Monday, September 28, 2009

Unworthy Servant

A long while ago, at the time I was first wrestling with the thought of becoming a pastor, a friend of mine told me, "Well, even if you are a defective pastor {because of being a woman}, your ministry will still be good." My friend had grown up in the Missouri Synod, had made his way to the ALC (American Lutheran Church), and was slowly inching his way toward the idea that it might be kind of sort of okay for women to be pastors. He read the scripture in a certain way, and in that way of reading it was clear that women were not to teach or hold authority over men. But if I were to become a pastor, have no fear! My sacraments would still be good. The Donatists had declared that the sacraments of clergy who were sinful were ineffective. But the Donatists had been declared heretics. Hence, even if I sinned by becoming a pastor, I wouldn't be leading my flock astray.

You can't imagine how relieved I felt.

Ok, not really. It was an odd feeling, actually; I can't quite describe how I felt, hearing him talk about me in this way, this man who was my friend. I mean, I know I'm simul justus et peccator, both saint and sinner, but he seemed to be talking about me as defective in a different way than he was.

As a woman, I smart a little when I hear the conservatives rail about the "re-interpretation of Scripture" to allow for gay and lesbian clergy. I know that scripture has been re-interpreted to allow for me to be a pastor. And I know, some people say it's different: but it's not different in every way. If it is indeed wrong for a woman to preach or be in authority over a man, I am in unrepentant sin every day of my life (maybe not on my day off). If ELCA women clergy ever forget this perspective, now that women have been able to be ordained for almost 40 years, all you have to do is google women clergy, and you can find out the perspectives you have been missing. I hope you find it edifying.

I don't claim to have all the answers for the ELCA at this time; for some reason, I'm able to put myself in the shoes of other Christians who at some time or another (even right now) have been considered defective because of what they do or who they are. Like the Syro-phoenician woman, I'm even willing to claim the title: Okay, so I'm a dog. Throw me a few crumbs.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Geeky Lutheran Quote, in Preparation for some Possible Theological Heavy Lifting

While in Japan, I discovered, on the shelf of one of the missionaries' homes, a little gem of a book (with an unfortunate title): Where God Meets Man. The subtitle was "Luther's Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel". It totally revolutionized my faith, making me realize how radical God's grace really is, and that Christianity is so much more about God coming down than about us going up anywhere. Here's a little quote (ok a big quote) from his chapter "This World and the Next."

...."since that world (the world to come) is God's entirely free gift, since it comes by his will alone, we are freed to give ourselves entirely to this world, to set about seeing to it that his will is done "on earth" as it is in heaven....

"That is what it means to live in the hope of the world to come. It is an act of hope to marry and rear children when you think the end is near -- or to plant a tree. It is hope based on the trust that God wil not deny his creation; that the world to come does not mean the destruction of what is good in this world, but its fulfillment. The world to come does not therefore compete with this world for our affections. Because the hope of the world to come is sure we are enabled to enter into, rejoice in, and care for this world. This lies behind Luther's belief that everyone should enter into his worldly vocation in the confidence that it is pleasing to God, and look on it as a commission from God. Hope in the gift of the world to come is hope strong enough to enable us to turn from our fruitless quest for a heaven above and to look to God's creation, to receive it back again, to enter into it, and struggle to see that God's will be done -- that true peace, justce, and love are established." (pp. 97-98.)

"We ought to see that faith in the kingdom of grace frees us also from the fear of change and makes the future open. Grace ought to foster man's hopes (my note: also women's hopes!) for a better world, not crush them." (p. 110)

"Whenever man's presumption, his utopian illusions, his petty prejudices produce tyranny, discrimination, poverty, wanton destruction, hatred, and indifference there the church must mobilize for action...." (p. 115).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book #34

A Confession: I'm in the middle of a number of books right now, but the book that I have finished is our church's September Book Club book: Boundary Waters, the 2nd in a mystery series by Minnesota author William Kent Krueger.

Perhaps it seems an odd choice for a church book club: it's a pretty violent (although not gorey) mystery set in Northern Minnesota; the Lutherans and the Catholics are mentioned, in a quiet way, of course; the most genuine spirituality comes from the Ojibwe characters in the book, from Wendell Two-Knives down to his nephew, Louis.

I found that, other than a couple of minor quarrels (a character named Marais Grand, give me a break), I really liked this book. I figured out the mystery slightly before it was revealed; I liked getting to know the complex characters and found the underlying themes of family, belonging and loyalty to be thought-provoking. I'd go back to the Boundary Waters again, to learn more about Cork O'Connor (the protagonist), his family, and his community.

Our church book club spent an extended period of time tonight discussing the spirituality of story-telling, how telling stories is an act of faith, and how the boy Louis' story at the end of the novel pulls everything together and makes meaning. We wondered about our own family stories, and about our extended family stories, and about our faith family stories, and how it has been that there are so few story tellers among us any more.

There's a mystery for you: Where are the story tellers these days?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Tennessee Waltz

My dad is out of the hospital now, and in another nursing home. My mom was not at all happy with the first one.

Now, he is in a memory care unit.

This one is a little jaunt from home, so the stay here will probably not be permanent. However, we are adjusting to the possibility that a nursing home will be my dad's permanent residence from now on.

He moved in on Friday evening. I saw him on Sunday afternoon, and he was in pretty good spirits. He could answer most of our questions, if we could get him to concentrate.

My mom relayed to me the story of his first encounter with his physical therapist. She asked him, "How do you feel?" He answered, "With my fingers."

She said in all her years, no one has ever given her that answer before.

I paid a visit this afternoon again. It turned out that my mom was visiting as well. My dad seemed quieter than on Sunday. I couldn't tell if he was just being thoughtful, or if he was down. He didn't talk to us as much. It was a cloudy day, though, and one of the aides remarked that it seemed that everyone was a little quieter than usual.

My dad's next-door neighbor is a retired United Church of Christ minister. He seems like the right company for my dad, and he has a good sense of humor about his memory loss. He told my mom that he used to work for a governor, but he couldn't remember which one. "But he must have been a Democrat," he said, "because I'm a Democrat!"

The big event this afternoon was a young woman with a guitar. She came in to sing some of the old songs with the residents, songs like "Ain't She Sweet?" and "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" The guitar player also handed out rhythm instruments; my dad got one of those little egg instruments. He was singing half-heartedly on some of the songs; then she started to sing "When You're Smiling/When You're Smiling/The Whole World Smiles with You." That's always been my dad's trademark: he's always the one to tell us to accentuate the positive, to look on the bright side, to consider the glass half-full. He has had a joke or a pun for every occasion (though we heard some of the same ones several times).

It was good to see him smile and hear him sing that song.

Then they started singing one of my dad's favorite songs, The Tennesee Waltz. He told me once that it was popular around the time that he was in the Army, stationed in the South. The guitar player attributed it to Roy Rogers (turns out that it was written and recorded by Roy Acuff), but the version my mom and dad both remembered was recorded by Patti Page in 1951.

I remember the night and the Tennesee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
Yes I lost my little darlin' the night they were playing
The Beautiful Tennesee Waltz

Monday, September 21, 2009


On Saturday, I had a funeral service for the wife of a retired pastor in our community. I had been visiting her for several years, as she had Alzheimers disease. I would always make sure her husband was there so that we could all have communion together. The last few years this wasn't difficult, as he spent most of his day with her.

As we planned the funeral, he estimated about 100 people would come, and we planned accordingly. As it turned out, there were about twice that many.

However, miraculously, the cake for the lunch afterwards did not run out.

*** ***
On Sunday at 10:00 we called the three-year-olds up, as we always do at this time of year. We talk to them about their first day of Sunday School. We give them a small present, a glow in the dark cross they can put near their bed at night. And we pray for them. We have their parents lay hands on their heads and we bless them.

There were just six three year olds present, but one of them was a curly-headed little girl that I had baptized about two years ago.

*** ***
After church, I went into my office to pack up, to think, to organize a little before I went home. I almost didn't notice the small brown lunch bag sitting just outside my door.

But, looking up from my desk, I saw it. Inside the bag was one large, perfectly ripe tomato.

*** ***
My mother grew up on a farm in Southwestern Minnesota. I used to think it would be fun to live on a farm. I visited my grandparents where they lived, and wished we lived in a place like that, with strawberries and pigs and kittens in the barn. When I asked my mother, she would laugh and say, "You don't know what you're asking!" She really liked living in a big city.
But once, in the fall, my mother told me that there was one time that she missed living on the farm: Harvest.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Search of a Pastrami Sandwich, and my lost Youth

This evening I stayed a little too late at the office making phone calls, and then made a futile visit to a bookstore, looking for a very particular cookbook that they didn't have in stock. I got home a little late and very hungry.

I didn't want to cook supper; my husband didn't want to cook supper. What should we do? We discussed various options (Pie Shop, Sports-Themed Restaurant, Cafeteria). None of them really got us excited. Then my husband said, "How about Fishman's Deli?"

I had heard about Fishman's from an old high school friend of mine. One of my classmates owns this Restaurant, Bakery and Deli in my hometown. We decided that this was a good idea. It has the added bonus of being a trip down memory lane for me.

The kosher grocery store and bakery takes up most of the space, with a small eating area in the front. Since we were eating late, there were only a few people in the restaurant: an older couple, and a couple of families that looked like they were finishing up.

All of the men were wearing yarmulkes. I was very aware that we were the only Gentiles in the place. It felt strange.

We ordered our sandwiches and I looked around, remembering my friend from Brownies, C. C. was one of my giggling friends. We also both liked to sing. We tried to learn all of the songs from Allan Sherman records and all of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, as well. I also was invited to spend sabbath with them on several occasions. I remember being a little in awe of the special prayers and rituals, and worried about that little sip of wine I was supposed to drink. We both liked play-acting, and (I'm embarrassed to admit this now) we would even act out some stories from the New Testament. At 8, I was totally clueless.

It seemed that, for awhile there, I had more Jewish friends than I did friends from my own youth group. In fact, I didn't feel that comfortable with most of the others from my church youth group. But I enjoyed conversations about religion, literature, and philosophy with some of my Jewish friends.

One of my friends, C, called it "Lutheran-Jewish Inter-faith Dialog." We both wanted to be writers, and both of us were really into our faith traditions. She taught me a table prayer in Hebrew that I remember to this day, and helped me learn about some of the Jewish Holidays as well. One of the things I respected most about her was that she was vulnerable enough to ask me, one day, "Do you think because I am not a Christian that I am going to hell?" And I had a sneaking suspicion that my religion officially held this position, but I myself had a hard time believing it.

As we waited for our pastrami sandwiches, the elderly couple in the booth next to ours struggled to leave. The gentleman turned to us with a twinkle in his eye, and said, "You have to wait longer if you aren't Jewish." My husband laughed and said, "How could you tell?"

One of the things I miss, being a pastor, is getting to know people who are not like me. It seems that I spend most of my time talking with other Lutherans. They're nice (mostly), but I realize that my most significant, most illuminated, and sometimes most challenging times were times when I was the stranger, learning another language, tasting other flavors: living in Japan, being invited to Sabbath meals, all those "Lutheran-Jewish interfaith Dialogues."

When have you tasted other flavors, or felt like a stranger?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What I Know for Sure (About Health Care)

I don't have a pre-existing condition, and, at this point in my life, I am able to pay the deductibles on my insurance. I even have a little bit of mental health coverage. So, in many ways I consider myself lucky. Although I'm not wealthy, I don't consider myself poor, either. However:

*there was a time in my life when even paying the deductibles I pay now would have absolutely broken me. There was a time in my life when I had Major Medical insurance and I prayed not to get sick. Therefore, I can imagine what it is like for those who fall between the cracks of our system.
*there was a time in my life when I lived in a rural area, and discovered that Health Care is not equal in every part of the country. I did not have all of the resources available there that I have where I do now.
*mental health care is especially unequal in rural areas.
*health insurance is very complicated. When my husband was set to have minor surgery, and was trying to figure out what he would owe after the deductible, he could not get anybody to tell him the actual cost of the surgery.
*poverty is bad for your health. Poverty is bad for your health because 1) you cannot afford health insurance, 2) the places poor people live are often unhealthy, 3) you have the added stress of living on the edge.
*it is getting more and more difficult for congregations to provide health care coverage to clergy and other employees.
*health care is a moral issue

What do you know for sure?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Sermon

Pentecost 15, Year B
Mark 8:27-38
New Year’s Resolution: Follow Jesus
If you could choose how you spent your summer vacation, and your choice was between, for example ---spending a relaxing time at the beach, or at Disneyland, enjoying the rides, or in Paris or London or even New York City, seeing Broadway shows and meeting friends

OR — you could spend your time painting houses for strangers in 110 degree heat, taking care of children you don’t know, children whose parents might be poor or out of work,
children who might sometimes be troublemakers .... which would you choose?
Which scenario sounds most appealing to you? Which scenario would you expect to be plastered on billboards, "Come away with us", or advertised on TV or radio, "Get your tickets now! They’re running out fast!"
Which scenario sounds most popular, designed to get more people buying plane tickets, getting hotel reservations, and looking forward to the event?
Be honest now.....

You might be intrigued to know that 26 of our high school age young people took the second option, spending a week down in Booneville Arkansas on a mission trip.
For ½ the week, they painted houses and helped the community to get backs on its feet.
For the other ½ the week, they worked with young children at a place called kids club.
They met other young people from other churches, and they got to know some of the people they served, small children and older adults.
I won’t go into more detail today since I know that some of them will be telling you about their experience next Sunday at the adult forum at 10:00.

But I thought about their experience this summer when I first read Jesus’ words to his disciples in today’s gospel lesson:
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
Friends, this is NOT a sentence designed to make anyone want to sign up.
It’s not a marketing ploy, designed to make the Christian life look good, or easy, or fun, like a long trip on a cruise.

Yet there you have it, right smack in the middle of the gospel of Mark, and right smack in the middle for a reason, some might say:
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
Right before these words, right in the middle of Mark, Jesus is speaking only to his disciples, he’s telling them – for the first time – about what will happen to him because he’s the Messiah.
Because he’s the Messiah, he will suffer, be rejected, be killed.... and rise again.
And this offends them and terrifies them – how can these things be allowed to happen to the anointed one? – and they can’t believe it.
So what does Jesus do next? He calls the crowds together, and he tells everyone what it means to follow him, the one who would be crucified: "Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me."
It’s a little like encouraging people to read the fine print in their contracts when they buy something – in our world, almost no one does that.
"No," they tell us, "Just sign it. You can read it later." And then later you realize what you have gotten yourself into.
So far, Jesus’ followers have been seeing great things: the blind see, the deaf hear, demons are cast out, multitudes are fed: seems good – where can I sign up?
They have heard words of forgiveness, and seen people get up and walk. They’ve seen power.
They’ve seen grace.
They’ve seen love and compassion.
And they are all thinking that he’s something special – maybe not the Messiah, but surely one of the prophets.
And you can all imagine that people are ready to sign on the dotted line.
So why does Jesus tell them what’s in the fine print? Doesn’t he WANT disciples?

This is a turning point, a turning point in Mark’s gospel.
There’s a reason that these words are placed almost perfectly halfway through the gospel.
Jesus is turning toward the cross, toward suffering and death, but he is also turning toward God, and toward true life.
How can this be?
How can both of those things be true?
It goes against everything we think we know.

But that’s what he says: "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."
It’s not popular, and it’s not designed to make anyone want to sign on the dotted line, but it’s the truth.
You might be wondering why today we have balloons and pointy hats and some things that make it look like a New Year’s Eve party.
We like to think of today as a kind of "turning point" – the start of our program year at church, the start of Sunday School teaching, the start of Bible classes and other opportunities to serve and to be involved.
Today we’re issuing a special invitation to you to "Follow Jesus" – It’s as if we are inviting you today on a kind of a mission trip – only you don’t have to go to Booneville, Arkansas.
So today we do want you to sign on the dotted line – whether it’s deciding to come to an adult study, or join a house party, or join the choir, or something else entirely.
Today is a turning point, the beginning of a new year of worship and learning and service, and even though we have the elements of a party and a celebration here today,
we also want you to read the fine print: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
We want to be truthful about what we are all letting ourselves in for as followers of Jesus.
It’s not a trip to Disneyland, but it’s an invitation to a life of service and sacrifice, a life where you will find challenge as well as belonging, pain as well as great love and grace and forgiveness.

A few years ago I heard that there were a number of teenagers who had T-shirts printed up with one word on the front: "Loser."
And on the back of the T-shirt was simply this verse, from Mark 8:35, "those who lose their life.... will save it."
Now I remember high school (dimly), and I can’t think of many things more powerful than wearing a T-shirt that proclaims "loser."
I can’t think of many things more powerful than putting words like this on a T-shirt, because clothes can be such a marker of whether you are "cool" or not.
It reminds me of a story I heard about a popular store for teenagers called Abercrombie and Fitch:
The owner of this store has been vocal about his marketing strategy: He only hires good-looking people, because good-looking people attract good-looking people, and he’s only interested in serving those who are "attractive," or "cool" or "popular. He’s only interested in "winners."
So I can’t think of anything more powerful than letting it be known that you’re a "loser."
Except this: perhaps being willing to stand out in the 110 degree heat, painting houses and fences and doors for "Don" and "Patsy", to find out a little bit about their lives, their struggles, and their hopes.
Except perhaps being willing to play with and teach children and learn about their struggles and hopes.
Except perhaps being willing to take communion to a shut-in, or listen to someone who is grieving,
or reaching out to people in our community who speak a different language or come from a different culture, and learning from them, and listening to their stories. It’s not the cool thing to do.

But it’s part of following Jesus, following Jesus into the world of hurt and struggle.

We don’t necessarily have to travel far when we’re following Jesus.
The young people of our congregation went all the way to Booneville, Arkansas, and they can tell you stories about that.
They can tell you next week about what they learned from being together, from serving together, from the other youth who they met, and from the people they served.
I don’t want to give away too much, but I will tell you two things I heard that I thought were important:
– one of the young women said, the trip strengthened their faith because they were all working together toward the same thing.
– and another student said that she learned that "helping people feels good", but also that "everyone needs help."
She was right. And you know, you don’t have to travel far to find people who are hurting, people who are struggling, people who are grieving.
You don’t have to travel far to find people who have lost their jobs, who have lost their spouse, who have lost their health insurance, who have lost their memory.
You don’t have to travel far to find people who are at the end of their rope. Sometimes all you have to do is look in the mirror.

Jesus invites us to follow him – and he can’t look away from the fine print, that fine print about a cross, because as it turns out – that’s not the fine print: it’s the main point.
Jesus won’t back down from healing and feeding and forgiving people.

Jesus won’t back down from including people, and Jesus won’t back down from loving people – the hungry and thirsty, the lonely, the losers – people like us.
He won’t back down from loving us – and he asks us not to back down from loving one another, either.

So here’s the pitch, today on rally day: Follow Jesus, and he will take you to where houses need to be painted, where children need to be fed and cared for. He will take you to the place where hands need to be held, and the weak need to be lifted up.
He’ll take you to where people need jobs and healing and dignity and hope.
He’ll take you to places where children need to learn to read. He’ll take you to places where it’s not about you – it’s about your neighbors – those you are traveling with, and those you are serving.

Follow Jesus – and he’ll take you to the cross. That’s where he’s going.
-- the place where he lifts up the brokenhearted, and gives us life – new life.
Happy New Year.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Last March was my dad's 80th birthday. My parents were down in Arizona at the time, and my dad asked if we would have a big birthday bash for him when when they returned. I assured him that we would, although in my mind I was thinking (well, not a BIG bash, like their 50th wedding anniversary, just a modest bash, with some of his old friends.)

When they returned from Arizona, it was the end of April, not long after my father-in-law's death. Right away there was the annual Mother's Day Luncheon, and then there was Stepson Number 2's graduation and a great-neice's birthday, and then there was the Father's Day celebration.

Then it was summer.

My mother and I talked a few times about a party for my dad, even started to put together the list of people we wanted to invite.

But we never quite got it planned.

Thursday, the social worker asked him what year it was. He told her he was born in 1929. My mom and I asked him how old he was.

He didn't know.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Which Diane Keeps Reading, at least for a little while longer...

My reading this summer has taken a few twists and turns.

28. The Daily Coyote. Shreve's Stockton's memoir of raising an abandoned coyote pup out in rural Wyoming is part dog-training manuel (ratcheted up to the nth degree), part love story, and partly theological (although she might deny it). Besides the obvious lessons in a story about a love that will not give up on the other (and a coyote is sure "other"), I was intrigued by her frequent citing of the messages on the reader-board at the local Methodist church. She treated them a little like zen koans from God. Makes me realize that people are always paying attention to the church and what we say and do, even in this post-modern era.

29. Julie and Julia (the hardcover edition) (and no, I haven't seen the movie yet). A friend from my church loaned me her copy at the beginning of the summer. It took until August (and I was finally finished with that large large book Pillars of the Earth), but I finally got to read the book, and found it delightful. Actually, at the beginning, I just "liked" it, but at one point I started laughing hysterically (probably it was the story about the marinating lamb), and now I find myself reading cookbooks. It was really a fun book, even if you aren't ever going to cook anything from Julia Child's cookbook.

30. In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. I haven't read the longer (and more highly praised) The Omnivore's Dilemma yet), but I picked up this book for a number of reasons: 1) since Julie and Julia, I'm suddenly into food, 2) stepson #2, Young Man of Value, is becoming Vegan, and 3) I am interested in more intentional eating, even if I'm not really interested in becoming vegan. I did really resonate with his idea that we should eat more real food and less processed "stuff". Michael Pollan asserts that that the highly processed diet that most of us are eating now is about the only diet that our bodies are not becoming adapted to.

31. People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. This was our August book club book, and I loved it. But I'm a sucker for illuminated books, historical novels, international intrigue: what's not to like? I'm also becoming a Geraldine Brooks fan. A woman who visits our church on occasion came to our book club for the first time and brought along some information about the St. John's Bible (this is one of the links at the side of my blog). She's an art teacher, and we all hope she will return again.

32 and 33. Messenger of Truth and An Incomplete Revenge, by Jacqueline Winspear. I'm almost at the end of the available Maisie Dobbs mysteries. I really enjoyed An Incomplete Revenge, but was not as excited about Messenger of Truth, which I thought moved kind of slowly. Both novels have the same excellent attention to detail and thoughtful insights regarding the human toll of war. I am considering a break before the last Maisie Dobbs novel because 1) it's still only available in hardcover, 2) I'm getting a little frustrated by Maisie's inability to find love (I was disappointed that she spurned Dr. Andrew Dene). I'm really hoping that Ms. Winspear finds it in her heart to give Maisie a companion; I know it's difficult, but she seems awfully lonely to me.

There you have it! I'm afraid that reading may fall off slightly this fall: I hope not, but I'm looking at the schedule and seeing the handwriting on the wall. We'll see.

I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, which of these books have you read? What did you think? Any recommendations? (Please, books shorter than 973 pages, only).

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Plastic Container Full of Screws

During the last month or so, during the planned chaos that went along with re-finishing the hardwood floors, I found, evaluated, organized and threw out a fair amount of "stuff." (By the way, we're still doing this, and probably will be for some time.)

One of the things I found, in the back of a dresser drawer, was a small plastic container, oblong and kind of a mustard yellow. It had a piece of masking tape on the top of it, and my dad's scrawled writing of explanation: "Screws for Diane's Bed."

I no longer have the bed. In fact, I haven't had the bed for ten years.

A long time ago, about the time I was entering seminary, I purchased an inexpensive futon with a simple wood frame. This was not the kind that you can make into a sofa; it was just a frame for a bed that would always be a bed. But my dad figured out right away that I was going to be moving a lot, taking apart and putting together this simple frame many times. So he found this little plastic container so that I would never lose the screws and would always be able to put the bed back together.

Did I mention, I no longer have the bed? But I do still have all of the screws.

I suppose I should throw them away, along with the two dowels I also found recently. The piece of furniture that they fitted into at one time no longer exists, at least not in this reality. So far, though, they are still sitting on the dresser, waiting for the final judgment.

I went to visit my dad at the nursing home this morning. He has Parkinsons Disease, and he alternates between lucidity and confusion. Sometimes he seems good-naturedly confused, at other times he is frustrated and he says he "just wants to get back to normal." He's supposed to be doing some occupational and physical therapy, so that he can return home eventually. Today he reminded himself several times that, "Everything will work itself out," and that "Worry never did anybody any good." He also mentioned "the promised land." A few times he started sentences but couldn't quite get to the last word. A couple of times he said, "I love you," and he started reciting Bible verses. He threw out for our consideration, "The wages of sin is death...." a few times. I wondered why he was thinking about that verse.

When he was a boy, he went to the Lutheran church with his mother, but she also took him to all different kinds of services, at the Children's Gospel Mission, and the Salvation Army, and just about any place they had a fiery preacher. They seemed to emphasize sin and judgment much more than grace or forgiveness at those venues.

"The wages of sin is death...."

I tried several times to get him to stop repeating that verse. I trotted out a few different Bible verses; I changed the subject; I sang some of his favorite songs. He persisted. "The wages of sin is death...."

I tried another tack, supplying the missing bed for which he held the screws.

"But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," I answered. He smiled.

It's hard for any of us to make sense of our lives, at one time of another. All we have is a box of screws, but not the bed; all we have is half of a verse, but not the half that gives us a place to rest, and be comforted. There is chaos and fear and things that were meant to be saved were lost, and other things have been saved, but we no longer know what they were meant to do. That is the way our lives are. And that is why we need each other, to remind each other that where there is sin, there is the free gift, where there is death, there is eternal life, where the sentence trails off, there is One who is willing to supply the last Word.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Intensive Care

I've been going to visit a woman in intensive care. She sleeps a lot, so I read scripture, pray, sometimes sing a hymn. I figure she can hear me. I don't know how she's doing.

My father-in-law spent a week in intensive care before he died. We thought he was going to get better, but he didn't.

Intensive care can be a scary place: all the machines and tubes and noises, people scurrying around. Sometimes you're just there for a day; sometimes intensive care goes on for a long time, and you don't really know what will be the outcome. And sometimes you know, but you don't want to face it.

"It's really a spiritual crisis, isn't it?" she said to me at the end of our conversation.

We were talking about health care: she's a nurse, and she was talking about some of the end-of-life issues she deals with when she cares for older patients. Sometimes a patient will confide in her that they really don't want to go through a difficult surgery, but that their children are pressuring them; sometimes a doctor will wonder about doing an invasive surgery for someone in their eighties. Will their bodies be able to handle it? they wonder. But if the person's mind is active, shouldn't they do the surgery anyway, on the outside chance of a good outcome? Then there is the emerging language about "death panels", and "health care rationing", all because of language in the health care bill about "end of life discussions." (The language has now been removed.)

"It's really a spiritual crisis, isn't it?" she said at the end of our conversation.

What she meant was this: as a nation, we cannot speak well about death, about the fact that we are all going to die someday. Of course, this is universally true; there's that old gospel song with the title "Everybody wants to go to heaven (but nobody wants to die)". But I think that this has become especially true in the United States in this time. Both modern medicine and technology conspire to make us think that we can do anything we want, live as long as we want, fix every problem -- even death. But someday, we are all going to die; even when we save a life, it is only temporary. We are not immortal. But we have a hard time looking at death, talking about death, acknowledging death.

It's a spiritual crisis, as my nurse friend says. It's a spiritual crisis that we do everything to cover up the truth of the fact that our bodies tire out, wear out, give out. It's a spiritual crisis because our behavior has become driven by our fear rather than our hope.

Intensive care. Some people get intensive care, and others do not. Some people are afraid that they will be thrown away when they are old, and others are being thrown away right now, because of fear. And it's a spiritual crisis, a crisis where our fear of death speaks louder than our hope for life -- both this life and the life to come.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you strength, with all your mind. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Your neighbor as yourself. What does that mean? It means that I want my neighbor to have the same things I have: a meaningful life, an opportunity to work, good health, friends and family. It means that I want my neighbor to know abundance, and to have hope in dying.

It's a spiritual crisis, isn't it?

Short Update

I will get back to regular posting very shortly.

In the meantime, we still don't have a sofa. We have the recliner, and some very uncomfortable dining room chairs. We've been looking at sofas, and I actually like a lot of them. I saw a deep cranberry red sofa that I liked somewhat but I was a little put off by the cost (actually quite inexpensive, but the saleslady said it would wear out in 6-7 years). Also, I am wondering if I will sooner rather than later repent of having a red sofa. On the upside: they can get it in a week. We're also pretty sure that we could get this one in the front door (there are some weird angles to deal with).

We've been also looking at lamps for the bedroom, nightstands that match (haven't found any we like, though), and oh, yes, rugs. I have never had a "bedroom set". I would like to have a "bedroom set", but we'll see.

By the way, the floors ARE pretty. Scout skids a lot on them, and her claws click click click on the floors. She has developed a habit of finding the nearest throw rug, where-ever it has been thrown.

The books are still in boxes. The dishes have not been put back in the corner cabinet yet. But I have made tabouleh, banana chocolate chip muffins, and granola, and I'm thinking about making pesto. I've been reading cookbooks, can you tell? Moosewood, The Art of Simple Food, even the old standbys: Good Housekeeper, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury (the banana chocolate chip muffins came from that one). I have a wedding tomorrow, and then we're getting away briefly.

And my dad went into the hospital yesterday. The occupational therapist who tested him thought he had a good grip. However, he couldn't answer most of the questions she asked.

The big things, health care and racial equity and the state of my (Lutheran) church -- the big things will just have to wait for a couple of days.