Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some More Hastily Reported Books

Many of these books deserve more time than I am giving them right now, but here are my latest:

39. Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. A woman's descent into early-onset Alzheimers. Really, really hard, good, thought-provoking book. Our church book-club read it.

40. Nubs: The True Story iof a Mutt, a Marine and Miracle, by Mjor Brian Dennis/Mary Nethery. Made me cry. If you love dogs, it will make you cry, too.

41. Writing to Change the World, by Mary Pipher. Inspiring, but not as helpful as I had thought. There is a chapter on blogging, though.

42. Had a Good Time: stories from American Postcards, by Robert Olen Butler. All the postcards are from the turn of the last century. Wonderful, multi-faceted stories. More later.....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

cracked: an imperfect analogy, but an analogy, nonetheless...

So last year for my birthday I got a wonderful and totally unmerited gift: a Namiki retractable fountain pen. I wrote about it here. It was something that I coveted for a long time (looking longingly at the display in the pen store, but never actually doing anything illegal or unethical to obtain one), but never hoped to have. (Well, maybe I did hope, a little, but it was kind of a "pie-in-the-sky", "stars-in-your-eyes" sort of hope.)

Lately my wonderful Namiki fountain pen has been doing an annoying thing. I'll be writing along and suddenly the whole thing will pop apart. It's annoying, and it's embarrassing too, say, if you're sitting at a preaching seminar with about 300 people and suddenly the bottom of your pen flies through the air as if it were a mini rocket.

So, I took it to the pen store, seeing if there might be a solution to my problem.

The clerk noticed something that I never had: the pen casing had developed a tiny crack. She did not think it was fixable, and even so, they did not do repairs at this store. But, she said, I could contact the company if I wanted to. She gave me their website.

On Saturday, I sent them an email.

On Monday, I got this piece of news, from a woman named "Melissa", a representative of the company:

"This model Namiki Vanishing Point pen was discontinued in 1999. Unfortunately, there are no remaining pens ore replacements in parts. Please let me know if you wish us to replace your pen with our current model as shown on our website..... in the color of black, blue, red, and green. This is at no charge to you."

I can get a new pen! At no charge!

Of course, there is a catch. I have to send the old one back. They said to make sure to send it back in a way where it can be tracked (I assume to make sure it arrives at its destination.)

Of course, I suppose there is the possibility that they might not send me a new pen, after all. I would need to trust "Melissa's" word in this. And I do love this pen, so I suppose I could just tape it at the crack and keep trying to use it, and apologizing every time it rockets off, and hope that I can find all the parts.

But, I'm thinking: red.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Late on a Saturday Night...

The wedding went well, I think.
I saw the bride's mother give me "two thumbs up."
I am looking forward to a baptism tomorrow, on Reformation Sunday.
The truth will set me free.
The truth will set that little baby free, too.
And the baby doesn't have to do anything but show up, show up.
And someone is bringing the baby.
The truth will set me free.

My beautiful retractible fountain pen has a crack in it.
My computer still suddenly loses power on occasion.
Most, but not all, of the dishes in the sink, are washed.
Most, but not all.
Things fall apart.
The center cannot hold.
I keep trying, but I keep falling short.
Two people waited for me at a meeting I thought I cancelled.
Sometimes I say the wrong thing.

At the end of the movie "The Purple Rose of Cairo"
(which we watched last night)
Mia Farrow finds out that in real life
things do not work out in the end,
and perhaps she should have stuck with the one
who was "too good to be true."

Late on a Saturday night
I'm looking for a two thumbs up
and looking forward to a baptism,
and still believing in something
too good to be true
that God fixes the cracks
renews creation
raises the dead
and all we have to do is show up, show up
the wings of a dove carrying us

And the truth will set me free.

Happy Reformation Sunday

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why I am Still a Lutheran

I've shared before a bit about my journeys among Pentecostals and charismatics when I was in college. For a lot of reasons, I've been thinking about this time again. I have relatives who have had similar experiences, and are now no longer Lutheran. As for me, for most of my college career and for a couple of years afterwards, I experimented and dabbled in various kinds of religious experiences: I went on a silent retreat at a Franciscan retreat center, I attended Catholic charismatic praise services and New Testament Churches and a tiny Foursquare Gospel church. I read huge sections of the Bible in my evening devotions, and went to a lot of Bible studies. I think I missed some passionate believing in the church of my youth, and I found it in these alternative experiences.

And yet....

Some of my Bible study friends thought that the best thing for me to do would be to get re-baptized and join their church. But unlike my relatives, I never got re-baptized, and I never joined any of those different churches.

I think part of my reticence had to do with baptism itself. God knows, my confirmation studies in the early 70s had not given me a complete education. But somehow I got the idea that baptism had more to do with God than it did with me. Once, when I was in college, a friend asked me if he should be re-baptized. People had approached him and told him that if he was re-baptized, his eyesight might improve (he was legally blind.) So, he asked me, and I said, "Well, what do you think is most important about baptism: what you do, or what God does?" And he answered, "What God does." So I said, "Then you don't need to be re-baptized."

I'll tell you, during those years while I went to different Bible studies and pray meetings and worship services, I found the passion that I was missing in the church of my youth. For a while there, it was all Jesus, all the time. Why was anyone talking about anything other than Jesus, I wondered? Truthfully, I was insufferable for awhile.

But I continued to go to church on Sunday too. And a few books I read during that time began to broaden my perspective. (None of them were by Lutherans though; the three books I remember were The Living Reminder, by Henri Nouwen, Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, and Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale, by Frederick Buechner.) Even though none of these writers are/were Lutheran, they are part of the reason I'm still Lutheran.

Another reason I'm still Lutheran, I think, has to do not with passion, but with compassion. I remember thinking about the things I admired about those who I met at the churches and Bible studies and prayer meetings I attended. It was evident that they took faith very seriously, and read the Bible very seriously.

But when I thought about people who lived gracious lives, with charity toward people they didn't agree with, I didn't think of them. I thought of the professors at the Lutheran school I attended, I thought of the people I had known in my church growing up, I thought of my godparents, serious Lutheran Christians who loved me even when I dissed their faith.

Passion and compassion. Both important qualities.

But if I had to pick, I'd pick compassion every time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Few Random Reasons I am A Lutheran

I know, I was baptized in a Lutheran church when I was about a month old, and that does account for a large part of why I am Lutheran. But after exploring awhile among the Pentecostals, I returned to my Lutheran roots. Here are a few "short" reasons why:

1. When asked, "Are Lutherans Conservative or Liberal?", the correct answer is Yes. And No.

2. We love the liturgy, but the liturgy does not define us.

3. Two brilliant pieces of writing by Martin Luther: "The Small Catechism", and "The Freedom of a Christian (also called "On Christian Liberty.")

4. Paradox.

5. The "priesthood of all believers," properly interpreted.

6. All the little Lutheran churches, still dotting the prairie, not giving up. (of course, I humbly realize that in other areas in the country, it might be other little churches that are not giving up.)

7. Gerhard Forde, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kierkegaard, Albert Schweitzer, Johann Sebastian Bach.

8. I am not in charge of my salvation; God is.

9. "Putting the best construction" on your neighbor's words, activity and behavior. (This is what Luther says it means to not bear false witness against your neighbor.) (I don't notice that we do this much, but it's not a bad standard to reach for.)

More musings and story-telling to come.....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Old Photographs

Since being sick a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't been to visit my dad for awhile. I stopped out for a little while on Thursday, but he wasn't feeling so well, and went back to bed shortly after I arrived. I heard from my mom, though, that he had improved over the weekend, and made plans to stop by sometime this afternoon.

It was a beautiful fall afternoon; the air smelled like brown leaves, merging into the ground. ("It's fall-like weather," my husband quipped. "It IS fall," I replied.) After a late lunch with my mother-in-law and a short nap, I drove out to the nursing home, where my mother was already visiting. My dad was up in his wheelchair, and looking pretty happy. He was wearing his Mickey Mouse sweatshirt (he's a big fan of Mickey Mouse -- they are almost the same age). He had had a hamburger for lunch.

We chatted for awhile, sang a couple of songs, talked about how much fun it would be to watch musicals on the the TV/Video player in his room. I noticed an old photograph sitting on the nightstand. It was sitting inside another photograph; a childhood friend of his had come by, and brought along this old picture.

"Your dad's in this picture," my mom said. I picked it up and looked at it carefully. The background looked vaguely familiar, as did my dad's young face. He was on the left, a tall young man in the center, and another young man with a broad smile on the right. "Is this near Augustana Church?" I asked. (That was the church where my dad grew up; we attended as well until I was about 6 years old.)

It was Augustana Church; the tall young man in the middle was a very young associate pastor at the time. The three men looked self-assured and worldly, standing all together on the sidewalk. It was probably after the Sunday morning church service.

"Was this before you got married?" I asked my mom.

"It was before we knew each other," she replied.

I turned to my dad. "You were pretty good-looking then," I said, admiring him. He took the picture in his hand and smiled at it a little.

"Where's that picture of me with my army friends?" he asked. "We were all so debonair." (I loved the word debonair, but would not have associated it with the army.)

I'm fascinated by these old black-and-white photographs, messengers from a past inaccessible to me. I'm fascinated by pictures I find of my mom, about 5 years old, with a ribbon around her hair, or my dad, wearing a white jacket at his confirmation. I even have an old snap-shot of myself that I keep in a journal. It's just a little square picture, taken when I was very little, and visiting my grandparents' farm. There's a haystack, and a ladder there, and I'm climbing the ladder up the haystack. I'm looking down as I climb, very determined to keep going.

I do not remember ever doing that. I don't remember ever being that fearless.

Instead, I remember how it took me several years to learn to ride a bicycle, because I was so afraid of falling down. I remember feeling uncoordinated when trying to play most sports. I remember subtraction flash cards.

I take out the picture of me, climbing the haystack, from a distant past when I thought I could do anything, if only I just kept climbing. I think of the picture of my debonair father, standing with his friends in their Sunday best, the whole world in front of them.

On Thursday, when I visited, my dad kept bringing up the musical "Fiddler on the Roof." They had been watching it the night before my dad first went to the hospital. He can't seem to get it out of his mind. "Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years," my dad sang.

Sunrise, sunset
sunrise, sunset
swiftly fly the years
One season following the other
Laden with happiness and tears.

I hold old photographs from a time inaccessible to me, but it's a time I want to know, to inhabit, to turn around and around until I can walk inside the photographs, until I can climb the ladder and sit at the top of the haystack, triumphant. I want to walk down the street with my dad and his friends, and see their faces as they smiled at the camera, ready to take on the world, ready to take on the future.

O God our help in ages past.....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Short, Boring Post About Books

Just wanted to let everyone know that yes, I am still reading, plugging away on the reading challenge I've given myself. It's an eclectic list today, so I may leave any great comments for another time.

Here's where I've been lately:

35. Ask, Thank, Give, a book about Stewardship, in conjunction with our Fall Stewardship campaign.

36. In Dying, We are Born, a short, provocative book about congregational renewal. Very thought-provoking.

37. The Blessing of the Beasts, a great and wonderful illustrated book about a cockroach and a skunk who want to go to the Animal Blessing Service at St. John the Divine Cathedral in Manhattan.

38. The Healing of America, T.R. Reid. Reid went all over the world, checking out the different ways that different countries have achieved fairer, cheaper, universal coverage (or not.) Lots and lots to think about. Made me mad (among other things.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why I Don't Have a Picture of Scout Frolicking in the Snow

This morning we woke up to thick big snow flakes falling on the lawn. It's the kind of snow that melts into your foot when you walk on it. It's the kind of snow that gets our dog, Scout all excited. Being part husky, she loves snow and ice; she loves running and rolling around and sticking her face in snow drifts when they are available. (Even she draws the line at about 20 degrees below zero, though; the ice hurts her paws.)

This morning we woke up to the sound of a dog whining and whining as if to say: "I want to go out and play in this RIGHT NOW." I wanted to wait until it was light enough to catch some pictures, or a short video of her frolicking. Such joie de vivre! So I put up with her whining as long as I could, and then let her out, quickly following her with my trusty digital camera.

However, she didn't run and frolick. She ran to one particular spot and started sniffing and pawing and licking. She picked up something and ran with it, something which at first looked like one of the big sticks she likes to carry around.

But it wasn't a stick. It was a dead rabbit.

I didn't think you would want pictures of that.
However, here is a picture of Scout looking not like a sociopathic killer, but instead like our best friend, comforter and household part-time entertainer. Here she is becoming one with the new rug in "her" room. She also obliged me by sleeping on the bed for awhile each night that my husband was gone, even though I think she likes her own bed better.

For some reason, I'm willing to put up with the "sociopathic killer" part. I wonder why.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Few Small, Good Things

It was just another normal Sunday in October: on Saturday morning, it suddenly became autumn, the temperature dipping below freezing. There was just enough snow to get the dog all excited, but it was gone by the evening. On Sunday, I noticed a curb full of leaves. We sang the hymn "Sing to the Lord of Harvest" this morning: part of our month-long Stewardship Emphasis.

One of our senior high students gave the "Stewardship Talk" this morning. I asked her if I could reprint her message here, but it turns out that she spoke virtually without notes, on the subject of stewardship, and on the mission trip this summer. She spoke about the ice cream she desperately wanted one evening, and the autistic boy who managed to communicate to her that he wanted ice cream as well, and how she decided to use the $5 for him rather than for herself. She talked about stewardship as the choices we make, and the lessons her parents have taught her, and about giving as "stimulating our faith economy." (I loved that little phrase.)

The Sunday School Children sang: "What can One Small person Do?"

At ten o'clock there was a baptism, an almost one-year-old girl who slept in her mother's arms throughout most of the baptism, even though the water was cold, if I do say so myself. She sleepily opened her eyes as the pastor showed her the candle and said, "Let your light so shine before others.... so that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven." Then she leaned back on her mother's shoulder.

Her big brother, four years old, was standing right underneath her, and watched her face in wonder and delight during the baptism. He looked positively entranced; he couldn't take his eyes off of her, almost proud, it seemed, of his little sister. Watching his face, I was aware that this was a view that only the worship assistant and I could glimpse.

I saw a family that I hadn't seen in several years at church this morning. I still remembered their names.

And I spoke with someone who is familiar with my blog, and has good things to say about my writing. If only my preaching could be as powerful as my writing. That is one thing what I'm musing about this evening.

And, do you think better preaching can transform a congregation?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fresh Basil and Mint

Tonight I got home late from a meeting. Even though it was far into the evening, I had a mission before me -- I had heard it might freeze tonight, so I went out and clipped off as much of the basil and mint as I could get my hands on. It's in the refrigerator so far; I don't have long, though, before I have to figure out what to do with it, other than pesto.

For a short while, though, it was sitting on the kitchen counter, and its only job was to fill the whole kitchen with those fresh, slightly exotic smells. The smells leaked onto my hands and into the living room a little bit, too. (the basil, I guess, was an overachiever, aroma-wise.)


Earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to attend a preaching seminar at the local seminary. Called A Celebration of Biblical Preaching, the event featured daily worship, keynote lectures and small group workshops. The first workshop I attended was called "The Essential Sermon", by the new preaching professor at the seminary. I remember one line in particular from his presentation: He had been a parish pastor, then returned to school. He and his family were looking for a church home, but were not finding an easy time settling down. Someone asked him, "What do you want a sermon to do?" He answered, "I want the sermon.... to break my heart." He made me think: What do I want a sermon to do?

Another highlight was when someone asked Anna Carter Florence what she thought about churches that put worksheets in the bulletin, with fill-in-the-blanks for sermon answers. "Oh, no parishoner left behind!" she answered.

It was great to be on the seminary campus; I remembered how much I loved being a student. I loved getting ideas and writing papers, studying Greek, the camaraderie among the students.


I'm thinking about the smell of the basil and the mint, filling the kitchen tonight, and the hope of the flavors unleashed in yet-unknown recipes.

I'm thinking about preaching a sermon, hearing a sermon, and the question: What do I want a sermon to do?

I want the sermon to fill the room with a certain aroma, an aroma of something fresh from the garden, and an aroma that promises flavors unleashed in yet-unknown corners of the world.

Can a sermon have an aroma? Can a sermon have a flavor? An aroma of life? And a flavor of justice and mercy, mercy and justice?

I'm bringing the basil in from the garden, in the nighttime, when it is already dark. I'm gathering hope, before it is too late.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Even though I preached at three Services....

....the highlight of my day was blessing the animals at 2:00 p.m this afternoon.

It was cold-ish and overcast (but not raining) this afternoon as we assembled out on the front lawn; 50-odd people (some Lutherans, some not), and their assorted animals (dogs of all sizes, more cats than usual, and --- a koi-fish, a hamster and a GOAT). We sang, we read scripture, we prayed, and then we marched down the hall to the chapel to do the actually individual blessing.

I like that we don't make them stay out on the lawn. We let them in. They are God's creatures and they don't have to stay out on the lawn. Then can come into the holy place. (Well, the lawn is holy too, but you know what I mean.)

It was quite a kick to hear the goat bleating! And one little dog, a pomeranian, I think, totally freaked out when he met the goat. (The goat's owner said that next year, there might be a chicken!) Right before the service started, I saw one of the cats sort of slink by me as if it was trying to escape. Later, during the fellowship, the same cat sat curled in the corner of the room, keeping his own safe space.

Scout did not get to come this year. My husband had another service at the same exact time at his church. He had to play there. HOW DARE THEY?

For a brief homily, I shared a bit about Francesca and Martin from the story The Blessing of the Beasts. In case you didn't know, Francesca is a cockroach, and Martin is a skunk. Francesca, you see, would love to attend a Blessing service, but her whole family warns against it. "That's only for the cute, cuddly animals," they say....

Did I say before (I think I did) that I love that we have the animals come into the chapel? At first people were worried that the animals would somehow be a problem -- they would be messy and smelly and unclean. But you know what? We haven't have a problem.

So far, I do not have pictures. But I'll be sure to post some -- especially if I have one of the goat.

Friday, October 2, 2009

How One Moment You can Be Going Along, Feeling Fine, and Then Suddenly: Not

As I type this, I'm sitting in bed, surrounded by Kleen-ex. My ears are crackling, which I think is a good sign. I've got a cold, and I'm desperate to feel better: there is much that needs to be done (aside: this is a problem, when you don't have time to be sick; but I fear that it is not just my problem.)

Last week, though, I was going along smoothly; there didn't appear to be any bumps and there were several small high spots. (Ok, my car does need a tune-up, but that doesn't fit the profile.) At my noon Bible study last Wednesday, we had a new member. As we were introducing ourselves around the circle, she turned to one of our members and said, "I want to tell you how much you helped me several years ago." This person had had a personal tragedy then, and one woman in our Bible study, a single woman, had simply sat by her at worship, every single Sunday, for nine months. That's all. But it was exactly what this woman needed. "I've come to church by myself my whole life," she said, "and I'm ok with that. But this was exactly what I needed."

I kept thinking and thinking about what I could do for a children's sermon last week. I kept looking at the gospel, with its emphasis on stumbling blocks, and also on James, and healing. I had a hard time thinking of anything simple enough for the children. Finally, near the end of Saturday, a glimmer of an idea came to me. I bought a couple of kinds of ribbon and cut pieces off of them. I put the piece in the baptismal font and invited the children up on Sunday. I talked about prayer, and the different things we can pray for. I had the children share when they prayed and what they prayed for. Then I said that when they were baptized, God gave them promises, and one of the promises was, "You can come to me any time." To remind them about this, I tied a piece of ribbon on each wrist. (I had help from a confirmation student.)

During communion, one of the assistants whispered, "Are there any pieces of ribbon left?" for your children? I asked. "No, for me," she answered.

Sometimes, it's the simplest things we need to know.

So I've been putt putt putting along nicely these last few weeks since Rally Day, and feeling pretty good about my progress too. (Except that my car needs a tune-up, I think; there's this funny noise I'm hearing.)

With no warning, I was awakened early Tuesday morning with a sore throat. I kept pushing along, albeit more slowly, on Tuesday and Wednesday. There were things I had to do, pieces to write, church services to plan, people to call (not call on; I didn't do that.) That pesky sermon, the one that somehow interconnects the Gospel reading from Mark 10 with our Call to stewardship.

Yesterday afternoon, I gave up.

Because of stewardship, I've been thinking about how everything is a gift; creation is a gift; relationships are a gift; children are a gift. They aren't gifts we get to do anything we want with, though. They are gifts to hold lightly, not to hold on to. Or, let go of.

Yesterday afternoon, I gave up. Maybe that's a gift, in a way, too.

Though I still need to write that sermon.