Saturday, February 28, 2009

We'll Always Have Lent

I grew up in a traditional Lutheran family, which means, I grew up aware of and following the liturgical calendar, and its colors: white during Easter, green in the summer and fall, purple during Advent and Lent. The circle of the church year structured our lives, much like the seasons in the upper midwest where I lived and still live: there was the long, long winter, a short wet spring, wonderful summers and colorful autumns.

That being said, I did not observe Lent in the way my Catholic friend down the street did. I have no memory of ever "giving something up" for Lent. We didn't eat fish on Fridays, and we didn't get Ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I actually checked the old Service Book and Hymnal, the worship book of my youth, and there was indeed a day on our calendar called "Ash Wednesday", but, as far as I knew, we did not display ashen crosses on our foreheads.

We did have little cardboard boxes on our kitchen tables -- makeshift offering boxes for our special almsgiving of the season. And we did not sing "Alleluia" during Lent. Instead, this was our verse before the gospel: "Christ hath humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."

So what is Lent for? The Lent of my childhood was penitential, and somber, and meant for remembering the suffering of Jesus. Focusing on Jesus' suffering would turn our hearts to repentance, turn our hearts toward life. More lately, we've focussed on things like discipleship, preparation for baptism.

One of the best Lenten series I ever heard about used the questions in Matthew 25: "Lord, when did we see you....." To me, this goes to the heart of what Lent is about. It is a season of pentitence, and sorrow for sin. It is a season to hear the wonderful words of the prophet Isaiah, "You shall be called repairers of the breach, restorer of the streets to live in." And it is a season to reflect on all of the ways we have not repaired the breaches in our lives, in our communities, in the world. It is a season to reflect on the times we have seen Jesus hungry, homeless and in prison, and have hardened our hearts.

And it is a season to open our hearts to the One who is the repairer of breaches, restorer of streets, healer of souls.

What is Lent for?

I think that Lent is a commitment to honesty: really to look at Jesus, really to look at the world, really to look at ourselves -- and live.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You are Now Entering Lent....

This will be published in a slightly shorter form in our church newsletter.

They say that confession is good for the soul, and since Lent begins this week, I have a confession to make.

I have several unfinished knitting projects lying around my house.

One is ½ of one cable sock. I brilliantly decided to learn to knit cable socks a few years ago. The cables are beautiful, and I figured out how to knit on four needles with no trouble. But I got stuck when it came to turning the heel. I didn't know who to ask to help me, so I gave up.

Another is ½ of a lovely aqua vest. I have no idea why this one didn’t get finished. Looking at it after several years, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. But there must be. It’s not done. There has to be some reason I didn't finish it.

Still another is a red cable scarf. When I began, I did not anticipate the difficulty of doing a "braided cable". Looking at it, it’s clear that the braided cable does not braid properly. I also now think that there is possibly a small mistake in the directions.

If I want to go even deeper into confession, I also have a half-done Bible verse sampler that turned out to be too complicated for me. It's counted cross stitch, and I counted wrong somewhere.

All of these projects, for one reason or another, I thought were somehow not perfect or too difficult, and I gave up on them. I thought my knitting project would not turn out perfectly, so I quit. I gave up.

I’ve been thinking about what I might "give up" for Lent this year as well. I could give up chocolate, which would be good for my waistline, or coffee, which would be good for my nerves, or dessert, which would be good for my waistline AND my pocketbook.

Instead, I think I’m going to give up the illusion of being perfect. I’m going to start with that red scarf, the one that isn’t perfect, and I’m just going to keep knitting it until I’m done. I’m not going to rip it out and start over, and I’m not going to quit and start another project. I’m going to keep knitting, hoping to learn and become a better knitter along the way.

And when I’m done, I’m going to look at that scarf and say: it’s not perfect, but it’s useful.

And perhaps I'll come to believe the same about myself, as well.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mardi Gras, and Healing

Today I was in church all morning, three services. As it will be Lent starting Wednesday, we tried to pull out all the stops, singing-wise. At the ten o'clock contemporary worship service, two show-stoppers were the Swedish Song, "You are Holy" (in a Latin beat), and the African "We are marching in the Light of God." We closed with a lower-key gospel rendition of "Lord, You let your Servant Go in Peace." We always offer prayers for healing on the last Sunday of the month. I think it is one of the healthiest, most hopeful things we have done in the past year here. I'm always blessed as I pray for healing for others.

Meanwhile, in the fellowship hall, everyone was whooping it up. It was our annual Mardi Gras brunch and basket auction. The proceeds help us in our community organizing eforts. This year we are focusing on health care and education (I have written about the achievement gap previously.)

Our Mardi Gras brunch features two kinds of egg bake (with and without ham), fruit cups, sausage, juice, and coffee (we are Lutherans, you know: for us it's death, taxes and COFFEE). We also have a silent auction with baskets donated by different members of the church, and also by local businesses. There have been in the past: a knitter's basket, a gardener's basket, a reader's basket, devotional time baskets ... and a local grocery store puts together a wonderful "gourmet goodies" basket as well.

We also have face painting, and a cake walk. I saw three children new to our congregation each walk out of church today with a chocolate cake! One said that she is going to start coming here "all the time!"

"Well, we don't give away cakes every week," I replied. (she knew that, though.)

Another young man visiting is interested in learning about baptism. He is coming with a friend and doesn't know very much about faith.

It's not exactly a mountaintop, but I think I got a glimpse of the shining, today.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sunday Sermon

"On Not Letting Jesus out of our Sight"

This past Sunday afternoon my husband and I were quickly getting ready for a short trip out of town. We were just planning to be gone over night – just a short trip to see family and relax a bit – but of course even though it was a short trip, there were still suitcases and bags of books and knitting and miscellaneous all gathered together on the living room floor. The signs were unmistakable. We were leaving. And it seems that our dog, Scout, also noticed something was amiss – because she started staying very close to me. She went wherever I went and would not leave my side. That's how she was dealing with the stress of the changed situation in our living room. She was not letting me out of her sight. I think she wanted to make sure that in the scheme of things, she would not be left behind.

It strikes me that in the strange (first) lesson we have today – the reading about the old prophet Elijah and his young disciple – something like this is going on. Elisha is capable of reading all of the signs – and he knows that his master is going away. Elijah keeps telling him to stay where he is, and Elisha keeps following. He won’t give up. I like the way this story reads in Eugene Peterson’s translation: "The Message:"

Just before God took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on a walk out of Gilgal. Eijah said to Elisha, "Stay here. God has sent me on an errand to Bethel." Elisha said, "Not on your life! I’m not letting you out of my sight!" So they both went to Bethel. The guild of prophets at Bethel met Elisha and said, "Did you know that God is going to take your master away from you today?" "Yes," he said, "I know it. But keep it quiet. Then Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here. God has sent me on an errand to Jericho." Elisha said, "Not on your life! I’m not letting you out of my sight!" So they both went to Jericho...."

Well, you can see where this is headed, with Elijah continuing on his journey and with Elisha, the younger man, refusing to be left behind, refusing to leave. And in this strange story we hear today (actually one of two strange stories), it’s one thing we perhaps can understand, can’t we? We can understand, on more than one level, the desire not to be left behind, the desire to stay in the presence. It’s a feeling that children have, I think, particularly at a certain age, and while Elisha is not a child, he is a young man, and there’s some security, there’s some comfort in being in the presence of the powerful prophet. It’s the comfort of having someone with you that knows the answers, that you can count on, a sure guide in a time of storms. I’m reminded of the child at bedtime who is afraid of the dark, and tells his mother to stay after the prayers are done. "Well," she reminds him, "God will be with you." "But I want someone with skin on!" the child wisely replies.

"I’m not letting you out of my sight!" Elisha says to Elijah, as they travel from Gilgal to Bethel, from Bethel, to Jericho, from Jericho to the river Jordan. "I know that God is with me, but I want someone with skin on!" And we can understand that cry, as the cry of a child looking for comfort and guidance and wisdom when the darkness is descending. We can understand that, living as we do in a world of uncertainty – especially these days, as more and more people are losing their jobs, as international tensions again heat up.

But there’s something else going on in this strange story as well – something else amid the chariots and the whirlwind and walking across the Jordan on dry land – all strange events – something else that causes Elisha to exclaim and to tell his teacher, "I’m not letting you out of my sight!" He does not want to lose his teacher and his guide, the one who has been a spiritual father to him. All of us who are adult children and have had to let parents and grandparents go perhaps know this feeling – among all of the feelings of grief that we feel, among all of the feelings of the pain of separation and the loss of a precious relationship, there is also a weight we feel passing to us, isn’t there? It’s the weight of the mantle of leadership coming to us. It’s the leadership of the family, the leadership of a congregation, the leadership of a community. And when faced with taking up that mantle of leadership, we might say, with Elisha, "I’m not letting you out of my sight!" We realize that this is a big responsibility, too big for us. That is, by the way, what is behind Elisha’s request for a "double share of Elijah’s spirit." He knows that he will be taking on a work too big for him, and that he’s going to need all of the help he can get.

It seems to me that something similar is going on in today’s gospel reading – another strange story – Jesus on the mountain with his disciples suddenly begins to shine and he’s transfigured – transformed – before their eyes. With Jesus are the two greatest prophets in Israel’s history, Moses and Elijah. It’s a revelation of who Jesus really is, the Messiah of God – although of course they don’t know yet all that this will mean. Jesus has just predicted his own suffering, death, and resurrection, but no one understands it. And Jesus has said as well, that the ones who follow him, are also going to bear a cross, are going to suffer.... and are going to shine in glory, too. Jesus’ disciples are going to continue in his way, he tells them, and it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy.

And so when Peter and the others see the glory on the mountain, they also want to capture the moment – Peter says, in effect, "I’m not letting you out of my sight!" And who can blame him? He needs the comfort, the guidance, the love – and the power – of the shining Jesus, because he knows that he has a big job to do, and that he won’t be able to do it alone. Like the young prophet Elisha, he needs all the help he can get. "I’m not letting you out of my sight!" He says, and he considers building booths, so they can stay awhile. They consider making the mountain into a shrine, a place where they can come back to and say, "here is where it happened! Here is where everything was clear. Here is where the glory shone." Because they know that they can’t take a picture on the mountain, and carry it with them. They can’t carry the glory in their hands and put it in their pockets and take it with them. But that’s not what they need, really. What they really need is Jesus, and his presence, feeding them, guiding them, transfiguring them.

And that’s just what they get. For the shining goes away, but unlike Elijah, at the end of this story, Jesus does not go away. He goes down the mountain with them, back to the world with them, to continue teaching them and feeding them and setting them free. He goes down the mountain with them – it’s just that he’s not shining any more. The truth is, he doesn’t shine all that often. But he’s still the Messiah, the son of God, the one worth following, the one we don’t want to let out of our sight .... because where he is .... is life, abundant life, eternal life.

"Not on your life! I’m not letting you out of my sight!" is the cry of a disciple whose master is still here, not just among us, but within us. It’s the cry of a disciple who knows that the work she has been called to is hard, and important: to raise the children and teach them in the way, to feed the hungry, to bind up the wounded, to repair the bridges, and to build roads. "I’m not letting you out of my sight" is another way of saying, "I’m following you, wherever you go, to grief or to glory." And we will experience both grief and glory, as we keep our eyes on Jesus, as we seek to transform our lives, our congregation, our community. Notice that Elisha received both things, both grief and glory, as he saw his master ascend. And know that the disciples as well experienced grief and glory, the joy of new life, the pain of suffering and failure, as they followed Jesus.... down the mountain, to the cross....where he was not shining. where he was alone, where he was and still is the Messiah.

And we may not want to let him out of our sight, but even when we lose sight of him, he’s still with us. He’s promised to be with us, in ordinary things and in ordinary ways. First, in water, and bread and wine. Not exotic things, but ordinary things. And also in ordinary life — in the store clerk you look in the eye as she’s ringing up your groceries, in the child who sleeps in our church for a week, at the kitchen tables where we gather and in the hospital rooms and the nursing homes and the nurseries, and the classrooms. We follow him back to ordinary life, where there are bodies and souls to heal, including our own, and where there are bridges to build, and people to feed, including us.

And you can be sure that even when we lose sight of him, in the midst of daily life, that he won’t let us out of his sight.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Five: Taking a Break

Songbird over at Revgalblogpals, writes:

Where we live, it's February School Vacation Week!Yes, that's an odd thing, a vacation extending President's Day. But it's part of our lives here. Some people go South or go skiing, but we always stay home and find more humble amusements.

In that spirit, I offer this Taking a Break Friday Five. Tell us how you would spend:

1. a 15 minute break
for 15 minutes, I'd probably pick up something to read: a chapter of a book, a magazine or newspaper article, or a crossword puzzle. Or perhaps a blog or two.

2. an afternoon off
depending on the weather, it would be off to an antique mall or used book store to window shop, or to a park or lake to walk the dog and check out the progress of whatever season we are in.

3. an unexpected free day
a day trip to a near-by small town, seeing what unique pleasures and sites they offer.

4. a week's vacation
that's easy: see family and experience warmness in the desert of Arizona. (In the summer, there would be more choices: the North Shore, New York, Santa Fe, or any number of places I haven't been before).

5. a sabbatical
a sabbatical would bring rest, travel and writing, in that order. I would love to spend time in Europe, touring art museums and historical sites. Then I would come home and write, write, write. Maybe I'd even start that book I've been dreaming about. How about: Scout: the adventures of a Dog. or: Prairie Pastor: memoir of a frontier woman of the cloth. Or: what should my book of reflections be called?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

96. Singing Preacher Walter Maxwell - Hold to God's Unchanging Hand

I heard this song at a joint meeting of ELCA and African-American pastors today. Then I had to look it up on You Tube. Truly a transcendent experience! We were over in the old Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, meeting together and hoping to build relationships and discover joint mission.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Unanswered Questions

So we went up to the City by the Great Lake on Sunday afternoon. We went to see Earnest Younger Stepson, a serious sociology student at the University by the Great Lake.

On Monday, we made stops at a couple of local antique stores that we like to haunt. They know us so well at one of the stores that they asked where our partner was (they meant Scout.)

I had a good time looking through old children's illustrated books. I was this close to getting a hardcover copy of Elizabeth Enright's book, Thimble Summer. And there was a cute children's picture book, so exactly post-war, called "Betty and Bob Go to Church." I wish I had a picture of the dust jacket. Alas, I did not purchase that one either.

One of the proprietors, a bookseller who thinks I have good taste, took down some of the names of the authors I was looking for: Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire, Maud and Miska Petersham, Masha, Pelagie Doane. I especially like to find Bible Story books and prayer books.

At one point in our conversation he looked at me and said, "Are you a minister?" When I answered in the affirmative, he asked, "What has happened to the church lately? It seems that young people don't like the old songs any more. They want all this praise music."

My husband writes contemporary church music, so I am somewhat of an apologist for new music in church. He said he doesn't have a problem with new music, but ....

".... why forget about 20 centuries of tradition?" I completed his question for him.

He is a member of a small main-line congregation in town. I can tell he loves his church. They are wondering about their future. I would have loved to stay and talk more with him about 20 centuries of church tradition, about the growth in both the Pentecostal churches and also the growth in unbelief, otherwise known as "atheism."

(This could be a whole separate post, but Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religion in the world. We have to stop considering people like Sarah Palin out of the mainstream.)

I would love to have talked more about the mission of the church, and how in the era of "Betty and Bob" it was just assumed, and how we can't do that any more. I would have loved to tell him that 20 centuries of church music, prayers, literature and art are a part of a vibrant faith that is worth passing along.

The truth is, I don't have all the answers. But I think being part of the conversation is a great first step.

In those 20 centuries of tradition, what do you value, and why? What songs, prayers, and works of art live for you?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Girls Have It

The children's choirs sang yesterday at church. Our talented children's ministry coordinator wrote new words to an old hit, Good Lovin':

Some of the words:

I was feelin' kinda blue
I asked my (our church) Pastors what should I do.
I said "pastors!"
You are ordained.
Can you tell me-
What'll heal this pain.
and they said, "yeah, yeah,yeah,yeah, yeah"

Yes indeed, all I really need
God's Love,
Gimme that gracious loveGod's Love
That unending loveGod's love
That redeeming love
God's love

Well my Jesus,He's alright-
because He died for me I see the light!
And I said Yaweh
It's for sure
I got the heartache
you got the cure
Everybody say...

A sidenote: The pastors and intern stood with the youth choir, and got one line during the song: we were supposed to sing the line: 'yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.' I think we did ok, though we are old and pretty uncool. (However, one advantage we had: we remembered when the original song was popular.)

After the choir sang, I gathered them around the baptismal font for the children's message. Before I got started, I told them I liked their song. One of the girls pointed to another girl, and said to me, "She wanted to be the pastor."

She meant during the song.

That made me smile.

"Well, maybe someday," I said.

I love that I can say that.

I still have the sermon preached at my ordination. The pastor said: "Because of your ministry, little girls will known that they can grow up to be a pastor."

It's not the most important thing about being a pastor, to me. But it's something.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Books Seven, Eight and Nine

I have read three more books so far in February, and am working on a couple more (one of my problems: having more than one book going at a time). I read our church's February book, Little Heathens, which was named one of the 10 best books of 2008 by the New York Times. I won't say too much here, but I found the author's descriptions of life on an Iowa farm during the depression fascinating. She had an austere childhood, to say the least. But she found it, in many ways, exhilarating.

I also read the second Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery, A Fountain Filled With Blood. I love the way Rev Clare charges right in, and not just in terms of the mystery. I need to read more, and be more, like her. Maybe that's why I'm getting addicted.

Some one at the church lent me the delightful children's book, Why Kings and Queens Don't Wear Crowns. I read it twice. It's about Norway's national sport, skiing. In case you haven't guessed, if you're royalty, you can't wear your crown while you're skiing down a hill.

I'm currently working on the book: Arc of Justice, by Kevin Boyle. I'm only three chapters in, but I already highly recommend it. It's race relations, Detroit, murder, jazz, and more.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Five: Pets

Sophia over at Revgalblogpals writes:

My son's tiny beloved lizard, Elf, is looking and acting strange this week. His skin/scales are quite dark, and he is lethargic. We are adding vitamin drops to his lettuce and spinach and hoping and praying that he is just getting ready to shed his skin--but it's too soon to tell. Others in the ring have also been worried about beloved pets this week. And, in the saddest news of all, Songbird has had to bid farewell to her precious Molly, the amazing dog who is well known to readers of her blog as a constant sacrament of God's unconditional love.

So in memory of Molly, and in honor of all the beloved animal companions who bless our lives: tell us about the five most memorable pets you have known.

1. Our first family pet as a child (sort of a training pet) was a hamster named Jenny. She escaped the first week-end we got her and had an adventure exploring our house until we found her by leaving little peanut-butter lids full of hamster food around the house.

2. Our second family pet was a kitten named Fluffy. Our cousins also had one of the kittens from this litter; they named her "Flower" after the skunk in the Bambi movie. We kids liked Fluffy to sleep on our beds. Fluffy liked to hang out by the hamster cage.

3. Our third family pet was a little dog named "Charlie." He was also "Charlie Brown." We gave him baths and then sprayed "Charley" perfume on him to make him smell good. He was part poodle and would go for grooming on occasion. In this picture he was allowed to be the mutt he really was. He got cataracts and went blind sometime while I was in college.

4. My sister's two black cats: Rheinhart and Kelzel. Rheinhart was a gift from her husband when they first got married, and lived with them in their tiny efficiency apartment. Kelzel arrived a couple of years later. The cats were their children until my neice came along. They are buried out in the desert in a beautiful place.

5. My cat Kiki, the playful beautiful Siamese mix. I also had a farm-cat who I named Clark, and who lived out on the South Dakota prairie with me. He was wilder than I expected, and could not make the adjustment to city life. So I had to leave him behind. Clark loved to chase mice.

Kiki died four years ago when Scout (the much-blogged-about canine) was a puppy, so they never got to know each other.

P.S. If I find pictures of the other pets, I will post them later.

P.S.S. I almost forgot virtual dogfriends Cub, Grendel and Rowan! All have blessed me in their own ways. Please check out the wonderful video of Cub here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Poetry, Mystery, Dogma

(the next part of the story)
I don't have a neat time-line any more of how my faith life developed over my college years. I just have impressions and vignettes. I will share some with you:

I remember that I belonged to a charismatic prayer group on campus, although I don't remember a regular meeting time any more. People came and went from this group and it was unclear who were the leaders. I remember one night in particular a young man who was tangentially connected to this group asked if he could wash everyone's feet. I wasn't sure about this, although we let him do it. He had long blonde hair, and dried everyone's feet with his hair. (I also remember that he had a great recipe for cheesecake.)

I remember that there were several prayer and fasting vigils. I had not heard of the discipline of fasting before, and read a book about it. None of our fasts were more than 24 hours. (I no longer remember what we were fasting and praying for.)

I remember that there was a sort of a scandal when one of the engaged couples (among this Pentecostal group) broke up. They were seniors when I was a sophomore; I remember that he was a musician and song-writer who wrote wonderful Christian songs. (I remember listening to him sing his versions of Matthew 6 and Romans 12). I learned later that he was gay; in our Pentecostal group, of course, this was considered a terrible sin.

I remember that once we invited a student to our prayer meeting. He prayed in tongues for the first time -- and, according to a few students who understood him, it was French. He was also a literature student.

I went on some spiritual retreats at a nearby church camp. I remember that we received Bible verses for the weekend on our bunk beds. I also remember that getting "Slain in the Spirit" was all the rage. I couldn't figure out where being "slain in the spirit" was in the Bible; to me, it just seemed like a kind of "spiritual high." Since I was reading up on Classic Christian Doctrine at the time, I was suspicious of spiritual highs that were not endorsed in the Bible.

I had headaches. Sometimes I had headaches in prayer meetings. The others liked to pray for my headaches to go away. Sometimes it hurt so much to have people put their hands on my head that I lied and told them the headache had gone away, just to get them to stop.

At the same time that I attended charismatic prayer meetings, I joined a group called "Lutheran Youth Encounter." It was a sort of evangelical group of Lutheran students who formed small teams of 6-8 students, and went out to different churches to work with their youth groups, plan church services, lock-ins, etc. We learned skits, games, songs, and activities. Though not charismatic, this was not by any means a progressive organization. We had the first woman "team leader" my senior year (not me), and it was sort of a controversial move on our part.

Do you wonder how I had any time to study at all? I absolutely devoured my Interpretation of Poetry class as a sophomore, where our Professor used John Ciardi's classic "How Does a Poem Mean?" This also affected how I was reading scripture -- Ciardi's thesis that the form of a poem is an integral part of its meaning seemed to apply to Bible passages as well.

At the same time, I overloaded on Religion classes: not only the Introduction to the Bible class, but Church History, Christian Ethics and, my senior year, Mysticism. My Pentecostal experiences had made me curious about Christian Mysticism. I ended up taking Mysticism at the same time as I took a class in 17th Century Metaphysical Poetry (think George Herbert and John Donne, for example).

I remember that while I still embraced the conservative theology that I learned from the Pentecostals, I was realizing that I admired the piety of those who were merciful, generous, and full of charity.

To say that I was thinking about a lot of things was an understatement.

And somewhere during my senior year, I discovered the author Henri Nouwen. The first book I read was The Living Reminder.

I was unaware at the time that it was a book about what it means to be a minister. be continued

Monday, February 9, 2009

My Favorite Dog

(a short break from the story)

A couple of weeks ago Scout was annoying me because she suddenly started whining to go out at odd times. She's usually quite good about "sleeping in", for example, on our day off. But she whined during our Sunday afternoon nap, for example. She whined to go out early Monday morning, too.

So I watched her for a little while early in the morning. I found out why she was anxious to get outside. She had found a new toy.

It was a dead mouse.

This was during the cold spell (the 20 below cold spell), so I'm sure that the mouse was frozen solid.
Lately I have been contemplating getting a special kind of (expensive) brush for Scout. This is her shedding season, and it's been coming out in tufts. We vacuum three times a day, we brush her all the time, and the fur just keeps coming out. By all rights, she should be bald by now. But she's not. But I priced the brush, and it's $59.95. She's a pretty expensive dog.
Scout has always had a sensitive stomach. We have finally found a prescription dog food that, though expensive, works well for her. She hasn't been sick for a long time. We have even let her have a piece of popcorn on occasion, with no ill effects.

On Saturday, we ran out of food. Our vet is usually open on Saturday morning, so we called to get a new bag. They were out for continuing education. For the last two days we have been back to the rice and boiled hamburger diet. We got a new bag of food today.

Yesterday I brought home a coffee cake, a special treat from a local grocery store. For those of you "in the know", it was from Lunds, so you know it was a kind of a "high end" coffee cake. We each indulged in a piece after church on Sunday.

Scout ate the rest.

It's a good thing she's so cute.

This morning (Tuesday) I took Scout out for her walk, as is my habit, and then let her run in the back yard until her breakfast time. It was a very wet and sloppy morning, and when I first saw her sitting at the back door, I thought she was covered with mud. On closer inspection, it turned out that she was covered -- but not with mud.

She was covered with burrs. From her head and ears to her tail.

We are still pulling them out -- gently. Some, on her ears, are so embedded that when we try to take them out, she screams. ("Scream" is the word my husband uses for the sound she makes.)

My next task: to find the place in our back yard where the burrs are coming from, and get rid of all of them.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Next Installment....

As I mentioned before, after my pentecostal experience, I was perfectly insufferable for about six months (at least, I think it was about that long). I offended friends and family members who had not shared my particular religious experiences; I was willing to divide people into "true belivers" and "everyone else." I also wrote letters to a couple of my high school friends, telling them about my experiences. They never wrote me back.

I read a chapter in the book of John every night; I also read a lot of the Pentecostal literature that was popular at that time: Dennis Bennett's book Nine O'Clock in the Morning; Francis McNutt's book Healing, and Erwin Prange's The Gift is Already Yours. Agnes Sanford's classic book The Healing Light is quite intriguing and is one of the few that I have retained. (Also Larry Christianson's The Christian Family, which sets the women's movement back about 100 years -- led to some interesting discussions with my mom). (Most of these books are now out of print). I attended a "coffee house" worship service once a week which was hosted, I think, by a few people from the Four Square Gospel Church.

In the summer I began attending two evening church services: one at a Catholic church, and one at what was called a "New Testament Church". I continued to worship at my Lutheran Church on Sunday morning. I attended the Catholic charismatic meeting with a Lutheran friend of mine from college. I attended the other worship service with an old friend from my childhood who I had "coincidentally" met on a bus on day. (But I was sure that it was not a coincidence.) I thought that the music at the Catholic charismatic church was especially beautiful, especially when the congregation did something called "singing in the Spirit."

Although I was pretty well converted to a charimatic/pentecostal point of view on most things, I was very stubborn in two areas: baptism, and the book of Revelation. The first semester after my charismatic experience my college friends put a lot of pressure on me to be re-baptized. I read everything I could get my hands on about baptism, and became more and more convinced about the sacramental nature of baptism. I also resisted a full immersion in the dispensationalist, pre-millenial view of the End Times.

When I went back to school my sophomore year, I was still an extremely earnest Christian. I took a Bible class that fall that introduced me to the historical-critical view of the Bible. (Well, that's not exactly true; I knew a little about the historical-critical view of the Bible from my lay theologian uncle.) I don't remember suffering any profound doubts from what I learned; I retained my enthusiastic faith and got an 'A' in the course, as well. I developed the practice of taking Sunday as a sabbath from studying during that year. For that year, at least, it worked out, too. I also spent the entire year taking classes from a professor new to the school. She was a literature professor -- and a Roman Catholic nun.

As the school paper reported, in an interview with her, she was "unlike any nun you ever met." For one thing, she was a T.S. Eliot scholar, steeped in classical literature. For another, she was a mystic. She preached that year on the Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas, and claimed that she was going to preach about Jesus, not Thomas, because that's what Thomas told her to do.

That year, I took Interpretation of Fiction, the January term course Poetry and Music, and Interpretation of Poetry from her. I remember her walking into class one day in January, and reciting from memory

I say more: the just man justices
Keep grace, that keeps all his goings graces
Acts in God's eyes who in God's eyes he is: Christ
For Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in eyes and lovely in limbs not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

from the Sonnet, "When Kingfishers catch fire", by Gerard Manley Hopkins

At that moment I discovered that there were other kinds of religious experiences than speaking in tongues. I was having one.

... to be continued, (maybe)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Secret Code by Allan Sherman

Another one of my favorite things. I've been thinking about some of my favorite Allan Sherman songs lately, like this one. Also, "Holiday for States", "Skin," and, "The Large Dark Aardvark Song," which my sister and I both knew by heart. Does anyone else out there remember "The Large Dark Aardvark Song"?

Friday Five: My Favorite Things

Songbird over at Revgalblogpals gives us this Friday Five:

In a week of wondering how various things in our family life will unfold, I found myself thinking of the way Maria comforted the Von Trapp children in one of my favorite movies. Frightened by a thunder storm, the children descend upon her, and she sings to them about her favorite things, taking their minds off the storm.

So, let's encourage ourselves. Share with us five of your favorite things. Use words or pictures, whatever expresses it best.

1. My dog. Even though I could make a Westie out of the fur we are combing out of her, and the fur she is shedding on the rug right now, I wouldn't trade her smiles and her sighs for anything.

2. My family. I don't always appreciate them like I should, but then I remember what it was like to come home to an empty house every night when I was single, and I am grateful. I especially thought about this when I got back from my Leadership Training last Saturday night. My husband and my dog were both in the car waiting at the airport, and my husband had a nice supper all waiting for us when we got home.

3. The poetry of Mary Oliver. I love her funny poems about Percy, her dog, her lovely poems noticing the small things in nature, and her fierce poems challenging me not to live a small life.

4. The sun. In my neck of the woods, it is just coming back around to us. Today, she is shining, making me believe that someday, again, there will be spring, with its cardinals and bluejays and prairie flowers.

5. I was going to say "Cinnamon", because I do love cinnamon, but I want to be original, and Songbird also said "Cinnamon", so I'm going to say "Garlic." I didn't know much about garlic when I was growing up; we put garlic powder in spaghetti and that was just about it. I don't think I ever saw a garlic clove until I was an adult. But now I know that three of my favorite cuisines thrive on Garlic: Chinese, Italian and Mexican. And there are probably more. Whenever I am stir-frying with garlic, my husband says, "mmmm. That smells good!" I also like fresh Cilantro, Basil, and Ginger.

Here is a garlic quote for you:

"Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good." Alice May Brock (of Alice's Restaurant fame)

Bonus "favorite thing": I also like music, and all kinds. I love the old standards from the 30s and 40s (Irving Berlin, Gershwin, Cole Porter); I love jazz, rock, folk and classical. And though I am not an accomplished player, nothing makes me happier than to sit down at the piano and play some simple hymns and old standards. If it's simple enough, I even sing along.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tales from the Crypt.....

(or, at least, from my first year or so in ministry here.)


I remember one of my first children's messages here at my current church. I actually no longer remember the point I was trying to make, or the Bible story that served as my theme. This is what I do remember: I had invited the first and second graders up. They were a lively bunch, and there were many of them. I also remember that the moment must have, somehow or another, gotten away from me. In my little rural congregation, there were just a few children, and they were pretty well-behaved. I must have felt that I was dealing with mobs here.

At one point in the message, a little boy raised his hand, and asked the question, "Is there a mean God, too?"

For some reason, words from my baby-sitting adolescence came to me, "You'll have to ask your mother when you get home today." Thankfully, I did not say these words.


My first Lent in this congregation we were trying to design some creative worship experiences for our contemporary worship service, which was new. We decided to teach a simple prayer to the congregation that year, and say it every week. I found this old prayer:

"Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which thou hast given us; for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for us. O most merciful redeemer, friends and brother, may we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly; for thine own sake. " (St. Richard of Chicester)

We decided that the last part of that was easy for children to memorize, and decided to use it every Sunday. "May we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly."

At the same time we decided to teach the prayer in sign language as well. We had a hearing-impaired couple worshiping with us; they came because they wanted their (hearing) children to be involved in our Sunday school. The mother of the family taught us the sign language of the prayer.

Every Sunday in Lent we sang and then we said this simple prayer. On the 5th Sunday in Lent, though, we did not say the prayer. In silence we simply signed our prayer to God, the whole congregation praying to "know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly", but with their hands and not their voices.

I will never forget it.

The deaf woman's parents happened to be worshipping with us that morning. She told me later that she was profoundly moved by our prayer, and that she had gotten a glimpse inside her daughter's world.

Monday, February 2, 2009

....But I Digress

At the women's leadership conference I attended this last weekend, I remembered something that happened to me when I was in the 7th or 8th grade. It wasn't a big, dramatic experience; and I hadn't totally repressed it, either. I just had not thought about it for a long time. This weekend I started thinking about it in a different light.

My home congregation was a mission church. We were growing like crazy in the 1960s. People packed into the sanctuary every Sunday. But that was not going to be the permanent sanctuary. When I was in junior high, we set about building a new, larger sanctuary; it would be modern and square, with a bell tower and a balcony.

This was very exciting to me. We were in on the ground floor of something very exciting. There was a model of the new building up; there were plans to expand even more after the sanctuary was completed.

I remember sitting with my family the first Sunday after the sanctuary was completed. As I was listening to my pastor preach (and I often did listen to the pastor, who preached short and interesting sermons peppered with anecdotes), I suddenly thought, "If I was a man, that's what I would want to do."

Now you have to understand something: at the time, I had never ever spoken in front of people in a group. I was very shy, so it seemed to me that this thought came out of nowhere, and I quickly repressed it. Of course, the thought also seemed to come out of nowhere because only men preached.

I have always thought that the thought was so strange that it had somehow to be directly from God.

But this weekend, I had another thought, as well.

I thought about the fact that since almost the time I could write, I had been writing: poetry, stories, plays, essays, pretty much everything. But I would never dare to speak the things that I was writing down. And most of the writing stayed private as well. Perhaps one of the things I was fascinated with was the idea that someone could take their thoughts, their ideas, their words, their creativity, and put them out in public where everyone could hear.

That would take courage.

The voice of God in my head when I was in church that day? I still think it was a call to ministry. But now I also think it was a call to have courage.

I heard that call again this weekend.