Friday, August 31, 2007

By Popular Demand: the post on Lutfisk

There's a story in my father's family about how one year, when the kids were all teenagers, my grandmother made the traditional Swedish Christmas Eve meal, complete with meatballs and Swedish sausage, boiled potatoes, and, of course, lutfisk (yes, I know, everyone calls it "lutefisk." Lutfisk is the real, Scandinavian spelling.) The children, revealing their true feelings, ordered Chinese food. My grandmother went into the bedroom and cried.

My mom and dad argue good-naturedly about lutfisk. He isn't wild about it; she loves it. She says it's because she learned to eat it the good way, that is, the Norwegian way: with hot melted butter all over it. He, on the other hand, had to eat it with a cream sauce (which, I guess, is a punishment worse than death).

Lutefisk is, literally "lye fish". It has been a popular favorite in Sweden and Norway since medieval times. It is cod soaked in lye. I used to think it was perhaps much more popular with the Scandinavian immigrants than with the Swedes or Norwegians themselves, but I recently found a web site that indicated that they still eat it over in the old country. The Swedes mostly reserve it for Christmas time; the Norwegians like to eat it all year long. Maybe it's because of the butter.

I only remember having lutfisk once or twice as a kid. My grandmother, who didn't learn from experience, served it at least once at Christmas. I tried a bite.

So, not long after I moved into South Dakota (actually, I think it was Labor Day weekend) , a couple from my congregation asked me, "Do you like lutefisk?" (they said it with an "e".) Thinking it was a trick question, I answered, "Why do you ask?" It seemed that there was a very big and very popular lutfisk dinner in nearby large(r) town (1,000 people to my 63) coming up at the end of October. They wanted to show their appreciation for me by taking me to the dinner. It was the nicest thing they could think of to do. But if we didn't buy the tickets during the next week, they would all be gone.

Thinking about my experiences with cultural exchange in Japan, I said "yes." I might learn something. What could it hurt?

My parish members were so proud to have me there with them. They watched me to make sure I ate my lutfisk, said this was about the best dinner in the area. "Really good fish," they said. And it was so crowded! People had to eat in shifts, because the church basement was not big enough. And, at a lutfisk dinner, they don't just have fish. They have meatballs too.

I have found out since, that here in the Twin Cities, you can go online and find a "Lutefisk Dinner" at some church somewhere almost every week once it hits mid-October or so. It's quite a social event for people of a certain age and ethnic persuasian.

The retired pastor who cooks the fish (in a mesh bag, by the way) for my congregation is 90 years old. So it's possible that this social and cultural event will die out someday. But in the meantime, there are still quite a few people left who get together around long tables eating white fish covered with butter. And meatballs.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Remembering Katrina

I can't add anything to all of the wonderful posts encouraging us to pray for and to remember the people of New Orleans. But at Wild and Precious there is an encouragement to get involved, and over at Wounded Bird, a wonderful poem reflecting on Katrina.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Living Liturgy

I remember once when I was a little girl going to visit my uncle and his family. My uncle was a pastor in a small town somewhere in Iowa -- not a Lutheran pastor, though. He was a pastor in the Evangelical Free church. I remember being very disoriented by the bulletin, which hardly had anything in it. Just a couple of songs, and a sermon (a long sermon, I remember). And there was no place in the book (except for the hymns) where I could follow along, as I was used to doing. No prayers to read together, no "Lord, Have Mercy/Christ, Have Mercy/Lord Have Mercy", no "Gloria Patri", no Apostle's Creed.

It was clear to me on that day that this worship service, anyway, was for adults.

I had no such ideas as a child. I grew up with the Red Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, Settings One and Two. As for me, I never felt bored by the liturgy, even though I didn't understand everything about it. Even without understanding, I could participate by singing along, by praying along, by chanting along. And as I grew, I began to understand some things. I remember that my dad used to sit by me and help me find my place in the hymnal. I loved hearing him sing the Bass part on the three-fold Amen. And when I discovered, in the back of the hymnal, the index of "First Lines and Common Titles", I thought that I had learned the secret handshake! Whenever the sermon got a little too long, I would look up my favorite hymns.

Maybe I was lucky because I was such a reader. I would read anything, even a hymnal; it fascinated me. I still have the 5th grader Sunday School book where we learned the meanings of all of the parts of the liturgy: Invocation and Confession, Introit and Gloria Patri, Kyrie and Gloria in Excelsis and Collect. And I remember my confirmation pastor talking about the liturgy as a great drama, where we remember the mighty acts of God and become a part of them.

Now, it seems, for many people, that the liturgy has become a part of the problem. Empty ritual, they call it. And it can be. Sometimes it does seem as if people are only going through the motions when they participate in the liturgy every week.

So people think that something "freer" is more genuine, more authentic. There is something better about a pentecostal praise service or about a less liturgical Baptist service. "They don't have liturgy," is the reason. But I'm not sure about that.

I remember being involved in a non-denominational Pentecostal church sometime during college. I would go to a Thursday night prayer meeting, and sing intently with all of the enthusiastic songs, and really feel as if my heart was in it. Somewhere along the line, perhaps after a month of two, I started to realize that the opening song selection always followed a similar pattern. They may not have had a printed liturgy, but they did have an order of worship, and it was designed to get a certain emotional effect. It became clear to me that there was a purpose to their "liturgy", even though it was not printed out.

Perhaps one of the things that is missing these days is the sense of the purpose of the liturgy. What is it for? Why do we do it? Why do we design our worship in a certain way (other than the historic integrity)? It is not simply to get an emotional effect, but there is, or should be, a sense of movement, a sense of purpose.

I have been taken recently with Dorothy Bass' series of books, Practicing our Faith. I believe that at least part of the purpose of worship is ritual practice for an authentic life of faith. So when we kneel, we a practicing humility and servanthood. When we sing, we are practicing praise. When we sit for the sermon, we are practicing for a life of sitting at Jesus' feet and learning from him. And when we receive communion, we are practicing putting out our hands and receiving from God.

In one sense, though, there are many different purposes for worship. But in another sense, worship is a gigantic waste of time. When you are in worship, you are not serving the homeless, earning a living, signing a petition, doing laundry. On one blog earlier this week, the insightful author critiqued the maintenance mode of most churches. She said, most people who want to save the world, don't say "I think I'll join a church." People who want to save the world have better ways to use their time. But on another blog recently, I saw a compelling image of a circle: "Save the World/Save the Liturgy", was printed around the circle.

That's the challenge I think. Our mission is to save the world -- but it's a funny way to save the world, isn't it? Somehow, worship is an integral part of this mission.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An "Old" Sermon

This sermon was preached 9 years ago, when I was pretty new still at this church. I hope it's not a mistake to post it: I'll be preaching on a similar text this weekend! I remember that I was really trying to figure out how to pull everything together, and on Thursday we were at a large meeting of pastors. We sang before we ate lunch together, and that's the spark that got me going.
"Be Present At Our Table, Lord"

My first week in South Daokta I learned something about being a Host... and about being a Guest. And both at the same occasion! It was my first funeral at the little country church, and the community had turned out to pay their last respects, and also, to check out the new minister (me). Things were going pretty smoothly, I thought, as we progressed through the serivce, as we journeyed to the cemetery and back, and as i prepared to lead them through the traditional table prayer: "Be present at our Table, Lord." The tables were set, the ladies were ready with their sandwiches and their hot dishes, the family was seated, and we began with the song all Lutherans know so well:

Be Present At Our Table, Lord,
Be Here and Everywhere Adore d
These Mercies Bless and Grant that We
May Strengthened for Thy Service Be. A-MEN

...except that they weren't singing "strengthened for thy service be." They were all singing "feast in paradise with Thee." I was leading, but they weren't followoing -- or at least, they were following, but only up to a point. And although I thought they were singing the "wrong" words at first (that is not the ones I knew and grew up with), I learned to appreciate them, and also to ALWAYS announce which ending we were using on each occasion.

This is part of being a good host, to make sure everyone knows what's going on, what the expectations are. And also, don't expect that your guests are exactly like you. ... But lately I have been wondering if there wasn't one anohter thing I learned from that Funeral Banquet and from that Song. The version I grew up with: "Strengthened for Thy Service Be" is, after all, a prayer for Hosts. It is a prayer for the ladies in their white aprons, for all those who cook and clean and paint and scrub and sweep and make things nice for other people. It is a prayer for those who organize and strive to get things right, and to make things right. Hosts pray that they will be strengthened for their service, that neither the food nor their feet will give out, that THEY will last as long as the party, and that everyone will go away pleased.

On the other hand, "Feast in Paradise with Thee" is a prayer for guests. It is a prayer for those who are sitting at the table with hot steaming dishes in front of them. It is the prayer of those who have been invited, who are hungry, who are imagining with anticipation the delicacies of fine wine, food and conversation. Most of all, it's a prayer for those who need a feast -- who are hungry and thirsty -- and maybe for many things, for food of course, but for companionship, for justice, for hope.

So -- which prayer do you prefer? The prayer for hosts? Or the prayer for guets? Do you prayer to be strengthened for service? Or do you pray to feast in paradise?

Guests and hosts, and their dealings with one another... that is what Jesus is observing in the Gospel today. He has a keen eye for details not jsut of etiquette, but of human relations. He sees guets not just concerned about what they will be served, but where they will sit, and what that will mean. He sees guets not just worried that they won't know which is their salad fork and which is their dessert fork. But he sees guests worried about their honor, and what a certian seat may mean. What if they are asked to sit next to someone who might be of lower rank than them? What would that mean? And what would it mean to not get a seat at all? If you think these sorts of concerns are dated, just go into any junior or senior high school lunchroom, where it can be very important who you sit with. There are higher and lower places in lunchrooms, and there are seats of honor and seats of less honor. There are cues that tell you that you belong or that you don't belong, that you are "cool" or you are not. And school luncherooms are not the onl place where there are assigned seats and places of honor. At picnics and potlucks, at restaurants and family dinners, and even in church pews, there are seats that signal "you belong" and places that let you know "you're a stranger."

It is this behavior and this desire of guests that Jesus observes -- and critiques. He lets people know that in the Kingdom "status" is not ranked in the same way, or belonging either. In the Kingdom a gracious guets isn't concerned about the best seat in the house, or about sitting with the "cool" people. In the Kingdom a gracious guests rejoices in the seat given, whether high or low. In the Kingdom you might end up sitting next to people who eat with chopsticks or their hands, who dress in gowns or rags, who are friends or enemies. Are you a guest who feasts in God's kingdom? Delight in the seating arrangement, then, as well as the food and the conversation.

Guests are not the only people in Jesus' field of vision, though. Jeuss observes Hosts, too, and has advice for them. He notices that they control the guests lists, making sure the right people get in, and the wrong people stay out. After all, they want to make sure the party is a success, that enemies don'tsit next to one another and make everyone uncomfortable. And they'd also like to get invited to a few good parties of their own. So they choose their guest list carefully ,just as carefully as the menu and the decorations. Any good host will tell you that the guest list is as important as the menu and decorations, too. And Jesus even agrees. His guests list just looks different than most people's. So -- are you a Host who longs to be strengthened for service in the kingdom? Keep you mind and your guest list open as you set the table...

Jesus observes that there are table manners in this world -- and that there are table manners in the Kingdom of God, too. And Jesus wants to let us know -- both guests and hosts -- that the manners acceptable in the kingdom look much different than those encountered at banquets here. Even the word "banquet" becomes transformed by Jesus. When I think of a banquet, I think of a party to which my friends, neighbors, relatives are of course invited. I don't define "banquet" as a hall full of strangers -- and of poor, blind, crippled or lame ones, at that. As a host, I of course make my guest list to include people I know and like, or people I would like to know. But for Jesus the word banquet does not mean a party for friends. For him a banquet is a celebration for strangers, a feast for the needy, a meal so abundant that no one can pay it back. Call all those other celebrations what you will -- a banquet is where the poor come to celebrate.

In watertown, South Dakota, there is a meal site called "The Banquet." They serve every Monday night at the Salvation Army, and different groups -- not just churches -- take turns preparing the food and serving whoever shows up. At the Banquet, they don't ask any questions and they don't turn anyone away. They believe that there are different kinds of hunger, and so they never ask anyone to prove that they are poor enough or needy enough to attend. When my parish prepared to serve, there were whisperings that some of the attendees were actually rather rich. We had mixed feelings about whether we were really serving needy people. But we got a team together and we made meatballs and potatoes and gravy one Monday night in February. One of the very few rules of the Banquet is that the servers must eat with those they have served. ... As I sat down to converse with an older man and a middle-aged woman, I was reminded of the time I helped served at another place called "Loaves and Fishes." I felt comfortable lading hot soup. And I felt good about pouring coffee and milk. But then the supervisor said to me -- well, actually, ordered me: "Go and sit and eat with them."

Nothing made me more uncomfortable, to sit down with people in their shabby clothes and hopelesseyes, and eat with them as if I were needy too. But it was necessary.... because I was needy too. I wasn't just a Host thatday -- I was also a Guest poor and needy and hungry too, although I hated to admit it. And I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God too -- the Kingdom we pray to come to us each time we pray the Lord's prayer. The best Hosts are those who know what it means to be needy, to be poor, to be hungry -- to be guests. And the best Gusts are those who have also poured coffee until their arms hurt, and cooked until their feet hurt -- and are grateful for the feast. They know how much it cost.

In this place, we are both Hosts and Guests -- and this is fitting for our Savior in whom we live and to whom we belong is also Guest and Host. Daily we pray: "Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest." Weekly we Pray: "Grace our table with your presence." Daily we serve him, invite him in to eat with us. We invite him, but we don't often recognize him as we serve him through all the guests that walk through our lives, the Salvation Army bum, the grieving widow, the young man with his hard luck story, the family struggling to make ends meet. He comes to us as a guest, just as we prayed for. But then we sit down to eat together, and we discover something else.

We pray to be strengthened for service, and we end up Feasting in Paradise. We ask him to be present at our Tables, and we even sit the table for him, but when he comes, it is His table, and He is the Host. He is the host, and he has never turned down a beggar yet.

As we gather here to feast with him, that is the best invitaiton we will ever hear, and it is the best invitation that we have to share.

Let us stand and sing together as we prepare for the "Lord's supper" -- that old table prayer, "Be present at our Table, Lord," ... and you may either sing "Feast in Paradise" or be "strengthened for service." AMEN

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Great Minnesota Get-Together

Today Husband and I spent the morning and part of the afternoon at the Minnesota State Fair. It's been kind of a tradition for the past few years, although we used to go on Labor Day when everything was winding down. We parked then in the driveway of a friend of his who lived a block away. These days we buy discount tickets and a coupon book, and use the free bus system.

I don't really know why we keep going to the fair every year, but, judging by the crowds, it seems that many other people seem to feel the same way. Even on an overcast, rainy day, there were big crowds milling around, eating cheese curds and mini donuts, anything on a stick, trying to win prizes on the Midway, listening to local folk, country, bluegrass and retro 50's bands (i.e. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap), and listening to sales pitches for new inventions and entering drawings for wonderful prizes. A lot of the booths return to same place every year, which, if the State Fair were a church, would be criticized as empty ritual. To be fair, there are always a few new displays as well -- but just a few.

We came in hungry, looking for breakfast, but had to stop in the Miracle of Birth Center, where two baby lambs had been born earlier that morning, and (so it seemed) millions of piglets. There were also fuzzy chicks and ducks to touch. This is perhaps my favorite part of the fair.

Afterwards we ate a somewhat greasy breakfast at Al's Diner (but the coffee was delicious) after which we found the Farmer's Union Building, which is very close to both the DFL and IR booths. (DFL stands for Democratic-Farmer-Labor and IR stands for Independent Republican. The Minnesota Democratic party is actually a merger with a popular third party of the 1930s -- the Farmer Labor Party. This always puzzled me as all of the farmer I knew were Republican.) There was not a lot of traffic at the party booths, this not being an election year. I saw that Al Franken has T-shirts, but they are not funny. I suppose he is trying not to be so funny. But it made me miss Paul Wellstone. I actually bought one of his T-shirts, because it was so uncommonly clever (lots of faces, I remember, with the caption "many voices, one message").

We also had to stop in at the International Bazaar, where exotic goods are sold, and take a look under the grandstand, where everything is sold. We ate Chicago dogs, onion rings and pizza, and stopped in at Heritage Square. Often they have good local talent like the bluegrass band Monroe Crossing. Once we even happened in on Riders in the Sky! But unfortunately, today it was a local comedy duo called Tina and Lena, telling jokes in a fake Norwegian accent.

We didn't quite get to all the State Fair Shrines. We did not eat mini-donuts this year, and missed the 4-H display. We didn't get to the Mighty Midway (although that has never been my favorite part of the fair). We did see the most amazing variety of T-shirts (my favorite, "cleverly disguised as a responsible adult"); we didn't eat anything on a stick this year. We don't have quite the walking stamina we once did. And we don't have as much discretionary time, either.

But I kind of miss the days of soaking my dirty, aching feet in a bucket, after a long day collecting promotional information, free pencils, keychains, fans, and informational booklets. I miss signing up for all the prizes, in those days thinking I actually had a chance to win one. I miss the thrill of actually seeing what one of my favorite radio voices looked like. I think I go, at least in part, to recapture just a little of the wonder of my childhood.

And to watch the people. That too.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Church Today

I didn't preach this morning. The Senior Pastor is back from vacation, so it was his turn. But I did have two baptisms, which I regard as visual sermons.

They were A five week old boy and a ten week old girl, both the first child in their family. One long-awaited after many years, the other to a fairly new young couple. The young wife is a child of this congregation. Her mother (new grandma) brought in a new, white baptismal gown, decorated with Hardanger embroidery. As she walked toward the front door of the church, carrying the prized gown on a small hanger, she was surrounded by a crowd of women, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the creation. Underneath the new gown, the baby girl wore another, this one 130 years old.

Part of the family drove up from Southeastern Minnesota. I asked how they were faring. "I am vaccuuming water out of my basement," said great-grandma, "but I'm not complaining. I have a house." They drove through Rushford on the way here, and "it's so sad."

The other family asked members of the congregation to serve as godparents, well-known and active members. Many friends and extended family were present for the celebrations.

After the service, the two moms commiserated about their experiences. Did he have jaundice? Did you have to go back to the hospital? I cried. Did you cry? They introduced their babies to each other, perhaps setting up a blind date for 15 years from now.

When I look at my congregation, I see a lot of white heads. We are an aging community. We have children and youth, but for some reason, in the summer season, many of our families are not as active. Some of them, at least, have cabins.

But sometimes I wonder about how well we are transmitting our faith, our living and life-giving faith, to the present and future generations. Some people think it is our liturgy that doesn't speak, or our organ music which is behind the times. Some people think it is the presence of puzzling symbols that don't speak to present generations. But I suspect it is Something Else, something I know deeply and yet can't quite put my finger on, that makes a life of faith seem optional and extra to so many, or even, at worst, deeply irrelevant.

But today I am clinging to my visual sermon: two babies at the font, dressed up as if this really were a special day. Two babies at the font, with the other children craning their necks to get a good view. Two babies, held by their parents, by our congregation, and by God.

If only they would let God hold them for their whole lives.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Joys and Trials of...

RevDrKate over at Prairie Light tagged me (actually a few days ago) for this rather challenging meme about beliefs. I've been putting it off and thinking about it during a challenging week, and finally I'm ready to post...

1.You have to use your own belief system for the meme. No fair using someone else’s to make a joke or satire. Being humorous about your own religion is encouraged!
2.You have to have at least one joy and one trial. More are encouraged. And no, they don’t have to be equal in length, but please be honest.
3.You have to tag at least one other person. More are appreciated!
4.Please post these rules!

The joys of being a progressive, evangelical, liturgical, free church, grace-oriented midwestern Scandinavian Lutheran (Lutheran by baptism and by choice.)
1. Our tradition was born in a university; therefore, reading and studying geeks like me are welcome.
2. "Living in the tension" -- not having to deny the dark parts of life or to pretend that because I am a Christian "Now I am happy all the time."
3. "theology of the cross," God is not the "success god" but the one on the cross, not a fair weather friend, but especially present in suffering and times of trouble.
4. On well-known favorites, nothing beats a bunch of Lutherans singing hymns!
5. An ability to embrace different worship styles from different eras and traditions, and believe that the Spirit lives in them.
6. A finely honed nose for bad theology.
7. "The Freedom of a Christian."
8. Pot luck suppers.

The trials of being a progressive, evangelical, liturgical, free church, grace oriented midwestern Scandinavian Lutheran (Lutheran by baptism and by choice).

1. Most of us are "shy."
2. Having to explain Martin Luther's comments on the Jews to people (no, I don't agree with them!).
3. Most people are either liturgical or free church and think that the other way is in bad taste and not really worship.
4. "Living in the Tension." Sometimes it would be all right to be "happy all the time."
5. Very subtle sense of humor, sometimes to the point of nonexistence.
6. Martin Luther King Jr. was not the founder of our church (not that I'd mind, but someone really asked me once, "how does it feel to have the founder of your church be a black man?")
7. Lutefisk.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cultural Friday 5

Sally over at "Revgals" says:
I have spent the week at Summer School studying the Gospel and Western culture, we have looked at art, literature, music, film and popular culture in their myriad expressions. With that in mind I bring you the cultural Friday 5.

Name a 1. Book
A challenging book was the play J.B., by Archibald MacLeish, which I read in high school. It is based on the book of Job, and it was one of the first challenges to what I believed/thought about God. There have been many inspiring books, including A Prayer for Owen Meany, Peace Like a River (Leif Enger), Blessings, (Anna Quindlan). Many others. And other challenging books as well.

2. Piece of music
There's something about Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I don't know what it is. Almost anything by Mozart, but especially his Requiem and and Kyrie in D Minor.

3. Work of art
Picasso's Guernica, depicting the Slaughter of the Innocents, Michaelangelo's Pieta, and, most important, the Peruvian folk art piece sitting on my desk: a depiction of many people from a village all carrying a cross on their shoulders. It's my colleague's favorite thing of mine, too.

4. Film
Babette's Feast. I've seen it several times. It always makes me cry. Not so much Babette, but the two maiden sisters, and the speech by the general near the end of the movie, when he quotes from Psalm 85, and the old pastor's words. I think I need to see it again. Also, the movie Holes. I watched it with my parents, and when I saw Stanley carry Zero up the hill, I turned to my dad and whispered, "He's breaking the curse."

5. Unusual engagement with popular culture that has helped/ challenged you on your spiritual journey.
I'm not sure about this one. Maybe the Tattoo Festival in Duluth, where I met the "Bikers for Jesus", and realized that they really ARE my people?
Possibly the cartoons of Lynda Barry, which I find both funny and deep.
I'll be cogitating on this one.

Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why?
Yes. Although, when I see all of the references others point to from popular culture (esp. movies) I realize that I'm not as good at it as I would like to be.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Special Day

Today we had blueberry pancakes (with special blueberry syrup), turkey sausage and fresh orange juice for breakfast (and, of course, as always -- coffee). It's my husband's birthday today (I won't say which one) -- and I have church meetings all evening, so I wanted to do something special this morning. It's also his first day back at school. He teaches guitar (both private lessons and class), and music technology at a private college. He also leads a contemporary worship group.

On J's birthday today, here are some things I want to share with the world:

1. He is an accomplished classical guitarist and composer. He also plays "finger-style" acoustic guitar. My favorite of his compositions is called "Crazy Horse." He writes a lot of music for congregations as well. He has written some pieces for a jazz liturgy, and many songs and hymns in jazz, gospel and calypso styles. One of my favorites is a setting of the beatitudes to the hymn tune "Picardy."

2. He makes a mean omelet, blt and reuben sandwich.

3. He's a really good dad, and his sons are both becoming men of integrity. They are both creative as well. Son #1 plays bass, writes and is a creative graphic designer. He is also interested in current events, and was a journalism major. Son #2 plays trumpet, guitar, and mandolin, throws pots, and is planning on physical therapy. He is interested as well in environmental issues.

4. He once wrote and illustrated, and got published a humor book drawing on elements of his Norwegian heritage.

5. He likes to vaccuum, and irons his own shirts.

6. He actually likes to shop for antiques, and go to bookstores.

7. He has been a Twins fan since they first arrived in Minnesota from Washington in 1960. He knew some of the Cuban Players who had apartments here in Minneapolis. He actually watched the world series with some of them in one of their apartments. His sister also interviewed members of the team for the school paper. He admits to losing interest by 1965 because of the Beatles! He did, eventually, come back around.

8. He likes biblical theology, and archeology.

9. He likes everything I cook.

10. He thinks I am beautiful, intelligent and a good preacher and writer.

Happy birthday, honey!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The True Story of why I got yelled at by the Vet

There are two things I've been avoiding: posting last Sunday's sermon, and telling this. As of now -- one down, one to go.

A week ago Monday, a date which will live forever in infamy, we had another of our now quite common thunderstorms. It started off at about 11:00, after we had gone to bed. The first thing Scout did was get up and run down to the basement, under our futon sofa.

You see, not everyone in our house had gone to bed. Stepson and his girlfriend were downstairs watching some kind of a cartoon marathon. I got up and shouted down to keep an eye on Scout. Then I went back to bed, or tried to, anyway, with all of the crashing and booming sounds.

The next morning when I got up, the first thing I noticed was that Scout was not on her bed. "Oh well, she's sleeping with Stepson," I thought, not too worried. But then, when I headed out to the living room and looked out the front window, I noticed: Stepsons car was not there. Apparently he had decided to sleep at his mom's house.

I opened the door to the basement and there, sitting at the bottom of the stairs, tail wagging, was Scout. And behind her -- I could see even from the top of the stairs -- chaos. I didn't even want to go down there. And I didn't. I called Scout upstairs, and we called Stepson to warn him that he might want to come over and check out what Scout destroyed (or possibly ate) of his.

I was pretty sure my "dog who has always had a sensitive stomach" was going to be sick. She once ate a loaf of wheat bread (please, don't ask) and it took a long time for her to get back to normal. I also noticed that she was chewing her paws, and that when I touched them, they were kind of sticky (you know, like caramel). But I didn't really get worried until Stepson told us that it looked like she had eaten part of a hacky sack. And he was really worried about her too.

So I called the vet. I actually wasn't sure what the hacky sack was made of. I thought, like a bean bag, it had beans inside. (Actually, it had sand inside, which explains, I think, why Scout was so thirsty).

He didn't seem all that concerned, but wanted me to find out what was really inside the hacky sack, and what it was made of. That's when he asked me what Scout's diet was. And I told him about the chicken necks and thighs, and the rice, ground turkey and egg.

That's when he yelled at me. He said that the chicken necks were a greater risk than anything else. He said they could make her really sick.He said, "Would you eat those?" (I wouldn't, but I wouldn't eat kibble, myself, either.) I felt shamed and angry at the same time, and said, "Can we not talk about this right now?" He said, "Does she get any kibble at all?", to which I replied, "Yes, a little." He said she should probably not eat anything hard for a few days.

"Tell you what," I said. "I'll just give her the rice, egg and ground turkey I give her in the evening." (I happen to know that this diet is often what vets recommend to dogs who are sick.)

By now you are probably thinking as badly about me as the vet. Even though this is not a veterinary approved diet, it was not my idea. Until January, Scout was getting a special prescription food exclusively. It was a very strict diet. She couldn't eat anything else. In January, we left Scout with our trainer and took our annual trip to Phoenix. A few days into our stay, we discovered the answering machine didn't work, and that our trainer had been trying to contact us.

It seems that Scout had gotten violently ill at her house. After trying to contact us for a couple of days, and not knowing what to do, she put Scout on the diet her dogs eat. Which is the part raw food, part cooked diet that I have described. Curious, I asked her, "how is she doing?"

"Really well," she replied.

"She hasn't been sick?"

"Not at all."

(At the veterinary hospital, there are two full pages on Scout. Besides the broken leg which I have written about previously, almost everything has to do with diet. She will eat anything; she is not picky at all. But she has had problems since puppyhood finding something that agreed with her. Before the latest prescription diet, she was, at one time, down to 47 pounds. She now hovers between 57-60. Also, when she eats something she isn't supposed to, she doesn't get as violently ill as she used to.)

To be perfectly honest, I am not totally comfortable with how I am feeding Scout. The vet succeeded in making me ashamed of what I was doing. But I'm not really sure where to go from here either.

By the way, Scout is feeling much better.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Prayer Request

Please pray for the people of southeastern Minnesota who have experienced torrential rains and flash flooding, and expect more rain this week.

You can read more about it here.

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foodhold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.

I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

Psalm 69:1-3

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Why I haven't posted my sermon yet

1. Let me tell you something funny that happened yesterday.

At 2:00 I was just about done with my sermon, except about one paragraph or so. The Saturday service was beginning at 5:00.

I took a break to try to think of a quick children's sermon for the next day, came back and went into my files. When I found my sermon, the prompt I got was "Sermon title... already exists. Replace?" Without thinking, I pressed, yes.

And I replaced my sermon with a blank page.

At 2:00 p.m.

I did re-write it. (put the coffee back on!)

2. Today, after church, I REALLY wanted to post something funny. I don't know, it's just been a stressful week. So, I posted the ELCA song.

3. We had company for my husband's birthday after church. Neither of us got our naps (which we usually take religiously. ) We cleaned and cooked and entertained.

4. I know it will be late, but maybe tomorrow.

5. See #1 above, and I'm thinking of revising it in the posting... just as a mental exercise. I like what I wrote, but I'm just curious about what a couple of minor things would do.

6. Now I'm finally going to get a little break and rest! Good night everybody!

Something funny, I think

E-L-C-A (sung to the tune of "YMCA")

People, are you listening to me?
Speaking evangelically,
Are you looking for the place you belong?
You can join in singing this song.

Welcome! That's what we say
To the nations, as we follow the Way
Stronger, united, diverse
A true multicultural Church.

It's good to be in the ECLA,
It's good to be in the ELCA.
You can show your true face,
In this welcoming place,
You can gro-oh-oh-ow in grace.

It's good to be in the ELCA
It's good to be in the ELCA
You can get yourself clean,
You can have a good meal,
Experience love that's real.

Global! That's what we are
And yet local, and in the image of God.
Social, serving neighbors in need,
Called into community.

Synods! We've got sixty-five,
Bishops! Keep the rubrics alive,
College-s and seminaries,
Congregational outreach!


Worship! That's what we do.
We've got music, and a new hymnal, too.
Confessing, the Three and the One,
Living out vocation.

Baptized! By water and word.
We are fed by one Heavenly food.
Simul justus et peccator.
You can find what you are looking for!


I don't know who wrote this. Our youth director found it. I will be happy to give credit if anyone knows.

Update: this song was performed and probably written by a group called "Lost and Found" at the 2006 Youth Convention in San Antonio. Thanks, Matthew!

Also, our staff ALMOST sang it at our last new member dinner, but we couldn't learn it in time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rain and other gifts

I do believe the drought is over. Officially.

It started raining at 9:00 this morning. It is not done yet. I got a good walk in with the dog before the rain started, one in which she was profusely admired as beautiful by a man up the street from me. I agreed.

I took communion to the retired pastor and his wife this morning. She is in the nursing home, and he visits her. We talked about tomatoes. He has a large garden. I have one tomato plant, planted too late. I said it looks like a tree, but has few tomatoes. He said I should cut it back. It is putting too much energy into getting big, and not enough into bearing fruit.

I do believe there is a lesson in there someplace.

Later on he brought tomatoes from his garden to church. I can't wait to eat them. Perhaps at my husband's birthday party tomorrow?

One of my favorite people came to church tonight. Wait, wait -- two of my favorite people, D and A. I officiated at their wedding back in April, and then they went and moved to New York City! Manhattan, of all places. You can read portions of my wedding sermon here.

A. used to come to my Bible studies all the time. In fact, she is one of the reasons I started the Bible studies. She always came to the Saturday night chapel service. Then she started bringing Someone with her. This was intensely interesting to all of the widows who attend the service on Saturday. They have all taken her under their wing.

They were in town for her high school reunion this weekend, and came to the chapel service. It was so great to see them. They said, "Come and visit any time." I would love to go to New York! I visited once in 1981, when I was interviewing to be a missionary in Japan. It was my first time 1) hailing a taxi, 2) taking the subway, 3) seeing a Broadway play. If we could see the Twins and the Yankees play, I'll bet I could convince my husband to go.

For Lutherans: They attend Robert Rimbo's church. And they have also attended Heidi Neumark's church. And they still like my preaching. They are people of taste and discernment.

Friday, August 17, 2007


There were two hundred people at B's funeral this morning, and the luncheon afterwards. Just a few of us went to the cemetery for the committal service at about 2:30. We read Philippians 4:4-8 (her favorite Bible passage), Psalm 23, and Matthew 14:22-32. In between the funeral service and the committal I wrote about a page of my Sunday sermon (called "Everybody talks about the weather..."). After the committal, I wrote about another paragraph, typed some random notes, and hit the wall. I had a meeting in the late afternoon, wrote the Sunday prayers (so far) and went home.

Yesterday I promised my Husband that I would cook supper tonight. But as I left the church, I knew that wasn't going to happen. So when I walked in the door, I said, "I'm tired. Let's go out to eat" and he said "Ok." He also said his mother called and said that "It was the best funeral service she had ever been to" (or words to that effect.) (His parents are members of my church). "She really said that?" "Words to that effect."

I fixed Scout's supper -- really predictable: rice, egg and ground turkey. After sitting around for awhile longer, we headed out to a local eating establishment: the kind of non-trendy place that is not too busy on a Friday evening.

In the parking lot we saw two members of my church. They were just leaving. One of them called out "What about that Bible study you were going to have this summer?" I was going to lead another No Experience Necessary Bible Study, but the Senior Pastor and I collaborated on one we wrote together, and I didn't have time for both.

We went in and sat down, ordered a couple of burgers. I looked over at a table across the way, and recognized another member of the church -- or at least a regular visitor. She's Episcopalian. I'm not sure if she has actually joined or not.

The parking lot woman came back. She said, "I'm sorry if I sounded critical. I just really needed that kind of Bible study this summer. I know you are busy." I said I would be sure to have a new Bible study in the fall -- and that she could stop in to talk any time, if she wanted to.

I was really hungry when I came in, but I could barely finish my burger. I did anyway. The woman from the other table came up to me and said, "Thank you for recognizing my face." Suddenly I remembered her name, and introduced her to my husband. "That made my day," she said. Mine too.

"Where do you know her from?" Husband asked. "Church," I answered. "Does she know you well?" "No." I paused. "Well, maybe she does. After all, there are 1500 of them, and only one of me."

At home, Husband showed me something else Scout can understand. He said, "pretty soon," and she went to the front window and looked out. He explained: "that's because I tell her 'she'll be home pretty soon.'"

Smart dog.

I'll be going to bed -- pretty soon, I think.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Saints Triumphant

I've been a pastor at this congregation for just over nine years now, which is longer than I have lived anywhere other than my parents' house when I was growing up. Although it's a fairly large congregation, I've gotten to know many of the people quite well. And even the the ones I don't know well -- I feel like I know them well, because, they always sit in this pew, or they always come to a certain service, or they sit in the top row of the choir, or they shake my hand in a certain way when they leave worship on Sunday. One man always touches my arm as I come down the center aisle in the morning, and asks me, where am I taking my next vacation? (Last Sunday he said I should consider Hawaii.) A friend overhears, smiles, and says, "He really likes vacations."

This congregation was founded just after World War II. We will be 60 years old in December. In the years I have been here, we have experienced a lot of loss: sometimes, on All Saints Sunday, the list of names is so long, and so full of memory and meaning, that it is hard to bear. Some of the losses are the expected ones: people who have lived long and faithful lives who peacefully go home to Jesus. Sometimes they are tragic, lives ended too soon, it seems.

So, lately, and while preparing for another funeral, I have been remembering just a few of the saints who have made this place a church for me, saints who are now feasting at the table of the Lamb, but whose presence I still miss in at our weekly feasts here below.

Saint J... his wife has become one of my good friends. But he was wonderful in his own way, not the least because of his wonderful sense of humor. What I miss most is the gift he had of the well-placed phrase, which sometimes could make me laugh until I cried. Even in the hospital, he knew how to make his visitors comfortable. He died of lung cancer. At his funeral, just before Christmas a few years ago, grown men were sobbing.

Saint L...I remember her as the Happy Nursing Home Resident. But I knew her before she went into the nursing home. I used to visit her in her home, when her husband was still alive, and they cared for each other. He had a magnificant garden, I recall. I had the privilege of taking over the monthly communion calls after the intern left one year. L. loved living at the Nursing Home. Her room was filled with many kinds of toys, stuffed animals, matchbox cars. I particularly remember a singing wall fish that sort of gyrated when you pushed a button. She was never lonely because people liked to stop by her room to get their daily dose of "uplift." But she was sad whenever she lost a roommate.

Saint K... She was always such a Prayer Warrior, both for herself and for others. She had a chronic and debilitating illness. But when she went to the hospital, she made friends with everyone on her floor, as she prayed for them. She used to sit out on her porch and pray for everyone on her block. She was often ill and in pain, but I don't think we ever thought that she would die.

Saint P...She was a real jewel of a woman, with a special tenderness for children, for families, and for service men and women. She wrote letters to all of our service people. She took under her wing all of the families with children who sat next to her in worship, and made them her own family. A story was told at her funeral about the time she stood up at a somewhat contentious congregational meeting, and said, sweetly, "Just remember: Jesus is in this room."

Saint C.... He was a retired pastor who attended our congregation. I remember him for his thick Norwegian brogue, for sitting in the same place every Sunday, and for always saying a good word for my sermons. After he retired, he kept busy in a variety of ways, including serving as a greeter for a local discount store. A true Lutheran, he believed that all work was holy, not just that of Pastor. At his funeral, at the age of 95, there were 400 people.

Of course, there are so many others: ushers and Sunday school teachers, parents and children, choir members and lunch servers and gardeners, those who befriended children and took communion to nursing homes. Ordinary people. Great people. They will all be missed. May they all be welcomed to God's great feast.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of God."

Holy Sonnet X

Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;

For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure: then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

--John Donne

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I hate death

B died yesterday. It was just the beginning of June when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. At first, she thought she had had a stroke. But it turned out to be this, instead. We didn't know, that first day, how serious it would be. We held hands. We waited for the doctor. We prayed. We wanted to hear his advice, the next course of action. The next week B had surgery. After that, she had radiation. She had therapy for a little while, to try to walk again. But, as her daughter said, "the tumor won." She was 75. Her funeral is Friday.

She got over 300 cards while she was in the hospital, and in the nursing home.

I hate death.

I cling to the promise of the resurrection. Sometimes, that's all we have.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Slightly Clearing

Ever since the thunderstorm on Friday night, we've been having trouble with our cable and internet service. Sometimes we can get service only on one computer. Intermittently we get nothing at all. So, last night I listened to the guys talking about fishing up north on the radio (are the lakes a little low? Yah, sure). And I did the dishes which were piling up. And I organized the kitchen more than I have for a long time. I found a recipe that I had been searching for -- chicken ranch wraps. They were quite a hit back in June, thanks to Betty Crocker. But I made the mistake of tearing the page out of the magazine, and have been spending a lot of time since then trying to figure out where I put it. Last night I rediscovered the recipe.

In other news, I've been trying to de-accumulate books from my office library. We'll be having a book sale here in the fall. So I've been "weeding" on the shelves, and discovered a book I was sure someone had stolen from the church library! It was me!

Things are still pretty chaotic around here. There is slightly more counter space in the kitchen. We got the vacuum cleaner fixed. And on the church front, I finally got hold of a couple of people to work with me on a fall event I am trying to plan. Co-conspirators, I like to call them.

But many, many things, on both the home front and the church front, are up in the air. Yes, I'm "living in the tension." I do like doing many things at one time. I never liked just sitting at a desk. But I do feel, once in awhile, that I'm juggling with one too many balls.

I'm working on the computer at church, because the one at home is acting up. The one at church is working, but freezes up a lot. (sigh). I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere.

The weather has cleared a little from the weekend. It's pleasantly warm outside. Inside and around the corner, there are some fellow-travelers, co-conspirators, I like to call them, to share the load.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

This Morning's Sermon

"Number the Stars"

A few years ago, I came across a little book by a woman named Lois Lowry. She writes books primarily for children and young adults. This book was about the Danish resistance during World War II. Some of you might know a little bit about this story. The Danish people knew that they didn't have the military might or strength to opposeHItler by force. But they didn't just give in, either. They all worked together to keep the Jewish people in their communities safe. They would do things like: change the house numbers on their block so that the Nazis had ahard time finding people. They helped their friends escape to Sweden in the middle of the night. There's even a story -- I don't know if it's true -- that the King of Denmark wore a Star of David on his sleeve when he went out in public. This book told the story of the Danes through the eyes of young people who were brave and who helped with this resistance movement. The name of the book is: "Number the Stars."

The book's title is taken form our first reading this morning, the reading from Genesis. Abraham has received a promise from God, a few chapters back, in Chapter 12. God promises Abraham: "I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:2-3) In this chapter Abraham reminds God of his promise and wonders how it can possibly be fulfilled. How can a man with no child become a great nation? He just can't imagine it. And then God invites Abraham to look at the sky and imagine that his descendants will someday be as numerous as the stars of heaven. "Number the stars," God tells Abram. "Just see if you can count them all." And then God goes on to say: "So shall your descendants be." And as the scriptures relate, "Abraham believed God, and God reckened it to him as righteousness."

Lois Lowry's story of the Danish resistance and the story of Abraham are both, at the heart, stories of faith. I believe a better way to translate that last sentence in Genesis 15 is "Abraham TRUSTED God..." because here "believing is not so much an intellectual activity, but a relationship of trust. Abraham didn't look up at the stars and have an intellectual understanding of how it might be possible for him to become a great nation. Abraham trusted God -- this one who had called him to take his family and set out for a place he had never seen before -- so he looked up at the stars -- and something there captured his imagination. In Lois Lowry's story, the people -- and especially the young people -- look not at the stars, but into the faces of their Jewish friends and neighbors. And they see children of God, worthy of life, worthy of love, worthy of protection.

I don't know about you, but I've been thinking a lot about faith lately -- what and who I have faith in, and what and who I might not ha ve faith in. Especially recently, I have caught myself, when out on the road, looking up at an overpass bridge, and thinking: "How does it look? Are there cracks? Is it ok?" I used to drive around the city without thinking at all, trusting, believing that every bridge would hold me up. In fact, I don't think I could imagine the possibility that a bridge might not hold me up. I trusted the steel, the concrete, the mortar, and the skill and wisdom of those who had designed and built them -- just like I trust so many things and so many people every day, without thinking about it.

As I said, faith is, at its heart, a relationship of trust, not primarily an intellectual activity. We don't have to understand the mechanics of car maintenance to trust that when we put a key into the ignition and turn, it will star. I trust not only the people who built the cars (whom I have never met), but the ones who taught me how to drive. We live our lives trusting, often without thinking. Until lately, and lately, I have been thinking, "Where do I put my trust?" Places that seemed to be solid and trustworthy, firm foundations, have proven to be insecure ones. People who we trusted to be wise and vigilant have proven to be fallible. Where do you put your trust? Where do I?

In these days since the bridge on 35W collapsed, we have seen many images and heard many stories. We've seen pictures of fallen concrete, smashed cars, broken foundations: things we thought were secure, and weren't. We have prayed for people we don't even know; we have grieved for people and given thanks with others. We've been angry and frustrated and bewilded. Where do we put our trust? Where do you? That's the question. And what does it mean to trust... when bridges can fall down, when foundations can crumble?

One of the most famous passages in the Bible is from Hebrews 11: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." I'll say it again: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." So we HOPE that bridges will not collapse, and in faith we drive across them. We HOPE that the pilot of our airplane is well-trained, and in faith we board the plane. We HOPE that our spouse will be waiting for us when we come home from work, and in faith we drive in the driveway. The assurance of things hoped for. Faith is being so assured of what we hope for -- that we are willing to take action because of it. But I like the second part even better: "The conviction of things not seen." This is where imagination comes in. This is where Abraham comes in, looking up at the stars and imagining descendants. This iw where the Danish resistance comes in, looking at their Jewish friends and neighbors and imagining them as precious in God's eyes as they were. Imagining that they might even be willing to die for them. Faith is trust: trust in one who is sure, and in a foundation that won't crumble, and in a hand that will never let you go. And faith is imagination: imagining that the things God tells us, no matter how far-fetched they seem, really are true. We can stake our lives on them.

One of the most powerful images, and one of the most powerful stories of the last couple of weeks wasa the school bus, full of children, on the bridge. (The school bus contained mostly immigrant children from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Minneapolis.) One of the reasons that this story is so powerful, of course, is because it turned out all right. Even though the children were scared, and some were injured, everyone was saved. And there were some heroes on that evening: a young man named Jeremy Hernandez, who thought quickly and didn't lose his head. There were others who were on the bridge, who were in danger themselves, who quickly came to the aid of the children on the bus, and who worked to make sure they were all taken to safety. One in particular was a truck driver. He's been interviewed a few times. He speaks clearly about his memory of that day, his fears as he felt his truck falling (and breaking in two), his concern about his family (I believe he's just about to become a father, or is a new father), his fear that his back might be broken. And yet, as soon as he got out of his truck, his first thought was: "The school bus!" He ran to the bus to help rescue the children. The person who interviewed him couldn't believe it. He put his own personal safety aside, and went to the aid of the children. Before he even saw them, he knew: They were precious in God's eyes, just as precious as he was. How did he know?

Faith is.... the conviction of things not seen.

Number the stars, and see if you can count them.... So shall your descendants be.

Long ago, Abraham was given a promise. "I will make of you a great nation, and I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing... and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." And this promise did come true. Abraham did become a great nation, although he didn't live to see it. Israel did become a great nation, and his descendants are many. But even more than that, through Abraham came Jesus -- who came to reconcile all nations and all people to God, to show God's love by dying on a cross, and rising to life. In him we are all God's children, as many as the stars of heaven, as the sands on the seashore. Can you imagine it?

While some people are stingy with God's love, only giving it out a little at a time to those they think are worthy, Jesus flings open his arms and give his life: for us. For all of us. For all of the children on the bus, wherever they come from, whose-ever they are. He give his life to save us from all of the crumbling foundations beneath us, whatever they might be, and gives us the confidence, the assurance, that in his arms we will always be safe, and his eyes, we will always be precious.

A week ago Wednesday, some of us were on the bridge, and some of us were not. But perhaps with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of imagination, we can see: we are all on the bridge, in one way or another. Somali children and truck drivers, the Danish resistance and the Jewish people, walking or in wheelchairs, all colors, all orientations: we're all on the bridge. And we can choose to live and die in fear, or in faith, together or separately. Jesus is our foundation when all other foundations crumble beneath us, and Jesus is the one who calls us to reach out to one another, calling us "brothers and sisters." "Number the stars," he tells us. "See if you can count them. That is the measure of my love for you. That is the measure of my love for the world."

How firm a foundation O saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in Christ Jesus the Word

Throughout all their lifetime my people shall prove
My sov'reign, eternal unchangeable love.

May God's people prove, through words and actions, God's sov'reign, eternal, unchangeable, immeasurable love ... for the world. AMEN

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Last night we had a big fat thunderstorm. At three o clock in the morning I woke up for two reasons: 1) 60 mile an hour winds, 2) Scout was not in our room. She was roaming around the house, looking for a safe place. Even with all of the wind blowing through the branches outside our window, even with the heavy rain, I could still hear her tags, as she walked through the house.

I coaxed her back into our bedroom, scratched under her chin, patted her side. My side of the bed is by the window, so she didn't want to stay. The storm showed no signs of letting up.

Stepson had to get up at 4:00, be to work at the Farmers Market at 5:00. For awhile everyone was up, including the dog. We couldn't get back to sleep.

This morning I expected some of the hot humid weather to have cleared away. There were small branches strewn all over the road. And some of the rain was still shaking out of the branches. In the middle of the sunshine, every once in awhile there would be a gush of rain, startling the dog.

At church I found out that some people had no electricity this morning. There were some stop lights out, gnarling traffic. And it's still hot and humid.

My brain needs a good thunderstorm. There's a thickness, a humidity, hanging over it. I am working on projects, but don't seem to be making any progress. I want everything to fit into neat little boxes, be easily resolved, so that I can go on to the next thing.

In the meantime, there are the little things that came up that I didn't expect: no one prepared communion for tonight, so I did it. What's the psalm tone? The organist always chose one. The substitute wanted to know. Could I copy the psalm for her? Little things.

We got a good, hard rain again tonight. Really hard. Husband said the power went out across the street. A tree branch is down. Meanwhile, we are having problems with our internet. We might need a new router. I'm not even sure what a router is, but it appears to be essential.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Five: Stress Busting Edition

Sally over at the "Revgals" would like us to consider "stress". She's asking us 5 questions and a bonus about how we handle stress in our lives! I wasn't going to play, since I am far too stressed out, but here I am, sucked in on another Friday, while I am handling all the communion services, writing a sermon, prayers and a children's message, and covering as much pastoral care as possible. Stress?!

1. First, and before we start busting stress, what causes you the most stress, is it big things or the small stuff ?
For me, it can be either/or. Sometimes the busy-ness can be a real adrenaline rush, and then one more thing gets added, and that is the straw. Often times it's little stuff. Because when the BIG STUFF comes along, all of a sudden it becomes clear what is important and what is not. Stress is often a result of not being really sure what is most important.

2. Exercise or chocolate for stress busting ( or maybe something else) ?
Potato chips. Walking the dog is a type of exerise that I find very stress-busting. Also, it walks off some of the effects of the potato chips.

3.What is your favourite music to chill out to?

I'm a little prejudiced, but I think that classical guitar is perfect to relax to, especially if played by my husband (in a pinch, though, Christopher Parkening or Segovia will do.) I do still retain a fondness for romantic piano music as well, Chopin or Liszt.

4. Where do you go to chill?

To bookstores, to the library, or for a walk around the lake, one of the fringe benefits of living in my town... lots of beautiful lakes

5. Extrovert or introvert, do you relax at a party, or do you prefer a solitary walk?

Like Mompriest, I like a little of both. Sometimes a party is a good way to get me out of myself (when the stress is inner) and sometimes I need to get away from the noise of it all and think or write or walk.

Bonus- share your favourite stress busting tip!
Here are four bonus stress-busting tips!
1. Singing and playing the piano is very stress-busting for me! Make sure they are songs I can play! Sing at the top of my lungs!
2. Petting the dog, playing with the dog, brushing the dog, scratching the dog's ears, telling the dog what a fabulous, perfect, beautiful specimen of an animal she is (by the way, the picture above is a baby picture).
3. Laughing!!! tell me jokes, take me to a falling-down-on-the-floor slapstick comedy, read me a riotously funny story.
4. Word puzzles,crosswords, acrostics, anagrams.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Flowers etc.

The purple flowers are starting to come back. I was afraid they wouldn't.

When we first brought home the hanging basket, it was thick with purple and pink blossoms, a beautiful addition to our front yard. It was an impulse buy at the farmers' market that morning. But we needed some color in the front yard.

It's been a hot, dry summer. Our front yard faces west, as well. Almost every year I buy a beautiful colorful hanging basket. I seem to have problems keeping the flowers blooming.

This year was no exception. It wasn't long after we purchased the basket that we left on vacation. The basket looked scraggily already when we returned. I've been nursing it and watching it, and clipping out the brown places ever since. Finally, some color is returning. Just purple though.

I noticed a little orange spot in the midst of my one lone tomato plant. When I reached for it, though, it turned out that something had eaten a hole in it. There are a few more small round tomatoes forming, so I still have hope. We'll eat tomatoes yet.

When I bend down to check for tomatoes, I can smell the basil in back. It's the one good thing I did, I think. I planted the basil right in back of the tomatoes.

There are still a lot of wild places left in our yard, unkempt, overgrown. There are places where I should just take a shovel and dig everything up and start over. And there are trees, little wild saplings all over, that I have to pull up. Some old tree is desparately trying to reproduce itself -- all over our yard. There's a lot of chaos in our yard.

At church, B has taken a turn for the worse. I still remember the day in the hospital, when they were waiting for the doctor. We were scared, but we were trying to be hopeful, still. I remember B's strong hand, which said so much more than all of our words. It doesn't seem that long ago we were impatient for the doctor.

I went to a meeting today for pastors and church leaders. We were told about a study that showed that public support and investment in infrastructure declines as racial and cultural diversity increases. This is exactly what has been happening in my state, and it seems ugly. We don't want to invest in each other because we no longer all look alike.

At our Bible study on Wednesday evening, people said that the bridge inspectors have been getting death threats.

Meanwhile, we are preparing for a baptism. The new mother was told some time ago that she would never be able to have children. "What do they know?" we said. He was born three weeks ago.

There is a lot of chaos in my yard. There are many things that still need to be fixed.

But there are a few purple flowers, one tomato plant and some sweet basil. I still have hope.

Poetry Party

Please stop over at Mompriest's for another edifying and thought-provoking poem.

The poet is Ghalib. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A New Poem

I think I need a break, and some time to think.

So, I will post this poem that I found in:

180 more: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day


If you believe in the magic of language,
then Elvis really Lives
And Princess Diana foretold I end as car spin.

If you believe the letters themselves
contain a power within them,
then you understand
what makes outside tedious,
how desperation becomes a rope ends it.

The circular logic that allows senator to become treason,
and treason to become atoners.

That eleven plus two is twelve plus one,
and an admirer is also married.

That if you could just re-arrange things the right way
you'd find your true life,
the right path, the answer to your questions:
you'd understand how the Titanic
turns into that ice tin,
and debit card becomes bad credit.

How listen is the same as silent,
and not one letter separates stained from sainted.

--Peter Pereira

Monday, August 6, 2007

Praying for Peace

I should have posted this earlier in the day, but, better late than never.

Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. My parents and I visited the Peace Park there while I lived in Japan as a missionary. These are a couple of the pictures I took. I'm sorry that I didn't get the statue on the top of the "Sadako" memorial. I was taken by the thousands of brightly colored paper cranes hanging at the site.

I don't have any more words: just pictures tonight.


Sunday, August 5, 2007

In Other News...

There is much I want to post, but I haven't had the heart.

Scout has had an ear infection (right ear) but seems to be getting better now. She seemed to want to destroy things for a couple of days after we got back from vacation, but is returning to normal now (well, normal for her). She ate one of my favorite little books this week, an old prayer book with pictures. It's kind of a first for her.

We went out to eat and saw the movie Ratatouille on Friday night. My thoughts: it's a cartoon, and it's rated G, but it's not really a kids' movie. It has a wonderful message, very uplifting. The animations are fantastic. Paris looks gorgeous. I'm not sure whether kids would "get it" or not. If anyone who has kids (you know, younger than 19) and has seen it, let me know.)

Our congregation's music minister is leaving us, and going to a church in Arizona. It was his last Sunday today. Very sad. But we heard lots of good music, including the gospel anthem: Total Praise (if I knew how to link to sound, I'd do it), Toccata from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in Dm, and Sousa's Liberty Bell March. Also, our children's choir director wrote new words to Billy Joel's song, 'Piano Man'. I don't have the words in front of me, but I remember a couple of lines..."Play us a song, you're the organist... the back of your head's your best side..."

Also, I had a baptism this morning. I officiated at this couple's wedding about 5 years ago. They moved to Colorado. Then early this summer I got a call and they said they were going to be in town: would I baptize their son? They have a three year old daugher, baptized in their church in Colorado, but half of their family still lives up here and they wanted them to be a part of it. I said I would be honored.

I'm not sure if this was the "right" answer. I know children are supposed to be baptized in the congregations where they are going to grow up. But I do know that this family takes the baptismal promises they make seriously. The great-grandparents are or have been members of my church.

There were some connections made after the service. A former pastor renewed acquaintance with a couple he introduced to each other 40 some years ago. I enjoyed seeing this couple and many of their family members after five years. The "bride" said, "Isn't it nice to know that we are taking your advice and doing what you said?" (i.e., going to church, having their children baptized). Yes, it is.

And the Twins won. I should feel happy. But I'm melancholy.

I haven't posted a picture of Scout for awhile, so, to cheer myself up: I think I'll put up my favorite one. If you are having a bad hour, day, week or month, I hope it cheers you up, too.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


Thursday I had meetings and a hospital visit on the other side of town. So I got on the highways, including the one where the bridge failed, but didn't get too close to ground zero.

It seemed like traffic was a little light. I had heard that many people were just staying away. As I drove, I became aware of how many bridges I drove over and under almost every day.

As I drove underneath one, I caught myself looking up, and thinking, are there any cracks? How does it look? Does it look all right?

It's a wonder how we go through our lives every day, never even thinking about the things that hold us up, that keep us going -- most of the time. We live our lives trusting -- that roads will not crumble beneath us, that buildings will not fall on us, that people will stop and go and yield the right of way when they are supposed to. We don't pay attention, until something happens.

As I drove, I listened to the radio. It was all about the bridge disaster, about acts of heroism, about dazed victims, about cars still submerged and shared uncertainty. It was about whether we were adequately warned that this might happen. It was about who to blame, or who not to blame.

I switched the station for a moment to the local progressive talk radio station. I haven't been listening lately, but I thought I'd tune in, thinking the host might weigh in.

It turns out he had on a conservative guru, and they were arguing about taxes. The conservative was saying that if we had more privately owned bridges, we'd do better. The talk show host was saying that perhaps it was wrong to make a profit from roads. He kept saying, "All of you guys think..."

I switched back. I'm tired of ideologues -- right and left. I'm tired of people building walls instead of bridges, and refusing to find ways to solve problems. I'm tired of posturing. I'm looking for someone with humility, someone willing to look up, see the cracks, share the uncertainty.

I was looking through the church bulletin yesterday, and happened to notice that our closing hymn is "How Firm a Foundation." Ironic. It was chosen back at the end of May. I wonder who will think about the foundations that have crumbled recently. I wonder who will think about all the things and people and ideas we trust, usually without thinking.

We're also having a baptism on Sunday. Another child will pass through the waters of baptism, will receive the promise of Jesus' life with, in and for her. There's the firm foundation -- in the promise of God, in the waters of baptism. But God doesn't promise her, or us, an easy life. God doesn't protect us from danger. Instead, God's promise gives us courage to risk our lives and face our death. God's promise gives us courage to put down our gods, to change our minds, to work for our neighbor's good. God's promise can help us to build bridges instead of walls.

How firm a foundation, O saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word.
What more can he say that to you he has said
Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled.

Throughout all their lifetime my people shall prove
My sov'reign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hairs shall their temple adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

Gracious God, by our words and our actions in these days when foundations crumble, may your people be living proof of your undying love. AMEN

Friday, August 3, 2007

Friday Five: Post-Pilgrimage Edition

Reverend Mother, from my friends over at Revgals, writes and asks us to think about 5 things:

Hello friends, I am just back from a lovely time of pilgrimage in the isle of Iona, "cradle of Scottish Christianity." It has provided much food for thought, to say the least, and so, to keep the pilgrim mojo going:

1. Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? (however you choose to define the term) Share a bit about it. If not, what's your reaction to the idea of pilgrimage?
I don't think I've ever been on a pilgrimage, in the traditional sense of the word, as in a journey to a particularly holy place. I don't think there is one "particularly holy" place, in the sense of Mecca for Muslims. I think all ground can be holy ground. But perhaps all of our journeys can be holy, if we have a sense of purpose and destination, and an openness to meeting God.

2. Share a place you've always wanted to visit on pilgrimage.
Again, I don't have a place I've wanted to go to only for religius reasons. But places like "Muir Woods" for example, have been religious experiences for me. I would love to go to Sweden, because it is where some of my family roots are. Also I would love to have the opportunity to travel to Tanzania, or somewhere in Africa, where they can teach us so much about faith.

3. What would you make sure to pack in your suitcase or backpack to make the pilgrimage more meaningful? Or does "stuff" just distract from the experience?
Mostly, I think "stuff" would be distracting. I love books, but I don't want to be distracted by them so that I don't experience the place I am in. A Bible and a guidebook, perhaps.

4. If you could make a pilgrimage with someone (living, dead or fictional) as your guide, who would it be? (I'm about this close to saying "Besides Jesus." Yes, we all know he was indispensable to those chaps heading to Emmaus, but it's too easy an answer)
Of course, I would want to go with my husband (he might insist upon a pilgrimage that had something to do with music) -- It depends on where I was going. If I traveled to Sweden, for example, I would love to take my Swedish grandmother with me. She was a woman of great faith, and there are many things I don't know about her, that I would love to learn on the journey.

5. Eventually the pilgrim must return home, but can you suggest any strategies for keeping that deep "mountaintop" perspective in the midst of everyday life? (don't mind me, I'll be over here taking notes)
Write about it and share it with others. And share the glory that is ordinary life, too.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Day After

This morning we had oatmeal with blueberries, raspberries and pecan halves for breakfast. The television is on the whole time: we alternative between local news and CNN.

It's weird to know that my city is on CNN. This never happens in Minnesota. We are never in the national news, even though we have a couple of big cities here (Minneapolis/St. Paul). Of course, I exaggerate, but only a little. Back when the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) was deciding where to put their national headquarters, they passed over the Twin Cities, even though a lot of Lutherans live here. They decided on Chicago instead. They said they were looking for a "world class" city. Chicago gets into the national news pretty often. People on the coasts barely know that Minneapols/St. Paul exists. Even though we have the Mississippi River here. Right now, everyone knows that.

Of course, in a way, they are right. We are pretty parochial, in a "small town values in a big city" kind of way. At least, that's the image we've liked to project. Sometimes it's even true. We embraced diversity and equal rights way back in 1948 with Hubert Humphrey leading the charge. Of course, at that time it was pretty safe; there was not a lot of diversity to embrace. And we weren't as "nice" as some of our rhetoric: ask the large Jewish population about the history here, or the large Native American population.

It seemed at first, in some of the interviews, the national news people were going to play on that parochialism. My husband said at one point a reporter was standing in front of the George Washington Bridge, and talking about how there's a $6.00 toll on this bridge, to make sure that repairs continue to be updated, and nothing like this ever happens there. The inference was: here in a world class city, we know how to handle these things.

But Minnesota has always been a good government, "we're in this together" sort of place. The "we" used to look a lot different than it does now, but "we" were all in this together, making sure kids got educated, roads got repairs, libraries were kept up and all of the wonderful parks and lakes were beautiful and available for all to use. We were known for our boring, but mostly clean, politics.

A collapsing bridge can be a sign: a sign of what can happen when we don't pay attention to "us". But there's another sign as well, one that I think has also gotten on the national news: the school bus full of children. If you're from this area, you will understand what I say when I tell you that the bus of children was from the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. I ran a summer program at a church there one year. It's one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in Minneapolis.

People who thought they were hurt got out of their cars, and ran to the bus to rescue all of the children. It didn't matter where the children were from, or who they belonged to. They belonged to us. On the news, they interviewed a truck driver whose truck broke in half and fell into the river. His first thought was that maybe his back was broken. His second thought was "the bus!" He helped rescue the children. The person interviewing him couldn't believe it.

Back in the early 70's Minnesota was briefly famous. That summer Time's cover article was called "The Good Life in Minnesota". The cover featured our governor, holding up a catch of fish. The good life Time was impressed by was our determination to invest in human infrastructres. I was out vacationing with my family in California and managed to get a copy.

The bridge collapsing can be a sign. But the school bus can be a sign too. We can work together, through both individual efforts and through our government, to rescue all the children in our extended community: urban, rural, suburban. They are all "us."

Maybe we'll never be a "world class" city. But we can be a "first class" city.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bridge collapses over Mississippi River

Please keep the people of my community in your prayers this evening and over the next days as the 35W Bridge collapsed over the Mississippi River at about 6:00 p.m. tonight. So far we are still getting news and know that Husband's boys and my brother and his family are all right. But we are still watching, waiting and praying and hoping that you will do the same.

Please see this story for more information:

P.S. this is not far from where I live.