Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The rumor is that the place I will be staying does not have internet access. Serious blogging withdrawal will occur, I'm afraid.
Also, serious dog and husband withdrawal.
I'll be at a women's leadership training event. Stories will resume when I return.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
My father and my mother did not go to college, but I did. I went to a small midwestern Lutheran college just far enough away from home to qualify as 'away from home.' I decided to go to this college because I was a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran girl, because I wanted to learn the Scandinavian language they offered at this college, and because they had a good Literature program.
I did not go to college to become a holy roller.
I did not know what a "holy roller" was.
I have two sets of god-parents: both Lutheran, and both religious, but in different ways. For example, one of my godfathers liked to quote Karth Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the other one gave me a copy of The Cross and the Switchblade. My second set of god-parents would also say things like "we're praying for you," sometimes, which I took to mean: "We think you are in a lot of trouble, spiritually."
I went to college, this small Lutheran school just a little bit away from home, and I tried a few things for the first time. I went to a beer party (I didn't like it). I tried cigarettes. I went out a few times.
And I signed up for a course called, "The Neo-Pentecostal Movement" for January Term.
We read a few books, had some class discussions, and had several speakers with different points of view. I remember a few of them: A history professor from a nearby Lutheran school, a lay woman from the local Four Square Gospel church, and an Old Testament professor from one of our seminaries. We learned about Azusa Street and the turn-of-the-century revival there, and how it grew. We also learned about Lutherans and Episcopalians and others who had experienced pentecostal revivals, but who did not leave their churches.
Many, but not all, of the students in the class had had some experience with this pentecostal movement. In the evenings, some of us would get together for worship.
On the night before the last session, there was a sort of a prayer-meeting in someone's room. A number of people were there. People were praying for each other, and some of them were speaking in tongues.
At one point, they started praying for me. I'm pretty sure I wanted them to, although I was also nervous about it. I remember it was dark, and there were candles around, and everything seemed sort of mysterious. I don't remember exactly what happened, but that at some point I realized that I was speaking in tongues. I heard someone say "praise the Lord!" and then I figured out what was happening.
It was late at night when I got back to my dorm room. More properly, it was early in the morning. But I felt exactly like the apostles in Acts, chapter 2. I didn't want to go to sleep. I pulled open my Bible, and started reading the letters of Paul, and I thought, "I know exactly what he's talking about." It seemed like the Bible now applied to me in a way that I never thought it had before. I wanted to read it. It was my story. I had the exhilarating and arrogant feeling that I might understand it.
For a few months after that, I was on a kind of spiritual high. I was interested in everything about God, and almost nothing else. To be honest, I was also, in some ways, insufferable to be around. When I think back on that time, and the patience with which my aunt and uncle (for example) treated me, I think so much more of their Christian commitment than I do of any amount of speaking in tongues.
I still look back fondly on the experience I had that evening in the dark, with the candles. But there are other things I do not look fondly on. I don't look fondly back at the limitations charismatic leaders put on women; I don't look back fondly on the judgments some made of those who did not claim the exact same spiritual experiences; I don't look back fondly on what I perceived as a quest for bigger spiritual 'highs.'
After all these years, I'm still looking for a way to integrate the experience I had with the kind of Christianity I claim: a faith that seeks justice, and does kindness, and walks humbly.
...to be continued... (if anyone is interested)
Sunday, January 25, 2009
During my Senior year of high school, I took a year-long college-level literature course called "Honors English." I still remember the first day of class, because our teacher told us our assignment for the evening was to go home and read the book of Job. How often do you hear that in a public school? (Probably even less often these days).
I went home and read all 42 chapters of the book of Job in my confirmation Bible, which was the Revised Standard Version. The next day our teacher handed us each a copy of Archibald Macleish's prose-poem, J.B.
Thus began a year-long struggle with faith.
The theme of the play J.B., like the book of Job, deals with the question of suffering. Some of the lines from the play are lifted straight from the Bible. And both the Bible and the play raised what seemed (and still seem, to be truthful) unanswerable questions about God and evil to me. A particular recurring couplet in the play troubled me:
"If God is good he is not god/if God is god he is not good/Take the even, take the odd..."
I remember coming to my teacher with my doubts. To her credit, she took me seriously and said that the Christian answer to suffering might simply be to be present with the sufferer. At the time, that did not quite make sense to me.
Throughout the year, we read Pirandello, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Camus and Hermann Hesse. Our teacher gave us a lecture on Kierkegaard to help us to understand Camus' novel The Plague. We learned about Jung and the Collective Unconscious, and studied the Holocaust in order to read Eli Wiesel's book Dawn.
In the meantime, I was searching and questioning. The things I learned in Sunday School and at church camp did not prepare me for the things I was learning. They did not give me any ammunition to fire back at the unbelief that was creeping in. Not only that, my Sunday School lessons did not prepare me for the deep conversations I had throughout the year with Jewish friends, who asked me if I thought they were going to hell, and "Jesus people" friends who asked if I was "saved."
It seems funny to think about it now, but do you know what I did?
I went to the library. I found the theology section and I took out books about Jesus. I no longer remember the titles of any of the books that I read, or tried to read. I believe that some of the books were Historical Jesus books. I learned a little about Albert Schweitzer and the Search for the Historical Jesus. I didn't understand everything I was reading (including the word 'eschatology', which I heard for the first time), but I gathered from what I read that, in the end, the Historical Jesus was notoriously difficult to pin down. Some blamed Paul for Christianity. Others contrasted the Synoptic gospels (synoptic! another new word!) with the gospel of John.
It was a whole new world, and it didn't help at all.
The thing was, I wanted to be a Christian. I wanted to believe in Jesus, even though he was notoriously difficult to pin down. Believing didn't make much sense, but not believing made even less sense.
I remembered something my English teacher had taught us about Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish Lutheran theologian and philosopher. Kierkegaard talked about "the leap of faith" -- he seemed to think that finally, in order to believe, you just had to leap over the absurdities that were strewn in your path. (Anyway, there was something comforting about acknowledging that faith didn't always make sense.)
So I did.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
That's the first thing my husband said to me this morning.
That's what I want to say to you, too.
The weight of so many expectations, and so many hopes for change, must be enormous. As for me, behind all of my specific hopes, is one:
that this might be a new era of participation in our democracy, that citizens are empowered to find their voice, and to work for justice in their communities.
What is your deepest hope?
"Happy New Era."
Monday, January 19, 2009
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.
Martin Luther King, Jr., "Strength to Love", 1963
I can't add anything to that, except to urge all of us to take it to heart.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
I said that the first step in our discernment is to ask God to speak to us, and to trust that God will speak to us.
Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
To me, the story of Samuel has so much poignancy: the old priest, who has the wisdom of serving and loving God for all these years, but not the courage or the vision to do what is needed now. The young Samuel, sleeping next to the Ark of the covenant, hearing God calling him, but not knowing who it is, or, more important, the implications of God's call. For all his faults, I love the old priest Eli, even though his time is ending. And one of the things I love about him is how he accepts the word of the Lord, how he accepts God's judgment. "Let him do what seems good to him," he says.
Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
Our community is changing, I said, but we can still be a community church. We can still be a church that welcomes the people who are moving here. We can still give people a place to worship, learn, and learn to hear God's voice to them. But we will serve, welcome and nurture a more diverse community. To tell the truth, I don't know exactly how to do that. I do know one thing: I believe our children, like Samuel, will show us the way. The question is: are we Eli, with the wisdom, but not the courage, to serve God?
Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
After the first service, I looked out of the front door of the church and saw a thick, beautiful snow falling. Not all snow is beautiful, just ask my friend Songbird, who had a terrifying drive home from church today. But this was just as if someone had tipped over one of those snow globes right outside the church doors. A sudden delight seized me, the unexpected beauty, and I exclaimed, "Look at the snow!" ... and all the church heard it, because somehow my mike was still on.
Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
At both services today, we sang Here I am, Lord, and even though it has sometimes become a cliche, and even though we have perhaps sung it too often, I found myself moved.
I will break their hearts of stone/give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send?
And at our 10:00 Contemporary Service, we sang a gospel song called Lead Me, Guide Me, and John Bell's The Summons.
Will you love the you you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
So many questions today: our changing neighborhood, and our fear of the future, our call, if we will answer it, the challenges of poverty and racism, the call to do justice. And then there is the unexpected beauty, if we have eyes to see it: the children, our disciples, our teachers.
Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
Friday, January 16, 2009
3. I always wanted to be a mother. This is one of my excuses for my large collection of children's books.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Subtitle: "You can make me rich."
Sorry if I am skeptical. No, actually, I'm not sorry to be skeptical. Here's my book on dieting: Eat Less. Exercise more. Do not snack between meals. Have fewer pieces of chocolate cake. The End.
Rich Like Them, by Ryan D'Agostino.
Where to start? First of all, I can't believe the audacity of a title that obliquely refers to the 1960s classic Black Like Me, about a man who actually discovered what it felt like to be black. The idea of this book, it seems, is that the author knocked on the doors of the super-rich, with their huge houses, their incredible lifestyles, their unbelievable vacations. He discovered, not surprisingly, that "the rich are different than you and me."
Personally, I suspect that this quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway is accurate: "They have more money." I suspect that there are interesting rich people, boring rich people, hard-working rich people, lazy rich people, just like in every class of person there is.
Finally, I wonder what Tom Petters and Bernard Madoff would have said if the author had knocked on their doors?
What about you? What books are you probably NOT reading this year?
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Last year I only ended up reading 31 books. That's nowhere near the 60 book goal. This year my personal goal is to read 50 books in 2009. And I started early. I read my first book on January1: The Small One, by Charles Tazewell. It's an old book, not well known at all, but the author is well known for writing the famous (or infamous, in some circles) children's classic, The Littlest Angel. The small one is an old donkey, worthless to his owners, but loved by a little boy, who ends up being given a great responsibility.
While I was on vacation, I completed a book by Abigail Thomas called Thinking About Memoir. I loved her book, Three Dog Life, and this little book is just as well-written, but it's more a book of writing, and memory, exercises than it is a memoir itself.
I had read parts of In the Bleak Midwinter a couple of years ago, but the dog ate it before I got to the end. In December I read the last two books in the series, so I took the opportunity to go back and re-read the first in the series. It was fun vacation reading.
The Bible Salesman, by Clyde Edgerton, was my next vacation book, and just as fun as In the Bleak Midwinter, but in another way. I blogged about it here.
Finally, I read Timothy Egan's fine book, The Worst Hard Time. It's a harrowing and finely-written account of the dust bowl during the depression, and those who lived through it. It's really an environmental disaster story. I remember a conversation with a friend of my husband's, a free-market kind of guy, who said most people didn't understand that the "market" is a law, like gravity -- you can't ignore it. This book reminds me that there are other "laws" as well -- laws of nature, and that we ignore at our peril.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Saturday, January 10, 2009
- It has become clear during the last few days that we've been here that I have gained back all of the 20+ pounds that I lost two years ago. Needless to say, I am disappointed in myself, and thinking about what I can do differently in order to increase my fitness again. I'm also thinking that blogging might have had something to do with it (if anyone here has figured out a way to exercise and blog, please raise your hand).
- On the other hand, I feel that I have begun a very good reading discipline in the week we have been here. I'm already on my 5th book for January (more on that later), and hope that I can discipline myself to read 50 books in 2009.
- We leave early Monday morning. On the one hand, it's been too short. I need a vacation. On the other hand, I feel that I will be behind before we land.
- I'm trying really hard not to make lists of things to do -- at least on paper -- while I'm here.
- I think I've stopped dreaming "church dreams" -- just in time.
- We spent the afternoon knocking around in the desert east of Florence, Arizona this afternoon. It's barren, wild, beautiful and empty -- all at the same time.
- A former pastor of mine, Sharon Betcher, wrote a book recently. It was reviewed in Christian Century. I'm thinking about this for several reasons. Pastor Betcher is probably one of the reasons I became a pastor; she started me thinking about many things in different ways. However, I think it is safe to say that our pastoral styles are very different. Just the fact that she wrote a book is intriguing to me. I almost bought it before we left on vacation. When I get back, the book goes on my reading list.
- I realized today, spending the afternoon with my sister, how much I miss her, since she lives several states away and has a very busy life.
- I wonder what the title of my first book should be?
- coming soon: look for "blogger meet up", desert pictures, etc.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
On the way to the Desert Botanical Gardens, then, we were listening to Mysterious Mountain, and I was reading The Bible Salesman, a wonderful little novel about a young man who in the early 1950s South who is an unwitting accomplice to a criminal. He also is selling Bibles, and, coincidentally, really reading them, as if for the first time. This Bible-reading theme is a background, a curious counterpoint to the story of the naive and earnest young man and how he grows up. He's asking questions about the Bible that he has never asked before, and wondering about whether it is true, and how it can be true. In the end, he finds comfort in different truths that he discovers in the Bible, and in his life.
I thought about how our ears need fine tuning so that, in each age, we can hear God's word -- in the strange words of the Testaments, Old and New, in our words to one another, in the soft or loud voices of those on the mountains or on the margins, speaking a counterpoint to the big and brash news of the day. I thought about how my eyes need fine tuning so that I can see the beauty in the desert, where, the land is big and barren, and it takes a sharp eye to capture a quail walking through the brush, or fairy dusters, small bright red spots among muted browns and greens. Some beauty is loud and brash, and takes my breath away; some beauty skirts along the edges, or even hides; I need to fine-tune my eyes to see it, just as I need to fine-tune my ears to really hear the truth.
Monday, January 5, 2009
The house is quiet; Scout has already been delivered to her dog sitter's. I miss her already. However, she ran up their steps and down the steps of their split level when we arrived yesterday. We know she's having a good time.
I don't have a big agenda for the week, except:
- if it's sunny, get some sun.
- try to meet Mompriest on Tuesday
- spend time with family
- go to the Desert Botanical Gardens.
- read and exercise
- spend time with my husband (who might have an agenda of his own, ya think?)
I don't know if I will be on line too much in the next week. I may post some pictures.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
I woke early to prepare for my Breakfast Bible Study. We're studying John, and these guys are good. They've been studying together for over twenty years, so I'm reading a little bit of Kittel on the word "doxa" as it pertains to John. I thought they might be interested in this. They're Bible scholars, after all. One of them professes to be a "Kiekegaardian existentialist"; another calls himself a "confessional Lutheran."
I ordered my regular oatmeal and toast with peanut butter and drank plenty of coffee. After the Bible study I for some reason did not stop to buy a Saturday newspaper, as is my habit. Instead, I headed straight to the church, where I have a lot to accomplish before I go on vacation.
- write prayers (I discover that I didn't really have to do this)
- put together list of contemporary songs we know for music minister
- contact several shut ins and make appointments; reorganize my shut-in list for 2008
- get ahead on journal reading
- make sure appropriate people have my itinerary for next week
- check up several times on Revgals "preacher party"
- return library book
- buy present for my sister!
I have been trying to save money (and shelf space) by getting books out of the library instead of buying them. It's working moderately well, except that I don't always get the book read by the due date (I need to pace myself), and I really have to work to get the books back on time. Otherwise, I think the library is a great idea. I like libraries.
I finished my work day by going to visit a parish member on hospice care, and bringing home my new "Feasting on the Word" study book, with every intention of reading and studying this very evening. Somehow, though, it didn't happen. Instead we:
- looked for car keys
- found car keys
- took a trip to a local used book store (where I got a few good deals)
- knitted a couple of rows; realized that I really don't know what I'm doing on the braided cable thing, and hoping that eventually it will look ok
- went out for burgers
- let the dog out; stood in the door for several minutes calling her to come in; finally got her food bowl and a few kibble, after which she bolted in the door.
- read a few pages of Abigail Thomas'book Thinking About Memoir
- starting packing the big suitcase
The rabbits are dancing in the yard; as I get ready for bed, I'm thinking again about the fence and the gate, and the holes in the fence. I'm thinking about the joy I felt when my dog was able to keep chasing the rabbits with grace and abandon.
There's a purpose for fences, I know; but there's a purpose in living with abandon, too, to find a way out of the ordinary -- if only in our dreams.
That's what I'm thinking about tonight, anyway.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Thursday, January 1, 2009
The first sentences of the first post of every month. I cheated on three -- they were friday fives, and I decided to print the question and the beginning of my answer. Also I still think I need to learn to write better ledes.
Finally, I am interspering links to a few favorite posts of the year.
January: I don't have a story for this, but I have random foggy memories of a few New Years in Japan.
I don't think I'll ever have a better New Year's post than this one, about opening the New Year in Japan. Akemashite Omedeto!
The Lutheran Cable Network
February: Transfiguration Year A
Matthew 17:1-9/2 Peter 1:16-21
Long ago, a wise old rabbi lay on his deathbed.
March: This is a music video dedicated to a victim of domestic violence.
April: We are now entering my birthday month (woo-hoo!)
Easter Vigil Reflections
May: (Friday Five) 1. How do you pray best, alone or with others?
I think I'm much better at praying with others, whether in hospital rooms, in my office, or in another person's home.
June: I'm typing this at church right now because we have not had electricity since about 7:00 last night.
Who Wants to Start a Movement?
Reflections on my Ten Year Anniversary
July: Marsha over at Just Some Thoughts has given me a very lovely award called You Make My Day. It is pretty, isn't it?
August: 1) How do you amuse yourself when road construction blocks your travel?
I don't know that I amuse myself.
My new desk came in (Almost) A Million Little Pieces
September: I was sitting at my new desk on Sunday, still organizing some things (ok, many things), and feeling like the chair I was sitting in was not quite the right height.
October: 1. Saint Francis experienced a life changing call, has anything in your journey so far challenged you to alter your lifestyle?
When I quit my job and went to seminary, I often half-joked that I was becoming downwardly mobile.
November: Yesterday afternoon we had #2 stepson over (he was in town for the weekend) to celebrate his 21st birthday.
What We See
December: I started blogging in April of 2007, just about the same time I turned 50 (give or take a couple of days).