evening at our house: no one got to watch TV until the dishes were done. No one got to have fun until the chores were done. First things first, after all. Once the work is done, everyone can relax and put their feet up. Oncethe harvest is in, everyone can settle in for the winter. It's a good rule, and it makes for a well-ordered community.

I can't help feeling that Martha would approve. She is busy providing hospitality to Jesus and his disciples. Remember that Jesus is traveling not alone, or even with two or three, but with a whole church-load of disciples. Perhaps Martha is not just providing supper and a place for them to wash their feet. Perhaps she is as well providing a kind of pastoral leadership -- a place for Jesus to eat, but also a place for Jesus and his disciples to worship and for him to teach them. She's not just a drudge, she is a disciple, she is a leader, but someone has to make sure the table is set, and the hymnals are set out, and the chairs are all in a row. First things first. Martha wants to sit and listen, she wants to join in the fun of learnning and worship with Jesus: but first she needs to get all of her work done.

In our house, the women were Marthas -- especially on Christmas eve. The men and the children sat and talked and the children especially looked at the presents with longing in their eyes. The women, not seeming to mind the suspense at all, cooked and cleaned and tidied and made sure that everything was done properly and in good order. they were Marthas, but they weren't complaining about it -- not then. In fact, it even sounded like they were having kind of a good time up there in the kitchen. Even though there were others who were getting to focus on other things -- who were setting their minds to football or politics, who were undder the tree counting presents, and shaking them, even though there were others who were Marys that evening, they didn't seem to mind.

It seems like nobody wants to be Martha any more. We have fast food, we have dishwashers, we even have people who will deliver your groceries for you! We have, I have discovered, not only fast food, but we have, not far from my house, a new kind of store where you can buy all of your groceries for dinner, 5 nights in a row, packaged and prepared (even veggies chopped up) and put in little containers to take home. Then all you have to do is open your refrigerator, and take our the containers (including sauces) and put them together. And you have a homemade meal. Unfortunately, there is not yet a store you can goto where you can get all of your "cleaning up" done for you. But everyone agrees -- cleaning up is less fun than cooking! Nobody wants to be Martha any more.

In this congregation, we have a group of women who have been going to different churches putting on a play about some of the women in the Bible. It's called "Never Underestimate the Power of Women." When we get to the story about Mary and Martha, and Martha takes out her long long list of household chores -- everybody laughs. And when Mary gets up to speak, and whispers to the audience, "I hate housework!" everybody laughs more. It seems that nobody wants to be Martha any more.

And why should anyone want to be Martha, anyway? Every Jesus scolds her. He thinks she is a fuss. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things," he tells her. Only one thing is needful." What a stick-in-the-mud poor Martha is! She is the drudging ant to the playful grasshopper of Aesop's fable fame. she wants to get the work done. she wants to put things in good order. It's not that she doesn't want to listen to Jesus. I'm sure she wants to sit at his feet and listen to him, and learn from him just like Mary is doing. But she doesn't have time. At least not yet, anyway. She's like Abraham and Sarah -- scurrying around, busily welcoming the three visitors who have surprised them -- and wanting to provide them the best hospitality. She is the responsible sister. She is the busy church board member. she is the 60 hour a week worker. She is the good housekeeper -- like the woman I knew hwo got all of her ironing done on Sunday morning before she went to church. (I wonder if she went to the early service.

No, nobody wants to be Martha anymore. But the truth is -- we are. For all of our labor-saving devices, there is more labor than ever. And, whether we like housework or not, the words "you are worried and distracted by many things" fits all of us, at one time or another, or about one thing or another. Maybe we aren't worried and distracted about housework. Maybe we are worried and distracted about our job, whether we will have one or not, whether the work is too much for us or not. Maybe we are worried and distracted by the demands of parenthood, whether the children are infants, toddlers or teenagers. Or maybe we are worried and distracted about our adult children and our grandchildren, or about our parents who are getting older, and are in and out of hospitals. Maybe we are worried and distracted by the problems of the world, not knowing the best way to help, feeling powerless, not wanting to walk on by. Maybe we are worried and distracted by the small stuff, the details of our lives: groceries to buy and people to call, and bills to pay, and friends to pray for. It's hard to focus sometimes, isn't it? "Martha, Martha," you are worried and distracted by many things..." Jesus says. Like it or not, we are all Martha at one time or another. Maybe mroe so now than ever, as our world offers so many distractions, so many choices, (both good and bad) so much noise.

This story is not so much about serving versus studying. It's not saying that owmen who study the Bible are better than women who work in the kitchen. We need women who work in the kitchen, and men too for that matter. Even though this story is about two sisters, it's not aobut women's work, either. It's really a story about discipleshipl, just like the story before it, the story of the Good Samaritan, is a story about discipleship. It is meant to illustrate the verse, "You shall love the Lord with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all you strength, and your neighbor as yourself." Both of these stories, taken together, illustrate what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. the Samaritan is good because he sees the broken man lying by the side of the road -- and goes to help him. The other two look away, they don't have time, they are worried and distracted about other things. And Mary (in this story) is praised because she is focused on Jesus -- first things first. Yes, it's true, the work has to get done. But first things first. what is more important, the task or the person?

And actually, here is Martha's problem: she really wants to sit at Jesus' feet, too. She wants to hear his words. She wants to experience his promise. But she doesn't think she can. She's too busy. she has to get all of her work done first. she has to make all of her phone calls first. she has to stir the soup, and line up the chairs, and unlock the doors. she has to do all of it -- the long long list of making e erything right. It's on her shoulders. It must weight heavily on her. So she thinks that she can't sit down to hear the good words Jesus has to speak.

But Jesus tells her: Martha -- you're wrong. You don't have to do it all. You don't have to make everything right. You don't have to make the soup delicious every time, and the phone calls -- they'll wait. You don't ha ve to be the perfect mothelr, or father. You dol't h ave to do all the dishes right now. Maybe if you sit down, someone else will sweep the floor, or unlock the door, and greet the people. Maybe they will. But in the meantime, you sit here, with Mary, at my feet. I have a word for you. I h ave a promise for you. And I have a present for you. Open it.

First things first. that's what it means to be a disciple. It means first of all, to see Jesus... coming to you in your worried and distracted life, with bread and wine in his hands, and a promise on his lips. He comes to us like the strangers in the story from Genesis, a gracious presence in our lonely lives, out in the desert -- and yes, there is much glad activity when we see him.

But stop and listen ... he comes to us in our worried and distracted life ... and he comes to give us a promise. "In due season, you will have a son," is what he tells Abraham and Sarah." "I am the resurrection and the life," he tells us. "Your life is not barren, but full," he tells us. "Take and eat," he tells us. He comes to us in the stranger lying by the side of the road, the one who is wounded and needs our love. He comes to us in the Samaritan, binding up our wounds, taking us in, healing us. He comes to us in the stranger, with a free gift we did not deserve and were not expecting: forgiveness, life. Take and eat. You have time.

First things first. AMEN

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Before I became a pastor, I did a lot of different things. I know my experience is not as varied as some (I never waitressed, for example, knew I would be bad at it). But I did learn some things.

During college... Iworked for two temporary agencies, Employers Overload and another, smaller agency. I took a typing test, typed fast but with lots of mistakes (because I was nervous). The smaller agency took a chance on me anyway, assigned me typing jobs (more money). EO assigned me to other kinds of jobs, including 1) serving coffee and cold drinks at the exclusive investor's lounge in a bank, and 2) filling little plastic bags with pieces of jewelry. I re-took the typing test the next summer, did better, and got better jobs.

Someone scolded me once at the Bank because they didn't think I hustled fast enough to get coffee and cold drinks for the ritzy people who had a lot of money in the bank. They were probably right. I am not a good hustler. I felt contrite, beat myself up, vowed to do better.

I had another job, typing invoices all day, at a company that turned out to be owned by the uncle of a classmate of mine. They didn't ask me back after one day, because the boss thought I was "too slow". My classmate informed him that I had gotten the most invoices done of anyone they had hired. But somehow I didn't look fast.

I once had a job over a school break, where I sat in an office and typed on little index cards of different colors, all about meat. Pink was pork, blue was chicken, green was steak. They didn't have a typewriter desk or chair, so I sat at a table on a chair stacked with phone books. At the end of the week, they asked me if I wanted a job. I guess they thought I was fast enough. I was grateful to be able to tell them I was going back to college.

Lessons: sometimes when you are criticized, it really is something you did. We are not all good at everything. Nobody's perfect. We can all do better. Sometimes, it's just perception, or they are crazy. And sometimes, we do a really good job, really rise to the occasion, doing something awful. And, a variety of work experiences gives us a realistic assessment of ourselves, not perfect, but not awful either, both falling short and excelling -- in due season.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Friday Five: looking back, looking forward

Here's another Friday chance to reflect from Sally:

When I began work here at Downham Market a wise friend told me that after one year I would see a few changes and sense God at work- years two and three would cause me to question and to wonder why I had chosen to accept the post here and in year four I might see the beginnings of something new.

And so with that in mind alongside yesterday's celebrations I bring you Friday 5: Looking back, looking forward..
1. Share a moment/ time of real encouragement in your journey of faith.
I believe that for the most part, my whole time in seminary was a real time of encouragement for me. After 11 years out of school, I went back, with some fear and trepidation. Would I be able to do the work? I loved all of the studies, and I found both gifts for academic work and pastoral ministry to be affirmed in many ways. And (blush, blush) I'll always remember the day one of my seminary professors actually quoted from one of my papers in a chapel sermon! Hmmm. Maybe that was my 15 minutes of fame.

2. Do you have a current vision / dream for your work/ family/ministry?

One of my current dreams and visions for my work/ministry is to think of a way to integrate my pastoral ministry with writing for publication in some way. Another dream is to empower people to be more bold/courageous in writing or talking about their own faith with others.

3.Money is no object and so you will.....
I would like to take a year off and travel and see as much of the country and of the world as I can. Whenever I see those 1,001 places to see before you die books, I am struck by how much of the world, and of this country I haven't seen. I'd like to see more of the South, visit in the East (other than Pennsylvania, where I finally have been twice), and the Northwest. I'd like to visit Europe and especially Scandinavia where my grandparents are from. I would also like to write about it. Always, write more.

4. How do you see your way through the disappointments? What keeps you going?

I remember the barren women of the Bible, Hannah, Rachel, Elizabeth -- and how the opposite of barren is expecting. God will make my ministry, my life, my family bear fruit, even in the times it seems barren.

Also, I remember something a friend of mine shared with me. She told me about her sister, who owned a home in the inner city. She told about a picture of her sister's garden, and how the picture had the beauty of the garden that her sister had cultivated, but on the edges of the picture you could see the reality of some of the trouble of the city. She chooses to stay there in the city, and bring and be beauty, and not deny the ugliness. That's hope.

5. How important are your roots?

My father's parents both came from Sweden to America when they were young people. The story is that they were both single, but they met on the boat. My mother's grandparents came from Norway. They became farmers. For a long time it was those literal roots, to Scandinavia that were important to me. Now it is the story -- the story of immigrants who leave and come to a new land, to take risks and dare to hope -- it is that story that is important to me. In fact, it occurs to me that the story of immigrants is a story of looking back and looking forward. When I was a girl, we learned a Swedish immigrant song because it always made my grandma cry. It was called, "Halsa Dem Darhemma." "Greet those at home." The song is sung by a young person on a boat, who sees a bird, and instructs the bird to greet all those at home, those she is leaving behind.

6. Bonus= what would you like to add ?

I've been thinking a lot about traveling lately, since I've been to and fro on vacation. I've been thinking about what it is like to come to a place for the first time: that moment of humility when you see something beautiful you didn't know existed before. And I've been thinking about what it is like to return to a place again and again. Both are necessary journeys. I've been thinking about posting more about these kinds of pilgrimages.

A Cup of Tea

I got this recipe from a 4 year old girl and her mother while I was on internship. I wanted to save it in its original form. I had never had Indian Tea before, and thought it was delicious! Now everyone knows it is "chai."

The girl's mother told me, at one time, that her little daughter liked to play that she was Diane. I felt a little proud -- and not a little curious. Just what did she do when she played "Diane"? "Well," the mother answered, "she says she's you, but she's still pretty much herself!" That brought me down a couple of notches.

Later in the year, however, I had the opportunity to preside at a baptism: her baby brother. Sometime later, her mother told me -- "Now she does something when she says she is you. She baptizes her doll babies!"


As a pastor, I sometimes do a lot of different things -- some things they never taught me in seminary. Like vacuuming water off the church basement floor. Cheering for the local girls basketball team when they go to the state playoff. Baking cookies with 6 ninth graders. Having indian tea with a 4 year old.

If I ever forget what's important, though, I'll remember the little girl who gave me the Indian tea -- and baptized her dolls, pretending that she was me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Women in Ministry

There was a time in my life when I didn't think that women could be pastors.

When I was in the 9th grade, I heard our pastor preach for the first time in our new sanctuary. It was a heady experience. For a fleeting moment, I thought, "If I were a man, that's what I would do." Women were just starting to be pastors in my denomination, but the news hadn't filtered down to my congregation yet. Besides, I was, if not painfully shy, relatively quiet, and lived more in my books and in journals than in any public arena. I was a choir member, not a soloist. I was a bit player in school plays. I put that fleeting thought away quickly, and didn't think about it again.

In college, I fell in with a conservative religious group that reinforced my notions about women pastors. They were earnest and enthusiastic Christians, and I learned some things from them. But real and honest Biblical interpretation was not one of them.

Later on, one of the women I served with while a missionary in Japan decided she wanted to be a pastor. I began to re-read the passages about women. I knew that I trusted my friend's integrity. I knew that she took the Bible seriously, as I did. I began, tentatively, to believe that perhaps, women could be called to ministry.

But not me.

In the meantime, I loved being in worship, reading the lessons in church. I became a lay intercessor. I was elected to the church council, the leadership board of our church. I organized Bible studies and adult forums. I unlocked the church on Sunday morning and set up the chairs for Sunday School. I helped train lay leaders. I even visited a few people in their homes. I also loved to read theology, and practical ministry books.

Even later, I have come to believe that I was using the Bible as an excuse -- an excuse not to take a risk based on faith, an excuse not to use my gifts, an excuse not to do something hard for me. What was so hard?, you ask. I loved seminary. Studying was not difficult for me. Chanting was not difficult for me. Leading worship (mostly) was not difficult for me. Visiting was not difficult for me.

Believing that God could call me to be a leader, a pastor, a preacher: that was what was difficult for me. Sometimes, I still fight the demon. How could God call you?

During my internship year, Pope John Paul II came to Denver. It was quite an awesome event. Thousands of people of all ages gathered in this city. And there were many things that I respected about Pope John Paul II. He was an advocate for the poor, and the oppressed. He had reached out to the Jewish people.

During the Pope's visit, there were several alternative gatherings of clergy and lay women. They were gatherings in solidarity with Catholic women seeking ordination. Until then, I had never really considered the possibility that there were Catholic women who wanted to be priests, who were trying to change things. The Catholic women all wore ribbons across their albs so that they could be identified. I caught myself wondering, during one of the worship services, "How would I feel if I knew that I was called and my church said, we don't want you."

There was a time in my life when I didn't believe that women could be pastors.

Then I believed that women could be pastors. But not me.

Now I believe that God honors all of our gifts, and that the church needs all of our gifts, men and women, lay and ordained.
Sometimes I think that everyone believes this now, or at least almost everyone.

After all, church members in the nursing home have proudly introduced me as "their pastor." People have specifically asked me to preside at their wedding, or at their mother's funeral, or to baptize their baby.

But not everyone believes this yet. Not even almost everyone. There are people who still think I am not worthy, that women are not worthy, to speak the Word.

So forgive me if I have not been able to get that worked up about the Pope's pronouncement that I belong to a defective church.

I get more worked up when I realize that the Pope believes that I am a defective person. Not just as a protestant. As a woman.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I recently saw this post over at Presbyterian Gal's blog. It bears much meditation, prayer, and moments of silence.
Also action.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Picture And A Poem

I wanted to share my favorite picture from vacation, and a new poem, by Jane Kenyon. I just discovered it in a collection called Otherwise. Jane Kenyon died of leukemia in April of 1995.

Here's her poem:


There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take for its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

From: Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon

copyright 1996 by Graywolf Press


Thirteen years ago today I was ordained into Word and Sacrament ministry at my home congregation. My talented, artistic sister designed a card (see left).

Thirteen years. Seems unlucky. I'll have a big celebration at fifteen.

There was a time in my life when it would have been hard to imagine doing the same thing for so many years. I worked in investments for two. Then went to Japan for three. Then worked in insurance for four and a half. Went to seminary for four. Now it seems like I have finally settled down. I even got married.

It's still an adventure, though. Preaching, teaching, being with people at all stages of their faith and doubt, listening to questions, not always having answers, equipping saints and seeing them in action: it's still an adventure.
Of course there is the routine of worship and preaching, the blessed liturgy of weekly visits to the nursing home and to hospitals, the late night meetings deciding what to do about the roof, or the boiler, but in the midst of it, there are the moments of light: the conversation of leaders revealing their own hopes for their congregation; the tight grip of a hand during prayers, the holy moment when teenagers laugh, and cry, and belong to one another. It's still an adventure.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Recollected in Tranquility

Red Squirrel

he dashed in and out
like the White Rabbit
late for an important date

from his bird house perch
he stared at us
darted back inside to get his watch
or his ring
or perhaps a piece of bread

then daring us he
leapt away like
a stunt aviator

we caught our breath
while he
caught the flying trapeze of
pine branch in his way

he fled without stopping to
hear our applause


Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day. It was also the last day to be North. Today I am back home, although technically still on vacation.

We checked out and drove down to the Canal Park area of Duluth. It's a great dog area of the city, and it was even better, as they were hosting a dog show at the Convention Center. The Park was full of dogs, of all shapes and sizes, including two large, beautiful Great Danes the size of horses! We walked the "lake walk" a bit, stopped for cheese curds and hot dogs at Crabby Dan's, and met many dogs and their people. Scout sniffed every bush, tree, piece of grass and lamp post she could find, as well as the tail end of quite a few dogs. We are finding that dog people are, for the most part, about the friendliest people in the world.

(No offense to cat people. You just can't find them so easily out walking their cats. They're usually at home, reading the newspaper or a good book with their cats. And their cat is usually sitting right on the part of the newspaper they want to read.)

We also stopped in at a couple of our favorite antique stores. They both allow dogs, which is one of the reasons we like them so much. I found a wonderful old children's book of Bible verses, called "The Wings of the Morning." But they were asking $25.00. I wasn't sure that it was that special.

Then we started the long, sad drive home.

We stopped at a flea market where they were not so friendly about dogs.

At home, I didn't remember that I had left the house so messy. The flowers hanging in the front yard looked just a little wilty. The dining room table had disorganized mail and books I decided not to bring and a few other stray papers. The kitchen still had a large cardboard box with styrofoam peanuts. A couple of Scout's balls were hanging around the floor.

Welcome home.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Rainy Night

It's a quiet, rainy night to be sitting in our room. I'm blogging (obviously) and Husband is practicing the guitar. So I'm glad he brought the guitar. (Venezuelan Waltz #3 by Antonio Lauro)

Niece M. has gone back to Minneapolis with grandma and grandpa. She had fun yesterday. I think she even had more fun today. We didn't even need the "paint toenails" backup plan.

We got up to Tettegouche State Park this morning (see picture from 2 days ago). Went down to the beach (lots of steps, hard for us, easy for M. and Scout). She asked to take the leash and ran ahead with the dog. She took off her shoes and rolled up her pants and waded in the cold lake water. On the other end of the hike was Shovel Point, and more running with the dog.

Then we returned to the hotel to meet grandma and grandpa, have homemade sandwiches and go up to Gooseberry Falls together. This is a series of three small waterfalls. It's very shallow at the bottom, with lots of big rocks. People like to try to walk across the rocks to get to the other side of the falls.

M. wanted to take the dog across. She got about halfway, too, but Scout started to pull and get a little tangled in the leash, so we thought it better to bring her back to the shore. M. stepped across the stones to the other side by herself, and was very proud of herself.

Then, she wanted me to do it with her.

Which I did. Even though I am kind of a wimp about things like this. M. took my hand a couple of times. I lost my balance once or twice and got really wet shoes and socks. But we both made it across to the other side of the waterfall. On stepping stones. Together.

It took some strategy to find the right rocks, the ones that were strong and sturdy and didn't wobble. And it takes some trust and humility to reach for a hand when you've chosen the wrong rock, one that won't bear your weight.

It's little things like this, though, that teach us how to live.

We stopped for pie on the way back. Poor Scout howled the whole time we were in the restaurant. M. came out to comfort her.

Scout is going to miss M. I think M. will also miss Scout.

It's raining harder, with thunder and lightning. Scout wisely decided to move away from the window. The music continues.

More fun, very tired

Okay, so we didn't go to Tettegouche State Park yesterday. Instead we went to Split Rock Lighthouse, pictured here. (I just wrote about three paragraphs and lost all of it, don't know why). We toured the lighthouse, heard stories about shipwrecks, heard the foghorn (my niece covered her ears). Saw pictures of storms where the waves came up above the rocks. Heard about the 29 shipwrecks in one year. The Song "the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot, is about a wreck on Lake Superior. We also got rained on trying to find Pebble Beach (finally found it).

We didn't go to Tettegouche, because we just kept driving and driving, trying to get up to Grand Marais in time to eat at Angry Trout Restaurant. It's an all organic and local place right on the pier. And I mean all. Everything they serve is locally produced, even the strawberry I stole from my niece's plate (can't let anything go to waste!). We walked around Grand Marais for awhile, and then took the long (too long) drive back to Two Harbors.

Grand Marais is an arts community, with lots of art galleries and shops selling handmade jewelry and crafts. They are having an arts festival this weekend, but looks like we aren't going to head back up there! Anyway, it's just a fun place to be.

This morning I got up early and took the dog for a walk and out to the lake. The sun was just rising and it was peaceful and beautiful. There are thousands of wildflowers everywhere, white sprays and golden petals and pink purple and orange dots and splashes. If we were to go farther north, past Grand Marais to Grand Portage, I'm pretty sure we'd see wild lady's slippers too.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Vacation so far so good

We arrived here in beautiful Two Harbors (just north of Duluth along the North Shore of Lake Superior) late afternoon yesterday afternoon and settled into our room here. We found out about this place about three years ago when I was invited to preside at the wedding of parish members here. They have regular rooms, suites and even lake homes. We have a regular room, not even with a lake view, because that would be too expensive up here. But the lake is just out back, and we spent some time out there in the evening, Husband teaching niece M. to skip stones out on the lake. She is not bored yet.

Scout and M. are bonding quite nicely. I have a picture of both of them, sitting together out under the tree in our front yard, waiting for us to go. M. wants to hold the leash, which is ok, except when Scout decides to ... dash off! M. also likes to brush Scout, which she could definitely use more often.

On the way up we made the obligatory stops at Culvers for burgers, at Hinkley's Antique Mall, and at the Canal Park in Duluth, where there was a brief torrential downpour. We drove up the skyline parkway, and climbed up Enger Tower, which I know nothing about, but which affords a nice view of the big ships coming into harbor, and the suspension bridge coming up.

Of course, as well there was the car music ambience, so important to a musician. We listened to: Jazz on the Road, a two CD set of jazz standards (in one of the coolest "jackets" I have ever seen). Also of course, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and James Taylor were traveling music.

After skipping stones until it got good and dark, and walking with Scout along the water, we were good and tired. M. watched a missed TV episode on the computer, I began the highly recommended mystery In the Bleak Midwinter, but was so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open.

I have always wanted to do things like this with my nieces and nephews, but for some reason mostly, it hasn't worked out. I did have my oldest niece and nephew stay with me in South Dakota for a week once when they were very little. I'm glad finally to have the opportunity.

For a few minutes, watching Husband encourage M. in her stone-skipping technique, I wondered what it would have been like to have children of my own.

It felt good.

With any luck, sometime today we'll be able to stop in at Tettegouche State Park. It's a little drive, but a beautiful hike, and looks something like the picture above.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Long awaited too short Vacation

Right now I am in the midst of packing and making ridiculously complicated lists of what to bring, especially with "the dog's" complicated diet: rice, eggs, chicken necks!, a rice cooker, a dog bed, her brushes, a measuring cup, a spoon, a couple of dog toys, her medicine. I am cooking ground turkey even now while I speak. (I know, it seems weird, but she doesn't get sick so often any more.) Plus I got her a new scarf to wear.

For us, there is fruit and snacks, music and laptop, sweatshirts and books. (For myself, I have way too many possibilities for books to bring.) The niece will bring her gameboy also, as she is afraid that she will get bored being with us and "the dog." It could be. We are pretty boring. Even Scout would say, if she could talk, "I live for the day Those Cool Boys come over, and we have some excitement for a change." However, I hope our niece likes the scenery, even just a little bit. Maybe I will offer to paint her fingernails and toenails. That's one more thing for the list.

With any luck at all, by tomorrow afternoon, we will be in the vicinity of this scenery:

And with any other luck at all, we will be able to get wireless high speed internet, and occasionally be in touch.

A Sermon: "Irresistible Invitation"

This sermon is based on Matthew 11:28-30, and was preached several years ago around July 4. I've been thinking about it lately, especially in the light of the failure of any meaningful immigration reform in this country.

"This is the best place," says Martha Izaola. She's a native of Hondorus who has just become a citizen of the United States. When she came here, she had to leave most of her family members and friends behind -- and now this is her new home, the place she belongs and wants to take part. "I want to vote," says Khadijo Abdulle of Somalia. In two weeks she'll be taking an examination so that she too can be a citizen. She's been studying English and American history for the past year. It has been difficult, but she knows that her future is here, as an American, and not in Somalia, where her husband and a daughter were killed in the civil war. There's no looking back for her. This is her future. "I want to be buried in my own country." That's what Sigrid Bakke said when people asked her why, at 87 years old, she too was studying for citizenship. Her husband Nels became a citizen back in the 1930s -- but there was only enough money for one of them then. Finally, when she was 87, Sigrid's dream came true. She became an American.

When Sigrid and Nels arrived in the U.S., they probably entered through Ellis Island. Maybe they even saw the poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed at its base:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Like so many immigrants before and after them, they heard an invitation and they came. Perhaps the invitation came in the form of stories and letters from those who had come before them. Perhaps they had heard about the farmland waiting to be claimed. Perhaps they heard the promise of jobs here, a better wage. Perhaps they heard that here they would be free -- to worship, to work, to raise a family in the way they believed right. Then as now, immigrants have come here because they heard an invitation that was irresistible: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." It was irresistible because they knew it was an invitation to them. They knew they were the tired and they were the poor -- they had large families and no land to inherit -- or they couldn't find work -- or the work they could find paid a few cents a week. They were a part of those huddled masses yearning to breathe free -- to have a voice in a poltical system, to speak up and not be persecuted, to worship and not be oppressed. They heard the invitation and knew it was for them. Immigrants have found this invitation irresistible as well because they believed the stories they heard: they believed this was a land of liberty and opportunity. They heard about rich farmland, many jobs, even streets paved with gold. Sometimes reality betrayed their dreams, and still betrays their dreams. The dream of prosperity falls to the reality of unfarmable prairie, of 12 hour a day factory jobs, or flipping hamburgers at Burger King. Sometimes, due to illness or lack of proper papers, people were even turned away at the gate. But for most immigrants, the dream persists, even when reality sets in. They have heard an irresistible invitation, and they believe the dream: Liberty and justice for all.

The promise to immigrants: "Give me your tired, your poor..." sounds strikingly similar to another invitation -- another kind of invitation and irresistible in its own way. "Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens," Jesus promises in the gospel today, "and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." It is similar, first of all, because it is an invitation to the same sorts of people: "those who are tired, those who are poor, those who are carrying heavy burdens." It is an invitation to people who, for whatever reason, are dissatisfied where they are and want to be somewhere else. It is an invitation for immigrants looking for a place... or a person... of freedom. And it is irresistible for the same reasons: because in some way or another, we heard the invitation and believed that somehow it applied to us: "Poor, weary, carrying heavy burdens." That describes us -- and so we can't help but come. Perhaps we're burdened by too many obligations and the reality that there's no way we can do everything we're supposed to do. Perhaps we are burdened by past decisions that make it difficult to imagine future success. We're burdened by poverty or wealth, by the gap between who weare and who we would like to be. LIke immigrants who came here to be free, we have heard an invitation and say: "I'm the weary. That's for me."

During Lent, a Catholic church in Tulsa, Oklahoma ran an advertisement to invite people to "come home, to return to the church." The invitation in February extended a special welcome to "single, twice-divorced, under 30, gay, filthy rich, black and proud, poor as dirt, can't sing, no habla Ingles, married with pets, older than God, more Catholic than the Pope, workaholic, bad speller, screeaming babies, three-times divorced, passive-aggressive, obsessive-compulsive, tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts... oh, and you." "Come to me, all you who are weary..." and who isn't?, the ad seems to say. Which of us can honestly say that we aren't sometimes bond-tired, that wearen't carrying some kind of burden that we'd like to lose?

Just as the immigrants also heard the stories about the new land and believed them, so too we believed what we have seen and heard about Jesus. Then the invitation becomes truly irresistible. Some have heard the stories since they were babies, stories about the one who invites sinners to eat and drink, whose hands and whose words heal, the one whose arms are open, and in whose embrace there is life. Some have stumbled past churches where they have heard singing. Some have been fortunate to have friends to tell them about the place where burdens roll away, and about the person who bears those burdens. Writer Anne LaMott tells of how she became a Christian: she said that somehow, the people at this church loved her and accepted her, even when she felt messed up and confused. Sometimes she thought that believing in Jesus was the weirdest thing she could do. She was a isngle mother, tired and at the end of her rope, thinking these kinds of things. Then a man showed up from her church, and asked her, "What if a fairy godmother appeared on your doorstep and said that he or she would do any favor for you, anything you were too exhausted to do youself and too ashamed to ask for help with?" At first shedidn't want to tell him, but finally she admitted that it would be to clean the bathroom. So that is what he did. She said she felt guilty, watching him work -- but it made her feel sure of Christ again, of his love.

Yet there is one more similarity between the irresistible invitaiton to America and the irresistible invitaiton to Jesus: both are not without cost. With freedom comes responsibility. Those who are studying to be citizens here know this: they are struggling hard to learn a new language and a new history, which will become their history. And they long for the responsibilities of citizens: they know that to vote and be involved in improving their country is essential to remaining free. When Jesus invites us to himself, and removes our burdens, he also fits us with a new yoke. Notice that he says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..." and he promises, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." This might seem odd to us. After all, a yoke is a symbol of slavery. When the Romans captured people, they were yoked as a sign of their subjugation to the powers of Rome. And even though Jesus promises that his burden is light -- how can a burden be light? The two words are a contradiction. With the rest that Jesus promises, there is still a yoke and still a burden -- but it will be a different yoke than we have worn before, and somehow the burden we bear will seem light. In other words, just as there is a responsibility involved in belonging to this country, there is responsibility involved in belonging to Jesus. It's not easy to be a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. It means that we belong to one another, that it's our responsibility to bear with one another, to love one another, even (and especially) when we aren't being so lovable. We can't turn out backs. It also means that we abelong to Jesus, and we go where he goes, and we associate with the kind of people he associates with. As Jesus went out to hurting people, to people in need of healing, we need to be found there too. That's what it means to be yoked with Jesus.

This is the responsibility of our most important citizenship. But Jesus promises that his yoke is easy, and his burden light. It is easy because every promise we have believed, every story we have heard about Jesus, is true. When Jesus invites us to his rest and to his yoke, we will not let us down. When Jesus forgives you, you are forgiven. As a nation we have not always lived up to our high ideals. We have not always been able to welcome all the tiredand the poor who have dreamed of coming here. But when Jesus says to us, "Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens..." he will always be as good as his word. In the embrace of his forgiving love, everything that keeps us down, that oppresses us, will roll away. At his gate, no one is too sick to be let in, and no one will be turned away for the lack of proper papers.

Finally, Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden is light simply because it means traveling with him. Wherever we go, through whatever difficulties, he shares the burdens with us, and he shares his life with us. Once a little girl asked her mother, "Will I have to do dishes in heaven?" Her mother replied: "yes....... but you'll like it." What a great answer! Simply because you are with Jesus, traveling with him, you know that whatever you do, you will share with him. And because you are traveling with Jesus, you know that wherever you go .. .you will share his abundant and eternal life. AMEN

Monday, July 9, 2007

With the Dog People in Chicago

It was less than a month after our short but enjoyable trip out to Philadelphia that we were again getting ready for a vacation: this time with Scout. In the meantime, we had been all over town looking for places where Scout could run around and get rid of some of her excess energy. This was supposed to be part of the therapy for her possessive aggression. I tried many tennis courts (this was a recommendation from the behaviorist). None of them had gates we could close. Finally discovered that there was a little playground right next to the church. If I brought a piece of rope with me, I could tie the gate shut, and let Scout run around for awhile.

The behaviorist also told us that as soon as possible, we needed to take Scout to a Dog Park, to let her learn valuable social skills with other dogs (and people). However, the websites all recommended that a dog be 4 months old and have a rabies shot. So. Not quite yet;

In the meantime, I was looking forward to the next trip, which would be a car trip with the puppy. I was looking forward to it because it would be 1) over a week, 2) less expensive than Philadelphia, 3) a chance to be with Scout in a house that had a fenced-in-yard! 4) Bonus: the Chicago people were/are Dog People. They have many dogs and are not anxious about dog behavior at all.

As it turned out, set set out just 3 days after Scout turned 4 months old. She had her rabies shot, and had been to a dog park twice.... at about 6:00 in the morning. She ran away from the two other dogs she met there. Not an auspicious start.

We took our time driving out and back. We stopped at a "dog-friendly" hotel in Madison, which turned out to not really have a good place for a dog to .. er.. eliminate. As well, the SUV broke down the next morning, so we paced a lot in the service center of the dealership. Pacing and pacing with a puppy who has the attention span of an amoeba. We will never stop there again.

We had a couple of incidents early on... one in the hotel where Scout ate a little piece of left-over brownie with plastic... we tried to get it away from her but of course she growled at us. Again, she tried to eat a small bar of hotel soap. Growled menacingly, but one of the "dog people" caught her and held her jaw so that she could not swallow the soap, until we found something (a piece of cheese) she wanted more. The rest of the week we managed much better.

And I have to say: this vacation ended up being possibly the best vacation of my entire life. Better than the cruise with Husband and boys. Better than all of the wonderful places we have visited together (San Francisco, even). Better than Disneyland, even.

I had the chance to get to know my dog. Despite her flaws, which were still vexing, I loved her friendly smile and her playfulness. I loved how she got to be friends with her dog cousins. I saw how she responded to being in a house with people who understand dogs and aren't anxious. And I spent time reading Patricia McConnell's wonderful book, The Other End of the Leash, which helped me to understand both her behavior and mine.

I loved the dog people for being so relaxed and relaxing, and for going with our training program (no verbal commands, remember, just hand signals). I think Scout loved them, too... and especially the hundreds of dog toys that she took out and left all over the floor! But most of all, they loved her. They doted on her, thought she was beautiful, took hundreds of pictures. I think they knew she was my baby.

I was sad to leave the dog people after a little over a week. I thought -- if we could live here, I know that Scout would be all right.

But we had to go home.

Next installment: "Dog Park Days"

A Dilemma

I have a dilemma. Many people (ok, two) have been asking me to post more about my time in Japan, so long ago that I can barely remember it (or it seems like that sometimes).

It seems like it might be just about time to write the next installment on Scout's history (which would be "With the Dog People in Chicago").

Maybe I should post yesterday's sermon anyway, even though I am not in love with this one. I've read a few other (actually) good ones, and that always gets me second-guessing, even after all these years. I had thought of posting an "alternative" that I preached a few years ago the Sunday after July 4. Text was: Matthew 11:28-30 (Come to me, all you who are weary....). I thought about it in terms of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty... and talked about immigrants and Christians.

I am also so far behind on my project, 4 Biblical Marys, I feel like hanging my head in shame. If I could have written the whole thing really fast, I think I would be feeling better. I still think it's a worthwhile endeavor, and our church can make it into a booklet for people.

I'd also like to post some Biblical monologues that I've written here sometime, and get some feedback on them.

In the meantime, while eating lunch today, stepson pointed to the lemonade, but dad thought he meant the lettuce (we were having sandwiches). This immediately brought my mind back to living in Japan. Why? you might ask. Those first weeks we existed almost entirely by pointing at things we wanted. We (all 4 young single missionaries) used to hang out together often. When we went to the little Japanese restaurants, we could not read the menus. We also couldn't speak Japanese. Thank goodness they all had plastic food displays in the windows. We used to take the waitress outside to the window and point at what we wanted. Usually we got what we thought we pointed to.

But it's not 100% accurate. As witness the lettuce and the lemonade today.

That's my little slice of life.

So... my dilemma is... what should I post next?

Any of these ideas? Or something else entirely?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Church today

Church today was mostly me (or, that's the way it seemed). We did have a reader for the 10:00 service. It was 81 degrees out on the lawn at 8:00. People sitting under the trees said that it was "bearable". High praise, I'm sure. I asked for something "cool" during the prelude and the keyboard player starting playing "Winter Wonderland." Everyone clapped.

It seemed like every hymn we chose had 5 or 6 verses. What were we thinking? Between the services, three women were talking about how much they liked one called "The summons." They asked where it was from. It is from the Iona community. It begins

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

It's unusual to hear positive comments about new hymns ever.

At 10:00, one of the ushers said it looked like it was going to be "intimate." It didn't look like there would be any children for the children's message except for one talented 5th grade boy. Two women about my age volunteered to come forward, and skipped up the aisle together. As well, there were three or four other children from another family who sneaked in after the last minute.

For me, the high point of the morning was the music of the brilliant 5th grade student. He played the prelude and offertory on the piano. We first heard him play when he was in 2nd or third grade. He is truly a child prodigy. I also enjoyed watching the older woman who sat behind him. She is a concert-trained pianist and organist. Every time he returned to his seat, I could see her whispering in his ear and patting him on the back. They both love music.

One parish member who likes to rate my sermons, gave me a "10" this week. He does have a set of criteria, which he has shared with me. So he's not just shooting in the dark. I said "thank you," but secretly didn't think today was my best. I think my chief critique of myself is that I didn't break any new ground, I didn't allow myself to really struggle with the text.

I did tell a couple of good stories.

Severe thunderstorms this afternoon disturbed our naps, but left the air cleansed. It's a new day. I'm looking forward to vacation.

continue the poetry discussion

Mompriest and I have been posting poems and discussing them on our respective blogs. Now it's your turn. Those of you who have been checking in -- do you have a favorite poem that you would like to share and discuss? If so, let us know, and we'll link to you and continue the discussion at your place.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Tonight for dinner we had turkey and bleu cheese burgers and roasted fresh asparagus, along with various leftovers, including some potato salad my mom had sent back with me when I went over to visit the other day. I bought the asparagus at the farmer's market here. It's the really thin kind, and reminds me of when I first ate asparagus.

I don't think I ever ate asparagus as a child, not once. I studied in Iowa one summer, and someone there told me that wild asparagus grew in the ditches. To prove it, we went out and picked some. Not many years later, I was living in the parsonage in South Dakota, when one of my parish members knocked on the door with a gift. That was not unusual. People were always bringing over jam, or green beans, or pickles (once deer sausage, even). But this was also: wild asparagus, from the ditches.

I didn't know how to prepare asparagus then, but learned an easy way, especially for a single person who only needed a little at a time: roasted in olive oil, in the oven. Temperature: 450, for 10 minutes. Then shake on the salt and pepper, and it's delicious. It's my husband's favorite vegetable now. We also have learned to stir-fry it, and toss with toasted sesame seeds. That's good too.

A little later tonight we'll have dessert: ice cream with fresh raspberries. For these raspberries I neither sowed nor reaped. They arrived at the front door unasked for, courtesy of a parish member who lives down the street. She brings them every July.

Sometimes I try so hard I am tempted to believe that working justifies my existence. Everyone else is saved by grace through faith; not me. It's how hard I work that matters. I can't be a slacker. I can't have a bad day, or write a mediocre sermon. Wild asparagus in the ditches, fresh raspberries at the front door remind me that isn't true. We are not what we do, only useful for the hours we put in, and what we produce.

Lord, give us this day our daily bread, and asparagus, and raspberries. Amen.

Friday, July 6, 2007


Tonight I am sitting in a darkened study, listening to my husband practice his guitar in the living room. Right now, I don't know which song he is playing. It is slow, a little romantic and sad, good for the dark.

Tonight Younger Stepson and two friends are downstairs, talking and watching videos. We are happy to have him back.

Tonight we bought planks of wood. He is going to build bookshelves in the basement. I almost said, "we", but that wouldn't be right. I don't think I will have much to do with it. I think it may turn out to be a father-son project, which would be great. I wonder if there is such a thing as a mother-dog project. (Oh yes, agility class.) (Also, digging in the dirt.)

Tonight it is quiet. We didn't have quite the kind of fun evening I was hoping for. But there was significant whooping earlier when the Twins beat the White Sox for the 2nd time in one day. It seems that in our house, a Twins win can bring a ray of sunshine into many a depressed and darkened soul. When the announcer said that Justin Morneau had tied three other Twins for the most home runs in one game (Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva were the others), my husband got a little teary.

Tonight I am content. I have a sermon for Sunday. Almost. It is called "Tips for Travelers." It will not win the Pulitzer Prize, but perhaps it can be a rope let down for the lost. That is my hope.

Tomorrow I may fret and fiddle, visit more people in the hospital, worry about those I have not had time to visit yet, the long lists of people to visit, call, pray for, encourage to leadership. Tomorrow I will try in vain to organize tasks, believe what I wrote is not good enough, and also want to look out the window into the green summer day.

But tonight I sit typing in the dark. My husband has stopped practicing his sad romantic song. The dog has gone to bed. The son is quiet.

Good night.

Friday five: Hasty Edition

Reverend Mother writes:

Whoops! I have been in a family-induced haze these few days, with the July 4 holiday and taking time off while relatives are visiting. So I literally lost track of what day it was! So rather than make you guys wait even one minute longer for the five, I'll dig up an oldie:
Today, what are you:

1. Wearing
Even though it's HOT here, I'm wearing pink straight skirt, jacket and blouse, because of what I'm doing below.

2. Reading
Reading? Who has time to read? The senior pastor is on vacation. Actually, I'm reading A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver, and New Mexico guidebook, in anticipation of vacation, and trying to get back to Three Cups of Tea. On vacation I'm hoping to bring along a new mystery, possibly, In The Bleak Midwinter. Is this too ambitious?

3. Eating
banana chocolate chip muffin, fresh strawberries, COFFEE, not sure about lunch yet... probably just a ranch wrap on the run

4. Doing
finishing a sermon, doing three communion services (where the sermon is the rough draft of Sunday's), and visiting in the hospital. Hoping to have fun in the evening

5. Pondering
Trip to the North Shore next week. Getting ready for my neice to visit from Arizona. Lists of what music, clothes, books to bring.

...also, the benefits of having dogs over children (dogs don't stay out too late without calling to say where they are, dogs don't leave and break your heart, dogs like to be in the room with you
Bonus answer: favorite memory from the 4th: after playing in the parade, husband and boys and I all went to a party at the band director's house. They had a jazz band playing in the background. Both step-sons sat in with the band part of the time. Amazing to hear oldest on the upright bass. I felt so proud.

pondering also why I can't get the spaces to align correctly!!! argh!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

About Poetry

I've been reading A Poetry Handbook, by Mary Oliver, and I couldn't resist this quote, at the end of the book. "Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision -- a faith, to use an old-fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed."
What do you think?

Poem: To Be Of Use, by Marge Piercy

Mompriest and I are discussing poetry on our respective blogs. Now it's my turn -- and this is the next poem I want to share.

I discovered this poem in a book of essays called The Impossible Will Take a Little While, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb. The essays, from various faith traditions, speak about the connections between social justice and spirituality. There were also several poems in the anthology, including this one. I think of this poem, as well, when I consider my younger stepson and his girlfriend, who last May built a kiln in our backyard for a school project they did together on Japanese Raku pottery.

To Be Of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

(from collection called Circles on the Water, Alfred A. Knopf, 1982)